My life there and afterwards

Archive for January, 2014

Letter to the magazine “The Living Church”

I noticed an editorial in this magazine about the coffee table book with pictures of The Church of the Transfiguration at the Community of Jesus. Below is the letter I sent to them in response, and below that is the editorial.

Jan. 20, 2014
Exec. Dir. Christopher Wells
The Living Church Foundation, Inc.
816 E. Juneau Ave.
Milwaukee WI 53202-2793
Dear Mr. Wells,
I noticed the editorial in your Jan. 5, 2014 issue about the book showcasing The Church of the Transfiguration and its artwork. I have lived at the Community of Jesus for many years and finally left. The practice of their life is severe to the extreme, to the extent that I and others who have left suffered emotional abuse while there. The questions raised at the end of the editorial are legitimate, and need further investigating. We who have left are not malcontents who could not “take it”, as the Community describes us, but are concerned people who feel we have been harmed. I think if you are going to praise the C. of J. in your magazine, you should also present a balanced report and look at the “darker side” of their life.
Carrie Buddington

Elegance in Cape Cod
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Review by David A. Kalvelage

This is a stunning book with more than 200 impressive photographs printed on high-quality paper. It tells the story of the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, Massachusetts, the place of worship for the Community of Jesus, an ecumenical monastic community founded by two Episcopalians more than 60 years ago.

The Church of the Transfiguration
Edited by Donna Kehoe
Paraclete. Pp. 244. $69.96
This coffee-table-sized book is intended to be about the beautiful Cape Cod church where the community gathers for worship several times each day. The Romanesque edifice contains breathtaking artwork and offers a peaceful atmosphere for worship. But the story of the community is as impressive as the photographs of the building.

Cay Andersen and Judy Sorensen are credited as the founders. The two met at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Orleans, in 1958, and frequently afterward. Those meetings led to the formation of a small group of women who gathered weekly for prayer and Bible study. They professed their vows in 1968 and formed the Sisterhood of the Community of Jesus.

Through the years there were additional members, a chapel and other buildings, and eventually men became part of the community. Following 20 years of worship in a renovated pump house, the community spent several years planning, praying, working in groups, and enduring delays for the construction of the church. Groundbreaking finally took place on All Saints’ Day 1997, and the church was dedicated on the feast of Pentecost, June 17, 2000.

The church and other community buildings are situated on the south side of Rock Harbor, an inlet at Cape Cod Bay. The stone church is built in the style of a fourth-century basilica, meaning “hall of the king.” The book explains: “Hearkening back to one of the earliest forms of church architecture, the Church of the Transfiguration gave a 21st-century expression to this ancient design from which all Christians can trace their heritage.”

There is a tower that contains a set of 10 change-ringing bells, a columned atrium at the entrance to the church, and a lintel that tells the story of creation. These and other richly symbolic appointments — a fountain, lovely glass windows, a variety of stone figures, and mosaics on the floor and at the east end of the building — are beautifully illustrated in the book. On the walls, the story of salvation is told in fresco and stone.

Twelve murals on the clerestory walls illustrate the life of Jesus. The colorful artwork is marked by startlingly human faces, particularly a “procession” of saints along the north and south walls. At the east end is a massive mosaic of Christ returning to reign in glory at the end of time, overlooking a modest, free-standing stone altar.

The further one ventures into the book, the more one wants to see the community at worship. Photos show the community gathered for the Eucharist, processing into the church on Palm Sunday, celebrating the Easter Vigil, and at other times.

The book concludes with three short first-person essays about life in the community, and an appendix offers statements by the various artists whose work is displayed in the building.

There are currently 230 professed adult members in the community and an additional 160 oblates. Sixty sisters live in Bethany Convent and 25 brothers are housed in Zion Friary. Members have included Episcopalians, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, and others. They are involved in a daily life of prayer according to the Benedictine tradition that includes Lauds, Midday Prayer, Vespers, Compline, and the Eucharist.

