Stewart Traill (Leader of the Forever Family 1971-1976 and Leader of the Church of Bible Understanding, 1976-Present).

Stewart Traill is a cult leader. To some he is a false christ, a false teacher, a false prophet, or just plain evil. To the current members of his group he is a man of God, an example to them of how they ought to live. This written history is presented to you in order for you to make up your own mind concerning this man. This is important only to those who are still affected by his leadership.

Stewart Tanner Traill was born in Quebec City,Quebec Canada, February 19, 1936. He is the son of Donald Stewart Traill and Lorraine Lillian Tanner. Donald Traill was born in Edinburgh Scotland, May 4, 1904. He earned his degree from the University at Edinburgh and his masters degree from the New College at Edinburgh and his masters of sacred theology from the Union Theological Seminary in 1929. He was ordained by the Canadian Presbyterian Church, Presbytery of Montreal March 2, 1930. Donald was the Assistant Minister for the Presbyterian Church of St. Andrews and St. Paul in Montreal from 1929-1930; Minister of the First Congregational Church in New Bedford, MA from 1931-32. He was a visiting Lecturer of Church History at Drew Theological Seminary in 1932; Minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Pembroke Ontario from 1933-34 and Minister of St. Andrews in Levis, Quebec. He married Lorraine Tanner in 1933. They had 4 children. After living in Manitoba, Donald and Lorraine then moved their family to Allentown, PA where Donald taught at Brandon College from 1943 to 1947 and at Muhlenberg College from 1948 to 1953. Lorraine died in 1960. Donald married Gloria Berry in 1968. He moved to Nova Scotia and taught at King's College. He then moved to Montreal and was a proofreader at the Montreal Gazette until he retired. He died March 3,1984. When his son Stewart started the Forever Family in 1971 Donald disapproved. As the group grew, Donald disowned his son, thoroughly rejecting what Stewart had created. His wishes before his death were that Stewart not attend his funeral nor attend any family gathering to commemorate him. Stewart told his followers at a meeting that his family had not informed him that his father had died until much later. He made an appearance against his father's wishes and after a few days was asked to leave by Donald's second wife, Gloria.

Family members are reluctant to talk about their brother. Stewart’s youngest brother did not tell his own family that Stewart even existed until they were adults. Stewart went to high school at Liberty High in Allentown, Pennsylvania and graduated in 1954. He was a member of the high school chess club, debate club, and showed acumen for science. He attended Lehigh University for a few semesters before ending his formal education. Former teachers described Traill as an independent thinker who often questioned their knowledge with the confidence that he knew as much or more than they. This unchecked, undisciplined, seemingly intelligent young man would never submit to an employer, a pastor, or any authority but assumed sole authority in every venture of his life. He met Shirley Sones (Rudy) and, in 1959, they were married. Stewart was 23 and Shirley was 17. They had 5 children.

Traill worked as a vacuum cleaner repairman and salesman in the early years of their marriage. At one time he and his family lived in an old school bus. They eventually moved to the Cumberland Garden Apartments in Allentown. Traill later described himself to his followers as being an avowed atheist in those days who went on a quest to discredit the bible. He had studied various world religions with the intent to bring up his own children with some form of belief system. His conversion to Christianity came about with his inability to disprove miracles, Traill said. Accounts vary on the time of Traill's conversion. According to newspaper accounts, the testimony of members of his organization, and Stewart's own recollections, he became a Christian in either 1964 (7 years before starting the Forever Family), 1966 (five years before the starting the FF), or in 1968 (3 years before he formed the group).

According to the Lamb Ledger(COBU's Newsletter), Stewart Traill kept a diary. One particular entry was dated 1970, and in it "he wrote that Jesus was going to use him to reach the whole United States." Traill thought and expressed a belief that he would lead an evangelistic group that would gain a national presence. The article goes on to show Traill's desire for global impact. At the first "Big Meeting" (a large all-church gathering) in September of 1973, Traill said of himself that he was "all alone" witnessing to people on the street and in diners before the formation of the Forever Family. He then indicated his delight at the number of people (200 to 250), at the group's first official church-wide gathering. It was apparent in retrospect that Traill saw the growth of the group as his own personal success and a divine endorsement of his leadership.

There is a definite beginning of the Forever Family. What is not clear to members of the group even now is exactly when and how Stewart Traill became a Christian. He hinted to members with various anecdotes about his conversion and in later years told members that he would give his full testimony to them when 3000 were in attendance at a Big Meeting. The group never achieved this goal and so he never spoke about his conversion to them.

Members as late as 1977 were under the false impression that Stewart Traill led a bunch of young people to Jesus in Allentown and started a movement of young energetic evangelical Christians which he called the Forever Family. Traill was also credited with coming up with the "figure system" the study of figurative language in scripture and the Color Code. Traill referenced William Jones' book on figurative language to early members. Traill witnessed one of Skip's friends color-coding his bible before he,Traill, "invented" the Color Code. And in fact there was a fellowship of Christians around George "Skip" O'Neill prior to their initial meeting at Robin Hood Dell. Skip was 20 years old, married,and spent time around various hang outs in Allentown. Many of his friends would come to Christ and get together with him at various churches, apartments, and houses for bible studies. Skip attended Calvary Temple, went to see Brother Sells,attended the Message Coffee house outreach at a small Presbyterian church, attended a bible study at a woman's apartment named Paula, and would host get-togethers at his apartment on 128 S. Church St. It would be incorrect to say that Skip was "in a group" or committed to one specific church before Traill formed the Forever Family. But it would be equally erroneous to suggest that Traill was responsible for bringing the gospel to Skip or any of the other young Christians around him. Skip and the others with him were living in a culture of young people who had just come out of the rebellion of the 60's and were looking for truth and served God wherever they could, not practicing religion like their parents. This very aspect of the youth at that time made them susceptible to those preaching a new, real, truthful way to serve God. New Christian groups sprang up in the early 70's. Unfortunately, many cults also emerged and most young people couldn't tell the difference. What Traill can truly be credited with is simply that he agressively organized and took control of a bunchy of young Christians in Allentown, PA in 1971. This pattern of taking credit for things for which he had little or no involvment would be demonstrated throughout the FF and Cobu history.

The place was Robin Hood Dell, a section of the park known as the Little Lehigh Parkway in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The time, 1st week in August, 1971. Robin Hood Dell was an open grass area where young people went to hang out, smoke pot, and drink. Robin Hood Dell was similar to San Francisco's Golden Gate Park near Haight-Ashbury. While a popular place for young people to congregate, the Parkway was also a place for churches and groups involved in the Jesus Movement of the late 1960's to preach the gospel to the hundreds of young people who were disillusioned by the established authority and culture of the time.

One night Stewart Traill, his wife Shirley and their 5 children crossed the bridge into the park and met George "Skip" O'Neil. Traill caught his attention by waving his arms and making choking signs because Skip was smoking a cigarette at the time. Traill wore a black "Get Smart Get Saved" button and Skip recognized this as an indication that this stranger was a Christian. Skip introduced himself as a Christian to Traill. He had fellowship with 4 other young Christians, and he told them about meeting Traill in the park. Skip's wife had doubts about Traill from the start. The other two Christians in Skip's circle also did not trust Traill when they met him. One would later write that he, Skip, his wife and another close friend were growing as Christians and that Traill insinuated himself into their group and eventually took charge. Skip seemed to be the only one who trusted Traill. Skip by chance, met Traill at a diner after their initial contact at the bridge and this turned into regular contact between Skip and Traill.

