with Rev Robert John at the time of
his Elevation to the Office of Meritus
You had your first contact with The Centre in 1973 when you were aged 14. What was it that you experienced that drew you to The Centre, that meant you continued to attend?
The first thing I went along to was a lecture on reincarnation that Mario was giving. Colin was there. It felt like it made sense to me. That was one of the things, it made sense. I think I had some sense of recognition of Mario and Colin; that there was something about them. I guess now I would say a sense of some sort of a relationship with them, though I don’t think I would have called it that at the time.
What actually cemented my relationship with The Centre was, having been going to the group in Albany for a while after that first lecture, we would listen to a tape of a lecture or meditation. After a while, some people had been traveling down from Perth and David Andrews came down and presented a lecture and then decided that he would do a communion service.
He didn’t say what that was, he asked us to wait quietly when he had concluded the lecture. David had eyes a bit like Marty Feldman, bulging. Suddenly, he turned the lights off and reappeared in an old-fashioned, full length black gown with fabric-covered buttons all the way down the front! None of the buttons matched. He entered into a communion service which was an absolute disaster! There was a lot of laughter and David feeling awkward. I responded to something in that, to communion. I had nothing to relate it to, but it resonated with something within me.
I very quickly developed a relationship with the Mass even though it wasn’t a particularly strong aspect of The Centre at the time. The Mass was celebrated on the first Sunday of each month. A few people met more regularly than that.
So, it was a response to the teachings and it was a response to a sense of relationship with Mario and Colin and a love for the Mass.
So did you have any contact with any other church or spiritual organization before The Centre?
My grandmother is dead so I can say this! I was christened in the Methodist church when I was about two and a half. My grandmother – who never went to church in her life as far as I know, certainly not in her adult years – was insistent that my baby sister and I were baptized. So my sister, my younger cousin and I were done together in the Methodist church; probably because they were the most flexible.
I went to the Methodist Sunday School very briefly when I was around the age of 10. I managed to stay for a couple of months til Christmas because we were getting some sort of reward for attendance throughout the year. I got a Bible which didn’t quite meet my expectation of a reward, and so I stopped going.
And then we had a stint at the Salvation Army Sunday School for a few months. I was always talking which didn’t go over very well.
We didn’t have religious education at my school, there had been scripture classes but they were abandoned. There was just one half day a term. Everyone was lined up in the school oval. Catholics went to one end and everyone else went to the other, so I was in the other. We used to have competitions to see who could get the minister most confused, embarrassed or unable to answer!
So I didn’t really have much contact with religion or anything spiritual.
Would you say you had an awareness of spiritual life in yourself or was it when you came to The Centre?
I think to call it a spiritual awareness would be a generous description! But, something was trying to awaken in me. I had begun to think about what there was to life and to think about ideas like reincarnation. Certainly there was no religious expression in my immediate family. It was a questioning or seeking.
Is there anything from your family of origin, your parents, siblings, or where you were born, something about those circumstances or situation which is meaningful or relevant to your life in The Centre?
Well, I figure there must be karmically, and I have wondered about that. My parents had readings from Mario. And I know in their readings they were told something about their relationship with one of their children, but they’ve never said what that is or whether it’s to do with me or one of my sisters. My guess is that it would be something to do with me.
I think what I have got from my family of origin was that lack of a religious upbringing. It meant that I didn’t have difficulty embracing liturgy and being in The Centre. I hadn’t had bad experiences. So I think my parents gave me a sense of freedom.
They certainly respected whatever I wanted to do, encouraged me. They allowed me to become part of The Centre, they gave me the freedom to do that.
I suppose the thing about Albany was that I think I would have floundered if I’d tried to become part of The Centre in Perth at that age because it was much bigger. In Albany it was smaller and I got to have some good relationships with people from The Centre in Perth while I was in Albany which prepared me for entering into life in The Centre in Perth.
When did you first become aware within yourself that being Meritus would be in the future for you?
I suppose the first time I really thought about it was in the time following Mario’s death when Colin announced that he wanted to Elevate me. That caused me to think about it! I guess since that time I have had different moments when I have thought that some experience or circumstance in my life is helping to shape me towards that.
