cover image Arlo, Alice, and Anglicans: The Lives of a New England Church

Arlo, Alice, and Anglicans: The Lives of a New England Church

Laura Lee. Berkshire House Publishers, $16.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-1-58157-010-6

Freelance writer and former radio announcer Lee explores the history of Trinity Church in western Massachusetts, saying that ""few churches... have had so many distinct and fascinating rebirths."" Indeed, Trinity reflects many of America's transformations in microcosm: in the Gilded Age, it was a posh branch church of an Episcopalian parish. After it fell on hard times in the mid-20th century, it was deconsecrated and purchased by a ""hippie"" couple named Alice and Ray Brock in the early 1960s. They converted it into a home and a haven for countercultural youth. It was there, on Thanksgiving 1965, that musician Arlo Guthrie offered to take out the garbage from the meal and threw it down a local hill. His arrest for littering, and subsequent night in jail, resulted in the famous 18-minute song-cum-manifesto called ""Alice's Restaurant"" and a 1969 movie by the same name. Lee's account of all this is slightly starry-eyed; the book's latter half exudes unabashed admiration for Guthrie and the Brocks. Lee sometimes fails to draw larger connections with American religious history, glossing over, for example, the church's current reconsecrated status as Guthrie's ""interfaith spiritual center"" guided by his guru, a Jewish woman from Brooklyn who converted to Hinduism. ""It's a `bring your own God' church,"" says Guthrie, who feels no conflict in merging the Jewish, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu parts of his life. The book mines a fascinating topic but misses the larger picture. (Nov.)