This section generally describes Assembly life prior to 2003, and even then not all the Geftakys Assemblies and outreaches were identical. Most of the former Geftakys groups that are continuing independently have modified the lifestyle to a certain extent.
The Assembly attracted earnest Christians who wanted a serious walk with God. Prospective new members were introduced to the Assembly through an introductory study called the Four Anchors. The aim of this study is to show that, according to a peculiar interpretation of a verse in the Book of Acts, the Assembly was more Biblical and more serious than most other churches.
A visit to an Assembly for Sunday morning worship seemed to confirm this impression, with the hour of high-volume congregational singing (much like this) and extemporaneous prayer, the Lord's supper every week, and several messages. The Holy Spirit was perceived to lead the meetings directly and spontaneously, not limited to a pre-printed bulletin.
The zeal was not limited to Sundays. Every aspect of life was loaded with meaning as it exemplified "the Heavenly Vision". The result of these high aspirations was a very pressured schedule. The weekly schedule varied somewhat among Assemblies, but the following weekly schedule in the Fullerton Assembly in the 1980's was fairly typical.
Sunday began the week with "All day for the Lord," from 9 a. m. to 6 p.m. and sometimes even as late as 9 p. m. if there were a special fellowship. Leading Brothers met for several hours in the evening.
Monday and Tuesday nights were "free", so they were used for weekly house meetings, visitation, discipling (mentoring), special ministries, stewardships (chores), etc.
Wednesday evening was chapter summary Bible study (an inductive method which required preparation beforehand) from 7 p.m. till 9:00 p.m. Most of the weekly meetings also had a fifteen minute prayer meeting (called pre-prayer) before the actual meeting began.
Thursday evening was the weekly prayer meeting, 7 p.m. till 9:30 p.m.
Friday evening was free perhaps twice a month. Couples' Meetings, special outreaches, ministries, and the monthly All-Night of Prayer occupied the other Fridays.
Saturday morning was tape ministry (primarily listening to G. Geftakys' previous seminar messages). Outreaches, fellowships and house meetings were often held on Saturdays. Saturday evenings after dinner were reserved for preparing for the Sunday morning worship.
Not only were there many meetings, but everyone was expected to attend every meeting. They were called "The Lord's Appointments." This pressure wasn't detectable from the outside looking in. To the outside observer, the purposefulness looked spontaneous. It was spontaneous for a new person in the group. But over time the excessive tentacles of expectation and control suffocated the spontaneity.
Before to 2003, there were many additional meetings and responsibilities involved in "the Work," which was G. Geftakys' term for his ministry as a whole. It included his seminars, summer school sessions, publications, and his "apostolic" journeys. Workers were people who were hand picked to support the Work. Two Saturdays a month were all-day Workers' Meeting, requiring babysitting for the Workers' children.
A week-long Workers Seminar was held annually for the adults, during which time there was a summer camp for the workers' children, staffed and run by Assembly members.
Three-day seminars, with at least seven two-hour lectures by G. Getakys, were held over the Easter, Labor Day and the Christmas/New Years holidays. Visitors came from all over the world, and meals and lodging were always provided in various homes. (All this became defunct after 2002, except for the few Assemblies still loyal to George, where he has again given seminars.)
Another overwhelming feature of Assembly life was the control that extended over every area of life. Almost all singles, and many families as well, were encouraged to live with several other unrelated adults in brothers' or sisters' houses, called "Training Houses."
These homes were run according to long lists of rules. Chores were dignified by calling them "stewardships." They had to be done according to detailed instructions to meet an exacting standard of excellence. Achieving excellence in stewardships was deemed to be training for spiritual perfection.
There was a Head Steward in each of these home, whose role was to ensure that everyone met the extremely high standards and kept all the rules of the house and of the Assembly. Rules and requirements of the home covered everything from keeping regular morning and evening devotional times and having a good attitude, to such things as approved foods, bedtime curfews, being home for all meals, not helping each other with stewardships, etc.
Assembly expectations included being on time to all the meetings, participating in worship, preparing a chapter summary for the Bible study, being involved in a ministry, always having a "rejoicing" attitude, being available for special needs, such as babysitting or helping people move, etc. Assembly expectations were enforced by head stewards, husbands, leaders of ministries, Leading Brothers, and Workers. Every aspect of life was governed by top-down authority in the Assembly.
