This is a broad-brush sketch of the growth, development, and demise of the Assembly ministry of George and Betty Geftakys. More detail can be found in the revised and expanded History of the Geftakys Assembly Mnistry, Midwest and Tuscola History, and Final Weeks.
In 2002 there were more than fifty Assemblies world-wide. Most of them disbanded in 2003 following the revelation of Mr. Geftakys' sexual involvement with women in the group and the cover-up of his son's long history of domestic violence. What is left of the Getakys Assemblies currently consists of about a dozen small Christian gatherings that do not identify themselves as Geftakys Assemblies.
George Dmitri Geftakys and Betty Olive J. met in the mid-1940's as students at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles and were soon married. After George graduated in 1952, he became pastor of Sunkist Baptist Church in San Fernando, CA. Differences soon arose with the elder board, and George resigned the pastorate. He and Betty joined with the Plymouth Brethren assembly in Pomona. Betty supported the family as a teacher while George claims he took graduate courses at Talbot Seminary and USC.
The Plymouth Brethren are a non-denominational Bible-based group that began in England in the 1830's. In the beginning, they did not have paid clergy. They believed all denominational churches had fallen away from the New Testament ideal and become compromised and worldly.
Originally, the Brethren did not own church buildings, but met on Sundays in rented facilities in a very simple manner, with chairs set in a semi-circle around a table. They believed in an "open platform" - any brother who felt so led was encouraged to preach, and there were usually two or three messages on Sunday morning. The Lord's Supper was celebrated weekly. Women were not allowed to speak, and were required to wear head coverings (generally a scarf or lace mantilla). Their local churches were called assemblies.
The Brethren have since split into many factions over the years. Many of them have become more like evangelical churches, but some still adhere to the original Brethren distinctives. The Geftakys Assemblies adhered to the teaching and practice of the early Brethren, and were perhaps most similar to "exclusive Brethren" gatherings, but there was never any connection or communication with any Brethren assemblies.
By the time George and Betty had been with the conservative open Brethren for about fifteen years, problems had developed. George was unhappy with the Brethren leadership because they would not allow him become an elder. They were unhappy with him because he was too domineering, and there was also an allegation of adultery against him, which was apparently unproven. The leaders insisted that George get a job and support his family.
George and Betty stopped attending church for about two years. But by the late 1960's George was reportedly selling insurance for New York Life, and he and Betty had returned to the Brethren.
The Brethren allowed George to be a visiting preacher to the various Brethren Assemblies in Southern California, but would not give him a place of leadership. He was critical of the Brethren, asserting they had 'lost the vision' and become worldly.
In September of 1969, the Geftakys's visited Westmoreland Chapel in Los Angeles. There they met several young couples, including Steve and myself, who were searching for something "better" than the denominational churches, something that would be more serious and look more like the New Testament church. (The article, The Irons' History of the Geftakys Assembly Ministry, fills in the story from this point in further detail.)
These couples had a home Bible study in the San Fernando Valley, where they were experimenting with New Testament practices, such as foot washing, and they invited George. In short order, George took over teaching the Bible study.
At the same
time, the Geftekays' younger son, Timothy, who was a high school student,
had friends who also wanted a Bible study. In response, George began a
Saturday morning Bible study in his home in Fullerton. Tim also had friends
in several communes
begun by Calvary Chapel*. Two of these houses invited
George to lead Bible studies.
At Westmoreland Chapel the Geftakys' had met Marguerite Harrison, the widow of a missionary to America from the T. Austin-Sparks movement in England. Mrs. Harrison thought she had found in George someone who could carry on the vision of her husband's ministry. She invited him to the home Bible studies C. J. B. had been teaching in Garden Grove and Chatsworth, and he was welcomed as the new teacher.
In 1970, George and Betty traveled across the USA with Marguerite Harrison, who introduced them to many groups and individuals who had been influenced by Sparks' ministry through her husband, C. J. B. Harrison, which expressed concepts similar to George’s on the pattern of the local church. In some of these places George was invited to preach to established groups meeting in homes.
Fred and Jan Boyer, in Tuscola, Illinois, were among the contacts. Brinda M.'s history of The Midwest and Tuscola tells the story of George's ministry there.
George also taught four "seminars" in his home in 1970. These were not actually seminars, but eight or nine two-hour lectures packed into long holiday weekends. The seminars were intended to inspire people that there was something beyond ordinary shallow Christianity--the possibility of each believer becoming "an overcomer"--and that there was a calling of believers corporately to "express Christ" locally according to "the New Testament pattern" (his version of what the Plymouth Brethren had failed to be).
