Probing the Cape's Jesus Cult

Is Cape Cod's Community of Jesus a benign religious retreat? Or an upper-class Episcopalian Jonestown?


Boston magazine took a small stab at finding out in their May 1981 issue. This article was published in that issue.



 
Is the Community a decent place because the kids are well-behaved? A hellish, abusive place? Or just the "aristocracy" going to hell in a handbasket? (Readers' replies to this article published in later editions of Boston magazine -- coming soon).

Here and there on this page, I have asked questions and added comments about the article. These, including this one, are in green text, so that you can easily skip them if you desire. Click here to view the original article without comments.

As this article's author filled his belly and observed clothing and décor, his Community hosts lied to him repeatedly. These lies are highlighted in red throughout the text. Click here to read the article without anything highlighted.

The Community watches its public relations (PR) very carefully and monitors all communications, including to the point of placing bugs in Community properties and censoring all the mail. Besides being blatantly un-Christ-like, there is a good reason for this odd behavior. They have a lot of secrets to hide!


God for the Up & Out: Is Cape Cod's Community of Jesus a benign religious retreat? Or an upper-class Episcopalian Jonestown?

Special investigation by Curtis Hartman, with Ann Rodgers and Tom Morton

It certainly didn't look like a cult over Sunday breakfast.

Sunlight flooded the oval dining room, streaming through the apse window and turning the scattered cymbidium blossoms to gold. An antique oriental covered the floor; china and crystal dressed the table, and all the silver in the room was at a high polish: the two baroque urns framed by antique pitchers and tea sets on the sideboard, the salt and pepper shakers, bud vases, and objets neatly arranged in the corner cabinet. Out the window, a white picket fence surrounded a garden, sere now, with a statue of Jesus in the center, his back turned on the rubble of Rock Harbor and the iced waste of Cape Cod beyond. But inside the Community of Jesus, a Christian commune in Orleans, everything was warm and gracious.

Not one but two ministers graced our company, an Episcopalian and a Congregationalist, the first lean and somber, the second portly, with the hale jocularity of the well fed. But there was no proselytizing. Instead, silent-handed young women in starched white blouses brought silver platters laden with bacon and sausage, perfect omelets, and buttered English muffins, sweet rolls dripping with pecans, and hot bread fresh from the oven, while we chatted in measured tones about one Community member's upcoming trip to Tokyo with Cyrus Vance, and whether another Community member, an undersecretary of the navy during the Carter years, might be able to keep his position during the Reagan reign.

"You know, the beauty of this house spoke to me of something I could feel safe with," the plump cleric said, lifting the linen from his lap to wipe away a crumb of toast, his apple cheeks beaming with generosity. "I don't think I could have ever come into the charismatic renewal if it weren't for the Community lifestyle--it put me at ease enough to allow God into my life."

But of course I should see for myself, the happy clergyman insisted, pushing his chair back from the table and reciting a favorite scripture, "By their fruits ye shall know them."

 

That Sunday night, I sat in a different dining room, listening to a freckle-faced young woman with a faded bandana over her dusty blond hair talk of a more bitter fruit. She had been involved with the Community of Jesus from 1970 to 1979, and the lifestyle had spoken to her, too--of oppression, harassment, and abuse.

Nineteen-year-old Kathi Rose sat nervously on the black-vinyl banquette of the Hyannis Howard Johnson's, chain-smoking between bites of a hamburger. "The hardest thing for me when I first got out was to learn how to make decisions for myself," she admitted. Depression, drinking, pills, all had been stumbling blocks for her when she escaped; she had even latched onto the first iron-fisted man she found, searching for a new authority figure to replace those who had run her life "inside." But now, with a job in a Hyannis bank, an apartment of her own, and a used VW, she feels reestablished. And eager to talk.

"Yes, I'm angry," she said. "But everything I'm telling you is the gospel truth."

Late in the sixties, Kathi's parents had been "born again," and among the teachers and preachers they went to hear after that experience, two stood out: Cay Andersen and Judy Sorensen, the two middle-aged Episcopal charismatics who had founded the Community of Jesus. In March of 1970, Anderson and Sorensen told Kathi's parents that they had been "called" to move from the Rose home, in Darien, to the Community's compound at Rock Harbor. Her parents built a large waterfront home inside the compound, although Kathi, then age eight, was like many Community children, ordered by Cay and Judy to live apart from her parents, in a different house. Six months after they arrived, Kathi was told that her parents were separating, and that her father had left. She doesn't remember who told her, just that no one would explain the reasons.

With Kathi's father gone, and the Rose home lost, Mother Cay and Mother Judy ordered the Roses to move into the home of a Community leader who has since left the compound to become an assistant pastor of a Presbyterian church in New York state. The leader and his wife proceeded to run the Roses' lives. Kathi remembered. "I would lie in bed at night and listen to them scream at my mother. She was called a miser for scrimping, then yelled at for her anger and her idolatry." Kathi's own discipline was more physical, administered by the Community leader in front of his wife, his teenage son, and Kathi's own mother and brother. "He would pull my pants down and spank me with a Ping-Pong paddle until I was screaming, then he would continue for another 10 or 15 minutes," Kathi said. "My mother would sit there and knit while I got hit. I remember looking at my rear end in a bathroom mirror once--it was black."

The Community leader charged by Kathi Rose denied her allegations.

At one point Cay and Judy asked Kathi and her mother to leave the Community, and they moved to a rented home outside Hyannis. But when Kathi turned 16, the Mothers decided that she and Mrs. Rose had been "called" once more. Convinced that the Holy Spirit spoke through Cay and Judy, Mrs. Rose agreed to return. But, says Kathi, "we weren't allowed to actually live inside. We were too poor, and they didn't have any room for us; we had to rent a house down the road."

{Note: What happened to the house Kathi's father built? Presumably, the Community owns it. Shouldn't Kathi and her mother at least have deserved to live in the house their family's money built?}

In February of 1978, Kathi was allowed to move--alone--into a house within the Community compound, for what was to become "the worst experience of my life." She was to be broken, with isolation and strict discipline wedded to shrill critical bombardment.