Traill invited Skip to go "witnessing"(telling people about Jesus) and to bible studies at the Message Coffee House. According to early members and Christians outside the group in Allentown, Skip and Traill attended the Message on Saturday nights with Skip's other young Christians friends. For the first 2 hours attendees were in small group discussions about the bible. Between 50 to 75 people would attend regularly. The Message attracted all walks of life including a former Hell's angel. Skip with his circle of friends with Traill, near the end of their time there, made up about half of those who attended the Message.

At first Traill seemed to get along with the leadership of the Message. This amicable relationship lasted for a few months into the winter of 1971. The leader of the Message, Harold Covert, began to have misgivings about what Traill was teaching those who gathered around him during the small group time when anyone attending could freely choose what group and which teacher to listen to. There was a final confrontation at the Message when the leaders told Stewart directly that he was not welcome there anymore. Stewart was accused of being a false prophet. Traill jokingly deflected this charge to his followers by saying that he never claimed to be a prophet so how could he be a false one. One account, which appears on one ex-Cobu Web Page, describes Traill as "drawing others to himself and not to Jesus." It was plain to the Christians at the Message that Stewart Traill was not doing God's will but his own. They suspected Traill of attempting to usurp the leadership of the Message and gain control over of those who attended. Some of Skip's friends also saw this. Skip defended Traill at the Message but it was clear that time was running out for Traill and those around him.

During the months between Skip's meeting with Traill at the bridge and the official start of the Forever Family, Skip and his friends would go with Traill on "vac trips." Traill bought used vacuum cleaners, repaired them, then resold them. Traill would take a brother on a road trip in his school bus or oldsmobile to other states to buy used vacs in order to bring them back to Allentown for his business.

One young man who would later become a member of Traill's group remembers his frequent visits to Traill's apartment in Allentown. He described the place as very cluttered with vacuum cleaners and chaotic. More shocking was Traill's treatment of his wife, Shirley, and his children. The brother eye-witnessed on many occasions when Traill came home and immediately got out a scale for his wife to step on and be weighed. He then spanked his wife for her apparent failure to meet his expectations. The ex-member indicated that Traill did this enough times that Shirley began to hide the scale. The situation was so shocking and embarassing that the brother went into the other room when Traill would spank his wife. Traill also insisted that she wear micro-mini skirts and overtly sexual attire in public and at meetings. Traill demanded Shirley ask permission to go to the bathroom as an exercise in discipline and obedience. Traill's treatment of his children was described as "cruel." And while Traill's family lived on peanut butter and other meager essentials, he went out to diners with his new young friends and ate his fill.

Traill would come over to 128 S. Church St. where Skip and his wife lived with another couple and give bible studies. He called the studies "nuggies" which stood for "nuggets of gold." Traill's idea was that the bible needed to be interpreted, that one needed to dig or study to find the hidden wisdom and meaning of the scripture. His method of interpretation and his teaching of "the figure system" were, in the beginning of the group's history, a characteristic unique only to him. Traill's "figure" system, put simply, was an expansion of the parables in the gospels. Traill used the system of symbolic language and applied it to the whole of scripture. His hints and indications and sometimes his downright open proclamations that God had given him "true interpretation" of the bible would solidify the devotion of his followers and alienate Christians outside the group. At an early FF meeting Traill handed out a copy of William Jones'Lectures on the figurative language of the Holy Scripture and the interpretation of it from the Scripture itself. Traill presented Jones'writing as a confirmation of his own comprehension of the "figure system" something he claimed to discover independent of William Jones' book.

On one vac-trip Traill surveyed a brother who accompanied him, using a commentary and coloring his bible with different colored pens. It is likely that this was what inspired Traill to create "the Color Code."

In the winter of 1971 Traill began to discourage Skip and his friends from attending other bible studies and having fellowship with other Christians. While disparaging other Christian churches and groups, he aggressively sold himself as a legitimate biblical teacher. The Message dismissed Traill as his custom of contending against other Christians was apparent to them.

So when did Traill actually start the Forever Family? Traill and a brother went on a vac-trip to Ohio. On the return trip Traill was visibly exhausted from driving. He was determined to get back to Allentown in time to go to the Message. The brother with him offered some Vivran to help him stay awake. The brother said Traill became very agitated and determined about attending the Message that night. When they finally arrived, Traill took those committed to his leadership and left the Message to form the Forever Family. The son of one of the leaders of the Message reported that there was a final confrontation between his dad and Traill. James "Jingo" Stauffer, who lived with Skip at 128, tape recorded the incident. Traill asked Jingo repeatedly for the tape. Stauffer refused to hand it over. Stauffer would eventually leave 128.

When Traill finally established himself as the leader of the group that would be called the Forever Family, his harsh nature, shocking language, and strong manipulation of Skip and the others would come to the fore. He was unkind and domineering. Traill gave the bible studies. Traill's understanding of scriptures was definite. When visiting a Christian bookstore with a member of his new group, Traill insisted that the brother not buy any books, commentaries, or bible aides. Reading other Christian authors was discouraged. Traill's pattern was consistent. Before the Forever Family was official he grudgingly attended bible studies and churches with Skip but maintained his own sense of isolation. He fought with other pastors and teachers and was kicked out of many congregations. He did not fellowship with other Christians once the FF was started. He criticized them and would not tolerate members of his group expose themselves to outside reading or outside Christian leaders. Members continued to read anyway. Martyr's Mirror,The Pilgrim's Progress,the writings by C.H.Spurgeon, and C.S. Lewis were among the books members shared with one another despite Traill's chiding.

Traill's newly formed group met in the basement at St. John's Church and at 128. Group membership grew and so some moved into 137 S. Church Street. 137 would become the 2nd fellowship house of the FF. When hearkening back to the start of the church, Traill would always cite 137 as the first fellowship house, ignoring the fact that Skip and his fellow Christians were already living at 128 and serving God before he arrived on the scene.

"Witnessing" or evangelism was a major component to Traill's FF. Members went to malls, diners, street corners, and tried to persuade young people to become Christians. While the motive of most of the early members was purely to "please Jesus" and to preach the gospel of salvation, Traill's drive as a salesman would soon be impressed upon the brothers and sisters to "lead many to Jesus" a sharp focus on numbers, like sales quotas, which brought about personal anxiety for them beginning in 1974. Those in the fellowship who were not "bearing fruit" according to John 15, were accused of faithlessness. The early Forever Family "fellowship Leaders" and center leaders were pressured by Traill to meet quotas: number of saved and number of people brought to a meeting. Members sometimes stayed out all night in bad weather to "lead people to Jesus" (convert the unsaved by witnessing to them and then lead them to recite the Sinner's prayer )to meet their quota.

Traill also claimed to have the gift to discern spirits. In a bible study on "Personality" in Allentown 1973 at 137 S. Church St. (the group's 2nd fellowship house) Stewart directly said as much; the gift to "look at you and know exactly where you were at spiritually." This meant that the members couldn’t “hide” or have any sense of privacy around Traill. This “gift” would play a significant role in how Traill influenced and manipulated his followers.