This beginning of George's Assembly movement was completely separate from the Plymouth Brethren. But the ideas he taught were taken straight out of Brethren books, sometimes even plagiarized. His aim was not high numbers, but loyal devotion from a solid core of elite Christians.
In February 1971, the seminar group obtained permission to use the recreation center at Hillcrest Park in Fullerton, and began meeting weekly for Sunday morning and afternoon church services, as well as a weekly evening Bible study. A weekly prayer meeting was begun in a home.
The Sunday morning preaching was conducted on the Brethren pattern: all the men were strongly encouraged to be prepared to "give a word", of whom three would be spontaneously led by God to preach. The last of the three was considered to have the weightiest influence, and for a long time George always took that place.
In addition, the main Sunday afternoon preaching and the weekly Bible study were always done by George. George continued to give 3 or 4 weekend seminars a year until 2003.
The students in the group were expected to actively witness for Christ, beginning at Fullerton Community College and Cal State Fullerton, and spreading to many other colleges and universities. They began campus Bible studies, called "Studies in the Old and New Testament," where George was the weekly lecturer. Various other gospel outreaches were developed, including "Gospel marches", open-air preaching and tent campaigns.
The late 1960’s and 1970’s were the era of the Jesus Movement. Hal Lindsay's book, The Late Great Planet Earth, sparked much religious interest. The Calvary Chapel movement began, with huge numbers of people being baptized in the ocean. So the zeal and intensity of the Assembly did not seem unusual to those drawn into it.
For those who initially came to Christ in that movement, it was all they knew. People who were attracted from mainline churches found an appealing vitality and sense of belonging.
In 1971, six months after the Fullerton Assembly began meeting as a local church, the Geftakys's and Marguerite Harrison went on another trip, this time for six-months, visiting Sister Harrison's contacts in the U.S., and and this time in Europe, as well. George instituted a yearly practice of visiting these groups and contacts. Within two years George quit his insurance job, assessing that that the ministry had grown to the point where he could be financially supported full time. Betty continued to teach school for several years.
People from across the U. S. and Europe began to visit Fullerton for George’s seminars. George was invited to hold seminars in some of these places. In time the Fullerton Assembly grew to over 300, with another 200 visiting for seminars.
Smaller Assemblies were begun in some of these places. George designated two men as "Leading Brothers" in each of these Assemblies, whom he instructed in running the groups. In each Assembly the Leading Brothers met every Sunday night to discuss decisions and directives from George. While George taught that each local Assembly was autonomous, in reality all the Assemblies were directly and regularly accountable to George.
Following the Brethren tradition, formal seminary training was considered irrelevant for the roles of leadership and preaching. Men were trained "in the schoolroom of the believer." Theoretically, they repudiated the concept of a paid clergy, teaching that men should hold down full-time jobs, in addition to their church responsibilities. In practice, however, George, as well as both his sons and several other men, were "supported full-time in the Work".
"The Work" was a hand-picked group of people from many of the Assemblies, whom George selected to especially support his ministry. Most of them were chosen either for their leadership qualities, or for their outstanding loyalty, or for certain useful talents.
All Leading Brothers and their wives were workers. The workers met twice a month on Saturdays from 10:00 to 3:00, in the various locales. The headquarters of the "The Work" was in Fullerton, California, where George and Betty had their home.
Once a month the workers in Fullerton were joined by the workers from outlying Assemblies, coming from as far as San Luis Obispo. A joint workers meeting in Fullerton had about 50 people in attendance. Once a month there was also a joint workers meeting in Chicago, with workers coming from Nebraska and Missouri, as well as Illinois.
Once a year there was a workers seminar, held in Colorado, which was attended by all the workers worldwide with as much as 120 to 140 people in attendance.
All of these workers and Leading Brothers received their training only from George and Betty. They were all at least twenty years younger than the Geftakys', and most of them came into the Assemblies when they were college age, having had very little or no previous Christian experience. There was no one in the Assemblies who was George and Betty’s peer in any way.
Consequently, although plans and problems were discussed by Leading Brothers and workers, decisions were deferred to George and Betty’s approval, and much time was devoted to instruction from George in the meetings of the Leading Brothers and workers.
The tradition of Plymouth Brethren in rejecting the formal churches was strongly continued in George’s teaching, so that there was no communication at all with mainline Christianity. "The Assemblies" became a completely closed system.
