As I have in the earlier sections, let me say again that for those of you are are NOT interested in hearing more COBU horror stories (and from reading other e-mails, I'm realizing mine ain't that bad!), please feel free to delete this now. Let me also say that although I am doing my best to remember honestly and clearly what happened, how I felt, etc., others who were there may have a different 'slant' on the same occurrences. I am sharing this in the hope that it may be helpful/healing/enlightening to individuals in the group who may have had similar experiences - and thought they were the only one!
When I returned to York in the fall of ‘77 to start my junior year in high school, I resolved to not lose any of the enthusiasm and connection with Jesus I had felt in New York, and to work to help the other teenage brothers and sisters who had also been left behind by the closing of the fellowships. We started the mini-fellowships, in the schools and set up to write to each other, all two or three of us, in each school; Tina had a lamb or two with her in New Cumberland; there were a couple in Lancaster, I think, and Pam and Chris in Reading. In the meantime, Tina and I began trekking to the nearest fellowship, now Philadelphia (we probably could have gone to Washington/Baltimore, but we didn’t think of it) almost every weekend. John Dougherty was leader there then, and a couple of sisters who I became very close to at the time. I can’t believe their names escape me now, but... that seems to be the way of it.
Anyway, during the winter of ‘77-’78, I received invitations from my
sisters (the biological ones) to come and visit during the summer of ‘78,
in Wisconsin and California, respectively. I really wanted to go,
both to see them, and to see my nephews and
nieces, who were like my younger siblings. I’d arranged my high school curriculum to obtain an early graduation, and planned to move into the fellowship directly afterwards, in January ‘79. So I had half a year of school, summer vacation, then only another half year of school. I knew once I was living in the COBU the chances of going out for a visit were slim to none, and it didn’t look we’d be starting up any new fellowships out West anytime soon. So if I didn’t take this opportunity to see my sisters, who knew when I would see them again?
I felt really good, and strong in my faith in Jesus. I knew my sisters and their husbands both thought the COBU was a cult, but I felt I could show them it wasn’t, maybe even lead them to Jesus. I prayed about it, talked to the sisters in Philly about it, prayed about it some more, talked to Gayle on the phone about it, and took several months to decide, but in the end, the older sisters thought it was a good thing, basically gave me permission (I was actually kind of surprised), and I began making tentative plans to go.
In June, Tami came home from New York? where she had been living in
the fellowship, and again, after much prayer, consultation with the older
sisters, etc., they gave permission for her to go with me to Wisconsin.
She and I had remained fairly close, and since I was now ‘doing good with
Jesus’ and she was struggling, they felt that perhaps this would help her.
We drove to Wisconsin in her VW Bug, and it was wonderful. I had
a good visit with my sister and her family, saw my grandmother, Tami and
I grew closer to each other and to Jesus. We drove back to meet up
with the Cincinnati? fellowship to
caravan back East for the July Big Meeting (I think this one was on the shores of a lake, in Pennsylvania?), where once again, I sought out Gayle and the older sisters to discuss continuing my trip to California. Again, they thought it would be just fine, which was a relief, because the undermining I was getting at the Big Meeting was beginning to affect me.
I’d been looking forward to the Big Meeting so much, bubbling over with
enthusiasm about how well my trip to Wisconsin had gone. I was filled
with hope and excitement about California, but when I shared this with
other brothers and sisters there, and
asked them to pray for me, I was surprised at the response (I shouldn’t have been!) I got. Instead of support and encouragement (though I did get some) I got a lot of flak about how I shouldn’t be going, shouldn’t be doing this, etc., etc. I was surprised, somewhat - since the nightmare of the closing of the York fellowship, all I could remember getting from brothers and sisters was love, support, and encouragement. Now, I think maybe there was some genuine concern, but more than that, jealousy - nobody ELSE got to go see their families, why should I get to go?
At any rate, I HAD gotten a green light from Gayle and the older sisters, I hadn’t done anything with getting it okayed every step of the way, as I smugly informed everyone who advised me I really shouldn’t make the trip without seeking the approval of the older sisters. My conscience was clear, but... all the little inferences and ‘concern’ planted a nagging seed of doubt in my mind - what if they WERE right? No, the older sisters and Gayle had given me their blessing, THEY felt I was strong and secure enough, and they knew my spiritual state a lot better than somebody I spoke to for ten minutes at a Big Meeting. Really.
