Couple’s home was not their own

The New London Day, Eastern Connecticut, May 30, 1999
By Kyn Tolson

The unspoken rule for the truly obedient was that everything belonging to you belonged to everyone else, too. That included your home, your pool, your van.

Another imperative was cleanliness. Everything in your house, your yard, your carport, needed to be clean and neat. Even dust could harbor evil spirits . So in the summer of 1996, when Debra Lathrop and her husband, John, discovered that lice had come into their home with relatives visiting from Mansfield-Woodhouse, they were not inclined to have more people over to their house.

But pastor Sam Wibberley telephoned them one warm day to say that a group of teen-agers also from England wanted to use the pool in their backyard on Fogarty Road in Jewett City.

“I have a pool,” Debra said, “but it’s not my pool. It’s pretty much controlled. If they call and say they want to come over, I have to say yes, you can come over, do whatever you want. You can never say no.”

But Debra did say no that day. She had chores to do. She didn’t want people to know about the lice, and she didn’t particularly want the group of kids in her home. They’d been over before. They’d left wet towels everywhere. They’d eaten food from her kitchen as though it were their own.

“Sam was so upset and angry with us that he called me back on the phone and made me and my husband both get on. And he yelled at me and told me I was disgusting and despicable.”

For Debra, it was another unsettling run-in with the leadership. From time to time, she says, she was disciplined about being inhospitable, sometimes late at night, after being awakened by the telephone. She, her husband and three children left the church last August after 18 years, but even today she sometimes slips into the present tense when talking about her time in The King’s Chapel.

“We’ve had people living here most of our married lives,” she said. Her children range in age from 9 to 16. “We had our kids give up their rooms. We supported (other church members). We had an older woman living here who we supported for five years. She did nothing. … She still goes to the church. She won’t have anything to do with us.”

Debra, 43, is a speech therapist who works in the schools and in private practice. Her husband, 39, worked for years as a right-hand man for Kevin F. Hamel in his construction business. John has gone on to another job in construction.

Other long-term guests at the Lathrops’ home included Syro’s grandson Christopher Jenkinson and his wife, Jennifer. Chris worked with Hamel’s company, Debra says.

“Chris was very rude,” Debra said. “You couldn’t say boo about her grandkids, because you were the one that got in trouble. … (The pastors) would call me all the time and tell me I wasn’t hospitable enough.”

When the Jenkinsons were eventually taken out of her house, Debra says, she was depicted as the troublemaker. For the sin of inhospitableness, she says, she “had to go over (to the Wibberleys) and apologize because Chris’ parents were there.”

“They pulled us out in shame,” she said. “Everyone in the church would know how terrible I was. … I was devastated.”

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