Along with this isolationism developed a very tight enmeshment of "the saints" (as Assembly people referred to themselves) with each other. George and Betty assumed the roles of "Mama and Papa", and taught the workers to look upon themselves in those roles as well.
From that vantage point, there developed extensive control on people’s lives, with no one in a position of authority to challenge the doctrine, the directives or the procedures that came down from George and Betty Geftakys.
One example of this is the area of finances. All donations were accepted only in cash; all the donations exceeding local expenses in each Assembly were sent directly to George and Betty by money order. There was no accounting to anyone, and since the money was given in cash, and received by George as personal gifts, it was not reported to the IRS.
Communal living was strongly encouraged, in the form of "Brothers Houses". These were homes with a married couple in charge, who usually were workers. Several single men lived with them in order to be trained. The couple minutely oversaw their schedules, finances, relationships, Assembly involvement, attitudes, etc.
There was no dating in the Assemblies; two people might "spend time" together under the direction of a Leading Brother. There were mothers meetings in which young mothers were instructed in the discipline of their children, and were paired up with workers to be accountable.
The teaching that believers can become "overcomers" was a very strong motivation to the people to submit to the control. George added further incentive by teaching that those who failed to overcome would forfeit their inheritance in Christ for eternity. Leaving the church that followed the New Testament pattern was one sure way to eternal forfeiture. Betty taught principles from Dr. William Glasser's book, Reality Therapy, as a tool to extinguish undesirable behavior.
For more about the problems within the Assemblies and the ministry of George and Betty Geftakys, see the articles, Errors in Doctrine and Practice, Problems With Teaching and Practice, and Robert Lifton's Criteria Applied to the Assemblies. More articles on this subject can be found in the Index of Assembly Teaching and Practice Articles.
In November, 2002, Brent T. began this website to expose long-standing spousal abuse by the Geftakys' son, David, a Worker (leader in the overall ministry) and Leading Brother in several Assemblies over the years.
Evidence showed that George and Betty Geftakys had known about it since the beginning, and allowed David to remain in leadership. They covered up the abuse, and failed to protect their daughter-in-law and grandchildren.
Rachel Geftakys, daughter of David and Judy Geftakys and granddaughter of George and Betty Geftakys, wrote an extensive account of her family's abuse. When Brent T. published her story on this website, along with the restraining order against her father, David, it was the beginning of the collapse of the Geftakys ministry.
It came out that Leading Brothers in the Fullerton and San Luis Obispo Assemblies had tried several times to persuade George to remove David from leadership and to provide counseling for him. They had allowed George to prevent any effective intervention.
In 2000, Judy left David, fleeing in fear for her life. George allowed David to remain in good standing in the San Luis Obispo Assembly, against the protests of some of the local leaders.
During the following year, 2001, almost half the people left the San Luis Obispo Assembly over the cover up, David's special treatment, and the lack of protection for Judy and the children. When this website was launched to expose the truth, George Geftakys pleaded ignorance about David's behavior, refusing to repent of covering it up.
In early January, 2003, George and Betty left the Fullerton Assembly while the leaders were attempting to discipline him and bring him to accountability. During the following week George's immoral relations with at least three women in the Assembly over the years came to light. On January 19, 2003, the leaders in the Fullerton Assembly excommunicated him from the group.
Many people left the Assemblies immediately, including some Leading Brothers and Workers. Local Assemblies dwindled, and many disbanded entirely during that year. Assembly people were devastated by the betrayal.
There was great anger and indignation, not only against George Geftakys, but also against the leaders who had not stopped his wicked behavior over the years. As people began talking, especially on the Assembly bulletin board put up by Brent, things that had not previously been exposed began coming to light. Puzzle pieces began to fit together --
· the financial secrecy
· the Geftakys' mistreatment of people
· George's evident narcissism
· the cover-up of David Geftakys' domestic violence
The collusion of the leadership to enforce a code of silence became evident in a shocking way. Real life suddenly broke in on the isolated community of the Assembly.
Though many of the Assemblies have disbanded, there are still about a dozen groups that continue to meet. Most of the groups still meeting have rejected George Geftakys. One or two may still be under his influence.
Dr. Janja Lalich, an expert on aberrant groups who worked with Dr. Margaret Thaler Singer, wrote an insightful definition of groups like the Assembly. As repugnant as it is, there is much in this description that resonates with the Assembly experience.
* Ed. note: Dave Kirby has provided more accurate information about these communes in a piece he wrote about The House of Christian Love. Neither house was begun by Calvary Chapel; both had their origins as drug depots. The Bible studies that turned them around were led by guys who had been influenced through Calvary Chapel.