Shiloh Youth Revival Center

During the late ‘60s and ‘70s, communal houses were how hippies lived. Shiloh Youth Revival Centers were one of the biggest Christian communal living centers, making its way across the U.S. Wenei Philimon looks into the lifestyle of Shiloh, what led to its closure and the impact it had on the lives of its members.

00:00-00:56 //WENEI PHILIMON//:

In the late ‘60s and ‘70s, hippies lived in communal houses, which were houses where people would live together and share everything. During the Jesus movement, Christian communal houses began to surface as well. Christian communal houses included worshiping together, reading the Bible, evangelizing and listening to sermons. 

Kathy Gilbert, a hippie, came across one of the Christian communal houses, Shiloh Youth Revival Center, while on a quest for answers after being promised the hippie lifestyle would give her true peace and love. It all began when Kathy decided to hike along Big Sur, California. And after a period of panhandling, doing many drugs and being held captive at gunpoint, she found herself in Oregon. 

(SOUND EFFECT: Walking on the beach by Marbury Media, Ocean Weaves Coming by Sound Ideas, Seagull by Sound Jay)

00:57 – 01:37 //KATHY GILBERT//:

The car pulls up and it’s an old Buick and there was two guys in it that obviously looked like hippies. And one had this big, long red beard and the other had this long stringy brown hair, he was sitting in the passenger seat. They stopped and they asked me, who am I and where am I going? Because they thought I was one of the Calvary Chapel people hitchhiking up from Southern California, but I wasn’t. I was somebody that God sent rattlesnake Road to being basically outside this property that they had, this 40-acre ranch called “The Land.” And they thought I was heading there and I had no clue what it was, who it was, but they invited me, if I wanted to come to the land and have dinner. 

(SOUND EFFECT: Luxury Car Stops by Gravel Skids)

The Land in 192. Courtesy of Stephen Gilbert.

01:38 – 01:58 //WENEI PHILIMON//: 

The Land was filled with trees and grass. The sun shone through every leaf and the smell of pine cones filled the air. Roughly 200 people lived on The Land. They looked like hippies with long beards and apparel. Kathy was intrigued by the place as they showed her around and shared their testimony about Jesus. 

(SOUND EFFECT: Desert Ambience Loop byTibaSFX) 

01:59 – 02:21 // KATHY GILBERT//:

There was a fragrance coming from them and it was a fragrance that was not of this world. They couldn’t wait to tell me that it was Jesus and I couldn’t handle that because I grew up as a Catholic. I knew the traditional Catholicism and I couldn’t believe it was Jesus, but they said, ‘Oh yes, he’s changed our lives.’ And it was exactly what the hippie lifestyle promised but never could fulfill. And so, when they told me it was Jesus, I had to get out of there.

02:22 – 02:42 //WENEI PHILIMON//:

Kathy left the following morning and decided to hitchhike to Eugene, Oregon. On the ride to Eugene, someone gave her a Bible and when she got out of the car, her thoughts were racing about what the people at Shiloh had told her. So, she bought some alcohol and took the next ride to drown out the voices. But, the thoughts just wouldn’t stop racing. 

(SOUND EFFECT: Human Crowd Male Crowd Whispering by human Sound)

02:42 – 03:03  /KATHY GILBERT//:

I just was so restless and miserable and God made it very clear that I was to return to Shiloh. And so, I got rides right up to the front road of Shiloh and when I walked down that gravel driveway,  they just– they walked me back into Shiloh and I stayed.

(SOUND EFFECT: Footsteps on Direct Path in Woods by FxProSound)

03:04 – 03:18 //INTRO// MUSIC//: I’m Wenei Philimon and this is ‘Till Shiloh Comes, a podcast about the Jesus people, their music and the movement. 

