Our Origins and Early History
The Mastery Foundation grew out of a series of conversations in the late 1970s and early 1980s among Christian and Jewish clergy who had experienced a personal transformation when they participated in The est Training. Their interest was in finding a way to make that kind of transformation widely available to others in religious ministry and to the institutions of religion.
Those who minister and those who participate in religious institutions form perhaps the oldest and most permanent of world-wide networks. Touch it in any place and it is eventually felt in every place. Perhaps nowhere else in the institutions of man can we hope to have such direct impact in making available the power of transformation.Initial Proposal 1983
The group requested that Werner Erhard, the creator of The est Training, develop a program designed specifically for this constituency, and Werner agreed. In the summer of 1983 the group agreed to incorporate The Mastery Foundation as a nonprofit organization and serve as the first Board of Trustees in order to offer our first program in February 1984.
As part of the design work, Werner requested that the Founders of the new Mastery Foundation enlist experts on clergy development and practice who could represent the Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish faiths. The four consultants at the first Making a Difference program were:
Reverend James A. Houston, national director of the Emmaus Spirituality Program for Roman Catholic priests
Rabbi Herman Schaalman, rabbi of Congregation Emmanuel in Chicago and immediate past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis
The Most Reverend Dan Hart, Auxiliary Bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese Boston
The Right Reverend George N. Hunt, Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island
While the five-day, residential workshop Werner developed would be secular in nature and content, a separate yet integral part of the experience was the teaching and practice of Centering Prayer. This was led by Fr. Basil Pennington, one of the Cistercian priests who popularized Centering Prayer and one of the Founders of the Mastery Foundation.
The first workshop – Making a Difference: A Course for Those Who Minister – was held in 1984 for 60 participants from across the United States. Since that time, the Mastery Foundation has offered the Making a Difference Course more than 160 times for more than 3000 lay and ordained participants in the United States, Kenya, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.
Over this time, the Foundation has worked to stay true to its original vision, as Basil Pennington expressed it, of waking the sleeping giants of mainstream religion as an access to transformation in the world and a force for making a positive difference.
There are perhaps no institutions in place today with a greater opportunity to positively affect the course of humanity than our religious institutions. Everywhere there is a resurgence of interest and participation in churches and synagogues as people search for meaning for their lives and a community of shared values. Yet here, where the power of living theology and tradition has prevailed for thousands of years and enriched not only the lives of people but molded our culture and civilization as well, there exists a wide and painful disparity between what is clearly available and what is present. Any rabbi, pastor, or priest must eventually deal with this gap in their ministry. It is here that the Mastery Foundation has something to offer -- a proven technology for shifting the work of ministry from a realm in which it is a constantly dissipating power to a realm in which the same work not only increases in power but actually makes a difference in the lives of those it touches.Initial Proposal 1983
From the beginning, the Founders also believed that the Mastery Foundation had something useful to offer in those places in the world where religion was a source of division and conflict. Over time, this led us to Ireland, then Northern Ireland, and then Israel, and to the development of programs focused on empowering grassroots religious and community leaders.
Throughout its existence, Werner Erhard has continued to generously donate his expertise and services to the Mastery Foundation, at times developing new program material and leading courses. The distinctions and tools he has created continue to be at the heart of all the programs and courses we offer as well as in the fabric of the operation of the Foundation itself.
In addition to the Founders, many of the Mastery Foundation’s most active volunteers and donors have come to us through their participation in programs Werner developed for the general public, initially delivered by the est organization and since 1991 by Landmark Education. The generosity of both Werner and Landmark Education in providing access to such people was as critical in our obtaining the needed financial support and the training of our own program leaders that enabled us to grow and develop our own resources. This continues to be important to the Foundation to this day.
While the Mastery Foundation and Landmark Education are separate and independent organizations, each organization is committed to empowering people to create new possibilities and to making a positive difference in the world. It is a relationship for which we will always be exceedingly grateful.Photo: A group of participants in the first workshop