The Urantia Book – The Early Years

The revelators predicted that the book would be ready to serve an era “…at the conclusion of the present ideological struggle,” “when men would be willing to seek for truth and righteousness,”….and “…when the chaos of the present confusion has passed”

Chicago

Of all the states and cities in the world, why did the revelators pick Chicago? The Indians called the muddy village “Chishago”—“smelly onion.” One hundred, forty-five years ago Abraham Lincoln was nominated for president in Chicago. But after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the city became a melting pot of radicalism. Chicago was notorious for saloons, dance halls, gambling, and brothels.  It was the “hog butcher to the world” and “the city of big shoulders.” It spawned labor riots and corruption at City Hall.

A revelation in Chicago? What were they thinking?

It wasn’t all bad. Chicago was a city on the edge of a vast prairie, the rail hub of America. It was famous for Hull House, the inspiration for worldwide social reforms. The city was a Mecca for architecture, skyscrapers, and the early movie business. Chicago was the site of the 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions.

Could any good thing come out of Chicago? Did the revelators pick Chicago because of the location, or because of the people? 

The Contact Commission

One family was the nucleus of the human Contact Commission, the group that worked with the superhuman beings, the Revelatory Commission, who initiated the Fifth Epochal Revelation on our world, Urantia. Both groups communicated through the man who has become known as the “contact personality.” His identity was known only to the Contact Commissioners.

Dr. William S. Sadler, the leader of the Contact Commission, was a man of such versatility, it was difficult for him to decide upon just one career—psychiatry. His equally accomplished wife, Lena Sadler, was, like her husband, a physician, lecturer and author. The two doctors met the “contact” sometime between 1906 and 1911.

They, and Lena’s sister, Anna Kellogg, and her husband Wilfred, over the next 20-years, satisfied themselves that their invisible companions were who, and what, they claimed to be. Meanwhile, the revelators determined whether these individuals were willing and able to carry the revelatory mission to completion.

Later additions to the Contact Commission were the Sadler’s son, William, Jr., and a 37-year old woman, who was not a blood relative, Emma L. Christensen, better known as Christy, who had exceptional organizational ability.                                                         

How the Forum Started

While lecturing on the subject of Gestalt Psychology in Junction City, Kansas in January 1923, Dr. Sadler wrote a letter to his 16-year old son Bill back home in Chicago:

“Say, let’s start a Sunday Forum at our house. I’ll answer and direct discussion on Philosophy, Religion, Ethics and Race Betterment. We would keep open house and invite our friends and patients. Talk it over with mother. Yours, Dad.”

When he got home the next Sunday Dr. Lena had invited a group to meet at 3:00 o’clock that afternoon. This was the beginning of the forum at 533 Diversey in Chicago.  The Doctor described the group:

“…this group became a cosmopolitan gathering consisting of professional men and women—doctors, lawyers, dentists, ministers, teachers—together with individuals from all walks of life: Farmers, housewives, secretaries, office workers, and common laborers.”

The Forum replicated the population of Chicago: Anglo-European and white Christians. Today, we would call this a focus group, brought together to test-drive the soon-to-arrive Fifth Epochal Revelation.  Their task was to ask questions; to study the answers, to mull over the Papers, and to ask more and more questions. The revelators had experimented with various techniques of getting the revelatory information across to the human Contact Commissioners during the first 20 years. In 1925 they began to send the first 57 Papers of the eventual 197 Papers of The Urantia Book. How this was accomplished was never disclosed.

Delay in Publishing of The Urantia Book

In the dark days of World War II, between 1939 and 1945, everyone’s attention was focused upon the evils of Fascism perpetrated by the enemies of freedom around the world. The Forum first anticipated the publication of The Urantia Book in 1942. Then it was delayed until the end the War. But the last days of World War II, in August 1945, also ushered in the atomic age. Ironically, just a few miles south of 533 Diversey, scientists of the Manhattan Project tested the first nuclear reactor under the stands of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago.

The unexpected spread of Soviet Communism into Eastern Europe, and their designs of world domination, caused the revelators to suspend publication plans until the threat to America and Western Europe diminished. The West was awakened to the dangers of world Communism, and its eventual downfall could be foreseen.

Urantia Foundation’s Mission

Meanwhile the Forum looked ahead to the organizations that would oversee the spread of The Urantia Book. Urantia Foundation was created in January 1950 by a Declaration of Trust. The early Foundation was based at 333 N. Michigan Avenue in Chicago, and was directed by a Board of Trustees, whose mission was to maintain integrity of the text and to manage its publication and translations.

In January 1955, Urantia Foundation gave the go-ahead to publish The Urantia Book.  There were no human names on the physical book, not even the name of the printing company, R.R. Donnelley.

On October 12, 1955 the book was delivered to 533 Diversey, to the Contact Commissioners, to the Forum and to the world. Brotherhood Vice-President Warren Kulieke described the day:  “What an occasion that Wednesday night when Forumites, their eyes sparkling, could be seen leaving 533, their arms filled with books—some were struggling with cartons of ten!” One man even carried a carton out the door on his head.

A printing fund was set up in 1938. Each contributor paid $5.00 for the first printing. Forum members rushed to buy extra copies at the post-publication price of $7.50. On November 1st the price went up to $10.00.  By the end of January 1956, over 1800 books were sold. One year after publication, 2250 books had been distributed.

