Part 08 B. The Criminal Element Takes Over.

I have rewritten and expanded the entire contents of these pages as a book called Captive Congregation: My Fourteen Years in the Church of Bible Understanding, which is available in paperback and as an eBook. You can also continue to read the rough outline and first draft of Captive Congregation right here on these pages.

captive_congregation_cover_for_kindle

There was a winnowing period for a while in the church to get any of the new people who were “trouble makers” to leave.  At the same time, through the donation program (the church was willing to take any junk, no matter what it was), trainable new brothers were being set up to go out on to the streets with pushcarts to sell donated items.   And other groups, often lead by a brother, but sometimes a sister, took a van out to sell donated paint on street corners.

My best explanation of what happened next is that Stewart Traill saw the possibility of combining free homeless labor with free donated goods and that income could be generated from this donation business.  If this were the case, the Older Brothers fellowship, that is, the older men in the church could be eliminated.

There would be various reasons for this.  We knew too much about Stewart and how he operated.  And, even with our extreme self abnegation, the homeless people would expect even less reward for their work than we did.  Also, I think he realized that as the men grew older, they would soon be incurring medical expenses, not to mention some kind of retirement.  Maybe it was time to push them out now.

Whatever the underlying causes, he seemed to be glad to finally have found some way to get rid of the Older Brothers.  He said he was tired of us and that he was glad to finally be able to get out from under us and from the “iron fist” with which he said we ruled everything, like the church cleaning businesses.   He accused us of keeping control by not fully training the new people so they could move up into positions of responsibility in it.  Actually, most of these people were hard to train into such positions and many could not be trusted to be taken on jobs, where they would steal valuables from our customers.  The Older Brothers did not steal from customers, whether it be money, jewelry or prescription medicine.  All these problems happened frequently with “new brothers,” and we were careful to get to know and then select the ones that did not steal and could be taught how to use machinery.  Some new brothers could be trained, but the number of those that could was far less than what Stewart might have anticipated.

One day I had a van and a carpet cleaning machine and young man named Trevor as my helper.  Leaving a job and on the way to another, he asked me what a word meant. He pronounced this word as “liar.”   Maybe he was asking about the musical instrument called a “lyre” I asked.  No, that wasn’t it, he said. “How is it spelled?” I asked.  “L – I – R – E,” he said.  Now I suspected he had picked up some foreign currency at the last job.  I said, “Oh, you mean ‘lee – ray.’  That’s the kind of money they have in Italy.    It’s not worth very much, a thousand lire is worth about a seventy five cents.”  At that point, seeing that he had not hit it rich after all, he showed me a couple of crumpled bills, which amounted to 4500 Lire.  This was only petty theft, but you see, a new disciple had been willing to take what he thought was about 4500 dollars from a customer.  He had not been able to contain his curiosity about what it might be worth.  And now that he found out, it was suddenly worthless to him and he didn’t even mind letting me know he had taken it.

But there also was theft of jewelry and other things.  So we had to be careful about who we took to jobs.

Stewart Traill now declared us to be “Ex Older Brothers,” saying that we were rebellious and no longer worthy of being called Older Brothers.  Then he began the move to put us out of the church.  It had disastrous consequences and it did not work.  And some people almost got killed because of it.  More later.

There had been “sister purges” before this.  The most famous being when Traill slammed the sisters for about a year after his so-called repentance at the Grace Meeting, perhaps so none of them could say anything about his inappropriate conduct toward some of the sisters.  If they did speak up, among all this heavy accusation by Traill, it would merely sound like hitting out and fighting back and would appear to be a sign of the very rebellion he was accusing them of.

(Some of us who were familiar with the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn compared the purges in communist society that he wrote about in his book, The Gulag Archipelago, to what often happened here.  But the phrase “purge” seeemed to trickle out to others who didn’t know that author.  It was Pete T. who first used that word to describe this extreme onslaught of abuse that Traill directed at specific groups in the church and I understood where Peter was coming from when he used that phrase.)   And there had been middle brother purges, but until that time, Stewart had never tried to drive anyone out of the church with such ferocity, or at least I had never witnessed it myself.  (Ex members tell me that he did when he divorced his first wife and married Gayle, that he used character assassination on anyone who spoke up.)

The church bought a building at 810 North Broad Street to use as a facility to house the new “disciples” that were being brought in.  It was fixed up with the barest of the essentials and would not have passed any regulatory board’s requirements for a mens shelter.  The Church of Bible Understanding more or less flew under the radar in these things.  People were put in warehouses converted into living quarters.

Yet, there was success, if you could call it that.  Many new people were swept up and seemed to be doing well “in Christ,” as I am sure that many of them responded to Bible teaching and some concern on our part and a place to clean up a bit.

But now it was time for Stewart to sack the older brothers.   This started at a meeting in Philadelphia where Jay was held up as an example of all that was wrong with this new operation.  Sure, there was success in the numbers of people being brought in.  There was just one problem.  The new brothers liked Jay.

For Traill, this was intolerable, because it was setting a wrong example.  This (supposedly) would give the new people a false representation of Christ.   New people seeing Older Brothers as friends would be disruptive to the flow of command, as these older brothers were merely to be channels of Stewart’s control and communication,  They must be merely carrying out his commands and speaking his words to them without getting in the way of that communication or modifying it.  (In my last year there, I read about this process in a book.  It gave several examples of cults where those speaking to or training new converts were removed from their positions if they were anything else but channels through which the leader operated on new converts.)

This was the only thing Jay was charged with.  He was not charged with slacking or neglecting his duties.   He seemed to be enjoying what he was doing.  When new brothers protested, Stewart would hear none of it.  Jay defended his position for a while, but soon saw the writing on the wall.    Stewart then said, in effect, now execute yourself, Jay.  Jay had to give an explanation, in his own words (despite the fact that up until now he had been disagreeing with this indictment against himself) explaining how it was all wrong what he was doing.

Stewart spent most of his time working on those among us who were the achievers or out-front personalities, or in sociological terms, the alpha males or type A personalities, which he labeled as “celebrities.”  Those brothers were, when I was there, Chuck, Jay and Kevin as well as some others.

At the same time, Stewart set out to strip the rest of us of what little we had.  Inveighing against us at meetings, he set up the sisters to come to conclusions by voting on us, about what our disposition should be.  He directed them into making decisions, such as that we should all be moved to 810 and other places.  Through the use of indirect questions, like, “So, do you think they should have their driving privileges removed, or should they keep them?” where he would introduce the moves he wanted by asking either/or questions that contained the command intended.  The sisters would “decide” among themselves and it would look like they were doing this to us.

The end result was that many of us were sent to other locations in the church.  The worst location to be sent to was 810, as this was now in control of the new people, who formed a committee and were to report on Older Brothers’ words and actions.  I remember walking around the hallways in there and being ordered by new people not to be talking to another Older Brother, in order not to taking part in the “wrong conspiracy” that Stewart accused us of having.

