10 July 2020

Hippies in the Church

I was very excited to see that there is a new Russian web site called Hippies in the Church. It has a list of monks and clergy who were at one time involved in the hippie movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

Here is a rough translation of its introductory blurb:
In December 2018, the Metropolitan of Belgorod and Stary Oskol, John rather favorably spoke about youth subcultures of the second half of the twentieth century. But even more interesting is the last phrase:

“In the 20th century, as a protest against a consumer society on Russian soil, under the influence of the West, subcultures developed that acquired a special social orientation, at the same time it was a search for spirituality. The first subcultures are dudes, hipsters in the early 60s, then there is a period of the sixties. There appear hippies who belong to different religious directions. They even had the slogan: "Christ was the first hippie because he was protesting against the existing system." I must say that this subculture is very close to the Orthodox Church: in the USSR, the Church was persecuted, and hippies sympathized. Many clergymen and mothers sitting here have gone through this subculture. ”

The recognition of Metropolitan John is worth a lot. However, there was no list of hippies (rockers and punks added) who became Orthodox priests and monks (lay people also added) until recently. A small list was published by historian Irina Gordeeva on Facebook. Based on this list, a much more extensive one has arisen, which I quote below. It continues to be replenished and refined (last updated July 1, 2020)

My interest in this topic goes back 60 years, to July 1960, to the founding conference of the Anglican Students Federation (ASF) of South Africa, which was held at Modderpoort in the Free State in July 1960. It was held in rather inauspicious circumstances, during the State of Emergency that followed the Sharpeville Massacre, and I travelled to it with two students, Benjamin Photolo and Jacob Maleke, who actually lived in Sharpeville, and who, though they were not themselves witnesses of the shooting, knew several people who had been affected by it. For more on the background, see Tales from Dystopia VI: 1960 was a very bad year | Khanya.

One of the speakers at the was Brother Roger, of the Community of the Resurrection, who spoke on Pilgrims of the Absolute. He spoke of a number of counter-cultural figures, some Christian, some less so. Among them were Leon Bloy, Benedict Joseph l'Abre (one of the few Western "fools for Christ") and Beat Generation authors like Jack Kerouac.  He said they were all looking for something that was not found in the conventional and respectable values of their society, and that, whether they knew it or not, they were looking for God, and he asked why the Church had so often hidden God from them behind a camouflage of respectability.

Brother Roger, CR

It made quite an impression on me and others there, and Brother Roger was asked to speak again on the same topic the following year, and I have posted a combined version of both papers here: Pilgrims of the Absolute. For the next couple of years Brother Roger guided my reading, lending me books from the Community of the Resurrection's well-stocked library (which was also the library for St Peter's Theological College, which they ran, and among the students there at that time was Desmond Tutu, who later became Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town. Brother Roger introduced me to authors like Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Charles Williams and others, and also to the Beat Generation authors like Jack Kerouac and John Clellon Holmes.

It was mainly the Beat Generation who took the technical term "cool" from jazz and applied it to everyday life, and in doing so brought it quite close to some technical terms in Orthodox spirituality -- see Coolness and dispassion | Khanya. Brother Roger referred to Francis of Assisi as "God's cool cat", or God's hip cat. , and one of the beat poets referred to their generation as "Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night". Jack Kerouac never realised the ideal of a Zen Catholicism he sketched in his novel The Dharma bums, but his friend Gary Snyder, a Buddhist (Japhy Ryder in The Dharma bums), spoke of a "rucksack revolution" of young people leaving the rat race of the acquisitive society and wandering around spreading a message of love and peace. Brother Roger rather hoped that some of the youth at the Anglican Students Federation conferences might catch a similar vision, but few did.

By the end of the 1960s "hipsters" had got shortened to "hippies" and happily accepted the label "freaks" applied to them by straight society. Among them were some Jesus freaks, and for a time they locked as if they might represent a real Christian counterculture, but many were coopted by suit 'n tie evangelical Christians, who turned many of the symbols of the movement into kitsch merchandise.

One of the evangelists who got involved with the movement came closer to the "rucksack revolution" idea. He was Dave Berg, who founded the Children of God, who lived in Christian hippie communes throughout the world, and saw themselves as colonies of the Kingdom of God. They produced an interesting handbook for members, Revolution for Jesus: how to do it. Unfortunately Dave Berg, who called himself Moses David, or just Mo, succumbed to a temptation common in such movements -- he allowed himself to become the object of a personality cult, and the emphasis gradually shifted from leading people to Jesus to leading them to himself, and that particular branch of the Jesus movement went off the rails. I believe there is still a remnant somewhere, calling itself "The Family".
The Durban colony of the Children of God, 1974: Deborah, Jonathan, Stephen, Shemaiah, Sharon
 Another of these evangelists, however, Jack Sparks, followed a different path. He became became involved in the Christian World Liberation Front (CWLF), which produced a Christian underground newspaper called Right On. Jack Sparks was led to Orthodoxy, and became an Orthodox priest, and died a few years ago in Alaska.

So I am interested in the Christian arm of the Hipster-Beat-Hippie movement, and I think it would be rather good if the project of documenting "Hippies in the Church" was not confined to Russia only, but should become a worldwide one. So if anyone has any biographical information on hippies in the Church, or anecdotes of such a movement, please send them to me and I'll make a preliminary collection, and pass them on to any official collectors, should any appear. My contact info here Steve Hayes - personal links.


Wurmbrand said...

"From the Catacombs of Berkeley" may appeal to readers of this blog entry. It appears about midway through the San Francisco issue of Portable Storage:


Right On! started as a Christian "underground paper" and became Radix. They were distinctive but both were worthwhile.

Dale Nelson

Fr. Dr. John N D'Alton said...

wonderful :-)

David Michael said...

This sounds like an interesting project. I was one of the hippy people in California during the mid to late 1960s and am now a Russian Orthodox priest in the Philippines. I recognize some of the names mentioned in this article.

Steve Robinson said...

You really need to connect with Fr. Duane Pedersen who published the Hollywood Free Press and eventually became an Orthodox priest.

Steve Hayes said...

Thanks everyone for the comments. Would be grateful if anyone could give me Fr Duane Pederson's address.


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