In both the communal houses and the ministries, the leaders required a detailed accounting of people's schedules. Pre-printed schedule sheets, broken down into half hour segments, were filled out and turned in several times a year. There was a general rule that four hours of free time a week were allowable. Here is a sample schedule sheet,
In the mid-1970s Betty Geftakys began applying William Glasser's principles of Reality Therapy to the Assembly. A system of punishments was instituted, called "consequences," for failures to keep the rules and standards. In each home everyone had to make a list of at least three consequences they would pick from if they failed, such as weeding, washing windows or paying fines.
For example, if the person preparing dinner was ten minutes late, the Head Steward might impose a consequence calculated by multiplying by 10 the number of people living in the home who were inconvenienced. If there were 12 people, the consequence would be 2 hours. Missing a Bible study might trigger a consequence of two hours of weeding in George's garden. Consequences significantly impacted an already-tight schedule.
In spite of Betty's efforts to train the leaders, the houses were not all run alike. Some were more compassionate or fun-loving than others, especially if they were somewhat distanced from Betty's control.
Others houses were more strongly influenced by Betty, or had more rigid leaders, and the rules were strictly enforced. There were also individuals who were treated differently from others if they happened to be favorites of the leader, or on the other hand were considered “problems.”
Families were not exempt from this lifestyle. Many families with children had single adults or another family living with them. While this provided a replacement for extended "family" in many cases, it also weakened family bonding.
In these home there was little time for families to be together without non-family members present. Special celebrations such as birthdays and anniversaries were communal. Communal living also disrupted the family structure by the presence of non-family adult authority figures, such as Head Stewards.
Husbands were expected to be very controlling, and wives were to be obedient servants. The Assembly taught that women are easily deceived and therefore are not to be listened to. Wives were permitted to express an opinion once, but if the husband dismissed it, she was not to bring it up again.
This emphasis was intensified in the early 1990's. Betty G. and selected leaders began teaching husbands how to train their wives by giving them orders and enforcing consequences.
From the beginning, children were expected to attended all the meetings with their parents. Parents kept their babies on mats on the floor. To insure that they did not disrupt the meetings, Betty taught parents to use very stringent disciplinary methods. Babies were taught "head down" and spanked from the age of about 3 months to teach instant obedience.
Mothers scheduled children's naps and mealtimes to correspond to the three-hour Sunday worship meeting. They practiced daily at home keeping their infants and small children obediently quiet on a mat on the floor for several hours.
In 1982 the Assembly established its own K-8 private school, Cornerstone Academy. This provided another sphere for control of families and children. One of the guiding principles was that parents must always agree with teachers and back them up in any disciplinary matter.
The overall result was that Assembly children were amazingly well behaved. But many of these over-controlled children rebelled as teenagers and young adults, and have had a hard time seeing themselves as autonomous and worthwhile individuals.
Most singles lived with couples in brothers' and sisters' houses, even into their thirties and forties. As mature adults they were kept in a subservient role in the homes where they lived. Few singles purchased homes.
Singles were largely responsible for extra-curricular child care in the Assembly. They were called on to babysit for couples' meetings. Before 2003 they also cared for the children during the Workers Meetings and the Workers Seminar. They were not remunerated for any of this. They also conducted most of the children's and youth ministries.
Casual dating was prohibited. "Spending time together" had to be approved by the leadership. In many cases this resulted in the extinction of budding relationships, and in others it resulted in something close to arranged marriages.
Relationships between the sexes were strained, unless they were working together in a ministry, which provided a somewhat natural setting. Many singles in the Assembly have had a very difficult time finding life partners.
The reader might wonder why people stayed in a group like this, once they found out what it was really like. Why didn't they leave? There were many contributing factors:
Brent T.'s e-book, Navigating the Deeper Life, is a first-person account of how he and his bride-to-be were induced into the Assembly, how it affected them and their family of five children, and how they finally left. His story illustrates the points made in this article. See also The Code of Silence, and Errors in Assembly Teaching and Practice: Fear and the Kingdom.
Ed. note, September 2009: During the '70s and into the '80s Brothers and Sisters houses were subjected to "spring and fall cleaning", after which a white-glove inspection was carried out by an emissary from Betty G. The origin of this requirement has come to light. A 2002 alumnus from Bob Jones University, from which also Betty graduated, reports that dorm rooms are inspected on a daily basis, and once each semester a full scale White Glove inspection is conducted. So Betty was perpetuating that and other BJU traditions in the Assembly. No wonder people feel they were kept in perpetual dependent adolescence in the Assembly. A church was being conducted like a Christian college that views itself as a substitute parent.