(Being accused of having one kind of conspiracy or another was one of Stewart’s common charges against us.  You didn’t even have to have gotten together with others to plot these conspiracies, because he said they were in spirit.  A “wrong agreement” didn’t have to be made by talking about it.  We also had a “murder suicide pact” and Woodruff was our “country club,” despite its being in a state of clutter and degradation and being in a bad neighborhood.)

The residence at 810 North Broad Street was not being supervised very well now and soon criminal elements took over.  I didn’t believe a lot of these guys when they told me some of their stories, I thought they were just making things up.  I had moved to the 4th floor, because I did not want to sleep on the street level, which was a former pizza shop, with the booths ripped out.  (It was interesting seeing the paintings and murals of Italy on the walls, but the decor didn’t cause me to want to sleep there.  I went to the fourth floor where there was a long open room filled with rows of beds.  That’s where Claude and Robert were, two young men who told me they used to be members of the Junior Black Mafia.  Robert said he still had his gun in the trunk of his car, which was parked across the street, but that, since he had become a new convert to Christ, just hadn’t had the time or opportunity to get rid of the weapon, but that he intended to, really soon.  I was so worn out by continual work and continual abuse that much of this did not register and it just sounded like nonsense.  Did Robert really have a gun in his car?  Did he even have a car?  I don’t know.

One night when we were all sleeping, Claude had left a radio on at the side of his bed.  I went to turn it off.  In the morning, noticing someone had turned off his radio and finding out it was me, he threatened me about what he’d ever do if I did that again.   He wasn’t specific about what that might involve, but it did seem like I would regret it should I ever try.  Until then he had always been friendly to me.  And Robert used to talk to me about how he used to be in gangs and he told me, and Claude confirmed, that he had several slugs in his lower back that doctors could not remove for fear of damaging his spinal cord, but that the lead from those slugs was slowly poisoning his blood.

Later we found that Claude and Robert and others were selling drugs from the building and bringing in prostitutes when we were all asleep.  There was certain amount of cash sent to the house, which they had control of and used for these purposes.   There was also little food around because they were selling that as well.

Remember that until recently, this was the building that Jay (and others) had been running so well (at least in COBU terms) but gotten sacked from their positions because new disciples began looking up to him, liked to be with him and work with him.  There was soon a replacement leadership and it was not good.  They were good at fronting it with Brother Stewart that all was well here.  In fact the reason that they wanted me and some other older ones to sleep upstairs where they were (instead of on the first floor, where I would have had to sleep on a blanket on the tile floor) was for protection.  If we were up there, then no one else was going to snoop around in the rooms and take their things.  For all I know, those things were the money, weapons and drugs they kept around.  They knew we would not go through their stuff and take anything, realizing we were honest and trustworthy people.

There were some of the new ones that said they liked me because they saw Stewart getting on my case and that I sometimes stood my ground and they respected me for that.  The other ones like Chuck and Kevin pushed them around all the time, but never stood up to Stewart, so they did not respect those brothers.  This was a dubious respect to earn.  It was the kind of respect they had for those who stand up to “the man.”

One of my friends there was Charles C., who surely knew of everything going on in the place and selectively revealed certain details to me, while hiding things he figured I should not know.  I also allowed him to call me “German,” which was Stewart’s favorite epithet for me.  That name came about when I had lost my cool at a meeting not long before and complained about the treadmill existence here and about the deny and kill everything teachings.  Having a German textbook in my hand I began to wave it over my head and say, “I hardly have time to study anything.  Here, it says German Made Simple!  It feels like such a SIN for me to read this!”  Stewart did not answer any of my concerns, other than to say I should not be studying it at all.  And from that point on, he refused to call me by name, but I was now “The German Student,” or simply “the German.”  And while this is not a bad name in and of itself, I realized he was both disrespecting me by refusing to use my name when addressing me, and also referring this incident each time he used it as a way of defining me to the others.  However, when Charles called me the German, I liked it.  The first time he said, “Hey German,” it really bothered me, but then I realized to him it was a sign of honor, because I was the guy standing up to Stewart and naturally he would use that name for me.

But the really derogatory names were left for the alpha males, where a direct negation of their masculinity was required.  Stewart took to calling Jay “Squishy.”

The fact that expenses and receipts did not match up was the reason they got found out.  The Older Brothers sent to that house no longer had control over money.  And if we sensed anything was going on, we were not going to talk to Stewart about it.  He came over from time to time and had nice talks with these people and urged them to get on our case and keep watching us, but he didn’t want to hear anything from us.  One time, while we were assembled together, I tried to say at least something about the way it was here.  Stewart replied, speaking to the others, “We don’t want to hear what this dead man has to say.”

(At this time it was not yet entirely clear to me whether Stewart was speaking for God, or whether he was merely a cult leader.  The things he said seemed powerful and effective and binding, and his comments about me were powerful and put me in my place.  Perhaps I was a “dead man,” spiritually dead, like in the book of Jude, one of those who were “twice dead” and “for whom the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved forever.”  We had being given a last chance by Stewart and still were not responding to our last chance at being restored to faith.  Was the displeasure I felt from Stewart really God’s displeasure toward me?  Was it God’s righteous wrath toward a hardened rebel (as we were accused of being), one who had “thumbed his nose at Jesus?”  Was I spiritually dead?  On my way to hell?  It was hard to tell.  God was showing me things, waking me up to the reality of life here, through these adverse conditions.   But, I was tired, wiped out, and certainly did not have a good relationship with God. )

It was noticed by those doing the books in  church office that while a certain amount of money was going to 810, there were not receipts in that amount coming back.  (The older brothers who, as it was charged, had an iron grip on the church businesses had a couple good habits that these ones didn’t have.  They didn’t steal money and they got receipts for everything in order to account for how money was spent.  However, some of these new brothers, given the chance to move up in the church business and hierarchy, and now freed from our iron grip, just didn’t seem to take up the golden opportunity.)

The first hint of this, when I first became aware of a problem,  was one morning when Paul and I were sanding a wood floor in a restaurant and Robert and Claude came in.  It was unusual because they never came to job sites.  They wanted to know if we had any receipts we had not yet handed in and if we did, could they have them.  There was a general call for receipts for the next few days on their parts and they looked worried.

Unknown to me, the office decided to shut the building down on an emergency basis, but did not tell anyone living there.  They told the older brothers late in the evening to get together, that the building was being shut down, and that they should decide which of the new ones could come with them to another church residence.  The rest could just leave.   A heavy melt down was about to take place.  Having a job to go to for the night kept me, Paul, Peter and a new disciple helper from having to be there.

I had no idea what was about to take place.  It was about 10 or 11 pm, before this message had been sent over to the building.  Paul pulled the van around front and we began to load the wood floor machines and boxes of equipment that were kept on the first floor there.  I walked out with the last thing and got in the van.  Just as we were pulling away, I had an unusual feeling and I said something to Paul without really thinking about what I was saying and having no visible reason why I’d say it.  I do not remember exact words now, only that I said them.  “I feel as if I am being saved out of a great disaster that is about to happen.”  Something calamitous and catastrophic was about to happen and as we drove away, I felt as if I had been taken away from this event.  It was just something I said.  The night went on as usual and I did not think of it again.