(MUSIC: Everything has a Beginning by Joel Cummins)

03:19 – 03:52 //WENEI PHILIMON//: 

In 1970, John Higgins, the leader of the House of Miracles, bought land in Oregon and called it the Shiloh Youth Revival Center. This was first an extension to the House of Miracles, Christain communal houses across Southern California, where people would come and live together. 

Ken Ortize, a former president of Shiloh, heard about the Christian communal houses when he struggled to hold on to his faith, so he and his girlfriend decided to go check it out. They thought some intensive discipleship would help them get back on track.

Ken Ortize and his wife in 1969. Courtesy of Ken Ortize.

03:53 – 04:14 //KEN ORTIZE//:

Every day you start pretty much the same, you’d wake up in the morning, you have your own private devotional time then you’d have breakfast, following breakfast, you had one of two options. If we had employment, we would go out and work and make some money to pay for the bills. Never really concerned about building up any kind of savings, we just wanted to get through the day because we were convinced Jesus was going to be here tomorrow anyway. 

04:15 – 04:26 //WENEI PHILIMON///:

After six months in Shiloh, Ken was appointed a pastor. He recalled spending his days studying the bible and doing evangelism. But, soon, he was running different centers in Oregon and Colorado. 

04:27 – 04:55 // KEN ORTIZE//:

They decided to start a Bible training school, basically a discipleship school, we had by that time purchased what we called The Land. But, it had been built for the purpose primarily of becoming a study center. We had dormitories and could take in about 300 to 400 students at a time. And so these [students] would be transported from around the country. We owned our own 60 maxi vans. And by this time, Shiloh had gone from being basically having no financial history to having a three and a half million dollar cash flow.

04:56 – 05:15 //WENEI PHILIMON//:

Ken was eventually assigned to teach at the Bible school and after seven years, he became the director of the disciple training program. Shiloh sent groups of people to establish centers in the country after they went to Bible school.

Stephen Gilbert, Kathy’s spouse, taught at the Bible school the first year it opened. 

05:16 – 05:27 // STEPHEN GILBERT//:

When the Bible school started, there were probably four or five teams at all times. They had ten-fifteen people in them, so there were about 100 going through the Bible school and another 50 of us were kind of living on The Land.

Ken Ortiz in the room where they stored preaching tapes. Courtesy of Stephen Gilbert.

05:28 – 06:06  //WENEI PHILIMON//:

Stephen was in charge of the tape ministry, where he would lend preaching tapes to the members of Shiloh. He was also in charge of printing the newsletters. 

As society began to change from the hippie lifestyle to young people getting careers and outgrowing communal living, Shiloh started losing some of its members. John also began to change Shiloh’s relationship with his pastor, Chuck Smith.

It all started when John and Pastor Chuck talked about Shiloh leaders helping Calvary Chapel communal houses run more efficiently. However, trouble arose when the Shiloh leaders arrived at the Calvary Chapel communal headquarters. 

06:07 – 6:24 // KATHY GILBERT //:

They thought the Shiloh guys were coming down to take over because Pastor Chuck failed to tell them about the conversation he had with [Pastor] John Higgins. And so Pastor Chuck Smith’s right-hand thought it was a coup, that there was a takeover and he was going, “No way you’re going to take over our houses.”

06:25 – 06:39 //STEPHEN GILBERT//:

So, it led to a lot of bad feelings. So John said, “Well, we’re going to get rid of all Chuck Smith’s Bible teaching tapes,” and so I was the tape library guy, so I said, “okay, I’ll get rid of them,” and so I shipped them to Kathy’s folks who had just become Christians.

06:40 – 06:59 //WENEI PHILIMON//:

As time progressed, some people accused John Higgins of becoming too high-handed. This was because Shiloh followed a Moses model of leadership, where the ‘pastor’ rules and not the congregation. 

David Grisanti and his wife, members of Shiloh, started to feel uncomfortable about the direction Shiloh was heading and soon left. 

