Introduction


Presented in reverse chronology, this history stretches from the present back to the Fellowship's 1970 founding, and beyond.
(See "Blog Archive" in the sidebar below.) It draws from many sources, including The Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the former Fellowship of Friends wiki project, cult education and awareness sites, news archives, and from the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

The portrait that emerges stands in stark contrast to sanitized versions presented on the Fellowship's array of
alluring websites, and on derivative sites created by Burton's now-estranged
disciple, Asaf Braverman.

Sunday, August 22, 1976

The Fellowship of Friends

The Mt. Carmel Monastery of the Fellowship of Friends

[Ed. - The images on this page are photographs of photocopies of microfilm images of the original newspaper article. Thus the poor quality.]

The Sacramento Bee
Story by Jim Anderson
Photos by Dick Schmidt
"...if we can create something that is not physical but is more real than something physical..." - Miles Barth, Mt. Carmel Monastery
A ROADMAP best describes Oregon House. It's a tiny speck on a two-lane road about 20 miles northeast of Marysville in Yuba County.

But if you turn off that road and follow it past a burger stand and a small country store, and after you pass a couple small homesteads with signs proclaiming "Storey's Sorry Acres" and "Filbin's Follies", you'll eventually come to a remarkable place.

The sign reads "Private Monastery." Beyond the sign, the pursuits are beauty, truth, good thoughts and excellence through well planned, but hard, physical labor. The aim of the persons beyond the sign is "the evolution of man from his present level of existence to a higher one."

You have arrived at the Mt. Carmel Monastery of the Fellowship of Friends. The monastery is referred to by Fellowship members variously as a church, school, ranch and farm. The State of California and the federal government recognize the Fellowship as a non-profit religious organization. The Yuba County Assessor, Glen McDougal, calls the Fellowship "just another property owner," and refuses to grant it a religious tax status.

The Lincoln Lodge at the monastery, with its large rock-lined front patio

THE FELLOWSHIP was formed in 1970 by a small group of Northern Californians "who had a common dissatisfaction with the experiences offered by traditional religious institutions."

They contacted a "teacher...who they felt could instruct them in a particular system of ideas." This teacher continues to be the religious leader of the Fellowship, but "wishes to remain anonymous at the present time."

James Chisholme, treasurer and a minister in the Fellowship said the teacher "gives direction to the group. We make use of him extensively. But he does not wish himself to be the center of attention, he wants the center of attention to be the work that each person does on themself."

IN A RECENTLY
prepared information bulletin, the Fellowship explains that it has "tried to create an intensive religious experience for its members, and has endeavored to teach methods by which this experience can become a continuous and guiding principle of life.

"These methods, as well as the Fellowship's interpretation of Gospel Christianity, are derived from the writings of Peter Ouspensky and George Gurdjieff, who called this form of Christian practice Esoteric Christianity."

Ouspensky and Gurdjieff were Russian writers and teachers who moved to the West in the first part of this century and founded schools, Ouspensky in England and Gurdjieff in France.

An explanation of the Fellowship's system of ideas and methods of self-study can be found in Ouspensky's book, "The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution."

This reporter and his wife were invited recently to spend a full day at the monastery, to experience some of the activities of a normal weekend.

The invitation was part of "a change in our thinking," according to Roger Cavanna, ranch manager at the monastery. "Because of the nature of our activity here and our desire for privacy, we did not communicate with local people for the first two years. So there was much imagination on what was occurring here."

THE FELLOWSHIP began acquiring Yuba County property in 1971. By then it had grown to "40 or 50 members" who donated the down payment on 917 acres. The monastery property now totals 1,052 acres, membership has grown to more than 700 and there are 26 contact centers or congregations all over the United States.

Approximately 100 Fellowship members live at the monastery full time, 30 others live in the area, and on weekends the population swells to 300 or 400. Each member donates 10 per cent of his annual income to the Fellowship. Chisholme said the approximate total assets of the group is $750,000 and that this year's working budget approached $500,000.

The dramatic growth of the Fellowship from 40 or 50 to more than 700 persons was achieved with an extremely low key recruiting campaign. Bookmarks are placed in Gurdjieff and Ouspensky works in book stores, posters are placed in schools, churches and health food stores. The bookmarks and posters say simply "Gurdjieff Ouspensky Centers Accepting Students". They then list regional cities and phone numbers. The West Coast bookmark lists Carmel, Portland, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Francisco.


Miles Barth: 'Difficulty should not be a deterrent to a worthwhile aim'
James Chisholme: 'We make use of him (the teacher) extensively'
Roger Cavanna: 'There was much imagination on what was occurring here'
Rosemary Macdonald: 'To create a better impression'
Joel Friedlander: 'Reducing the amount (of energy) that is used negatively'

"WE DO NOT proselytize exactly," said Miles Barth, a board member and minister in the bay area. "We try to make it known to people that this organization exists. And when people are interested we arrange meetings for them...where we explain what the aims of the Fellowship are and how we pursue the aims through our activities. And then if a person wishes to join the Fellowship he is welcome to. We do not actually try to talk anyone into it or talk anyone out of it, but just present the opportunity.

The center of the monastery is the Lincoln Lodge, a rebuilt and much expanded log cabin. Named in honor of Abraham Lincoln, the lodge serves as kitchen, dining rooms and meeting hall for members. New additions to the lodge include two decks named in honor of Mozart and Beethoven. And their music and music of other composers can be heard continuously on the decks and in every room of the lodge.


LIFE AT the monastery is an unusual mixture of hard physical labor, intellectual probing and refined emotional experiences. The members work for long hours in their vineyard, or at grading roads and then they come in to dinner served on German china, with crystal glasses, fresh cut flowers, fine wines and poetry readings.

