This is the story of The Trees Community, a semi monastic Christian group that left NYC on a bus in 1971 on a journey of faith. When most of our money burned up the first night, we relied on God for all our needs and he provided! We traveled the United States growing in our new faith, finding a ministry in music and eventually becoming artists in residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Seven years, seven "stories" are woven into this amazing journey.

Actors and Actresses

Stephanie Arje

The next permanent addition to the Loft was a good friend of Ariel and Shipen’s named Stephanie Arje. She had been a steady visitor to the Loft long before I arrived that summer. She was an actress and had been off touring Europe with the theater company Stomp. (The same group that had visited the Loft during my Easter visit). With thick black wavy hair, and a flair for the theatrical, she had a warm, loving, maternal side coupled with a strong will. Stephanie’s easy laugh and delightful sense of humor conveyed her joy for life. Not one to pull any punches, I could count on her to be direct and honest with me, a quality I really appreciated. She and I immediately connected, feeling a sisterly camaraderie. It was wonderful to have another woman around!

Stephanie explains how she came to the Loft:

"I met Shipen, Bruce and Ariel through Stomp (who I met through late night radio - another story in itself). There was something about the production that intrigued me. I became a regular or more accurately, a Stomp groupie. Steve Gambill, one of the cast and I became friends and one night after a performance, Steve took me to the Loft. He wanted to introduce me to two of his friends, Ariel and Shipen.

I don’t know why, but I wasn’t phased as Steve and I entered the building at 108 Fourth Avenue. In fact, it seemed rather ordinary to me, but maybe that was because I was older (at my mature 20 years of age) or because I was a native New Yorker used to the darkness and musty smells of the City – or – maybe it was because I worked in Harlem. Whatever the reason, it all seemed normal to me, well, that is until I entered the kitchen that was really a bathroom in disguise. But we did not stay long enough for me to puzzle too much over the layout.

Shortly after our arrival Steve introduced me to Shipen and Ariel. We all set off for a big party with the cast of Hair. (It seems Shipen and Steve knew an actor named John Amen, who was part of the cast of Hair). The party was a sea of wall-to-wall people. While I think I was supposed to be impressed because everyone, who was someone in New York’s off Broadway inner circle was in attendance, I can’t say as I have any lasting impression worth noting. Matter of fact, it wasn’t very long before our little group left and moved the party back to the Loft.

Back at the Loft we all gathered in the upstairs attic of this four-story building that was really five floors high. It was dark as we all sat on the floor and talked. I can't remember what it was about that evening, maybe it was Ariel’s warmth, maybe it was Shipen’s aloofness, what others called “mystic”, maybe it was the crush I had on Steve, but I left knowing I would be back.

Now at this point in my life, my world was upside down. I had been a by-the-book, Jewish American Princess. Just the year before coming to the Loft, I had been attending New York State University College in Plattsburgh, secretary of the Student Government, studying to become an elementary school teacher and engaged to a young man who was studying for his doctorate at a prestigious college. But there was a dark side to this JAP – I was addicted to amphetamines.

In the mid-to late ‘60’s it was legal for doctor’s to prescribe diet pills (amphetamines). Being taught by my parents that all good Jewish American Princesses are supposed to be thin so we can marry and live happily ever after, they took me to the doctor for the magic pills. It was the end of my senior year of high school. The pills worked well - it was easy not to eat. By the time I returned home from college for Thanksgiving break, I had dropped three dress sizes and many of my high school friends didn’t recognize me.

Three years of these pills and I was a very thin, beautiful nervous, neurotic young woman. I was very much in love with and expected to marry a wonderful young man, Elliot, who was studying for his doctorate at a prestigious university. Life seemed to be lining up just the way it was supposed to for me. However, there were hidden problems. The prolonged use of heavy amphetamines was taking its toll on me.

I was also unable to sleep and when I could sleep, I was unable to get up. I was having extreme difficulties concentrating on my schoolwork when and if I could drag myself to class. My parents (who were paying for my drugs – I mean diet pills) ignored my cries for help. As a result, I flunked out of college. Shortly thereafter, Elliot and I began having conflict that I couldn’t deal with and we broke up. I was angry, what good were these pills doing when my world was coming crashing down on me? I flushed my pills down the toilet and went into a severe depression. I literally slept for weeks partly from exhaustion and partly from the depression. My mother was beside herself with fear and concern for me. One day she came to my room and started screaming at me to get up and get dressed. It must have done me some good, because I did.

I decided not to return to college. I had some serious questions and issues that seemed more important than a college education. I wanted to know who I was, why I was created, and what was my purpose on the earth – since everything I had been taught seemed to have come crashing down on me. I believed God was the only one who could answer these questions. After all, He created me and since He had spoken clearly to Abraham and just as clearly to Moses – even to the point of writing down what He was saying, surely, I was no different then these men and God could speak to me. So I asked Him and moved on searching and waiting for the answers.

