The Beginnings of the Cleveland Region
The Early Years of the Movement
The Spirit Movement catalyzed by the Ecumenical Institute (EI) and later The Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) was an amazing thing to experience. The vision and commitment of thousands and thousands of RS-1 graduates was an incredible “happening” and, I believe, significantly altered history. It certainly caused many of us to change our life vocation and called forth a commitment that few today can imagine. The heart of the movement was centered in the Regions, the result of the geo-social analysis method of EI that allowed us to contemplate in a trans-rational way the strategy of covering the Earth with a global servant force. The Regions were the key to that strategy. What follows is a brief history of one of those Regions and some of my personal memories of that time. Perhaps this might trigger others’ memories and stories that might convey a bit of those incredible times in our lives. Each Region has its own unique history and sets of “heroes”.
In the mid sixties churchmen (and women) began to take courses offered by EI, mostly in Chicago at the west-side campus, but also in locations in some of the major metropolitan areas. EI was gaining a reputation through its courses and work in Fifth City that attracted those in the church who were confronting the social issues of the 60’s. In Cleveland, a young inner city pastor by the name of Jim Keller attended the Urban Training Institute in Chicago as part of his training. My wife Jan and I were members of his small church in one of the black neighborhoods on the east side of Cleveland. Jim returned with literature on EI and the courses, and in November of 1966 we drove to Chicago to take what we thought was CS-1 as it seemed appropriate to what we were trying to do in the Cleveland situation. I remember Zoe Barley refusing our pleas to take CS-1, as we hadn’t had the required RS-1. Not wanting to drive all the way back to Cleveland we reluctantly agreed and thus began the Spirit Movement in Cleveland.
Joe Mathews did the Freedom lecture in our RS-1 and it was a life-changing experience! I thought the man was going to have a heart attack as he lay out in graphic terms and gestures the life style of the free man (woman). Never have I ever been so addressed. It was like waking up to a beautiful reality. I had dreamed that I might someday meet radical, secular Christians, but never thought they would exist as a group. I had been deeply addressed by William Stringfellow, the NY lawyer who moved to Harlem to offer his services to the poor. Now a group that lived a collective covenanted life that addressed me to the core confronted me. We drove back to Cleveland determined to bring RS-I to others. We were almost giddy with excitement!
We rapidly discovered several other RS-1 grads in the area. Regine Idzerda was one; Martha Laid was another. A young pastor Jack Sheirlough (sp?) and his wife Jane, had attended summer 66 on the west side. We offered the first course in Cleveland on the near-west side of town. I believe we were the first to have people sleeping on cots in the Sunday school classes. Sixty plus people attended. Bob Vance and Fred Buss were the pedagogues. Next we did another course just a few weeks later along with a CS-1. We began to meet as a cadre on the east side at the Christian Outpost, an ecumenical meeting place at the time. The cadre grew and grew. We began to publish a regular schedule and started a pedagogy guild to train ourselves and others in EI’s mode of teaching. Over the first three years, 67, 68 and 69 we held close to 100 courses, including the entire basic RS and CS curriculum, as well as a dozen or so Parish Ministry Colloquies, (PMC) later to become Parish Leadership Colloquy (PLC).
One of our early heroes was Mom Cheetam. She became our regular cook, and did her work make a difference! We had a set menu, fried chicken on Friday night, and spaghetti on Saturday night and I can’t remember what was on Sunday, but we always got rave reviews! And Mom always was ready for the pedagogues with special treats. She learned that you had to have lots of cokes on hand for Al Williams.
In 1967 the grid of North America had us as part of the Cleveland-Pittsburgh Region, except that someone in Chicago always spelled it Pittsburg. Never could get it changed! I remember Bob Fishel coming for a regional meeting and talking about the battles of where the lines were to go. “People making wide ugly lines with black magic markers.” We met with the people of the movement from Pittsburgh, which were mostly made up of a cadre at Penn State that included Bruce and Pam Macomber. Bill and Sue Burdick of Pittsburgh left for the west side sometime in 67 I believe.
