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.

The First New England Tour

St. John's Roman Catholic Church - Stamford, CT

On Friday, January 25, 1974 we kicked off our six-week tour of New England with a concert at St. John’s Roman Catholic Church in Stamford, Connecticut. We performed for 200 people from various denominations and churches. Dean Morton was on hand and gave an excellent sermon and our music was well received. Hurrah!

The following day we relaxed and met with our hosts, Father Dresser and the Starks. On Sunday we played at St. Francis Church in a huge gymnasium area. The acoustics were a bit echoey nevertheless the parish enjoyed the songs. Next stop was Marilyn and Fred Reigger’s farmhouse where I especially was thrilled to be able to get out and hike the winter countryside before dinner.

On Monday, just as we were packing up to leave, our black cat Shimshi was nowhere to be found. We searched and searched, but no cat! Then we drove the bus over to Father Dressers to say goodbye and he promised that if Shimmie was found, he’d immediately contact us so we gave him our itinerary. (Thankfully, she was).

January 28th we drove through the lovely New England woods to the beautiful beachfront home of Phil and Sarah Wiehe in New Haven, Connecticut. They welcomed us into their home, shared meals and conservation with us and were gracious hosts. Ever the romantic, I dreamed that some day David and I would live by the ocean.

On Monday we played at Yale Divinity School, performing our new concert officially called “A Meditation on the Growth of a Tree as the Life of Christ in us.” It was based on the life of a mustard seed planted in the earth as it grows and branches out.

Mustard Seed Concert:

Set One: Set Two:
Psalm 42 Raga
The Seed (Koto medley) I Wander
Eastern Sky The Bird Song
A Storm (Flutes rhythm section) Psalm 45
The Trees Chant (Taka) Jesus He Knows
Talk I Will Not Leave You Comfortless
Chord Beard
Chant for Pentecost Hymn 335 (Glory be to Jesus)

Shipen pew walking during the banjo song

To open the Mustard Seed concert, we walked on stage in silence and bowed. Then someone (usually long-winded Shipen) gave a formal statement about the meditation, who we were, our music. Then we performed the first set through to Taka, followed by a teaching and an introduction of our family and instruments. After a brief intermission, set two started with a raga over which Steve read about a woman wandering looking for her lost love.
During Psalm 45, as we sang, “The people of Tyre come laden with gifts” we walked through the audience passing out shafts of a tall weed grass (Phragmites) that we called winter wheat and then sprinkling them with Holy water. When we got to Jesus He Knows, we stood and slowly walked out through the audience, ending up in the back singing the final chorus with uplifted arms. Then we sang "I will not leave you Comfortless" (also acapella) from the back of the church. This was followed by the rapid-fire, staccato Chant for Pentecost, “Oh Lord our God have mercy upon us, look upon the face of your people, heaven and earth are full of the glory of Jesus, Jesus, singing in the hearts of men…”
The final song was Hymn 335, Glory be to Jesus. During the final verse, we rang Sanctus bells on each downbeat as we walked from the back of the church to the front. During this section Shipen and Stephen would walk barefoot across the tops of the pews up to the front, ringing his Sanctus bells over the heads of the startled crowd. We ended with all of us standing facing the banner of Jesus on the Cross, our arms outstretched, ringing the Sanctus bells toward Jesus until shimmering overtones rolled out over the audience. It was a powerful presentation with a dramatic finish.

About mid week, we received the wonderful news that Shimshi our cat had been found. Hurrah! Shipen took a train back to Stamford to pick her up.


After a wonderful week at the beach, we cleaned up the beach house as a gesture of appreciation and drove to St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Providence, Rhode Island. We set up sandwiched between two choir stalls, which caused some audio and visual problems. Still, the music went over well and afterwards we enjoyed a full buffet and reception with the parishioners. Yum!

February 3rd, next stop - Pawtucket for a show at Harvard College in Cambridge. We stayed in dormitory rooms for three days and played several concerts for the faculty and students. Tuesday we arrived at the Society of St. John the Evangelist run by the Cowley Fathers. We played during the mass and then joined the monks for Compline. The chapel was stunningly beautiful, having been designed by Ralph Adams Cram and provided a wonderful setting for the 200 people who attended the service.