I guess the other thing that is part of that process is a growing sense of acceptance. I certainly didn’t feel comfortable with the idea when Colin first put it forward. But when Antoinette spoke with me about it more recently and let me know she wanted to nominate me, I had reached the point where I felt much more reconciled to it. So, it’s a sense of something slowly unfolding.
There have been three people elevated to the Office of Meritus before you -- Mario, Colin, Antoinette – what have you seen in them, learned from, been inspired by?
The thing I have been reflecting on about Mario is the total sense of love that I see he brought to the Office of Meritus. I think that it was a love for Christ; that was the underlying love, but it was expressed as a love for everyone that he worked with. I have been thinking about how Scott Peck defined love: as an active concern for the spiritual welfare of another. That’s how I’ve been thinking of Mario’s work as Meritus.
With each person, Mario acted on the basis of his love for Christ in order to nurture their spiritual welfare. I guess for me the inspiration is to do with acting with love. My responsibility is for people’s spiritual welfare, not necessarily other parts of their welfare; those things may be affected by their spiritual welfare, but the primary focus is a regard for people’s spiritual welfare.
With Colin, something that has been very clear to me about his expression is his willingness to embrace freedom and to not be constrained by anything. That living and acting in freedom opens up opportunities for the spirit to find expression, new ways. So I would hope to express something of that.
With Antoinette, I see a great capacity to comprehend the teachings and to work with them, to express them in a way that’s faithful to what has been given, and open to new expression.
What is your current understanding of what it is to be Meritus?
I suppose I have been conscious of a few things. One would be responsibility for the spiritual leadership of The Centre and contributing to that process. That involves a responsibility for maintaining a living relationship with the Brotherhood and ensuring that The Centre continues to be a faithful expression of the Brotherhood.
I guess that’s also connected with one of the practical functions of the Meriti which is to ordain priests; being responsible for maintaining the purpose and direction and integrity of the priesthood through careful and responsible bestowal of ordination.
I have also been remembering something Mario talked about: that the Meriti represent the presence of Christ. So I’ve been contemplating the responsibility of that. There is a requirement for the principles of Christed living not just being talked and taught about, but being a living expression in me.
I have also been quite conscious of some words in the Elevation Service which speak about each Meritus, through the act of Elevation to the Office of Meritus, receiving the fullness of the spirit, being fully initiated into the Order of Melchizedek. I guess that speaks to me of the responsibility of the relationship with the Order, ensuring the fullness of its expression. Most of what I’ve talked about is the Meriti relating The Centre to the Order of Melchizedek and to the Brotherhood and the spiritual worlds.
I think the other thing that is important is very much about a community of people. The expression of the Meriti is to do with deepening each community and each community member’s experience of Christ through worship and through teaching and adding a greater impulse at times to compliment and to deepen the work that the priests and others are doing.
The Meriti also have the task of integrating the various communities and the various expressions of our Centre and sttrengthening relationship so that there is a sense of, not just Centres and communities and many Centrites throughout the world, but that there’s also the reality of one spiritual community.
You are the first person to be Elevated to the Office of Meritus in the 21st century, so I was wondering if you have a sense of that, if that has any meaning for you or is it more a sense of the future and of newness?
I don’t know whether I have thought of it in terms of the 21st century, but I have certainly been thinking about a sense of newness. One part of it is that the Elevation is coming shortly after Mario’s final Soul Mass. It will be nine years since he died and to me that ninth and final Soul Mass is about a shift in relationship. Prior to his death we had Mario’s physical presence with us. Through the nine years since his death his spiritual presence has been at work in the community and we have maintained something of a sense of that.
Mario’s ninth Soul Mass is about another transition, another change in relationship where we can no longer impede his ongoing development and journey in the spiritual worlds. So we have to release him, and in that we are also being released ourselves to enter more fully into whatever the future is going to hold for us as a spiritual organization. I guess I have been conscious of that, that sense of newness, the change of relationship.
The other thing that I am particularly conscious of is the importance of the free priesthood for the future expression. With time that will become the dominant expression. So I’m very conscious of that. It is interesting that my Elevation is planned in time so that we can ordain another group of free priests. That speaks of the future.
