Community of Jesus

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Church of the Transfiguration at the Community of Jesus

The Community of Jesus is a charismatic monastic Christian community which is located near Rock Harbor, in Orleans, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod.


Today according to the group, approximately 225 professed members, together with another fifty children and young people live as households in thirty privately owned, multifamily homes that surround the church and the guesthouse. This also includes the twenty-five celibate brothers who are living in the "Zion Friary" and the sixty celibate sisters who are living in the "Bethany Convent." Altogether, the Community of Jesus consists of almost 275 people, from many walks of life and various church backgrounds—including Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Congregational, Baptist, Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Roman Catholic.[1]

They are located near Rock Harbor, Massachusetts.[2]

It is characterized as a cult on the CBC/Radio-Canada program The Fifth Estate (TV program).[3] CBC describes them as “a mysterious and abusive Christian cult in Cape Cod, Mass."[4]

Paraclete Press, the publishing arm of the Community of Jesus, has published many works by resident priest Martin Shannon CJ,[5] who stated to media, in 2006, that the sect "has no articulated theology" and that "worship and liturgy are at the core of everyday life."[6]


The origins of the Community of Jesus can be traced back to the first meeting of two Episcopal laywomen, Cay Andersen and Judy Sorensen, who met in 1958 at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Orleans. The two women began a ministry of prayer and Bible study, meeting in the living room of what was then Rock Harbor Manor, a bed and breakfast run by Andersen and her husband, overlooking Cape Cod Bay. In the early 1960s, Cay and Judy were invited to lead retreats in churches throughout New England. The Community of Jesus was incorporated under Massachusetts state law in 1970.[7] Rock Harbor Manor was renovated and converted into a retreat house called "Bethany".[citation needed]

For a period of time beginning in 1973, three sisters from the community sang Gregorian chants at morning services at the Heydon Chapel in Sandys, Bermuda.[8] Basil B. Elmer, a prominent member of the Community of Jesus and husband of Isabel Lincoln, great-granddaughter of William Rockefeller, was a board member of the Heydon Trust from 1975 to 1985, and Chairman until he stepped down in 2006.[9] One of their daughters became a nun in the Community of Jesus. The sisters returned to Massachusetts sometime prior to 2012.[citation needed]

Around 1973, Andersen became involved in promoting the "Diet, Discipline, and Discipleship" ("3D") weight loss program, which seemed to focus on sin and guilt as a way to lose weight.[10]

The Episcopal bishop of Massachusetts declined to designate the group an Episcopal community, based on a 1981 study commissioned by the Boston Presbytery, which characterized the community as a "charismatic fellowship" and found "...evidence that involvement with and within the Community of Jesus [was] incompatible with Presbyterian commitments of doctrine and order."[11]

They were included in the 1990 book Churches That Abuse by Ron Enroth.[12]

In 1993 allegations of abuse were explored on the Chronicle News Magazine which aired on Channel 5 in Boston, Massachusetts.[13]

Andersen died in 1988; Sorensen in 2009. According to Mary Ann Bragg of The Barnstable Patriot, per town assessment records, "...[t]he church currently owns $20 million in real estate in Orleans".[14]

Controversy surrounding alleged abuse further emerged through a successful class-action suit against Grenville Christian College, which had close ties to the Community of Jesus. Grenville's co-founders were all members of the Community of Jesus, including pastors Betty and Charles Farnsworth, who also served as headmaster, and fellow headmaster J. Alastair Haig and his wife, Mary Florence Mollard Haig, each of whom was named in the lawsuit.[15][16][17] The Haigs divorced and, Mary remarried in 2006. She moved into the Cape Cod enclave with her second husband, John Philip French (January 19, 1930 - January 1, 2018), who was a member of the board of directors for the Community of Jesus until his death in 2018.[18]

In February 2020, a Canadian court cited the influence of the Community of Jesus in the abuse of students at Grenville Christian College.[19] In the case opinion, Judge Janet Leiper of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice wrote: “I have concluded that the evidence of maltreatment and the varieties of abuse perpetrated on students’ bodies and minds in the name of the (Community of Jesus) values of submission and obedience was class-wide and decades-wide.”[20]

Rule of Life[edit]

Bell tower at the Community of Jesus

According to the Community of Jesus the Rule took its present shape in 2008 after final adoption by a vote of the Chapter (which is composed of the solemnly professed members). Its content is drawn from and inspired by Scripture, church tradition, the Rule of St. Benedict, and the founding principles and charisms of the Community of Jesus expressed in its founding and in its ongoing evolution. Its purpose is to prescribe a standard of spiritual wisdom for community living, and to be a basic guide for those wishing to commit themselves to the monastic life as it is pursued in the Community of Jesus.

Following a prologue, the Rule of Life is divided into two major sections, each of which has two parts. Section I sets forth the fundamental spiritual principles upon which the Community of Jesus was founded and which continue to give the community its definition. These are presented in Parts A and B under the headings of “Vocation” (God’s call) and “Profession” (our response). Section II applies those principles to the procedures for membership and decision-making in the community.[21][better source needed]

Church of the Transfiguration[edit]

Interior view of the Church of the Transfiguration, Orleans

The Church of the Transfiguration is a contemporary expression of a 4th century basilica.[22]

The interior of the Church is filled with hand-crafted mosaic[23] and frescoes painted by Silvestro Pistolesi of Florence,[24] as well as glass and stone artwork.[25] The bronze doors are by Romolo Del Deo.[24]

