Since my last update on the church in Brentwood, things are moving on. I will assume the reader is familiar with the material in two previous reports mentioned on this blog. We left the saga at the point where Nigel Davies, the campaigner and blog master received the silent treatment at the hands of the Trustees of the church on the 6th December during a meeting when he presented about past abuses at the church. This looked like a action calculated to intimidate Nigel, by not allowing any of the Trustees to speak to him or ask questions.
The latest reports from the church show that the intervention of the Evangelical Alliance in the person of its director, Steve Clifford, has created a momentum of its own. After the Trustees’ meeting on the 6th December with Nigel, another meeting took place between two trustees and Steve Clifford four days later. Nigel had an email about this latter meeting and the first impression was that Steve was allowing the church to run its own investigation, free of any external supervision by the Evangelical Alliance. On Tuesday 16th, a fuller picture began to emerge. The proposal was that there should be a Commission set up to examine the wrongs of the past. This will still be internal but would have an independent chairman recommended by the EA.
The length of the statement on Tuesday and the mention of corrupt leadership makes it look like the Trustees are at last beginning to recognise the nature of the cultic culture that has been the mark of their church for decades. They appear to understand far more of the past problems by using expressions like ‘wrong culture’, ‘past wrongs’ and ‘errors of the past’. They have even spoken of ‘toxic behaviour polluting the church.’ The Bible is referred to and in particular the passage from Mark 9.35, ‘Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else’. The whole statement still implies that the ‘wrong culture’ is the fault of Michael Reid,(illustrated above) but there is a recognition that his influence is felt in the church today. One of the interesting passages concerns the recognition of the fact that it has taken six years to come to the point where they feel the need to ‘analyse our culture’ . They talk about shock, anger and hurt but they do not really offer any insight into the defensive nature of the church over all those six years and their reluctance to seek out the many hurt victims of the church. It is they on whose behalf Nigel has been so tirelessly campaigning.
Before setting out on Tuesday for an appointment, I rattled off a quick response to this lengthy piece on Nigel’s blog. I mentioned one issue that concerns all the survivors of Peniel and Trinity, the issue of finance. The abuse of cultic leaders, like Michael Reid abuse is played out in one or more of three ways. One is the enjoyment of power for itself, as a way of feeding the leader’s narcissism. The second is the exploitation of sexual favours from congregants. This needs no further comment and was in fact the actual cause of Reid’s downfall. The third is the use of the church’s funds for the benefit of the leaders. The history of this church has been marked by financial irregularities, not least the extensive selling of insurance policies to members. This was alongside an insistence that everyone should pay a tithe to the church. Over the years this has allowed a number of questionable and secretive financial transactions to be made, in one case drawing on £500,000 of church money to allow Peter Linnecar to avoid bankruptcy. Also the various properties appear to have been registered in the names of the leaders so that the church found itself, on at least one occasion, buying a property twice. It would seem that whatever the truth or otherwise of these rumours, the church needs to be investigated thoroughly in this whole area of finance. Recently former members were writing in to the blog with estimates of how much they had given to the church while they had been members. The sums involved came to a half million in one case. Clearly there have been large sums of money floating around and there needs to be a complete forensic look at the finances of the church if there is to be a real attempt at openness and transparency about the past.
Nigel’s blog comment which accompanied his reproducing the new Trustees statement on Tuesday, did touch on the financial question. He also raised the issue on everyone’s mind as to how Peter L can remain pastor of the church when such strong statements have been made about the dysfunctional past of the church and in which Peter played a full part. We await to see whether the indirect but strong criticism of his identification with the ‘wrong culture’ can be ignored. It is significant that a meeting could be held by two Trustees with Steve Clifford and make concrete proposals about a Commission without, apparently, consulting the other Trustees and the leadership. Such independent functioning would never have been allowed in Michael Reid’s time and one expected it would not be tolerated under the present regime – until the present crisis!
Stop Press. A further testimony from a Bible Student indicating how constant bullying over weight from the Peniel leadership led to an eating disorder. It is a powerful testimony, not only because it is well written but also because it names two individuals, Carolyn Linnecar and Meidre Cleminson who are both still very much around in the leadership. This naming of current officials means that it is hard to see how the Commission will be able to avoid recommending that there should be a complete ‘clear-out’ at the top, including Carolyn’s husband, Peter.