We drove to a nearby suburb of Philadelphia to a nice restaurant bar with an Irish theme, called the Rose Cafe. After the last customers left, we were sanding the floors and cleaning the carpets.  These restaurant jobs were great at night.  You got away from the place you were staying in.  No one was in there but you and your older brother friends, the small cell of brothers you worked with, who allowed you some freedom of expression and personal space without running the party lines on you too hard, just so long as you watched it.  We worked.  We brewed coffee and ate crackers and jelly and whatever snack foods we could get our hands on without raiding the kitchen and really taking stuff.  We did not help ourselves to steak but we did eat the peanuts and crackers that were put out as courtesy snacks to customers and had all the soda and coffee we could drink – and we never touched anything else at the bar other than the soda machine.

Day broke and it was time to go back.  We went for breakfast at a diner and Paul called in and that’s when he found out that a scene had gone down at 810 just after we left.   Over the next days I got more details.  The immediate thing I heard was that the place was shut down and that there had been a riot.

Later I heard from Stuart R., who was there when it happened, that some pushing and shoving started and that he had tried to defend Milton, and a big guy who went by the name of Keith X picked him up and threw him in the corner “like he was a towel.”    The new brothers were angry and had scores to settle with any older brothers that were there.  Their racket was being shut down and it was time for them to go out on the street.  (Later any of them could come back and say why they wanted to still live here and some did, but these were the innocent ones, and not those who had been running the racket.)

However, Paul B. (the Older Brother from Jamaica) was on one of the upper floors and some of the nonviolent new ones warned him that others were coming up to get him and that, maybe, they had a gun.  Rather than face whatever was coming his way, he went out on to the ledge and was able to climb down on the big sign that was attached to the front of the building, a tall sign that was a attached by girders.  Climbing all the way down and dropping to the street from there.  From what I heard from new brothers who were there, is that these ones had intended to kill Paul.

This is where someone could have been killed.  Paul could have been shot or beat up, or injured or killed if he lost his grip as he went out the 4th floor window.  Stuart R. tells me that the new disciples began to fight among themselves and that the Older Brothers were huddled together in one of the rooms on the top floor.  He says he saw Ron T. look out the front window, down on to the street, as if to consider that a way out, and then he rolled his eyes and sat back down.  But Paul did choose to go out the window.

There was a meeting shortly after and Stewart, using the sisters committee and the ones that lived out to talk to everyone, wanted to know what happened and why no one said anything.  (During the time all the wrong behavior was going on at 810, surely someone knew about it, they wondered.)  Various ones talked.  I felt I should be honest and I verified a story given by someone else that there might have been a gun, saying that Robert said he had a gun in his trunk.  I was asked why I never said anything.   I in essence, shrugged.  I was at a loss for words.  How could I explain how I was not able to talk about any problems to the same pastor and the same committees that were trying to push me out the door and who had been using these ones as a punishment on me?  Stewart had come to the building many times.  He would not speak to us, but only talked to the people who now were being labeled as thugs, asking them how we were doing and if they were getting on our case.  I really had no words to explain this to them.  I just stood there.  I didn’t know what to say.  I felt neither good nor bad, nor did I feel responsible or guilty for not having told anyone.  Who, and how, was I supposed to tell this to?

They went on to question others and I was forgotten about.  I was not really one of the ones they wanted to call to account because, as I’ve said, it was the so-called “celebrities” they wanted to grill.

The other thing that was going on at the time was that the new labor force was not doing too well.  The new disciples went out with their push carts.  Some came back and handed in the money from their sales.  Others disappeared, having spent the money on drugs and later having nowhere else to go, came back with a story that they had been robbed.  This was not going to work and it was obvious that the older brothers were still needed to generate money for the church.  I was with a group of brothers sent back to live “on a homeless basis”  in the 51st Street office of Christian Brothers Cleaning in Manhattan.  I slept on the floor of the office and was to be out with working groups of others like myself, soliciting day and night to bring in jobs.  Ten or so of us, with some of our necessary belongings crowded the floor of the small office.  We were able to sleep on the floor after the sisters left the office around 11 pm and we got up by morning before they came back.  The office was a cluttered array of desks, filing cabinets and crates and duffel bags with brothers’ belongings.  It was obvious to me that Stewart had failed and that he still needed us to make money for the church.  Through some graciously worded offer we were now given the opportunity to prove ourselves by doing this day and night, on a sudden death basis, if we were not good enough, we’d be thrown out.

=-=-=

I need to add in here that happened before what is written above –  being voted on to move to the Lamb house.  I was glad not have been voted to move to 810, having already heard some things about how that residence was now.  If I had known in advance I was going to have to go there, I might have left.  This might seem to contradict what I have written elsewhere, that I had nowhere to go.  I had nowhere to go that was not a desperation move, like just walking down the street and spending the night on the subway or in the park (as some did, but would come back after a night of that).  Maybe I would have called my mother and asked for money for a ticket to Florida.  This seems easy to say, but there were a lot of barriers to me doing that.  However, I don’t think I would have gone to 810 if I had known in advance, but you never know.

These moves were portrayed by Stewart Traill as being for our good.  We were in such a devastated and hopeless state, that we must be broken up and any friendships or social life between us broken apart, because, as he said, any time we get together we do our thing, our “dinosaur club,” and that we cannot help it, we cannot do anything else, because that this is our nature.  It sounded like he was holding out some promise of help, or an olive branch perhaps after having railed against us so long and portrayed our depraved and deranged condition.  Why, he was merely observing our condition and despite initially having concluded we were lost and hopeless, had now found a way to help and restore us.

So, I was to go to the Lamb House, a church residence in Philadelphia.  Not too bad of a place (it was an institutional building that used to be a home for the blind before the church bought it).  I would be able to get out of Woodruff Avenue in Brooklyn, a violent place where shootings happened frequently and where we were packed in that house in refugee like conditions.

I had a dream the night before we were about to load ourselves onto the church bus to Philadelphia.  I dreamed I was down in the vestibule of the Woodruff residence, where I was talking to new brother Tom C.  I told him I had been among those voted on to move to the Lamb House.  He looked at me and said, “You’re not going to the Lamb House, you’re going to 810!”  And then he broke out into laughter that got increasingly louder and more sinister.  I woke up.

It was just a dream after all, and I felt happy as I piled myself and my meager belongings into the bus with all the other older brothers who were moving.  As the bus turned the corner and I looked back down the street at the Woodruff residence for one last time and shouted “Good riddance, Woodruff!” I hated that place.  I thought I was being sent to Philadelphia for retraining and restoration, but really, I was heading for another round of abuse.

When we got to the Lamb House, I walked upstairs onto the second floor of a wing that overlooked a lawn with trees and hoped this could be my room.  I left my duffel bag and a few things there.  This seemed too good to be true, by the way, as you’d never get a room with a view in COBU.  This window opened out over a lawn with trees, and despite its being an institutional setting, was much better than the violence and noise of Woodruff Avenue.  I walked out of the building and took a walk around the area.  I always liked the “Philly” thing and the blocks of brick row houses and little delis on all the corners.  I had lived here in 1983-84 when I was in the church and it sort of brought back memories.