{Note: How this is Christian? If these individuals are spokeswomen for the "Holy Spirit," shouldn't they demonstrate, or at least know, what the Fruits of the Spirit actually are?}

"Community adults would decide what my sin was, then just lay into me," she recalled. "I wasn't allowed to speak to my father when he phoned; they told me it was the Lord's will that I not speak to him. And I would tear up his letters in front of them, too, just to show I wanted to obey the Lord's will. The way I was making the beds looked 'rebellious' to them, so I was assigned to scrub the bathrooms. Each day the bathrooms were inspected, and each day I'd get yelled at and forced to scrub them again."

In February of 1979, Kathi packed her bag and sneaked away to join her father, free at last. Although she has been out for more than a year, the anger she feels over her mistreatment at the hands of the Community of Jesus still dominates her life. "No one who has never been inside can understand how sweet my freedom feels to me now," she said, crushing her final cigarette in the overflowing ashtray.

 

I arrived back at the Community at dusk, bags in hand and apprehensions in check. Forty-two-year-old Barbara Manuel, daughter of the former president of the New York Stock Exchange, and 24-year-old Jill Sorensen, daughter of founder Judy Sorensen, met me at the door, both smiling, plump, and visibly prosperous, well turned out in pearls and gold, cashmere, silk, and wool.

They would be my hostesses, Jill said. They would set the ground rules. Of course, I could talk with anyone I chose. About whatever I chose. All my questions would be answered.

My room upstairs in the Community's retreat house, called Bethany, was equally welcoming, large and airy, overlooking the garden statue and the bay beyond. The "check-out time is 11 a.m." sign was still screwed fast by the door, the mark of an earlier era, when Bethany had been a resort hotel; but a small private altar with a prayer rail, back-lit, had been built in a the corner. Orchids brightened each table, fruit and nuts sat in crystal bowls about the room, and a hand-written message from Jill--"May Your Visit Be Blessed"--was on the dresser. The freshly starched and pressed sheets were turned down, and the sisters had placed some reading material on the nightstand: Life Together, the Community's glossy magazine, The Light and the Glory, a Community-inspired retelling of American history, and Listen to the Lord, an illustrated children's book that related how God taught obedience by speaking through Balaam's ass.

And breakfast in the morning, in that sunlit oval dining room, was a triumph of taste, with company as polished as the stores of silver that set the scene. The regulars included Jill and Barbara, who would be with me always; the two ministers; Community members Bill and Sally Kanaga, he the chairman of the board of Arthur Young and Company, America's sixth-largest accounting firm, she the model Ultrasuede-and-diamond professional wife; and Barbara's husband, David, from Shaker Heights out of Yale via an editor's job at Doubleday to the top spot at Logos, a Christian publishing house.

But what about all the rumors? I asked them that first morning. What about the charges, from Kathi Rose and others, of mind control and of physical and psychological abuse? Of families split and lives destroyed in Mother Cay and Mother Judy's Cape Cod commune?

Nonsense, they proclaimed in unison. Of course their life means rigorous self-sacrifice, Jill explained. But that is the way of the cross. Of course they are obedient. But their obedience is to the Holy Spirit; Mother Cay and Mother Judy are just teachers, exemplars who reach their decisions through prayer. Everyone loves them. And of course--it goes without saying--they abhor sin, attacking it root and branch.

They have heard all the criticism. And been wounded by it. Didn't I agree that Satan's danger was so intense now that one good Christian didn't criticize another good Christian? Perhaps, Jill said, the disaffected were merely looking for scapegoats, using labels like "brainwashing" and "cult" to disguise their own failure to walk in the light.

Or perhaps, I suggested apologetically, some of them might be put off by the obvious material blessing. Isn't it supposed to be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God?

Nonsense. "There aren't many people who realize the crying need for the Lord among the upper classes today," Barbara Manuel said firmly. "That's where we see the real decay in America."

"Right," her husband pitched in. He has found a brave new world. And says so, blinking back the tears. "It's not just the 'down and outers' who need Christ. What about the 'up and outers'? They need Christ, too."

 

On damp days when the wind blows in off the bay, the Community's Rock Harbor home is wreathed in fog. The fishers' boats that work the tourists for stripers and blues lie beached near the low rail fence running along the front lawns of Bethany. Two small stone lions stand sentry by the brick gateposts, and American, Christian, and Community flags flutter in the mist and grayness. The house itself sprawls low and long across immaculate brown stubble, a vision of white clapboard, with black shutters and enormous picture windows. The chapel at the far end, consecrated in 1979, is a seamless graft, its clapboard and shutters embellished with a red door and bell cupola, to guarantee appropriate pride of place.

The 35-acre compound is utopian, like a Norman Rockwell Eden, with neither gull dropping nor stray twig to defile the neat lawns and walkways. Twenty-two neat colonial homes on manicured half-acre lots line Anchor Drive and Uncle Ben's Way, the two public roads, each house with its own Biblical name--Jerusalem, Antioch, Nineveh--in flowing script on a wooden plaque. Stacks of split hardwood stand at meticulous attention across the open lots; a wind-powered generator perches near the goat barn. The newest and largest of the Community homes is going up on the far edge of the compound, Bill and Sally Kanaga's $275,000 waterfront contemporary, complete with Jacuzzi and hot tub. Outside the fence it may be winter, but inside the two Community greenhouses are bursting with orchid blossoms and seedlings for this year's vegetable crop. Outside may be chaos, but here all is in the familiar, almost forgotten, order. Everyone dresses following the unwritten code: Sunday best for church services, and neat and pressed at ease; no jeans on men, no pants on women, and no long hair on either.

"Cay and Judy felt it was important that we all dress for the glory of God," Jill explained. "And in the seventies, long hair was a sign of rebellion." Not that Cay and Judy make rules, she said. But they have preferences. And people who live in the Community agree to abide by them.

{Note: Doesn't that then make them "rules"? Doesn't the Bible say that a woman's hair is her crowning glory? That's why the Mennonite women don't cut theirs. So which is it? Why abuse people over "preferences" with inherent ambiguity?}

The community is thriving, with 158 adults and 57 children as resident members, sharing 22 community homes but not their individual incomes. Ten men have joined the brotherhood, 37 women the sisterhood; all have taken vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to Mother Cay and Mother Judy.

