The bands of roving Jesus freaks have largely disappeared from the streets of San Francisco, but in their place these days are patrols of young men and women dressed in black suits and dresses with white clerical collars. They never preach, but if a street fracas breaks out or if someone appears in need of help, the clerical crews seem to spring out of the shadows to offer aid. Then, just as mysteriously, they disappear into their “monastery” to resume the life of the Holy Orders of MANS.
Founded in 1968 by Earl W. Blighton, a self-ordained priest, MANS (the name is an acronym for a phrase revealed only to initiates) is probably the first coeducational monastic order in history–and surely the only one to ordain women as well as men.
“Jesus didn’t hate women, you know”, explains, Blighton, who is 70.
Blighton claims that his idea for a co-ed religious order was given him by divine revelation. Whatever its origin, his formula has proved remarkably successful. From a single chapel in San Francisco, MANS has blossomed into a network of three seminaries and 71 missionary centers across the U.S. The membership includes 107 male and female priests, 473 “vowed” brothers and sisters and some 500 novices.
Although Blighton and his clergy use the New Testament as their “handbook of life, ” they also borrow freely from Oriental and occult sources. The order teaches reincarnation and believes that somewhere in the solar system there exists a “heavenly brotherhood of master teachers” who generously take on flesh from time to time in order to give mere mortals moral leadership.
Blighton himself is regarded by his flock as an incarnated master–possibly Saint Paul–but his only traceable history shows that he is an ex-engineer who was fined in 1946 for practicing medicine without a license in Rochester, N.Y.
“Every one of the apostles got thrown into prison,” he told NEWSWEEK’S William Cook, “yet the church honored and sainted them.”
Much of the order’s popularity is undoubtedly due to Blighton’s relaxed interpretation of the three traditional monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. All members must work at secular jobs, and once a man rises to the level of Brown Brother of the Holy Light, or a woman becomes an Immaculate Sister of Mary for Missionary Training, he or she is expected to turn all earnings over to the order–an arrangement that will bring MANS $1.2 million this year. But even after taking final vows, members are permitted to retain their personal savings accounts or trust funds.
Dating: Blighton expects all novices to remain celibate for three years or at least until they reach the age of 28. However, sisters and brothers may secure permission to date on Saturdays and, with the approval of the full Esoteric Council of ruling priests, they may marry. Those caught violating the rule of chastity before marriage are usually sent on long, separate sabbaticals.
Life at the MANS’s main monastery in San Francisco is both ordered and relaxed. Up at 5:45, members meditate in silence before Communion services, then eat a communal breakfast before setting out in secular garb for work.
In the evening, after the male priests have donned their blood-red robes and the women their blue-gray gowns, the community takes time out for conviviality. Sometimes wine is served and afterward most men and women light up their pipes.
The mood is a sharp departure from that of the desert monks who began the monastic tradition, but to Earl Blighton it symbolizes what monastery life should be all about. “I can take you through this entire house, ” he chuckles contentedly, “and I’ll bet you won’t meet one sourpuss.”