It was his passion for service that allowed the legendary Arthur of old to draw the sword Excalibur out of the marble stone and anvil in which it had been set by Merlin the Magician. This in turn allowed Arthur to claim his sovereignty and be crowned king of the realm. But it all began and was made possible by Arthur’s passion to serve.
I also have a passion to serve. Indeed it almost seems I was born with it. It was this passion to serve that allowed me at the tender age of twelve to suddenly realize what my mission in life is. It came to me at the conclusion of a service of worship at the First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. As I put it then: I am here to serve God and to do whatever I can to help God save the world.
Having defined my mission it now became a matter of finding the most effective way to fulfill that mission during my time on Earth. I initially interpreted my mission within the context of the Christian faith, so it seemed logical to me, after obtaining an undergraduate degree from the University of Denver, to enroll in Princeton Theological Seminary to study for the ministry. I graduated three years later with a Master of Divinity degree.
I then set off across the country to find a church that would “call” me to be its pastor. In the Presbyterian system a ministerial aspirant is required to have a “call” or request from a church within its system before he or she can be ordained. After much travel in the Midwest and along the West Coast I finally found a small church in Tacoma, Washington, that agreed to have me as its minister.
So I then returned to Colorado Springs to be ordained, thinking it would be a mere formality. I went before the committee of ministers that was sponsoring my candidacy for the ministry. The chairman of the committee said, “Jerry, after carefully considering your case we have some reservations about approving you for ordination. In fact, we feel you are psychologically unfit for the ministry.”
Well, I was totally shocked out of my mind! The chairman’s words came as a devastating blow to all my hopes and dreams relative to fulfilling my mission. I couldn’t imagine why they had any doubts, unless perhaps it was my criticism of the Seminary’s boarding policy during one of my years there. Can this really be happening? After spending all these years preparing for the ministry and now it was being denied to me! My mind and heart were shattered.
The chairman, seeing this, offered an alternative, a ray of hope perhaps. “Jerry, if you agree to take a series of tests with a psychologist we’re in touch with in Denver and he feels you’re OK, we’ll reconsider ordination.” Well, I didn’t know what else to do, so I agreed to meet with the psychologist. However, the sessions and tests took a number of months of driving back and forth to Denver, and because of the delay the church in Tacoma withdrew its call.
I think the committee was somewhat surprised by the psychologist’s conclusion that I could function in the ministry. They agreed to ordain me but only of course if I should obtain another call. Meanwhile, I was getting somewhat tired of all of this and began to entertain doubts about whether the fulfillment of my life’s mission necessarily involved functioning within the Presbyterian Church or any established religion.
Developing a “fringe” ministry
So instead of setting off across the country again in search of a church I began to explore the possibility of developing my own ministry, particularly for young people on the fringes of society. I developed connections with anti-war activists, political radicals, hippies, drug users and an assortment of religious and social dropouts. I became a charter member of the Colorado College chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society, the most radical anti-war group at the time. I purchased a mimeograph machine and ended up printing the thousands of leaflets and handouts for the many anti-war demonstrations and rallies that I helped to lead and speak at. I also did printing for the local Black Panthers, the Women’s Liberation and an anti-poverty group (“Core Area News”).
While I appeared to embrace the causes of these groups and people, my actual interest was simply to develop connections that would allow me to offer service in simple and unassuming ways. I did not seek to lay a trip—religious, political or otherwise—on anyone. In simple expressions of what I call divine character qualities—integrity, generosity, consistently showing up and following through, courage, humility, thankfulness and kindness—I made an impact on those I was with. There were some opportunities to offer personal counseling, but for the most part my service simply took the form of providing a point of stability in the midst of the turmoil that many of these people on the fringes were experiencing.
A second church opportunity – the Young Adult Project
As serendipity would have it, the Pikes Peak Council of Churches, a coalition of churches in Colorado Springs and the surrounding area, was about to form a project designed to minister to disenchanted young adults. The executive director of the Council, an older woman whose daughter I knew, was impressed with what I was doing with the anti-war activists and hippies that I was working with and asked me if I would head up the Council’s Young Adult Project. I was understandably reluctant to get involved with the institutional church again, but since I was promised a lot of latitude to operate the project as I saw fit, I agreed to assume the position. It also helped that the Council gave me a small budget to work with.
