This week’s Did You Know is excerpted from a South Bend History professor’s latest book, Changed by Grace: The Oxford Group’s critics accused them of being an authoritarian movement and partaking in automatic writing; they did in fact sometimes use a pencil and paper to record their thoughts during prayer and meditation. The O.G.’s most hostile, scathing and vocal criticism came from the Church of England clergy who were severe authoritarians themselves. One cannot help but wonder if those particular critics were upset with the O.G. because their parishioners, once having been involved with the O.G. movement stopped blindly doing whatever the Church of England bishops and priests told them to do and instead, started thinking for themselves!
V.C. Kitchen had read several lurid accounts of Frank Buchman’s movement, but they had in fact made him so curious that he finally wangled an invitation, for himself, his old college roommate and drinking buddy and a third man, to a weekend O.G. “house party” at Briarcliff Lodge. Briarcliff was one of America’s grandest resort hotels, a huge, sprawling four-story Tudor edifice, surrounded by dairy barns and greenhouses located about thirty miles north of New York City. Kitchen and his friends assumed that they were going to be in the middle of some very weird goings-on, so they decided to first fortify themselves with alcohol. Prohibition was still in force, but they knew where to find an illegal speakeasy, and spent a couple of hours getting jolly before they drove to Briarcliff. They also tucked some spare bottles into their bags, so they could spend the weekend drinking as they enjoyed what they hoped would be quite a show. When they arrived at the hotel, fairly drunk they found about six hundred people already there, gathered in a large dining room, and Kitchen began feeling a little bit uncomfortable when he realized that none of these people were drinking? They did not appear at all like his stereotype image of religious fanatics and prohibitionists. He expected at the very least to see a large group of over-moralistic old people with pasty skins and weak chins who sniveled about things in a rather pathetic way. What else would one expect from a group which claimed to seek Absolute Honesty, Absolute Un-selfishness, Absolute Love, and above all Absolute Purity? As the stereotypes were concerned, the idea of people attempting to be Absolutely Pure, was rather frightening; to say the least! Instead, the men and women looked him straight in the face, with a twinkle of joy and happiness in their eye, and were incredibly full of life and good cheer.
It was an array of extremely impressive and successful people whom he saw gathered there. In short order, he found himself meeting diplomats, army officers, the rector of a church in Edinburgh, Scotland, the pastor of a very fashionable church in New York City, a student from the Sorbonne in Paris, a man who had been Chaplin at Harvard University, an Assistant Secretary of Agriculture, a man who had formerly been in the court of Kaiser Wilhelm in Germany, a member of the New York Stock Exchange, and a woman doctor (rare in that era).
Kitchen’s dinner companion was a businessman, former soldier and a big game hunter from South Africa. They spent the whole meal talking about big game rifles and got along famously. To his surprise, however, when Kitchen offered the man a drink after dinner, he turned it down, saying only that he “did not need it” because he had “something else.” Nothing was happening quite like Kitchen had thought it would happen. To be continued…
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