'EXCUSE ME," the polite young man or woman in the long black cloak will say, "would you like to make a donation to our Church to help us with our programs for young people?" If you refuse, he or she will smile and turn away to someone else passing on the street. If you stop, and if you give some change and ask about it, you'll begin to hear about the Process, the Church that these evangelical fundraisers on various sidewalk stations in busy parts of Boston and Cambridge belong to. You'll be offered (for $2.50) one of their glossy, color-covered, large-print paperback books to help you understand more of what the Process is about and you may get an invitation to visit "The Cavern," a coffee-house in the basement of their roomy home at 46 Concord Avenue in Cambridge.
TO THE members of this Church, "Process" means "pro-cessation," or "for the end" -of the world. Process, the "Church of the Final Judgment," was founded in 1963 by a man named Robert DeGrimston and his wife. DeGrimston's photograph appears inside several of the Process books which were "recorded" by DeGrimston himself. In the photographs, he has, like many of the men in the Church, neat shoulder-length hair and a trimmed moustache and beard; he also has the elevated gaze of a solemn visionary.
Today, DeGrimston is the "spiritual figurehead" of the Church. According to one Boston "Processean," he and his wife are no longer affiliated with a chapter but are traveling, stay-in contact with the four present Process chapters, and visiting them on occasion.
The Church was based in London for its first five or six years until, following a series of ineffectual lawsuits against them, the Processeans lost a suit filed against their operation of a basement coffee house in violation of city zoning laws. This lost suit was taken as a sign that the Church should leave London, and the London chapter was closed. But the Boston Processeans expect the London chapter to be reopened some day.
In January 1970, three London Processeans arrived in Boston; they were later joined by a few others in founding the first American chapter. In comparison to the original London chapter, the Process in Boston has thrived remarkably; apparently there is still something in the American climate to nourish transplanted dissenting religions. At one point the Boston chapter had 150 members in its community, many more than the Church ever had in London. They have since sent out members to begin chapters in Chicago, Toronto, and New Orleans, so that the number in this area is now set at about 100 members, thirty of whom are "in black," and fifteen of whom are "Inner Processeans," living at 46 Concord Avenue. One Inner Processean who was part of the London chapter and who went through, with other London Processeans, a period of international wandering before re-establishing the Church in Boston, prefers America to England. "We feel it is more open."
THE FINAL Judgment, according to the belief of the Church, will bring "the purifying presence of fire in the world... After the ashes of the end will arise the new beginning... love and unity and giving as opposed to fear and isolation and war." Processeans do not know exactly when the end will come, except that it will be sometime within the next twenty-nine years, before the next turn of the century.
Brother Christopher, who was a student at M. I. T. before he joined the Process, explains that "the people who cling to the structures of humanity, guilt, fear, a need to be superior, a need to blame another person, a need to make an excuse for something we've done, will be destroyed at the Final Judgment.... Those who will be saved are the people who meet their fears- accept them first of all-and see that when we first choose to be afraid, we can equally be unafraid. By doing the things, we're most afraid of doing, we can be invulnerable."
THE HEAVY black smoke of burning incense pours out of the door to a front room at 46 Concord Avenue on Saturday nights at 7, when the weekly Process Sabbath Assembly, their public religious service, begins. Inside the room, the pale skin of a few babies shows up sharply in the candle-light against the black clothing of the women who hold them. Over and over, the worshippers sitting on cushions around the floor sing to the accompaniment of three guitars a hymn that stresses the unity of the members of the Church. At one end of the room, hung on a deep purple drape, is a silver cross; at the other end, over a black curtain, is a red representation of the horned goat of Mendes, a symbol of Satan.
Those who don't know the liturgy of the Sabbath Assembly are given, as they enter, a booklet that contains a printed outline of the service, with the appropriate invocations, responses, and indications of the places where sermon-like talks are given by "Superiors" of the Process.
Two large dogs, one black, one white, are led into the room on leashes. Several men, Superiors, enter in black cloaks that have special colored panels in them. A gong is sounded to begin the Assembly.