Reception of The Urantia Book

How would the world react to an alleged revelation? When the book was published, one man planned to buy up all of the leading newspapers to “catch the reviews of the biggest event of the 20th Century!”  In the 1930s, ‘40s and early ‘50’s, the Forum was held to secrecy. One could only discuss the Papers with other members.  Excited as they were to hold the book in their hands, still, among ex-Forum members there was fear of the unknown. No one wanted to be accused of violating his or her pledge of secrecy. Most thought it safer to say absolutely nothing about either the Forum or the origin of the book.  For many others, they simply did not talk about the book at all. A few threw caution to the winds and eagerly shared Urantia Books with all their friends and associates. Initial efforts were greeted with a shrug of disinterest. A few pastors warned of the Devil’s handiwork. If one didn’t go to church, then one must belong to some kind of cult. Here is Clyde Bedell’s recital of efforts to give the book to friends:

“When the Urantia Book first came out, those who had contributed to the printing plates were permitted to buy the book for $5.00 a copy, because those plates were all paid for. Florence and I, with a little discussion among ourselves, decided we would buy a thousand dollars of Urantia Books, which we did. And we gave out 200 books. Like hotcakes! To friends we thought would be delighted, as we were to have the book. And I would bet you money that 90% have not been read, at least by the original owner. Oh, we made many mistakes—we made terrible mistakes!”

Launch of The Urantia Book and Brotherhood  

Things moved swiftly after the order to publish came. At noon on Sunday, January 2nd, 1955, Urantia Brotherhood was formally launched at 533 Diversey Parkway, in Chicago, Illinois. The 36 Forum members chosen to become General Councilors signed the Constitution. Marian Rowley, the Secretary-General, described her feelings in a letter to Julia Fenderson in Los Angeles: “Believe me, it was the most thrilling thing! We were all very much impressed—some were crying and I was shaking like a leaf. We’ve waited so long, and it just seemed hardly possible.”

Gift Books and Response

Fifty gift books were mailed to a list compiled by Domestic Extension Committee, to 30 prominent people and 20 libraries in the U.S. Except for a few returns, there was no response. The Foreign Extension Committee mailed 100 copies to libraries in the British Commonwealth. Again, no reaction.  They went back to the drawing board, and agreed that a personal relationship ought to exist before sending books to prospects. This was the origin of the person-to-person approach to introducing the book.

Urantia Societies    

Urantia Societies were designed to be autonomous groups, smaller versions of Urantia Brotherhood in local regions. Bill Sadler predicted there would be no fewer than 100,000 Urantia Societies 10 years after publication.  First Urantia Society arose out of the Forum. 146 signed the roll book at 533 Diversey, on Sunday, June 17, 1956.  Soon a group of expatriates from Chicago requested a charter for the First Urantia Society of Los Angeles, nicknamed FUSLA. In short order societies formed in Glenview, Illinois and in Oklahoma City. A second group was started in Chicago: the Second Urantia Society. A sixth charter was requested by a group in Santa Monica, but never acted upon. In 1961, the seventh society was named, appropriately, Orvonton of Chicago, after the seventh superuniverse.

Jesus’ Birthday

Every year on August 21st, at 8:00 p.m., the Forum gathered in the “upper room” at 533 to observe the anniversary of the birth of Jesus. The earliest celebration was Wednesday evening, August 21, 1935. Today, Jesus’ birthday celebrations continue in every setting imaginable–in living rooms, parks, boats; on mountaintops; in fine meeting rooms, simple cabins, and in prisons.

Urantia Book School

Urantia Brotherhood School really began back on April 3rd, 1939, when Forum members asked for an in-depth study group on Wednesday evenings. It was known as “The Seventy” because just seventy Forum members signed up the first evening. The Urantia Brotherhood School, under the Committee on Education—the Education Committee– began in 1955. Coincidentally, 70 students registered for the school.  They took very seriously the example of earlier revelators who trained teachers and leaders.

Translations

Forum member Caroline Brown sent the book to her friend, Jacques Weiss of Paris. Mr. Weiss rendered the revelation into the French language and published it in three volumes in 1963. Urantia Foundation reprinted the translation in one volume in 1982.

Internationalism

Henry Begemann stated: “Well, the French are touchy. Americans are touchy, too. But I don’t want to criticize; that is not the way we entertain each other….We could easily become (just a) national Brotherhood instead of an international Brotherhood.”…..“If we in the Brotherhood begin to rule … internationally, then it is imperialism again, and that is not what The Urantia Book teaches. … We serve each other.” ……. “We are easily tempted to succumb to nationalism.”

Other Translations

Reader groups have sprung up in many countries and have formed the nucleus of many translation teams. Urantia Foundation has published the Finnish, Dutch, Russian, Korean, Spanish, Lithuanian and Portuguese translations. The Italian and German will be released in the near future.

Conferences

Large gatherings—500 to 1,000 readers–began to evolve in 1975. Known as General Conferences and International Conferences, they were held at colleges, or resorts all over the U.S. and Canada.  They serve to link new readers, stimulate new study groups, and foster opportunities for people to meet and make lifelong friends. Not to be outdone, local groups began hosting regional conferences. The first was at the Brentwood School in Los Angeles in 1973, quickly followed by Oklahoma City’s Lake Eufala event. There have been hundreds of successful gatherings in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and throughout South and Central America.

God is the Only True End, not the book

When all is said and done it is not The Urantia Book that ought to be our primary emphasis. As Bill Sadler pointed out years ago, “Our primary spiritual loyalty and dedication is to the Universal Father and to him alone. The Book itself is not an End; but it is a most important Means to an End.” ….”We can minister to our hungry brothers and sisters with or without the Book. The Book “is designed to bring God closer to man and to bring man closer to God, and God the Universal Father is the only true End.”