The marriage of experiences - physical, intellectual and emotional - helps members, as Cavanna said, "maximize the opportunity of just being alive. From one angle our work here is to help us to become more alive, to become more aware of our own existence."

The fruits of their labor are beautiful. Their 80-acre vineyard is sculpted on the hillsides in sweeping contours. Each grape vine is surrounded by an individual wire cage to keep out rabbits and deer. Plastic pipe meanders through the vineyard and each vine is watered by drip irrigation.

Roads have been graded to all parts of the monastery property, and they are planning a winery complex in the next few years.

THE VINEYARD and winery are being overseen by Karl Werner, a Fellowship member who has "personally started 32 wineries all over the world." Werner said the winery will produce the very best wines.

"We do not aim to produce in the Gallo or even the Christian Brothers or the Charles Krug lines. We aim to go to the real top."

Another planting project is an experimental vegetable garden where different varieties are being grown to see which fares best. There are seven different grains being tried, one acre of potatoes will soon be expanded to 18 acres, and they have seven plantings of corn.

But all the projects are only means, they say. The aim of the Fellowship is described as the "evolution of man from his present level of existence to a higher one."

This evolution is measured "by the degree to which he (man) can maintain an awareness of himself, his higher possibilities and the world around him, and by the degree to which he can control his internal and external behavior."

And "awareness" is a very important word to the Fellowship. One of the more apparent examples of the Fellowship's striving for awareness is its word exercises. They don't speak contractions and they don't use the pronoun "I." They replace "I" most commonly with "One, this person or it." The replacement often changes the verb also, as in, "It has (I have) the idea that people are frequently not as aware of what they are saying as they could be."


THE WORD exercises, Barth explained, "have the purpose or aim to try to make us more aware of what we say. And this is, of course, connected with the exercise of not expressing negative emotion. If a person is not aware of the words that are coming out he may not be aware he is expressing negative emotions.

"It is extremely difficult (the word exercises), but difficulty should not be a deterrent to a worthwhile aim. It says in the Bible that it is not what goes into a man's mouth that defiles him, it is what comes out of a man's mouth that defiles him."

Joel Friedlander, another board member and minister, amplified the Fellowship's exercise of not expressing negative emotion such as anger, distrust, suspicion or, in fact, any expression of unpleasantness:

"AN IDEA that we have in the psychological study of human functioning is that there is a certain amount of energy that is produced in a human being and the energy can be used in many different ways. We have a certain quantity of emotional energy than can be used for expressing negativity...or it can be used in more positive ways. The quantity of energy that we produce is finite. We try to use more of it for positive purposes by reducing the amount that is used negatively."

The positive purposes include fine music, good literature and art, and a museum-sized collection of china. Barth explained, "We try to cultivate emotions in the Fellowship. This is one of the reasons why we try to have a certain level of beauty in our environment. And we work hard to try to create beauty where it is possible. We try to listen to quality music, we try to read fine literature, we try to keep things clean. We are conditioned to react in certain ways to certain things. We are trying to change our reaction to certain things. To make them more intelligent and more harmonious."

Conversation with Fellowship members is eclectic. They say their study material, in addition to most Western and Eastern religious works, includes the works of "Benjamin Franklin, Goethe, Plato, Aristotle and Shakespeare, to name but a few."

AND THEY honor those they study and admire. In addition to the Lincoln Lodge and the Mozart and Beethoven decks, there is a parsonage called the Blake Cottage for the poet William Blake, and Anderson Meadow for Hans Christian Anderson, and the cake served after dinner on our visit was called the Othello Cake.

Many of the common distractions of the world have been eliminated at Mt. Carmel Monastery. There are no television sets, no radios, no newspapers, and no children.

"We do not have children here," Barth explained. "Children who come up with their parents on weekends are cared for at a house near here (but not on the monastery property) which is staffed by two or three adults."

Asked about religious training for the children, Barth said, "We do not encourage parents to try to indoctrinate their children. We feel that children do not care that much what their parents say. They will be influenced by what their parents do.

"WHAT WE
are doing is basically beyond the comprehension of a child. A person has to have developed a certain intellectual capacity and certain emotional experiences to understand what our aims are. It is not something that can be taught by indoctrination. We encourage parents to try to be the words (by their actions) with their children, to try not to express negativity to their children, to try to be a good example.

"We do not try to teach them ignorance," Barth emphasized. If at a certain age the children express an interest in the Fellowship, he said, they will have the same opportunity to join as anyone. "We give them an opportunity to see something without stuffing it down their throats. A person has to feel a need and make efforts to gratify themself. And some children as they grow will think more and feel more about the purpose of their existence, and some children will not."

Most of the Fellowship members live in 24 Airstream trailers artfully concealed in one area of the property. Rosemary Macdonald, board member and minister, was in charge of the trailer project and said that particular trailer was chosen because "they are very attractive. We were faced with temporary living conditions and felt that if we were to limit the trailers to all of one kind it would create a better impression."


THE FELLOWSHIP now is conducting preliminary negotiations with a contractor to build permanent structures at the monastery. If members go ahead with these plans it will mark the first time they have brought in an outsider to work for them. And it will be another stage in their process of opening up to the outside world.

But none of these physical things - the buildings, the vineyard or garden - are considered the end in itself, Barth stressed. "We regard these things as vehicles or tools for learning what we are trying to learn about ourselves and our relationship to higher levels.

"It is part of our work that we are trying to learn, our relationships to different levels of the universe and how they affect us and how in a sense we affect them. That is why we are doing these things here, because we will all be dead and whether there was a lodge here or a vineyard here is not going to make much difference.

"If we can create something that is not physical, but is more real than something physical, then the creation of these things will have served its purpose. If not, they will go back into the ground in either case."

No comments:

Post a Comment