{Note: Over the years more than one in every three members has left claiming a deeply scarring and abusive experience, including the children of the founders and other prominent members.}

Another 519 members are spread across 19 states and five foreign countries. The roll call leans heavily to inherited and earned wealth and prominence: names from the Social Register and Who's Who; executives or children of executives from Nabisco, Dictaphone, and Haynes; Texas oil and farm money; a gaggle of minor Rockefeller heirs; and a few celebrity Christians, like Jeff and Carrie Buddington, former hippie drug dealers once featured in Life magazine, or young Peter Marshall, son of writer Catherine Marshall and the late Senate chaplain made famous in her best-seller, A Man Called Peter. Although Bishop John Coburn, head of the Massachusetts diocese, insists that "they are not a community of the Episcopal diocese of Massachusetts in any way, shape, or form," two other bishops are honored members and regular guests, Bishop Anselm Genders of Bermuda, where the Community runs a 50-acre wilderness estate, and former Bishop Henry Hill of Ontario, home of Grenville Christian College, a secondary school run according to Community principles by Community members.

{Note: The Community applied to become part of the Episcopal and Anglican churches. Both denominations rejected them as "too cultic." So, these days they are self-styled "Benedictines". However, real Benedictines have a charism, do not engage in consumer Christianity, and are historically Catholic.}

"Like Topsy, it just growed," is how Mother Cay explains the Community's 22-year expansion.

Cay (seated) and Judy (standing)

{Note: Topsy was a circus elephant from Luna Park with a bad temper who killed three men. As a result, she was brutally and publicly poisoned and then electrocuted with the help of Thomas Edison. Considering the lesbian relationship of the Mothers, their demonstrated anti-male behavior, and the way that people are treated at the CoJ, what a reference to draw! You can watch video of Topsy being killed here.}

In 1958, Bethany was known as Rock Harbor Manor, a guest house that Cay and Bill Andersen had bought after they moved to the Cape from Braintree in 1950. Cay, who suffered then as she does somewhat now from psychomotor seizures, took care of room rentals while Bill ran his own construction business.

{Note: Cay has passed and the CoJ is now run by Betty Pugsley, aka Elizabeth Patterson.}

Judy Sorensen, a Californian who had moved East after graduating from UCLA and was then just beginning to build a reputation as a charismatic healer, spent her summers with her husband and their four children at a family place across town.

The two women met at a Thursday mornin communion service in the summer of 1958, at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, in Orleans.

"I'll give you fair warning," Judy said at the time, placing a hand on Cay's knee. "You'll never be the same again."

"Oh dear God, what kind of nut have I got here?" Cay remembers thinking.

Both women took the conversation to be prophecy. Cay's health improved that summer and the two women became prayer partners, leaders of a circle of local housewives called the Rock Harbor Fellowship. Shortly after returning to their New Jersey home in the fall of 1958, the Sorensens decided to sell their house. Bill Sorensen quit his job as president of a chemical company, and the family moved back to the Cape, convinced that the Lord had called the two women together. While Bill Andersen winterized the Sorensens' cottage, the two families shared quarters at Rock Harbor Manor. Today's Community doctrine--called, in a bow to 1 John 1-7, "walking in the light"--was born in those early experiences of living together. If eight people were to share one life, they discovered, they needed honesty and self-sacrifice. "Light groups," the mini-encounter sessions stressing confession of sin in self and confrontation of sin in others, grew out of their early family gripe sessions. And they need humility, too. To guard against "idolatry," lest human love for spouse or child challenge love of God, discipline was shared. Obedience was declared sanctified.

Throughout the next decade, Cay and Judy spoke across New England. Their reputation among charismatics and evangelicals grew. In 1968 the first adherents, three single women, decided to move to Rock Harbor Manor, forming the celibate sisterhood; in 1969 three families moved in, and in 1970 the Community was incorporated within the commonwealth of Massachusetts as "a nondenominational religious community," with the Mmes. Andersen and Sorensen directors temporal and spiritual.

Community outreach since then has typically been through mainline Episcopal and Presbyterian churches throughout the country, including the First Presbyterian in Cambridge (whose former pastor, Ron Minor, is now a resident member) and the Fort Square Presbyterian in Quincy. Retreats draw over 1,000 people each year to pastoral, marital, and personal weekends as well as to theme retreats centered on cooking, sewing, or other domestic arts. Another 500 people each year share community homes as "live-ins," receiving what the Community brochure calls "the discipline of a daily scheduled life" for those who agree "to receive direction and correction." Further outreach comes from Sunday morning broadcasts of "The Way of the Cross" on four radio stations and by shortwave to Europe, and through "3D"--discipleship, discipline, and diet--a community-inspired program with over 50,000 members in 4,000 churches nationwide, and with a diet borrowed from Better Homes and Gardens and Weight Watchers.

At home in Orleans, the Community maintains a low profile. Community children attend local schools; Community members are valued patrons at local shops; the 85-piece Sousa band marches with the town parade each Fourth of July. Otherwise, Community members maintain a separate existence. A few townspeople mutter fearfully that Community members are buying up all the prime property--and have the money to inflate prices--but much of the potential hostility has been defused by the Community's generous interpretation of its tax status. Although the main retreat center, valued at $540,000, is not taxed, and the parsonage, valued at $120,000, has a $100,000 exemption, the rest of the Community's $259,700 property is taxed in full, as are all 22 private homes. Local selectman/assessor Gaston Norgeot is on record as having said, "I don't question their motives at all. I think they're doing a great job."

Nevertheless, a certain paranoid queasiness, mixed with admitted ignorance, floats over the town. "I don't know much about them," said three people chosen in a single day of random polling on Main Street, "but I just think they're ... creepy." One local journalist who covered the Community refused to discuss it, on or off the record, beyond warning me that I would find it "a very scary place."

 

"They pushed me into saying I lusted after my little daughter," said Brad Mason (not his real name). "Their idea was that only when you recognize your total depravity can you let Jesus go to work."

"My sin was always the same--I was a consummate bitch," admitted his wife, Jane, coloring slightly but refusing to lower her eyes. "I'd get sick to my stomach I'd be so scared up there.

"I remember when we used to go on Community retreats. Thirty-five or 40 of us would be sitting in that beautiful dining room in Bethany after a lovely meal, and Cay and Judy would come in in their long flowing dresses and say, 'Okay, how many of you want to go with Jesus?'

