Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Laymen's Academy for Oecumenical Studies (L.A.O.S.) Records
In 1961, the Reverend David S. King, then Chaplain of Amherst College and later Associate Minister of the First Congregational Church in Amherst, founded the Laymen's Academy for Oecumenical Studies (L.A.O.S.). King proposed that a "new oecumenical ministry" be begun in Western Massachusetts, based in Amherst, that would appeal to local citizens and draw from local religious leadership. Its mission was to inspire people to act upon their religious faith in their daily lives and occupations, and develop programs aimed at reinvigorating religious dialogue and cooperation between denominations. Based on King's belief that "laymen are the missionaries of the future", members were encouraged and trained to lead many L.A.O.S. efforts, particularly "Faith and Life" meetings.
L.A.O.S. was governed by a board of directors, which met monthly in different regional locales. An executive committee met weekly. Annual meetings were held to which all members were invited. In its beginnings, more than 60 laymen and ordained ministers representing 6 denominations (Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist, and United Church of Christ, Presbyterian, and Society of Friends) and 24 western Massachusetts towns and cities, comprised its membership. In the 1960s, faculty from universities and colleges in the region were active in L.A.O.S. administration.
An independent charitable corporation, L.A.O.S. sought money from state and national denominational bodies, individuals and private foundations, rather than from parish churches and councils, to carry out its activities. They were active within the Massachusetts Council of Churches and campus ministry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In 1967 and 1968, L.A.O.S was involved in the development of the Amherst United Ministry, a group of clergy and laity representing seven denominational churches in Amherst that held interfaith worship services in an attempt to bring the people of the different faiths closer together.
L.A.O.S. also held meetings for local lawyers, school teachers and various other professions exploring their relationship between the careers and their faith. In 1964, L.A.O.S. received an award from the Adult Education Association of Massachusetts for "breaking new ground in adult education". In that year Associate Director Paul Sanders, a Methodist minister and professor at The University of Massachusetts, established four lay schools of theology in Amherst, Holyoke, Orange, and Westfield. A continuing education program for clergy in western Massachusetts was also formed.
In weekly "Faith and Life Meetings" held in churches and conference centers in Western Massachusetts, L.A.O.S. members tackled issues of religious and social relevance to individuals and families in the local community, such as the role of women in the church, the role of religion on a college campus, civil rights (The March on Boston), ending the Vietnam War (Negotiation Now!), mixed denomination marriages, drug addiction, and civil disorder.
In 1969, David King resigned as Executive Director. Two years later, under the direction of President Mrs. Charles E. Morgan, it was decided that the mission of L.A.O.S. had been fulfilled and that it was time to either disband the organization or find a new mission. Reverend Richard E. Koenig of the Emmanuel Lutheran Church (Amherst) proposed that L.A.O.S. open and sponsor a bookstore in the five college area that would provide theological literature to area religious communities and the general public. Staffed by volunteers, it was felt that the bookstore should have the atmosphere of a library or community center, rather than a retail space, where browsing and spontaneous religious conversation would be encouraged. The L.A.O.S. bookstore opened in 1972 in the Parish House of Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst town center.