BENIGN SPIRITUAL GROWTH

When Zeus, old father of the Olympians, wanted to express his anger at a mortal, he tossed a
thunderbolt to earth.

           So when lightning struck the dome of the Lake Harriet Community Church, the good parishioners paid attention. In the age of Zeus, a routine ritual slaughter of livestock would have placated the angry Gods. But the LHCC is at the forefront of a New Age (in which, incidentally, Gods don't get angry). Michele Mayama, de facto pastor at LHCC interpreted the electrical storm as a positive signal: "An activation was set in motion," Mayama wrote, "to serve the planet's new gridwork and unfolding plan of joy."

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           That was in 1992, and in the intervening years, LHCC has become one of the fastest growing churches in the city. Attendance has doubled, doubled again, and doubled again, flattening out somewhere around 400 people, half of whom have voting memberships. During the same period, the church budget has jumped from deficit spending to something roughly around a quarter of a million dollars per year.

           When the supplicants at LHCC raise their voices in praise, they are not singing "Nearer My God To Thee." Instead, the congregation starts Sunday worship with a "toning and meditation" service. Toning is, essentially, making tones--not singing, not chanting, but a sort of free-flowing vowel vocalization: "You slowly inhale and then create the sounds." explains Jim Albani, who leads the toning sessions "It's really allowing the cells in your body to sing. If people just let go of the need for rhythm and harmony and melody, all of our voices are really quite beautiful." After toning comes the regular service, which varies from week to week.

           Jim Erickson, the church's administrator, calls the flock "post-denominational," and explains the philosophy of the church is far removed from the moral codes central to most religious traditions: "We don't do any rules. There's no shoulds, have-tos, ought-tos, got-tos, musts, or supposed tos. There's no guilt. There's no shame." Sin, Erickson explains, is nothing more than the acronym for "Self-Inflicted Nonsense." Rather, the flock subscribes to a sort of private, spiritual free-for-all, "You decide what you want to do and where you want to go and we support you." As Erickson says, "It's a church where people can "grow themselves, spiritually."

           What they get on Sundays, instead of sin and the ten commandments, is a sort of tour of world religions. There's no pastor at the church, so the 10:30 worship service varies from week to week. The congregation recently celebrated the blue moon with an invocation, song, and meditation. Before that, a pastor (not a Native American) led the church in a peace pipe ceremony. "We did a traditional Indian ceremony," Erickson says. "Honor the four directions, and that stuff. The full nine yards. We've had Islamic Sufis in here teaching everybody how to do a Zikr--the peace dance. We've had rabbis come by with a Hassidic storyteller."

           Erickson traces the New Age ancestry of the church back to 1953, when the Colorado-based Divine Science church moved in. But the real energy shift, if you will, came in the late '80s. The church had fallen into a tailspin after a charismatic Divine Science preacher retired, along with most of his flock. In order to make ends meet, his replacement rented the church to New Age healers, psychic readers, channelers, and the like. The healers and psychics and channelers then started attending Sunday services. Before long, the new pastor had a schism on her hands.

           The New Agers carried the day, and the church separated from Divine Science in 1988. That left a rag-tag congregation of about 25, a church running on deficit, and, within the year, no pastor. "At that point," Erickson says, "one of the board members ran into this woman who was very much spirit-led." The board wanted her to run the nuts and bolts of the church, but, explains Erickson, "she said 'I don't do that. I do spiritual stuff nowadays. I don't do that mundane, three-dimensional-plane stuff.' So they hired her to do her spiritual thing." The woman they hired was the channeller Michele Mayama.

           Mayama forged a new mission statement for the church: "To provide a community of love and safety in which people can open to and receive support, information, guidance, healing, and experiences of our evolving consciousness to facilitate their individual awakening process," and so on. She revamped the committee structure--replacing the traditional church hierarchy with a "matrix" of councils and circles led by "focalizers" who coordinate Sunday service and generally see to it that things run smoothly. She hired Jim Erickson as administrator to answer phones, maintain the building, and to manage the church finances.

           Sometimes there are still problems at LHCC. Last year, for example, the "ceremonial circle" announced a deficit during the summer months. But with its growing congregation of graying New Agers, solutions are pretty pat. "It was decided," the ceremonial circle wrote in the church bulletin, "that the best approach would be to notify the community of the situation and to visualize income pouring into Lake Harriet." *

--Joseph Hart

PUBLICDOMAIN

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