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Seeker’s diary: Church Universal and Triumphant

Star Tribune, USA
Nov. 22, 2003
Amy Gage
www.startribune.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Sunday November 23, 2003

It would take a book to explain the teachings of Church Universal and Triumphant. Specifically, it might take 55 books, the number published by members of this cross-denominational faith since its founding in 1958.

Church Universal and Triumphant
The Church Universal and Triumphant was the subject of a controversial, 1993 study by cult apologists James R. Lewis and J. Gordon Melton. The study is one of the items discussed by Stephen Kent and Therese Krebs in their article, “Alternative Religions and their Academic Supporters.”
The Lewis and Melton study has been described by sociologist Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi as “made-to-order PR efforts,” and “a travesty of research. It is much worse than anybody could imagine, a real sellout by recognized NRM scholars.”
The Farce Revealed: Church Universal and Triumphant in Scholarly Perspective – A critical look at the AWARE study, ”Church Universal and Triumphant in Scholarly Perspective,” which was edited by cult apologists James R. Lewis and J. Gordon Melton

At its core, however, is a belief that all people have a “God presence” within them, an innate knowledge of what is right and just and true. Church members use a “decreeing” form of prayer, with “I Am” statements that invoke their higher being — making “a positive statement as if it had already come true,” according to one description of the faith.

With more than 150 groups around the world, and some 200 members at the church’s Twin Cities branch, “we are not a marginal organization,’ says the Rev. Susan Kulp, one of five ministers — all of whom hold other full-time jobs — at the church in south Minneapolis.

She defends the church against accusations that it’s a cult or sect.

“The Mormons were considered a cult when they were a young religion,” Kulp said. “And, of course, Jesus and his followers were considered a cult by the Jewish and Roman authorities of their time.”

Originally called Summit Lighthouse, the faith draws from religions of the East and West. Renderings or statues of Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Confucius, Mohammed, Moses, Zarathrustra and St. Germain fill the sanctuary in the Minneapolis church — a stately Colonial-style brick building that once housed an insurance agency and a mortuary.

Church Universal and Triumphant members worship the Ascended Masters, “enlightened spiritual beings who once lived on Earth just like we do,” according to the Summit Lighthouse Web site. “Over the course of many lifetimes of devotion and striving, they fulfilled their mission and reason for being — their divine plan — and ascended back to their divine source, reuniting with Spirit.”

The church calls on that core of every world religion that counsels tolerance, understanding and goodwill among all peoples. Amid the recorded music and the enthusiastically spoken prayersm the theme of last Sunday’s service seemed best encapsulated in the gentle Prayer of St. Francis:

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. . . . Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.”

First-time visitors: Church members have an earnest if overwhelming desire to share the “good news” about their faith. One woman e-mailed me several times to visit, sending articles by the ministers on “Mastering the Art of Happiness” and “Activating the Feminine Energy of the Soul” and mailing a book and CD about the faith.

Greeter Anna Larson directed visitors toward the fruit, muffins and tea in the entryway and to the bookstore.

Programs and services: Founded by Mark Prophet, Church Universal and Triumphant — the name was changed by Prophet’s wife, Elizabeth, upon his death in 1973 — seeks to connect people with their “inner voice,” their intuition, the good within us all and to use those practices daily, whatever their religion. Summit Lighthouse still exists as a nonprofit organization focused on education and bringing the teachings of the Ascended Masters to the world.

Memorable moment: With its deep blue carpet, white draperies and flowered wallpaper, the sanctuary has the formal feel of a Victorian living room. The altar is crowded with flowers, photos, candles, crystal rocks and small statues. Above it all hangs a framed poster signifying the three-fold flame. Blue, to the left, stands for God’s power. “We use that to take initiative in our lives,” said the Rev. Rose Gadigan. Yellow, in the center, stands for God’s wisdom, which people use to determine wrong from right.

And pink, to the right, symbolizes God’s love. “Send this light from our heart to a world in need of God,” Gadigan said, “where children are hungry and people live in threat of terrorism and war.”

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