In 1972, some members did question Traill's leadership and the direction he was taking the Forever Family. Detractors left the group and openly opposed Traill. He drafted a document titled "Concerning How the Whole Forever Family is Breaking Up and What We Can Do About It." In it Traill mocked those who raised objections and made a pronouncement to current members about "Stewart's authority of truth" referring to himself in the 3rd person. It was a significant early example in print of Traill's sense of unquestionable position in the group and his intolerance for any criticism. Here is an excerpt from the document: "It is easy for an experienced to be "Led by the Lord" and to have revelations" (usually sufficiently secret to be convenient) which are nothing more than cleverly concealed ego trips to counter Stewart's authority of truth, and are designed to permit a return to the womb and the flesh. "The Lord wants me to grow slowly'," or, "one should stay at the place where he was saved," etc. Life in the F.F. isn't easy,- and there are bound to be some casualties. We, from time to time, will see those who are led to "leave" the Forever Family, usually because of the tired one about "youse don't show love." This early criticism about "lack of love" was indeed one of the trademarks of Traill's abuse. He was harsh, crude, and unloving by any measure. He was rude to parents and "other" Christians,refusing to "play religious games." He used shocking language that had a powerful effect on his followers and repulsed those outside looking in. Traill authored two Homilies, the Catholic Homily and the Forever Family Homily. Both documents outlined Traill's view of the current culture, his mistrust and disdain for parents, people over 25, the police, and "other" Christians.

Traill studied the Gospel of John devotedly and claimed at a meeting that when he first got saved he had written out the entire Gospel of John verse by verse on file cards, 4 times. He also attempted to memorize the entire gospel. But his concept of leadership and link to authority he derived from his studies of the Old Testament. He considered the New Testament “a bunch of flat statements of do's and don'ts” (Traill: John 2 Wine bible Study). The Old Testament was where one’s "desire for understanding could be satisfied." His own creation, the Get Smart Get Saved button was, in short, Traill's priority from the inception of his group, what would distinguish him and his group from all other Christians; his "understanding" of the bible, “his” true interpretation of the scriptures. Traill's personality and insistence that "he was the only one doing it right" alienated him and anyone who followed him from the rest of the body of Christ. By his lone leadership he created a cult.

The Color Code was an early Traill approved-method of how to look at bible verses.The idea of color-coding the bible came from an early member but Traill is credited with the definitions and system. Red was for Salvation, Purple for God, Jesus, and The Holy Spirit, Black for Sin, Death, Disease, Hell and the Devil etc. There were 10 colors in all and part of Traill's teaching included color-coding the verses the members studied using X's and -'s within circles to indicate degrees or levels of emphasis. Although Skip and the other Christians with him read the bible and had already begun their Christian walk before ever meeting him, it was Stewart Traill very early on who took the lead in giving bible studies and organizing the young people around him. He was 20 years older than most of the early members of his group. His approach in witnessing and gathering members was targeted toward young people. Traill had difficulty persuading anyone over the age of 21 about his views. Skip and his friends did tell others about their faith and many got saved and quit drugs and dramatically changed their lives. Traill's hard-sell "witnessing" would transform the group into a growth-focused cult.

The Forever Family met for bible studies at St.John’s Church, at 128, and 137 S. Church St. They also frequented Walp’s diner for witnessing or fellowship. Members would "riff" or create a dramatic scene in order to spark patrons' interest in the gospel. In 1972 the FF grew from 2 fellowship houses in Allentown to 7 including houses in nearby towns. Traill dropped off a member in Cleveland, Ohio and left him there to start a fellowship house.

Most fellowship leaders were in their late teens or early twenties and some had had been Christians for less than a year. Traill was 37. Members were responsible to get jobs and live communally, modeling Traill's understanding of early New Testament church structure. Traill himself lived in his own apartment with his wife and children. At first the fellowship house system seem to work. Houses full of young people living communally, similar to David Berg's Children of God cult which was a forerunner to Traill's cult. Traill's drive to "grow the group", get more members, get more income brought pressure on leaders to perform and produce. Eventually most of the leaders failed to meet Traill's stated goals and were later to become the participants in Traill's school of discipline, the Manhattan Training Center in New York. It is unclear when he stopped his vacuum cleaner business and was supported by his followers. At first he recruited members to help him with his business. It is likely that Stewart Traill became the full-time pastor of the Forever Family in 1974.

The language of the FF was a mixture of the slang of the day, Traillisms, and the figure system Traill insisted existed in scripture. Older people were called cows, young people were lambs or sheep, and people who were considered perverted were swine. The group also used the color code in their talk. If you were into "food browns" it meant that you were "into" eating or indulging your flesh in gluttony. Brown was the color used to signify Human Nature. Someone who was proud or trying to lead was said to be "playing the heavy." If something was important or deep or hard to understand it was considered, "Heavy" or "really heavy." Traill would often tag the end of a sentence with a "praise God." At first this had the effect of sounding spiritual, but after a few hours at a bible study it was easily recognized as a verbal habit. At one meeting members discovered outsiders smoking pot in the building. Traill addressed the situation ending his comments with a meaningless "praise God." The early recordings of Traill's bible studies portrayed him as the sole teacher of the group and his followers hanging on every word. Most of what Traill uttered was punctuated by listeners with a “wooow” or long steam pipe sounds of amazement. Because the culture of the early 70’s was in social upheaval and young people were starving for answers, Traill’s older hippie charisma mixed with his natural intelligence and self-confidence were very attractive to the wayward youth of that time.

Traill wore his black Get Smart Get Saved button on plain button-down shirts over a t-shirt. Taking after his childhood idol Albert Einstein, who had a closet full of the same shirts and pants for everyday use, Traill settled on an open olive green button-down shirt over a t-shirt, brown work trousers, and tan faux-suede converse sneakers. He had 10 flair pens, one for each color in the color code in his left front pocket. He would later add black pouches to his belt giving himself a quasi-military look. Traill made use of a micro-cassette recorder often interrupting himself at meetings to make verbal notes on epiphanies or revelations of scriptures that occurred to him. Traill wrote notes on file cards and accumulated dozens of file boxes and file cabinets filled with notes on bible verses, concepts, and subjects for future writings. Traill wore the same uniform every day from 1974 to the late 1980’s. Some speculate that Traill was crudely demonstrating a right ascetic attitude by “not hoping in this life”: a teaching he would visit upon the members for the next 40 years all the while accumulating airplanes and large houses for his personal use.

What never took place and to this day what has never occurred is a church board meeting or an all-church meeting where Traill would be tested according to standards in the New Testament for the office he holds, a vetting process most established churches undertake before hiring pastors or appointing deacons. In the 40-year history of the group anyone who ever challenged or questioned Traill was derided or asked to leave. Some believe that Traill likened himself to Moses and Elijah in order to be unaccountable to the church by the standards in the New Testament. It is possible that Traill believed Moses and Elijah were lone leaders who only answered to God and therefore were above submitting to authorities on earth described in the New Testament. It can be noted that David Berg of the Children of God also took Old Testament personas several years prior to Traill's proclaimations. This Moses/ Elijah comparison also put fear into the members. Very few questioned Traill openly, believing that God would step in on his behalf and exact an Old Testament type judgment upon them. In addition to Traill's chosen biblical persona was the mystery of his spiritual beginnings and conversion. The effect was that Traill was untouchable, unaccountable, unknowable, and alone.

At the beginning and end of the FF there were many fellowship house leaders, center leaders, super center leaders,most picked for imitating Traill's aggressive sales drive for numbers and growth, but there truly was only one leader of the FF and then Cobu: Stewart Traill. From the beginning Traill took control of the young members. The idea that there were many “leaders” and that Traill was just "one of many" is an illusion. Skip O’Neill was considered by many to be a natural leader in the FF but Traill made sure that he and other possible competitors for his office were psychologically torn down or eliminated from challenging him in the future.

