Meher Spiritual Center Identity Conundrums

Meher Spiritual Center in North Myrtle Beach, SC., is advertising for a newly created position of executive director to help guide it in the fulfillment of the charter given to it by Avatar Meher Baba.

This is probably more than anything else a response to Sufism Reoriented of Walnut Creek, Ca. flexing its muscles in the acquisition of Youpon Dunes in downtown Myrtle Beach, a former residence of Elizabeth Patterson who founded Meher Center. Sufism Reoriented, which also received its charter from Avatar Meher Baba, now owns three properties to promote its contentious mission: the newly constructed 50 million dollar sanctuary in Walnut Creek, a Washington DC property and the Myrtle Beach property.

The new position of executive director promises to confuse the primary and longstanding purpose of Meher Spiritual Center to be a retreat center for “rest, meditation and the renewal of the spiritual life”. This has been its stated purpose since its founding over 60 years ago. But now the issue of power and control of Meher Baba’s message is becoming a factor in the management of the retreat center.

Why would this newly created position of executive director supplant the existing administrative structure governing Meher Center? This is a mistake. Meher Center does not need a propaganda department, and it most certainly does not need a propaganda department in charge of its primary function as a retreat center.

The problem of Sufism Reoriented is real and lasting. They are a powerful institutional cult that is dedicated to promoting an outrageous lie regarding their alleged mandate. But why should this make Meher Center insecure?

It is instructive to note that both Sufism Reoriented’s and Meher Center’s charters are minefields of ambiguity; SR has already hung itself through a willful interpretation of their mandate. There is no good reason Meher Center should do so as well.

Update 8/04/2017

After having posted the above entry, and having discussed this material with a few people, I now wish that I had more boldly stated my opinion about the recent Meher Center announcement about the newly advertised executive director position.

This is a terribly conceived and written announcement. The first point to make is that the new position could not possible fulfill the responsibilities that it describes. The job description is impossibly large and far reaching. Why would any sane applicant want to apply for such a job description? There is an infinite irony here: any person who would want this job is at once disqualified by applying for it! There are three or four jobs contained in this job description. What sane applicant would agree to such a herculean task?

Who wrote this announcement? Did a committee draft it?

As I intimated in my initial post, there is something very wrong with the motivation behind this proposal. It is essentially a power play: consolidate all the real and imagined mandates in the Meher Center charter into one overarching position that radically destabilizes the historic role of Meher Center to be a retreat center for ” rest, mediation and the renewal of the spiritual life.”








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6 Responses to Meher Spiritual Center Identity Conundrums

  1. Eruch A. says:

    I think a lot of the back chatter about this position and the Center intentions is not based on solid fact and so it gets shaky with only a little exploration.
    1. The current structure was a change from the old structure of hierarchical authoritarian of Elizabeth, Kitty, and Jane. Baba gave Elizabeth total authority to decide how the Center would run. But that wasn’t easily sustainable to carry on that model forever.
    Things went to a highly democratic process in the mid-90’s and jobs were based largely around the particular needs and skill-sets of those tapped for the job(s), as is the case throughout the Baba world. (You can replace Eruch J at the Trust office but can you replace him in Mandali Hall? Same with Bhau in the legal work but who will tour the world telling Baba stories?)

    2.Now the leadership in MB is about to retire and they are revisiting the positions they ideally want and not just picking someone and figuring out what they can do. (Although that kind of adjustment is inevitable and other hires will be sought to fill in tasks. Personally I can’t see one person filling the entire roll unless they keep on the current roll of President).
    I can’t speak for the exact thinking of the Center board, but the ones that I know have very high integrity and I’ve worked with a few and would gladly do so again.

    So your thought about what the mission of the Center is, might be more about what you know that it *has* been. For instance, when Baba was there, in the body, it was a place of Sahavas. He also created a kid-only party, where adults could only come if a kid invited them. This is possibly the very spiritual foundation of the Youth Sahavas, which is a different and very active event than the usual rest and meditation. It’s arguable that the YS wouldn’t ever have happened without Kitty being alive and giving it the thumbs up (in literally the last few months of her life).

    Also, in 1952, Baba gave several cryptic remarks as he was just about to formalize both the sufi charter and the Meher Center charter.

    —From a letter from Adi Sr. Baba dictated the following:

    ” [Baba] wants you not to worry about it at all but leave it to him. Meanwhile he wants you to note that: “Sufism Reoriented American Center has no direct connection with the ‘Meher Center on the Lakes Myrtle Beach. Meher Center on the Lakes Myrtle Beach” is not a Sufi, Vedantic, Buddhist, Christian or Zoroastrian Center. It is the Baba Center based on universality. This Baba Center will have within it four different centers of devotion, service, renunciation and knowledge.'”

    Lord Meher, 1952, page 3101
    So what does that mean exactly? Four different centers? Four areas on the center with a specific mandate? Four different purposes? Four different locations under the leadership of the Center? Very few even know or discuss this because it wasn’t provisioned in the Charter. But I’ve read where Baba mentions this theme in 3 separate locations (each time to Ivy or Terry Duce in the context that SR will have nothing to do with Meher Center on the Lakes). So it’s interesting.

    Also, starting with Elizabeth, there was a lot of cooperation between the Center and local organizations and churches. Elizabeth attended a local church every Sunday and maintained very good relations with the local community. Charles and Wendy Haynes started Happy Club when they were kids themselves, which was a sort of outreach program where some disadvantaged African American kids came to the center and did a lot of fun activities.
    All of these activities ended after the personalities of Elizabeth, Kitty, and Jane passed on (I’m unclear about dates or what reasons were given).
    Now, was that propaganda or just good community relations?