As the number of RS-1 grads increased we began to establish local church cadres across the Cleveland Metro. By the end of 1968 we had at least 24 who were meeting every week and at least two pedagogy guilds. One of our decisions was to hold 5am meetings in people’s homes. Jan and I hosted a weekly meeting at our home in Shaker Heights. We had about 10 people who came regularly including , Clancy and Marianne Mann and Lois Reeves. One time, as Clancy came up our driveway the Shaker Heights police stopped him. Seems some neighbor had reported some strange activity where people arrived at an ungodly hour!
We had lots of people who kept the movement alive in Cleveland. Perhaps the two most committed and dependable ones where Betty Weber and Bob Scott. Betty was a fierce recruiter, calling and calling and calling. Bob was a man on fire! He was a lawyer with one of the big prestigious Cleveland law firms, Jones Day, and had been recruited by Clancy. Bob and his wife Pat were one of the early departures for joining the Order.
By the spring of 1968 we had a substantial number of people who had made life commitments. We decided that it was time to explore the establishment of a corporate living structure. We asked Chicago to please send someone who could help us in a weekend deliberation. I can’t remember all who were there, but it was at least 10 families. We debated where and when to establish a corporate living structure. All of us were willing to sell our homes and move, probably to the inner city of Cleveland. Bob Fishel was our guide for the weekend. On the first night we got word that with Martin Luther King’s death the west side of Chicago was in flames. We got an erroneous message that the west side campus of EI had burned and the new center was in Boston. It was a sobering event for us all. We postponed our decision, but we requested Chicago to establish a Religious House in Cleveland that fall. We had to wait until 1969 for one to be established. By then the Cleveland Cadre was so strong that for the next seven years we would assign who was to intern in the house. We also felt that the strategic decisions of what to do should remain with the metro cadre and let the Religious House know what we needed from them. As the movement grew and we tried to make sure we had cadres operating in all the 6 metros as well as many of the polises. We would schedule recruitment days in cities far from Cleveland. I remember a carload of us heading for Fort Wayne Indiana to do cold calls on church prospects with colleagues from Indianapolis and Purdue.
The Cleveland Region grew and grew, with Religious Houses established in Cincinnati and Indianapolis. I remember the big recruitment for the Summer Programs. In 1968 we had dozens who went, many, like me, taking their entire vacations. In 1971, we held a large regional gathering in Columbus at the Westinghouse plant where Jack –-(?)---- was the plant manager. We had made a gigantic pink iron man cloth banner, which was the Summer 71 symbol, and hung it at one end. We had at least 150 people there. We had everyone declare whether they were going to the Summer program, and if not, how they would enable those who were going. We raised money and got childcare established for those that needed it.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few more of our local movement heroes. In Painesville the Slottas and the Battershells stood. They enabled the first Town Meeting to occur in 1976. In Canton it was Lucy and Carroll Smith. Ruth Turk, Lois Reeves, Emma Melton, Lenny Lybarger, Carol Fleischman, Martha Wason are among the dozens that made the region a vibrant, dynamic and exciting place to be. I can’t begin to list all those families and individuals who came from Cleveland who joined the Order Ecumenical. Just some of the families who joined from Cleveland and took global assignments are: Bob & Pat Scott, Bob & Sandy Rafos, Larry & Nadine Ward, Mark & Jean Poole, Fred & Marian Karpoff, Lois Reeves, Phil & Betty Weber, Barbara & Don Barkony, John & Ginny Terry, Louise Albright, Jim & ??, Pat & Terry Weygandt, Ron & Jackie Kelder, Sherwood & Jan Shankland, Carol Fleischman, Martha & Dick Talbott and Regine and Bill Idzerda and Clancy and Maryann Mann. There were others and perhaps my colleagues can add the names.
There are many stories about courses, faculty, colleagues and gatherings that made my life what it is today. Perhaps another day, if anyone is interested, I can tell a few. Suffice it to say that radically shaped who I am today. There was pain and glory, vision and bravado. It was just part of the larger ‘time’ of the sixties and early seventies. I thank all who traveled that road with me at that time, I’ll forever be profoundly grateful.
- 24 Jun 2006