Traill devoted most of his time to his newly founded group and this had repercussions at home. His wife Shirley was not interested in the group and was busy with their 5 children: the oldest being 12 and the youngest, 4.

By 1975 there were fellowship houses in Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Canada, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Washington D.C. Traill began flying a church-owned airplane around to the "centers." He was the only licensed pilot in the group. Not long after this Traill openly entertained the idea that he was a kind of incarnation of Elijah/John the Baptist. He also hinted at having a relationship with God similar to the one Moses had with God. He was accompanied by Gayle Gillespie, an 18 year-old girl (in 1975) who acted as his secretary. Traill's wife Shirley complained to members that she was lonely and wished Stewart would be home more. She also confronted Traill at a local diner about his spending time with female members of the group. She poured a bowl of sugar on his head and shouted at him.

Traill persuaded church members that it was more economical to own a private plane rather than fly commercial. Over the years the church would own airplanes,jets, and for a short time, a helicopter for Haiti. He crashed the helicopter while taking lessons. There was never any reason given why the church had to own 4 planes?

Between 1975 and 1976 Traill filed for divorce accusing Shirley of adultery. During this time Traill got some of his followers to kidnap his children and to take them to Atlantic City, then to Canada and to fellowship houses throughout the church. Traill’s youngest son wrote about the incident in his autobiography on an ex-Cobu web page.

One member recalls this time when the Traill kids lived in his fellowship house in Ohio. Shirley, who had visitation rights, told Stewart when she was coming to see the children. The brother remembers Traill and some sisters rehearsing scripted answers with the children to give their mother when she inquired about their well being. Shirley asked her children during the visit if their dad had put them up to lying to her. They were coached to deny their father's involvement.

In another incident, Traill called the Ohio fellowship house to check on his kids. A sister answered the phone. After the sister reported some of the children's behavior, Traill told the sister to tell a certain brother to spank one his daughters. The brother refused to do so. The brother believed that because he had raised early objections to Traill's leadership and had voiced his opposition to Traill's conduct, that Traill might have been trying to set him up to be arrested for child abuse. This same brother also witnessed Traill and his secretary, Gayle Gillespie, sharing a room in the fellowship house, night after night, and raised the alarm to other members. This was before Traill's divorce was final and before his marriage to Gayle.

It is unclear to members whether or not Shirley Traill actually committed adultery. According to Traill in a May 1976 meeting, at the court proceedings, the "other man" testified that he indeed committed adultery with Shirley. Shirley's account, which appeared in several newspapers, was that she only had dinner twice with the man in question. She was also heard to shout at Stewart in the diner confrontation that "if he could go out on her, she could do the same." There were reports that Traill had his wife dropped off at bars in seductive apparel in order to entrap her. He also had members of his group watch Shirley, to see where she went and who she talked to. Traill, according to Shirley, also derided her in front of their children and tape recorded the dealing sessions. Traill then brought the recordings to the fellowship and played the cassettes for his followers. Traill was proactive in castigating his wife to the members of his group. At the May meeting in 1976, many members stood up to defend Traill and lauded his efforts to include Shirley in his ministry. One member at the meeting objected to Traill's treatment of his wife, his inappropriate sexual advances toward one sister at a diner, and his behavior toward Gayle. The brother was openly humiliated in front of his own wife and the whole group for more than hour, Traill accusing him of deriving personal enjoyment in creating controversy. Traill also called into question the member's own faithfulness to God.

Some members out in the centers questioned Traill about his intimate behavior toward his secretary, Gayle, before his divorce was finalized. Traill's answer to one member was, "what makes you think we (he and Gayle) aren't already married in the eyes of God?" Those who did raise objections were sent to outlying centers or pressured personally by Traill to stop questioning him. Traill took one member up in his plane and offered to send him to Montreal. When the member declined the offer, Traill took the plane into a series of dives trying to terrorize the member into silence about his behavior toward Gayle.

On December 11, 1976, Traill (40) married Gayle Gillespie (19) at the Hotel Diplomat Ballroom in New York. It was around this time that Traill changed the name of the group from the Forever Family to the Church of Bible Understanding (COBU)seeking to legally incorporate the group. It was also in 1976 that Traill decided to gather the "older" brothers and sisters, average age 24, into the Manhattan Training Center (MTC), the first of many versions of Traill’s "formal training" or schooling to disciple young Christians to maturity.

Traill also began floating an idea in July 1977 for the church to start a mission in Haiti. At one meeting in Maryland, Traill announced that those who left the fellowship would also be guilty of leaving the children in Haiti. To the Christians inside the Church of Bible Understanding the mission in Haiti was and is a work of God and the brethren were deeply committed to that work. For Traill, the orphanages in Haiti would become a lever to use against members who sought to leave his group. Currently the official Cobu web site has no pictures of Traill, no pictures of current members of Cobu, but only images of the mission in Haiti and how to support the work. There is, however, a small link on the page to Traill's current teaching on salvation called the "U" Point of View. Haiti became the curtain behind which Traill and his followers could hide and deflect outside scrutiny.OFFICIAL CHURCH OF BIBLE UNDERSTANDING WEB SITE

Newspaper articles about the group have been generally inaccurate about its size in 1976 or its peak membership and attendance numbers in 1977-78. Reporters asking members at the time got wildly exaggerated numbers due mainly to Traill's tendency to emphasize numbers and the group's growth as a projection of his own success as a leader. Traill at a 1974 Big Meeting reveled in the number of official members of the Forever Family: "500, if you include lambs and backsliders." Members kept records of the number saved in a week, the number of "interesteds." A member's faithfulness to Jesus was questioned if he or she hadn't "led someone to Jesus" within that week's time. Based on the church's own financial records and center reports, as well as ex-members' confirmation of names, the Church of Bible Understanding peaked in 1977-78.

Between 52 to 65 fellowship houses existed before the MTC was created. The largest Big Meeting had an attendance of more than 2800 but less than 3000. An ex-member who archived the church's documents compiled a Members directory and found the total membership to be 1,341 actual live-in members of the FF and COBU, including those currently living in. This number accounts for anyone who lived in one of the fellowship houses at some time from 1971 to 1978. The number of current members is somewhere around 80. Newspapers have reported membership of the group as high as 10,000 at its peak but there is no support for this claim. Members also claimed that there were as many as 120 fellowship houses at one time but this could only be true if one counted all houses opened and closed by the group throughout its early existence, but even this appears to be an exaggeration. Traill at one Big Meeting in 1976 set a goal of 40,000 saved in one year. During the MTC years the group cited hundreds "getting saved" each week and church-wide statistics were published in the Lamb Ledger (Cobu's newspaper). "Getting saved" for Cobu members meant that they "witnessed" or preached the gospel to an individual and then led the person in the Sinner's Prayer (a scripted prayer) for conversion to Christianity. Traill taught his followers techniques and tactics to "lead people to Jesus." Traill, a salesman himself, understood selling and most of his witnessing "techniques" were nothing more than sales tactics he honed years before he started the FF.

