The Lifestyle of the Assembly Cult
This was Assembly life...
The Attraction of the Assembly
The Assembly attracted earnest Christians who wanted a serious walk with God. Prospective new members were recruited to the Assembly through an introductory study called the Four Anchors. The aim of this study was to show that, according to a peculiar interpretation Acts 2:42, 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.
How It Worked Out in Practice
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.)
See also these articles by Brent T. which he posted on Rick Ross's website in 2000 after he and Suzie left the Sas Luis Obispo Assembly:
• Brinda McCumber described life in the House of Promise in Tuscola
Standards and Accountability
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.
What Life Was Like For Singles
Singles were heavily exploited. Most singles lived in Training Houses, even into their thirties and forties. Eulaha's schedule was typical for a single woman. As mature adults they were strictly controlled and kept in a subservient role where they lived. Few singles purchased homes.
Singles were relied on heavily for most of the ministries. A typical weekly schedule for a single guy looked like this. Singles conducted Children's Hour and the youth ministries, under the supervision of Workers. They were camp counselors and Teen Team counselors. Single women were responsible for extra-curricular child care in the Assembly. They were constantly called on to babysit--for couples' meetings, for Workers meetings, for the week-long Workers Seminar, for Workers wanting time alone, etc. etc. Singles helped everyone move (and there was a lot of moving). They had no choice about 'volunteering' for these duties. They were not remunerated for any of this. In today's world this is called labor trafficking.
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.
Even relationships within the same sex were scrutinized for the possible development of a 'special friendship'. Betty got this idea from the Catholic concept that in convents and monasteries everyone should be friends. Betty's slant on this, though, was that 'special friendships' were suspected of being lesbian. Single women whose close friendships she suspected were broken up and separated.
Why Did People Stay?
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:
- There was an upside to communal living and ministries. After people had been in the Assembly awhile, they developed an extensive network of many friends in their local Assembly, and across the country and around the world. On the flip side, they were cut off from previous friends, and family.
- Assembly people wanted to be the best Christians they could be. They viewed the expectations and accountability as a challenge, the spiritual equivalent of training for Special Forces. They believed that leaving this environment that consistently challenged their willingness to go the distance, would been spiritually settling for less, choosing a Christianity that was not serious. Who doesn't want to be serious about their faith? They didn't want to go to another church and just be a "pew-warmer."
- Assembly people were, for the most part, earnest people who believed the best about the Assembly, and thought, "Every place has it's problems--other churches have even more problems because they're worldly."
- They were taught that if they left the Assembly, in eternity they would not be with Christ at the wedding feast of the Lamb, but would be outside in the darkness trying to look in.
- Talking about problems was not allowed. Prior to 2003, the average non-leader did not know the extent of the problems that were going on, because of the "code of silence" enforced by the authoritarian leadership.
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.