In the spring of ‘77, Stewart in his ultimate wisdom decided to close the York, Lancaster and Reading fellowships and move all the older brothers and sisters to New York, since they were all so fallen away, in desperate need of retraining, or some such. I didn't understand his reasoning then, and though I do understand it, now (nothing to do with them and Jesus, everything to do with him and power), I don't want to get into that whole thing here. The net effect was that those of us younger brothers and sisters not yet living in the fellowships were to be left on our own to get on as best we could. But first...
He sent down a couple of older brothers (and one sister? If there
was a sister, I don’t remember her) to York to facilitate the
closing down of the fellowship - I don’t know what all had to be done, maybe the rent was on a yearly basis or something, and
the place couldn’t just be shut down in a couple of days, but Tim and Linda McAndrews and most of the brothers and sisters
had to go to New York IMMEDIATELY. At this point, I was not quite sixteen, not ‘doing well’, both because I was very
unhappy about the situation (smile, your church is deserting you!), and, I perceive now, because I WAS not quite sixteen.
Being periodically moody and depressed is part of being a teenager, even a Christian teenager. I hadn’t given up or lost faith,
but I was going through a very hard time.
Out of the blue, I was verbally blasted by the older brother, Dave C.,
who had come to close down the fellowship. I was ‘a
slut, a whore, an evil woman, a seductress, I was trying to pervert his thoughts away from Jesus’, etc., etc., etc. I was shocked and horrified - I hadn’t realized I was doing any such thing. To me, all the brothers were BROTHERS - I was oblivious to
currents of anything but fellowship in Jesus between us. And Dave in particular - I had been barely aware of his existence
before all this exploded, frankly, I didn’t think he was, well, cute. I certainly didn’t want to be his girlfriend, wife, fiancee, or
‘with’ him in any way whatsoever; the idea was vaguely nauseating. I thought I must be so sick , that I was doing all these horrible things without even trying or being aware of it. I was heartbroken and cried and cried; I begged forgiveness from everyone, but it wasn’t enough, after what seemed like endless days of verbal chastisement for my ‘sins’, Dave decided I was still ‘persisting in my evil ways.’ Looking back, I STILL don’t know specifically what terrible thing or things I was supposed to have done. At age 15-16 I was friendly, bubbly, maybe even unconsciously flirty, yes - seductive and scheming, no. Perhaps, seeing I’d been something of a late bloomer, it was simply the sin of daring to grow breasts. It never occurred to me for an instant, then, to question Dave’s judgment or motives - he was an older brother, Stewart had sent him, he must be right. At any rate, he ordered me to leave the fellowship and not come back until I had truly repented.
Now while Dave was in charge of the mechanics of closing the fellowship down, Roger (at the advanced age of 17) was
officially the fellowship leader. After much conferencing among the brothers, it was decided that Roger would still have
contact with me and try to ‘lead me back to Jesus,’ apart from the fellowship, so that my 'attitude' wouldn't corrupt anyone there. He came to our apartment three, four nights a week, to pray and do Bible study with me, and at first, he was very kind and supportive. I still had marginal contact with Tami, who also still lived at home, but I was forbidden to go to the fellowship or to call anyone else until I was ‘right with Jesus again.’
I don’t know how it first happened, except that I am very, very sure
I did not initiate or ask for it. Roger began talking about his personal
prayers and how God had begun showing him things in his personal life,
and then he kissed me. I was so confused
and scared and I didn’t think I wanted this, but Roger was my fellowship leader, after all I was this horrible wicked woman and how did I ever think I was going to find my way back to Jesus if I wasn’t willing to listen to the person He had given charge
over me? So the prayers and Bible studies began ending with a lengthy make-out session every time - and that’s all, we never
became any more physically involved than some heavy-duty petting. I felt guilty about it - and then felt guilty because I felt
guilty. I should trust Roger. Sisters were supposed to listen to brothers, and if God didn’t want me to listen to Roger, and trust him, He wouldn’t have made him my fellowship leader, right? And I did find Roger physically attractive - he was on the football team, and when he pressed his well muscled body against mine, it felt good. More guilt.
In the meantime, as I found out later, Roger was going back to the fellowship
and giving them reports on how I was still not
repenting, couldn’t be trusted to come back, etc., etc. Everyone would shake their heads and pray that God would turn my
hard heart and lead me back to Him. Dave went back to New York, pleased at having done his duty.
Since Dave had gone, I was now allowed to come back to the fellowship
in the evenings, though Roger always managed to be
the brother who walked me home at night. I still felt very bad about our secret relationship, and tried to talk to him about it, but he assured me that he had prayed about it and God had told him it was all right, that we were intended to be together, that we were young but that maybe in the summer we would marry and live in the New York Training Center, that we would have
children together. I wasn’t sure I wanted to marry at 16, or marry Roger at all, but maybe that was God’s plan for me, maybe
it was my own pride and stubbornness that I wanted to at least graduate from high school, that maybe I should stop trying to
run my own life and let Jesus be in control. I summoned up the courage to talk to Tami about it, one of the last weekends the
fellowship was still open.
She was horrified at my guilty confession - and saw it as much more
my fault as Roger’s, though she thought he had behaved
badly as well. NOW, I find her reaction funny - you’d have thought we were jaded adults engaging in lewd acts with farm
animals, instead of two teenagers kissing, but at the time... Tami had begun making plans to move into the fellowship -
Allentown? in the next few months as she was just graduating from high school. In the next few weeks, she talked to the older
sisters in Allentown about my ‘backslidden’ situation, and they decided to allow me to come there and visit. There may have
been brothers there - there may have even been brothers nominally in charge, but the person I think of as leading Allentown
was Ronnie Chimeras. She was kind and loving and although she allowed me to officially ‘rededicate myself to Jesus’, Ronnie
took the stance that what had happened to me in York, both with Dave and with Roger, was not my fault. It wasn’t!? I was so joyful, so relieved, so happy - and at the same time, what had happened to me, the names I had been called, the way I had been manipulated, felt like a raw wound inside. And lingering guilt, still - surely if I was truly close to Jesus this wouldn't have happened, or I would have at least recognized the wrong actions of the brothers. And what if Ronnie was mistaken, what if I WAS being used as a tool of Satan and he was sneakily hiding himself? The next few weekends I spent in Allentown were very healing, but I was far from being 'okay.'
But Allentown was closing, soon, too, so I decided, or it was decided for me, that it would be best if I spent the summer in New York at the Training Center. I spoke to Tim and Linda Mc Andrews, who promised I could stay in their apartment - I still felt too bruised and afraid, at this point, to stay with strangers, even if they were ‘brothers and sisters’. And the drawback of going to New York was that Dave C. was there - I was terrified of running into him, of a scene or scenes, of having everyone discover that Ronnie was wrong, that I really was this horrible corrupt woman after all. I was afraid of being around ANY brothers - either they couldn't be trusted, or I couldn't - either way, I didn't really want to find out.
But I went - Tim Aument, who I’d felt fairly close to from our time
in the Reading fellowship together the previous summer, was in the area
- on a visit or passing through, I’m not sure. He picked me up and
we drove to New York together, stopping to visit one of his lambs, Chet,
in the Lancaster area. I talked to Tim about what had happened, though
I didn’t go into much detail, but Tim didn’t treat me as this unclean thing
to draw away from, either, and we actually had a good time, without anything
dreadful happening. I began to feel more confident, to feel that
maybe there were a few brothers I could trust. Maybe Ronnie was right
after all, maybe I WASN’T a horrible evil person who didn’t deserve to
be with pure brothers and sisters.
To be continued...