"Well, in a group like that, nobody in their right mind was not going to put their hand up. Then when everybody's hands were up, they would start.

"'Quit your job,' they'd say to one person. 'Sell your house," they'd say to another; 'Move in with such and such' to a third. And I'd sit there thinking, 'I hope they don't call on me.'"

The gullibility of having believed the Holy Spirit might speak through two middle-aged ex-housewives embarrasses Jane still; she shook her short red hair once and stood up, briskly smoothing the pleat of her skirt and heading for the kitchen.

Jane Mason is a doer, pert and vivacious, with the cream complexion and intense green eyes of her Scotch-Irish father and the spine of her English mother, indefatigable if a bit high-strung. When she had heard I was staying inside the Community, she had organized a group of people on the outside to give me their point of view.

The gathering in the Masons' comfortable contemporary home a few miles from the Community could have been in any middle-class living room on the Cape: two couples chatting on the couches by the wood stove; the hostess serving Sara Lee and Maxwell House to the guests while her husband, the expansive host, leans back in his easy chair and explains the pedigree of the grandfather clock ticking away in the corner. Except that all three couples consider themselves victims of the Community of Jesus.

"I could have gotten 40 people here," Jane told me. "But I thought the six of us represented a good cross-section."

It was not a representative group, however; only Brad and Jane had actually been active within the Community. The Masons' four guests shared a common lament, depressingly familiar from the seventies--our children have been stolen; they're not the same anymore; they've found a teacher/answer/guru/cause; it's a cult--unusual here only in that all of the "children" were in their thirties, presumably long past adolescent rebellion.

"She thinks she's working for Jesus; she just can't see the truth," said the mother of one 34-year-old Community sister. "I know we've lost him forever," said the other mother, "and his wife and children as well." But neither couple would agree to be quoted by name, afraid, the men admitted, that the Community would take away what few visitation privileges they now enjoy.

Brad and Jane asked that I not use their real names either, but Jane admitted to different fears. "What would our friends think?" she asked. "Wouldn't we look foolish, so easily duped and all?" "It was not," Brad said firmly, "that we think the Community might somehow retaliate, wreaking further havoc within our lives. But better safe than sorry."

Brad Mason had been ambitious. The first in his family to go to college, he had risen from his rural New Hampshire roots to a tenured professorship at a Big Ten university. But when his dream job came along--the chance to cap his career climb and move back to New England at the same time--he had been apprehensive, afraid of disrupting the family's security. But Jane had been supportive. She had encouraged him to chase his dream, and then, when the decision was made, she had packed all their belongings--from the Steinway baby grand to the framed portraits of their five children, two-year-old Shannon through 10-year-old Robert--and drained the family savings account to move to Cape Cod. And when Brad's dream job fell through, driving him into despair, it was Jane, then 36, now 41, who had taken a job typing and filing.

Brad is 45 now, confident and open; he was 40 when his career collapsed and he turned to the Community for Christian support, leaving his family outside, and joining the Community's live-in program.

"I was terribly vulnerable and in great need," he began, speaking slowly while his wife nodded. "You are awfully childlike at a time like that anyway, and you have to agree to be obedient when you move in. You're blessed by being obedient, even if what they tell you is wrong."

"They play a guilt trip on you," Jane explained. "And people are treated as if they didn't have an ounce of brain in their heads."

"The first month and a half I was there, my family was not allowed to visit," Brad went on. "Finally they let my wife and the children in for an hour in a room full of other people. My children saw me and came running across the room, calling 'Daddy! Daddy!' They threw their arms around me, and immediately several Community men began chewing me out. How could I let my children behave like that? Didn't I know that was idolatry?"

{Note: The kids hadn't seen him for a month. Seems like normal kid behavior to me. Idolatry is something else entirely.}

"The experience nearly split our family up," Jane said. "Our children were small, but I was told to leave them alone in the house and God would protect them. I'm still not sure the children have recovered.

"And they just about made a physical wreck of Brad. He would sit in his car and cry and cry; I didn't think I could ever pull him out."

Brad was finally kicked out for being rebellious, ordered to get on a bus and return to his parents' New Hampshire home in shame. "Just because one day I asked, 'Why are all the houses run by women?'" He shook his head, rueful.

"They gathered the men around the dining room table, with Cay and Judy in the background, and told me I was haughty and arrogant. How could I ask such a thing? Didn't I see what sin I was in?

"I couldn't even say goodbye to my children. I just got put on the bus.

"Then it hit--there I was, a grown man, being sent back to my parents, alone. I cried all the way back home. When I got there my parents didn't recognize me. So many people said I looked just like a zombie, I began to wonder just what had happened."

What the Community describes as "walking in the light" Brad and Jane and others describe as order run amok and authority sanctified. Live-ins like Brad are said to require special permission for any unscheduled activity, leaving the grounds, receiving a visit, going to sleep, or watching TV. One former live-in was ordered to write a letter to the head of the household each week, detailing his thoughts and deeds and asking for correction. "Pour it on me more," he would beg. "Humiliate me more." Light groups served to remind members of their utter worthlessness, demanding confession and accusation to increase vulnerability; to argue when accused of sin was an act of rebellion, a heinous sin in itself.

"It's a game," former member Phyllis Wood has said. "If you can jump on somebody first, everybody forgets you. And if you get really good, you know the right sin to confess to bring you closer to achieving perfection and becoming one of the elite.

Having walked in the light the longest, Mother Cay and Mother Judy are the most nearly perfect of all, at the top of the hierarchy. Close behind are the other Community leaders, those whom God has most obviously elected, the homeowners, clerics, and celebrity Christians, the useful, the prominent, and the wealthy. At the bottom are individuals like the man who, as former member Jan Snure remembers, who was ordered to yell "I'm a pile of shit!" into the mirror each morning to illustrate his own acceptance of personal wretchedness.

Intimidation comes easily. When Dean Allen, now a university student, decided to break away from the Community after a year and a half inside, he was called in for one final counseling session with the Mothers. "They said, 'God told us you will lose your salvation if you do not become a brother,'" he remembers. "They implied it was doubtful I would live too long outside their protection."

