From the time that Samuel Gorton came to practice his religious beliefs in the Rhode Island colony to the present time, Warwick has welcomed those of various groups eager to seek a god of their understanding. One of the most recent to come to Warwick is Eckankar, which has its center at 2914 Post Road. Its leader, Sri Harold Klemp, notes in his writings, “Eckankar is a religion but not an orthodox religion.” This statement could well apply to Samuel Gorton and the Gortonists as well as many of the other sects that have settled in the early colony.
Eckankar traces its history to very ancient times and takes its message to a number of continents. It now claims a membership of over 50,000 followers in more than 100 countries. Much of its terminology is taken from Chinese, Sanskrit and a number of other languages. The modem day Eckankar was started by Paul Twitchell in 1965. From that time to his death in 1971 he was regarded as the Mahanta, the Living ECK Master and the spiritual leader of the ECKists. He and his followers have the title of Sri, which is one of respect. He was succeeded by Darwin Gross from 1971 to 1981 and then by Harold Klemp, the present leader. ECKists believe there has always been a Living ECK Master and that Sri Klemp is the 973rd Living ECK Master.
Eckankar is a non-profit religious organization and church with headquarters in Minneapolis, Minn., with regional centers from coast to coast in the U.S. as well as centers in various countries throughout the world. From its origins in the Midwest, the movement became established in Rhode Island in the 1970s. Its center for over the last 10 years has been at Post Road in Warwick.
Thomas Towhill is the regional spiritual leader at this center. He is a clergyman, ordained in Eckankar over 31 years ago after having a spiritual experience through a series of dreams that changed his life. He believes that while in ECK for over 31 years, it is “like day one once again and one is only in the present moment.” He is one of about 30 ECK clergy in the area. Towhill is known to ECKists as the Regional ECK Spiritual Aide (RESA). Clergymen lead ECK worship services and officiate at the four ECK celebrations of life, which include a consecration ceremony for infants, a rite of passage for the teenagers a wedding ceremony and a memorial service.
ECKist Tom Towhill feels that Warwick is the ideal place for the church’s center in New England. He feels it is easy to get to and therefore an ideal location for members along the eastern seaboard. RESA Towhill, rather than be called a pastor or minister, refers to himself as a clergyman. He stresses that Eckankar is not out to change the world, but offers all the opportunity to gain spiritual achievement. Sri Harold Klemp, he says, is the “way-shower” primarily and that the movement is ecumenical in that its teachers have been many, ranging from Moses, Christ, Muhammad, Socrates, Zoroaster and the Buddha. Their sacred book and basic text is the Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, which contains about 20 years of written discourses, and Sugmad is their sacred name for God.
The Eckankar center on Post Road conducts a dozen or more classes, led by trained teachers such as Towhill to help members in their spiritual quest. There are also ECK worship services, which last for approximately an hour, and a HU Chant, mainly for ECK members. These services are for initiated ECKists primarily, but all are invited to come to the center for quiet contemplation, spiritual reflection or to learn more about the religion. While there are no seminars at the center, there are formal training programs led by clergymen.
Oct. 22 is the spiritual New Year in ECK, and there is an annual ECK Worldwide Seminar at that time. In Warwick, at The Crowne Plaza Hotel, there is a regional seminar, usually in March around Easter, which attracts a few hundred members from Maine to Florida.
The stories of Warwick’s Houses of Worship will be continued.