February 6th we drove through downtown Boston to the Paulist Center where we met Fathers Tom Kane and Greg Rice. This religious order was unusual in that the brethren each had their own goals and discipline and they had no “Rule” but took “promises” each year that had to be renewed. Students showed up again who had seen us twice previously and we wondered if we were beginning develop a following.

February 7th we performed an unusual noon concert in the Lobby for an “audience in transition,” singing and playing as people came and went. For this, we were given a stipend of $300! Lovely!

Our next stop was St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Marblehead, which was an old, old church. We used something we called “the barge” technique to create a stage platform, which required setting up regular parish hall tables that were laid on top of the first three rows of pews. Into the aisle, two tables would stretch out with the legs supporting them. Over this, we placed oriental rugs and the effect was quite dramatic and brought us much closer to our audience, plus handled the “lack of space” issues we often found in older churches. Since most parishes had these tables, voila, we had an instant stage! Later we modified this idea by building an open wooden framework over which the parish tables would be placed, covered with our oriental rugs.

The platform setup

In this more staid church, the response at the end of the concert was slow but quite dramatic. After we sang the final lines of Glory be to Jesus and the Sanctus bells finally finished ringing out, there was a reverent stillness. Then applause slowly grew and grew until it was overwhelming us as we walked out to shake hands and meet the audience. Praise God!

February 9th we drove to Framingham, Massachusetts and met Father Mason Wilson at St. Andrew’s Church. He helped us build platforms over the pews before we vested and tuned up. Afterwards, we grabbed a quick bite to eat then off to Springfield where we performed during Sunday Mass at St. Michael’s. We stayed with Father Bruce Werts at the Community of the Reconciliation for two days.

We then played at Grace Church in Amherst for a “last minute concert” for a few folks and used the small $35 donation to buy groceries for dinner. After we ate, we had a long talk, the first in quite awhile since Canon West had asked us to keep Greater Silence in the evenings. I suggested we try to talk at least once a week instead of never talking together. We came up with some exciting ideas about the music and some theatrical possibilities. It was all very positive and I was hopeful things were “on the mend”.

The next day we taped a program of our music for a television show called “A New Heaven and A New Earth” for Channel 5. The taping went very smoothly since we had rehearsed it beforehand. We taped straight through for a full half hour and were surprised and how well it went. We got a chance to watch it afterwards and that was a thrill!

February 13th we drove to Bedford, Massachusetts where my Aunt Mary and Uncle Ray Ruetenik invited us over for hot stew and showers. Then they escorted us over to their church, the First Congregational Church for the evening concert. We played for their teenage youth group who were a bit rowdy and rude. Still, the minister assured us the music was great and the youth had enjoyed it. We returned to the Ruetenik’s for drinks, dinner and bed.

Valentines Day, 1974. We played tourist and visited some sites around Boston, then returned to the Community of the Reconciliation for the night. Once again I was impressed at our immediate connection to the brothers and sisters in the Order.

Friday we left Springfield and the Community of the Reconciliation. Midway to our destination we stopped for lunch and a family discussion. David and I had been having “problems” related both to my emotional outbursts and also to David’s stubbornness in refusing to admit he was wrong. We talked about the importance of remaining and being celibate until marriage (not that we had broken the vow) and how sexual frustration could create tension and disagreements.

Then as we were driving the bus up the very last hill to the Emma Willard School, of course, the bus broke down. We ferried the instruments to the auditorium and held an open rehearsal then gave a performance, seminars and played at mass on Sunday. Then we had three days “off” to relax, watch TV., make pottery, or discuss philosophy and get the bus repaired.

February 20th we left for Albany, New York. When we pulled into a gas station I was amazed at the long lines of cars waiting to gas up. Some stations weren’t open at all. How odd. I was pretty oblivious to what was going on in the world so I didn’t realize it was the beginning of the oil embargo and gas was being rationed.