Despite the vast detail presented in the book, I wound up looking for more. Are visitors welcomed? When are the services? What of the children pictured? How are they involved in the life of the community?

This is an impressive presentation of a religious community and its center of worship. Its story deserves to be more widely known.

David A. Kalvelage, retired editor of TLC, serves on the Living Church Foundation.


Why go to Church?

I didn’t go anywhere near a church for 3 years after I left CJ. It was all too emotional. It reminded me too closely and graphically how a church who was supposedly teaching the love of Jesus, had duped and emotionally abused me. I have gone to churches a bit here and there, liked some of the sermons I heard, but never felt welcomed by the people. Not rejected, but not welcomed either. And then a friend took me to this current church. It isn’t the denomination or the doctrine that I like – far from it. Those have no meaning to me at this time. I am searching for a definition for myself of my faith, I am not looking to lock into someone else’s construct. This church has that kind of openness that I need to not feel threatened.
Going to church gives me a backdrop in which to do this figuring out of what I believe. It gives me a place to react (mildly) to the different elements of the service so I can identify what those reactions are, and clarify my thoughts. I can’t do that in the isolation of my own apartment. It’s in moments like the songs we sing where I can identify where I am at in my own beliefs. For instance, I can sing songs of praise to God for watching over me, protecting me and guiding me. I cannot sing words that speak of God as a person, a father who is a mighty king that I submit to. To me at this time, God is more than just a person with super human powers. I still have a personal view of God, but CJ has burned out of me the need to submit in humbleness to an authority figure, with the hopes of gaining something in return for mindless obedience. At this point in my journey, God wants me to do some thinking on my own. I am not in a battle with God. I am actually on a very clear quest to find God in my own life.
God is Spirit. Jesus was/is man, and lived a Godly life to show us how. God is not a “He”. A caring life force, an intelligence, but “worship” is still too tied up with “obedience” to me.
It doesn’t matter whether you agree with me or not. That is not the point. As I try out words to express the workings of my mind and soul, I am working through them at the same time. What I say today may and probably will morph into something else in a week, month, year. That doesn’t matter either, because it is a journey. Hallelujah for the freedom of that! I don’t have to have it all together, I don’t have to be “right” in how I think. I can waver all over the path and it doesn’t matter. I’m sure that if God does have personal human like emotions and thoughts towards me that he is smiling at my child-like wanderings through the intellect, and as I “taste” the different flavors of faith.
Which reminds me, I have started reading about other religions. I’m on Hinduism right now. I know, all those crazy statues and gods. But if you read what they really believe, there is a lot of good stuff in there. And I have a feeling that this is going to be true of the other major religions of the world also. After all, we are all humans, made of the same stuff, and our yearnings for that which is more than this will look mightily alike.


I’ve found a church I feel comfortable with. It is low demand. They state upfront it doesn’t matter where you are at on your spiritual journey you are welcome. You don’t even have to put into the collection basket. It’s not high church, so none of those triggers get pushed. They have these small groups that meet once a week for reading and talk and prayer. You can come and go as you please – no commitment needed. Just what I need. To introduce myself I told some of my story, more than I had intended but I don’t know where to stop. So sometimes I wonder if I came across with too much. I figure if your story is too intense, it can put people off. Yesterday one of the gals, as we were leaving, told me she was really glad to have me in the group. I thanked her and said what I just said above, that I hoped my story wasn’t too intense, being a bit different as it was. She said no, I bring a good element to the group, and many of us have been duped, one way or another. Not her exact words, but the gist of it. It made me feel so good. It helped me to see myself within the spectrum of normalcy. I’m not the only one who has had a traumatic experience, and I can still fit back into “normal” society.

There is a uniqueness to a brain-washing group that not everyone experiences, and having lived in a cult can’t help but make me feel weird sometimes. To be accepted as normal is a big deal, and as I was thinking back on it this morning, it brought me a sense of calmness and peace. It is one of those joy filled moments that make life worth living. May you all find those in your life daily.