Others who have left the Community in disobedience of the Mothers' vision of God's will remember similar prophecies. "If you do not give me your life, I'll take it," Mother Judy, ostensibly speaking for God, told one former member. The Reverend Steve Fowler, of the Evangelical Baptist Church in South Yarmouth, formerly a Community live-in, reports counseling 10 families "seeking assurance that God wouldn't strike them down because they left the Community."

To Dr. Basil Jackson, a psychiatrist now practicing in Milwaukee who treated a number of families who have left the Community, such tactics constitute "thought control" and "brainwashing." At their most severe, they produce mindless devotees, people who "need to have a rigid external authority figure, someone to do the thinking and deciding."

Neil Duddy, a professional cult researcher with the Spiritual Conterfeits Project in Berkeley, California, saw the same pattern of authoritarianism cloaked in sanctity at a Community retreat he attended in February of 1980. Ordered to "lay aside his mind," Duddy was isolated from fellow retreatants, confined to Community property, and confronted with his own manifest failures. "As you have heard it from the Lord, you have heard it from us," retreat leaders insisted to the group, building what Duddy calls "a bonfire of emotional exposure" through a marathon mass confession. At first Duddy was puzzled by the Community, by "the phenomenon of upper-class repentance and personal atonement for independent living," he says. Today he calls it "an attempt to restructure social class," and "the means of achieving a new social role and a new spiritual class."

Brad Mason thinks it is simpler than that. He calls it "satanic." He promised to pray for me as long as I was inside. Certainly the Lord would watch over me.

"When we drive near there we ask God to put an angel on guard to protect us on each of our car bumpers," he assured me. "That has seemed to work so far."

 

"When I first came to the Community, it gave me the willies," Dan Ford admitted. "First of all there were these two women running the place. If it had been men it would have been different; but the women bothered me."

"He had a very controlling mother," Dan's wife, Camie, laughed. "I loved it from the first."

At 41, Camie Ford still turns heads. A former ingénue, debutante, and model gone from private schools to a solid marriage, children, and her rightful spot on the charity-ball steering committee, she is impeccable still, a perfect hostess, with pale blue eyes beaming girlishly over implausibly high cheekbones and a practiced smile that charms. And Dan is the ideal Community consort, unflappable and unperturbed by interruptions. In his brown Shetland sweater and blue button-down oxford shirt he still looks boyish at 47; his unlined face reflects the casual ease breated in the air of St. Paul's and Yale some 30 years ago.

"I'm very haughty and proud, you know," Camie chattered confidentially, carrying a pot of Brim to the table while Dan listened politely. "Here if I get just super haughty, someone will speak to me.

"I knew how to use people in Cleveland, and people knew how to use me. But no one tries to use anyone here." She shook her short blond hair in amazement. "That was such a freedom. You could say exactly what you wanted at the dining-room table and it wouldn't affect your chances of being vice-president of the Junior League next year."

{Note: They seem to be experts at "using others" ... so much so they casually drop it into conversation. Don't be fooled by the smiles and flashy accoutrements.}

I had special motives for choosing to talk with Camie and Dan from among the Community folk Jill placed at my disposal. Although we had never met, all three of us had grown up in the same hometown, sharing the same Saturday night country-club foxtrots and Sunday morning Nicene Creed, but separated by a scant generation. During the years of Kent State and of Watergate, they were settling into the established order, holding the fort, living in a custom-designed contemporary home in the country and paying for tennis and dance lessons for three kids. Dan was the president of the Midwest's largest commercial real-estate firm, and his wife was a leading socialite.

Antioch, the Community home where they live today, is a neat white frame in a grove of cedars; Camie has decorated it much as she might have the place back in Shaker Heights, with the same comfortable couches and tasteful wallpaper, brass andirons at the hearth and ducks on the wastebaskets. But since the Fords share Antioch with one other couple and various and sundry live-ins, all trying to walk in the light together, their kitchen is oversized, and multiple silver-framed wedding pictures perch on the polished end table.

Lunch with the Fords set the pattern, repeated over and over with only minor variations, for my entire stay. Six to eight people would be gathered, with Jill and Barbara in the lead, and we would eat--breakfasts of eggs Benedict, lunches of crabmeat club sandwiches, dinners of sirloin steak, snacks of cookies and Triscuits, and always pots of Brim--while I listened to fervent, often tearful, testimony about the Community way. We were nine at the Fords, seated over tomato soup, Fritos, and pita bread, but the story of their hardships had few surprises.

They had once believed life would be golden. And it wasn't.

"He didn't think we had any problems," Camie laughed nervously. "That was my problem."

"Well, I did work like a horse back then," Dan admitted. "And I loved it. And I do remember that wehen little things came up for you around the house, I would just sort of be at the office most of the time."

Camie blanched. "You weren't even at the hospital when Danny was born. You were at the office. That's when I knew we were in trouble."

"I think you were jealous."

"I grew up the belle of the ball. I had the whole world at my fingertips. I could have gone anywhere or done anything."

"You were the belle of the ball, but the point is that your parents put so much pressure on you to be 'somebody' and do the 'right' things that you were never free to be you."

"I knew how I was supposed to play the game. And I played it right to the end." She abandoned her silent battle and let mascara streak down her once-perfect cheek. "I just felt down, that's all."

"And your anorexia, too," he reminded her gently.

"My parents bought me a mink if I would please gain weight," she said. "Which I did. Then I got the coat and lost the weight again. You couldn't be too rich or too thin by my thinking."

"That's where the pressure came in," Dan explained patiently. "You had to be thin."

"Everything put that on me," Camie insisted, "not just my parents. You go out and look around the country club: if somebody's got a two-piece bathing suit on and that's the style, you'd better be skinny enough to wear one yourself."

Camie searched through the sixties; she saw a therapist and thought about hypnosis and dabbled in yoga before she heard about the Community from her brother, ex-Doubleday editor David Manuel, in 1970. Thanks to Cay and Judy, David has lost 50 pounds, and his wife, Barbara, had beaten a drinking problem. So Camie agreed to come to a retreat herself.

"I was very nervous, upset, and tense, and I was crying all the time," she remembered. "The second day was just a big fog. I had heard all the teaching, then at night we were having coffee and doughnuts and there stood the Mothers, one on either side of me.