The plan was my dad was going to send me train tickets - Cleveland to
Philadelphia; I was going to spend a few weeks in California, then finish up my summer with a month in the Philly fellowship. It turned out all I had in Cleveland was Gayle’s approval - the brothers had contrived to lose my only suitcase, so until my dad
wired me the train tickets and money, I had nothing, not even a change of underwear. The sisters there were horrible, for the most part - no one offered to lend me any clothes (though one did go with me to the department store), they resented my ‘visitor’ status, that I was going to go see my family. They made constant comments about forsaking all others, and how dangerous the world was outside the fellowship and was I really thinking about pleasing Jesus; the little digs and undermining just went on and on; thankfully I was only there a few days. Finally I said, ‘Look, I’ve been living outside the fellowship for
two years - two weeks in California is not going to destroy my faith in Jesus. I have the permission of my fellowship leader, of the older sisters in my fellowship, and Gayle’s personal approval - it would be nice if you would support me in this, because I
AM scared and a little nervous about this trip and witnessing to my older sister, this is really important to me, but I don’t need your permission.’
Their response to that was that if she knew the way I felt now, Gayle
would undoubtedly tell me not to go. So I tried to tune them out,
but their attitude hurt and made me angry, especially coming on top of
the same thing at the Big Meeting. Yes from the older sisters - No
from the others - Yes from Gayle, No from Cleveland. I was willing
to do whatever the fellowship wanted me to - if they would kindly make
up their minds as to what that was?!! I went to California a lot
less confident, and while I still prayed and read the Bible and such, I
did not witness to my sister and her family the way I had intended, because
wasn’t sure I WANTED them to join my church. My sister, my brother-in-law, and their friends, made me feel loved and welcomed, and let me know I would always have a home with them, whenever I wanted one. My nephews - then aged seven and nine - were adorable, and California itself was (and is) very welcoming, warm, friendly, and open.
But coming back to Philadelphia felt so good - John Dougherty met me
at the train station, and walking into Sansom Street really felt like coming
home. The sisters welcomed me and everything was great; I could blow
off the bad feelings I’d gotten in
Ohio and at the Big Meeting, though I still felt guilty about not witnessing in California the way I’d planned. And the thought of returning to York - of spending my last year in high school, with no lambs now in the school, the sisters who had been my connections - Tami and Tina - both living in fellowships far away, hung over me like a dark cloud. I was dreading it, being so alone.
Then the older sisters in Philly were pulled out to go to New York for
training, and they sent down a new batch of ‘older sisters’. Things
were not good among the new sisters - not between me and them, not
between them and the brothers, not among themselves. There was a
whole lot of backbiting and yap about ‘hoping in relationships’; undermining,
and basically no trust among us at all. It was impossible to be open
about anything, because if you were, you were attacked - but if you weren’t,
you were attacked for NOT being open. The brothers were by turns
either oblivious, or aware but helpless to do
anything about the problems among the sisters.
Then news came from New York about Stewart’s new musings about marriage.
About how in the olden days, girls were given in marriage by their
fathers, carefully placed with a husband prepared, if her father was loving,
to take care of her financially,
emotionally and spiritually. But that since most fathers these days were not loving and didn’t take care of their daughters in this way, the COBU needed to. So if a brother felt ready to marry, and the older brothers (Stewart) felt he was ready, he would be allowed to choose a bride from among the single sisters - of course they had to approve her readiness to marry, too. But basically, the woman was to have no choice - if the brother wanted to marry her, and the older brothers approved - well, of course she would marry him if she wanted to please Jesus, right?
I don’t know if this idea was ever implemented, if any sister was ever
forced or coerced to marry a brother she really didn’t care for, and possibly
what I heard was incorrect, had gotten tangled and twisted along
the way (that did happen a time or two!) All I know is that what
I heard chilled me to the bone - what if Dave C. convinced the older brothers
he was now ready for a wife, and asked for me? Or Roger? Or
anybody - I did not want to be GIVEN to someone, like a mindless, soul-less
THING, incapable of making my own choices about my life. I began
having nightmares about forced into a marriage;
nightmares where I woke with a pounding heart, shaking and drenched in perspiration. (I still do, from time to time. So much for all the talk about how sisters lived only to trap men into marriage.) When I tried to talk to the older sisters in Philly about it, they told me, not that it wouldn’t happen, but that if I really trusted in Jesus He would prepare my heart for whoever was chosen to be my husband. This did NOT make me feel any better, and I stopped talking to them about it.
To be continued...