On March 1, 2015, Rev. Tony Ponticello addressed the congregation at the Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. It was the 28th birthday of the CMC. On March 1, 1987 the CMC held it's first Sunday Service as the CMC in a small office space in the Haight / Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. What follows is a ligthly edited transcription of his talk.
It's our twenty-eighth birthday. Our Birthday is actually a little bit fuzzy, but twenty-eight years ago on March 1, 1987 the Community Miracles Center, then named the California Miracles Center, had it's first Sunday service in a little office suite in the Haight. We had actually been meeting in that office space as a different organization for two years prior. That's why I say our birthday is a little fuzzy. So it wasn't new for us to be meeting, but it was new that it was the California Miracles Center and so we celebrate that day. That was the new energy. That was the new birth.
Woody Allen is quoted as saying that 80% of success in life is just showing up. Sometimes this is quoted as 90%, but I think the original quote was actually 80%. I like that. I like that Woody Allen gives at least 20% to talent. (laughter) Eighty per cent of success in life is just showing up. That's one thing that I could definitely say for Community Miracles Center. We've always just shown up. We've always kept the doors open. We've always just kept doing what we were doing, and if there were mistakes made, or if there were problems, we just kept going forward. We learned from them and we moved on. So, here we are 28 years, maybe 30 years later depending on how you count the years, and we're still showing up. We are actually amazingly successful for our type of organization in this spiritual market place.
It has been 28 years. This picture on the cover (at the bottom of this article) was actually taken a little bit before we opened. It was taken on Thanksgiving Day, the Thanksgiving before March 1, 1987. That is me 28 plus years ago, Reverend Larry 28 plus years ago. And when I look at this picture, which I have on my office desk, one thing always comes to my mind. I think I look better now then I did then. (laughter) I'm happy to be able to say that. That's great.
I had been studying A Course in Miracles for a while at that time and the very first sentence in A Course in Miracles that really grabbed me was Miracle Principle number 24 that states, "Miracles enable man to heal the sick and raise the dead because he made sickness and death himself and can abolish both." (OrEd.Tx.1.27) That's on the second or third page of the Course, depending on which version of the Course you are reading. At that time, more than three decades ago now, I had just read the Introduction and I was reading the first page or two. I was liking it, but that statement I just read stopped me in my tracks. I thought, "Wow, that's quite a claim." This course is claiming to teach us how to heal the sick and raise the dead. I thought, "That's pretty big. That's big stuff! (laughter) And it seems to be structured that you can do this in a year. I can do this Course for a year. Then I'll be able to heal the sick and raise the dead. What have I got to lose?" (laughter) Might as well aim high. So, that's why I started studying A Course in Miracles. That phrase really grabbed me. It was a course; do it for a year. The results would have to be positive. Whatever I did achieve, even if I didn't manage to raise the dead, it would still have to be positive, and I could certainly say that it has been.
I think I was also at that point in my life when I wanted "more." I had been studying spiritual and metaphysical things for quite a while by that time. I had gotten started years earlier with the Carlos Castaneda materials and that was about somebody learning to truly have mastery over what appeared to be the physical world. That stuff had really sunk into my consciousness and resonated with me at a very deep level. I believed those powers to be true. A Course in Miracles was also resonating with some early things from my Catholic upbringing. Usually, in New-Age spiritual circles, we tend to bash our early religious upbringing, but I want to give some credit to it. I do remember, as a young Catholic boy, being taught that Jesus was the son of God, but I also remember the nuns teaching us that we were all sons and daughters of God too.
Now, there was supposed to be some big difference between Jesus and us, but I do remember it registering, even at that time, that if I was a son of God, and my friends were sons and daughters of God, and Jesus was a son of God, then there must be some miracle working equality there somewhere. I vaguely remember the question being raised with the nuns about why we couldn't perform miracles like Jesus did. I remember the nuns dancing around this question. The nuns didn't really have a good answer for this. Somehow we were all the adopted sons, or the bastard sons. I don't know. (laughter) We didn't quite have the birthright. I don't know what it was, but it didn't really make a whole lot of sense.