    I personally witnessed a situation during a post-Youth Sahavas bowling activity where the owner of the Bowling Alley apparently called the police because he couldn’t understand why 30+ young teens (clearly not local) were amassing in his full parking lot. Then a police car rolls up and I was the oldest person there, so I decided to try to defuse this before it turned into a bigger situation (having faced some of the Horry County police before and not enjoyed getting hassled over nothing).
    So I approach the police car cautiously. The stern looking African American cop says, “Jai Baba.”
    I stopped dead in my tracks, sure the post-Sahavas sleep deprivation had finally kicked in.
    “I’m right, aren’t I?” he asked.
    After a quick exchange, it turned out he used to go to Happy Club and he spoke lovingly of Jane and others. He was sort of beaming the whole time.
    Then the old grumpy bowling alley owner marched out, “Is there some problem here?”
    The cop said with a deadpan expression, “Sir, I can tell you that these are the very best sort of people you will ever find and you have nothing to be worried about.”

    At that point, everyone sighed and I wondered, “Why did they ever stop Happy Club?”

    More recently, I know also that a very similar situation came up and was key in catching the vandals involved in the Barn vandalism.
    Meanwhile the newer cops had no idea what the Center was or who worked there. There was no relationship. So Ben had already solved it before the detective cracked the case file open.

    So given all that and that they’re in the Bible Belt, why wouldn’t you consider reaching out locally?

    Also, the Center has been spending years, maybe a decade, in finalizing their future plan and they probably have to start thinking about raising money for that and to get their finances on an even better footing. So they are flat out looking for a person who’s comfortable raising money, or that’s what I read into the job description.
    I didn’t read it was supplanting anything, only it’s a more current job title. I believe it’s still a pretty democratic structure with a large, rotating board of directors who tries to weigh the desires of the staff.
    Perhaps there is not enough transparency because I’m seeing this sort of worry / backlash come from various quarters.
    Maybe they need more community outreach?

    • bill gannett says:

      Hi Eruch;

      My adducing SR as the probable reason for the reorganization of Meher Center leadership is a guess; obviously, the new executive director position is in part about exerting a more powerful presence in the nearby community and even beyond Myrtle Beach. Is seems most unlikely that this perceived need has nothing to do with the leviathan Sufism Reoriented. It is not to projects such as Happy Club- which I did not know was discontinued, that I refer.

      My main point is why would the reorganization of Center leadership consolidate in the one new position the old duties of administrator- which I have heard is a full time job, with a rather astonishingly long list of new duties many of which have nothing to do with running Meher Center as a place for “rest, meditation and the renewal of the spiritual life” which is the Center’s primary responsibility. As a purely practical matter, this seems like a dumb idea.

      I am by nature quick to respond to the dangers poised by poor thinking and writing, especially when it comes to the administration of Baba centers. The announcement by Meher Center about the new executive director position does not justify why this is a practical and viable idea. If the Center wants to greatly enlarge the scope of its projects beyond the preservation of the Center as a place of pilgrimage, these projects are best administratively separated from its core responsibility. No one executive director should be given the responsibility for both administering Meher Center and projecting its influence into the world.

      • Eruch A. says:

        From what I’ve heard, current leadership will stay on for at least the first year. But after that, I totally agree that this is too much for one job. Current president already does unbelievable quantities of work.

        I think they want to get more organized with fund raising and anyone can project what “outreach” might mean. It could mean cooperation with other groups or global archive projects? Or nothing we’re thinking. I don’t automatically assume the worst.

        There’s a lot more to unpack here than can be done in a blog comments box.
        But I agree that, if the Center wants to take on new activities, which I support, then they will need a team of capable people to work with the Exec Director. And preferably at least a few people who are under 50, just so there’s some young blood learning the long-term institutional history that some of the older workers have the benefit of.

        They have brought on some younger board members, which I applaud. But if the whole place is run by people in their 60’s…I feel like it’s a set up for an abrupt shift in 5 or maybe 10 years (nothing against people in their 60’s–their probably more qualified at this point). I’m just thinking out loud here, but I hope to see some passing of the torch of knowledge going on throughout the BL world.

        • bill gannett says:

          I believe the ambiguity and vagueness of the Center charter will get the better of the executive director unless extraordinary clear thinking is brought to bear on what’s involved in projecting Meher Center into the world. This is a trap, pure and simple.

          The references to SR are not for nothing. They have an even more bizarre charter- and aspects of which have been ignored for years, i.e. the prohibition against officers serving for more than three years when Ira Dietrich has served as president for decades. The much emphasized “democratic” aspect of the sufi charter has been completely suppressed.

          An early sign that things are not going well is when projects, such as helping the poor, assume a life of their own that compel extraordinary resources to fulfill a goal, and which then becomes a necessary evidence of good will, etc. The problem that SR has gotten into in this regard with their “White Pony Express” is illustrative.

  2. Charlie Gard'ner says:

    Eruch….Thank you for your concerns and your efforts to participate in the present and future of the Baba world. It seems that most of the views that are openly expressed generally come from ‘Grumpy old Farts’ like me. It makes me happy to read a well balanced and well written opinion from the ‘Next’ generation of Baba Lovers.
    The world seems to be getting crazier and crazier. I think that Baba has a big stick that He is using to stir up shit all over the world….and it seems to be working! But how can we let go of our shit unless He brings it to the surface for us to own it and deal with it?
    I agree that we need to get some young people on board…..just because my generation all have grey hair doesn’t mean we are smart…..on the contrary……a lot of us are just getting crankier and dumber.
    Time for a change to start rolling in.

  3. David Pierce says:

    My succinct, simplistic take on this?

    BABA’s “home in the west” does not need to hire a professional bureaucrat.

    A decision not to be made by a D.C. head hunter or a local sociopath.

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