Marcia M. in Ottawa, Canada
Others have written the stories of their Assembly experiences and I really do not have anything new to add to the big picture of the Geftakys Assembly debacle. I write it two reasons: 1) as a closure of sorts to that part of life, and 2) to offer some perspectives that might benefit someone today. Our past has definitely affected our present disposition. A dysfunctional church environment does affect our spiritual outlook on life.
I was born again in 1982 after having heard the gospel from a co-worker who was a Leading Brother in the local Geftakys Assembly in Ottawa, Canada. From things he had told me, I was sold on the Assembly and George's spiritual headship even before I was saved, so it naturally followed that, upon salvation, I joined the Assembly in Ottawa.
At the time, I was separated from my husband, so I focused my efforts on my spiritual growth and commitment to the group. I loved it, and was dedicated. In 1983 my husband and I were reconciled, and in 1984 my husband was saved as well.
It was 1985 when things in the Ottawa Assembly really took a turn. We started to discover that our commitment was not really what Geftakys commitment ought to be. A few people started to "lose sight of the heavenly vision" and leave. Soon after, we started a campus ministry and hooked a few individuals to fellowship that way. We began the annual trek down to the Mid-West seminar in Illinois, and some of the single saints even began traveling to Fullerton to catch an extra seminar.
In 1990 the Irons' left the Fullerton Assembly, and in following years, we lost three of the first four members who had started the Ottawa Assembly. The rest of us renewed our own personal commitments to the "testimony to Jesus," and life continued on. We were those who, like the Israelites in the wilderness, camped around "the testimony" and focused in on it. We were those who, like the Bereans, studied the Scriptures. We were those who, like the early Christians, took no other name than Christian.
One of the three who left even introduced us to Churches That Abuse by Enroth. We brushed it off as the whinings of a disgruntled former member. I, for one, did not even read the chapter dedicated to the Geftakys ministry.
We were already very connected to the Nebraska Assemblies. The annual President's Day weekend East Coast Conference connected us with the Assemblies in Annandale, Virginia, and Providence, Rhode Island. We were tight, we were connected, and we were committed.
My circle of friends consisted solely of Assembly folk. I did have tea with my neighbor a few times a year, but she was pretty well the only outside contact. And of course, there was the occasional outside contact with family members, and school teachers, too. I was focused: "Preserve the testimony," whatever it took to do so, and preserve "commitment to fellowship" at any cost.
I remember when I was told that Betty said leaving fellowship was akin to leaving the Lord, and I actually thought she had uttered some deep spiritual principle. Or when George would not acknowledge his first grandchild (born out of wedlock), and I attributed it to his commitment to his testimony as a leader.
Or when Tim spoke of his leanings towards believing in a sort of "superhuman" Christ, and we excused him for having been influenced by his dad. If only I had done the math....but for some reason my math skills were poor in those days. We gave our leaders the benefit of many doubts, and we ourselves continued to promote the system.
So in January 2003, when George was excommunicated, my faith and commitment were not shaken. We had already experienced so much together. We had already sacrificed so much to keep what we had. We re-affirmed our commitment to support our local leaders and continued on.
For the sake of the Testimony, we did not even read George's excommunication letter on Sunday, as most of the other Assemblies did. No, Ottawa read it to the "committed" group who come out to the following Tuesday evening prayer meeting.
It was at that prayer meeting that I learned of the Geftakys Assembly website and bulletin board. I was a staunch supporter of the Assembly, so I determined to see what all the fuss was about and started to read the bulletin board.
I was shocked, and posted a "rebuke" which invoked quite a reaction. Initially, I posted anonymously, in an effort to figure things out, thinking that BB posters might change their minds about continuing Assemblies, but also with the understanding that I might change mine.
What finally clinched it for me was the realization that God was not even involved with the "Testimony to Jesus" ala Geftakys. Even as the Pharisees invoked rebuke from the Lord for their false religious system, the Assemblies connected with the Geftakys ministry had become cult-like.
In an Internet Monk list of cultic characteristics as described by various sources, the following statements appear in various descriptions of cults and cultic behavior:
- Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
- The leadership induces guilt feelings in members in order to control them.
- Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
- All The Answers - Provide simple answers to the confusion they themselves create. Support these answers with material produced or “approved” by the group
- Attack Independent Thought - Critical thinking is discouraged as prideful and sinful, blind acceptance encouraged.
- Motive Questioning - When sound evidence against the group is presented, members are taught to question the motivation of the presenter. The verifiable (sound documentation) is ignored because of doubts over the unverifiable (presenter’s motives).
- Information Control - Group controls what convert may read or hear. They discourage (forbid) contact with ex-members or anything critical of the group. May say it is the same as pornography, making it not only sinful and dangerous but shameful as well. Ex-members become feared and avoidance of them becomes a “survival issue.”
- Coercion - Disobedience, including even minor disagreement with group doctrine, may result in expulsion and shunning.
- Phobias - The idea is planted that anyone who leaves goes into a life of depravity and sin, loses their sanity, dies, or will have children die, etc. Constant rumors of bad things happening to people who leave. No one ever leaves for legitimate reasons.
- No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry. Whenever the group/leader is criticized or questioned it is characterized as “persecution”. Anything the group/leader does can be justified, no matter how harsh or harmful.
In my experience, the Ottawa Assembly group exhibited all of the above characteristics.
Anyway, at the point I realized that God was not involved with the Assembly, I emailed a request to each leader to meet with them individually with myself and my husband present. My request was not to be granted unless I met with them collectively. It was not my intent to leave, but to discuss my point of view, hoping that we could work something out together as a group.
I was told by one that I could leave if I wanted to, but the individual meeting was not going to happen. My conviction was real, so I was left with no other choice than to leave. Yes, I had had issues with Assembly folk, and they with me, but that was not a reason to leave. I had no other friends other than Assembly folk, but that was not a good enough reason to stay. It became a matter of conscience and I could not compromise.
My husband started to get all sorts of pressure from the leaders and most of the other members to get me to submit and support him and stand with him in his decision to remain in fellowship. When he read the BB, one brother was offended by my calling the Assembly a cult, and decided to exclude me.
Others did not want to be around if I was going to be at the Assembly campout. There were a few who were willing to "socialize" with me, but when I did I was accused by a leader of telling people to leave, which I had not done, although I should have. In a phone conversation, a sister chewed me out for some of my BB posts. At that point I determined that written communication with them would work better until matters were 'settled'.
The stress got so great that my husband wanted to leave right away. I strongly advised him to remain until he was sure why he was leaving. We, as a family, had a lot of animated heated discussions at home, but I had left the Assembly for good, friends or no friends. My husband did leave six months after I did.
In hindsight, the Assembly folk did me a favor because I was forced into fitting into a new place of fellowship. I remember feeling repulsed at the thought of having to go to a place of fellowship other than the Assembly, but in July, 2003, I forced myself to go church hunting.
Some common problems many formers have are that they are looking for a "New Testament simplicity" church, the prayer meeting in many churches is either non-existent or very sparsely attended, and the pastors do not have time for frequent and immediate "counseling," as in the Assembly.
In Acts, the Bible records that the New Testament church was a growing one, and did not necessarily have three or four meetings a week. When I chose a church, I determined not to critically evaluate it by Assembly standards. If I did not understand why things were being done differently than I was used to in the Assembly, I inquired of the pastor.
It was difficult to connect with people, in a church with a large congregation on Sunday morning, so I joined a small group and started attending an Alpha class and the mid-week Women's Bible Study. Some differences I got used to, among others, are:
- Musical accompaniment
- Women leading the worship singing
- One sermon preached by the pastor
- Prayer during the Sunday morning service
- Large number of regular attendees
- Female elders
- Communion on the first Sunday of the month
- Passing the collection plate during the service
- No head coverings
- Sunday school for the young kids during the service
- Small groups led by attendees
The preaching is to equip the attendees towards growth and maturity, but each one is individually responsible. The leaders do not "baby" the members via control tactics. However, if needed, there is always the option of counseling. The pastors are accountable to the congregation via the elders. Problems are addressed by the elders.
In time, all the Assembly longings have faded, and we are very happy in the church we have chosen. We still have some residue, but the journey is not yet over.