My initial task in forming the project was to locate a facility, preferably a sizeable house, that could serve as a “young adult crisis centre,” a place where young people in need of temporary food, shelter or just a friendly face could come. I combed the neighbourhood between Colorado College and the business district and eventually came upon a “for rent” sign in front of an old three-story mansion. The house at 10 Beverly Place had twenty-four rooms, four fireplaces and a living room the size of a small auditorium. I assumed the rent for such a facility would be way out of reach. Imagine my surprise when I was told it was renting for a mere $75 a month! Why? Because it was scheduled for demolition to make way for high-rise apartments. But, as it turned out, not for several years.
So I immediately rented the house and moved into the master bedroom on the second floor. Lured by the low rent I had no difficulty getting three male friends of mine to move into the house with me to serve as additional staff to run the centre. One of my first actions was to hang a large sign on the front of the building: “YOUNG ADULT PROJECT OF THE COUNCIL OF CHURCHES.” This sign provided wonderful protection from raids by local police, who may well have suspected that drug use and other illicit activities were going on inside.
A wild spring and summer
Though I didn’t count them, during the spring and summer of 1969 possibly hundreds of young people came to 10 Beverly Place, some just to hang out for a night, others staying for several days. The house was especially popular with soldiers from nearby Fort Carson who appreciated a few hours away from military life and an opportunity to be with the many young hippie women who frequented the facility. There were generally two or three parties going on in the house twenty-four hours a day. Maintaining some kind of stability and order in this circus atmosphere was quite a challenge. My phone was tapped by the FBI and, unbeknownst to me, a military intelligence agent was assigned to infiltrate the Young Adult Project, as it was thought that I was counseling young men to avoid the draft.
One of the soldiers who frequented 10 Beverly Place, upon his discharge from the army, noticed that his final cheque was for several hundred dollars more than he was due. So he decided to have a fling at the army’s expense. He hired a rock band from Boulder and spent the rest of the money on several cases of beer and wine. The rock band set up in the living room, but we needed a few more people. Once again, as serendipity would have it, the state convention of the Students for a Democratic Society was meeting at Colorado College. So I went over and invited everyone to come to 10 Beverly Place when the meeting was over. They came, about seventy-five to eighty people all together, and the wild party continued into the early hours of the morning. My job was to serve drinks behind a bar we had set up in the dining room. I remember serving one man who was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list for blowing up electrical towers.
My introduction to LSD
One day in June a man by the name of Peter Christopher arrived along with four younger men that he referred to as his disciples. Father Peter claimed to be a disenfranchised Anglican priest and to have a “Tripmasters Degree” from Timothy Leary. He and his followers took over the basement of the house, and with his considerable culinary skills Peter began preparing all of our meals as a way of paying for his stay. Peter and his disciples were frequent users of LSD, as were several others in the house, and they all seemed to be having amazing experiences.
This aroused my curiosity, and it also reinforced a question that I had been asking myself for many months in my young adult ministry: If I am really to offer the most effective service possible to these people, shouldn’t I have some knowledge of what they are actually experiencing? So after Father Peter agreed to obtain LSD of the highest quality and to program my trip to maximize the beauty and wonder of the experience, I decided to take the plunge. On July 2nd I “dropped” a tablet of LSD and was waited on hand and foot by two of Peter’s disciples. Music, food, walks outside—everything was precisely programmed to provide an experience of remarkable beauty, wonder and glory. And that is exactly what it was—fantastic beyond words and opening up a whole new dimension of reality to me, a vision of paradise.
From that point forward I used LSD and a handful of other psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin and mescaline on a regular basis. I felt this personal experience of psychedelics enabled me to interact more effectively with the young people I was serving, in addition to expanding my own mind exploration. But it was almost inevitable that the executive director of the Council of Churches got wind of my drug use and was quite disturbed. A meeting of the board of the Young Adult Project was called, and despite my rationalizations for psychedelic indulgence, I was dismissed as director and asked to move out of 10 Beverly Place.
Another low point
So once again it seemed that fulfilling my mission to serve had reached a dead end. I had no idea what to do next or even where to live. A sympathetic friend who I met at the First Methodist Church where I had conducted some Project meetings said he was living in a house on St. Vrain Street with two other men and that there might be a possibility of staying in the basement. Well the basement turned out to be more like a dungeon than anything fit for human habitation. Nevertheless I moved in and designated it Jerry’s Underground or THE JUG.
It was a real low point. Only two activities remained of my “ministry.” I still printed materials on my mimeograph machine for various fringe groups, and I was frequently asked to speak at service clubs, church groups and schools on what young people were experiencing on psychedelic drugs. There was a lot of curiosity about this in the community and it seems that I was the only “hippie” in Colorado Springs who cared enough and who was articulate enough to attempt an explanation of the psychedelic experience.