When I returned to the house, there had been a message from Brother Stewart, asking what all these older ones were doing there.  What was Jim LaRue doing here?  (Although it had been decided and voted upon in a meeting that I and we would come here, as not all the older ones could move to 810, so instead they’d be divided up among several locations in the church.  I envy the ones that got sent to the Staten Island residence where the divorced mothers lived with their children in a lifestyle that was, albeit communal, relatively suburban.)  There were  some middle and new brothers standing around, with looks on their faces that seemed to say, we do not like you weird “ex” older brothers.

“Tell these ones to get to 810 immediately to be with their other ex older brother dinosaurs.” There it was.  I had been “tricked” to go to Philadelphia under the pretext of moving to a somewhat nicer and less violent place and immediately upon getting there, or at least after a brief walk around the neighborhood (where I began to have increasingly strange feelings that something was amiss), I was told to move to 810 immediately.  As the Guns N Roses song says, “Welcome to the Jungle.”  And I was soon to be in it, and it was very bad.

Advertisements

21 Responses to “Part 08 B. The Criminal Element Takes Over.”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I experienced COBU personally many years ago, in the early 90’s, when I briefly became homeless. A friend of mine, who was unable to let me stay at his place but had once talked to some cult members in Staten Island and been enthusiastically recruited, suggested I try it out. Neither one of us had any interest in Jesus, but my friend knew about the carpet cleaning business and was under the impression that if you joined the church as a member and worked cleaning carpets you would actually be PAID for your labor. The idea was that I would play along with it for a bit, and at the same time be saving up money in order to rent myself a room or whatever. Needless to say this was not the case. However, it WAS a warm place to sleep, so for the time being I went along with it and wound up sleeping in the Brooklyn location, going out on some carpet cleaning jobs and unfortunately having to attend the meetings. These I found to be almost unimaginably boring, but since nobody hassled me too much, I was able to deal with it. I am now and was then a total atheist, by the way. Religion is nothing more than a crutch for the ignorant, in my opinion. So in spite of the fact that COBU is classified as one of the most dangerous “mind control” type cults around, I can truthfully say that I was never in any danger even for a second. The idea of surrendering one’s life to the existence “Brother” Stewart and the other weirdos there were offering was laughable. I spent my time socializing with the other “brothers” who were mentally normal–meaning street kids just like me who wound up there simply because they needed a place to stay and were more than happy to eat the food, and take the warm place to sleep, while allowing all the other silliness associated with the cult to go in one ear and out the other. Fortunately my stay wound up being brief, but I do still remember it to this day.

    I feel glad for you that you finally made your way out of COBU, but I can’t imagine how anyone could be weak enough to succumb in the first place. And for FOURTEEN YEARS?! Even while reading your narrative, presumably written after you left, I can sense the jealousy you seem to have felt when Stewart turned you older people into outcasts within the church and turned his attention to the newer suckers. So why did you put up with it? You can’t blame it ALL on Stewart’s manipulations–if you were strong enough in the first place, all that bullshit could never have held any power over you. I saw the way that Stewart guy would belittle and mock the older people–especially Jay, who from what I can remember was one of Stewart’s favorite victims. And you guys would just stand there with your heads down, looking all sheepish and what not..I mean, come on–look at the guy you were idolizing..Just LOOK at him..This is a dude who couldn’t have walked into an ordinary office building in the middle of the day without security coming up to him immediately to ask what he was doing (unless of course he had a package under his arm, in which case they’d figure maybe he was just a messenger who was probably mentally defective)

    If Stewart would have talked to ME that way, I’d have told him to go fuck himself..Period

    Think about that, and hopefully by now you’ve gotten some backbone and won’t fall victim to some other charlatan. You gotta look out for number one in this life. If you don’t, no one else will do it for you. Believe it

    • James Says:

      Anonymous, you’ve left me with a lot of food for thought here with your comments. First of all, thank you for posting about your (fortunately) brief experience in the Church of Bible Understanding. I think your atheism helped you not to fall prey to manipulation in the name of God, simply because you did not have a desire to be open to the possibility of something being from God and therefore you could not be vulnerable in that area. (I think I’ve mentioned that concept in several points in my blogs, that if someone did not have a desire to serve God, they’d just have walked away from this kind of influence and that one’s own desire to serve God can be used against him if he is not careful.) Yet there are many cults out there that have nothing to do with God and religion, and in these cases atheism would not help in that way.

      I detect an independent / defiant tone in your writing, and I think this personality trait may have helped you more than atheism did in not following the leader. You are one of the many people who saw through the charade (and there were Christian people who also saw through it) and did not stay for long.

      As far as socializing only with the new brothers who were “mentally normal,” I would like to point out that some of those mentally normal people have stayed on since the early 90s when you knew them and that you would not consider them to be normal now, as the cult has had tremendous impact on them. In fact, those “weird” brothers you mention, such as Jay, were once mentally normal people. It’s true though, Stewart Traill singled out Jay and several others for especially abusive treatment, and they put up with it. This is because they were the stronger personalities there and needed to be kept in their places. (There are other reasons for this, but that is the general reason why Traill treated them this way.)

      I don’t see my reaction to us being turned into outcasts and the newer ones receiving favorable treatment as jealousy. But there could have been some jealousy on the part of ones that had more stake in leadership positions there. Rather I felt pity as I saw them get set up and then put down. Stewart Traill’s method was to set up certain ones of these and let them lead for a while. For about a year they could do no wrong, and he’d use these ones to beat on the others. Then suddenly and without warning, he would sack them and slam them forever afterward. They never knew what hit them. I came to realize that this was part of Traill’s breaking process. The ones that stayed on after this sort of treatment became more and more malleable. The ones who left after this treatment were not going to be valuable puppets anyway. (I don’t know if you were there when David Summons and Chatman Payne were there – they would be examples of this.) Through seeing this happen to them, I came to realize what had been done to us when we were new. I hadn’t been aware of many of these processes and how the manipulation worked when I was new.

      You say that you would have told Stewart where to go if you had been in a head to head confrontation with him. I’m not so sure about that. You did vote with your feet and leave, which is the important thing. This I believe more than the idea of you putting him in his place by telling him something. I’ve seen Traill insult some pretty large and strong people to their faces and they stood there fuming, but taking it. I think the reason was that they were calculating the odds of making it from where they were standing, through the crowd that was between them and the door, if they slugged Stewart, and they decided it was not worth the risk. What you are leaving out is the force and pressure of all the OTHER people there in getting everyone to conform to Stewart’s will. Over the years, as more and more of the people who disagreed with Stewart left, this left only those who were in agreement with him and who obeyed instantly (or at least kept their thoughts to themselves). This created a huge social pressure to conform, as all the others around you were in agreement with Traill. Think of it in terms of swimming and being caught in a whirlpool, pulling you down.