A recurrent expression in the liturgy of the Sabbath Assembly is "An end-and a new beginning." At certain times the Superior reciting the liturgy concludes his passage with "As it is," to which those assembled reply "So be it": a greeting and reply Processeans often use during the course of the day that corresponds roughly to "How are you," and "Fine thanks." At several points in the service, the Music Officer announces the number of the hymn, and the Assembly sings the words of the hymn to the kind of simple, logical melody that, like the melodies of many hymns in other churches, is easy for someone who has never heard it before to sing along with.
There is a time near the end of the service when those who are not members of the Church of the Final Judgment are encouraged to come forward and kneel to be received as Acolytes in the Church.
The Sabbath Assembly is subdued and solemnly conducted, but at one point a Superior speaks informally to the Assembly, making small jokes, inviting responses from those on the floor around him. As the liturgy proceeds, examining in turn the gods Jehovah, Lucifer, Satan, and Christ, a sense of community seems to build in the Assembly; when the service is over, the Superiors of the Church leave first, and others follow, happy and relaxed. Like many other religious ceremonies, the Sabbath Assembly of the Process seems to leave its participants with a sense of pleasant relief and fulfillment.
ALL THE members of the Church of the Final Judgment are organized into a hierarchy-there is no congregation of Church members who exist outside it, though there are many who follow the activities of the Process from outside the Church.
Those who are received into the Church as "Acolytes" can become "Initiates" after a period of a few weeks. A tithe, the donation of one-tenth of the member's income to the Church, is a requirement for becoming an Initiate.
The next step in the hierarchy is to become either a "Disciple" (one who has a commitment such as a job outside the Church) or a "Messenger," one who devotes all his energies to the Process. Messengers can make the change of status from "Outer Processean" to "Inner Processean." Some of the 15 "Inner Processeans" who are living in the headquarters of the Boston chapter are married and have young children.
Above the position of "Inner Processean Messenger" is that of "Prophet," one who is preparing to be ordained as a Superior. The Superiors are divided according to function: "Priests" are responsible for the administration of the chapter; "Evangelists" evangelize; the "Matriarch" sees to the spiritual well-being of the chapter. Above them all, concerned not only with running the chapter but also with running and deciding the policy of the Church as a whole, is the "High Master."
ALL OF those below the status of Superior are expected to go out on streets to tell passersby about the Process, sell books, and solicit contributions; this work is called "donating." Aside from the personal incomes of individual Processeans, the Process and its activities are supported by the profits from the sale of food in the coffee house, sale of books, the $1.50 admission fee to a Friday night "telepathy developing circle," and by contributions.
"Donating" has the appearance of institutionalized begging to some of the people who encounter the Process, including, at times, the police. But Church members consider "donating" as much a process of giving (of giving the people they talk to an increased awareness through the beliefs of the Church), as an act of receiving. "We go out into the streets to preach and to learn how to give.... If we are giving, then we receive also. If we weren't giving, we wouldn't be receiving."
Along with their coffee-house, the Process maintains a "free store" to provide clothing and other needed materials to people in need who seek help from the Church; they also maintain a soup kitchen that feeds lunch, by their estimate, to 60 or 70 people a week.
FATHER Christian is polite, soft-spoken man with long, light-blonde hair and a slight beard. He's the High Master of the Boston chapter of the Church of the Final Judgment. He has been part of the Process almost since Robert DeGrimston conceived it. When the Process first came to Boston, Christian was one of those who brought it; at that time, his face was a familiar one in the Square, where he spent much of his time "donating."
Christian describes the three gods in the Pantheon of his Church, the "three great gods of the universe," as separate and very distinct deities who
unite in Christ as a single god. Jehovah is the "wrathful god of vengeance and retribution" who is very Puritanical; Christian's example of a Jehovaian person is Charles DeGaulle. Lucifer (traditionally a fallen angel associated, but not to be confused with, Satan) is "the bringer of light"; he represents "things we strive for." and indulgence. The Hare Krishna movement is "very Luciferian," and politics are "Lucifer's field." Satan is the god of doom and desolation, a god who embodies things "we're most afraid of," things low and bestial and also things high and spiritual. Sex criminals and the Hell's Angels are very Satanic, and so are high religious mystics.
Qualities of each of these three gods are manifested in all human beings. One aim of the Process is to make people recognize, and accept without suppressing, all the qualities of the gods in themselves.
