The Ayahuasca Healings Church has emerged from a self-imposed break from operations with a renewed zeal for their mission of bringing spiritual enlightenment to the world through the use of the natural hallucinogens.
In March, the church, located between Mineral and Elbe near the Lewis-Pierce county line, appeared to shut down when scheduled retreats were postponed indefinitely.
At the same time, the church’s regularly maintained website went dark and numerous phone calls and emails bounced back with messages indicating that they were no longer in service.
On Thursday, though, Marc Shackman, the CEO and shaman of the fledgling and controversial church, met with a group of Lewis County department heads as part of a pre-submission conference.
Typically, pre-submission conferences are held prior to an organization beginning operations in order to preemptively address any compliance issues. However, the Ayahuasca Healings Church began its operations on short notice in January, holding six different retreats in the interim, without completing the pre-submission process.
The county has been eager to meet with church representatives ever since.
“They just wanted to meet us in person and feel our energy and see that we’re not the devil,” Shackman told The Chronicle after the conference. “Overall, it’s really helpful that we do this.”
Lewis County Environmental Services Supervisor Bill Teitzel agreed that the meeting was beneficial for all parties involved.
He also noted that because the church is currently out of operation and the property is simply being used as a private residence, there are no outstanding issues between the church and the county that need to be resolved.
If the church were to reopen the gates and resume operations, though, there would likely be some matters that would need to be addressed first.
“There’s some hoops they’d have to jump through if they want to reopen,” said Teitzel.
One issue that was previously brought to the attention of the county by a concerned citizen was the improper handling and serving of food to church visitors. However, the church contends that they are not out of compliance due to the fact that their food items are all obtained via donations and are then donated back to church visitors free of charge.
Other roadblocks alluded to by Shackman after the conference included general water and sanitation issues as well as wheelchair access.
Until the church makes a move to reopen its doors to the public, though, those points are moot, according to Teitzel, who noted that only a small number of people are staying on the property right now.
“That’s what it is,” said Teitzel. “It’s an old farmhouse.”
Shackman confirmed that his church’s intention is in fact to reopen to the public at a later date. However, that date is yet to be determined.
Currently, the church hierarchy is not only working to come into compliance with Lewis County but also the Drug Enforcement Agency. According to the shaman, the church has submitted a petition to the DEA asking for an official exemption from prosecution for the possession, transportation or use of ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is a natural occurring compound derived from plants and causes intense hallucinations or, in the opinion of the church, spiritual experiences. Shackman prefers to refer to them as plant medicines.
To explain the sudden shuttering of his church and the indefinitely postponed retreats, Shackman said that the “break” was spurred on “by a combination of things.” He noted that it was a very tough decision to make and he is sensitive to the perception it created in the community that they are a “fly by night group” interested only in absconding with heaps of money.
The church charges around $2,000 for visitors to attend the retreats, but says the money is considered a donation.
“We decided it was best to come into full compliance with what the DEA wanted from us,” explained Shackman of the timing of the church going dark. “We decided to close our gates really suddenly because we were in the middle of that process.”
Besides that, Shackman insists that there are no money bags to run away with because running a large-scale operation like the Ayahuasca Healings Church, like most businesses, requires a sizeable and recurring investment.
Shackman added that his church is not able to give refunds on donations since they do not operate on a pay for service type of arrangement.
“The service is a gift itself,” explained Shackman.
While there is no timetable yet for the reopening of the Ayahuasca Healings Church, Shackman is confident that it will in fact happen. When, and if, it does happen, he says that all of the prospective guests who have already donated to the church will be invited out to participate in their previously scheduled, and postponed, retreat.
In the meantime, people who have donated to the church but have not yet been able to attend a retreat in Mineral will have an open invitation to travel to Peru during July and August in order to participate in an eight-day ayahuasca ceremony free of charge.