"There were tears streaming down my cheeks. I didn't know why I was crying; I just felt like I could never stop.

"And they said, 'Are you tired of all these burdens? Do you kow there is someone who can take those burdens from your back? Do you know who Jesus is?'

"I felt like a ton of bricks had been lifted from me. I almost collapsed.

"I trust the Mothers completely. I can say anything I want to them and they won't be horrified or put me down or pooh-pooh it; I won't be patted on the back and told, 'That's all right, that's all right, now go make your quiche.'

"I think they're anointed by God to do what they are doing."

Camie's conversion came in 1971. In 1977 Dan acknowledged that he too felt called to the Community, and they moved their family to Cape Cod--"which must have really blown their minds in Cleveland," Dan said.

When the Fords moved to Rock Harbor, their baffled parents threatened to disinherit them, but the checks never stopped coming, and they are reconciled now. Life now, Camie said, is much the same as it was: "I gave up tennis, but I go to meetings and do flower arranging and entertaining." And Camie has learned to face her own sinfulness, relentlessly, and to help Dan face his as well. She is certain of her redemption--"and I have fun, too."

His real-estate career discarded, Dan now markets his landscape photographs, the "Ford Collection," to corporate offices. The man with whom the Fords share Antioch owns a commercial orchid greenhouse.

Nearly half the Community men work outside; the well-to-do own an auto shop, a charter boat, a jewelry store, and a Christian publishing house, while those without property labor around Orleans as housepainters, mechanics, or carpenters. The remainder of the men stay inside, tending to the gardens and grounds.

Private property retains its primacy. Although most Community members tithe their income, there is no common purse. While the retreat center is no longer self-sufficient, the modest donation suggested to retreatants and live-ins is supplemented by the sale of stained glass (made by the sisters) and of the Mothers' teaching tapes, and from donations solicited over the airwaves. No one wants, they say; aristocracy is tempered with Christian charity. But when pressed for an example, the best Jill can do is mention a Community child, a flower girl from her wedding, whom she helps to clothe.

Unlike the other members, the brothers and sisters are pledged to poverty, but the strain of their vow is lightened by regular retreats to Bermuda and pilgrimages to the holy sites of Europe. And ritual keeps them linked together, anchored in the common life of the church services and socials, band concerts and choir rehearsals, daily intercessional services with prayers for the sick, the despondent, President Reagan, and the Mothers, and a yearly Gilbert and Sullivan extravaganza.

On Monday nights, members attend "the teaching," an informal service that began when Mother Cay and Mother Judy first preached seated upon a white upholstered love seat in Bethany's living room. Since the congregation has swollen since that time, the teaching is now held in the chapel, although the original love seat still sits in the living room, roped off in a corner with thick white braid. The Mothers weren't teaching the night I visited; I was told they were upstairs resting. Instead the cheerful Congregationalist led the service, preaching on Genesis 22, the story of Abraham and Isaac.

"We are here tonight because God found us," he began, standing casually at the front of the sanctuary, speaking in easy conversational tones. "God found us where we were, worried, confused, not quite knowing what life is all about."

The subject of his sermon was "God's Way with Us." Look to Abraham, he said; Abraham was willing to put his son Isaac on the altar and drive the sacrifical knife into his heart if God so commanded. And God blessed such obedience. There is a lesson we can all learn from that.

{Note: Yikes!}

 

Of all the Community members, the children were the ones I wanted most to meet. I assumed the adults would be on their best behavior before me, particularly since Jill and Barbara, the two most powerful women in the Community after the Mothers, stayed doggedly at my side. But I assumed the children would be less able to dissemble.

{Note: Can't let the reporter out of their sight, or near the kids!}

If, as I had heard outside, Community life was an emotional firestorm, that would surely show on the children's faces, for Kathi Rose, talking bitterly in the Hyannis Howard Johnson's, was not alone in her charges. Eighteen-year-old Jennifer Hamilton, who lived inside the Community with her mother for seven months, described similar disciplinary treatment: "They used to pull me out of bed at night to rip me up and yell at me about my attitude, especially my self-pity," she remembered. "They yelled at me for vanity, for being too quiet, for keeping things in. And always by a woman; I don't think I got yelled at by a man once."

Trish Ray, a former Community live-in says the Community's treatment of her own infant son was abusive. "When he got tired he would sit and stare," she said. "They thought it was satanic. They called his name, and when he didn't respond immediately they got a glass of cold water and told me to throw it in his face. When I didn't, they did. Three times."

Jenny Hamilton recalls a similar incident involving a one-and-a-half year old disciplined for crying: "The Community adults yelled at him to shut up. When he didn't they hit him, which only made him cry even more. So they held him under a running faucet."

The Community denies all such charges categorically. Jill and Barbara were only too happy to display the Community "young people," introducing them to me over meals, in a Sunday-school class, and in their daily unsupervised after-school study hall. They teach their children well. "There are other kids to call themselves Christians," one boy told me, "but we're different." Boys and girls alike were polite and clean-cut, bright and cheerful, if a bit naive by the standards of their more worldly peers. Salvation, after all, hangs in the balance for them--and what cost being "different" if it brings God's blessing?

Nineteen-year-old Liza Ford and her beau and prospective mate, 19-year-old Drew Jamison, were brought in for my inspection, and they were jewels. Drew looks like a prep-school poster, from his blue eyes and blond hair to his crew-neck sweater and Weejuns. And Liza is the golden girl her mother must once have been, crisp in a red Lacoste knit dress, blonde hair pulled back and blue eyes beaming. For a few years after puberty, Liza lived in Jill's house rather than in Antioch with her parents, a common Community custom practiced for therapeutic reasons and to avoid some of the inevitable conflicts of adolescence. Today both daughter and parents think the separation brought them closer together--"by relieving the pressure-cooker atmosphere," Camie Ford puts it.

Liza and Drew are, in the Community's official term, "building a relationship." As a younger girl, Liza had been kept separate from boys except in groups; she was forbidden, for example, from talking to a male on any but the ground floor of the house in which she was living. Courtship begins only after the boy gets permission from Mother Cay and Mother Judy; if the Holy Spirit smiles on the young couple, "building a relationship" leads to engagement and then to marriage.