Traill authored several small introductory workbooks (most were 30 type-written pages in length) which dealt with subjects such as the Second Coming, the Resurrection, Witnessing (Green), The Christian Life (Orange), Conscience, and The Nature of our Lord (Purple). His wife Gayle co-authored with the sisters in the group “The Book”: a sort of manual for the brothers to better understand the way women think. Traill claimed and then demonstrated what members thought was his deep understanding of women by some of the bible studies he gave and some of the counseling he performed. Years later,members at the Princeton house would discover piles of psychology publications in the basement and several similar periodicals in Traill's office. As with the Color Code and the Figure System, it appears that Traill was also not honest with members about where some if not all of his "understanding" came from.

The New York Training Center later called the Manhattan Training Center, the MTC, or "the School" was started in 1976. It was Traill’s first attempt at some formalized Christian training. Traill himself had no formal seminary education or credentials, was never discipled or trained in any bible college or institute, but this did not stop him from implementing his plan for the “older” members of his group. The church rented several lofts on Bleecker St, Jay Street, Spring St, W. 57th St, E. 6th & Bowery St, and 51st St. Members slept on the floor in sleeping bags, shoulder to shoulder, male and female in allotted areas. Some lofts had over 100 members living in them with only one working toilet. The few married couples that lived at the MTC found privacy difficult to attain. One couple made a kind of canopy tent in the midst of the dozens of sleeping bags around them. The church set up a day care and nursery for the children of members. Meanwhile Traill lived in Teaneck, New Jersey and put his 5 children in private school.

There were 3 lofts at 15 Jay St. They had separate money handlers and leaders for each floor. Each floor was like a separate fellowship house, only many more people in them, at least 60 per floor. When someone new arrived, one just moved over and made room. The basement of Jay St. was the employment office / food prep area where sisters assembled sandwiches for lunches. Members would get a bowl of cereal and a banana on their way out to work, and the place became a haunt for outcast brothers to sleep. The Bleecker St. 5th floor loft was where nightly bible studies were held. There was a loft on 6th St. in the East Village for a few married couples. It was designated a loft, but in reality it was a small apartment. The food committee cooked food in large commercial pots and they would deliver cooked meals (usually ground beef, vegetables and a dessert) to the lofts. Served with the meal was a red drink called Dominade. The lofts had a laundry committee. Members put their dirty clothes in a bag with their names on the bag. It would be delivered back, clean and folded.

Some members used public showers on Allen St. near the Bowery loft. Members who worked full-time were urged to keep up their hygiene. Their busy work and witnessing schedules did not allow daily ablutions. Some bathed on Saturdays only. At the Jay III loft, members had a claw foot bath tub, but it was out in the middle of the room. A couple of sisters would volunteer to babysit in the middle of the week so they could rig up a curtain and take a mid-week bath.

The loft evacuations started when Jay St. was condemned by the NYFD. It was so overrun with mice that they were dropping from the ceiling. Members were allowed to enter only to remove their belongings. They then went to Spring St. until the move to the Diplomat Hotel, and then to the Hell's kitchen apartment building on W. 51st St. Members came from fellowships all over the east coast. At first "bad ones" (members) were sent to "the school" (MTC). Nightly meetings took place either at Washington Square Park or at Bleecker St. loft. After Jay St. loft was condemned the city was out to find the other lofts. A series of newspaper articles appeared, reporting on the group.

Those who did not live at the Hotel Diplomat commuted to attend the meetings. Then the church acquired a loft on the west side. The bottom floor was used as a garage to fix vehicles and upstairs, members sat on a wooden floor in "boxes". There were taped off squares approx. 4' X 4'. Down the middle of the floor was one large line dividing the flesh side from the spirit side. This was the beginning of categories. There was a council of "silvers" who were not only good examples of living the Christian life, but were also seen as an encouragement to others. Abrupt divisions were made. A member stood up, stated their name and everyone decided if the member was orange (Christian or Spirit), or brown (Human Nature or Flesh). Further divisions were made as the weeks passed. Upper orange, orange neutral, lower orange, upper brown, brown & black.

One of the reasons given for starting the MTC was for the retraining the older brothers. Most fellowship house leaders and center leaders were not meeting their goals number saved and number brought to the weekly meetings. Traill conducted "leaders" meetings and came down hard on those who were not accomplishing their goals. Non-producers were sent to the MTC. Soon glowing reports of how the brothers were being restored were heard in the outlying fellowship houses. Isaiah 58 became the central theme of training. The church was getting back to the lifeblood of the fellowship: witnessing. Traill would travel around to the centers looking for "ghouls", brethren who had a glazed look about them; and off to the school they were sent. The MTC was meant to train the members to be better at witnessing, "putting the lambs first", "practicing the 6 Steps of Love." This training in reality increased the members' abilities to imitate Traill and his sales tactics to get more members. Loft life, like the army, was to be rigorous and not comfortable. As months and then years went by, members at the school became the "good guys" and more and more moved to the MTC for training.

At first members were pressured to seek any employment. But in 1977 two brothers who worked at the World Trade Center cleaning carpets gave birth to what would become COBU's first successful church-wide business: Christian Brothers Carpet Cleaning. Christian Bros. was featured on a Seinfeld episode in which the character George was hoping for the carpet cleaners to speak to him about the bible after cleaning his rugs. In the late 1970’s and early 80’s Cobu was in violation of tax laws which resulted in fines of $500,000.The carpet cleaners were to file as "independent" contractors and "donate" their earnings to the church. Members were encouraged to join the business which meant more income for Traill. Brothers worked long hours and brought all the money into the church account. Allowances eventually went from $1.00 a day to $10.00 a week. Those who worked "in the world" received $10, $15, or $20 a week based on their income.

Traill was splitting his time between the MTC and flying to the centers, coming and going via Teeterboro airport. A few sisters helped Traill at his home in New Jersey with various projects. For years, Traill made notes about bible references, on tape and on paper. There was a concentrated effort to get these organized into a "Reference Bible." A van-load of sisters would travel from NY to Teaneck on Saturdays to work on checking, printing, re-checking thousands of bible verses. Sisters stayed over Saturday night, worked the next day, and then drove back to Manhattan. Traill also spoke about writing a book titled "How to Interpret the Bible." Both projects never came to fruition.

Speculation about Traill’s thinking in starting the MTC varies. Ex-members recall that Traill was subjecting them to severe living conditions in order to prepare them to be able to withstand the coming persecution and the tribulation. It is curious that Traill himself never subjected himself to such training but enjoyed the proceeds of church labor at his home in New Jersey.

Another explanation for the creation of the MTC was that Traill, who was in the process of divorcing his first wife and marrying 19 year-old Gayle Gillespie, recognized that the church at large was affected by his actions and were pulling away from him. Upon entering the New York Training Center (MTC), members were asked to fill out a survey. Nearly 1/3 of the questions were about Traill and his fiancée, probing members for their opinions about the relationship. It is around this time also that Traill’s long-standing opposition and obstruction of members’ relationships and possible matrimony began. For the next 35 years the members of the Church of Bible Understanding would begin and end relationships with one another on Traill’s counsel alone. Even his eldest daughter left COBU to get married. In later years relationships were considered “poison” by Traill and discouraged. Some believe that Traill’s opposition to marriage is partly due to his belief that he would lose control of the members and suffer financially if they were to establish any form of autonomy. The MTC might have been Traill's attempt to get a better grip on the nucleus of his group. Some ex-members believe the Traill saw the fellowship leaders failing to bring in high numbers and he wanted to train them to get more converts thereby increase his power.