Another thing I am conscious of, or what comes to mind, is some of the words from the Elevation Service which speak to the Meritus about the responsibility to be attuned to the impulses of the spiritual worlds, to give that expression through their ministry and to not be swayed by external forces, external authorities but to maintain the values and purposes of the spiritual worlds and the Order of Melchizedek. Some of the vows which the Meritus makes are quite clear about that, so I am conscious of that responsibility.
At this point what would you see as you as the focus of you becoming Meritus?
One of the areas that is particularly alive in me at the moment is that of building a sense of one international spiritual community. So the work of developing communication and relationships throughout the Centre that would be one area that is important.
Another area that I’m particularly interested in at the moment is working out, together with Antoinette, how we share some of the responsibilities that relate to the Meritus Office … in a way that creates more opportunity for Antoinette to develop the work of Mario Schoenmaker Works − the teaching.
What would you like to see The Centre create or become?
I think one of my focuses or areas is an ongoing development and expansion of the free priesthood so that we can continue to not only identify and ordain and train priests into this expression but that we’re better capable of assisting them to unfold their ministries and the way that they live out their priesthood. We have done some work in that area, we have set some things in place recently to continue to develop that work. For me that would be an ongoing area of work. It is one of my hopes for our future expression.
I would also hope to see a deepening understanding and expression of what it means to be a spiritual community, a Christed community and to walk with one another in spiritual companionship. I think in recent years we have begun to get a sense of that in our life together in the various Centre communities. It is something we could work to develop.
What sustains you and enables you to keep the vision and purposes of The Centre alive?
I think relationships and interactions with people, priests and others, who are very alive to their understanding of our teachings and very alive to their connection with spirit and their connection with the purposefulness of our Centre. This sustains me and also keeps me alive and open.
The other thing for me is continuing to read and reflect on Mario’s teachings, for myself. Things emerge from them that inspire new perceptions and understandings in me. Also maintaining some sense of what happens beyond our Centre community in all sorts of areas music, the arts, worship, theology. I find that in that reflecting on these things in relation to my understanding of Centre teachings, new understandings often becomes clear and new things emerge from that.
You have a clear sense of what Mario, Colin and Antoinette have expressed and manifested as Meriti, do you have a sense of what you bring?
I think one of my great strengths is in the area of sacraments and liturgy. I am very aware of their capacity to raise us out of where we are into a fuller relationship with the spiritual worlds. I think that’s an area of expression I hope to develop and to lead into new areas. I see that life in the future will present an increasing need for people to be raised out of what, at present, seems a growing darkness of everyday life into an experience of the light of spirit, into spiritual light. The sacraments and liturgy have an important part to play in doing that.
I would like to see a contribution to developing liturgy and the sacraments in each of our Centre communities in ways that can more powerfully achieve those goals. But also, to working with the free priesthood to assist and enable free priests to develop their ability to give expression to the sacraments in new forms that are unique and individual to their particular circumstances and expression.
I’ve already touched on the other area which will perhaps be an important part of my expression: developing relationships, contact between our various Centres and individuals.
What do you enjoy doing for relaxation and recreation?
Artistic expression is important to me – painting, photography, music. It’s contributing to those things. Also I find it very nurturing to experience those things in a concert or an exhibition. I also like cooking.
What is it in painting and art that is nourishing for you?
Part of it’s about trying to see the essence of something and then give expression to that in some way. But the other part is harder to define – especially with photography and painting because they are static expressions – another thing which appeals to me is movement. When I decided to play a musical instrument, I had difficulty working out which one to play and eventually I worked out that it wasn’t just to do with sound, but to do with movement. It was something about the way the arms move in that process of playing. So with painting, I enjoy splashing paint around with movement. The result doesn’t matter so much. I am not sure that I have been able to capture any of that sense yet in photography. So, it’s about colour and shape and movement, and seeing and expressing something of the essence of a thing.
One of the things that I’m looking into at the moment I suppose as a relaxation activity is tai chi. Again it is about movement, so that is what attracts me to it.
There would be a few of us who are aware of a sense of beauty in you, is this something you are aware of, or is important to you?
It’s more about doing the thing, I like doing things and doing them well. But I’m not sure that I actually set out to create something beautiful. I set out to give expression to something and to do that well.