Jesus did all these transmutation things: water into wine, walking on water, raising the dead – somehow we should be able to do these things too. And I think that idea had been in my mind ever since my early Catholic training. When I read A Course in Miracles something about that did connect. So I did the Course. In 1981 I dedicated myself to studying A Course in Miracles.
I quickly realized that it was really hard to study on your own. I found a group in San Francisco that was studying A Course in Miracles. I started going to that group. I started getting involved with that organization. That organization folded, so I formed a new organization with a couple of the people and that was the predecessor organization to the Community Miracles Center. When that organization folded in 1987, Rev. Larry and I formed the California Miracles Center, which we eventually renamed the Community Miracles Center. I think, quite literally, that we believed God wanted us to do this. Rev. Larry and I believed we were on a mission from God as The Blues Brothers said. That phrase has been in my mind because Rev. Dusa Althea and I watched that movie on Tuesday night and if you get up close to me, you'll see I have my "On a Mission from God Tie" on.
We thought we had a mission from God. The mission was just to be a support for people who were studying A Course in Miracles. That's all. We just wanted to be a support for people, because it was a difficult thing to study A Course In Miracles on your own. To the best of our ability we just wanted to support Miracles students. I had been a student since 1981. I had already been a student of the Course for six years at this point when we formed the California Miracles Center in 1987. I had actually started our class, A Course In Miracles-1 a year earlier with the predecessor organization. That class started out of the energy of realizing that there were all these people who came to our Course groups. Remember this was a long time ago. This was twenty-nine years ago. There were all these people who came to groups. Many of them said things as if they knew a lot about A Course In Miracles, but when you questioned them you realized almost no one had read the entire book. Well – it's hard to read. Most people, at that point, hadn't read the entire book. They'd pick it up and they'd read bits and pieces, or they would pick it up and open it at random. Maybe some people did a few Workbook lessons, but I remember at a certain point just thinking, how many could I actually count, of all the people I had encountered in Course study groups, who had read the entire book and done all 365 lessons. I think there were four. I was one of them, and there was about three others. That's all I could think of that had really done it. So, I thought we needed to have some sort of structure that would help people just go through the entire book. That's what our classes here have always done. That's their main focus; that's their main goal. We here at the Community Miracles Center don't necessarily try to teach the Course, the thought system. Of course we do, do that. However the goal of the classes is not to really teach the thought system. We figure that will happen automatically. The goal of the class is to make sure students get through the whole book. Just read the book, do the 365 daily lessons and then the Community Miracles Center lets Holy Spirit take care of truly teaching students the thought system of the Course. Sometimes we have conflicts with people who believe that we should be teaching the Course's thought system more. And we do teach it, but the primary purpose of our classes is just to make sure that everybody reads everything.
The first A Course in Miracles-1 class started was in 1986. I was ordained by that predecessor organization in June of 1986. That ordination certificate hangs behind my desk in the office. When we formed the new organization in 1987, after the first organization fell apart in a "huff," Rev. Larry and I had learned a few things. We learned to get a little more structured about things, to be a little more rigorous and business like about what we did. So I do think it is fitting that we mark our birthday with the birth of this organization, the second organization instead of the first, because it really was a rebirth for us, and a commitment from us, to do things in a different kind of way.
One thing was we absolutely agreed that we had to have 100% financial accountability, that every single one of our business dealings had to be totally transparent. Our financial statements had to be printed in detail, and that if anybody wanted any further details we would always provide them with whatever details they ever wanted about anything financial. We would bore them to tears with bookkeeping, if they needed to be bored to tears with the bookkeeping. Very few people ever have actually wanted to be bored to tears with the bookkeeping, but we're always there willing to do that. Yes. We do torture people with the bookkeeping sometimes.
