History of the Forum

The Metro New York Adventist Forum was founded in 1969 by a group of SDA students attending NYC universities to provide a worship environment oriented to their needs.

In the fall of 1994 the Forum celebrated its 25th anniversary. As part of the celebration, we invited early members to submit some of their recollections of the early years. These were read at the celebration service.

One of those read was from John Kelley, one of the earliest members of the Forum. It gives a particularly vivid image of the Forum's early years.

John Kelley's Letter

August 31, 1994

My first NY Forum meeting was sometime in the spring of 1969. I was the Assistant Pastor of the Broadway Spanish Seventh-Day Adventist Church, on W. 93rd St., between Amsterdam and Columbus. A church of Dominican immigrants, most illegal, or should I say, undocumented. My pastoral life was a round of construction exercises in the morning and afternoon (the building was being remodeled with church labor), and Bible studies in the evening. I remember that I brought my first Bible student to the baptismal brink -- and then ran into a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. The Pastor insisted that she remove her wedding ring. She couldn't remove it -- her husband would view that as a sign that the marriage was over. The Pastor insisted. I argued withhim. The wedding ring was not an article of faith. Why remove it prior to baptism? The pastor prevailed, The woman removed the ring. The next day, she showed up at church with a black eye. Her husband did not take kindly to her betrayal.

The NY Forum, for me, was an oasis from the vast desert of legalism that I faced every day, an assistant to a Fascist pastor, a descendant of Boers who'd fled to Argentina from South Africa. At the Forum, I could talk with people who were concerned about truth about the Gospel, about the things that mattered.

I remember Rick Meyer, the spark plug of the Forum. Full of nervous energy. A freckled red-head. He knew Elaine, who was then my wife and is still the mother of my children and best friend. He welcomed me warmly to the Forum meetings. I remember Gall Meyer, Rick's wife. She was a lawyer, Rick was finishing law school at Columbia. They invited us to their home for a Saturday evening party, after our second Forum meeting. Their home was an extension of the Forum, the social ground at which we Forum members played Risk and other games.

I remember Grace Fields and Jo Lockwood and Hanna. Grace is the embodiment of her name, a woman endowed with wisdom and understanding, firmly rooted in the center of her faith and yet at the same time able to dialogue with the radical fringe that gathered at the Forum. Jo was an enigma, a dour woman with a big heart. I never quite understood her position on the issues of the day, but she was always there, always involved in the discussions. And Hanna Eichwald, Jo's inseparable companion, not an SDA or even a fringe SDA like the rest of us, but a stalwart member of the group.

I don't remember exactly when we made the transition from a normal Forum to a Church community. Sometime in the fall of 1969. By then, I was a full-time student at Columbia and we had a core group of about 20 people. Faith Esham, studying at Juilliard. Doug Porter, studying social psychology at Columbia. The rest of us thought that this would be the first Columbia couple, but our hopes were dashed. The Graysons - John and Awilda. John, studying theology at Union Theological Seminary while pastoring a church. Awilda, a mother and a singer. For a short time, Enoch and Ruth Sherman used to come and sing. And of course, the two stalwarts -- Duane and Connie Butherus. Pillars along with the rest of us for many years. They'd only miss church when they had to travel away for an important dog show.

The church group flourished, despite benign neglect by the Conference. We wanted to be a sort of congregation, utilizing my pastoral credentials. But that didn't work out. So, we thought we'd organize as a Branch Sabbath School. Invited a conference official to our services. We'd meet in the crypt for Bible study, from 10 to 11 am. Then we'd adjourn upstairs for services. Well, our good brother decided we couldn't be a branch Sabbath School. It seems that we were studying straight from the Bible --- heresy of heresies. Why weren't we using the Sabbath school quarterly? We couldn't be a Seventh-Day Adventist Branch Sabbath School without a quarterly.

