Chapbook Chapter Four
Sex Saved Me From a Christian Cult
This is a true story
Chapter Four: A lust for life
The internet hadn’t yet graced us with its omnipresence back when I was a member of Revival Centres International. In days of yore, once you moved house and changed your phone number, it was easy to lose touch with old acquaintances, so I’d had almost no contact with Church folk after I was expelled. Besides which I was shunned, so talking to me except with the strict permission of the elders would have been verboten.
Whether they expunged me from memory or not, I never quite forgot those people who’d made such an impact on a youthful self. In the eye of the mind, Tomas, Jutta, Christian and Krystal, Steve, Katya and the rest were still praying and fasting and singing, forever frozen in memory as I once knew them.
Oh, how wrong I was.
When Sharon first hustled me along to the meeting in Cumbernauld, she and I were living together in a bedsit in Queen’s Square, Glasgow. She’d persuaded me with fake vulnerability to share her rent, and somehow I found myself entombed with her in one large room, which we partitioned into two areas with carefully arranged furniture. It had a shared upstairs bathroom, a built-in kitchen, and little else to recommend it. The other tenants of the building ranged from peculiar to bizarre, though perhaps they thought the same of us. Unsurprisingly, given we both had poorly paid jobs and did a lot of pub crawling, we were constantly strapped for cash. Looking back, I’m sure Sharon knew that if we let it be known we were struggling to pay the rent, someone in The Church would offer us a bed. And so it came to pass.
Tomas and Jutta Wassman lived with their daughter Emily on a steep hill in Kirkintilloch. A chilly two storey, three bedroomed home with a view from the rear windows of the Campsie Glens. And for a few months after The Church swooped in to save us, Sharon and I shared a room under their roof. The house never seemed to properly thaw, it felt exposed and brittle in the frigid currents endlessly driving over the distant mountains. Jutta it was who taught me to leave the oven open after baking, to allow the heat to disperse through the kitchen, in a vain attempt to lift the chill from the air.
Tomas and Jutta were kind enough in their brusque, teutonic fashion, but they’d been warped by constant exposure to The Church. As were we all. I’d been allowed to roam free of much parental restraint for several years so I rather enjoyed them setting me boundaries, at least at first. There was not much happiness in that house. They were often somewhat dour and occasionally argued in German. At least, I think they were arguing, but everything in the German tongue sounded faintly argumentative to my ears, even ich liebe dich. And they were very strict with little Emily.
In hindsight, Sharon undoubtedly had machinations underway to find a better offer all along. I doubt she ever planned to stay more than a month or two. A con woman knows a con when she sees it, after all.
Give us this day
Tithing is scriptural, so they assured me. When I left I’d been a member for about 8 months and they hadn’t gotten around to charging me tithe yet, but it was under discussion and had been made clear that it would be coming soon. Render unto Caesar and all that. It had taken me a few weeks to find a paying job after the move to Kirky to live with Tomas and Jutta, which delayed matters. I believe they usually started fleecing the sheep around the 6-month mark. So The Church never made money from me, though I’m aware now that Pastor Scott’s finances were less than saintly. I remember being told the books were open to all members who asked, and in my naivety believing that meant something. Tithe, if memory serves, was ten percent of a member’s earnings, although I was told, pointedly, that those who could contributed more.
But Tomas and Jutta took only a fair amount of keep from me, what I gave them weekly fairly covered my phone, electricity and food.
The Church took their pound of flesh in other ways. Not being particularly bashful I didn’t mind leafletting up and down Buchanan Street, as we often did after work and on the weekends. And I loved the singing, always my favourite part of worship, and a way for The Church to advertise themselves. Sometimes we set ourselves up on busy Glasgow thoroughfares like Sauchiehall Street, out in the good fresh air with the menfolk playing guitars, some of the girls with tambourines, and all of us belting out choruses, as hymns were called.
For me, those were genuinely joyful times. They were grooming me to go and sing in Germany at a church assembly. From time to time, passers-by would stop and compliment us on being so melodic. Fresh-faced youths warbling our enthusiastic love for God and life, we made great ambassadors for The Church.
Christian played the guitar (a Christian called Christian, like many of our members he was German), sometimes Tomas too, and I often took lead on the melodies with another girl whose name now escapes me.
We were also regularly ordered to attend working bees. I recall being one of a large group instructed to clean “the boys” flat in Glasgow one sunny Saturday. We all pitched in washing windows, scrubbing carpets, and didn’t stop till the flat was sparkling. I participated in a few working bees, and every time I did, I thought of the barn raising in Witness, including the expectation of the women having to wait on the men afterwards.
They kept you busy in the Lord, so you wouldn’t get busy in the world doing anything that might lead to escape.
But while we were engaged in rosy-cheeked, wholesome endeavours on the surface, there was an underbelly of strange behaviours playing out.
Christian, as I mentioned, was another German man. Somewhat senior, though whether he was an elder or not was never really specified to me. I rather liked Christian, he was about ten years older than me, charming, an understated flirt, and quite cute. And for the first 3 or 4 weeks I had no idea at all he was married.
He didn’t mention his wife, not even vaguely, and she wasn’t at any of our meetings. Nobody mentioned her, in fact. It was as though she never existed. One day, about four weeks after I met Christian, and just as I was looking forward to his flirtatious openings at our meetings, he turned up with a woman whom he introduced to me as his wife. I was startled, but of course accepted it. I should have asked more questions, but that was decidedly not encouraged. She was nice, determinedly friendly. Nobody mentioned anything about her absence. It was decidedly odd. I heard a rumour much later that she was being punished for some infraction, and on a temporary ban from meeting with or talking to anyone. This would have felt terribly cruel, as once you were in The Church they were your everything, your working week and your Sunday rest. She must have been dreadfully lonely.