The brethren would meet at the Hotel Diplomat in Manhattan. Some of the "training" that took place at the meetings was direct instructions and pointed criticism from Traill. Members were who were voted Orange were considered “faithful” to Jesus and were able to contribute at the meetings without asking for permission. Those voted Brown needed to identify themselves by name and color and then ask if they could speak. Blacks were not allowed to contribute at meetings. Others were labeled Ghouls or Trips and were sequestered to the “trip” apartments so as to keep them away from spiritually healthy members. Traill was always voted "gold."

There was a point system at the MTC. Members could lose points for: not being on time for meetings,not directly speaking about Jesus' death,resurrection, and second coming, or for not reporting this infraction. Members could lose points for lying, being late for work, entering the office without permission, not being properly dressed for unemployment meetings, not speaking loud enough at meetings, being the third person standing at a meeting waiting to contribute, not giving the address to a bible verse before and after reciting it, being "goofy" or "pushy", leaving a meeting to go to the bathroom(unless one had a special problem), not being out of the loft 10 minutes after the meeting. Members could earn 10 points by leading one person to Jesus.To be excused for lateness or absence, members needed to hand in a written excuse, signed by two silvers, to the brother who took attendance in their color category.

There was a Judgment Day at the end of every week. Individuals were voted on by all those in their lofts. On a scale of 1 to 10, the votes were tallied and averaged out: 10 representing "full commitment and growth and a source of hope, steadiness." Names and performance ratings were then posted on the community bulletin board. One of the documents of the MTC gives instructions for members to “check with the silver sisters about any relationships.” "Browns" were discouraged from having relationships. Apparently, Traill had given the “silvers” some authority over others with regard to relationships. In the 40-year history of the group Stewart Traill, pastor and teacher of the Church of Bible Understanding, presided over not one marriage ceremony for his followers. Members were expected to turn in any money they earned. Sisters made sack lunches for the brothers which consisted sometimes of just a baloney sandwich or peanut butter and jelly. In contrast, Traill never broke his habit of frequenting local diners.

The Manhattan Training Center was perhaps the clearest example of Traill’s style of leadership, his verbal abuse, and his insidious influence on the members. Meetings at the Hotel Diplomat lasted for hours. Sometimes Traill would sit at the meetings saying nothing for an hour or more. Members stood up and tried to guess why Traill was silent and/or determine if they were in some hidden way “sowing to a wrong spirit.” Traill would eventually reveal to the members “what’s really going on” usually making an example of one or two members to show how the entire group was failing to “please Jesus” which really meant not following Traill’s “direction.” Traill would often directly question the faith and faithfulness of the members. He would, in the open forum, scrutinize the few marriages that did exist in the group. Traill predicted the unfaithfulness of husbands and wives. Husbands were openly criticized in front of their wives before the group. “Dealing” sessions also lasted hours. The underlying assumption at the training center and throughout the group was that Traill knew truth about everything better than anyone else, that he had the gift to discern spirits and knew the spiritual condition of each member in the room. With this shared view among members, Traill was able to tear down anyone within earshot of his judgments. Traill abused his followers over their many weaknesses. Traill droned on and on about the "Guilt" and "Shame" of the older brothers and sisters. He also never missed an opportunity to project himself as the right example of how to be. The damage and doubt Traill affected upon the members would last, for some members, for more than 30 years after their time at the MTC.

In 1979 Traill had one of the members draw pen & ink picture for each verse of John chapter 3:1-21. Cobu’s printing press in Worcester, MA then produced poster-sized replicas of each picture and verse and delivered them to the centers. The members would set up the Art Show in a populated area and explain the gospel to passersby with the intent to lead them to Jesus at the end of the presentation.

As the MTC failure became apparent in the declining number of members in the group, Traill then started the Philadelphia Lamb House in 1979 and a few years later the Brooklyn Young Sheep House. His vision of a school system whereby he could teach and train young Christians from ages 17 to 24 years old did not die with the MTC. Traill's concept of "education" was evident as early as 1973. At the first Big Meeting he spoke of how to grow his group sending out members to lead young people to Jesus and then send the new converts to Allentown to be taught and trained for 2 years and then sent out to start new fellowship houses. He defined members into age groups. Generally speaking Lambs were young people ages 13-17. Young Sheep were between 17 to 19 years of age. Older Newly Saved ranged from 20 to 30 years old. Middle brothers and sisters were 20-23 years old, and Older brothers and sisters were 24 years of age or older.

The Philadelphia Lamb House graduated 3 classes. At first the Lamb course consisted of only 3 lessons: What Just Happened to You, The Next Few Days, and Faith or Feelings. After the Lamb house was turned over to the Middle brothers and sisters, Traill finished the 20-lesson Lamb course. Once a Lamb graduated, they then moved into the Brooklyn Young Sheep House. In 1983 Traill started the Middle Remedial Program for members ages 21- 23 years of age. Traill's assessment of the Middle brethren was that they were retarded in their spiritual growth and needed a special program tailored to address their deficiencies. The Older brothers and sisters had no program since the MTC and were used by Traill as a constant reminder to younger members as an example of what happens to a member when they do not accept and practice Traill's teaching.

Through the second half of the 70's into the 1980's, Traill spent a tremendous amount of time on Second Coming bible studies, Matthew 24 in particular, and his study of the fig tree. For the members this meant intense focus on preparation and readiness for the end times. Traill's demeanor toward all members and especially the older members of the group was one of intimidation, using fear and verbal abuse to constantly unsettle the believers about their salvation, about their faithfulness to Jesus, and their lack of alert readiness for the second coming. It was in fact a severe form of legalism.

In the early 80's Traill started his own camera business. He bought and sold Hasselblads, Mimiyas,and Nikons cameras through newspaper ads. With the advent of Ebay, Traill expanded his business. He employed sisters to go on camera trips as far as the west coast to buy and sell cameras. He named the business S&G Photo.

In 1981, Traill persuaded the church board to purchase a large house in Princeton N. J. for him and Gayle to occupy. The house was situated just a few miles from where Albert Einstein used to live. The official reason given to the members for buying the house was for investment purposes. Members were told that Stewart and Gayle should live there because they were the only ones responsible enough to keep up the value of the place. Traill furnished the home asking members with abilities in woodworking to build him a desk and bookshelves for his office. He also had a large globe brought in through a second story office window to be placed near his desk. Traill then employed "Gayle helpers" (female members of COBU) to come and live at the Princeton house and help him and his wife with various projects and the camera business. At this time the members of Cobu lived in large church-owned apartment buildings and houses. The Brooklyn Young Sheep House at 162 Woodruff Ave in Flatbush Brooklyn housed over 100 young sheep and is the main residence of current Cobu today in New York. It had 4 floors, two floors for sisters and two for brothers. Woodworking members made bunkbeds for the group. 515 was a 5-floor apartment building in Hell's Kitchen on the west side of Manhattan. The Philadelphia Lamb House at 6713 Woodland Ave in Philadelphia, formerly an institute for the blind, was occupied by Middle brothers and sisters. There were fellowship houses in Cleveland, Montreal, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and Maryland at this time.

In 1982, according to Traill’s youngest son who wrote extensively on the matter, Traill had ordered several brothers to discipline him because of his bad behavior while living at the Philadelphia Lamb House. Traill had ordered a brother to spank his own daughter in 1975 in Ohio. This incident would be dramatically different. Three brothers at the PLH held his youngest son down while they beat him with a wooden board. The beating was so severe that members had to take him to the hospital. Charges were filed against 3 of the group’s members and Traill’s first wife Shirley was granted custody of the children. The matter was not brought out into the open before the church and no one asked Traill any questions to determine his culpability.

