A Chopin Polonaise wafted out on a summer breeze from St. Anthony’s Seminary, hard by the sun-drenched adobe of California’s Queen of the Missions—Santa Bárbara. Inside the school, a Presbyterian minister sat at the piano playing his heart out.
“You hear that?” asked the Rev. John Wesley Downing, director of Professional Refocus Operation (PRO), as he pointed toward an open window in the Spanish mission-style building with wide porticoes and terra-cotta tile roof. “An hour ago he was sobbing like a baby and I held him in my arms and rocked him for thirty minutes.”
Downing, an Episcopal priest, explained that the Presbyterian brother—in transition to secular life—had finally “unloaded” in an emotion-packed encounter group that morning. Now, at the piano, he was releasing years of pent-up hostility, which had been aggravated by what Downing feels are the fulfillment-snubbing and guilt-producing strictures of the traditional church. “We are rebelling against systems that restrict and deny us what we feel and want,” he said.
PRO is part of a new program, spearheaded by former Episcopal bishop and “church alumnus” James A. Pike who now is president of the Santa Barbara-based Foundation for Religious Transition.Chairman of the FRT board of directors is the Rev. Stephen H. Fritchman, minister of the First Unitarian Church in Los Angeles. Foundation-sponsoring advisers include such liberal luminaries and clerical alumni as Toronto author Pierre Berton; Emory University religion professor Eugene Bianchi; William H. DuBay; Joseph Fletcher of Cambridge Episcopal Theological School; former priest James Kavanaugh of the La Jolla (California) Human Resources Institute; Michael Novak, dean of the Disciplines School at Oyster Bay, New York; ...1
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