The “Soup” Teaching

Life in 2009 and 2010 was so stressful for me, daily dread and anxiety, that the trauma of it still prevents me from remember things in an accurate time sequence. But I am certain that this teaching was either in 2009 or 2010. It was very recent, before my leaving.

The “Soup” teaching: The Community’s leader got the sisters together for one of her teachings. It was this: life together is like a soup. Like the story of the rock soup. The atmosphere in the Convent is a soup and we all bring our ingredients to it. It is a spiritual soup, so whatever we add to the soup is ingested by everyone. This goes far beyond our words and actions. It includes our every thought, desire and sin. Every time we have an ugly or rebellious thought it added an element of evil to the soup. The only way to have a life together that was filled with the presence of God was to stop all thoughts that were against each other and against obedience. Obedience was the highest calling.

The effect of this on me was not to free me into a loving spirit of kindness to one other. I did not see any of the other sisters reacting in happiness either. It did not feel like a call to brotherly love. It felt like a condemnation for all the struggles I was going through, and an accusation that I was causing harm and trouble to others by my inner struggles. It felt like another layer of guilt on me. Now not only was I walking dangerously in my own life by being unhappy with our life together, but I was also causing a spirit of unrest in the whole Convent by my thoughts. Looking back, I wonder how many of the other sisters were feeling exactly the same as I was, because I remember it being a very quiet and somber response to her teaching. In the days afterwards there was not an outpouring of love among us. It was business as usual, with everyone living their own separate lives. I was Senior Sister still, and no one came to me to talk about this, or to discuss how this affected them. I found this unusual, because a lot of sisters did come to me to talk about their personal struggles.

In retrospect, looking back at my role as Senior Sister, I think the leaqder was using me to keep the lid on the unrest at the Convent in two ways. (1) I have a naturally cheerful disposition and am always trying to look at the bright side of things, find a blessing in whatever is happening, and smiling at people, trying to make them feel better. I think I am overly that way, (perhaps a coping and/or escape mechanism) and that she used that characteristic of mine to smooth things over and keep people in line, to keep them giving in to the stresses of our life. (2) The role of Sr. Sr. was such that we gave weekly and sometimes daily reports to the leader of every person who had talked with us. Everyone knew this, so a lot of their troubles they kept to themselves. We all did. Before I was Sr. Sr. I never wanted to go talk with them. It was like talking to the police if I was trying to hide some crime. No matter what I would talk about, I was always faced with feedback such that I came away feeling like I was committing a crime, that all my troubles were my sin. The things I heard most often were that my troubles were because of my rebellion, and idolatry with my children. I understood how the sisters felt about talking with authority, so I always tried to be kind and gentle, unlike some of the other Sr. Srs. But I did still have to give those reports to the leader.

Another story from Band

In 2000 we dedicated the new church, The Church of the Transfiguration. It was a big deal, and so I was quite exhausted after all the work and meal preps and making a cake to feed 1000 people. (that’s another story) We were given the next day off from work to rest. The rest did not last long however, since the Band was going to be touring across the country on its way to Calgary to compete as a Field Band, for the first time, in the International Competition there in July, just a few weeks after this big dedication. We had to put in extra hours and days of practice because we were told our performance stank and we needed to shape up quickly. It’s a wonder they even wanted to take us there by the comments we constantly got. But in my opinion it was the Band leader’s undying dream to make a name for himself with a world famous Band. But it is only “to the Glory of God”, of course. (Do you detect a note of sarcasm there? How sinful of me) I was tired of Band, but did not want to be stuck at home. The chance to see the country and travel west again spurred me on to yet another year of exhausting, back breaking work that is doled out with plentiful rounds of criticism and punishments.