"I can't even imagine what my life would be like if I weren't here," Liza admitted, echoing a thought I heard from most of the Community children. "I probably would have been like all the other girls." Liza's grandparents may regret that she passed up Radcliffe or Smith, but she is happy with her current job teaching the Community kindergarden in the Fords' basement rec room. Like all the Community children--indeed like all the adults--Liza considers herself blessed.

That conviction of being blessed by God has an intellectual underpinning in the Community's historical apologia, The Light and the Glory, a Christian retelling of America's past, speculative and chatty, written by Peter Marshall and David Manuel. The authors began with a common thesis: America is sick, awash in rebellion, and the family order is disintegrating, rotting from drug abuse, promiscuity, abortion, and sex education.

But, they asked, what if God had a plan for America? What if Columbus were a visionary seeking to bring Christ to undiscovered lands, not a confused Genoese sailor looking for China? What if the Puritans really were chosen by Divine Providence to build a New Jerusalem, and George Washington triumphed over the British because he was born-again?

{Note: No, close to all the founding fathers were Freemasons.}

We were once truly "one nation under God," Marshall and Manuel wrote, but we have lost our way. But what if we were to reaffirm our special convenant with God? What if we were to live like that original blessed community in Plymouth, just 60 miles away from Rock Harbor? Surely then we would be a beacon for God's glory.

The Light and the Glory was published in 1977. That spring, Peter Marshall, who had brought most of his East Dennis congregation into the Community with him in the early seventies, broke away, packing his belongings and moving out of the Community for reasons that, for all the speculation among his confused former parishioners, remain unclear. All that is clear is that he did leave; rumors about the actual departure, dubbed the "Thursday Night Massacre" by witnesses, swirl even today. Witnesses describe a mass denunciation, with Community members, lead by Cay and Judy, warning Marshall that by leaving the Community he was in rebellion against God's will, and that could lead to cancer for his wife, drug addiction for his children, or, for Peter himself, an early death like his father.

Nonsense, I was told when I asked the Community members about the charges. There was no mass denunciation. No death threats. Just concern expressed with love. And Peter, after all, has returned.

{Note: Nonsense? A Community of "Jesus" calls the Bible nonsense? Also, if you are engaging in the criminal conduct known as "death threats," you are acting outside the law, and you are in no way acting in a Christian manner. That's just not arguable.}

Unfortunately, Jill staunchly refused to let me talk with Peter alone. Which shouldn't have surprised me, since she hadn't let me talk with anyone alone. During each interview she would sit at my side, working on her needlepoint and listening carefully to correct any "misunderstanding."

{Note: They don't want the truth to come out. Unfortunately, the journalist doesn't pursue this. Christ wasn't afraid of Truth, in fact, he advocated it. The early Christians said that as soon as a group could not be open, then they were no longer Christian.}

And she had answers to turn away all my objections. Talk to some of the children alone? They were "too fragile." Talk to Kitty Hamilton, whose daughter Jenny charged the Community with abusing her and destroying the Hamilton family? She has "suffered enough." Everyone else's story, it seemed, was too personal to be told without Jill's protection.

Not that it would have mattered if I had seen Peter Marshall alone. Once again he stands foursquare convinced of the righteousness of the Community way. He came back, the past behind him, clear-eyed and ready to start afresh. He had been troubled and confused, but now he is in obedience to God's will. It was a story much like all the others I had heard from the smiling faces presented to me. Only the details changed, and over three days, as even the phrases became the same, a certain monotony set in. Everyone had been "called." They had been in pain, wounded and vulnerable, but now they were healed. Mother Cay and Mother Judy had "discernment." Thanks to them--and "of course" to the Holy Spirit--the wretched had come "to the light."

There was an answer too, apparently, for each tale I had heard from the disaffected: They had misunderstood what they were told. Or they couldn't measure up to the rigors of "walking in the light." Or they outright lied.

{Note: Interesting, but not surprising, they would call the truth-tellers the liars. Rather ironic that their Priory Gifts shop now sells "Treat everyone like a Christ" plaques.}

Although Kitty Hamilton regretted the saparation from her daughter Jenny, at least she is in God's favor. Roger Snure, labeled "brainwashed" by his clergyman father, dismisses the charge as a taunt from an embittered egotist "who just couldn't hack it here." And both of the children whose parents had told me of the theft of their offspring sang the same song: "My parents are really happy because I'm happy here. Really."

"See?" Jill asked, showing off the smiling faces. "We don't chain anyone here. People who come do so of their free heart's choice; if they don't want to give of themselves 24 hours a day, they shouldn't stay."

{Note: Gee, even wage slavery is compensated and limited to 40 hours a week, give or take.}

The happiest faces belonged to the brotherhood, Frank Merriwell types to the man, all sworn to Mother Cay, Mother Judy, and the Community before God. They had come of age in the sixties, but had floundered on the shoals of adult hood until the Mothers threw them a lifeline. One had lost his father, felt "depressed and lonely all the time," until "the Community gave me back a family." Another, a bored ex-student with inherited money, was "saved" from crippling apathy by the Mothers' ministrations. "I was an emotional wreck," a third told me earnestly, explaining his flirtation with drugs and the nervous breakdown that followed. "I had to learn to be obedient, and that meant hearing some harsh truth.

"Even if the Mothers make a mistake, God will still honor my obedience to them," he assured me.

{Note: Wonder if he's heard of Stanley Milgram? Rather the same excuse war criminals give.}

So he's covered. His Mothers will protect him. Forever.

It is a doctrine that few adults, but many children, can cling to.

 

By the time I finally got to meet Mother Cay, I felt anesthetized, coddled, overfed, and overdosed on tales of how the walking wounded had learned to walk in the light. Each time I had asked after either of the Mothers, I had been given the same answer: they were upstairs "resting," preparing for an upcoming Washington prayer breakfast with President Reagan. So I did not anticipate being granted an audience. But I was sitting in the dining room drinking my Brim and listening to David Manuel--Jill, as always, at my side--when she appeared. Mother Cay. As if by magic. Two silent sisters bustled over to wrap her legs in an afghan, while another piled more wood on the Jotul stove.

