By John Stasio - The seeds for Easton Mountain were planted in my psyche as far back as my college years when I lived in a student community committed to social justice. Haley House was the one place on campus where it was safe and welcoming for Gay students to meet. It was in fact a sanctuary.
Later in my life I was working as a massage therapist and body worker. My practice, housed in a Jesuit rectory, was largely for Gay men, many of whom were trying to stay healthy as they dealt with being either infected with or affected by HIV. The JUC, or Jesuit Urban Center, was one of a few Catholic Churches in Boston in the early years of the epidemic where Gay men and persons with HIV were welcomed and treated with dignity and respect. Many family members who sought to have the funeral of their loved ones at other locations told stories of being refused ministry from their suburban parishes and funeral homes. Again I found myself living and working in what could easily be described as an urban sanctuary.
As the plague of HIV continued to claim the lives of friends and loved ones, the desire for refuge grew as a need in my life. This need was echoed by the colleagues and friends whom I asked early in 1989 to plan and lead a men\'s retreat with me. We planned and sponsored a retreat for men who love men and titled the experience AWWOB — A Weekend With Our Brothers. It was the first of scores of gatherings that would be sponsored by a community of men that would later incorporate as Brothers Together ( BT ). BT would offer weeklong and weekend programs that hundreds of men would experience as a safe and supportive place in their lives, and for a decade we were in fact creating a temporary bit of sanctuary.
These experiences along with many others would send a small group of men in search of real estate in the summer of 1999. We visited farms, cabins and tracks of land in New England and Upstate New York and finally end up at a dilapidated ski resort in the town of Easton, NY and began what has been a decade-long experiment in creating community and offering a place of sanctuary. What follows is a piece of that story.
After a long and difficult negotiation, and with the help of a business partner who would remain with the project for only a few months, I managed to acquire Easton Mountain. The 175 acres of mountain, fields, ponds, streams, orchards and buildings had been called the Phoenix resort, and had been sitting abandoned for the five years prior to our arrival. My vision was clear, at least to me, as I had been dreaming a quasi-utopian dream for nearly twenty years. With a group of committed men we would create a place apart from the world where we could grow and heal, play and pray, dream big dreams and wild schemes for making the world a better place. From this hilltop the light of our queer gifts could shine for all the world to see and we could spawn a revolution of love, or at least, as Peter Maurin would say; we could build a world in which it is easier for men to be good.
Next, with the help of some buddies, I assembled a plan and wrote to everyone who I thought might help with this endeavor. In my solicitation letter, I told them what I wanted to do. I put together some numbers, pictures, ideas and then described the vision this way:
Easton Mountain will be the home to a spiritual community dedicated to transforming and healing the human soul. We commit to living lightly on the earth, promoting social justice, and celebrating together. We vow to spread beauty and encourage creativity. We value openness and a radical hospitality, which seeks to embrace all others as sisters and brothers. We respect the wisdom of the body, the interdependence of all life, and non-violence in the resolution of conflicts. We promote peace and freedom for all. We seek an ever-deepening connectedness to self, others, and all of creation.
I tried to make a case that we could do something wonderful if we had help. I said a prayer and I mailed out a stack of plans. To my amazement only a few days later checks started arriving and the phone started to ring.
From the start, I wanted to bring the gifts I had received on my journey to bear on the creation at Easton Mountain.
John Stasio is the founder of Easton Mountain, a multi-faith retreat center and spiritual community of men who love men. John was a member of the Jesuit Urban Center's Urban Ministry team where he provided spiritual direction and bodywork to people living with HIV/ AIDS. He is a former seminarian and member of the Catholic Worker Community. He splits his time between sharing a home with his partner and a golden retriever in Albany and retreating to a cabin in the woods of Easton Mountain.