After closing its doors in Canterbury, a church serving hallucinogenic tea vows to reopen elsewhere

  • A sign lays on the ground outside of Pachamama Sanctuary’s Canterbury location. NHPR

Published: 12/1/2022 4:38:08 PM
Modified: 12/1/2022 4:35:46 PM

The founding pastor of a church that serves its parishioners ayahuasca, a potent plant-based substance that can cause intense hallucinations, said he intends to re-open in a new location after shutting the doors at his Canterbury property.

During a meeting with followers of the Pachamama Sanctuary on Tuesday, Derek Januszewski said he aims to restart operations in late February 2023 at a yet-to-be-determined location in New Hampshire.

He also apologized to interested guests of Pachamama who paid deposits to attend retreats this fall that were canceled and pledged full refunds. Januszewski also denied allegations that he had stolen church money, instead pointing blame for the church’s financial situation on his own inexperience in managing complex business operations.

“Everybody who paid money will be made whole,” Januszewski told more than 80 people who attended the online conversation. “We are not broke.”

Established in 2019, Pachamama offered weekend retreats at a rural residential property during which ayahuasca, a plant with a deep history among certain tribes indigenous to South America, would be served twice to guests.

Swallowed in small doses, the “medicine” — a term used by its proponents — can cause intense mystical visions, including approximations of a person’s own death. Proponents say taking ayahuasca can also provide spiritual cleansing. Vomiting or diarrhea are common side effects.

At Pachamama, a rotating group of outside practitioners, sometimes called shamans, would oversee monthly ceremonies to between 25 and 35 people, each paying approximately $700, Januszewski told NHPR in an interview earlier this year. More than 2,000 visitors have been served ayahuasca at the facility, according to the pastor.

Ayahuasca’s active ingredient, dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, is a controlled substance under federal law. But in 2006, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the government could not stop a New Mexico church from using the substance as a sacrament. In this legal gray area, new ayahuasca retreat centers have emerged across the country.

In June, the town of Canterbury filed an injunction against Pachamama and the landlords of the property it rented as its base. The town raised concerns about the facility’s smoke alarm and septic systems, emergency signage, parking plans and snow removal abilities in case of an emergency.

According to court records, Januszewski and the town reached a settlement agreement on Monday in which he agreed to pay $3,661 to the town to cover Canterbury’s legal costs. Another $45,000 in fines levied for violating an injunction will be held in abeyance as long as Pachamama does not host events at the property without first obtaining permits to comply with fire and safety codes, as well as other restrictions.

Januszewski admitted he failed to act in a timely fashion when faced with the town’s legal requests. He also apologized for other management decisions made during the previous months.

“Just because I built [Pachamama] doesn’t mean I was qualified to run it,” he said during the virtual meeting.

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s office said Tuesday it had not received any complaints about Pachamama.

In an email to NHPR this week, Januszewski said he and volunteers for Pachamama continue to process refund requests for 110 or so people who had prepaid deposits for retreats that were then canceled. He estimated that around a quarter of those people had already received money, with others opting to accept a voucher for a future ceremony.

Januszewski has not specified where in New Hampshire the church may host retreats next year.

Some participants in the meeting praised Januszewski for his leadership and compassion, and said their experience at Pachamama had radically changed their lives for the better. Other people on the call continued to question why he had initially ignored refund requests for canceled retreats, as well as other management decisions.

Januszewski told the audience that in the future, he will delegate more authority over operations and financial management, but that he will maintain his position as director of Pachamama, guiding the organization's mission and events.

“It's my vision. I’m the one that has the vision,” he said.

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