In case you're ever curious about what it takes to start a spiritual teaching organization, when we started this organization then named California Miracles Center, I loaned the CMC four grand, four thousand dollars. This is when we were in the Haight in March of 1987. Seven months later we, because of zoning issues, had to move out of that office. We moved into this space. We now needed more money because we needed deposits, equipment, and furniture to move into this space. I then loaned the organization seven thousand dollars more. So in the first year, I had loaned the organization eleven thousand dollars. That's the financial base that started Community Miracles Center, an eleven thousand dollar loan from me, which the CMC took twelve years to pay me back completely. I did receive interest on the unpaid principle each year. The entire debt was retired some time during calendar year 1999. The CMC did pay it all back.
Rev. Larry never loaned any money to the Community Miracles Center. Some people think Rev. Larry loaned or gave money to start the Community Miracles Center, but that is not true. However, he was there always as a great support, a great energy, and a great teacher. We always practiced that full disclosure, financial accountability I spoke about. It was many years before I drew any kind of salary to speak of. I think there was some nominal salary, about a hundred dollars a month or two hundred dollars a month, that I received during some early years. I quit my "day job" in 1989 right around the time of the big earthquake in San Francisco, the Loma Prieta earthquake. It was a big "earthquake" in my life to quit my day job, and we had the Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco. I had some savings. I figured I'd live on my savings for a while and I would just really push the CMC and grow it a bit so at some point I could start drawing a salary that might actually sustain my life.
The first years for us were smaller. We were a local organization. In 1990 we had our first Miracle Experience. Some of you may remember those. Forty to sixty people would go off on a weekend, A Course In Miracles, country retreat, somewhere. That was in October of 1990. That was our first one. We did those until April of 2006. That's sixteen years. We actually did twenty-five of those. That was staggering when I looked that up. We did twenty-five Miracle Experiences.
We had a lot of amazing parties at Rev. Larry's home which we affectionately called "The Mansion" after a while. We had Thanksgiving there; we had Christmas there. We had New Year's Eve there. We had ordinations there. Some of you were ordained there. I want to really acknowledge Rev. Larry for opening up his home like that and our ability to have important events there. Here we were in this small, humble office space – but we would have these events and parties in the gorgeous space. I think it was really good for our consciousness, our abundance consciousness, to see that we could associate abundance with us. That was terrific.
In the year 2000 we had our first conference. We decided to have the "Bringing A Course In Miracles Into the New Millenium" conference, which we created with a joining of minds with Judy Allen and her Portland, Oregon A Course in Miracles organization, after we had both been snubbed and not invited to present at a big A Course In Miracles conference that was being held in Southern California. I was in Portland doing a weekend workshop up there. I remember talking to Judy Allen saying something like, "What's the matter with us? Are we chopped liver up here? We've been doing all this work for all these years, but nobody invited us to come speak at that conference." Then Judy turned to me and said, "We can have our own conference." I said, "Yeah, we can have our own conference." I said, "We won't get all those usual speakers who are just notables. We'll get people who are actually teaching A Course in Miracles." We decided to focus on people who were actively working with students. It would be a different kind of conference. It would have more of a focus. It would have a theme that we would stick to and it wouldn't be just a nebulous, amorphous thing. I called Jon Mundy and got him to join us with his ACIM church then meeting in Manhattan. Our conferences grew out of that joining.
That first confernce was in 2000. That was right in the middle of the huge copyright controversy. By-the-way, we didn't even know if we were going to have a published A Course in Miracles book much longer, and if we were actually going to be able to keep teaching A Course in Miracles at all. I remember the sermon that I gave for that conference went over really well. Without going into the whole sermon, I drew an analogy between the copyright controversy and the fact that we were now required to put this registered trademark symbols, this little circle with an "R" or circle with a "C", after all the words from A Course in Miracles, like there was something risky about those words from A Course in Miracles. We couldn't use them unless we put this little round thing next to them. In the sermon I equated this to strippers having to put pasties on their nipples. However, then the strippers took full advantage of that and hung tassels from the pasties and started doing tassel dances which became their stock and trade. So laws requiring nipples to be covered in the name of "decency" actually backfired, I believe, on the people who were thinking of these laws in terms of something that would induce modesty. It actually went the other way. It induced more outrageous sexual behavior.