Her long yellowish hair was tied in a braid at the back of her head, and her pale face was a road map of fine wrinkles; she looked like my grandmother, from the smiling eyes and open grin to the extra poundage and multiple chins, if my grandmother had taken to wearing flowing gray robes. She sounded like my grandmother, too, her gravel voice filled with down-home gusto and gumption, except more theatrical, and given to great dramatic swoops and plunges as she chronicled the woes Community critics have caused her.

{Note: Well nice people don't generally create a growing list of victims, enemies, and critics throughout their life.}

"How can I love somebody who slashes me to bits?" she asked, ever folksy. "Or kicks me in the fanny? Or shoves me in the mud? I'll look to Jesus; he'll show me the way.

"I cannot stand to be misunderstood," she complained, melodramatic and petulant. "When I was a little girl, my mother would set the table and my sister would steal the butter off and eat it, and my mother would accuse me. I've gotten many spankings for things I never did. And for me to be misunderstood is the most awful thing in the world.

"So what does God in his great wisdom do?" She dropped her voice to a whisper, then began a word by word crescendo. "He puts me in a position where I am completely and totally mis-un-der-stood!"

Cay sat back in her chair, calm and conversational. "And I have become a stronger person for it. That is the way we are called to live. That is the way Jesus went." She smiled warmly. "The way of humiliation."

{Note: And all this time we thought Christ was about loving your enemies, praying for those who persecute you, exhibiting the fruits of the spirit, and caring for the poor.}

She knew people questioned the holiness of her works, that some of the disaffected even call her satanic, but she has her answer. "I believe there are all kinds of ministries. And we must not question," she insisted, thumping the arm of her chair for emphasis. "We are to let God do his work. Through his people."

{Note: As long as that 'people' is her? Reminds me of George Bush's comment: "This would be a heckuva lot easier if it were a dictatorship. Just so long as I am the dictator. Heh, heh."}

Then she was off--with an occasional prompting from the ubiquitous Jill when she dropped the thread of her narrative--through a recollection of the early days, when instead of the Mothers they were just Cay and Bill Andersen and Judy and Bill Sorensen and the four Sorensen kids, good Christians trying to live together in the light. "A modern miracle!" she exclaimed. "Wouldn't you have thought God would have left me in peace? But he didn't. He picked me up and sent me into that mess of brats.

{Note: Who would Jesus call a 'mess of brats'?}

"I call it the way it is. And they were brats! They did not have the faintest notion of how to behave; they would not mind! So I set about it."

{Note: Nurse Ratched, step aside.}

It was a story often told, I knew, repeated for all her visitors without ever seeming rote, although there was no breaking through her speech. I had heard the story myself, with minor variations, in testimony from the disaffected and the elect alike. For all their passion and paranoia, I was getting numb. There was no breaking through any of the stories. While I could not swallow whole the tales from either camp--not the charges that it was a brainwashing cult, a Jonestown on Cape Cod, and not the claims of divine blessing with personal and historical redemption, either--I could understand the temptation of both sides to look for total answers and final solutions. But I kept expecting some explosion. With all that sin, discipline, and obedience, I expected to see some sign. Or at least some intrusion from the real world. Not the shadow of my late grandmother presiding over an apparently triumphant vision of upper-middle-class Episcopal good taste, neat, ordered, a vision from the old Saturday Evening Post.

I never did get to meet Mother Judy, but I saw her on TV. Carrie Buddington, the former Life magazine hippie drug dealer brought to Christ, now at the helm of the Community's fledgling video team, set up the oversized Sony and tapes in the living room. Cay and Judy both looked terrific on screen, like average American housewives from the fifties sitcoms, grown up now, and 50 pounds heavier. And unaffected, too. Even with the diamonds on their fingers and necks and with their flowing dresses, they are modest and comfortable, sharing what life and the Holy Spirit have taught them.

Video is clearly the next step, the logical progression into the eighties, beyond cassette-recorded teaching tapes. Although Mother Cay told me she doesn't like the idea, technicians are being trained, and a Hitachi color camera is perched in the far corner of the chapel, ready to roll. And they have produced a promo short, a five-minute home-movie summer-camp color featurette on the Community at work and at play, with overexposed pictures of sailboats and the sparkling Cape Cod Bay, families tending their gardens while smiling children play games and eat hamburgers from teh brick barbecue pit.

My last night, the Community's 85-piece marching band, joined by all three Community choirs, gave a concert in the chapel. Outside, a light, powdery snow fell over the plaster Jesus, but inside everything was warm, the white walls and walnut paneling transformed by light from the electric candles, the bras cross over the altar gleaming like gold.

The program began with the bell choir, 12 clear-eyed, white-toothed, short-haired Community youngsters lined up behind 39 polished bells, all of them smiling, resplendent in their uniforms, light blue for the girls, dark blue for the boys, with gold braid and a large CJ emblazoned on white tunics. All playing together in perfectly rehearsed harmony. Jill sang a solo, off key; both the band and the choirs performed, and then the conductor raised his baton to signal the finale.

The drum rolled, and the band and choir rose in unison. "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord," the choir sang, as the entire congregation rose and joined them.

There was Camie Ford, former ingénue, former model, former vice-president of the Junior League, beating out that stirring rhythm of old on her drum. And Liza Ford, Camie's golden daughter, playing along on the alto sax. And Jeff Buddington, once a stoned freak, joining in on the French horn. All of them in uniform, all marching together, playing with heads thrown back and eyes uplifted, exultant. And Dan Ford and Barbara Manuel in the choir; no more crying in the wilderness; celebration now. And all the brothers and sisters, all the refugees from Shaker Heights and Darien, the disappointed and unhappy, the vulnerable and weak, everyone in the congregation, all stamping out the tempo with their marching feet, their anthem swelling.

"He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored," they sang, louder and louder, ecstatic and rejoicing. And although their vision came from an era I could never believe in, some mythical past when Mother knew best and America was blessed and God smiled on the "up and out," I could have sung along. How sweet to share their unity, questions answered and confusions soothed, to march to that strange and stirring drumbeat.

"Glory," they sang, "glory, hallelujah!" All of them marching together, each in an assigned place, arms pumping and feet stamping in time, bodies swaying, faces transfixed, marching toward the new Jerusalem with the terrible swift sword of the righteous.

Afterward, the Sisters served cookies and Brim in the living room.

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