However, I intuitively sensed that psychedelic drugs were not the answer for me or for anyone else seeking a meaningful and fulfilling life. The highs obtained in this way are only transitory and there are negative side-effects such as bad trips, loss of sleep, adrenal exhaustion, etc. So with all the extra time I now had I began to explore other paths that promised fulfillment. Most notably in this regard was Zen Buddhism. I spent a couple hours every day staring at a wall while focusing on numbers and breaths until only nothingness and occasionally a white light remained. It was very relaxing and sometimes for an hour afterward everything seemed to have a special glow. I eventually concluded that I had achieved enlightenment. So now what?
A fortuitous encounter with the media
Then one day in early 1970 I responded to a knock on the door of the St. Vrain house. Standing on the porch was a young woman who claimed to be a reporter from the Colorado Springs morning newspaper. She had been assigned by the paper to do a series of articles on drug use in the community and wanted to do an interview with me, having heard that I was something of an authority on the subject. So I invited Valerie in and we instantly struck up a beautiful friendship. I soon discovered that she was not only sympathetic to the hippie subculture but could well be a part of it herself. Incidentally, she introduced me to the field of astrology and got me started doing natal horoscopes for hundreds of people over the next 45 years.
About a month after I met Valerie one of the men living in the St. Vrain house moved out and she moved in. On March 31, in her capacity as a news reporter, she scheduled an interview with the agents and promoters of the rock group It’s a Beautiful Day. The group was to give a concert at the city auditorium and the paper asked her to do an article in advance of the performance. She set the interview up in the living room of the St. Vrain house and invited me to sit in. The promoters not only brought recorded music of It’s a Beautiful Day, which we hooked up to our powerful stereo, they also brought an ample supply of very powerful marijuana. In what has got to be one of the most unusual “interviews” ever conducted, seven of us sat in the living room passing around joints and soaking up the music.
Enter George Emery
In the midst of this zany scene there came a powerful knock at the front door. I momentarily shuddered with fear, thinking the narcotics squad had finally caught up to me. I cautiously peeked through the curtain to see who was on the porch. I saw a man immaculately clothed in a suit and tie, but with hair down to his shoulders and a full beard. Surely the local police wouldn’t have this much ingenuity, so I opened the door to see what this curious creature wanted. The man almost burst through the doorway, gave me a great bear hug and said, “Hi, Jerry. My name is George Emery and I’ve come to open up a whole new way of life for you.”
In a normal state of consciousness my inclination would have been to resist such an advance, but under the influence of marijuana I found myself basically powerless before the onslaught of this man, as was the case with the others in the room. George quickly realized that we were all pretty wasted and immediately took command of the situation. He had us all stand up, hold hands and sing a song with the words: “Love, we are love. Love, we are great love. Truth, we are truth. Truth, we are great truth.” And so on with several more verses highlighting life, joy, peace, etc. Then we sat down and he began speaking about an LSD trip he had taken in 1965 under the direct guidance of Timothy Leary. But he said there’s a better way, a way to a natural high, and that he had just visited a spiritual community three days before that he called “the highest expression of life I have ever seen.”
The place to which he referred was Sunrise Ranch, a spiritual community in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains northwest of Loveland, Colorado. George was a Methodist minister conducting a “ministry to the disenchanted” in Arizona. On a tip from a friend he came up to visit Sunrise and seemed to know instantly that he had found a new home. On his way back to Arizona he stopped in Colorado Springs to attend a conference of Methodist ministers. Sitting around with a group of ministers during a break in the conference he asked the question, “Is there anyone in the city who you would say is kind of on the fringes of the church and trying to run a ministry similar to what I’m doing with the disenchanted in Arizona? Maybe he’s even a thorn-in-the-flesh of the local church establishment.” My name immediately came up and George, true to his impetuous nature, stood up and asked if someone could drive him over to where I lived “right now!”
Following George’s lead
So that is how we connected on that great day in the halls of serendipity. Listening to this very unusual man on that afternoon in late March in a state of mind heavily influenced by marijuana it seemed I was hearing the voice of God giving me instructions on the next step I was to take in the process of fulfilling my mission. However crazy this seemed something told me I had to follow his lead. Before he left, George said he was giving a presentation that evening at the Methodist Church and we were all invited to come. Obviously the others in the room were not impacted in the same way I was, for I was the only one who showed up at the evening gathering. But it didn’t matter. I knew I was on a sacred mission quest.
