Recent media reports have prompted me to contact you in order to share my experience of emotional, psychological and spiritual abuse. These abuses I experienced whilst a member of the Jesus Fellowship at Bugbrooke Chapel. In particular this account relates to one incident which occurred during the Christmas period of 1978.
I started to attend the Jesus Fellowship in 1973. At that time, I was a young uniformed Salvationist. By 1976 I had left the Salvation Army and joined the fellowship at Bugbrooke. Later that year I also left my job as a trainee Cadet Nurse at Northampton General Hospital. I became increasingly involved in life at Bugbrooke. Indeed, for a time I would have been considered one the ‘chosen few’, a group of young males who would stay at The Manse each Friday and Saturday night, would have a porridge supper with Noel late after the meeting. Then in the mornings, full of anxiety, I would often take Noel a cup of tea whilst he was in bed.
Since a very early age, I knew I was gay, this was never an issue for me and although such an identity was in conflict with the fellowships teaching, I did not experience any personal or psychological conflict about my sexual identity and in fact ,I have always been open, accepting and happy with my sexual orientation.
In 1977, I met another gay member of the fellowship, we fell in love and commenced a relationship. We left the fellowship and lived together for a short period. The relationship however did not last long and during the Christmas period of 1978, feeling alone and vulnerable (one of the most awful things about leaving the fellowship was the immense loneliness and isolation in the real world) I decided to attend a worship meeting at Bugbrooke Chapel.
I remember sitting towards the back of the chapel on the left-hand side. Within the relatively short time that I had been away the number of those attending had clearly grown. The mood and atmosphere had also changed, it was aggressive, more ‘full on’ and rather than feeling the love and joy, that had once been characteristic of those gatherings, I was aware that I felt extremely uncomfortable. During the evening, Noel Stanton preached and made several negative comments about homosexuality. At some point he spoke ‘a word of prophecy’. i.e. as if his words were coming directly from God. What he said was something along the lines of ‘There is a brother here who says he is fine but he is not fine, he is possessed by demonic forces of homosexuality and has come amongst us to find and take away others’ it continued in the same vein and of course, it was not easy to imagine that that he was speaking about me. I had heard Noel speak like this on many occasions, so it did not shock me, it just made me feel uncomfortable.
As the meeting closed, and before I could leave my seat, I was surrounded by three ‘elders’, They would not let me move from the seat and one asked how I was, I said I was fine and that I was leaving. He and the other two started to mock me, they echoed my use of the word ‘fine’ repeated it to each other laughing and jeering. It was at this point I recognise that the situation became abusive and I felt powerless. The three ‘elders’ started to repeat ‘your fine, your fine and you have come as evil amongst us to do the work of Satan’. They continued in this vein and blamed me for taking away one of the ‘sheep’ i.e. my ex-partner. They said I needed to go with them to the upper room or leave and never return. This went on for quite a long time and eventually I pushed them out of the way and left.
I never returned to the chapel. Only with the passing of time, did I start to comprehend that one incident as an act of abuse. I have never been able to forget it. Although I never accepted what the elders or Noel said, their behaviour impacted on me and remained a source of fear and humiliation. I have never told anyone about this incident and that I recognise affirms it as an act of abuse. When I came to write this statement, my first thought was that somehow, it was I who had been at fault, that I would be blamed for ‘taking away’ another brother and that somehow, I would be in trouble myself for that.
I am shocked at my reaction and disturbed that the impact of that one event should, all these years later, cause such a reaction with in me.
However, although shocked, I am now a clinician with 30 years’ experience of working as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and as a forensic psychotherapist employed by the Ministry of Justice in HM Prison & Probation Service. I know both intellectually and emotionally, that the disturbance and the associated thinking I have just experienced in writing this account is indeed a response informed by trauma. Those that have caused trauma should be held to account. The actions and words of the ‘elders’ towards me and as we now know, to countless others, were informed by hatred and a most dangerous belief system. I do not doubt for one moment that those I have named believed sincerely in what they were saying and doing, but such belief does notmake their words and behaviour right or acceptable. They were wrong and need to take responsibility.