It was the fall of 1969. I got a job working in Harlem as a "surrogate" parent in a NYC Department of Social Services temporary shelter. I wanted to change the world (especially poverty) by changing children's lives and this seemed like a perfect place to do just that. I believed education and love was the way to accomplish this reformation so I was excited to be working with these abandoned, neglected and abused children. I believed I could affect their lives for the better. But it wasn’t easy.

Commuting to work every day wasn’t easy either. My family lived in Long Island and although my dad bought me a car it was never a quick commute. It was at least an hour’s drive each way – if there wasn’t an accident or my car didn’t break down. After I met Steve, Shipen, Ariel and Bruce, well, commuting became even more difficult because I would stay in the City at the Loft until late at night and still have to be at work by 7 am each morning. Eventually, I got an apartment in the Village only a block from the Loft on 3rd Avenue and 13th Street. My commute was no longer by car but by foot and many evenings, Ariel or Bruce would walk me home.

Our nightly routine at the Loft included dinner, Stomp performances, readings and discussions. Our literature included readings at the Loft of Clear Children, The Impersonal Life and the Urantia Book. Oddly enough, these books seemed to hold the keys to unlock the power I believed would make a difference in the lives of the children I worked with daily. I remember after one reading of the Urantia Book, how Jesus returned love for evil. I thought, that is it. I must love like Jesus loves and the power of love will change little Antonio’s life. Just one changed life… that is all I wanted.

More than anyone else in the Loft, I seemed to connect with Bruce and became more or less "his pupil." Bruce taught me to use LSD as a tool for enlightenment. I took my first hit of acid with him reading Clear Children and The Impersonal Life to me. I remember passing through the veil of fear into a completely new world of light. I saw the symbol of every religion, every philosophy, every truth and then I heard, “I will look to the mountains from whence cometh my help, my help comes from the Lord.” Instantly, I knew, I was on the right path, the road to find the answers to my questions – my purpose, my reason for being created... God was going to reveal it all to me. I was going to know the Truth.

Besides being my teacher and my friend, Bruce and I would take off on the spur of the moment and do all sorts of crazy things. Remember Forest Gump and the scene at the Lincoln Monument where "we" protested the war in Viet Nam? Bruce and I were there! YUP, in the Wading Pool with Jennie! And when it was all over, we couldn’t get a flight back to New York so we slept at the feet of the Lincoln Monument. Well, we tried to sleep there. We got so cold we couldn’t stand it any longer so we decided to hitch hike to the airport. We were picked up by some guy who offered us a place to stay and a ride to the airport in the morning. In the spring of 1970, that was a perfectly fine thing to do because after all, we were all in the family of the world, eh? But that is another story!

As my friendships with those who lived in the Loft and my relationships with those in the cast of Stomp grew, I went to work less and less. One day, a cast member asked me if I would like to join them and go on tour in Europe. I took my next paycheck and bought the ticket. I gave two weeks notice and took my final paycheck and my backpack, said goodbye to Bruce, Ariel and Shipen and headed off to tour Europe as part of Stomp.

The entire time I was in Europe, I read my Impersonal Life, the Urantia Book and Eckincar. I dropped acid and I prayed. My hunger for Truth grew stronger and stronger. I was determined, no matter what, to learn everything I could about God, the Father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Faithfully, I wrote to my friends at the Loft sharing my experiences and eagerly looking forward to learning what they were experiencing.

I ran out of money in Europe after about 4 or 5 months and had to return before the rest of the cast. The first thing I did upon my return was go to the Loft for dinner and to “talk” until all hours of the night. Unbeknownst to me, many changes had occurred among my friends during the time I was in Europe. For one thing there were new people who had moved in … Shishonee, David K and David L… there was talk of others joining, Sarah, Naomi… For another thing, there were these great people I would soon meet named Roger and Claudia. But there were even bigger changes that I learned about that night from Shipen and Ariel and challenges to my search for Truth. – But, I will let the others go on with their stories and return later, when they catch up. Of course, as was customary, we talked until the wee hours of the morning so instead of taking the subway and the railroad back to my parents’ home I was invited to stay the night (a night I might add, that turned into two years). "

So now there were two women for the men to put up with. Our family was morphing, expanding and changing, much to the chagrin of some.

Stephen Gambill

Another integral member of the original group was Stephen Gambill, another member of the cast of Stomp. Steve was an athletic, muscular young man with short blond hair and a ready smile. He could be quiet and reflective while at other times he was focused and intense, all qualities that allowed him to excel as an actor, poet, artist and a musician. He threw himself into whatever he did with dedication and intensity. I envied his ability to be introspective and his Zen-like focus as he worked on poetry or beautifully detailed shadow boxes. To me Steve was an enigma, a puzzle box to which I never seemed to be able to find the key.