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.

Dog Days of Summer: Navigating Rough Waters

August 7, 1973
As the days grew hotter that summer, we grew more tense and tempers flared. I still don't know why but like quarelsome siblings, we were adept at arguing and picking at one another. It was as if we couldn't help ourselves.

On August 7th things reached an explosive point. We sat down together in the living room for a family discussion. Shipen started off saying he felt there was a “weight of judgment” against him and he asked for everyone to be open and honestly confront their homophobia and talk about it, if they indeed felt that way. This was followed by a few minutes of dead silence. As I sat there, I got a knot in the pit of my stomach and I had a bad feeling that this discussion was not going to be a pleasant one. What was he talking about? No one had anything against homosexuality that I knew of. It took awhile before eventually other feelings of anger and resentment came out. One misunderstanding led to another until finally all the men (except Ariel) were yelling at each other. Soon anger morphed into fury and suddenly David yelled out "Your sick!" and Shipen and he fell to wrestling and thrashing around on the floor. I burst into tears sobbing while Ariel and Steve got in between the combatants forcing them apart. Then Shipen stormed off to a corner of the house while David lay weeping in Ariel’s arms, trying to explain that he hadn’t meant "that". He hadn't meant anything against Shipen and certainly didn’t care if he or anyone else was gay. An awkward stillness fell over the apartment. David K. sat looking worried and I curled up against the wall, crying uncontrollably. All of us fell to praying intensely. Lord, please heal us. Please heal our anger, our frustrations, our disagreements. Lord, bring us back together as a family. God, please bring your peace.

About an hour later after emotions subsided, we gathered back together again in the living room and Shipen and David tried to talk things over. Eventually they agreed that they both believed in the love of community and that between us our love was a Godly love. David tried to explain he did not hate anyone and that he hadn’t been condemning anyone. He had nothing against homosexuality or anything like that. Shipen accepted this but seemed to me to be somewhat withdrawn and finally we all went to bed at 2:30 a.m.

Early the next morning, I wrote in the back of my journal, setting my feelings into poetry that eventually became the song Sometimes the Dreams:

…Can God heal the empty places
buried deep inside our hearts?
Can he see the pain etched in our faces
from being stubborn one time too long?

Sometimes the dreams drift away, melt away
From our thoughts, and hopes
Drift away until suddenly they are gone…

I was deeply worried about the emotional stability of all of us, including myself. Our fights had escalated to a new level and I wasn’t sure we could hold things together at the rate we were going. At our next weekly meeting with Canon West we brought up the matter of the fight and our problems with explosive emotions, etc. He suggested first off that we should keep Greater Silence as much as possible. Would this be something we would want to do all day? No was our unanimous response. In that case, he recommended chosing our words more carefully, speaking more directly and to the point. He also suggested that we try to write things down so as not to get our personalities so involved. Shipen disagreed on this point, believing that it was important to hash out our differences and that we should maintain our practice of sharing our thoughts and feelings as much as needed until together we could "reach love.” He continued to argue this point with Canon West.

Eventually Canon West dismissed us and Shipen seemed even more withdrawn afterwards. During our next chapter meeting he pointed out we needed to maintain our family integrity and not just let Canon West mold us into something that we were not as we worked to define what our community was, and how this would be lived out through our mission and work.

On August 12, 1973 Steve’s brother “Christopher” Gambill came to visit for a week along with Patricia (his wife) and a friend named Mary. He walked into our internal tempest like a much-needed cool breeze, bringing his gentle, easy going spirit. Christopher was tall and thin with shoulder length blond hair that he kept sweeping out of his eyes. He had the manners and poise of a soft-spoken, southern gentlemen. It was as if he had no hard edges or brittle words - even his voice mirrored his easy-going manner. I found his southern drawl so captivating at first that I couldn’t recall a word of what he'd actually said!


Christopher Gambill

Christopher’s singing voice had a rich, mellow quality that was even more beautiful to listen to than his speaking voice. During the evening, he played his acoustic guitar and sang a new song he was writing called, “I will not leave you comfortless.” Impressed, we asked to hear more and spent the evening exchanging songs together. He reminded me of Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen but better!

