Gentle Reader: I have mentioned a couple of times that I left the Catholic Church for a time. During that time, I belonged to, what could be called, an evangelical church. This particular church has been called a cult by many. From my experience, I agree, that it is a cult.
The church was called the Twin Cities Church of Christ (TCCC). It has no affiliation with the United Church of Christ. In fact, most churches banned TCCC from their premises and went out of their way to state their lack of affiliation with TCCC. Twin Cities Church of Christ was part of the International Church of Christ (ICC) founded in Boston in the mid-1980's by Kip McKean. ICC was banned on many college campuses around the nation.
I'm using the past-tense because the ICC underwent a major shake-up a few years ago when Kip McKean left. The ICC splintered into three seperate groups. I'm not sure what their current status is or the current status of the TCCC.
But, I want to tell you about them so you can learn from my experience because there are probably similar groups around. Also, I have read that my experience with TCCC is very close to the experiences of other former members.
I was a member of the TCCC for about one year in the early 1990's. I was about 22 years old.
At this time, I was technically Catholic but I was hardly attending church. I was in college. I went to the College of St. Catherine, which is a college for women that is technically Catholic, but, well, I'll save them for later. I was still living at home with my parents because it was too expensive for me to afford college and an apartment. I was also working full-time.
I got into TCCC because a cute guy that I worked with, D, invited me to one of their services.
TCCC Sunday services are held in "house churches". There is no building dedicated to them. TCCC did not buy or build their own churches. You met in the homes of other TCCC members. Once/week all the area house churches may meet together in a rented hall or building. Usually on a Wednesday evening. Wednesday evenings were members-only services. Meaning you had to be a baptized member of the TCCC to go on Wednesday night. Sundays were house church meetings open to members and non-members.
So, I met D at a high-rise apartment building in downtown Minneapolis. The first service I went to was in an apartment of one of the higher-ranking member couples. This married couple was not much older then I was. They had no children. The wife's parents were, for want of a better term: elders in the area church. The house church wife did not work. Her husband was in engineering school at the U of MN. They had no children. I remembered wandering how this young, married, couple just
starting out could afford an apartment in this particularly expensive building when neither of them worked and much of their free time was devoted to church activities. But, I pushed those thoughts out of my mind. The husband did the "preaching". There was no ordination per se. Honestly, I have no idea what, if any, kind of training the preachers received or why they were chosen. There was no school for them. Only men may preach in TCCC.
There were about 25 people at the service. Almost all of them were people close to my own age. Equal numbers of men and women. I was surrounded from the "get-go". Everyone knew I was new. D introduced me around. I was, I'm now ashamed to say, flattered by the attention. The service was all preaching straight out of the Bible. It seemed random to me. The preacher seemed to pick a passage that he liked that week and read it and talked about it. I don't remember there being anything resembling a communion. Though a meal was shared afterwards. The singing was a capella. Lots of clapping and jumping around. Everyone carried a Bible and referred to it during the service.
They had me at hello. Why? I craved the attention. I was never "cool". I'm still not, but my public school humiliations were still very close to the surface at the age of 22. Here I was, Ms. Burn-out, Former Fat Chick, and a cute guy was
noticing me. I did not even go to my high school prom for crying out loud! Good looking, smart people, my own age wanted to talk to me!
I ended up giving them my phone number. Well, I gave D my number and he passed it on. That afternoon a woman, K, phoned me. She wanted to meet with me that week. We met for the first time at a buffet restaurant in Richfield. Eventually, we ended up meeting several times a week and on Sundays for house church. Then, we hung-out after house church on Sunday for Scripture study. She gave me a Bible. I was too ignorant at the time to realize it was a Protestant Bible. I did not know the difference. I noticed later a few books were missing but I did not ask K about it.
TCCC literally interpreted the Bible. The Bible says what it says. That's what I was told. Now, I'm smart enough to know that I'm not sure who's interpretation of Scripture TCCC used (Kip McKean?). But, it was made clear to me, by the "appropriate" biblical references, that anyone not TCCC was going to hell (including my own family), marriage and dating a non-TCCC member was forbidden, evangelization must be done at all times, you must give 10% of your income to TCCC, and don't ask any questions or your faith will be perceived as weak and they will cast you out.
Very quickly, I was baptized into the TCCC. My Catholic Baptism did not count. I was baptized in a swimming pool in a downtown high-rise. Then, I got to be called "Sister" and I got to attend the Wednesday evening services.