I drew the pastie analogy and encouraged people to see these little registered marks from then on as like the little pasties that strippers have to wear. That was a great sermon. But I'm not here today to talk about sex. I was criticized about that recently. I've been criticized a lot over my tenure that I talk about sex too much. I don't think I talk about sex too much. I don't think I talk about sex enough! But anyway I've been criticized about talking about sex too much because sex is the big taboo and people think you shouldn't talk about it, or at least ordained minsters shouldn't talk about it. But I'm not here to talk about sex. I actually want to talk about mental illness which is another big taboo we have in our culture – mental illness.
I've had mental illness. There is a lot of mental illness in my family. My father was hospitalized many times. When I was a child he had many series of electroshock treatments, I think probably about seven of those, when I was a kid. It was very hard to go through watching this as a child. There was a huge stigma on mental illness around that time. There still is a big stigma on mental illness. My father had various diagnosis. He probably had some form of bipolar disorder, and as you might know – or maybe you don't know – bipolar disorder is inherited. Just about everybody in my family, my two sisters and I, all have real severe mental problems.
They had cropped up for me in my life before. In 1980 I had my first "nervous breakdown." Some people don't like that term, "nervous breakdown." I actually like it. I think it describes what happens really, really well for somebody who's been through it. Your ability to function totally breaks down because of some sort of nervous condition. In my case, fear and anxiety, overwhelming anxiety, making it almost impossible to function, to sleep and to function. That had happened to me in 1980 seven years before the California Miracles Center, but it happened to me again in 2000 shortly after the first conference. Of course, I was in the middle of running Community Miracles Center then. It was an extremely difficult time. That particular breakdown episode time lasted twelve weeks. It was difficult, and it was very difficult on those associated with me. It was really difficult on Rev. Larry who got a little nervous himself, and fearful about what was going to happen to the Community Miracles Center because I was running the CMC.
He was here as an important support, and he did a lot of things, but he didn't know all the ins and outs and all the intricate workings with the Community Miracle Center. He had a defensive reaction against my problems. I don't have to get into all the details about that, but he took much more control of the CMC at that time, not because he wanted more control per se. He was just a little worried about what was going to happen with me, and how to run things. He stacked the Board of Directors with two people, both men, who he thought would be helpful in supporting him, but who weren't really A Course In Miracles students. I was too out of it to prevent that from happening. I want to apologize for that. Just as Jesus asks us in A Course in Miracles to forgive him, I want to ask the CMC congregation to forgive me for that. I was doing the best I could.
What I did do, even during that time, what I had the wherewithal to do, was to convince the new Board that you just couldn't have men on the Board of Directors. The New-Age spiritual movement had a majority of women in it, and you just can't keep asking men to be in the positions of authority, we had to have at least one woman on the Board of Directors. I convinced them to elect Rev. Dusa Althea to the Board of Directors. Rev. Dusa Althea had been here for quite some time by that point and had always been very helpful. She had been on staff at the 2000 conference. She came on the Board of Directors and I really want to thank and acknowledge Rev. Dusa Althea for those very difficult ten years (laughter) of being on that Board of Directors. Rev. Dusa Althea truly saved this organization in many, many ways. Just by her being on the Board, and at the Board meetings, Rev. Larry and his Board supporters couldn't do whatever they wanted. There were at least two votes that would stop them. However, Rev. Dusa Althea and I couldn't do many things that we wanted to either, so it was a strange decade on the Board. However basic programs did continue and some progressed. At least things could move forward in the trajectory that they were on. Still, it was very hard in many ways and we had some very difficult Board meetings. (Rev. Tony directs this next statement directly to Rev. Dusa Althea who is standing in the back of the congregation.) "Thank you Rev. Dusa Althea for all that you did during that time. Your stability kept making the CMC's programs happen." I know at that time, she must have really gotten that she too was on a mission from God. We kept moving forward.
