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.


October 30th - 31st. Irrespective of our private melodrama, we had concerts coming up, one on Halloween and another the day after that. Our immediate task was to rework the music to fill in the huge holes caused by Shipen’s departure. There were solos, ragas, whole sections that had to be reworked. Song by song we knitted and sewed the tattered fabric of the concert back into whole cloth. I found it incredibly sad.

On Halloween morning, we ferried our instruments over to St. Savior’s chapel to rehearse and tune up for the morning’s performances. At 9:00 sharp, the elementary children from the Cathedral Choir School were ushered in, wide-eyed and very attentive. David gave a brief introduction and then we played part of Psalm 42, Jesus He Knows, part of Psalm 45 and the first part of Psalm 46 up to “The Lord of Hosts is with us, his citadel the God of Jacob.” They seemed a bit astonished, responded respectfully and with reserved applause and smiles. The teacher later sent us a thank you letter the children had written that said things like: “The Trees are wonderful. Their music made me feel happy, sleepy, good inside, like angels in heaven were singing…” It was very touching!

After that concert, we moved directly to the piano room over at the Cathedral Choir School where we then performed for the middle school for about 20 minutes. These students were far less attentive and were busy talking, laughing and squirming around, or acting bored with the music. (Typical of that age for sure!). We weren’t invited for lunch so we packed up and I returned to work. Rehearsal that afternoon again focused on reshaping parts. Stephen learned Shipen’s lead part in Taka and Mary learned all the drum parts for Mustard Seed II. Dorian tried to play the Shaheni but we decided to do without it for the time being. It was then a “free evening” and the group scattered leaving just Mary and I. I was getting a little sick of how all the dating and love affairs were pulling everyone away from the family but I kept my feelings to myself. Mary and I sat in the empty living room like two lonely spinsters. She sewed and I wrote in the Chronicle and then we watched TV.

November 1st, Saturday. Mary and I were confirmed by Bishop Wetmore during a large confirmation service held in St. James Chapel at the Cathedral. The entire Institute of Theology was there and Canon West attended to the Bishop in his typically regal fashion. All of the Trees were there in green habits and it was a beautiful ceremony. Then we meandered over to celebrate at the Green Tree Restaurant but it was only 11:00 a.m. and they were still closed. As we stood there debating what to do next, the owner rushed out and eagerly invited us in, setting up a huge round table for us. We had the restaurant to ourselves and were served some excellent Hungarian food - inexpensive too! Then everyone went off with their usual partners and Melody went to meet some mysterious X person. Mary and I ended up going to a Marx Brothers movie at the Olympia movie theater.

The following day on Sunday David drove the bus to Middletown, New York were we played for the morning liturgy. Without Shipen, we struggled through Jesus He Knows (I thought it sounded horrible but I'm not sure anyone else agreed). Thankfully, the rest of the music surprisingly was fine. Afterwards, I asked what in the world had happened to the song? It turned out someone had tried a new harmony - ugh. Also Psalm 45 went so flat I had to drop out the harp parts since they were in an entirely different key. Despite this, many people came up afterwards excitedly informing us they would return for the evening concert. After lunch, we spent three hours practicing for the evening concert. That night the church was packed so we did our best to overcome our insecurities and the bad acoustics. As the last notes rang out, I was shocked when the audience quietly stood up and kept clapping and clapping. The music still worked! Driving home David mentioned how he kept missing Shipen during the concert and we talked about how we felt the pain of that loss. In my journal that night I wrote that it might be quite some time before Shipen would be ready, able or even willing to return to the Trees. We arrived home in the wee hours of the morning and got to bed around 2 am.

