BANGOR – Every Tuesday and Sunday afternoon the living room in the Rev. Kevin Loring’s apartment becomes a tiny house of worship.
The head of the 3-year-old Temple of Advanced Enlightenment earlier this week stood next to a round table as five others sat on sofas and chairs pushed back against the walls. They formed an uneven circle in the second-floor walk-up.
“We use music as a form of prayer,” Loring, 28, told them as the service began. “It helps us to see a little bit more clearly.”
He played Ben Harper’s “I’ll Rise” as the worshippers bowed their heads. After the song, the minister gave thanks to the Pure One and to Mother Earth. Then the minister prepared the sacrament by placing a small amount of marijuana in a wooden pipe.
“The taking of the sacrament is a very serious tradition,” he said. “It’s a very holy spiritual tool. It is with great respect that we take part in the sacrament.”
Loring lit the pipe at 4:20 p.m., inhaled, exhaled, then took a drink of water from a large clear glass. The minister passed the pipe and lighter to his fellow clergyman, the Rev. Garrett Wozneak, 28, of Glenburn. Wozneak inhaled, exhaled, passed the pipe and drank from the glass Loring offered as they participated in the Sacred Smoking Circle.
In smoking marijuana followed by taking a drink, participants take in the four elements – marijuana from the earth, fire to light it, wind to inhale and exhale the smoke and water, according to Loring.
“Cannabis is the Divine Inheritance given to all people by Mother Earth so that we may unlock the mystery of the many and varied messages of the Pure One,” the group’s Web site states.
Responsible use of marijuana for spiritual enrichment is at the center of the religion that Loring, a Penobscot Indian, and others founded about three years ago. Members do not advocate for the legalization of marijuana because they believe its use requires spiritual guidance, the minister said.
“It’s important to take one eye from the physical realm to see more clearly in the spiritual,” Loring said. “That may sound like you are half blind, but you really are taking your focus from one place to another – a place where you can see real unconditional love.”
The use of marijuana as a sacrament by members is carefully monitored, he said. Temple members must be at least 18 years old and have completed basic religious studies of the Temple before they engage in rituals such as the Sacred Smoking Circle, Vision Quest, Blessing of Meals, Blessing of Home, Holy Anointing and Honoring the Deceased, which are religious rituals similar to those practiced in mainline religions.
Samantha Bailey, 20, of Winthrop met Loring online. Bailey said Tuesday that she was not raised in a religious tradition, but the Temple’s beliefs were “something I could wrap my brain around.”
“When I take in the sacrament,” she said, “it opens up my mind to different possibilities. I see things in a completely different way, and I see things that I would not normally have caught.”
Loring, Wozneak and Jillian Dunton are the group’s ordained clergy and make up the temple’s high council. In order to be ordained, each had to be a member for at least three years, complete 500 hours of community service, be tested by other council members, sign an affidavit of spiritual cannabis use and take a vow of poverty, compassion and morality.
The Temple’s beliefs are based in what are considered by theologians to be Native American traditions. Loring and other clergy wear black shirts and robes similar to those worn by clergy in Christian denominations but with green instead of white collars.
“Native American [and] First Nations religion is primarily about experience, not about theology or doctrine,” according to the fourth edition of “How to Be a Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook. It is simultaneously a personal and a profoundly communal experience. The nearly universal rule among Native peoples that explains this, is that ceremonies, customs and various cultural traditions, which are all ways of exercising spirituality, are, at their core, community activities for community members.”
Giving back to the community is central to the Temple’s theology, according to information on the Temple’s Web site. Members and seekers meet twice a month at the Union Street Brick Church in Bangor to discuss how to best do that.
One idea the group is exploring is distributing medical marijuana, which is legal in Maine if prescribed by a physician, to people in the Bangor area who have been advised to use marijuana but cannot obtain it legally.
The Temple is in the process of asking the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency for a religious use exception so members don’t need to fear arrest, according to Loring. Its mission statement also includes providing public education programs on religious freedom and civil rights in relation to smoking marijuana.
“As human beings, we’re wired to want to know more about spirituality,” the Rev. Lee Witting, owner of the Union Street Brick Church, said after Tuesday night’s meeting. “There’s a whole generation that has the same spiritual yearning that we in traditional Judeo-Christian traditions have, but they have no direction in which to point their spiritual curiosity.
“This is an intellectual approach to spiritual use of marijuana,” Witting, who also is a chaplain at Eastern Maine Medical Center, said, “that might keep them from using other more destructive drugs. They are doing something good and taking a new approach so I’m glad to let them use the space.”
In the Sacred Smoking Circle on Tuesday afternoon, Loring told worshippers to take in a positive better tomorrow when they inhaled and to exhale the negativity that kept them from becoming better people.
“When I take in the sacrament,” Bailey said, “it opens my mind up to different possibilities. When I blow out the negative energy, it really feels that way to me, like I’m expelling the bad.”
The Temple of Advanced Enlightenment will hold its next meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 9, at the Union Street Brick Church on the corner of Union and First streets in Bangor. For more information, visit www.templegreen.org.
Goals of the Temple of Advanced Enlightenment:
Seek a spiritual use exemption from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
Offer drug abuse intervention and mentoring.
Promote cannabis as a narcotic replacement therapy.
Distribute medical marijuana free.
Educate public on spiritual use of marijuana.
Partner with houses of worship, lawyers, colleges and universities.
Seek a $60,000 grant from the Marijuana Policy Project.
A story about a religious group using marijuana as a sacrament on Page B1 of the Nov. 29-30 paper requires clarification. No drugs were used at the Union Street Brick Church in Bangor, where the group had held some public meetings about American Indian worship practices. No illegal drug use was or is condoned by the Union Street Brick Church or its pastor, the Rev. Lee Witting.