In New York, members were "sweeping" up runaways at the Port Authority Transit station in Manhattan and at the Catholic Covenant House/ Under 21 looking for wayward teens. The Covenant House brought suit against Cobu and won a restraining order against the group. In a separate case, "After a June 1985 raid on the cult's Manhattan home, a member of COBU was charged with endangering the welfare of children and operating a group home without a license." In 1986 the member was convicted of the charges. Traill was not charged or held accountable.

Unknown to most members in the early to mid-80’s was that Traill was groping some of the "Gayle Helpers" who lived at Princeton. One ex-member confirmed this report years after Traill had groped her in his dark room. Traill, an avid photographer, took pictures of the female members at poolside in Princeton. Traill also violated another member who is among the current Cobu today. In 1999, 14 years after her time in Princeton as a member of Cobu, a female ex-member wrote down her account of Traill proposing to make her his "half-wife." Her account is on the X-Cobu Web page at Ann's Account

Others who worked at the Princeton house also witnessed Traill's inappropriate sexual behavior. One member found a Playboy magazine in his office. Traill fondled and "made out" with Gayle in front of sisters. According to one member Traill grabbed Gayle's crotch and said, "Get ready for me." Some female ex-members have indicated other immoral behavior but refused to go into detail. Traill’s sin against some of the sisters reached the attention of his second wife Gayle. Some ex-members reported years later that Gayle was going to expose him to the church and so he called a meeting to remake and redo the entire church and at the same time work in his own confession and admission of sin which he hoped would be forgiven and/or overlooked.

The Grace Meeting of March 1989 was perhaps the most pivotal event in the history of Traill’s cult. It marked the first time since the formation of the group in 1971 that Stewart Traill admitted he had taught error, that he was wrong. What was not known to most of the members at the time was the reason for the meeting and the significance of some of things Traill said. By the time of the Grace Meeting, Traill had groped at least 2 females, used pornography, took pictures of “sisters” in swim suits, and attempted to make one of the female members his “half-wife.” His wife Gayle threatened to expose him to the members and so in March of 1989 Traill called a meeting to admit or confess that he had missed the entire basis of salvation, of the gospel: he missed Grace. Mixed in with his teaching about teaching error were personal revelations. According to biblical standards for pastors, bishops, deacons, and elders, Traill was not qualified to even begin the group in 1971 (this, he did not mention). At this meeting he repeatedly told his followers that he taught error for the last 25 years and only one sister openly questioned Traill's honesty.

At the meeting Traill said, "Ya know the whole while, I never tried to take Jesus' place… in no way and would always speaking against it...and yet that’s what the devil think about it...something like that in effect...” Traill’s passive admission that he had actually taken Jesus’ place meant little to the members of the group at the time. Many left within the year simply because they understood for the first time that Traill was in error and rather than dismiss him as pastor, they left. Traill did not speak about his sexual sins but spent hours explaining to his followers how he had missed grace and had taught his version of legalism in a tone self-pity. At different points in the meeting Traill portrayed himself as a victim of his own error.

For some members the Grace Meeting meant a fresh new direction for the church and so they stayed in the hope that they would finally learn true Christianity from Traill. Less than a week later, Traill went back to his verbally abusive style of leadership. Although the words and concepts Traill used had changed, his place and position had not. The Church of Bible Understanding under the new basis of grace dwindled to just a few hundred members with Traill still in charge. Later that same year he introduced the 1st John Bible Study in which he asserted that true Christians DO NOT sin. Traill claimed to know the “mind of the apostles.” A few months later Traill dropped this teaching also.

In November of 1989 Traill crashed one of the church planes at the Mercer County airport. The newspaper reported that Traill and his female companion(unnamed) were not injured. It is unclear whether the female passenger was his second wife Gayle or one of the members of Cobu.

Many left COBU within the year and in the subsequent years following the Grace Meeting of 1989. Some joined the Time Square church pastored by David Wilkerson. Wilkerson made attempts to contact Traill and to counsel him to repent. Traill dismissed his help. Other ex-members hosted and helped Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, a Christian who suffered imprisionment and torture in Communist Romania. Wurmbrand, head of Voice of the Martyrs also made an appeal to Traill but was rejected. Traill in so many words told his followers that Wurmbrand no longer had sound judgment and that he should not be heeded.

Traill emphasized "not hoping in this life" and told current members that "they were going to die soon." Traill at times introduced themes of SUICIDE to members. In all, 1989 was a strange and revealing time for Traill and those who chose to stay with him.

In the early 1990's Stewart began teaching something that would become the current doctrine of his cult. At first it was called the Escape Recipe and then just the Recipe. Today current Cobu members use the "U" Point of View, which appears modestly on their church web site. What seemed to be a contortion of the Grace teaching, this Escape Recipe was the banner teaching for the group in the first half of the 1990's. At some of the meetings Traill pressured members to stand up, hold a paper copy of the Recipe over their heads and say, "My name is ________ and I am volunteering for the Lake of Fire" the idea being that the member was not heeding Traill's Escape Recipe and therefore was volunteering go to hell.

Church businesses varied. There were storefronts that sold hand-made Haitian goods. Members ran kiosks and were street vendors. The carpet cleaning business was still viable as well as the used-van business which peaked in the mid 80’s, the group having a fellowship house in Detroit. The church also ran a donation business whereby large ticket items could be donated by private owners or businesses as a tax write-off and Cobu would turn around and sell what was donated.

Trail began to study the original Greek and Hebrew of the New and Old Testament. His name appears in one Greek New Testament Word Study bible as a contributor. Members of Cobu began to learn Greek and Hebrew words and followed Traill's new teachings based on his understanding of what the scriptures meant in light of his new focus. "Believing in Jesus" became "Believing INTO Jesus" a profound difference in meaning according to Traill.


In February of 2002 Traill and his second wife Gayle were traveling in the Bahamas. They were in a car accident. Traill's arm or leg was broken. Gayle had broken her leg. During surgery she lapsed into a coma that would last for 5 months. When she regained consciousness it became clear that she had sustained permanent damage. She eventually learned to walk again but her mental capacity was greatly diminished by the injuries she incurred. At a meeting Traill told members that he was free to marry again, that because of Gayle's condition he was single just like them. The members did not agree and so Traill abandoned his search for a 3rd wife.

Cobu brought suit against their insurance company to cover Gayle Traill's medical costs but lost the case in court. Apparently, according court records, Cobu lied about Gayle being a church employee and lied about her travels outside the United States. The case is currently in appeal. Here is the front page of the law suit:








: NO. 03-6052



Kauffman, J. September 6 , 2006

Plaintiff American Home Assurance Company (“American Home” or “Plaintiff”) brings this declaratory judgment action against the Church of Bible Understanding (“COBU” or “Defendant”) and Gayle Traill, a missionary for COBU (collectively, “Defendants”). American Home issued a worker’s compensation insurance policy to COBU for the period running from August 8, 2001 through August 8, 2002 (the “Policy”). Traill was injured on February 7, 2002 and sought worker’s compensation coverage for her injuries. American Home seeks a declaration that (1) Gayle Traill was not an employee of COBU at the time of her accident, and thus is not entitled to coverage under the Policy (“Count I”); (2) Gayle Traill was not acting in the course and scope of her employment with COBU at the time of her accident, and thus is not entitled to coverage under the Policy (“Count II”); and (3) COBU made material misrepresentations to American Home, entitling American Home to rescind the Policy (“Count III”). COBU and Mrs. Traill counterclaim that American Home’s attempt to rescind the Policy constitutes bad faith in violation of 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 8371 (“Counterclaim”).1

Cobu then focused on the antique, salvage, and restoration business. An ex-member had already started his own venture but Cobu, with its tax-exempt church status and with every live-in member donating 90% of their money to the church treasury, began to take over the markets in New York and Pennsylvania. Cobu would outbid its competitors on old buildings that were set for demolition. They then would gut the structures of moldings and fixtures which they would expertly restore for resale. Later the business would take the antique materials gleaned from demolition sites and create furniture and home decor for sale. Like Christian Brothers Carpet Cleaning, Olde Goode Things, a Cobu-run business, became the largest and most successful business entity in its line in the country. The church currently has 3 stores in New York, 2 in Los Angeles, and a warehouse in Scranton, PA. Other web sites show stores in Chicago and Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Olde Good Things also has ventures in Canada and in Japan.