I ended up going to several presentations by George, as he extended his time in Colorado Springs. A small group was formed of those who responded to him, and a man (Bob Ewing) from the Sunrise Ranch community was sent down to provide focus and leadership and to form a centre. Though I almost constantly felt the compulsion to visit Sunrise Ranch for myself, it wasn’t until several months later (September 8) that I personally set foot on the property. The atmosphere was just as George had described it: people of all ages seemingly on a natural high, bringing forth the finest qualities of character in their living and savouring the beauty, wonder and glory of life.
Sunrise Ranch, Eden Valley, Loveland, Colorado—my new home
In April of 1971 I closed out my affairs in Colorado Springs and moved to Sunrise Ranch. What an opportunity to be with people every day who share my passion to serve. In fact the introductory four-month class that I attended during that spring and summer was called Servers Training School and graduates were referred to as “servers.” Sunrise residents of course serve each other and the community but an even greater emphasis is put on “world service.” This is not a self-serving, self-absorbed community seeking to isolate itself from the larger body of humanity. The purpose is nothing less than “the regeneration of human consciousness.” The stated objective emerging from the community’s strategic planning process reads: To create a clear and committed body of people around the globe who embody the presence of divine being and who bring a profound teaching that transforms the world.
Could I find a more effective vehicle for fulfilling my mission “to serve God and help God save the world?” I don’t think so. But these days I deliberately avoid using the word “God” to describe my mission and the mission of Sunrise Ranch. The word just brings up too many concepts and ideas, most of which are associated with religion, and religion is notorious for disconnecting a person from the reality represented by the word God. David Karchere, the spiritual director of Sunrise, frequently uses the term “Universal Being,” a term I also resonate with.
All of Sunrise Ranch is dedicated as a teaching and demonstration site for this essential wisdom—both the inner knowing of Universal Being and the practical application of that knowing. This is why we practice and teach sustainable agriculture and farm-to-table food preparation. This is what is behind all the workshops, conferences, concerts and courses that we offer. This is what we teach in our internship programs and in all our courses for spiritual awakening and personal development. Sunrise Ranch exists to embody this truth and to bring it to the world. We believe that Universal Being is doing its best to incarnate and express fully through each person, not as a separate reality but as the core reality of who they are. And when it does, that person becomes whole and creates wholeness in their world. They bring healing to the land, to other people and to the planet. Whole people—whole world. (From “Honoring Universal Being—The Philosophy of Sunrise Ranch” by David Karchere)
Addressing Cause, rather than treating symptoms
Saving the world as I state it in my mission is certainly not a matter of preserving the world that human beings have made. That world is the product of the human mind detached from Universal Being, from the very Reality that created the world. That world is the product of involvement with effects—material things, cultural traditions, religious beliefs, political loyalties, addictions of all kinds, an infinity of human wants and desires—rather than centering in Cause. I’m not interested in saving this mind-made world. That’s why, though I respect those who are working in these areas, I’m not personally involved in “save the whales” campaigns, other attempts to preserve the environment, anti-war efforts, famine relief, providing shelter for the homeless, etc. Laudable as these efforts are in many ways they are still just treating symptoms and are not getting at the root cause of the deplorable state that human beings have created on this planet.
That cause has to do with human consciousness, for the external world is merely a reflection of what is present in consciousness. And since human consciousness has fallen into the morass of effects, the most effective service that can be offered on the planet is to raise consciousness up to the level of Oneness with Cause or Universal Being. This is the work I want to be doing, and this is exactly what we are doing on Sunrise Ranch in all of our classes, workshops, internships, our Full Self Emergence program, basically everything we do here. We engage in a great variety of work projects and other activities and often develop some real competence, even expertise, in these areas, but our essential work is spiritual. In a world where leadership is often associated with power, status, wealth and academic credentials, the leadership we offer is simply the expression of the finest and highest qualities of character in everything we do. In so doing we connect with Cause and the Creative Process operative in the Cosmic Whole.
To me this is the highest form of service that can be offered to whatever brought this planet into being and to the body of humanity that has been wandering so long in the wilderness of the human drama. It could be said that Sunrise Ranch and the larger Emissary program are instruments in my hand that allow me to most effectively fulfill my mission to serve. It is as though I have found the Holy Grail and, drawing forth the sword of truth (Excalibur), I am now able to claim my sovereignty and issue a decree to my world: Come home, my people, to the truth of love, the truth of Being. Come home to your angelic nature and be the Creator Being that you agreed to be in this incarnation.
Jerry Kvasnicka, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, has had a varied career as a youth minister, a radio news reporter, a writer and editor for several magazines and journals and a custodian with the Loveland, Colorado school district. Jerry currently edits and writes for the mind-spirit section of The Mindful Word. He has lived at the Sunrise Ranch spiritual community in Loveland for twenty-six years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.