The very next day "Liz", our new postulant finally arrived. We met Liz at Redeemer and she had been impressed with the Trees group, but put off joining until our return to New York. We helped her unpack her car and she began the slow process of settling in and adjusting to our community life. Liz brought a down to earth, well-mannered, Texas style and grace that endeared me to her right away. She was charming, elegant and demure all at the same time. Immediately she pitched in cooking and entertaining visitors with delicious meals and lavish spreads. Ariel had been doing most of the cooking on his own for some time and gladly relinquished his spot to Liz upon her arrival. (One of Ariel’s ongoing frustrations was that he didn’t feel his job as cook and secretary were respectable. Now he was free to get a “real” job over in the Cathedral mailroom). I only hoped Liz could survive the gauntlet of the initial adjustment phase into the Trees where so many others had not!

Liz

We continued with our jobs at the Cathedral and the Saturday afternoon concerts. Shipen, Ariel and Stephen went off to bake bread each day over in the Synod Hall. They were using the large kitchen in the Synod Hall but it still wasn't set up for commercial baking. Ariel, Stephen and Shipen would arrive around 9:00am each morning and start mixing the dough by hand and cover each ball of dough with cloth to rise. Meanwhile, they greased and prepared the bread pans and warmed up the oven. Once the bread had risen, they punched it down again, formed it, placed it in the pans and then it was baked until crusty and golden brown. Then they pulled it out to cool on racks, filling the whole Synod Hall with the sweet smell of freshly baked bread. As the bread cooled, the pans and everything else were washed and scrubbed down. Usually it took all morning to bake one batch. After lunch and noon services, they returned to finish cleaning up, package the bread, label it and distribute it to local markets.

At this point our bread business was small but demand was growing. We met with the Dean to discuss a loan to purchase used commercial size ovens and a mixer. The hope was to increase production (and income). The upshot of our meeting was that the Dean promised to see what he could do and Stephen set about trying to find the best deal on used bakery equipemtn. We were selling our sourdough bread only to local supermarkets and corner stores within walking distance but envisioned spreading to locations around the City. The men had been experimenting with new flavors for the sourdough like raspberry, honey, apricot and peach and each new flavor was a hit.

I remember delivering bread on days I didn't work in the Cathedral gift shop. I would load bread onto a collapsible grocery cart and then take it to each store, carefully stocking the shelves and then collecting our meager earnings. Canon West insisted it was a noble enterprise for any monastic community but sometimes as I stocked the shelves it struck me that with each loaf we were getting further and further in debt. I thought it would be better to just work at the grocery store - more money and a lot less hassle!

Meanwhile visitors continued to drop by and stay overnight. After a day of sight-seeing around Manhattan they would return for dinner followed by Compline. Of course they were eager to talk about their day just when we were supposed to be starting Greater Silence. This was proving to be a real stumbling block to our goal of a more contemplative life.

At our next meeting, Canon West urged us to maintain Greater Silence, insisting that without it we could not continue on our journey to being a true monastic order. He stressed again that we simply must keep silence after Compline. It had to be strictly enforced, visitors or no visitors. If we could not follow the Rule and maintain Great Silence, then we were simply a group of attractive young things with good intentions and not a true religious order. We re-doubled our efforts to keep Greater Silence each and every night.

In August, Shipen wrote a newsletter giving the official version (minus our personal struggles) of our gradual transformation into a formal religious order in the Episcopal Church:
News of the Trees,

It’s been four months now since we have been transplanted to New York City, and the struggle of adaptation has been a vigorous one for all of us individually and as a family. The Lord has been gracious through the Cathedral, for we now have our own dwelling place; an eight room Loft apartment overlooking the Cathedral and three parks. We have a tenth floor view from our home that sees much of New York but mostly Harlem. Looking over the polluted and tired city, into areas of such strife, we find it impossible to remove ourselves. Our Compline service, now sung midst sirens, fire crackers, and blaring radios, has become for us an intercession for the
needs, which loom before us as enigmatic and invisible giants. We feel tremendously strengthened by the prayers and visits of those dear brothers and sisters we met during our two-year bus pilgrimage. Now we are in wonderment as to what to do with all this, and ask you to continue to support us in Love – we are all helpless without each other.

As a family, our adjustment has involved formal entrance into the church as a holy order. A mixed monastic community has never been recognized by the church, and so absorption into the organized structure is not without pain and trial, since all previous attempts have failed; but we hear the Lord’s word to continue working and praying in hopes that we may fit snugly into the work of the church, especially where unity is sought. We believe that the coming together of all the branches of the same tree, is, in these times, no longer a project for men’s discussion, but a charismatic mission of the Holy Spirit. Only in the changing of the hearts of men is a love of mutual interdependence made possible. With this mutual interdependence and trust, we are able to gaze so much more easily upon the holiness of the life of our Lord in all who confess his name as well as those who have yet to see him. When we see the Lord, then we are converted, then we are united, then we have a universal and life-giving church. We don’t believe Christianity has anything to offer a divided world, when the church is divided by doctrine, interpretation, and suspicion. And so our prayer and our duty as a mixed religious – a monastic family, is to work for the reconciliation and completion of the church.

By becoming somewhat settled in our New York home, we are now able to invite applicants for the novitiate. Already we have a new member of the Trees, Elizabeth Manning. She comes from Austin, Texas to us as a blessing and has made it even more apparent to us that Christ’s body is unfathomably rich with God’s gifts in each member. Elizabeth’s strength in household order has already straightened so many cluttered closets, and we thank God for her very presence.

If anyone is interested in examining our program for aspirants, please write to Ariel c/o of the Trees, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10025. One thing I can say is that our work is simple and unambitious. We make bread, give Cathedral tours, and create and present music. Our main goal is unity in monastic family life – a life of personal interdependence within the faith of Christ. Our primary purpose now is to proclaim the Word of God through music and the arts, and we have been secure in this by the Church and especially by our beloved father, Canon West.

If you are planning a visit you will be interested to know that the bus has become our annex and guest house. It is paradoxical to see that little white machine parked so confidently beside the mammoth Gothic cathedral, but no one seems to mind.

May God pour out His abundant blessings upon you in the cause of peace, and to glorify His name in Christ Jesus. [end of newsletter]
By mid September, we performed several formal concerts in nearby churches, and were finishing up our summer Saturday concert series. The sourdough bread business was growing with the purchase of a used mixer and large commercial ovens that we set up over in the basement of the Synod Hall on the Cathedral grounds.

Our new novice Liz threw herself heartily into cooking and entertaining our various guests. However, as the days passed, she seemed to grow unhappy. Ours was not an easy lifestyle and there was way too much arguing, tension and bickering going on unfortunately. Meanwhile, David K shared during chapter meetings that he was thinking of returning to school to pursue a career in art.

I had my own personal problems thinking about David Lynch and wishing we could have more than just a platonic relationship. I longed for companionship and a deeper, loving relationship with him. I had this idyllic view of marriage as being two people sharing intimacy, talking about everything, and loving each other on a deep, emotional level. I hungered for physical touch, to be in his embrace. During weekly confessions with Canon West, I shared my frustrations, longings and dreams of marriage. He advised me to wait, continue to pray and seek God's will.

At this point, Canon West suggested we should all go on a three week retreat to work on our music and reflect on our call to the Trees ministry. Thus it was that on September 29th, we packed up our instruments and drove off in two different vehicles, headed for a long retreat at Madeline L’Engle’s lovely country home called “Crosswicks” in Goshen, Connecticut.

Crosswicks

As we drove up the driveway, the maples, oaks and aspen trees were resplendant in brilliant fall colors. I was immediately struck with the timeless quality of the old house nestled in the red, orange and golden hued fields and woods. I had the sense that I was stepping back into the 1800’s – to a simpler time and place. I carried my few belongings into the house and stopped to admire the rooms filled with antiques, the beautiful lace on the tables, the high ceilings and lovely old wallpaper and woodwork. Each chair, each desk held precious memories and I found myself wondering about those cherished heirlooms. I imagined Madeline curled up in the chair by the window gazing out into the fields as she wrote her poetry or books like A Wrinkle in Time. Certainly that old house had some interesting stories to tell.

With each day’s passing, we fell into a simpler rhythm of life. The busyness and strain of city life faded away. For three weeks I heeded Canon West’s admonition and used our retreat as a time to quiet my body and mind. I reflected on our future together, allowing the music to move through me and bring healing. Stepping back, each of us attempted to listen to what God was saying to us. Madeleine had urged us to open up our hearts and allow peace to fill us. She encouraged us to use silent meditation to find the “other half of our broken selves.”

Each day I would meditate sitting quietly amongst the trees, savoring the beauty of nature around me. I listened to the chattering chipmunks, the lilting call of birds, and the soft whispering sound of the wind breathing through the trees. In each living thing I sought the essence of its beauty, seeking God in everything around me. I loved walking the interconnected trails that led through fields of waist high Queen Anne’s lace and wildflowers and on into the gold and crimson autumn woods. The beauty and peace of Crosswicks was deeply healing. I stopped worrying about marriage and love and enjoyed the peace and solitude of that special place.

At lunch we kept Greater Silence while we listened to Ariel read Madeleine’s newest book, A Wind in the Door. Afterwards, we broke the silence and worked on our music. My favorite time was late in the afternoon when we had an hour or so to go outside. After Vespers, dinner and Compline, we then returned to Greater Silence, turning in early to bed.

Over the weekend, Brother Peter from St. Gregory’s Abbey joined us briefly and Canon West also visited bringing his Irish Setter Timothy. On Saturday, Canon West held mass then read from a Quaker book called The Fellowship of Silence during breakfast. Next he led us in our studies beginning with a lesson about heeding God’s call and finding your life’s work. Canon West shared a shocking story to illustrate his point.

Years ago when he was a young priest, a man had come to him deeply distressed, suffering from a broken heart from a failed relationship and asking to make a confession. He brushed him off and told him to make an appointment to see him the next day. Unfortunately, when the next day came, he received a phone call informing him that the night before the young man had hanged himself. In his typically elusive fashion, Canon West left us to each think about this story and sent us straight off to walk in the woods for the hour before lunch.

On Sunday, our lesson was on the true meaning and important of silence as a means of communication and a healing habit. “Language” said Canon West, “has a tendency of getting in the way of what you are trying to say. Silence is more important than incessant chatter."

That night after dinner we gathered in the living room. Things started out pleasantly enough as Canon West spoke fondly of Winston Churchill and his memories of World War II. Ariel played the gracious host, fixing drinks, bringing in trays of snacks and stoking the fire. I found it fascinating to hear Canon West's stories and I was having the time of my life as I listened eagerly. We relaxed in big overstuffed chairs gathered around a roaring fire in the old stone fireplace, sipping gin and tonic. I felt totally at peace and content. Shipen, however, seemed testy and kept peppering Canon West with what seemed to me like confrontational questions. He reminded me of an angry knight brandishing his sword and trying to entice a sleepy dragon into battle, poking and prodding, to draw him out. Canon West would occasionaly lift an eyelid and glance in his direction but would not be deterred from his reminiscing. Finally toward the end of the evening, Canon West snapped at Shipen asking him to "stop being so rude". Shipen was silent for the rest of the evening. Oh boy.

Canon West and Brother Peter left the next day. Right after they left we held a meeting. I asked Shipen what was wrong saying I was worried about him. Unfortunately, this degenerated into an argument when I admitted I felt Canon West had just been trying to carry on a conversation the previous night. Shipen countered that he felt Canon West had been discounting his ideas and lacked discernment in what we are going through as a family. This led to a discussion about the music, if the creativity was still there, and our ministry. Liz then announced she was going to leave in December. Sarah soon chimed in saying she was going to leave for Michigan for a month or two "to get her head together". She would help us finish off our concert series at the end of next week, then fly home. On that happy note, we started music rehearsal, and then returned to Greater Silence after Compline.

The rest of the week things quieted down and I was able to relax again. The day we left, I took one more private walk in the countryside, trying to absorb the beauty of the blue sky, the delicate wispy pines, the smell of crushed leaves underfoot. At Crosswicks, I felt like an animal coming out of hibernation. I was determined to keep this sense of solitude like a protective cloak around me as I re-entered the grime, pollution and hectic pace of New York City.

Upon our return, David was asked to bring his accounting books in to go over our income and expenses and debt to the Cathedral. He was informed The Trees owed the Cathedral at least $2,000 (a complete surprise to us since we were under the assumption the lumber and other items were a gift). Furthermore, we owed them $5,000 for the bread business start-up costs as well. That was a bit of a shock as we could barely feed ourselves or even pay the rent! How were we going to pay it all off?

Meanwhile we soldiered on keeping the bread business going and doing our best to rehearse and complete the new concert. We performed at Trinity Church and the music, in spite of everything, really was improving.

Stephanie flew in to visit from Houston, and it was wonderful to catch up on old times. I was delighted to see her again and she immediately struck up a friendship with Liz. That afternoon after Theology class at the Cathedral, we gathered together for lunch before going over to give our Saturday afternoon concert. It was to be our last meal together with all of eight of us. In retrospect, I should have seen what was coming but as usual I was oblivious. After eating, Ariel went into the bedroom to use the phone and Sarah went into the kitchen to finish washing the dishes. The rest of us headed over to St. James chapel to set up and tune.

As we dressed in our costumes and gathered together for prayers before going on, suddenly we realized Ariel hadn't come over yet. Had anyone seen him? Who saw him last? Sarah mentioned she’d heard him phoning home and thought that was a little strange. We waited and waited, but he never showed up. Finally we made some quick rearrangements to the music and went ahead with the concert with just the seven of us. As we played, I felt sad and disoriented, and it was hard to focus on the music. I kept thinking about Ariel. Was he sitting in a plane on the way to Florida? Was he wandering the streets down in the village? After the concert, we found a note he had left in the apartment:

Writings on the Ever-Present

Threshold of Becoming

I was given a glimpse of my becoming in a dream one night ago. Of course I only remember the very end of the dream; that has always been my experience with dreams, save one. But I’ve not forced myself to commit this writing to talk about dreams, so we must move from them quickly, as quickly as possible. I was falling, falling hopelessly through a brittle surface and down through a town without end. Then I woke up, momentarily glanced back at the reality I seemed to have just left and forgot that reality in the solidness of my body’s early rising anguish. I have great difficulty at first-rising from the bed.

The writer-poet-archeologist, Loren Eiseley, in his wonderful book, The Dark Journey, has been telling me how trained we are to discount these events in our lives. He speaks not to draw the reader into a rabid hunt for dream memory, or to tempt on gently into seeking truth in dreams, visions and imaginings, most of us I think have learned of the folly of such pursuits, but his direction is towards sensitiveness. He is in creative sympathy with man, revealing our tendency to cast away our life experiences without proper discrimination. I saw myself, as I reflected between page turning, as habitually retaining only a few of my grosser life events. I judge my living moments too harshly and usually in the light of reason and familiarity, collecting only the orange shells on the beach I walk after a time not even seeing the other colors. The eyes we have, our deepest eyes, are made to see the whole spectrum of colors, all the shells on our life’s beach could delight us, if we would but allow ourselves to see them. Gods’ full expression of Himself is in seeing all men as worthy of His loving gaze. We are to be like Him. These thoughts, simplistic, old and invariably true, are not enough, however. We seem to learn something only when it happens to us, like falling. Lord knows I’ve fallen before, out of trees, off of docks, diving boards, chairs, out of love, out of fellowship, down from pride, and from grace and into sin. But, I have never fallen as I fell in that experience the other night. What was different about it?

I can still feel it; the nauseating experience of no reality but the falling itself. There was and is a definite freedom in it, terrifying, but freedom nonetheless. It is a wonderful experience, an external moment in my life, how silly I was to let it go unheralded. Rather, and more accurately, how many of these moments have I left behind since my life’s beginning? They are all a part of me still, yes, but could they not have been heralded, as they passed into my archives of memories? Why should they? Well, because they have happened, they have been as real as those moments which are recorded. I can compare my 21st birthday with the night of the seagull. They were both momentous occasions, but the birthday is pale, next to the seagull moment; the daylong party, a long and rather vacant event, when compared with the eternal split-second when I saw the seagull above me. The first has many meanings, all of them forthright, with some interesting uniquenesses; the snails, the guests, the servants, the beer, our youth and the fun of it all. But the seagull taught me something uncommon. I don’t know what it was all about, or why it happened, or how to speak of it, but it lives in me even now, recurring, terrifyingly beautiful and mysterious. I was walking before dawn on the white, white sand of the beach I grew up on. Walking because I couldn’t sleep. I was adolescently yearning for any other time, place and circumstance than the one I was in. I was also, I remember, bursting with sexual frustration. Suddenly, in one timeless instant, I was none of those things, was nothing, before I could blink. I was walking and suddenly looked up to see the underside of a seagull eighteen inches from my eyes, gliding silently thunderously through my life. Nothing was I aware of in that moment but the white of the bird’s body and the blue-black of the night above it. When it had happened, one second, one still eternal touch later, I fell on the sand and sought some familiar reality again. I once looked after the bird, but it was gone. I stilled my hearts’ running beat and found my breath again. I knew I had seen the most beautiful sight of my life, and the most frightening.

