September - October 2006
Our gala open house, TheosoFest, heralded the beginning of our programs for the fall season. Although this year offered a more limited program schedule than last year, the attendance was comparable. With over 800 visitors, there was standing room only in most of our lectures. People tended to come early and stay around after the programs to enjoy the daylong open house. Membership reports a total of twenty-four new and renewing members.
Apparently our concerns about competition from Wheaton AutumnFest, the local fall festival, were unfounded. In fact, we did double duty that day by hosting the Theosophical Society information booth downtown as well. We are finding that this kind of representation in local community festivals results in making the Society better known as a community participant and in drawing new inquirers to our doors.
Immediately after TheosoFest, I had the opportunity to attend a three-day session of Dharma Teachings with the Dalai Lama in Pasadena, California. A cadre of Theosophists from the area gathered at mealtimes to discuss the teachings and for general camaraderie. On several of our mealtime forays we experienced the incongruity of leaving the five-thousand-person capacity auditorium filled with peace and chanting, and then encountering, just outside, a small group of fundamental Christians carrying large placards and megaphones promoting their belief that we (the participants of the conference) were all going to hell and that “Jesus was the only way.” The five thousand, made up of all faiths including Christianity, walked peacefully by, sending the demonstrators thoughts of kindness and compassion.
Among the group of Theosophists in attendance at the teachings was Louise Hagihari. She graciously took me on a road trip to Halcyon to visit the Temple of the People, a small independent Theosophical community located north of Los Angeles. There I met with Eleanor Shumway, the Guardian in Chief (lifetime appointed head of the order), and several other of the members. Our gracious reception, an inspiring visit to the Blue Star Memorial Temple which was constructed with symbolism akin to Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt, with pillars and design representing spiritual concepts, along with the instant rapport, reminded me of the beauty of Theosophical and spiritual bonds that transcend time and space. The opportunity to sign my name in their hundred-year-old guest book seemed to seal this auspicious occasion.
Following this adventure, a few family activities intervened in my busy schedule. After I returned from a quick trip to visit my mother in North Carolina, my daughter Dana and her family arrived in Wheaton for a week-long visit. Although I could not take much time off, I was able to spend some quality time especially with granddaughter Ruby Mae, a precious fourteen month old dynamo.
Olcott Experience topped off the very busy month of September, bringing twenty participants to our annual seminar for selected workers from the local lodges and study centers. This group of members from around the country was particularly harmonious and in addition to learning about our resources available to them and developing a renewed enthusiasm for Theosophy, they formed special networking friendships. Our members are a family of like-minded seekers who develop special bonds when we get together, and now with internet communication those bonds can more easily flourish and blossom.
In early October, Tom Ockerse, professor of Graphic Design at the Rhode Island School of Design and former national board member, came for a full round of meetings with different departments as we work to develop the many facets of our visual image in communications with members and the public. You may have noticed the new visuals in our stationery, Messenger, and pamphlets. Now I hope you will take particular note of the new look of our website at www.theosophical.org, which was designed by Soe Lin, one of Tom’s former students.
Long-term planning and intense preparation came to fruition in mid-October with a most successful Southwest Regional Conference, held in Phoenix, Arizona. The presenters challenged and inspired the 145 participants, twenty-seven of whom were new members. David Bland invested many hours coordinating with speakers, venue, staff, and local workers to insure that all went off without a hitch. Although there is always room for improvement, the enthusiastic evaluations from participants encouraged us in recognizing that this is an effective way to reach out to the public, attract new members, and to strengthen the local groups. The conference occurred at a critical time for the Phoenix Theosophical Study Center, and by all indications, provided just the boost it needed to turn things around.
October ended with our Olcott School, featuring Drs. Victor and Olga Gostin from Australia in a stimulating presentation about the cosmos, our evolving planet, humanity, and our future. The combination of geophysics and sociology challenged our assumptions and provided some optimism for the positive impact that each of us can make in mitigating the disturbing trends of resource depletion and cultural violence we see around us today. The attendance of just less than twenty, although disappointing, did not diminish the effectiveness of the workshop. In fact, the intimate number was a positive factor encouraging interaction. With all this intriguing information, our minds will continue to reverberate with thoughts of our expanding universe and our place in it. and fun taking place in September. Thus begins our new cycle of programs and activities for the Fall.
pictures by Jeff Gresko
Southwest Regional Conference