      I do think you lack a little bit of compassion toward your fellow human beings in saying “how could anyone be so weak to succumb in the first place.” I think you are a pretty smart guy and you did not succumb. This is clear. But there have been cults for centuries and there are cults now, probably more now than ever before, and people DO succumb, and they are not necessarily weak and stupid people. Part of my posting my journals, blogs and comments here is to be of help to others, in order to help them understand what can happen and what the dangers are.

      Also in saying “how could anyone be so weak,” you are viewing COBU as it was in the 1990s, when it had morphed into an oppressive organization that exploited the homeless for free labor, which was not the case in the 70s and 80s when many of these ones you call “weird older ones” first joined. If it had been like that back then, most would have seen and done what you did. Even Jay would not have stayed. In those earlier years, life could be rather friendly there and people were often concerned about one another. Most everyone was in their teens and early twenties and you had the sense that you were hanging out with people just like yourself and were working at an important purpose. There was a lot more freedom and it was a lot more hopeful back then.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Thanks for your words. When I came across your memoir, I didn’t expect the comments to be “live”. In other words, I had no reason to think that anyone would actually see and respond to anything I’d said. I thought my comment would be the only one and that it would just float there forever until the web address was dismantled.

    You are right, some of what I said had sort of a “harsh” flavor to it. I didn’t mean any personal offense. After having read a lot of what you’d had to say, I see you as being a person who was genuinely searching for something. My anger is really directed towards Stewart and his kind; individuals that manipulate people’s hopes for their own personal gain.

    Actually, I didn’t really think of Jay as being “weird”. He seemed like sort of a friendly person, in fact, and I felt badly for him that he was unable to see that he was in a no-win situation. I don’t know if he is still in the cult now; I hope not. Is Stewart even still alive? I was wondering about that, in fact, while I was musing on what you’d written and what I’d said. What would happen to the whole organization if Stewart died? I guess it could go either way–maybe someone else would “step up” and take control. If this person didn’t have the personality traits required to be the leader of a destructive cult, then maybe the whole thing would quietly change into simply a group of Christians living communally. Certainly not MY cup of tea, but far more wholesome and less potentially harmful for those who DID stay.

    I don’t remember you by name, but I bet I would by sight. There are only a couple of older brothers I can remember somewhat as individuals. I remember Jim LaRue’s name, but not who he was. Other than that, the only ones I remember are Jay and Chuck. I think you described Chuck as being someone who would push around the other “ex-older brothers” when they were under the gun from Stewart. That fits in with the way I remember him. I thought he was an asshole. He used to try to throw his weight around with the brand-new members as well. An example was the fact that I smoked cigarettes. A couple of times he saw me out on the street with a cigarette and would go into the whole “I protest, brother!” bit. Of course most of the older church members would say something about it, but no one did it so loudly and vehemently as Chuck that I can remember. He’d go into a whole big tirade. I recall him going into the story of how his father had died of lung cancer. It was in the church van, and he was going on and on about how his father rolled his own cigarettes, had a little machine to make them. The story was something that would inspire sympathy in anyone, but it was the WAY he told it that made it stick with me all these years. He told the story “aggressively” somehow, like he was attacking you with it rather than trying to help you.

    There was other stuff with Chuck, too. Seems like he was one of the folks who would typically hassle you, more so than the other older ones. You said something in part of your story about how you and some of the older members would genuinely attempt to help the new members by discussing the Bible with them, and trying to help them get cleaned up and so on. That jibes with my memories also. There were a few there that seemed to be well-meaning people. But he wasn’t one of them–he seemed to be on a power trip.

    I probably wouldn’t have stuck out much in anyone’s memory, since I made a rather presentable picture. If you’d seen me on the street you might not have guessed I was homeless, as I did a lot of personal “upkeep” as far as making sure I washed my clothes, showered every day, shaved and brushed my teeth, etc. Maybe that would have made me stick out more..lol

    But in any case, as you’ve remarked, it was probably the fact that I WASN’T looking for any kind of answer to the questions of life, wasn’t actually seeking Jesus, religion in general, or even spirituality that left me in a much less suggestible and vulnerable state. I didn’t mean to imply that I’m smarter than everyone else (or stronger, though I did seem to suggest it in my earlier comments) It was more my somewhat “nihilistic” outlook that saved me. And I totally get what you’re saying about the individuals who stayed on after an initial negative assault from Stewart becoming more and more passive thereafter. Once you’ve put up with abuse once, it makes it that much easier to accept it again…and again. I think this is what they say happens to battered women who continue to stay in their abusive relationships, for example.

    Anyway, I appreciate your taking the time to answer my comments, and I welcome hearing anything else you may have to say. I admit to being pretty curious about what may have happened to the church after all these years (hopefully it’s now defunct!)

    take it easy

    • James Says:

      I appreciate your comments and your descriptions of life in COBU. This is one of the things I’m trying to do with this blog, is to publish what life was like there for me, and for anyone else who was there. (Though the best collection of stories and pictures is at Mike Montoya’s site at http://www.angelfire.com/nm/cobu/front2.html. You might want to browse around on there and even write something about your own experiences to submit to the site. I’m sure Mike’s website will bring back memories and also help to answer any questions about the history of COBU and current COBU.)

      Yes, Jay is still there, as are Kevin and many others. The total membership has dwindled to about 80. Stewart Traill has a huge mansion in Florida. When Traill dies, the organization will probably go on in some way. They have a successful architectural antique business called Olde Good Things which will likely not go under with the death of the founder. I’d expect Traill to give one last farewell meeting about how they’re all going to hell and that there is no longer hope of salvation for them, but after he’s gone, someone like Kevin might take over, though I doubt he has the comprehensive manipulative skills or multi-level deviance with which to be a true cult leader – though everyone there has been under Traill’s influence for decades and they all have a stake in the business there, so much may continue as it is now.

      I am not really qualified, in a way, to talk about life there and how it has become in the 18 years since I left, though I suspect it has happened according to the proverb, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” But it would be really good if someone who has been there up until recently would write about their experiences and life there.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Interesting-looking website. That aerial pic of Stewart’s mansion says more about the way these kinds of groups work than 100 books written on the subject ever could! Hard to see how purchasing a spread like that equates with the teachings of a person who advises “not to invest in this life”! Oh, but I’m sure he’d tell you that he’d “gladly leave it” (using his phrase) if called upon to serve!

    All people have these kinds of traits, in my opinion– meaning personal greed, the desire for having nice things, the pursuit of money. The difference is a matter of degree. Whereas most people (or at least many people) try to balance their desires with some sense of ethics and a desire to not hurt their fellow human beings unnecessarily, in someone like Stewart that impulse for good is absent. This kind of person is perfectly OK with ruining several hundred people’s lives (and more, if he could) as long as it brings personal enrichment for him

    Personally, I don’t think I’d really want to delve too much into the history of the church or dwell on my brief experiences there. Even the pictures have a depressing flavor to them. Hard to put your finger on what it is, but on a superficial level you can note the overall sense of poverty and shabbiness. It’s just not where I’d want to be at in life, if that makes sense

  4. Anonymous Says:

    By the way, James, if you would like to contact me personally, that would be fine. I think it might be interesting to have a conversation as I find this subject fascinating. Would be interesting to get your impressions of the whole experience. If so, drop me an email at lstern@mail.org (that’s the email I actually use, not the one I registered with). I will respond with contact information

  5. Lagrange Says:

    Well, well James, your account is extensive and seems to present the facts relatively true to their actual occurence. Your interpretation of them is interesting, however, it presents you as a rather pitiful, pliable weakling and a coward. Don’t you agree? That’s not my opinion about you, but the picture your narrative paints.

