Our move to the "sewer house" brought changes to "the group". “The group” would eventually become known as "The Assembly of the Body of Christ" (ABC) but for now “the group” was still the only reference to a name. That simplicity was a draw for many who had left organized religion and some of the more unusual practices which began at the Wilcrest Apartments; such as chopping up, or burning "demon possessed" furniture; began to drop away. In their place other weird doctrines began to surface instead. As example. one teaching stated persons of color were not human but were actually beasts of the field and thus could not be “saved”. This, and other doctrines,would make brief appearances in the ABC and would then disappear for a while only to resurface later.
The sewer house had the advantage of a large garage which was easily converted into a "church building" of sorts complete with rows of folding chairs, a pulpit-like podium, and a huge whiteboard on the wall. The informal living room meetings were now gone and the change to a dedicated structure, with rows of chairs, did not sit well with the original attendees from the Wilcrest apartment days. They had come to "the group" because they were looking for something less conventional than pews in church and now felt "the group" was drifting back toward becoming just like a regular church. A few drifted away and with those remaining there were many discussions about this subject, some very heated. It was decided that the meetings were becoming too large to be informal and that it would be best if “the group” split into two or three smaller groups. By splitting the meeting between two or more houses the meetings could return to the informal living room format everyone loved and this was expected to end the grumbling. That would prove not to be.
To make this split required more leaders. Elders were appointed following what was the perceived pattern of the early church. These men, it was determined, must be married, have some bible knowledge and be respected among the people. A few men were then appointed as elders, the meetings were split into three separate houses headed up by these new "elders", and my dad would be as an "apostle" over them.
One of the meetings would stay at the "sewer house' but move out of the garage and back into the living room. Another would be at a man named Gary's house, and the third was to be at a man named Earl's house. Each new group would be an autonomous unit united, in theory, “by the Spirit”. Each would be responsible for the collection of it's own tithe and each group was free to use the money collected as they saw fit. They could essentially take control of the meetings as completely their own.
This tithe arrangement worked fine for just a short while. My dad; claiming the title of Apostle, (he claimed this title because he had now spawned three new churches) was not happy with the amount the new “churches” decided to send him each month. He was still operating his hospital repair business; Medic Repair; but wanted badly to end it and "minister" full time. This became a point of continuous contention between my dad, Gary, Earl and a few others. There were multiple heated "men's" meetings on this subject but that only created more huge emotionally charged issues. Eventually one of the groups, dismayed by the insistence that a large percentage of the tithe collected be sent to my dad as Apostle, stopped sending the money altogether. This started a division in the “unity” and a bitter feud began to unfold beneath the surface. All appeared well on the outside to newcomers; as if love reigned; but under the surface a serious fire was raging.
As with many feuds the true issue, the division of the tithe, got lost completely in the chatter and another smaller issue was argued in its place. In this case the small issue, the sticking point, would be the question: "Does a person receive the Holy Spirit as they are going into the water at baptism, or as they are coming out of the water at baptism?" I honestly don't remember who was in which camp; the argument seemed totally pointless to me; and I, still a teen then, did not get involved. How could one ever prove this point anyhow? My dad selected one principle nemesis in the feud, Gary, since he was a man who had had political aspirations and was well versed in questioning things in a Socratic manner. Questioning will always get you labeled as a rebel in the ABC. The war began and would last a long time.
Gary’s questionings of the status quo were perceived by my dad as "rebellion". This accusation of "rebellion" is a common thread in the ABC; questioning is forbidden. There was a meeting; years later; where this individual, Gary, sought a way to end the feud. My dad, still angry about the money, began to accuse this man of trying to be an "apostle" and adamantly refused to end the feud. I was quite embarrassed about the feuding, and really just wanted a way out of it all. I was still living at home and did not have the courage or ability to leave.
These meetings over 'the issues" would, sometime later, lead to the first ex-communication in the ABC. At least two vicious letters, deriding Gary as a "rebel", were sent to everyone in "the group", along with an audiotape intended to prove he was evil. These letters and tape were some of the things I kept in the box in my garage that was taken many years later. We were all instructed to have nothing more to do with Gary, or his family, as well as the others that defended him. We were instructed that if we ever spoke to Gary again we too would be ex-communicated. Immediately after this letter two other families who were perceived to be in Gary's camp were also ex-communicated and put out of “the group”. All three of these families were eventually "turned over to Satan" as well.
I ran into one of these three men many many years later. He was still a broken man from the experience and reported these events had caused him major depression and a lapse into alcoholism. He had just returned from a rehab center when I saw him and even decades later still related he had deep emotional scars from his experiences at the ABC. This man had once been one of the first "elders" in the church, but like many others to come, his life had been ripped apart at the seams. The loss of those you once considered to be family can bring great strain to one's life. It is only possible to understand this if you have experienced it for yourself and no one in the ABC is exempt. If you question anything too voraciously you will be put away.
The money, not the baptism issue, had always been the true issue in the ongoing feud so there were many meetings about the money issues as well. They generally involved lots of of petty arguing, accusations and people wrangling. They caused quite an emotional split for everyone and did, in fact, divide the church into two camps. This split gave “good cause” for the money to be brought once again into a central tithe with Yvonne managing it. Divide and conquer as they say. I was a punk high school kid back then, had no real voice and there was little I could have done or said to change all that happened. I admit to a vast amount of gullibility for a lot of years as well. They were confusing times and would be for me for many decades to come. When you have experienced the ripping apart of your own family your nature is to try to keep the peace at all cost. This is what I did to my own shame and detriment but I give myself a measure of grace in the matter because I only did what I knew and had little benefit of outside influences.
In the next post, I elaborate further on the people grumbling about the three way split and tell about the plans to host an "all-church" picnic in an attempt to rebuild the "unity". We also move from the "sewer house" into a larger home nearby so all three meetings can be brought back under one roof again. At least until things settle down.