Here is an example of what we went through. I was part of the Pit, or Front Ensemble as it was sometimes called. We played the keyboards, drums, cymbals, and other miscellaneous instruments. We were in the doghouse, as the Band leader didn’t think we played well enough. So someone was assigned to whip us into shape. We were set up to the side of the field, and given a part of the music to play. We spent literally hours playing just the downbeat. If it did not sound perfectly together, as one note, he would yell at us to stop, and we all had to drop and do 10 push-ups or sit-ups. He conducted with a little pencil, and if we did not catch the small movement he made, down we went again for more push-ups. We spent more time on the ground than we did playing. It was a pointless exercise, intended to break our spirit. I became so tired I couldn’t see clearly, and lost some muscle control. I was dehydrated and shaking from exhaustion. After hours of this punishing, grueling work we were told to stop, but we received no word on whether we had improved or not. I don’t think improvement was the goal. I think punishment was the goal. I am not angry at the person for this. In other situations he was a very caring person and we were friends. So this is also an example of how we were forced to be cruel to each other.

The tour itself was a grueling trip, geared to the younger ones who can take long hours on the bus, long practices in the hot sun, sleeping on gym floors (air mattresses that were ‘telebegged’) and high carbohydrate meals. I endured it as I endured all of CJ life. I put my attention on the music, lost myself in that. In between playing, I kept a low profile and tried to find something beautiful to think about. Sometimes I succeeded, and sometimes I was deeply depressed in the loneliness of my inner self. I felt there was no one to talk to about it. I was sure one sister would have ratted on me, another would not have known what to say, and yet another would have been furious at me. I’m sure any of the leaders would have been disgusted with me and told me I had so much to be grateful for, and I just didn’t want to give myself to God’s work. I did not believe anyone would have cared about my pain, inner and physical, and would have thought me to be whining and selfish.

We did our first show in Denver CO. From there, before dawn, we were on the buses heading west. This is what I have gone for. The country is breath-taking. Through Glenwood Springs Canyon, into Utah, and through the Bad Lands, or whatever they are called. It tugged on my heart strings. I grew up out West and it called to me. We played another show on the 4th of July in the Cougar Stadium in Provo, Utah, and marched in the parade. I did not march as my feet were blistered and I could hardly walk. All my crew mates knew this, by the way. As I look back, it amazes me that I never received medical care in Band, except when I had the migraines and had to be cared for. Otherwise I was left to my own devices. It amazes me that they were so uncaring and callous, and it amazes me that I did not know that wasn’t normal, and did the best I could with it. I had nothing to compare it against. That is how I had always lived at CJ.

When we got to Banff National Park, we had a day trip to “enjoy” ourselves there. What I was hoping would be a relaxing day in the beauty of nature was a frustrating day of being made to wait around. The Community’s spiritual leader was talking spiritual stuff with each section of the Band. Each section got to hike up to the viewpoint while they were waiting their turn, except percussion. We supposedly were going to be talked to “next” and had to wait in the parking lot for several hours. Then it was finally our turn, and in my opinion it was banal, stupid stuff that she was spouting off about. When she decided she was done, we asked if we could now go see the viewpoint. There was hesitation, then a reluctant ok if we could get up there and back in 15 minutes, which was when the buses were leaving. I was so angry that I took off with the younger ones, and we practically ran up this steep path. My heart was pounding so badly that I actually got scared and thought I was on the verge of a heart attack. I slowed down and was ok, but I was so mad at her for spoiling a good outing that I was so looking forward to. That sounds childish, doesn’t it? I’m afraid that’s what life was reduced to. I desperately looked for perks wherever I could find them, because the rest of my life sucked.

We got to Calgary, practiced, did the show in the competition. I really didn’t care at that point about winning. It was just another gig and all the fun had been beaten out of me. We came in 2nd, and this was the very first competition we had ever been in. You would think we would be proud and happy about that, yes? No! The Band leader ranted and raved about how we were the best and the only reason we didn’t get first place was because the judges were crooked and always picked their home team to win. Now in my eyes, that is childish!