    Are you still allowing your desire and fantasy for someone to really care about you to cause you to throw away your self-respect and the responsibility for your actions?

    No doubt, your retelling of the events and turns in COBU’s past will remain without its like until that Day. One can only hope the self-inflicted suffering you and the others incurred has taught you a lesson you will never forget.

    • James Says:

      “Are you still allowing your desire and fantasy for someone to really care about you to cause you to throw away your self-respect and the responsibility for your actions?”

      The above quoted line sounds so much like the things the cult leader, Stewart Traill used to say to us, especially when we would receive a “message from Stewart.” The phrasing has caused me to wonder if Traill dictated this to one of his minions and ordered them to post it here on my blog.

      There is much belittling and shaming language woven into this message from start to finish – this being the reason for me to wonder if it’s from COBU. The writer also says that I paint myself as a coward in my writing, adding a rhetorical “Don’t you think so?” to emphasize the point, while also saying that they themselves do not think I really am a coward. So, there is a little doublespeak here as well.

      The writer continues, it seems sarcastically, about the uniqueness and enduring nature of my telling of the COBU story (or at least my version of it), alluding to a mystical future Day (Day with a capital “D”).

  6. jeff Says:

    But yes this was 810 but I think it is an example of what is to come of this whole country if the money keeps flowing to the elite and the middle class is removed , Then life in the good olde US will be much the same , where the criminals run everything, Well wait a minute that is happening now, with all the crooks in government but we all aint living in public housing yet, with committees to tell us it is ok to buy underwear, but soon , this is my opinion anyway so we all can learn and observe and say ” hey i did this a long time ago and it didn’t work.”

    • James Says:

      Jeff,
      Thanks for the comments. Yes, that was the episode with the church-run “shelter” at 810 North Broad Street. You left shortly before all of that, I think. Well, how is what happened in COBU going to be like what may happen if the middle class is removed? The criminals were running 810 for a while, until the big melt down, but those were criminals of a different kind. Paul B. often commented to me that the oppression we were undergoing and our living in cramped, squalid living conditions in dirty and ratty warehouses was God preparing and training us for a future time when we, as Christians, would be facing persecution (as in the end times, or how Christians were persecuted in Communist countries). I pointed out to him that this “persecution” was coming from our illustrious leader, Stewart Traill, but he continued to believe that God was using all this for a future time of persecution, so that we’d already be used to a prison camp lifestyle and therefore able to handle it. (As in, been there, done that.) He thought we might end up being imprisoned by the government for our faith in a coming time of persecution. That was Paul’s way of processing and dealing with what was being done to us, his way of rationalizing it. “So Paul,” I’d ask,” you’re saying that this is like a Communist slave labor camp?” A person has to resolve his “cognative dissonance,” he has to resolve the contradictions he sees before him. Paul chose to believe it was all for our own good, and that what appeared to be abuse was really a boot camp to prepare for us future persecution. I choose (though often fought against it, only to come back to facing the contradictions – as in, dragged by the scruff of the neck to face it) and decided to deal with it. I came to accept that if I decided to admit I was in a “church that abused,” (a.k.a. cult) that the inevitable consequence would be that I leave. And these journals are a record of my journey through that process. Sometimes I’d try to bury and and not face it, but I would be brought time and time again to a point of decision. I resolved my cognative dissonance by first allowing for the fact that there was dissonance, and to stop rationalizing it away and to stop believing the reasons Traill said this was all necessary. I began to detach, stand back, watch and observe. (And reading books about cults helped.)

  7. AveHurley Says:

    Seems whomever it was who wrote you so cruelly still carries in them the obedience to the delusion of Stewart’s lies and are still under his spell. Wanting to serve his or her master, striking out at you and calling you what (they) themself have become. Sad they still have any members and those who spew out what is tantamount to curses, unleashing spirits to haunt a person.

    Stewart told me when I had left, visiting a meeting, that I was a suicide waiting to happen and as a result for nearly 25 years was suicidal with some near misses.

    I was finally delivered from that oppression when it became clear to my mind that it was in fact evil spirits speaking to my mind in my own language –(our minds are the true battleground for our souls) – like the envoys to Hezekiah talking loudly to the people on the wall, to give up like it was hopeless and that God no longer cared. So like Hezekiah I decided to call upon God and ask that for His namesake to deliver me as I couldn’t keep going on the way I was. I chose to obey God and not listen to them nor come off the wall of my salvation.

    I was delivered in the mid 90′s and the spirit of depression has never held me captive again. Even in times of great loss and sadness now, when those little suggestive voices come to mind, whispering their sweet nothings, I rebuke them in the name of the Lord and stand on His promises, thinking on what is good holy and acceptable and I am saved!!

    Stewart and his like no longer have any power over my life and the enemy stands exposed so he can no longer enter my house 🙂

    GBU~! Ave

    • James Says:

      Ave, Thanks for the comments. This person has not responded to an email I sent. In the email, I asked them to clarify a few of the things they said, and I also asked them if they had ever been in COBU before. I invited a response, either by email or by further commenting on my blog. I have not heard from them and it is likely they will never reply.

  8. Louise Says:

    Certainly, being an atheist is better than being abused in the name of God. Think of those Aztec priests in Mexico who figured out the solar calander and would tell the people, “we are going to make the sun disappear then reappear.” Those people were soon eating out of their hands. Those priests even got the emperor to stick long needles into his own private parts.

    • James Says:

      Louise, it’s about a 50/50 split in history when you add up the abuses done in the name of religion by religious people and the abuses done in the name of atheism by atheist people. In the last century there were millions of people killed, jailed and tortured by atheist leaders of communist governments. Reading The Gulag Archipelago or Tortured for Christ would give you a good idea, if you are not familiar with it.

      Also, I’ve noted that in the several comments you’ve left on my pages, you’ve made some sweeping generalities about why people were in COBU, in a kind of “the only reason someone could have been there is for narcissisic, self-serving and anti-social reasons,” when really, there are a lot of reasons for why people join and stay in cults and abusive churches. Those reasons could apply to some of those people, but certainly not all by a long shot. And in talking to people to help them see why it would be good for them to leave, only coming from “these wrong motivations the only reason why you are there,” is not going to help them. A lot of people joined and are still staying because they wanted to follow Jesus, because they wanted to do the right thing, because they didn’t want to live a sinful life and because they want to help others.