We stayed with the parish priest and played for a worship service. Our songs went over so well he convinced us to play that evening for an impromptu concert attended by a large, friendly, energetic crowd. Wouldn’t it be nice if all our concerts were so enthusiastically received! That evening we sat in the living room around a warm, crackling fire in the fireplace singing folk songs and peacefully relaxing together with Father Gary until after midnight. Bliss!

Two days later we made our way to Syracuse, New York, eating as we drove. Just as soon as we arrived we discovered that the front tire had suddenly gone flat. Strange. Another drain on our dwindling funds.

Saturday was a warm, spring day (59 degrees). After a concert at the church we babysat for the minister’s children, ran errands, then set up for a concert at the nearby Congregational Church. There were several misunderstandings about our fee (whether this was a charity concert or not), on our joining people for a meal before the concert (in practice, we always ate afterwards), and other things. Shipen and the priest had some slightly unpleasant exchanges about our policies with the father making dark hints about us being premadonnas or something.

Despite the miscommunication, we played to an overflowing crowd at Calvary Episcopal Church, receiving a standing ovation. Afterwards we were invited to someone’s home for cocktails and snacks, after which we finally had a very late dinner.

Next stop, downtown Rochester, New York where we played at Marimer House and then for a packed crowd of 250 at Christ Church Cathedral. America was in the midst of an energy crisis so we used candles and lanterns during the concert. It created a lovely, dramatic effect in the Cathedral but it made it hard to play our instruments, especially since I could barely see my harp strings. As usual, Shipen and Steven leapt from the top of one pew to another barefoot, ringing Sanctus bells, a little tricky with such dim light. The bishop later admitted he loved it and informed the Dean he “couldn’t wait until our priests start jumping across the pews too!”

On Ash Wednesday we gave a charity concert at the Rochester State Mental Hospital. We had been warned to expect all kinds of unusual behavior but even the nurses were surprised at how happy and quiet the patients’ were.

We returned to the Rochester Cathedral for mass, then Shipen and Steven fixed a late dinner for our guests Mary McCutcheon, Canon Roberts and two other friends.

February 28th we played at the Episcopal Church Old Folks home in Rochester then returned to our temporary quarters at the Cathedral. After dinner, our weekly meeting disintegrated into an all out fight between Steven and David. At first they started yelling at each other but finally they came to blows and then Steven left. After things cooled down a little, we talked for about 2 or 3 hours and finally Shipen said he would set up a meeting with Canon West upon our return the next week, to talk about disbanding – either temporarily or for good! All of us by the end of this tour were near total exhaustion, our nerves were shot, many of us were having trouble sleeping, Steven had just gotten over the flu, some were resorting to taking valium, and Shipen was totally discouraged with the “failure of the experiment” as he put it. I disagreed with what seemed to me to be Shipen's total disregard for the sucess of our music and wondered why he continued to paint everything with such bleak, negative tones. He was very closed lipped except during discussions so I could not follow his thinking.

St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral - Buffalo, NY

March 1st we set up the “barge style” platforms at our next stop, St. Paul’s Cathedral, in Buffalo, New York. We did a noon concert and then an evening concert, which was packed. Nearby churches sent cars and busloads of young people to hear us and they loved it! It was one of our best responses yet from a teen-aged crowd.

On Saturday, March 2nd, we made a return visit to the nearby Wheel Chair Home to see our dear sister Anna Van Dyck, whom we hadn’t seen for four years. I thought she seemed much more agile than before and just as kind and gentle as ever. Her ministry was still powerful with many people young and old coming to seek her counsel and advise. After the concert, we gathered around Sister Anna, chatting and passing around sandwiches, cookies and talking about God’s love in the bright, sunlit room. I loved that dear lady.

Sunday we played for both services at the Cathedral, then struck the stage, loaded the instruments and grabbed a bite to eat. Dean Smith thoughtfully contacted the State Department of Transportation to make sure that we could get enough gas to safely make it to Elmira, New York. We pulled in quite late in the evening and all the monks were already asleep. One monk kindly showed us to the guesthouse where we stayed from Sunday night through until Thursday morning for a short retreat.

The tour ended March 4th when we returned to New York City, road weary and completely worn out.