Stewart Traill is now 78 years old and lives in a church-owned mansion in south Florida.The Florida mansion is up for sale. The large Philadelphia property is also for sale. He told current Cobu members at a not so recent meeting that "they were helping the anti-christ." There are reports that Traill is accompanied often by the daughter of two current members (the young lady is more than 40 years his junior). Despite Traill's past known behavior and his other known immoral acts with members of the group, the current members have not dismissed him from his office as pastor. The father of the young lady calls Traill a man of God.

SUMMATION and Analysis:

It is not hard to identify and assess what Stewart Traill is now. It was much more difficult for the young people of the 1970's to realize who was leading them. Traill's charisma and exuberance dominated the imagination of the youth in Allentown for a time. He then changed tactics to hold his group in place all the while removing in the minds and hearts of members their ability to question him or challenge his leadership. Simple equations like Stewart said = God said and Leaving Fellowship = Leaving Jesus were effective psychological tools Traill used on the young around him. He chastised those who "went off on their own" or used their own judgment or acted in anyway independent from his control.

The most basic and crude analysis of Stewart Traill is this: that he was and is a man who never submitted to any authority but asserted his own over young Christians. Whether he became a Christian in the mid-60's is still a question asked by ex-members today. There is a consensus of opinion that Traill started the group with his own purposes in mind and shunned fellowship and contact with other Christians, insisting with great hubris that he was specially called of God and possessed unique abilities which meant that he was destined to lead a group of believers. He was never vetted, never tested. He accepted no counsel from Christian leaders inside or outside his group. For more than 40 years Stewart Traill has trusted his own insight, his own understanding, his own abilities to serve him in his control of the group.

The majority of ex-members have maintained their Christian lives despite the abuse they suffered in COBU. In online forums ex-members have grappled with common questions and issues concerning Traill and their time inside. Some ex-members find it difficult to separate Traill from their own faith in God, a legacy forged in them by Traill. Something distinctive about COBU is that it, in truth, was and is populated by Christians, actual Christians. It is the opinion of some that the damage Traill inflicted on members would have been much worse if they did not have true faith in God. The current members have all but given up dislodging Traill from his position. It is likely that most members are biding their time, waiting for Traill to die before making any changes in church leadership.

For those who wonder from afar why the current members didn't fire Traill in 1989 and still tolerate his open unfaithfulness to his second wife, not to mention his continued psychological abuse of them, one would only have to consider how a tyrant or dictator comes to power and how nearly impossible it is for the people to overthrow and remove a ruler once he has successfully gained control. The prayer of most ex-members is for those inside the group, for their release or rescue. As for Stewart Traill, most ex-members pray for his repentence.

There are many reactions from ex-members about Stewart Traill and his cult. Some consider their time inside, wasted. A small percentage of ex-members believe Traill was a Christian but backslid when he divorced Shirley and married Gayle. There are those who spent only a few months in Cobu and didn't have much contact with Stewart. And there are those who spent 10 years or more trying to serve God in Cobu while suffering the abuse and error of its only leader.

Young people in the early 70's joined the FF for different reasons than the young people in the late 70's and early 80's. Some are glad of their time inside because of the spiritual family they gained and the friendships. Others regret joining and struggle in their faith to this day because of Traill. Still others who were violated by Traill, exposed to his sexual misconduct, are unwilling to come forward. Current members still defend Traill or deflect any inquiries about him.

One main issue that demands the attention of most ex-members is the idea of "being fooled" deceived and betting years of their lives on a lie and a liar. An often asked question is "Why did God allow me to be in a cult, when I sought to serve Him?" After years of asking, my answer to this question is this. I needed to learn to take the bible seriously. God spoke to His people about false christ and false prophets. God warned about false teachers. Paul, Peter, and John wrote about false brethren and anti-christs. Our God and our brethren spoke and wrote to Christians....To CHRISTIANS to be watchful, vigilant,and sober. I did not test Stewart. I did not hold him to the standards in scripture. God will not step in and do what He commanded us to do.God will not alter the circumstances He warned us about. I did serve God while I was in the FF and Cobu. Most of our brethren did. God did not fail us in there. God was true to all that He promised us. The proof is the enduring relationship we have with Him before, during, and after Traill. My prayer is that current members will return to their relationship with our God and Father through Jesus and dismiss Stewart Traill from office. It actually would be the most loving thing one can do for Stewart. Allowing him to continue to abuse and lead and harm only supports and strengthens his way that is leading to his judgment and eternal sentence.

Loft and MTC articles1 Loft and MTC articles2 Loft and MTC articles3 Loft and MTC articles4 Loft and MTC articles5 Loft and MTC articles6Loft and MTC articles7 Loft and MTC articles8
Alternatives mag. plain type Mar/April 1977
1979 1 1979 2 1979 3 1979 4 1979 6
Jan 1, 1984 C.O. B. U. Ordered to Stop Taking in Teenagers New York Times, June 9, 1985 Cult Official Convicted On Charge 'Forever Family' Aide Guilty In N.Y.The Morning Call, May 28, 1986 THE NEWS ARTICLE ON THE PROPERTY THE NEWS ARTICLE April 1995 Church of Bible Understanding (COBU) Still Vital, August 16,1999 Cult Observer PHILADEPHIA MAGAZINE ARTICLE JUNE 1999 BY SABRINA RUBIN ERDELY
On the Traill: Difficult To Peg Reclusive Lead,Scranton Times Tribune/February 9, 2003, By Christopher J. Kelly Ex-Members Tell of Poverty, Powerlessness,Scranton Times Tribune/February 9, 2003,By Christopher J, Kelly A Trove of Salvage Unsalvaged Spawns a Mess of Lawsuits,The New York Observer/May 16, 2004,By Nina Burleigh U.S. taxpayers feed Haiti's hungry, November 19, 2006,Media General News Service, By Sean Mussenden City council's lawyer sides with reincarnation of the biblical Elijah against the taxpayer,The Scranton Times-Tribune/August 29, 2010, By Christopher J. Kelly
Priest Outraged at Cult Infiltration of Youth Home,Father Ritter vs. Church of Bible Understanding Deprogramming Charges Dismissed CFF Virginia Program Highlights The Church of Bible Understanding by Linda McNatt Suffolk (VA) News Herald (Dec. 4) Church of Bible Understanding Enjoined from ‘Helping’ Homeless, Runaway Youth from the N.Y. Daily News SWEDISH ARTICLE ON COBU

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