Field Band tour of 2005 – continued

The Community of Jesus started a Marching Band in 1977, and I joined it in 1978. It grew into a Field Band, doing shows like you would see at a football game half-time. We would go on tour every summer to different venues, either doing workshops and shows at schools, or entering competitions. The Band went on tour in August of 2005, and I made a couple of journal entries. Following is the entry from June, while we were practicing and preparing for the tour, and one short one from the tour itself, and my current thoughts about what I wrote then.
Journal Entry 6/05: The theme for the Band tour is as follows; Book 1: Love opens, and then Honor. Book 2: Truth. Book 3: Love. Book 4: Sacrifice. Book 5: Loyalty & Honor.
TRUTH: Depth – looking inward to discover what I really feel & believe. Hanging onto the truth in the midst of various temptations – tired, bored, distracted, peer pressure, rebellion. Being fully aware in the moment, to search out the truth of the moment. To be open to realizing the truth of the moment. Listening to God and people.
(It is such a contradiction that these things are verbally taught but not lived. What I experienced happening under the label of honesty were angry accusations & humiliations. Those with social power bashed those without. Social power was gained by whether you were in good graces with the leader or not.)
SACRIFICE: giving, a small death. Having a vision of a goal larger than me and being willing to give myself, spend myself, for that vision. Wanting to give towards a goal out of Love for the Truth of that goal.
(These thoughts of mine make me so sad. This is completely how I thought, and a large part of what made me persevere at CJ. I kept trying to make it work. I was convinced that if I sacrificed enough, I could help to make the vision come true. After all, Jesus sacrificed His life in order to show us how to live a loving life, wasn’t I called to do the same? The catch here is that He actually lived his life as an example for us to follow. At CJ, the leaders lived a life of luxury and indulgence, while teaching us to live a life of service and sacrifice. And the sacrifices Jesus made were for the sake of showing us how to love one another. Love and Sacrifice at CJ were counterproductive, because the sacrifice part was made into the sole goal, and love was not practiced.)
LOYALTY: sticking to it. Perseverance, out of love. Identifying with a group. You can’t be loyal if you refuse to be part of a group. Rebellious individuality is opposed to loyalty. It embodies security, and identity. By seeking identity alone, we lose that part of our identity that is connected to the group. We are afraid of losing our identity in the group if we have been used by someone – if we have experienced the loss of identity by someone’s control. We need a group, family, to experience loyalty. It gives a sense of belonging, identity, security. Sacrifice, out of the Love of Truth, produces Loyalty, and reaps great benefits.
( Notice that I say I am afraid of losing my identity – I did feel that way all the time. I did my best to convince myself otherwise, and to convince myself it was my own fault. I thought that it was my own thinking that was keeping me from feeling a part of the group, so I kept suppressing these kinds of thoughts and feelings. This is warped thinking, a circle, and a trap. This is the kind of thinking that was taught to me in order to keep me bound to CJ by feeling I needed them in order to exist. Seeking an individual identity will not cause me to lose my identity to a group. On the contrary, I cannot function well with a group if I have totally given up my identity of “self” as an individual. CJ had it backward in order to control me, and I had it backward in order to feel like I belonged to the group, and I lost my sense of self as a consequence. Once I left, and could look back on my life at CJ, I began to see this clearly, and I am angry at the leaders for how controlling and manipulative they are. They kept us suppressed and believing that submission and obedience was the only way to salvation and a higher calling.)
HONOR: a vague concept that expresses very specific attitudes. Pride of accomplishment in the realm of character. Knowing the Truth and obeying it brings honor. It is the end result of the foregoing work. It is agreement in truth with others. Being able to stand firm in Christ, always seeking the truth of the moment. Being able to face another human person without guilt or shame, because I have done the work to bring my personal darkness into the light.
(I actually like what I have written here. I can remember clearly thinking deep and long about these concepts, and trying to discover for myself what these terms meant to me. I knew this journal was just for my eyes only, and I could express myself here. It was times like this, where I could think for myself, and search for my own heart’s and mind’s beliefs, which threw how we lived into such stark contrast to the ideals I was reaching for. I never experienced pride of accomplishment because my accomplishments were always denigrated. If I did express pride, I was told pride was a sin. I could take no satisfaction in a job well done, because that would be “puffing myself up”. My weaving was good, but I had to remain anonymous so I would not be prideful. All the sisters art work, cooking, craft work was presented to the public anonymously for this reason. I played my instruments well in Band – I was good at it. But never did I receive any acknowledgement of this. Even when we won the World Championship in Korea at the Exhibition Band Competition did we get praise for a job well done. It was expected of us that we would win, and proved the righteousness of the Band leader’s vision. We were just tools to be used to accomplish “God’s Will”.
Journal Entry: Day 2 of the tour: 8/05. Learn to despise external things – pain, heat, thirst. Slow feeling, like I can’t do anything quickly, tired. Give thyself to the interior – open attitude, keep the vision, help others, and be encouraging as well as corrective.
(We were worked very hard in preparation for the tours. We all had day jobs, and the Band practiced in the evenings and all day Sat., and sometimes on Sunday as well. We were exhausted, and the whole experience was geared towards the younger members who had strength and stamina. When I would say that I was having a hard time keeping up, I was told to give up my resistance and push myself to keep up anyway. The only way I could cope was to do my best to ignore my own aches and pains, and focus on caring for others. Because of this I eventually injured myself in Band, foot, knee and hip problems. It did teach me perseverance and endurance, and I now am very well taught in how mind control works.)

