Controversial Tumacacori church buying up Tucson properties

Green Valley News, Arizona/September 29, 2013

By Philip Franchine

A controversial Tumacacori spiritual community is expanding into Tucson with a hospice, a non-profit legal firm, restaurant, eco-tours and a retail shop.

Global Community Communications Alliance, founded by a man who calls himself Gabriel of Urantia, has spent $2.2 million to acquire four Tucson properties in the past year. The Alliance operates Avalon Organic Gardens and Eco-Village in Tumacacori, where it has been since moving from Sedona in 2007.

In April, the group bought a 1,400-square-foot home on Speedway in Tucson for $155,000, and opened a hospice office there this summer.

On Dec. 27, it bought the former Anjali yoga studio, an Arabian-style building near Fourth Avenue and Seventh Street, for $1,612,000. The group is renovating the 6,731-square-foot building and next month plans to open the Sea of Glass–Center for the Arts in the space with the vegetarian Food for Ascension Cafe and a yoga and dance studio and theater space.

Visiting musicians and artists who perform at the Sea of Glass will be able to stay at 630-2 N. Fourth Avenue, which formerly housed The Coyote Wore Sideburns hair salon, said Alliance spokeswoman Catherine Lilly, known within the spiritual group as Centria Lilly. In addition, the 2,256-square-foot building will be the office of the non-profit Global Family Legal Services, specializing in immigration and family law, and the Spirit Steps Tours of sacred and environmentally significant sites. The Alliance purchased it July 1 for $195,777.

A nine-room, 2,549-square-foot home in the 2300 block of East Mitchell Street will be a place where older community members can stay overnight after Tucson events before driving back to Tumacacori, she said. It was acquired Oct. 15, for $271,000.

Lilly said the properties were purchased with cash and promissory notes. The deeds were signed by Anthony J. Delevin, the legal name of Gabriel of Urantia.

Familiar place

The expansion into Tucson is a kind of homecoming for Delevin, 67. The former Duquesne University theology student was active in the Catholic Charismatic movement and left school to start a Tucson street ministry. In 1977, he opened the Son Light Ministries halfway house on Fourth Avenue.

Delevin later founded the Global Community in Prescott and in 1994 moved to Sedona to begin the Avalon gardens, which in 2007 moved to a 165-acre farm along the Santa Cruz River in Tumacacori.

The Alliance, with about 100 members, and the Soulistic Medical Institute, which operates the Soulistic Hospice, have 501(c)3 tax exempt status. The Alliance also operates hospices in Nogales, Tubac and Green Valley along with the Out of the Way Galleria in Tubac. It also owns an adjacent parcel in Tubac, along with land in rural Rio Rico and the Tumacacori farm, which contains a half dozen houses and a clubhouse.

The Camp Verde Bugle reported Sept. 19 that the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors granted the Alliance a permit to operate a bed and breakfast in a six-bedroom home it owns on 1.5 acres in Sedona’s Red Rock Loop area. Lilly told the board the property is still for sale. Before the recession, one of 16 Alliance properties in that area was listed for sale for $9 million, but has not sold.

Marketing itself

Why all this activity in Tucson?

“We fully intend to take this message to the entire world,” Lilly said. “While Tumacacori is great for agriculture, Tucson has a large student population and they need a society like we have — that is drug-free, alcohol-free and environmentally conscious.”

Global Community has attracted young people from around the world who seek to learn sustainable farming and ranching techniques, describing itself in a colorful brochure as “a living agricultural/all-volunteer community sharing its resources and the harvest of the land purchased and worked together...”

But the group has drawn plenty of criticism from former members and at least one international cult expert.

The Alliance believes that messengers from space delivered a revelation known as The Urantia Book, which explains the nature of God, creation and man’s purpose. They believe Gabriel has re-established contact with the space beings and will one day reign after a catastrophic war.

Cult expert Rick Ross, who tracks religious groups through his Rick A. Ross Institute, told The Arizona Republic in 2009 that the Alliance is “a personality-driven group. This (Gabriel) is a guy who has a lot of money, and it’s been accumulated through the surrender of assets.”

Ex-followers said members are forced to give up their legal names and shun family outside the group when they join. They said in a 1998 Dateline NBC program that the organization took control of all aspects of their lives, including finances, marriage and divorce. Since then, many more have come forward with similar stories.

Paying for it

“We are a non-profit and rely on the generosity of others,” Lilly told the Green Valley News when asked how the group paid for the buildings. “Members of the community bring their resources. Some have much, some have little. We have been the recipients of grants and receive donations from various supporters.”

The group has received grants for sustainable building and farming from the Tohono O’odham Nation and the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the Department of Agriculture and has worked with Native Seed Search in Tucson, Lilly said.

“We have outreach and faith-based ministries for those in need and who are interested in learning the physics behind the principles of selfless giving,” Lilly said.

The Alliance plans to build a large building in Tumacácori “in the near future” that includes a worship center, offices, classrooms, library and a music building, Lilly said.

Tucson restaurant

Signs on the outside of the building on West Seventh Street advertise the Sea of Glass Center for the Arts and Sacred Treasures: clothing, fine art, jewelry. The restaurant kitchen is filled with new coolers and stoves and was scheduled to undergo a city health inspection last week, Lilly said. The restaurant features a juice bar and a farmer’s market-style produce stand that will sell fruit and vegetables from Avalon Gardens.

The building, erected in 1988, was sold to the Alliance by Rawmopolis LLC, owned by Tucson resident Jason Aberbach. The building hosted live music and yoga classes before it closed in August 2009.

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