E. M. Skinner Organ[edit]

Built by Nelson Barden & Associates of Boston, MA, the organ at the Church of the Transfiguration is a restoration and expansion of components from a number of twentieth-century organs of the Ernest M. Skinner Organ Company. When completed, it will include 150 ranks and 12,500 pipes, making it one of the six largest organs in the country, and in the top ten largest in the world.[26]

Elements Theatre Company[edit]

Elements Theatre Company was founded in 1992, by several members of the Community of Jesus. They perform year-round on Cape Cod, as well as touring nationally and internationally. Recent tours have included performances at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center (New York), The New School for Drama (New York), 92nd Street Y (New York), East 13th Street Theatre, home of Classic Stage Company (New York), St. Malachy's - The Actor's Chapel (New York), Chicago Theological Seminary (New York), Chicago Public Library, Dominican University (River Forest, IL), and the Cathedral of St. Christopher in Barga, Italy.[citation needed]

Recent performances include Talking Heads by Alan Bennett,[27] God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza,[28][29] A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens,[30] Pillars of the Community by Henrik Ibsen, The Dining Room by A.R. Gurney, The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov,[31] The Doorway by Phyllis Tickle, The Trial of Jesus by John Masefield, and Rumors by Neil Simon. Recent Shakespeare performances include, Merchant of Venice[32], Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night's Dream,[33] and Julius Caesar[34][35].

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "History". Community of Jesus. 10 April 2012. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
  2. ^ Neff, David (20 October 2010). "The Art of Glory". Christianity Today. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
  3. ^ Estate, Fifth (Nov 11, 2021). "Ontario school with history of abuse linked to U.S.-based cult". CBC/Radio-Canada. Retrieved 14 November 2021.
  4. ^ Sawa, Timothy; Culbert, Andrew; Malik, Saman; McKeown, Bob. "School of secrets". CBC. Retrieved 14 November 2021.
  5. ^ Paraclete Press
  6. ^ LaBounty, Gloria (2006). "Jesus... put me here" (PDF). The Sun Chronicle. The Sun Chronicle. Retrieved 14 November 2021.
  7. ^ Valpy, Michael. "Mothers of invention: the women behind the Community of Jesus", The globe and Mail, October6, 2007
  8. ^ Bhattacharya, Raj. "Heydon Trust Bermuda Park and Chapel", Bermuda Attractions
  9. ^ "Stephen B. Elmer", Taps, Association of Graduates, United States Military Academy, September/October 2008, p. 23
  10. ^ Jorstad, Erling. Popular Religion in America: The Evangelical Voice, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1993, p. 63ISBN 9780313279690
  11. ^ "The Organizational Revolution: Presbyterians and American Denominationalism", (John M. Mulder, Milton J. Coalter, Louis B. Weeks, eds.), Westminster John Knox Press, 1992, p. 289ISBN 9780664251970
  12. ^[bare URL PDF]
  13. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: Community or Cult? [part 1-1]. YouTube.
  14. ^ Bragg, Mary Ann. "Orleans church linked to Canadian civil suit", The Barnstable Patriot, September 16, 2019
  15. ^ "Former students win class-action against Grenville Christian College". CBC. Retrieved 14 November 2021.
  16. ^ Spurr, Ben "Former Grenville Christian College students tell harrowing stories of abuse", Toronto Star, February 29, 2016
  17. ^ Genter, Ethan. "2 face charges from Community of Jesus incident", Cape Cod Times, November 29, 2019
  18. ^ "John P. French 1930 - 2018". Retrieved 14 November 2021.
  19. ^ Coffey, Denise. "Court cites Community of Jesus influence in abuse of students", Cape Cod Times, February 28, 2020
  20. ^[bare URL PDF]
  21. ^ "The Rule of Life | The Community of Jesus". The Community of Jesus. 10 April 2012. Retrieved 2016-04-04.
  22. ^ Mark Ogilbee and Jana Riess (21 December 2006). "10 great places to receive tidings of comfort, joy". USA Today. Archived from the original on 17 July 2014.
  23. ^ Richard Dyer (11 July 2005). "A work of biblical proportion, 'Pilgrim's Progress' has real spirit". Retrieved 16 July 2014.
  24. ^ a b "The Art & Design of the Church of the Transfiguration", Cape Cod Today, December 18, 2018
  25. ^ Milton, Susan (21 November 2010). "Art becomes religious experience". Cape Cod Times. Hyannis. Archived from the original on 11 September 2013.
  26. ^ Sullivan, James (7 August 2014). "SharonRose Pfeiffer on the amazing E.M. Skinner organ". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  27. ^ "'Talking Heads' paints pictures with words". Retrieved 2015-11-03.
  28. ^ "The Barnstable Patriot - Elements Theatre Company Creates Chaos in Reza's God of Carnage". Retrieved 2015-11-03.
  29. ^ "Civility turns ugly in clever 'Carnage'". Retrieved 2015-11-03.
  30. ^ "'Carol' rings in Christmas spirit". Retrieved 2015-11-03.
  31. ^ "'Cherry Orchard' is tribute to Chekhov in Orleans". Wicked Local. Retrieved 2015-11-03.
  32. ^ "Encountering the Other in Shakespeare". America Magazine. 23 February 2015. Retrieved 2015-11-03.
  33. ^ "Hex in the city". Retrieved 2015-11-03.
  34. ^ "The Barnstable Patriot - Lend your ears to Elements' Julius Caesar". Retrieved 2015-11-03.
  35. ^ "Elements 'Caesar' a powerful production". Retrieved 2015-11-03.


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 41°47′57″N 70°00′24″W / 41.799071°N 70.006599°W / 41.799071; -70.006599