  9. Terrance R. J. Coulombe Says:

    The ways of the world and the flesh are desire, sin, hate, envy, strife, bitterness, resentments, haters of mothers and fathers, liars, thieves, hostile ones, murderers, lustful acts and the flesh is at war with the spirit. The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, langsuffering, kindness, against such there is no law. Jesus prayed to God. Jesus is the true son of God. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit down to one hundred twenty souls on the day of Pentecost. I am persuaded that the Love of God which dwells in your hearts will keep us mindful of the Love of God that God the Father has for us and that nothing will separate us from that love of God which dwells in us. I too was among you. Jesus said “If you continue in my word you are truly my disciples.” We are able to forgive those who were hostile to us and love them and obey Christ for Christ is our master. Put on therefore the Mind of Christ and be charitable. Judge with right judgement. Do not judge wrongly. Stewart Traill is doing the works of God as he sees he should. Let us also walk in the light and take care that our light is not darkness and let us too be out doing the works of God as we see we should. Our hope ought to be that Stewart Traill and all of the others should eventually learn brotherly kindness and true Godly love. It is written “Add to your faith, virtue, add to your virtue, knowledge, add to your knowledge, understanding, add to your understanding brotherly kindness, and add to your brotherly kindness love apart from which you are nothing. We are at war! We are at war with the evil ways of the wicked ones. We kill them with kindness and Commands from on high. However be not joyful that you have been given power over the evil ones but be joyful that your name is written in the book of Life. Faith comes through hearing the word of God and you are sons of God because the word of God has come to you.

    • James Says:

      What I get out of your comments, Terrance, between the run-on Bible verses, is that Stewart is not that bad of a guy really. Just servin’ the Lord the best he can, according to what he sees he should. Yet, if we look at it from the viewpoint of what he knows (by looking at what he says about how other people must serve God), we can easily see how he does not follow his own teachings, himself. And, if that’s really true, then he is not doing the works of God as he sees he should. It’s a rather simple way of looking at it, and if anyone has spent some time there, it becomes obvious. And, aside from that, intense verbal abuse, forbidding marriage, amassing a fortune for himself while telling his followers they must give up everything in this life, are other obvious telltale signs that he is not serving God “as he sees he should.” But, from your somewhat biblical sounding statement of “I too was among you,” it sounds like you might have spent a little time “among us,” but maybe not enough to really know what was going on.

  10. Terrance R. J. Coulombe Says:

    Hi James. I don’t blame you for your remarks. I am not sure I can judge Stewart that way however I am against some of his bad behaviour. I am also against some of my bad behaviour. My prayer is that we shall by the grace of God learn to do the will of our heavenly Father. Please be my friendly brother in Christ. I shall not let Stewart Traill rule over me. I shall ask God for the Holy Spirit to guide me.
    Terry Coulombe
    May the Lord of hosts be with you always.

  11. Art Rave Says:

    I sat one night at a little bistro table in the hallway outside the 2nd story room we used for a makeshift kitchen at Pine St in CC [early76] Stewart came downstairs and began to talk with me. It was the first time since the Sep 75 Big Mtg where I had repainted a metal billboard about Moon as a prophet to the US and living at the SI fellowship, changed the name to Stewart. He wasnt amused and we turned the sign over on its back for the rest of the meeting. Stewart told me and the others that he was NOT a prophet.

    So now sitting at this table with Stewart, which was odd, but as I was up late reading [bible] and he for some reason wanted to chat [early 1976] He told me he had heard about my “Mother Trip” and I was buying food, feeding those who were not working as well as some who were.

    HE said : Well the bible says that if they dont work, they shouldn’t eat, so why was I feeding them?!…

    I told him how when we all moved down to Wilmington De., after the Sep 75 BigMtg, that none of us had any money although we all went out daily seeking jobs and nightly witnessing as always. By the time some of us got jobs, we still went hungry as we had to wait to get paid.We all went several more days with no food and it was difficult to say the least.

    Next Sat [Sep 75] a van came to bring us to the CC Center Mtg – more than a dozen of us on the floor of a cargo van, One person had a chicken leg that came on. We were drooling!

    She gave it up for all of us to share~ When it came to me and the last girl, she broke the bone in half, giving one side to me and said with a smile that sucking out the marrow is very nutritious and began sucking her piece of bone. I was so hungry I did the same.

    Then as I was among the first to get a job, yet there was another week to wait for my first paycheck~! Then A co-worker one day loaned me a $ to go to the hot dog vendor for a hot dog & a coke.It actually hurt eating it and I felt guilty afterwards, thinking of those at the fellowship who were also hungry.

    I said to Stewart : How can you expect anyone to go out seeking work when they are sick to their stomach from not eating any food or have a severe headache from lack of food or get dizzy and even faint?

    Knowing I was a Christian and saved before joining the FF, Stewart used to tease me for toting my King Jimmy around instead of an RSV and treated me a little different that the others as I was a few years older than most of the sisters there.

    I said now that I was working, why should I go to Day’s Deli, as he suggested, to just get something for myself and get back to fellowship to go out witnessing, when I can spend the same amount of $ next door at the A&P and buy a pound of hamburger and some pasta and for the same $ it would cost me to eat out I could easily feed 4 others!?

    I come from a large family. I have 14 brothers and sisters and my parents made sure we never went hungry.I was used to sharing.

    I couldn’t watch brethren go hungry at CC or anywhere, especially after seeing how no one shared and how hungry I was at CC when I had visited there months earlier.I wanted to lead by examplem that if I shared, maybe others would too.

    I told Stewart how when I first visited to the Phili Center and spent that weekend at CC I was starving! [we all were]

    I saw food on the shelves but there were hand written verses taped on them along with the names of the owners warning others not to touch or take their food!

    I told Stewart that I thought it was appalling to let people go hungry, especially in America, that these were the same people going out and trying to spread the love of God at night that were invoking curses on anyone taking their food. To me that was a greater sin and causing some to sin our of desperation. We had hoped after the mtg that someone would offer something but those with money went off to Day’sDeli as it was a popular restaurant around the corner . [Same one where Shirley dumped sugar over Stewarts head in75]

    I said to Stewart that in the bible it said that even the unsaved know how to give good things and dont offer a rock instead of bread to someone who was hungry. Also that if you see someone in need and fail to help them……and what about the Good Samaritan? …or if a neighbor knocks at your door late at night for a loaf of bread?… and a few more verses I knew even then as a relatively young Christian.

    He stroked his beard, shook his head and agreed that unemployment was a big problem that needed to be addressed and would be soon and that people shouldnt have to starve while looking for a job or waiting for a paycheck.

    Then he asked if it really was that much cheaper to feed a bunch in the fellowship rather than eating at the restaurant. I told him that I could easily feed 4 people for under a $1 each with a good hot meal as compared to someone just grabbing a bag of chips or a McD etc. He said I may have something there.

    Following month it was announced that we were going to start pooling resources and buying food wholesale, so everyone would get food and needs met. Initially I was beaming and so pleased that he was going to start showing us how to share and share alike and I had no problem when we were asked to give in our paychecks for the first time.

