Last year, Jane (not her real name), was approached by two members of a secretive church outside of the Penrhyn Road campus. They were equipped with an annotated Bible, a PowerPoint slide on their phone and the message that the Bible contains proof of the existence of a deity who they believe is an actual person alive today.
The church appears to differ from mainstream religions in a number of ways. In order to attend a service, she had to go through a series of initiation steps. Its website requires potential members to fill out a form with personal details.
New members are required to participate in at least one Bible study to have a basic understanding of the church’s beliefs before they attend a service. The church explains that this ensures the service can be ‘kept holy’ for the new member, the existing members, and God.
“The Bible study, despite just lasting two hours, left me exhausted,” said Jane.
The message of the session was that the churches and faith schools Jane had experienced whilst growing up were wrong about the Bible, confused about the true message which only this Church understood.
Interestingly however, the names of the Church’s leaders were never mentioned. This is part of what some former members describe as drip-feeding new members the Church’s beliefs.
Only after Jane had been initiated into the Church through the Bible study was the location of the Church given.
The day of the service came around. On entering the building, Jane was immediately greeted by a member with a huge grin and outstretched arms.
They went up the stairs to the service room. Members passing by greeted Jane with smiles, introducing themselves and saying ‘God bless you’.
“The atmosphere was overwhelmingly friendly. But ‘overwhelming’ in the sense that I was feeling slightly suffocated by the love I was receiving from people I had only just met.”
Jane and the member entered what the Church calls the ‘sanctuary’. At the front were words from the woman they believe is God.
The church separates its male and female members so they are not distracted by the opposite gender.
During the service, members sang original songs worshipping the church’s founder and female God. After songs and a couple of prayers, members watched a sermon projected onto a screen from the Church’s main leader and pastor.
During the sermon the pastor proposed that the Bible contains evidence of the existence of a female deity. He went on to claim that ‘other churches cannot help but commit the foolishness’ of ‘not possessing complete faith’ in her. Anyone who does not believe in her, ‘God will forfeit from them their privilege to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’
Jane said: “It was at this point that I realised what I had gotten myself into. This was not the usual Sunday service you’d find in the Church you pass on the high street. This was something highly unusual. I had never worshipped or sung praises to some random elderly woman before.”
When Jane asked a member after the service how she joined the church, the member explained she was preached to on the street but was initially very dubious about the church’s beliefs. However, it was once she ‘realised her life was in danger’, believing in the church seemed like her only option.
The church teaches that its founder, who members believe to be the second-coming of Jesus Christ, will come down from heaven any day now, and will bring hell upon those who do not believe in him. Only his believers will be saved. The church had previously predicted that the world would end.
After the service, Jane excused herself, saying she had plans with her family. Before exiting, the member who had led the Bible study asked Jane to message her if she ever wanted to come back. After their goodbyes, she and another member repeatedly chanted ‘we love you’ complete with rehearsed hand actions and wide grins as Jane walked out the door.
“I was shaking when I walked out and I almost ran down the street. Obviously, nothing particularly bad had happened to me. I had just been to a wacky church service. But my gut was telling me that something was wrong. So I listened to it.”
If you’re approached by members of a religion on the street, research who they are and see if there’s any controversy connected to them, that way you can make an informed decision.