A Courageous Kind of Peace

Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Following the printing of “Era of war pinches a place devoted to peace” in the Boston Globe on March 5, 2007, word quickly spread that the beautiful Peace Abbey in Sherborn, MA was up for sale for $5.5 million. Like many others who have visited and enjoyed this unique spiritual oasis in central Massachusetts over the past 20 years, I was shocked to learn that The Peace Abbey was in danger of disappearing from our lives forever.

Founded by Lewis Randa in 1988 after a visit by Mother Teresa to the Life Experience School – a special needs high school in Millis, MA established and run by Lewis and Meg Randa – The Peace Abbey is an ever-evolving collection of buildings, gardens and memorials which offer programs and resources that inspire peace. A walk on the beautiful grounds of the Abbey offers visitors a variety of garden pathways to stroll, a barnyard animal sanctuary to visit, as well as several impressive monuments to contemplate. The walls of the Pacifist Memorial are etched with dozens of quotes from men and women who lived their lives as activists and pacifists, and the lovingly adorned, life-size bronze sculpture of Emily the Cow, known as The Sacred Cow Animal Rights Memorial, stands gleaming like a beacon of hope for the justice and equality that is possible for all creatures of Earth.

The Abbey buildings hold several guestrooms, a multi-faith chapel housing the symbols, icons, sculptures and prayers from the twelve major religions, an active coffeehouse/art exhibit space, a reading cafe, vegetarian kitchen, and a Peace Museum and Conference Center furnished with a long, wooden Peacemaker's Table at its center. It is impossible not to absorb the healing sense of serenity and upliftment offered simply by being present anywhere on the Abbey grounds – a precious peace of mind so elusive in today's world. The devotion and care so abundantly evident in creating this space of non-judgment and non-violence, honoring all spiritual paths and forms of life, feels both humbling and secure. You can feel safe here.

On the day I visited the Abbey in April, Lewis was in Spain presenting the Courage of Conscience Award to the survivors of the 1937 bombing of Gernika, Spain who have devoted their lives to peacemaking. I had been invited to attend Morning Meeting with students of the Life Experience School to participate in a unique weekly handwashing ritual created by Lewis in 1986. The inspiration for the ritual arose from his meeting that same year with many religious leaders at the Day of Prayer for World Peace, and his belief that “we wash hands because they are our instruments to go into the world and do our jobs to make peace; it is a time to bless one another's hands in a simple ritual of sharing, camaraderie and compassion.”

a-courageous-kind-of-peace-peace-house-smallApproximately a dozen young adult students, five aides, myself and Dot Walsh, devoted chaplain and all-purpose servant of The Peace Abbey, sat around the Peacemakers Table. House dogs Chester the collie and Journey the golden retriever circled around, greeting each guest with a happy “pet-me” nose nudge. A wide, low brass bowl which Lewis brought back from Assisi, Italy, home of St. Francis, the patron saint of animals, was set on top of the beautifully polished table next to me and in front of Phillip, who begged to be the water pourer that day in honor of his birthday tomorrow. Phillip's excitement and enthusiasm was contagious as I immediately developed goose bumps in anticipation of the ritual to unfold. Phillip also got to choose the music for that day, and soon, the most beautiful rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” filled the room.

In silence, Phillip poured water from a pitcher into the bowl, barely splashing a drop. We had been instructed to take a moment for reflection, dip our fingers into the water, then turn to our neighbor holding a small towel to pat dry our hands, and make eye contact. In this way, the bowl made its path around the table, sliding from person to person, sharing the music, the silence and the reverence of being connected in a completely healing and peaceful way. We enjoyed an additional finger-and-heart-touch ritual around the table and a longer period of silence together, and then opened the meeting for discussion and sharing any “synchronicities” of our week. The grace and sincerity of the experience made it the most meaningful hour of my entire week and quickly stripped away the veneer of importance from all my usual busy-ness. How fortunate, I thought, that this population of adults with special needs, so often disrespected in our culture, would be so highly esteemed each week at this ritual, privileged to absorb a culture of peace instead. I silently and verbally thanked each person, past and present, who made that experience possible.

While Morning Meeting is by invitation only, the Abbey holds many scheduled activities open free to the public, including a Sunday Pacifist service at 10am in the Quaker Room. In addition, it also conducts weddings, special services, private retreats and training in nonviolent civil disobedience. Providing resources and encouragement to speak out and act on issues of peace and social justice is at the heart of the Abbey philosophy, which lists numerous projects and activities on their calendar and website, open to all. The National Registry for Conscientious Objection was created at The Peace Abbey following the war in the Persian Gulf in early 1991. The National Registry provides men and women of all ages with an opportunity to register their objection to personal, national, and international violence.