One example of how Love was (not) lived at CJ and in the Band

The Community of Jesus has a Marching Band. We started out marching in parades on the street, 4th of July and such, and grew into a Field Show Band, like you see at football game half-time. Once we became a Field Band, we would go on tour every year, to perform at different venues.

During the Band tour in June of 2005, I kept a journal. One of the themes of the Band show was Love, and the next paragraph is my journal entry about that concept.

“LOVE: outgoing warmth. Requiring truth of others. Giving acceptance and understanding. Being available to others, and open. Being willing to work, put out effort for another. Directed towards God, it is obedience. Taking seriously what He has said, and giving thought, attention and effort to live it. ‘If you love me, obey my commandments’. Owning Truth and being Glad of it. Expressing the Joy of Truth.”

These thoughts of mine show that I am idealistic. If I and others had not been thwarted in expressing these ideas, we may have been able to build a truly Christian community. But in practice we followed the original teaching which was; “the truth about myself is that I am completely bad and don’t deserve anything good.” Because of my high idealism, I really tried to be loving and understanding of others. When the Band leader, for instance, and the other appointed leaders in Band, would yell at us about how selfish and uncaring we were, instead of waking up and seeing the difference in how they treated us and how we were trying to treat each other, and because of the teaching that we deserved to be yelled at, I accepted the castigations as proof that I was not reaching the goal. After cringing through the attacks, I would try all the harder to live a loving and sacrificial life.

Requiring truth of others is a dangerous concept. At CJ it meant that we had free license to be hard on each other in order to force the “truth” out. There was no sense of boundaries or of an individual’s right to choose what they shared about their inner self. This is the premise that the damaging light groups were based on. Light groups only stopped in name. Their practice continued throughout the years and was integrated into our way of life. Requiring truth of others meant brow-beating them until they confessed. Sometimes the confessions were truth and sometimes they were not, but in either case it was a situation of force, not love or caring help.

This style of life was still going on up to when I left, and I wish there was some way to expose it and bring an end to it. The leaders need to be held accountable for their brain-washing techniques, and the victims need help to wake up to how far from the teachings of Jesus CJ has strayed.