My nervous condition comes and goes. It went away for a long period of time and that was great. We started functioning again more like we had before but, as I said, it was difficult then because there was these issues on the Board. I seriously entertained the idea of quitting this organization and starting a new A Course In Miracles organization at that time, because it was so hard to function in that conflict environment. Every time I asked for guidance from the Holy Spirit about that, I got the same guidance which was, "This is a temporary situation. It may last for years, but it's temporary. Once you get through this situation, the fact that the Community Miracles Center has this history and this longevity, and has gotten through these things will be invaluable. There is no way you can even calculate how important and how valuable that will be. So just do the best you can and get through it." Which is what I did.
A Course in Miracles says, "Yet God can bring you there if you are willing to follow the Holy Spirit through seeming terror, trusting Him not to abandon you and leave you there." (OrEd.Tx.18.87) Going through periods of severe anxiety when you don't sleep – that's going through seeming terror, but I did have A Course in Miracles through all of my subsequent nervous episodes and this line became a line that carried me through more dark nights of the soul than I possibly care to remember. The Holy Spirit was carrying me through the seeming terror, and I knew that Holy Spirit would not abandon me and that we would get through all of those things.
A Course in Miracles has something about the goals that you should keep in mind. It says "... the first thing to consider, very simply, is, ‘What do I want to come of this? What is it for?' The clarification of the goal belongs at the beginning, for it is this which will determine the outcome." (OrEd.Tx.17.58) I have truly felt that Rev. Larry and I, Rev. Dusa Althea, and all of us involved in the Community Miracles Center, certainly the current Board of Directors has this sense. We have a goal in mind and that goal is to be that place, and to be that support for A Course in Miracles students. We keep that in mind, and that's the goal we set. That goal is in our mission statement and the people, especially the people that are currently involved, I think have embraced that goal at a very profound and deep level. I know that I feel, and I'm sure they all feel, tremendous support, support from each other and support from the Divine as well. There is something truly miraculous about this organization and regardless of what has happened, we just kept marching forward. Regardless of the challenges, the miracle happens and somehow we keep doing the work that we do and we keep succeeding.
Community Miracles Center continues to have conferences. We had one in 2007. We brought them back to San Francisco that year. We had conferences in 2009 and 2011. Then in 2013 we did something truly bold. Now that we had a new Board of Directors that was more willing to do some things that were a little larger, we were able to move the conference to Chicago. We proved to ourselves that we could actually have conferences in other cities, that we were a nationwide, even international organization. We had that clout, that ability, that power and we could fulfill that mission. We could be on that mission from God.
A Course in Miracles has another quote that I like that talks about achieving a goal, it says, "Think not that happiness is ever found by following a road away from it. This makes no sense and cannot be the way. To you who seem to find this course to be too difficult to learn, let me repeat that to achieve a goal you must proceed in its direction, not away from it." (OrEd.Tx.31.39) To perceive a goal you must proceed in that direction. You can't proceed away from it. This is the condition, and the challenge, that confronts all of us. When the going gets a little tough, we tend to think, "Well, maybe we're going in the wrong direction." Then, all too often, we stop and do something else. When in truth that tough challenge might just be one of those times of seeming terror that the Holy Spirit is indeed going to lead us through, but we are going to have to keep going in that direction, through the seeming terror. And I know that my own life is a demonstration of that, and I think that this organization is also a wonderful demonstration of that as well.