Dollars and Sense

Donations have funded all Abbey expenses since it opened in 1988, however increasing costs – such as the creation of The Sacred Cow Animal Rights Memorial – and declining donations have created an acute financial crisis at this time, draining the personal finances of the Randas and potentially threatening The Life Experience School which holds the title to The Peace Abbey property. State funding for the school could be jeopardized if the Abbey's debt is not erased by June 30, when the fiscal year ends.

Unlike most non-profit organizations, Lewis Randa follows a unique set of fundraising principles for The Peace Abbey: by waiting to receive donations rather than actively fundraise, donors are allowed to offer what comes from their heart, rather than being asked. Courageously living such convictions allows The Peace Abbey and its founder to “march to its own drummer even when the stakes are high – especially when the stakes are high.??” However, such courage also requires a tremendous strength and rare faith for any person or organization to sustain, an amazing feat which Lewis has managed to achieve and inspire in others, despite teetering at the apparent brink of disaster on many occasions.

In a Frequently Asked Questions page posted on the website, Lewis addresses some of the questions which have been posed about the financial dilemma the of the Abbey by explaining his philosophy:

“Relying on people who value our work to ‘offer' to help is emblematic of our value system. Above all else we value a spiritual awareness of how the Universe works. For 35 years we've been pursuing this method of attracting what we need with an understanding of karma at work in our lives and the pervasive law of attraction. Granted, we have on occasion been forced into foreclosure only to be rescued at the eleventh hour. (Yoko Ono bailed us out once, and twice anonymous donors saved the day.) Nevertheless, waiting for people to offer to help is our unique way of putting into practice what is at work beneath the surface. God works in mysterious ways, so you might say we're just making room for mystery. It literally takes my breath away when out of nowhere someone steps forward to offer.

“This model of attracting funds is what naturally occurs in life if generosity isn't institutionalized through fundraising. Everyone has within them the potential of stepping forward to offer without being asked. We seek to find resonance with that dormant place that yearns to respond to the needs of others without the focus-grouped, fundraising appeal that exploits human nature through pressure, guilt or obligation. We'd just as soon be patient.

“…Then there's the issue of competing interests, competing causes. We would rather rely on this unique dynamic within human relationships than turn to the corporate model of competitive fundraising where those nonprofits that succeed do so at the expense of equally, or in many cases, more worthy organizations.”

However, the gravity and immediacy of the present financial circumstances makes Lewis wonder if perhaps the time has come for a new owner. “If you're walking the walk and you can't pay the bill, it's somebody else's turn,” he remarked in the Globe article. Thus, the Abbey property has been put on the market, hopefully for what Lewis believes is the one true buyer who perfectly dovetails with the purposes for which the Abbey was founded. While the printing of the Globe article delivered many new donations to the Abbey's door, including one anonymous donation for $135,000 to pay off the remaining balance on the Emily The Cow Memorial, funds are still needed to pay off existing debt, and a long term plan to secure the Abbey's future is necessary. According to Lewis, “We now need $216,000 to become debt free which would mean we would have additional time to attract the angel that would like to own the Abbey so its work can continue.”

Since its beginnings, the Abbey's support and very existence has hinged on nothing more than a wing and a prayer, according to Lewis. True to his principles and purpose, Lewis drafted the terms of the Abbey Legacy Endowment Trust and real estate offering, another prayer sent on angel wings in the quest for peace on Earth.

Unique, Private Real Estate Offering

To assure that The Peace Abbey buildings, Peace Archives, Library and Museum, the Pacifist Memorial, the Animal Rights Memorial and Conscientious Objectors Hill Cemetery are protected in perpetuity, ownership needs to be held in the real estate portfolio of a foundation committed to the tradition of nonviolence.

The future of the Peace Abbey is best assured if the property is owned by a family trust or foundation that is aligned with the goals, commitments and ideals of the Abbey and leased back to us for a nominal amount. Once identified, the progressive, nonprofit, corporate entity would be approached with the details of ownership of the Abbey with the caveat that the property must be used exclusively for peacemaking.

The money from the sale of the property would comprise the Abbey Legacy Endowment Trust, which would allow the Abbey to continue on into the future with financial pressures lifted. If you know of a family trust or foundation that you think would be interested in owning the Abbey, please contact them regarding the availability of the property and request that they contact the Abbey office to schedule a tour.

Thank you for being part of this unprecedented effort to locate the perfect new owner of The Peace Abbey so it can continue in perpetuity.

For more information about the Abbey, this unique real estate offering or to make a personal donation, please email info@peaceabbey.org or call 508-650-3659. The Abbey is located at 2 North Main Street, Sherborn, MA 01770. Visit the Abbey in person or take a virtual tour at http://www.peaceabbey.org.

"My prayer is that The Life Experience School continues to prepare its children to become peacemakers in our troubled world – the true peace that comes from loving and caring and respecting the rights of everyone – my brother, my sister." – Mother Teresa