    We were told we would get 10% back and all our needs and bills would be paid off collectively and since we became a legite ‘church’ all that we give in will be tax deductible too~ It seemed a win win on first consideration. We were told that IF you needed a new pair of shoes or jeans to just put in a request and after the bills were paid, you would get the money for the clothes. or whatever was needed. It sounded good.

    Implementation was different.

    Once they began collecting our paychecks they started closing the fellowships down instead of paying the rent~!!

    \Also they began buying dented canned foods and over ripened fruits and veggies and parts of meat I never saw in the supermaket~ They would buy expired meats that smelled funky.
    Still we cooked them and made them taste good,

    Soups, lots of soups.~ One time I remember being given a bag of turkey necks~! What??

    Yuck – but in all things give thanks… Luckily Paul Bartelt had no problem ‘pickin chicken’ or turkey- he totally de-boned the necks after I boiled them so I could add the meat to the soup.

    Initially I was asked to be part of going out shopping to get the food and deliver it but then Frank Kuklis was put in charge of told to find cheaper foods and did.

    When CC was scheduled to be shut down I moved to a 1/2 studio behind the store I worked at .

    My bosses were also my lambs so I was allowed to go [for a while] .

    Others were being sent to the MTC which was the beginning of the Borg~ Those back in Phili were being moved to a dirty warehouse in Camden. When I was told to move to the warehouse and give my studio to the former leader of AC, I refused because despite having had given them my pay checks from my other job I never saw that 10% nor were any of my bills that were taken to be paid ever paid! I was receiving late notices from my bank.

    Still after checking the warehouse out, I refused to go and later moved back to my family on Staten Island the end of July76.

    Visiting the MTC and keeping in touch with a few, I saw how Stewart used the pie in the sky about ‘how good & pleasant it is when brethren dwell in unity ~ and about everyone selling all that they had and giving it all in to be used to help everyone who had need…yet then the example of needing a pair of shoes or a pair of jeans was usually met with being accused of indulging in the flesh so you dared not ask.

    At least I got out when it was all going ‘south’ before the onset of the total abuse it became so better well known for,

    Still my time there impacts me til this very day. I had joined to learn how to witness and I did,

    Looking back now I can see fairly assuredly that Stewart used his little cool tape recorder to make notes to himself from ideas he obtained during conversations with members and used his file cards to jot down notes and a gang of girls willing to look up the whole verses and write them down for their ‘master’.

    He knew how to use a Strongs, for word associations which to me partly explains how in many of his multi hours long Big Meetings, there was little time to take questions, rather we wrote and wrote and wrote his every word and endless references.

    Supposedly we would look it all up later on – yet the march was already on back then to keep up pace, work, rush back, make calls, pray and go out witnessing, bring in the lambs that got saved, do some bible studies, drive people home who weren’t staying,Get to bed ,get up and go to work, starting all over again. There was little time for personal study, but every ‘free’ moment was usually shared with another doing a ‘nuggie’.

    If you read anything on your own, they would listen if you shared but take notes and report back to Stewart for the Great Oz interpretation of a thing,Questions would be passed along to the CL who would be in contact with ST and while giving reports on fellowship growth, how many got saved, how many moved in, how many were working etc., bible questions and passages would be included. Stewarts favorite response was that we were going to get into it more, especially about marriage and a right marriage and how and when and if anyone should marry. He definitely wanted us all to be more like Paul and not need to be married. He didnt want marriages. He wanted workers undivided attention and dollars.Marriages meant more children meaning more doctors bills and social concerns and he didnt want that. Those that had children and were already married, he allowed for it but many of the early marriages broke up as well, with one spouse in and the other out.

    I dont believe he ever had the gift of the Holy Spirit! I vascilated years over this, I think he may have had a semi-religious experience but any good he gave was a result of taking notes pertaining to what the Holy Spirit showed to others and he would use what they were told and do literal word searches in his Strongs and so his bible studies often were floods of words and discordant verses.

    Years after leaving, Jim Hurley and I married. Jim had coveted copies of meetings and bible studies that were typed up and xeroxed years earlier. He then took the time to go over them one by one and ‘flesh’ them out and found so many erroneous paths in Stewarts bible studies that he was amazed that others hadn’t nailed it sooner.
    There are many unsaved preachers who use the bible to push their scams and agendas, usually the money talkers can put on a good sideshow as they pass the hat. Stewart merely took it to another level.

    Stewart was not willing to settle for us just passing the hat and giving him a donation when he came around anymore.

    He wanted it all and saw a replenishing group of young naiive people who were willing to give everything to the common cause, so , he continually devised ways to squeeze everything he could out of everyone ‘in’ as long as they were there.

    He would protect himself by destroying any confidence and common sense anyone had and instead impart and implant a sense of morbid guilt to prevent those who left from wanting to regroup and come back after him for what he had done. Thus the high security and protection he maintains for himself remaining unapproachable on a 1-to-1 basis..

    Also unlike other big time crooks such as Al Capone, he was careful to keep much of money end of the deal, out of his written name [insert name COBU] so RICO and IRS have not been able to nail him, even though any law enforcement even remotely familiar with him know he is breaking laws.

    His smooth well oiled money machine can not save him when he has to face Jesus. Seriously we can only hope he repents before the great and terrible day of the Lord as God doesnt take too kindly to anyone who messes with His kids~!

    GBU~!
    AVE

    • James Says:

      Thanks for commenting, Ave. And especially for explaining what it was like in the earlier years in the FF / COBU. So, it may have been you that started off the idea of pooling resources – but Stewart took it to another level, beyond just making sure that there was enough food to go around. He turned it into the communal living situation where everyone handed in their paychecks, which as you said, sounded like win-win at first glance. (Though we all know how that turned out!) You describe the constant treadmill of work and meetings as well as the suppression of marriage and the reason for it very well and I think you’ve pretty much exposed the whole motivation behind that. Now Stewart is down in Florida in his mansion, living off the results of years of manipulation and leaching off people who actually worked. And, what’s next?

  12. dmpatteson Says:

    Thank you James. I believe you show great courage and backbone by sharing your experiences at COBU. It is not for the weak of heart to display our past mistakes in order to help others. You do more than gloss over your mistakes, but lay bare the finest details. I commend and admire your honesty and your courage.

    I was a member in 1980-81. I remember it took courage to witness publicly, to walk into the most dangerous neighborhoods in DC and confront young teens, many of them gang bangers, and tell them that hell was their future if they continued on their path. It took courage to go home and try to convert my friends who knew me when I was “cool.” I knew when I joined and moved in, that I had found my true family. It is unfortunate that we permitted an egomaniac to destroy our church.
    When I left, I thought I was embarking on a path to Hell. The seed was planted in my mind that I was born in that church (COBU) and therefor had a duty to help my brothers and sisters. I felt that I was turning my back on them, turning my back form “the plow.”
    It took courage for me to return, briefly, to try and help my brothers and sisters. But Stewart and Jimmy Greiner made my staying impossible. I left again and never returned.
    Since leaving I have found happiness and purpose within. The courage was always there.

  13. ajc Says:

    where are you now James? What kind of life do you have now? ajc

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: