Waves That Built the Order

by Joe Slicker

1. Beginning Parts. The Stream that fed the building of the Order.

This is presented by using my journey as a context to illumine the foundation of the Order. Many streams fed this work. Bishop Mathew’s book, “Brother Joe” has detailed responses of many who came in contact with Joe Mathews. Some were from early days of Joes’s work especially his time at Perkins School of Theology (SMU). That book also is about times in Austin and Evanston, citing people’s responses. Many of these were people who came to the Order in Austin or attended courses there. Their insights and work are also a part of this stream. My personal account helps show the pain-taken and detailed commitment of Joe Mathews and others on a personal level.

Joe Mathews was the original Spring that fed the building of the Order. Joe, when I first became aware of him, was Professor of Ethics at Perkins School of Theology at SMU in Dallas. He had arrived in early 1950.

I graduated in February of 1953 from the Austin Presbyterian School of Theology at Austin, Texas and my first Parish was the Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in Dallas. It was across the street from the Casa View Methodist Church. Both of our Parishes were formed in spring of 1953. The new Pastor there was Wilfred Bailey. We both had WW II experience in the Pacific: his in the Navy and mine in the Army. We both had delayed our entering the ministry until this time. We became close friends and spiritual seekers with the same problems and questions. After a year’s experience in the Parish our churches were growing and prosperous in the expanding suburb, but something was wrong. We weren’t communicating with our parishes’ new ways of understanding the Gospel in the 20th Century. We saw, however, that we and our ways were the problem.

Bailey began to get help from a group of three professors at Perkins. They were Joe Mathews (Ethics), Edward Hobbs (New Testament), and Bob Elliott (Practical life). Bailey asked Hobbs to hold a seminar in his Church on an article written by Rudolf Bultmann, a contemporary German Theologian, entitled “The Crises of Faith”. It really caused a stir in his church. The seminar was taped and Bailey called me to listen to it with him. It really caused a stir in our lives also. We went over and over the tape to make sure we understood it. God had come down out of the sky into our daily lives. I brought a copy of the tape home to talk with Anne about it. I excitedly kept going over description by description saying, ‘Look! Look! This is what is God is’. I think at first she thought I had gone mad.

Bailey got permission from the three professors to attend their courses. Our first was a course led by all three of them on art forms. We sat at large conference table with the three professors placed strategically around the table with the rest of us. Each week we would have a different art form such as pictures, music, poetry, essays of writers, etc. In each one we would see and participate in the dialogue of that art form with contemporary life that we individually saw and felt ourselves living in. It was exhilarating. Several years later we also audited courses by Schubert Ogden.

Although we attended more of Hobb’s courses in New Testament then other courses of the three, we were drawn to Mathews. He was willing to go over with us personally all sorts of things we had questions on, such as building curriculum for our use in our churches. Joe would also go with us on retreats. These would include Bailey, me and another pastor or two. Usually we would go out of town to a rural area of trees and water and spend the night camping out. Usually we were entered around an art form or book that he or we would have. One time Joe went over the picture, Guernica that way. Also, Joe would do such things as one time he came out to our manse on Saturday evening dinner, spent the night and came to my church the next day not to preach or teach but sit and participate in our worship that day. Then he went cross the street and attended Bailey’s second service. Or again, he invited Bailey and me to come by his home on our way to a retreat with him. Lyn had a snacks prepared for us as well as sandwiches to take with us on the retreat. At another time he introduced to us members of the search team from the Christian Faith & Life Community when they came to interview him in Dallas.

During my stay at St. Mark, I worked on a Master of Theology Degree at the Austin Seminary. I spent the month of January in Austin over several years to fulfill residential requirements for my thesis. It was on building a curriculum for the local congregation using contemporary theologians and writers. It was a preliminary RS-1.

This will give you a picture of how I and others were streams that fed into the original flow of water that came from the Spring of Joe Mathews.

2. Beginnings of the basic structure. The Streams’ waves built a pool.

Joe Mathew and family moved to Austin, Texas in 1956. Joe went as Dean to the Christian Faith & Life Community at the invitation of W. Jack Lewis, Student Pastor at the University of Texas.

Jack was a very personable man. As Student Minister he said he had 2,500 to 3,000 students come to special occasions for a weekend. They would have activities that included search lights and balloons during the night to call attention to the activities. He said he had many attendants but did not touch their loves deeply. He took a Sabbatical and went to University of St. Andrews in Aberdeen, Scotland for study and contemplation. There he came in contact with the Lay Movement for Church renewal in Europe. He was struck by the depth of the movement and breadth of its’ work in new articulation of the Christian faith, its liturgy, forms of the church and its mission

A year later he came back and started the Christian Faith and life Community at the University of Texas. He gathered undergraduates who were enrolled at the University, and purchased a cooperative style apartment building which was several blocks from the University. Those who enrolled, lived at the Co-op, ate three meals a day, and committed several hours of their time in the Community’s program. Jack was good at the externals but needed a dean to construct a curriculum and oversee the activities. Students were open to such and needed a dean to carry it out. To find someone to bring it off was difficult. They struggled for several years to get this done. Jack heard Joe speak and was immediately attracted. He contacted his Board of Directors and they began a search that led to inviting Joe to come be the Dean.

One of the first things Jack had Joe do was visit the continent of Europe and see first hand the work that was going on in the Lay Movement. Upon arrival Joe and Lyn spent several months in 1956 gong through Europe and Britain visiting and studying the movement. Joe immediately started to work setting up a curriculum including worship, study, life together and mission. (This later was fleshed out to become the so-called ‘bug model’). The life together included what was usually called ‘waste time’ that included morning worship, structured conversations at meals and one night a week for lecture and seminars. In addition, he and the students built a stone chapel behind the living quarters for daily worship. Also included in the student commitment was attending the Friday lecture series after dinner where key professors of the University of Texas were invited to come and share the edge of their work and engage in questions and answers with the students. It became a winner among the students.

Joe also worked outside the Community. He continued speaking engagements throughout the nation invitations for such were coming more often, and working with local ministers when invited. For example he was asked to prepare a liturgy of worship of local ministers of the United Church of Christ who wanted a rich structure of worship but not the ones cast in traditional manner. Joe put togrther a book of worship for them where it was gratefully received and used. It also became the basic worship of our work in the future. Joe needed additional staff to fill the growing need.

Meanwhile, I was completing five years at the St. Mark Presbyterian Church. I was ready to move. As I mentioned above, I was spending each January in residence in Austin working on my Masters degree. I spent a lot of time observing first hand work at the Christian Faith and Life Community. Joe and Jack invited me to work on the teaching staff alongside of Joe. Anne and I said we would accept and I asked my Presbytery for permission to labor ‘out of bounds’ at the Christian Faith and Life Community. They concurred and we; Joe, Anne and our three children, Bill, Joanne and John, moved to Austin at the ended of summer in 1958 in time for the new student year.

Joe and Joy Pierce joined a few months before we came. Joe Piece’s role was mostly in the use of radio and TV programming, and announcing as well as development. Also a graduating minister from the Baptist Seminary was invited to come on the program staff. (His father was Minister of the University Baptist Church, a very open Baptist and a member of the board of the Board of the Christian Faith and Life Community.) He and his wife came in August.

As we continued in our work expansion took place. The Community bought from a deceased doctor’s family a three story mansion type house with full basement. We dubbed it the Laos (lay people) House. It was perfect for holding courses longer than one day. On the first floor we had a dining, a full size kitchen, and a library room which acted as huge conference room across the hall from which was a sitting room. In the basement we set up our chapel, and on the second and third floor were living quarters.

We used this in the beginning for our married students program. However, the majority of our work was with the student community, which we called the College House. Most of them graduated in various disciplines. However, some wanted to go on to seminary after being in the College House. Three of these went to Harvard Divinity School, and upon graduation returned at the invitation of the Community to be on our teaching staff. They were Don Warren, Thurston Barnet and William Cozart. By the time they returned they brought wives with them. Actually, Don’s wife Beverley who had spent time at Austin Presbyterian Seminary and on her own had come earlier to the College House.

We began holding seminars at the Laos House for church laity around Austin and environs. As we began to expand our curriculum we held weekend RS-1 for churches from extended distances. This then was expanded to week long Parish Ministers Colloquies. Pastors at first were former students of Joe. Notables were Mollie and Jessie Clements, Gene Marshall and Charles Hahn. We also created a Pastor’s Wives Colloquy. A notable attendant was Doris Hahn.

Our teaching staff was increased to meet the new influx of courses and people. They came from people who graduated from our colloquies. Notables were Doc Wagner and Bob Bryant.

Another source of staff came from foundations or people that provided scholarships for seminary students to come spend a year with us before their final year of graduation. One student was Charles Lingo who earlier came to the College House, then went to Bright School of the Bible, (TCU) and returned for an intern year in 1961. Later he attended Drew Seminary and Union Theology Seminary and then came back with us on the West Side. Another was Fred Buss who earlier came to the College House and then went to Yale Divinity School. Prior to his last year he interned with us.

Upon graduating from Perkins Seminary Frank Hilliard came the last year we were in Austin. He left when we moved to Evanston to work as a campus minister. After a year in that role he came back with us at the time we moved to the West Side. Also, David McCleskey who had just graduated from a Baptist Seminary came in 1960 to the College House while working toward a Master’s Degree at UT. At the end of the year he asked if he could join the staff. He was received and worked initially in the bookkeeping department. Donna Wagner also came to the Collage house in 1960. She and David were married the following year.

These were heady days. In addition to the College House program and seminars and Parish Minister’s Conferences held in the Laos House programs, there were also small retreats with local pastors much like the ones held by Joe previously with Bailey and me. Also more and more we were invited to participate in all types of speaking engagements at churches, and conferences including religious emphasis week programs at various colleges.

Notably during this time the staff and spouses regardless of their type of work spent many evenings a month studying and fleshing out our Religious and Cultural Studies curriculum. This included not only theological but philosophical, scientific, economic, social, cultural and literary material in order to find the edge of each discipline and practically apply it. At the same time we spent hours going over and refining practical methods including conducting seminars, lectures, use of art forms, and guided conversations.

These paid off in many unforeseen ways. For example in one Religious Emphasis week in a southern university I talked and lectured to both religious and church groups. From other disciplines we were asked to speak to subjects of various concerns. In this case the French literature department asked me to speak on the latest novel by Albert Camus. Strangely this came at a time when we had just finished our staff studies of his latest novel. I was ‘loaded for bear’ so to speak, and laid out a chart of the book, and how Camus developed his thesis culminating in the existential address for our times. It was a winner.

In the summer of 1961, Joe & Joy Pierce, and Anne and I were sent on an extended tour of Europe primarily to follow in the footsteps of Jack and Joe & Lyn in discerning the Lay work and expand on their developments and anything new that was taking place. We leased a Volvo, landed at Le Harve, France and spent over two months going over any thing we could find in Great Britain and Europe that could give us insights into the renewal process. We also attended the Christian Peace Conference in Prague, Czechoslovakia. This was a new experience for us in many ways. Having to dialogue with all major denominations and religious groups on both sides of the Iron Curtain. This included monks of the Russian Orthodox Church, Baptists, and church bodies from Red China. There was great cross dialogue except for clergy from Red China who just listened and spoke only occasionally. Our final report was to personally be sent to all Embassies. The American Embassy in Prague would not receive the report until several of us as American citizens made special requests. They finally received the report without comment.

While there we found out that the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian Baptist Church were going to take some of the participants back as guests to Moscow for visits and talks. The four of us went to work trying to find a way to get an invitation. We were beginning from scratch. After days (The conference was a week long) we were finally able to get such from the Russian Orthodox Church for a three week visit in Moscow, a Seminary about 30 miles from Moscow, and St Petersburg staying in first class hotels and restaurants with round trip train rides to St. Petersburg. This was an amazing journey: lectures, seminars, visits to theaters (example: Swan Lake.), all shepherded by Monks usually in there religious attire except when going to secular activities where they changed to Western style clothes. Actually they wore 1920 style suits and hats making them look like gangsters. The monks were hungry for information from outside of Russia. They were extremely interested in theological and religious writings and activities.

During this period we begin to get requests to hold courses in non-church groups. Although this was just beginning and not used until later 60ies we began to do such work under the name “Institute of Cultural Affairs”. The last year we were in Austin, we begin to do TV programs taking special themes and scenes out of movies and discussing them on TV. We used the same style later in our courses by showing the movies and discussing them. What was different here was that this was done live on TV.

As mentioned earlier we were growing and expanding in great shape. Of course groups with success like ours which were attacking the status quo were attracting many antagonists. Outside pressure was made against us. Jack Lewis, as the head of our organization had to bear the brunt of receiving the bad news although it was usually directed against all of us and of course, Joe was the lightening rod. Then at the spring of 1962 Board meeting attended by the Board Members and Staff without any previous talks or discussions the Board asked Joe to resign. Joe stood up and said he would. Immediately Joe Pierce and I stood us and said we would also resign. Amidst silence, the three of us left the meeting.

3. Renewing the basic structure. The pool drained and regenerated into making larger waves.

We were all stunned and didn’t know what to do. Joe Pierce and I wanted to go somewhere else as a group. Joe said no, but after sleeping on it for a while he said o.k. We began to query similar type work around the country. Also with the help of Bishop Mathews, Joe’s brother, we found we had broad respect if not actual support in many places. We began traveling to spots from coast to coast to see if they could use such type services. In the mean-time the three Harvard Divinity School graduates all now married decided to resign. In addition, Fred Buss who was in his final year at Yale seminary lent his weight to us saying he supported us and was willing to join after he graduated.

We were attracted by and finally accepted going to the Ecumenical Institute which was founded several years earlier in Evanston, IL. It was born after the World Council of Churches met in Evanston, and patterned after the Ecumenical Institute in Europe. It was originally funded by churches in Illinois and surrounding States. It was then turned over to and governed by The Church Federation of Greater Chicago. The Institute had purchased a house in Evanston for its Executive Director, and leased space in another building for its work and outreach. The original Executive Director was Walter Liebrech, a German Lutheran pastor. This was also the time of Vatican II and Walter now wanted to resign and go as a Lutheran representative to the Vatican Council. We sought to come and replace Walter. They wanted us but said they could only pay the one salary for Executive Director.

After a while we worked out a scheme whereby they would employ all seven of us and pay Joe Mathews the Executive Director Salary and pay each of the other six of us $1.00 a year. This allowed the ministerial staff to keep their membership in their denominations retirement fund. Our dialogue was mostly with the First Vice President of the First National Bank of Chicago who was also the President of the Board of the Church Federation of Greater Chicago, and Edgar Chandler the Chairman of the Church Federation.

Prior to this we developed a life-together model for all on the staff. Since we were each paid a salary by the Faith and Life Community we had not yet include the economic dimension in the model. Now, it was either/or. Either we disband, or stay together so that all get an equal stipend depending on the income available. We chose to stay together. (This was a milestone in our developing the rule of the Order.) We had what the Church Federation was paying us. All our wives went to work and thus we were able to meet the economics to do our work.

At the end of the semester of the College House, the seven families moved to Evanston. Actually the Barents and Cozart’s spent time working with us in the summer months, but then the Barnet’s moved on to Pittsburg for Parish work. Bill Cozart and Greta left so that Bill could teach at Loyola, and go on to a Professorship at Cal-Tech. We rented a huge van to hold all the large items of our families. Frank Hilliard offered to drive it to Evanston. Also, each of us rented a trailer to attach to each family’s car.

The house at Evanston was a large structure built at the turn of the century. It had three stories with full basement and an old style carriage house which had garages on the first floor and apartments on the second. It was the old elite section of Evanston. The original owners had died many years ago, and their children had mostly moved elsewhere. Evanston rules allowed only two families to live in each house. However, this was hard to maintain, so they turned their heads to let other groups move in. For example, a house next door was occupied by a group of Nuns. This allowed the City Fathers to hold the line on what they thought was ‘best for the city.’ They were trying to stave off the blockbusting the Blacks were attempting on the southern part of the city.

You can imagine the stir we made when a group of cars with Texas License plates came, most of which had to park in the street. Seven families, 11 children, and five pets; it was not a stealth move. As the summer rolled on, the Gene and Ruth Marshall family moved in with three more children. This was followed at the end of the summer by Fred and Sarah Buss. Fred had just recently graduated and married. You can imagine what a chore it was to squeeze all these people in the House. The third floor was occupied by a single man who held it by a lease. The second floor was for bedrooms, as was part of the first floor, which also held the kitchen, dining room, sitting room, library, breakfast room, etc. Also the basement was filled. The Mathews family to their credit claimed the basement as their first choice. All the older male children slept in the Carriage House.

We continued the same type work we were doing in Austin except for the College House, but expanded our area of influence to include metropolitan Chicago and its’ many churches with willing pastors, Canada, and more deeply in the US with seminars and colloquies. Also we spoke at many seminaries. Basically we began holding seminars for interested people in the metropolitan area as well as lectures given to colleges, churches and seminaries. Notables were Bob Fishel and David Scott who as seminary students heard us speaking at their Methodist Seminary on the North Shore. Also, we began holding courses in Canada.

We had no place that we owned to hold courses. We were unable to keep the rented space previous held by the Ecumenical Institute, and our living quarters allowed no extra room for seminars, etc. We began holding Lake Geneva Assemblies. They were held at Lake Geneva which was north of the Chicago metropolitan area. Also, it was there that we developed the Geneva Office.

Almost immediately upon arrival in Evanston we continued working on our TV program. We also purchased a second hand printing press and began our first newsletter. In the first issues we included pictures of our TV dialogue with all of us commenting in screen excerpts.

In addition we began to do work with Black and Hispanic gangs. These were not held in Evanston but in Chicago’s ghettos. Participants were provided by local pastors of churches in Chicago in whose parish the gangs lived. This was a gateway into our work in Fifth City.

Our work with training ourselves intensified. We reflected on the practicalities of being a disciplined Order. We intensified work on the Religious and Cultural curriculums, both in building an intellectual base and sharpening tactical application. Most critically we centered on being an urban society, discerning exactly what that meant and how to respond to it. Our wives more and more had become teachers in our curriculum. This was just the beginning.

We saw that our days in Evanston were numbered. They didn’t know what to do with us and we were longing to get settled in an urban area especially in regards to carrying out the mission dimension of the church’s role. Being The Ecumenical Institute we saw our role of administering to church renewal that expanded beyond sectarian boundaries and more and more expand its mission to the ‘Whole Inhabited earth’ the basic meaning of ecumenical. Both of these things led to our intense search for an urban home in the ghetto. At this time Blacks from the South were moving into Chicago by droves. Driving their impulse were better jobs and freedom of activity. There first entrance was on the South side which overflowed into the West Side. The West Side was made up of fine urban dwellings of upper middle class Jews. Residents were fleeing their homes and moving elsewhere as the Blacks moved in. Also on the West Side were two Seminary locations; Baptist and Bethany. They had fine structures including apartments for staff and students, dinning facilities, rooms for lectures and seminars, and a chapel. Adjacent to the Bethany Seminary was a Bethany Hospital. It was a three story hospital with basement and a parking lot.

When the blockbusting got under way both Seminaries left their structures and moved elsewhere. Bethany Hospital to their credit did not flee. It kept its cadre of doctors and nurses. Perhaps the fact that their constituency was local people and a need continued, whoever lived there, resulting in their staying. For us, the Seminary property looked like a ‘golden opportunity’ for our future location.

That was not long in coming. Toward the end of the first year we got an invitation in April or May of 1963 that the City Council wanted to talk with us. We had to move. The threat of blockbusting was increasing, and it was getting harder and harder for them to hold the two family rules. Plus, we did not seem to be the best of neighbors. We had a fire in our Carriage House, our dogs scratched the neighbors flower beds, whereas the Nuns next door brought their neighbors cakes and cookies (sic). So we went to work with the Church Federation and worked out a plan to purchase the Bethany Seminary property. That done we were ready to move in.

4. The basis structure finds a new home. Our final puddle becomes a huge wave.

We were all excited, but with great trepidation we moved. The Barnet and Cozart families who stood with us in Austin and moved symbolically with us to Evanston now chose not to join move to the West Side. They both had served our work well. We all understood that each family had to choose where it expended its life. There were eight family units including 15 adults and 14 children that went to the West side: Mathews, Joe & Lyn with children, Joe, Jr., Jim and John; Pierce, Joe & Joy with children, Dale, Cathy, Greg and Mark; Slicker, Joe & Anne with children, Bill, Joanne and John; Warren, Don and Beverley with son, Will; McCleskey, David and Donna: Marshall, Gene & Ruth with children, Wayne, David and Kathy; and Buss, Fred and Sarah.

So again, it was a large moving van, and again, driven by Frank Hilliard, the eighth family unit, who had now came back to join the Institute. The gates were now open, but that is another story. Howeever, first I remember Hilliard’s earliest volunteered task was to shovel coal for the furnace during our first cold-cold Chicago weather at the Seminary.

Epilogue: Fifth City 1963-1973

5. The fleshing out of the basic model. Establishing a wave generating model.

During the remaining months of 1963, and first half of 1964 we got reoriented and settled in our new home as well as continuing our courses and extended trips. A few people moved in with us. It is difficult to find accurate data, but could include Dale and Carol Wright who came, and after a number of months left. Joanne Thompson came for a year and kept books for us while she worked on a master’s thesis. At the end of that first year the Warren family left in order for Don and Beverley to pursue advance degrees, and for Don leading to a professorship at Indiana University. Also, Joy Pierce, for medical reasons moved out, separating from Joe and children. Later they were divorced and Joe married Carol Pierce.

One of the first things we did, other than getting settled and establishing our courses, was formally establishing ourselves as an Order; the Order:Ecumenical. That culminated in a ceremony stating who we were as an Order sealing it symbolically with the nailing of the Congolese Cross to the wall of our meeting room in the fall of 1964. An influx of staff had begun to soar. People from everywhere wanted to join with us. This was spearheaded by the Charles and Doris Hahn and children, Marsha and Shelley who arrived in August 1964. They were followed by Bill and Sue Burdick; Bob and Judy Fishel; Kurtz Hersh; Frank and Barbara Puller; David and Pat Scott; and Aimee Williams who later married Frank Hilliard.

What we were working toward all these years was now formally established.


I was asked to send names of the founding families of the order. I find that extremely difficult to do. I have listed and referred to people as best as I could discern, but there may be many that I have been overlooked. Who to select? All of those named are great souls living and expending their lives as best they can. Which ones contributed the most or were most effective? Sometimes, that has to be discerned, but ultimately it is beyond our capacity to know. Nevertheless, what I have listed is probably a fair picture of the Order’s development. Using the probably date I mentioned above, was where the foundation was formally established as an ongoing entity. That year also triggered an influx of staff. Beyond what I have listed, it is impossible for me to recall all that happened. It would take a group research of many minds to recall and order all the varied and huge amount of information of the remaining years of 5th City and beyond.

………………………………………………….. Joe Slicker September 2007
Topic revision: r1 - 01 Nov 2007, GordonHarper
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