The church group was our social world, those of us who were studying at Columbia. Along with a few others. Linda Ranks, teaching at GNYA. Marianne Ford, with strong views on every subject. Never a dull moment with MAF- She and Linda and Elaine at some point had to leave GNYA. Janet Schultz was part of this group, taught at CNYA, stayed a bit longer than the others. Elaine and MAF and Linda lost their missionary credentials and weren't allowed to continue teaching at GNYA, all because they were nailed by a student as they were about to enter a movie theater. The student was ingathering, We were standing in line, waiting to enter the den of iniquity. Naturally, the angels waited for us outside, but the student went and told her father, who was the Elder of the Jackson Heights church, who told the conference. MAF went to teach at Northeastern. Elaine went to the wilds of Mexico with me, from where we kept up with the life of the community while we did research for my dissertation.

In that early period of the community, we were a small group who worshipped and played together. One night it was a party at Rick and Gail's, where popcorn and Risk were the order of the evening. Another night it was MAF's apartment, in the Spanish Broadway Church. We'd play 'Bluff', and sometimes drink a concoction with a certain amount of alcoholic beverage mixed in. Another night it was Elaine & John's place.

We became a mature group in 1972, 73, 74. No longer a group of students and professionals, but mostly all of us were professionals. In the fall, we'd beat the drums for students who registered at Columbia with an SDA affiliation. This was necessary to maintain our permission to use the Chapel. But it also served to keep us young, to renew the community.

As a maturing community, we had our growing pains. during the early years, we were all of one spirit. United in our need to find nourishment outside the stultifying atmosphere of whatever church we had been attending. This us-against-them gave us a very strong beginning. But by 1973 we were looking for a mission that would define us as a community. We spent hours talking about it. Rick led the 'liberal' school of thought. His view of our mission was to do good things for the homeless, the disadvantaged. Ron Lawson led the 'radical' school of thought -- we were here to be a continuous thorn in the flesh of the larger SDA body politic.

We invited lots of speakers during that period. Gary Edwards, studying philosophy at Princeton at that time. But I think our services with Lynn Edwards doing a recital gave us more spiritual refreshment than our debates about our mission.

Then, of course, the bombshell, I think it was the fall of 1973. Ron gave his famous sermon, titled what I did this summer. His coming out. Most of us got the point, though a few dear souls somehow missed his uncharacteristically subtle presentation. An invisible but definite rift developed, along liberal/radical lines now clearly endowed with a psychosexual subtext. I seem to recall that Jo was outraged -- such things are private and must be kept private. We didn't face the issue openly, but we talked about it a lot in private.

The Community, the Adventist Community at Columbia, was a strong community. We flourished through 1970 and 1975. In the spring of 1974, the Community celebrated the arrival of its first child -- Shane. Elaine and John now had to worry shout how to keep their young baby from displaying the inevitable results of Soyalac during the sermon hour. We were proud parents and the Community was a loving extended family. At our Saturday night parties, Shane had no dearth of caretakers. Ron Lawson or Ron Walden, holding Shane while we played Charades.

In 1976 I dragged Elaine and Shane away from New York, to Honduras. We never rejoined the Community, though we visited every time we came back to New York and our spirits were still there.

I somehow believe that the life and spirit of the Community have a power that passes my understanding. I drifted away from any church affiliation in Honduras, and later in Washington and Rome. But our son Shane, who first felt the Spirit amongst the Community in St. Paul's Chapel, was dramatically brought back to the Lord in his eighteenth year of life. He's now preparing to be a minister of the gospel, fulfilling the mission that I abandoned. And I, in a jail cell in Rome, was brought back to face the spiritual demons and angels that I'd fled for years. And so it is that as soon as I'm released from my prison, I plan to go back to St. Paul's Chapel and worship with the Adventist Community. Whoever's scheduling the services, pencil me in for the sermon in the last week of December, 1995, okay?

With love,

John Kelley

Last Modified: Monday, 05-Oct-2015 22:54:02 MST
tla@mnyaforum.org Terry L Anderson