THE religion of the Process is, in many ways, a transcendental one. Processeans see their Church as both a Christian and "more than a Christian Church." Christ is an emissary of Jehovah, Lucifer, and Satan; he is both "separate" from and "involved" with the three gods, a "link between man and God." He is, they believe, in the world now, and He will reveal Himself before the Final Judgment.
Processeans see Christ, in the New Testament, demonstrating how to bring the opposing qualities in man together, showing "the unity and reconciliation of opposites." Father Christian is very clear about the message Jesus was giving to men in the New Testament: "Christ wasn't against vice-he was against pretensive virtue."
Animals are respected by the Church. One of the Process books, The Ultimate Sin, is a tract against animal vivisection. One reason for this emphasis is that animals are examples of the complete reconciliation of opposites (which helps explain the presence of the two dogs at the Sabbath Assembly). As one member of the Church explains, "Dogs are much more high-level beings than we are...They're pure.... Animals don't have conflicts of choice. They do as they're supposed to. They're not conflicted."
"We believe totally," emphasizes Father Christian, "in the New Testament, especially Matthew 5:44 ['But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.']" At the center of the Process belief is the "Law of the Universe," manifest in Christ's belief that "as you give, so shall you receive." It is, for them, a law reflected everywhere. Those who have difficulties in life are only receiving what they have put into life; those who kill must expect to be killed. Along with this law of universal reward and retribution goes their belief in reincarnation. Those who don't get back all that they have given in one life will get their reward or penalty in another life. "Whatever you put out you will get back... It always comes back."
The major purpose of the Process is to serve God by helping people to save themselves from the conflicts society imposes on them-to help people "rise above the conflicts within them." In helping people to reach this transcendent state, Processeans try to accept people for what they are, to recognize the conventions and institutions that impose upon them, and to make people face the impositions of life. Trying to escape institutions "only solidifies our fear," So the object of the Process is to become aware of institutions, and in becoming aware of them to become free from them; this is the way to increase the "scope" of awareness of what people are. Then, when the "purifying presence of fire" comes, those who are aware will be saved.
On first contact with members of the Process, many people suspect that the Church is an organization of Satanists. The fact that Satan and Lucifer are two of the "three great gods" of the Processean universe helps people to confirm that suspicion. Aside from their belief in recognizing the qualities that they assign to these two gods, and aside from their use of the Satanic goat of Mendes in their Church symbolism, there is hardly anything suggested in the activities of the Process to link them with the much publicized Satanic cults. If anything, they suggest the opposite; scrupulously polite and gentle with everyone they talk to, Processeans seem more inclined toward the qualities most people associate with Christ than toward those we associated with Satan.
MOST of the people attracted to Process activities are young. They congregate six nights a week in the "Cavern" coffee-house, listening to rock records as Process members move quietly among the groups seated on the floor. On Friday nights there are special activities: the "telepathy developing circle," a "midnight meditation," and the "Process-scene," a dramatization of what the Process is about.
Sister Lyssandra, an open, articulate, outgoing and warm woman who left art school in Kansas City, Missouri to come to Boston (and who was a secretary in Roxbury less than a year ago) calls the Process-scene "our idea of what humanity is about-not people, but structures. The Process is about being able to transcend government, and society, and all those things. It's not that you totally ignore those things, but you get to be able to deal with them, and control them.
"If your scope is totally the business world, then you can't see outside it." She uses the analogy of stock-market speculators who, when the market crashed in the '30s, were so defeated that some of them committed suicide. " Everybody does that. We're trying to learn how to avoid it, to identify your self with something bigger... God. Not just Jehovah, Lucifer, Satan, or Christ, but with all these things. We're trying to learn to identify with God. God never goes."
Along with maintaining their free store and soup kitchen, Process members also provide informal counseling for "runaways, drug addicts, and people with social, mental, and physical problems."
"People come here who are absolutely raving maniacs, and people here, higher up, are able to deal with them because they know what's wrong. They can give them acceptance, and a sense of security. If you can accept them for what they are, you can help them... Our idea is learning not to blame people, by accepting them."
Sister Lyssandra uses herself as an example of what the Process does for people. "Here we are, little creepy jerks come off the street-stupid, and hateful. And they give us love.
"We're not saying that the Process is the only way. It isn't. Whatever works for you is valid. That's how we know what validity is-it works."