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CUT buys church building in Livingston

Bozeman Chronicle/May 4, 2002
By Scott McMillion

Livingston -- The Church Universal and Triumphant has purchased the oldest church building in Livingston as a place for its local members to study and worship, it announced Thursday.

The New Age sect has bought the Church of the Nazarene building on the corner of D and Lewis streets.

Although the CUT has had its world headquarters in Corwin Springs since 1986 and has dozens of local members here, this is the first time its followers in Livingston have had a building of their own. Members have leased several buildings at different times, met in private homes, and, most recently, have been meeting in the basement of the Lincoln School.

David Lewis, president of the CUT's local community, would not say how many members are in the congregation.

"We don't give out numbers like that," he said.

The church seats 125 people.

Jack Camp, the pastor of the Nazarene church, said his congregation of about 40 people hopes to build a new sanctuary just south of town.

He said there was "some thought about" selling to a non-Christian group, but laws forbid discrimination.

"When you put a property on the market, you can't discriminate," he said Thursday. "They're a different group. But they have a right to be someplace."

The building, which has classrooms, a kitchen, a bell tower, stained-glass windows and solid oak pews, had been listed at $300,000. Camp said it sold for $195,000.

"We're happy with the price," he said.

Throughout the 1980s and well into the 1990s, there was considerable animosity, as well as some ugly discrimination, between CUT and some of its neighbors, particularly during the "shelter cycle" of 1989 and 1990, when CUT adherents were preparing for nuclear war or some other type of apocalypse.

However, those tensions have dissipated significantly since then.

The church also has reduced its presence in Park County, closing down church-owned businesses, selling real estate and laying off hundreds of staff members through the 1990s.

The building was erected in 1883, the year after Livingston was founded, as the Methodist-Episcopal church.

It will be called Saint Mark's.

Lewis said different types of services will be held there every day from Wednesday to Sunday. The public will be allowed to attend introductory services on Thursday evenings.

He said he realizes his church, which combines elements of Christianity, eastern religions and New Age beliefs, will not be embraced by everybody. Its theology focuses on the teachings of Ascended Masters, spiritual entities that, followers believe, spoke through church co-founder Elizabeth Clare Prophet until she fell victim to Alzheimer's disease and retired a few years ago.

"We're not going to be completely mainstream," Lewis said. "But that's not who we are anyway."

Several CUT-ordained ministers live in the area, he said, and they will take turns leading the congregation.

Lewis said the local congregation has been raising money since 1995 to build a church east of town and has bought a lot there. That lot will now be sold, he said.

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