Religious Order Buys Leverett Farm
Pokrov Note: This article was part of a packet on the Holy Order of MANS compiled by the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), which now operates under the name of FactNet. The packet indicated that the piece was from Amherst, Massachusetts, but did not name the specific paper. The exact date of the piece was also not included in the packet, but the article mentioned that the Order was eighteen years old, which would mean that it originated some time between July 24, 1986, and July 23, 1987.
A California-based religious order says it plans to use a recently purchased 110 acre farm in Leverett as a residence and retreat for some of its members.
According to David Finkelstein, president and business manager of the Holy Order of MANS, the non-profit group bought the Dorlan Farm on Dudleyville Road for $490,000. The order, formed 18 years ago, has a church in Boston, charitable shelters on the West Coast, and missionaries around the world, he said.
Finkelstein said the Leverett property would complement a homeless shelter that the order is working to establish in Boston. He said there are no plans to develop or alter the land, except for painting fences and fixing windows. “We’re just want a spiritual retreat, basically, some peace in the country,” said Finkelstein.
Although a non-profit organization, the order has no immediate plans to apply for tax exempt status on the property, said Finkelstein. At present, the town receives approximately $6,750 per year in taxes from the farm.
The order runs shelters for the battered and homeless in San Francisco and Portland, Ore. Despite one recent report from a former member that the order is a “cult,” prominent public officials, including the mayor of San Francisco, and national charitable organizations highly praise the “Raphael House” shelters. The order’s other community service activities, such as food banks and Cambodian relief projects, are also given high marks.
“This little organization is an absolute gem. It’s done wonderful things in terms of catching little people on their way down, and pulling them up. The order does none of the things that tend to concern people. They are not into communal living,” said Frank R. Rosenbarch, a member of the advisory board of the San Francisco Raphael House and vice president of Morgan Guaranty Trust Co. in New York.
The Holy Order of MANS, according to its president, is an orthodox Christian sect, claiming 300 vowed brothers and sisters, as well as a larger laity. Both married and single adults may belong to the order, where the women dress in blue jumpers and men wear “typical Roman clerical garb” of a white collar and solid colored shirts and pants, he said.
“If they shucked the blue robes or dresses, no one would have paid any attention to them, said Jefferson Tallent, director of planning for the United Way in Lake County, Ill., who was with the United Way in St. Louis when the order operated a Raphael House there.
“I have a pretty fond feeling in my heart for Raphael House. They offered anchor services in a rundown section of St. Louis,” said Tallent.
Criticism of the order, however, was reported recently when one former member described the order as a “cult,” because of what she called the psychological pressures the group exerts on its members. The woman reportedly spent two years with the order, before being removed by her parents from a MANS retreat for what was called “deprogramming.”
But another former member, who lives in the Amherst area, said the order is made up of “basically nice people” who are not forced to join or stay in group. There is, however, a strict disciplinary code, and people unwilling to follow the spiritual instruction of the leaders are “edged out” of the order, said the man who requested anonymity.
Finkelstein said that great devotion and sacrifice is required of novices who want to take vows. This commitment for life is not the right action for all people, so some are asked to consider lay life, he said.
According to Finkelstein, only two members have ever been forcibly removed from the order by their parents. On of these has since returned, with the blessing of her parents, to work in the San Francisco Raphael House, he said.
He describes the other as “one disenchanted woman who had a difficult experience.”
James Emerson, senior pastor of the Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, said the Protestant church said the church hired a member of the order as its secretary because it had such confidence in the group. He was quick to defend the order against the action of the woman’s parents.
“I would put that in the same category as someone who became a Jesuit and the family decided to do something about it,” he said. “There’s nothing hidden about the group.”
Reginald Alev, executive director of the national Cult Awareness Network, a non-profit volunteer information center, says the “totalistic environment” of the order puts it in the “cult” category. But not all cults are destructive, he said.
Alev said his file on the Holy Order of MANS is very thin, and he said he was not sure the order is a destructive cult. But he said he had some serious concerns based on a report by one former member.
The awareness network represents people who feel that they were hurt by their participation in a particular group, said Alev. In the case of the Holy Order of MANS, an isolated incident has been unfairly blown out of proportion, responded Finkelstein.
Dean Haverson of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project, a Christian religion-research organization in California, said the order has an occult-mystical view of the world. Such an approach to Christianity can be “spiritually damaging, but we are not experts,” he said.
Financing of the Leverett farm was possible from donations, investments, and money from charitable works, said Finkelstein. He compared the brotherhood to the Catholic model of Mother Teresa’s sisters supported by the church. Life within the order offers complete freedom, but not much money, he said.
Some of the brotherhood run the order’s charitable facilities, while others hold outside jobs, providing a shared income, said Finkelstein.
Emerson admitted that he was a bit skeptical about the order when he first came to California. “I arrived on the heals of Jim Jones (whose religious group committed mass suicide-execution in Guyana in 1978) and I wanted to make sure it was not the same thing,” said Emerson, former head of the Community Services Society of New York City.
Now however, he offers no reservations. The order has “the highest reputation here. They have done wonderful things. This group is so highly respected that some of their funding comes from our own church, and we don’t tend to do that,” said Emerson.
According to Alev, many destructive cults have been involved in seemingly altruistic work, while the leaders get rich. Emerson said that a reputable accounting firm audits the order’s books.
The members are “very straight-laced, very moral,” with a strict discipline of prayer, fasting, and hard work. I’ve never known of anything that borders on hanky-panky,” added Emerson.
Finkelstein said cult accusations do the order a serious disservice. Once the awareness network issues a cult verdict, the religious group goes on its permanent blacklisting, said Finkelstein.
“The damage done is tremendous,” he said. “We are good people, living respectable lives.”