From the government’s perspective, these churches need to demonstrate that they’re sincere in their beliefs and that they’re keeping participants safe. Both criteria sound straightforward, but applying them is more complicated, especially because the Urquharts want to avoid telling people how to worship—part of their quest to keep the Divine Assembly informal.“I think a lot of people look at what we do, if they come out of organized religion, and say ‘This is bullshit. These people are just using the idea of religion to get around drug laws’,” Urquhart said. “I wish they could see inside my mind, inside my heart, and just see the changes that have happened and are happening and just see how I am seeing the divine on a daily, hour-by-hour basis.” The Urquharts’ effort to differentiate the Divine Assembly from Mormonism means there’s no institutional hierarchy or doctrines, though members can carry an official card (which costs $75) and write their own “creed,” describing their personal beliefs. The church doesn’t provide its 5,000 members with shrooms, nor does it give any instructions on how people should have mushroom ceremonies. Those typically take place every weekend in private homes or outdoors.
“I wish they could see inside my mind, inside my heart, and just see the changes that have happened and are happening and just see how I am seeing the divine on a daily, hour-by-hour basis.”
In 2017, a year after retiring from the Senate, Urquhart participated in an ayahuasca ceremony in Amsterdam with his wife. Urquhart said it opened him up to both giving and receiving love, and he continued exploring with ayahuasca as well as psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in shrooms, back in Utah. During one trip, he said he visualized his children in a way he never had before—an experience he described as “rapture.” “I was on fire, and I was just sobbing that they are so beautiful,” he said. “How is that not religion?” He got the idea of starting a church during a mushroom trip and realized that his skill set was in the legal and political sphere. But Sara, his wife, was hesitant. “I'm like, ‘I just left a crazy religion, I don't need to start one, I don't need to join one,’” Sara said. “We spent months trying to figure out, can you get legal protections without being a religion? And you can't.” Other members of the Divine Assembly also expressed reservations about joining a church initially, but they described it as more of a social club, networking group, and community. “Being raised very conservatively in Mormonism, church to me has a connotation of control and silencing the individual for the greater good,” said Sarah Warren, 36, who went through an identity crisis after her divorce because Mormonism had told her that her roles as a wife and mother were the most important.
“I was on fire, and I was just sobbing that they are so beautiful. How is that not religion?”
For some members of the Divine Assembly, including the women at Collett’s ceremony, using shrooms to heal from trauma or mental health issues, is a bigger draw than anything to do with religion.
“You remember your trauma and you know it's there and it's still hard, but it gives you the fluidity to move past it.”