07:00 – 07:33 // DAVID GRISANTI//:

People would wonder if we were in a cult because there were a lot of religious cults at that time, a lot of Christian-flavored cults. Cults traditionally have a single charismatic leader, you know, they have the authority and all of this. I never saw that. People came and went as they wanted to. We had a good standing in the community. I was never guilted into staying in Shiloh. And I think our theology, though, was skewed at times. I don’t think it really departed far from traditional historic Christianity. 

07:34 – 07:46 //WENEI PHILIMON//:

As the culture within Shiloh did not change as society changed, more people began to leave, including Kathy and Stephen. Years later, they both said they saw that it was the hand of God in that situation.

07:47 – 08:02 // STEPHEN GILBERT //:

The last day I remember is one of the guys driving us to the train station. We took the train down from Eugene and not having very much stuff, left everything we had pretty much, heading down to Southern California. You know, I’ve never been on a long train ride like that.

(SOUND EFFECT: Metro Train Leaving a Station by LDJ Audio)

 08:03 –  08:08 // KATHY GILBERT //:

When we left, it was agreeable. We left in good standing with everybody. 

08:09 – 08:19 //WENEI PHILIMON//:

Shiloh was a house divided against itself and the blame was put on John Higgins, the president, for his leadership style and he was also accused of mishandling funds. 

John Higgins on The Land in 1972. Courtesy of Stephen Gilbert.

08:20 – 8:42 // KEN ORTIZE//:

People had some kind of unfair expectations of John. It was crazy. But, basically, I think it began to take a toll on him, you know, his wife that he had when he came to Shiloh had left him and he was left with the kids. He had remarried. There were just a lot of dynamics going on. He wanted to provide for his family and yet, how do you do that equitably. So, at the end of the day, there was a coup d’etat.

08:43 – 09:41 //WENEI PHILIMON//:

Shiloh had 15 board members, including Ken to promote checks and balances. By this time, Shiloh established centers in 30 states, Canada, and the Virgin Islands. In addition, the organization had an income flow of more than $3 million. So, considering John’s leadership style and rumors about him mishandling funds, the board members flew to Georgia, where John was living, met on his parent’s front porch and forced John to resign. The board later elected Ken as the new leader of Shiloh. 

After two years of leading Shiloh, Ken resigned. He said he felt like a captain of a sinking ship and when he tried to save the place by asking for help from Pastor Chuck Smith at Calvary Chapel, the board rejected the idea. As a result, in 1989, the place that Ken and others once called ‘perfection’ was disincorporated by the IRS. 

09:42 – 10:41 // KEN ORTIZE//:

Initially, it had a real beauty to it because there was no positions to aspire to. There were no growth goals. There was no real sense of any kind of visionary leading us into the future. It was just, it was focused upon this community. I remember it was Christmas of 1970, I believe. I just remember sitting in front of an open fireplace with my wife who was at times still my girlfriend and, uh, some other people. And we were just playing the guitar, worshiping and I–I just remember sitting there saying, uh…excuse me…It was, uh– it was perfection. I couldn’t, couldn’t ask for anything better. And, uh, that’s what I remember the most about those early days, that it was just … the sheer peace and the simplicity and the learning, how to apply the word of God to our lives and to live in love and fellowship with each other.

(SOUND EFFECT: Night Ambience with Campfire by Apple Hill Studio, Happy Acoustic Guitar Rhythm by Hollywood Edge)

10:42 – 10:54 //WENEI PHILIMON//:

It’s been roughly 52 years since Shiloh began and while its members hold on to the precious memories they’ve shared, they look back and say that Shiloh was just the beginning of what was in store for them. 

10:55 – 11:20 // DAVID GRISANTI //:

It was time to move on. So, the way I looked at it, it was a tool that God used for a time.  It was great for a while, but now something new needs to happen, so when we left, we weren’t really broken over it, but we were kinda excited about what the future will hold. 

(MUSIC: Everything has a Beginning by Joel Cummins )