I was very good at evangelization. It was quickly determined that I should go to the Southdale Mall every Sunday after services and invite people to services. I remember walking up to complete strangers and inviting them to come to services. I was successful on a few occasions. I was taught not to fear doing this because fear while doing the Lord's work is bad. I never went alone anyway. Someone always went with but they sat in the Food Court and had a drink while I went out and "invited". I had to tell them how many people I invited, how many accepted etc. before we left.
In the meantime, my Mom was becoming alarmed at the amount of time I was spending with TCCC. I was with them almost every day. My studies were suffering. But, I was told that college is not as important as the Lord. I was dating, a lot. But, always TCCC men.
However, questionable things were happening and I was starting to notice them.
* I "dared" to turn down the opportunity to meet with some of the "sisters" a few times because I had homework to do. I got a phone call of rebuke from the house church wife.
* My Mom, in an effort to protect me, started telling "them" I was not available and then K told me I should seriously think about moving in with some of the "sisters". Many of the "sisters" lived together in multiple room apartments. The "brothers" had apartments like that too. I had no desire to live with anyone other then my family so I delayed by saying I'd think about it.
* K shared her story with me and it became clear to me that she was mentally and emotionally unbalanced. K really needed counseling. She came from an abusive home. She fled home at a young age and she used to live with a man 20 years her senior. She felt like the church saved her. I sometimes think and pray about K and I hope she's alright. It occurred to me that a lot of the "sisters" had similar stories.
* D revealed himself to be paranoid in a very scary way. I was talking to him with a friend of mine (she was not a church member. In fact it's my Mormon friend that I've blogged about before) and out of nowhere he accused us of talking about him and laughing at him. Neither of us were doing either. He would not leave it alone and went on for about 5 minutes. His face got very evil looking. Then he stormed away. My friend and I looked at each other like what was that? If the Devil has a human face, that has to be it. I avoided him after that. Not easy to do, since he was around me nearly every day at this point.
* They started demanding I increase my tithe amount. I could not afford it because I was paying for college. I was told college did not matter. K let slip in a way she thought was cute: "That, I'd probably be married soon anyway" I was not ready at that point in my life to be married to anyone. Then she indicated she meant D! By now, D scared the **** out of me. I told her no way and what had happened. She dismissed my concern.
* I was being asked what "brothers" I liked. Mysteriously, the brother in question would call me for a date. Hmmmm, how did he know? I quit confiding in K or any of the leaders because it was clear I could not trust them. Then, I was rebuked for not being open. I was also discouraged from saying no to any dates with any brothers; even if I was not interested in them.
I'm cutting this short because I don't want this to be the world's longest blog post!
Eventually, a friend (yes, the same Mormon buddy) helped me see the truth through her eyes (the eyes of an impartial outsider can sometimes be a great thing). I told K I did not want anything to do with them anymore. She started crying. But, I was firm. My Mom was nearby when I was on the phone. She could not help but overhear me. I did not tell her I was planning to leave them. She was so relieved she was almost crying. That was not quite the end. For about 2 weeks they were showing up at my house and calling me at work. Eventually, they gave up. I am, now, anathema to them. I saw a couple of the members a few times after I left at Southdale Mall!They completely ignored me-as they are taught to do.
Despite my membership in TCCC I was still going to Mass once and awhile. I was so ignorant of Catholic teachings that I did not know there was anything wrong with my dual lifestyle. Yes, I was still receiving Communion. I only recently Confessed this whole period in my life. It's strange but I had almost completely blanked it out until I started blogging.
Well, so, I went back the Catholic Church right? Sort of. I ended up at St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis. I think the same things that attracted me to TCCC attracted me to SJA. The hospitality, the welcoming attitude, the "cool" music, the sense that you are living out the Faith in word and deed. I was so ignorant. I look back on this period of my life and I'm ashamed of my stupidity.
I also have a fair amount of anger to go along with my feeling of stupidity. If the folks entrusted with teaching me the Catholic Faith were doing their jobs, would I have spent 35 years of my life in darkness? I'm not sure, I'm leaving my parents off the hook either. My Mom and Dad never bothered to ask what I was learning in CCD or in Catholic college about the Faith.
Random question: At what point does institutional responsibility outweigh personal responsibility? or vice versa? I can accept, up to a point, that I had a personal responsibility as a Catholic to read about the Faith on my own. However, the institution had a responsibility to teach me correctly. I spent 23 years of my life in school, I did not have a lot of time for extracurricular reading.
I was lucky. I was able to leave TCCC because I had a strong, stable and loving family to go back to. Most of the TCCC members did not. TCCC became the family they never had. Similarly, I was able to leave SJA because of the Catholic family that I did not know I had: all you online Catholic folk!