|The Gate Excerpted from, "A School of Change" by Douglas Stevenson
The Farm would never have survived without The Gate. From the very beginning, the Gate was considered to be the front door to every home in the community. Everyone wants to feel safe in their home. The organization, management, attitude, and realization of the need for a gate set the standard that gave the Farm the ability to exist and survive. Although much has changed, the gate has remained consistent through the decades, as important today as it was 40 years ago.
During the hippie invasion of the sixties, much of San Francisco had functioned as a crash pad, a phrase truly born of the hippie era. With hundreds of thousands of young people descending on San Francisco in the years before the Summer of Love, on any given night apartments all over the Bay Area provided shelter for the masses, runaways, castaways, seekers and every other flavor of flower child. In the midst of this chaos, eventually an understanding of the value of stability rose to the surface.
Although the people attending Stephen’s Monday Night Class on a regular basis began to see themselves as a group, leaving San Francisco on the bus Caravan took this to a new level. People began to work and simply be together on a daily basis for many months on end, taking the sense of identity and community to a new level. When the group arrived in Tennessee, it soon became apparent that The Farm could not function as a crash pad. Stephen wisely guided the community toward establishing ground rules and agreements that defined the relationship of people coming to and then taking up residence on The Farm.
It was recognized early on that if the community was to succeed, the people living there had to give it their full commitment. Either you were there to make The Farm your home and ready to build a life there or you were just passing through. The very first connection for every person arriving was the Gate.
The Gate was staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so that the traffic and people in and out were monitored constantly. Records were kept documenting the in and out of every vehicle and person, so that the Gate crew had direct knowledge of who was in the community at any given time.
When each new person arrived at the Gate, the first agreement was made. The Farm was definitely not a crash pad with an open invitation to anybody showing up on its doorstep. If you were reasonably sane and interested in seeing what the place was like, you could visit for three days. If after three days you wanted to stay longer, it had to be because you wanted to take the next step toward becoming a member. Stephen called it “Three days or the rest of your life.”
Before new arrivals could go down on The Farm they spent some time up at the Gatehouse with the crew. Depending on the time of day or season there might be one person or a crew of 4 or 5. These gate crew took the time to get to know each new visitor a bit and check them out. While most people were pretty easy going flower children, there was always a percentage of weirdo's, sleaze balls, rip offs and egomaniacs to filter. The Gate Crew regulars became pretty adept at identifying shady characters. Sometimes just calling people out on their eccentricities and subtle manipulations would be enough to get them to straighten up and become normal, decent people again.
In the first couple of years, most of the people coming in were folks connected to Monday Night Class. When the book Monday Night Class (followed by a second book called The Caravan, both published by Random House) began showing up in new age book stores around the country, a new wave of people turned on to the teachings of Stephen began arriving in large numbers, with the Farm taking on between a hundred and two hundred new people each year to live there as new members.
At first new people would be placed directly with a house or household hold as a place to stay. Couples stayed with other couples and single folks went to the men’s or women’s tents. After a while this got to be too much and a special Visitor’s Tent was set up. One or two couples from each household would volunteer taking turns being in charge of the Visitors Tent, which had an average of 30 to 40 hippies and hippie kids staying there at any one time. Responsibilities included good communication with the Gate to know when new people were coming down or when it was time for folks to leave. It was a always a challenge to rotate sleeping space and prepare meals for the constantly revolving visitor population. Every morning visitors would be distributed among the work crews needing help, with most going out with the Farming crew.
Accepting Stephen as Your Teacher
By moving to The Farm you were acknowledging Stephen as your spiritual teacher. In order to make the final agreement to join the Farm and become a member you made a personal connection with Stephen, something as simple as going up after his talk at services to introduce yourself, probably for the second or third time, stating your intention to make The Farm your home and to become part of the tribe, communicating not so much in words but in an understated, telepathic way.
By the mid -seventies The Farm population had grown to over 700 and by 1980 it was over 1000. More than10,000 people a year were passing through the Gate as visitors, with up to half of those staying on for 2-3 days. Each person had to be integrated to learn their story, their intention and to make an agreement. With so many people to process it was no longer necessary or possible for every new person to make a direct connection with Stephen. Although people coming in still recognized that the community was focused around Stephen’s teachings, other than his weekly sermons on Sunday, his day to day role in the community was more in the background.