Now, I can see that the past three years have been a similar glimpse into the eternity of existence. Three years of becoming a Christian monk. Three years of holy immediacy and proper praying. Each year has contained its full complement of days, all full of pain, mainly full of Joy. Each year I escaped, once and failed in the first two attempts completely. This one is not yet accomplished, though bags are packed and fear running in my deep places. So much to be left and never forgotten. That much I learned in the first runnings. No place to touch the memories or erase them at all, only the hope that time will accumulate experiences to cover the memories up. Damnation is certainly to be my robe of covering, certainly on my mind, and in my hearts’ heart-hereafter. They are precious and dear, holy na├»ve ones unsure of themselves and gladly trusting in God. I am not something enough to be with them. Not converted still from my own sad ways. Unwilling, I’m sure to step as I might through a commitment into love’s place for me. So. On to where, to what, to when will it end and ‘be still’? Would that my plans would firm up and dry solid. This is the time for strength of character, strength of purpose, strength of weakness, too. I’ve really no right to write this, as its hardly worthy author has nothing worthy of passing on. Pain? All have their share. Weakness? Some excel in it and everyone knows it. Strength? The kind that carries me on to betrayal is not a good gift to give at all. So, I shall not go in my foolish hope that I can leave any softening intelligence to the situation I am creating. Obedience is not apparently accessible to me and so its virtues elude me too. Perhaps, God will otherwise give me experiences effective for my salvation, though I understand I eventually must accept them myself, with aggressive submission to pain and suffering; finding virtue in faith itself, peace in death voluntary.

I hope you grow through this, Presumptuous as that is to say. I don’t fear for you, as I do know the nature of your master and still mine I feel.

What a pain I am.
What a dumb one.
How selfish and silly. Go on.
And be strong and good as you are still to me.

Ariel


For the rest of the weekend we tried unsuccessfully to track Ariel down but I wasn’t too worried at first. He’d done this several times before and had always managed to find his way back. This time was different. As the days stretched into weeks, I wondered if he was ever coming back. Eventually he called and explained that he’d decided to move back to Florida. He had a new live, a new love and he just wasn’t able to live a monastic life. Oh Ariel.
I missed him. I wondered what had driven him to flee rather than confront his fears, his inadequacies? How had he lost the vision of our love together? How had we failed him? I felt his loss as an empty space that was never replaced, a vacancy in my heart, like a lost limb that ached with a phantom pain. Whenever I saw someone smile as he did, or saw something beautiful and realized he wasn’t there snapping pictures of it as he always had been, I would miss him. I missed his quirky smile, his gentle kindnesses, his thoughtfulness in everything he did.

"Ariel" Phillip Dross

As usual, to deal with his loss I wrote a poem about it:

He wrapped his face
in unspoken sadness
then quietly slipped away.

A juggler of circumstance
singing the song
until the rhythm demanded more
than voice or tune.
Until life and death
reached out their hands
to share with him too.

His last days with us
were an unsolved riddle,
his smile masked terror
lingering behind his eyes.

Not knowing then his answer
would be another question
we didn’t offer
and he never asked.

Love was being built
so new founded, so sure.
Our hearts fought their prisons
struggling, entwined.
Then too suddenly
he swept up his anchor and sailed.

I wrap up my tears
in unspoken words
that lie stale and useless on my lips.
Why is it afterwards
you remember…
the song he used to sing
the words you tried to say
the feelings never shared.
I meant to tell you
so many times
I love you, Ariel.


