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.

When a People Long for the Strain of a Song: Reba Place

Reba Place

October 11, 1971. Nomadic travelers once again, we headed to Elkhart, Indiana to perform at a large Mennonite assembly and later at a coffee house at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. This was followed by a concert at Pleasant View Mennonite Church, and then on to St. Mark’s Missionary Church where we split up into pairs to stay in people’s homes for the night. At this point the bus promptly broke down. While getting the bus repaired (it needed a new hydrovac whatever that was), we tried to get in touch with Roger and Claudia to see how they were faring at Redeemer. Shipen finally tracked them down at Roger’s cottage in the upstate New York. That was a surprise since I assumed they were at Redeemer. What was more shocking to me was the fact they owned a cottage! I suddenly realized that they hadn’t given everything away on that fateful day when we left New York City like the rest of us had! First Roger sneaking off to eat hamburgers while we fasted; now he and his wife had a cottage no less! What next!? (It was more than likely a family cottage but I did not know that at the time so was upset. I had a lot to learn about misjudging others! More to the point, better to just focus on living my life as a disciple of Christ and stop comparing myself to others).

With bus repairs completed we drove to our next destination, Sara and Ken Oscarson’s home at Reba Place in Evanston, Illinois. This was a Christian community ministering in an urban setting. Over the next two weeks we rehearsed, performed, prayed and made new friends. I was delighted to be reunited with my former housemother from Leelanau School, Annie, who lived in the area. I hadn’t seen her since the day we left New York City.

Eating together at Reba Place

Parked at the Oscarsons, the bus became a gathering place with visitors coming and going at all hours of the day and night. As was often the case, our bus was a magnet for desperate or troubled people. On our third day there a woman named “Hilda” rushed in high on some kind of drugs, hysterical and on the verge of suicide. We prayed and talked with her throughout the day. She moved from staring blankly ahead to trembling to smiling to screaming, “I don’t want to die!” We prayed with her, laying on hands and assuring her of God’s love. Sometimes we sang softly and at other times we read from scripture or prayed together. Eventually, she fell to her knees, weeping and thanking Jesus for loving her. It was a busy time. We worked at the Reba coffee house, helped others prepare meals, painted the community's houses, baked bread, helped in the nursery, joined prayer meetings, and, as always, worked on music. At this point, our music was growing into something richer and more complex as each visit with another branch of the Church added new flavors and textures to our “symphony.” We drew from monastic plainsong from our contemplative friends at the Abbey, German hymns from the Hutterite brethren, and the Christian pop rock, which was pervasive in most of the church groups we visited. Added to this were the powerful influences of Indian and eastern music from our Loft days and the marvelous possibilities we were discovering daily in our huge assortment of exotic instruments and noisemakers. Somehow it was decided that we should wear costumes to perform in. We sewed full length brightly colored robes and we women wore long head coverings that reminded me of outrageous outfits from some bizarre nativity scene.

Performing at Reba Place

We played our first children’s concert at the Reba Place Playhouse, which included: The Bell Song, The Lord will Provide, a reading of the story of Jesus feeding the 5000, His Banner over me is Love, and Lord of the Dance. The children were delighted and joined in doing all the hand movements with the Banner song, giggling and laughing with delight. It was magical to experience this new ministry unfolding. Though writing the music was stressful at times, the performances drew us together in a special way, healing and renewing us.
During our stay, a young man named Ken Moore came to visit and expressed his interest in staying on with us. Shipen explained what a commitment to our group would involve along with our practical day-to-day living arrangements (bus duties, pooled money, daily confessions, family discussions, etc.). Shipen also warned him it would be a difficult life and that it was not as romantic as it might seem at first. Ken was still determined to join and on the day we left Reba Place he became our newest member.

Then we had a shocking surprise! While shopping one day at a local supermarket, David Lynch and I filled out an entry form for a contest to give away a new Cadillac. Since our bus was not really a useable address, I put in the address for the Oscarsons. As I filled it out, I had a curious but very strong premonition that we would win. Sure enough, about a week later, we received a call saying we had won the Cadillac! Amazing! But what would we do with a car? It seemed that God must have a plan so we prayed, asking God to show us what to do. Almost as soon as we finished voicing that prayer, the godmother of one of the Reba Place members burst onto the bus. “Sister Cleo” was a loveable, flamboyant, bodacious black woman who greeted us with “Hallelujah! Praise God!” the moment she stepped onto the bus. Immediately she launched into testifying about the power of the Spirit in her life and God’s overwhelming love. I loved Sister Cleo! What a woman! She asked us to sing some songs for her and then we prayed together.

Suddenly she grasped our hands, closed her eyes and shared a prophesy with us. It was of a tree standing beside flowing water whose leaves would never wither. Yes Lord! (This was providential and soon afterwards we changed our name from the Symphony of Souls to The Trees Community.). After she left, we discovered she didn’t have a car and had to rely on others in the church to help her shop or run errands. After prayer, we felt convicted that the new car should go to Sister Cleo. The next day she was utterly delighted with the news. “Praise God! Hallelujah! Praise Jesus!” she exclaimed, beaming with joy and thanksgiving for God’s bounty -“Oh the Lord will provide.”