Moreover, subtly and covertly as well as more openly they worked on me with a combination of fear, praise and shaming. I started to feel always slightly off-kilter, not quite good enough. The more that continued, the more I became desperate to somehow please them. Controlling abusers have to strip away their target’s self-worth, if they’re to truly trap them.
We never slept late in The Church. Idle hands and all that. You’d arise around 6am, every day including Sundays, which doesn’t phase me now, after raising children, but at that time felt like torture to my natural night-owl 20 something self. I felt like I was forever being berated for not being a little ball of sunshine in the morning, but they never did manage to force me to put a smile on my dial first thing. For the first half-hour of every morning, I’d stagger listlessly and silently around like a half-shut knife. Almost like I just couldn’t help it and harassing me was pointless and cruel.
Every part of your personality and life was to be moulded to suit their version of perfection. So despite being quiet and taking a while to wake up being a completely harmless character trait, it became a constant bone of contention, making me feel I was committing some sort of sin for simply not being a morning person.
I was also castigated regularly for laughing. I’ve always been one to laugh loudly and merrily when amused, a constant source of embarrassment to my children when they were teenagers, and a happy legacy from my dad. I don’t laugh nearly as often as I did when I was young, life has a way of knocking that out of you. But back then I was easily moved to merriment.
When I laugh I forget where I am, and in the moment I am completely cheerful, heedless of who might be watching or listening. That did not please The Church who would frowningly try to quiet me when I was anything but meek and mild. I was instructed that there were no scriptures saying Jesus Laughed, but there was one that said Jesus Wept. That giving myself to Christ was a solemn business and that I was to “Put away childish things”. When leafletting along Buchanan Street my attempts at humour were met with stern admonishment. Apparently telling people we were on A Mission From God wasn’t fitting.
I was scolded too for many small, insignificant issues. Once, when baking a cake with Jutta, she chided me for using too much chocolate icing, giving dire warnings of how when I was myself married I’d have to be much more frugal. My exasperated response was that if I couldn’t afford chocolate icing when I was married, I just wouldn’t bake a cake. It was one of the few times I silenced her, briefly. She was, I think, genuinely trying to help me. After all, she knew how extreme the expectations were for women in The Church.
I was also admonished if I so much as talked to a boy, and expected only to speak to males if there was an elder present, or if there was a particular reason. In a group was generally ok, but certainly never without a valid purpose. One one occasion during a trip to Pastor Scott’s home, a new recruit had seated himself behind me and rubbed my shoulders. I was lectured on the inappropriateness of this, despite me not wanting him to touch me at all, and having asked him to stop. I mean, obviously, just by existing and sitting in front of him, it had to be my fault. The implication was that I had led him on by speaking to him when he spoke to me. So no more of that.
Then came the night we went out with a new recruit and a few others to a movie. Tomas joined us as our chaperone. He became quieter and quieter as the night progressed and upon returning home blasted Sharon and me over our improper demeanour, which had consisted of us laughing a lot, making some jokes and not being serious and sedate. We’d apparently not been nearly Godly enough. It had been, without a doubt, the most placid and non-rebellious night out I’d ever attended, just a group of happy young people in high spirits watching some harmless movie.
Sharon’s reaction was to tell Tomas to sod off and march to our room, and good for Shazza in retrospect. But I hesitated, sitting by the fire. They’d crawled underneath my skin to the extent that I thought perhaps I was missing something. So I talked to Tomas and tried to understand his anger. Sharon then announced her imminent departure, which she’d been plotting for a couple of weeks unbeknown to me. This was her cue to call her boyfriend, whom nobody knew existed up until now, and demand sanctuary.
So off she flounced, leaving me in their clutches. Tomas tried to bar her way as she hastened to the car, offering imprecations of doom and disaster. Her “boyfriend” who looked to be many years her senior and not even close to sober behind the wheel, seemed to find it all hilarious. Sharon left with a cheery wave and a promise to call me. At the Wassman’s, a night of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued.
Sharon’s defection meant all eyes were now definitively on me. I was tainted by virtue of her introducing me to the church. My “walk” was no longer considered sanctified.
As if I wasn’t already under scrutiny, now I was kept even busier and well away from any possible male attention. Tommy, right from the beginning, had been determinedly non-sexual towards me, which was fine by me as he was a married man and off-limits. If we were left alone at home for some reason he’d leave the room and occupy himself with something else. If he met me coming out of the bedroom in my floor-length nightie, en route to the toilet, he’d turn around completely so as not to offend my modesty. I found it amusing, if strange.
But I did chafe at being boyfriendless for so long. Prior to The Church I’d been like many young women, dating, partying and basically boy-mad. And being refused even the tiniest hint of male company was beginning to wear on me.
So when Martin appeared on the scene, I found his long eyelashes and wide shoulders absolutely fascinating. And if Tomas and Jutta had known what was going on in my head, they’d never have invited him in.
Copyright Alison Tennent 2021. Scottish by birth, upbringing and bloodline, Australian by citizenship ceremony since 2002. If you’re reading this anywhere except Medium, this work may have been plagiarized.