I had another terrible episode of anxiety in 2008. That was a little stranger in some ways because even though I got better after a month or two, it would come back. Like I would have bad days here and there. I'd go for a good month and then I'd have a couple of really bad days. It kinda dribbled around and took a long time for that one to truly go away. Then Rev. Larry passed in 2010, and we had another huge problem with the Board as he was passing. We came real close to loosing this organization in 2010. However, sometimes being the President of the Board of Directors gives you certain privileges, and you can do certain legal maneuvers. We did manage to hold on to the organization, and again I've got to thank Rev. Dusa Althea. When Rev. Larry passed the other two members of the Board who were not A Course in Miracles students quit. I remember Rev.Dusa Althea and I were confronted with the thought, "We're the only board members." (laughter)
In 2010, in June, we just didn't know what to do. We could invite all these other people on the Board, but we didn't know how that would look, or how that would sound. All the guidance we could really come up with was, "Invite Rev. Vincent." Rev. Vincent has a lot of experience with boards and organizations, and at least then we could make a decision with three people and not just two people. It will sound better. It would feel better to us. So we invited Rev. Vincent and had another Board meeting the next month. At that second meeting the three of us decided to open up the Board and ask most of the people that had been around and participated for a long time to join. Then within a year or so we had even more. So now we have the current Board – ten dedicated Community Miracles Center ministers, and it's great.
As I said I do want to talk a bit about mental illness. The greatest healing that I have achieved in my life is a real healing of my mental illness. I don't take any presription medication for my mental illness any more. I feel pretty healed from it, to tell you the truth. I do take some orthomolecular things: amino acids, vitamins, and supplements. I do take supplements. I suppose magic is magic. What difference does it make? I do take my supplements daily. However, I had been off of the psych meds for quite a while and I feel really good about that. For me, that is a great miracle of healing for me to achieve. "Miracles enable man to heal the sick." (OrEd.Tx.1.27) I've healed myself of that sickness. It's pretty remarkable. It's a generational thing, and I feel very happy about that.
The Community Miracles Center continues to grow and thrive. I'm happy to announce that our conference in New York City is now officially sold out. We cannot register any more people. In fact we are 35 over what we should have registered. We've got 535 registered and really we're only supposed to take 500. Some people won't show up. There'll be those things that happen. So I still think we'll be fine anyway. We've sold out New York City – 535 people. Wow! We had our biggest year of income last year. We took in over $310,000.00. Don't forget, there's a lot of expenses and a lot of that is the conference money, but still it's notable. It's worth noting. I certainly want to note it and give witness to it. And I have all the bookkeeping if you want to look at it. (laughter) For the $310,000.00 balanced and reconciled to the penny. (See 2014 financial statement on page #3.)
We now have a wonderful assistant minister, Rev.Heather, who we pay. I know we should probably be paying her more, but we do pay her. We have a full time Assitant Minister. I'm not alone in the office anymore which is really, really terrific. I think that's great.
I've been studying A Course In Miracles for a long, long, long time and it really did produce the miracles that it said it was going to produce. I do feel like a miracle worker. I do feel like I've healed the sick. I did have to be very single minded, I continue to have to be very single minded. I continue to have to keep my eye on the ball and to keep my focus on the goal. And I just want to encourage all of you. If you are looking to be a miracle worker in your own life or in the lives of those who are near and dear to you, if you are looking to overcome things, to heal the sick and raise the dead, and especially if you want to be able to say that you think you look better now than you did 28 years ago, like I can say, then join us! Let this mission from God be your mission as well. Just keep showing up at the Community Miracles Center. That's all you gotta do. Just keep showing up. That's it – or at least 80% of it.
Happy Birthday CMC. (applause) ♥
c/o Community Miracles Center
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the February 2015 (Vol. 28 No.12) issue of Miracles Monthly. Miracles Monthly is published by Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. CMC is supported solely by people just like you who: become CMC Supporting Members, Give Donations and Purchase Books and Products through us.