Nov 3-8th. On the third, Canon West called us to meet with him. This was somewhat surprising since it had been a long, long time since he had initiated a meeting. Melody asked that we meet together beforehand so we gathered in the choir robing room an hour before our meeting with Canon West. At first we discussed whether religious offices should be optional or not. Specifically the question at hand was: should Vigils be optional? Both Melody and I were getting more and more annoyed that people were not showing up for Vigils when it was an important part of our religious life and had always been “required.” After trying to keep our discussion on a rational level, someone suggested we just vote and the majority should decide it. So we did and reached a 3 to 3 tie with one “I don’t care” vote. Finally the “I don’t care” changed to “Vigils should be optional” so we were outvoted. Then someone asked about mass. Uh oh. I could see our structure quickly unraveling. After arguing for another 20 minutes things degenerated into angry shouting. Finally, it was decided Mass would not be optional. Morning Prayer, Mass and Chapter meetings would continue with everyone expected to be there for two weeks until November 29th when we agreed we would re-evaluate whether the new procedure was working or not.

I was vehemently against the cessation of our daily offices. We were a religious community! Prayer and offices were a key part of our structure and a way to maintain our spiritual health. Holding Morning Prayer, Mass, Vigils and Complain were to me key to our daily life together. In my opinion, if everyone took off to parts unknown to do their own thing, we would have no community left. I saw the vote as one more attack on the structure, discipline and normalcy we needed to hold us together. I was sickened by our inability to deal with each other.

The rest of us left the choir room and went into St. Martins chapel for our meeting with Canon West. First off he asked about Shipen. He suggested that we needed to accept the fact that he was gone and deal with it. He counseled that we should stop wondering if he would return or wouldn’t and treat it as if he wasn’t. He advised us to elect a new leader for the period of one year, and to take a week to pray about who was best suited for it, then vote on Friday, during mass. We agreed. Immediately, I began turning over in my mind who it should be. He asked us not to talk with each other about who it should be but rather to pray and then vote independently. He then inquired what had happened about the idea of moving to General Seminary? We informed him that we were going to go see the rooms and have mass with Alan Jones on Thursday. He also told us of another possibility he knew of - three churches were merging into one and maybe we could find housing with them. With that the meeting was over. No one mentioned the dissolution of most daily offices. I left the meeting even more determined to take each day one step at a time…

November 8-15th. We continued our rehearsals of Psalm 137 to get it ready for an upcoming Dean’s mass. Sarah and Dorian only showed up off and on to rehearsals. Both were spending more and more time away from the community. Things were unraveling, one delicate thread after another. Only this time there was no glue to hold us together…

On Saturday, we left for a series of concerts and arrived in New Haven, Connecticut around 7:30. There we met Phil, Sara and Jack who let us into Trinity Church-on-the-Green to unload and set up, then drove us back to their winter house on the ocean where we had stayed the last time we were there. Right away they asked where Shipen was? We responded that he was on an indefinite leave of absence, our standard reply. Late dinner at 10:30 then to bed in different rooms after visiting for a while with our old friends. Sunday morning we played for both liturgies and Phil Weihi preached an excellent sermon at both services. After lunch we rested, relaxed and then rehearsed. The concert was at 7:30 to an average sized crowd. At the banjo portion, they clapped and during the Village Orchestra we passed out the usual organ pipes, toys and percussive instruments. They played very enthusiastically and totally got into the performance. Phil and Sara Weihi both remarked it sounded much better than two years ago. Amazing! Then we packed everything back into the bus and drove back to Phil and Sarah’s. For the next two days we rested, wrote papers, took long walks, napped and relaxed, or visited with our old friends. A much needed time of healing.

Wednesday afternoon we left our dear friends after lunch. Saying goodbye to Phil, Sara and their crazy dog Molly, off we drove to Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut for an evening concert. We performed to a welcoming crowd consisting of professors, a few priests, many students and one fat, stuffy reporter. I was still acutely aware of the empty place at the left front of the stage where Shipen should have been. Still, we poured our hearts into the performance and the response was enthusiastic and warm. To my surprise, the reporter wrote a rave revue of our show and it turned out to be one of the best articles ever written on us. After a late dinner that Melody prepared, we drove the long five-hour trip home, getting to bed about 3 a.m. in the morning.