So now we were seven - at least for a little while. On Sunday, we spent the day with Stephanie and shared a goodbye feast since Sarah would be flying back that evening to Michigan “for a month’s retreat.” I felt depressed and disappointed that Ariel was gone and now I would be losing my best friend - again. Not only that, I had the feeling we were starting to come apart at the seams with Liz on her way out and Ariel missing in action. Throughout the day Stephanie was the glue holding our frayed edges together. She kept us laughing and I was very relieved to have her visiting with us!

After dinner, Stephanie and I rushed Sarah to the airport and there was barely time to say goodbye. I recall feeling somewhat numb as she turned and waved, frustrated that I didn’t know what was really going on with her. I don’t think I realized how much I would miss Sarah. I told myself she was only leaving for a short while so it didn’t hit me as hard as when Ariel left. I told myself she would return soon, or at least I thought she would…and then we were six.

That night Roger Gumbiner called and had a long conversation with Shipen that really seemed to buoy up his spirits. Roger explained he had sensed our pain and felt burdened to call. He also shared the news that Claudia was due to have another baby in two months. Wow!

Monday was a cold, drizzly, gray kind of day. Liz was silent and withdrawn most of the day. Then before I realized what was happening, she said goodbye and took off with Stephanie. It wasn’t until later that I learned she was never coming back. She spent the next few days with Stephanie, visiting and sightseeing. Just a few days before the women’s bedroom was bustling and crowded and now it was empty and quiet….and then we were five.

The night Liz left I felt angry, hurt and upset. I saw us being divided, weakened and then pulled apart. I lay on my bunk bed in the darkened room and prayed: Lord, please hold our family together. Please help Liz find her true calling Lord. Please bring healing to Sarah and Ariel. Help them find answers and guide them back home. It was hard to fall asleep as I worried and prayed. Lord, if it is your will, help David and I grow in our love together. Let me know what is your will… The Trees Community was down to: Shipen, David Lynch, David Karasek, Stephen Gambill and myself. For me there began a new kind of loneliness since I was the only woman left.

Tuesday evening Sarah called, dashing my hopes of her return. She assured us she was not permanently leaving the family but she needed time to make up her mind. She shared a dream she had in which we all drove up to her home in Michigan and asked if she was coming with us or not and then suddenly our faces grew distorted and changed into angry monsters. She fled screaming in terror. I was just plain annoyed thinking that it sounded an awful lot like a dream Liz had of us all being a pack of mad dogs chasing her into hell.

Shipen met with Canon West who told us to just let them go. He was disappointed, but encouraged us to persevere with our music and life together. He suggested that we should be open to accepting new novices, but reeling from the pain of our recent loss, I felt reluctant to say the least.

Tuesday, Roger called again, asking us to pray about whether maybe we were meant to return to Houston to the Redeemer community and that we should consider buying five tickets to fly there. Hmmmmm. Redeemer? I didn't feel a confirmation for that. Nevertheless, we agreed to pray about it and did.

At this point the overall tone of the group was morose and worn down. David K. was growing more independent, and reminded me of a colt, bucking and kicking to be free. Would he be the next to leave? He was struggling with his own issues and desires to return to school. He talked about going back to art school or at least taking classes. I wondered how long he would stick with us. I was also worried about what I saw as Shipen’s on again off again struggles with Canon West’s authority. As the days passed he was getting more withdrawn, refusing to talk about what was bothering him during our meetings.

Some years later, Shipen wrote about that period of discontent and his reaction to the growing discord in our group in a letter to Brother John:

This traveling lasted two years during which we were able to view the church from many different standpoints. We spent long periods of time with other communities: Hutterites, Anglican Benedictines, Roman Trappists and Benedictines, Charismatic communities, and secular communities. After the period of travel and experiential study were over we decided to return to the Cathedral in New York and to do service from that place. During the nomadic venture we learned how to put our spontaneous worship into a musical discipline and as time went on we got more sophisticated in our musical composition and expression until we entered fully into Holy Theatre as our common vocation. From this point you would recognize us as the Trees.

Upon our return to New York and our settling in at the Cathedral many personal discontents arose. Most are too complicated to list but in general everyone was not sold on the Cathedral or New York and for the next two years a growing separation began to occur, and some of the adolescence problems concerning independence began to spring afresh, also plays for authority and power, and I was inundated by false images and demands being placed on me and came easily to the conclusion that I would have to reconsider my direct involvement in the community. [end of excerpt]

All I knew was that the women's room was awfully lonely.