The Greater Boston Zen Center was founded in 2012 with the merger of Spring Hill Zen (Somerville/Medford, MA) and the Ralph Waldo Emerson Sangha (Boston, MA). The merged groups looked to rent a place that would be used only by us, and found and renovated a space on Norfolk St. in Cambridge, MA. Josh Bartok was the founding Guiding Teacher. The group incorporated as an independent nonprofit organization and Mike Fieleke was the first Board President.
When it was founded, GBZC was also affiliated with a larger organization, Boundless Way Zen (BoWZ), as had been its precursors. All teachers were trained in the lineage of Robert Aitken Roshi.
In 2018 GBZC split from Boundless Way Zen, while also expanding. The split reflected deep divisions within the BoWZ Guiding Teachers Council, as well as a disputed use of property. Five of the seven BoWZ Guiding Teachers, including those from GBZC, as well as several sitting groups, left BoWZ. GBZC then became an umbrella group for groups in Maine, Connecticut, central MA and elsewhere, as well as hosting activities in Cambridge. Donna White led the Board during these changes.
In 2019, the GBZC headquarters moved to a larger and more accessible venue on Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square, Cambridge, MA. Alan Richardson was Board President at the time. We also moved from a model in which all tasks remained with the teachers and board to one in which Working Groups play a major part. Plans were made to try to expand membership. The arrival of Covid-19 in March 2020, however, required a conversion to on-line programming only.
In late 2020 the sangha had to deal with another crisis, when it was disclosed that Josh Bartok, then Spiritual Director, had engaged in sexual misconduct and related abuses of power. He was put on suspension and then resigned. Rebecca Behizadeh was President of the board during this difficult time. During 2021 all the teachers who had received transmission prior to the disclosure of the abuse also left our community, along with the sitting groups they led.
Since then, we have been rebuilding our community, now consolidated in the Boston area and online. Julie Nelson, a Dharma Holder, and Fran Ludwig, a Senior Assistant Teacher, provided teaching continuity. Our governance documents were rewritten and a new Ethics Policy adopted. We welcomed Jeff Seul, a former member of BoWZ and GBZC and now a Sensei in the Taizan Maezumi lineage, as a new senior teacher. Ed Oberholtzer, Sensei, one of the founders of Spring Hill Zen and a former member of BoWZ, also joined us for a time. In August 2021 a number of activities returned to our physical zendo (as well as being on zoom), while others remained zoom-only. We have since then also welcomed a new board, now led by Hussein Elgridly, and many new members.
We continue to learn, and to explore new ways of sharing the Dharma.