A Special Chad Investigation

Mansfield Chad, March 2, 2000
By Katherine Savidge And Rob James

Speaking at a church service on Sunday, Pastor John Hibbert, pictured left, said: "It is an insult to justice that those who have given their entire lives to giving to others should be so falsely accused of taking.

"That the selfless should be accused of selfishness and that those who have acted at all times with Christian dignity and decorum should be accused of the bizarre and the extreme."

He added: "And so they will print what they will print and we will suffer the backlash. We will endure the gossip and the scornful looks - the suspicious glances of our neighbours and the cynical amusement of our enemies.

"During church services former members say they were encouraged to give as much as they could in 'love offerings' and special donations, often to pay for church leaders' holidays to America, expensive Christmas presents and large phone bills.

Ex-Bethelites say they have witnessed loyal followers placing IOUs and jewellery into the collection box.

Martin Farmilo, who claims he handed over around £20,000 during his time in Bethel, said: " You were made to feel if things were hard then to give at a time like that, you would be really blessed.

"While Pastor Hibbert and other ministers urge the congregation to give as much time and money to the church as they can, Mrs Spademan, pictured right, rarely leaves her Ley Lane home to attend services.

Former members say she claims exposure to the sins of her flock will cause her pain.

'Our conscience is clear, before both God and man'

PASTOR Hibbert was confronted by Chad reporters at his Sandgate Avenue home and at the Bethel Church, but on each occasion he refused to comment on the allegations made by former members.

On Sunday morning he had made arrangements to be taken to church by a member of the congregation in an apparently carefully-orchestrated manoeuvre to avoid waiting photographers.

Once inside, however, he personally greeted Chad reporters who had joined church-members to hear him speak.

During the sermon, which was based on the theme of forgiveness, he read a prepared statement to the congregation.

This is that written statement in full: "It is with a sense of deep sadness that I must announce this morning that our local newspaper, the Chad, which for many years has reported good things about this church, has chosen and decided to publish certain serious accusations against the ministers of this church and against the church itself.

"I do not know what these accusations are, but gather from a comment made by Chad reporter Katherine Savidge that they originate in the USA."I can only assume therefore that the material to be used in the proposed article is at least of a similar nature to that used in an unjust on our sister church in Connecticut in 1998 (sic).'Honest'

"If this be the case I would like to say, as a God fearing citizen and honest servant of Jesus Christ that the accusations made in that report were an abominable and shocking list of falsities - lies and innuendoes fabricated by certain disgruntled people who had left the church and needed to cover for their own contradictory behaviour.

"It is an insult to justice that those who have given their entire lives to giving to others should be so falsely accused of taking.

That the selfless should be accused of selfishness and that those who have acted at all times with Christian dignity and decorum should be accused of the bazaar (sic) and the extreme.

"But unfortunately justice is at a premium in our society and sadly often missing in investigative journalism.

That people can so blatantly lie to the media and have their lies published without regard to the potential damage those lies will produce is incongruous with fair play.

"I was given the opportunity by the Chad to both hear and comment on the accusations which are about to be published against us, but I declined the offer on the grounds that my experience teaches me that denials to specific accusations are rarely treated honourably by the media and are used rather to furbish (sic) their already sensational reporting.

"And so they will print what they will print and we will suffer the backlash.

We will endure the gossip and the scornful looks - the suspicious glances of our neighbours and the cynical amusement of our enemies.

"Our children, already ridiculed for being Christians in a largely non Christian environment, will have an ever harder time at school - and all of this undeserved and unwarranted.

"This church has been in existence in this village for 70 years and is a credit to this community.

We have added to the social, spiritual and environmental health of Mansfield Woodhouse, by our simple preaching of the fundamental truth of the Gospel, backed home (sic) by its practical application in giving to the poor and needy.

"Our conscience is clear before both God and man. I am proud to be associated with a church which has given until it hurts - and we do not deserve to be verbally abused by any newspaper.

"At the end of the sermon, Pastor Hibbert was again confronted by Chad reporters. Once more, he refused to comment on or hear the allegations, but said the church had nothing to hide.

He described Mrs Spademan as a servant of Jesus Christ and the 'most wonderful, generous, giving person that you could ever meet'.

As he was driven away from the church by one of the members, he hid his face from Chad photographers.

Two younger members walked alongside the vehicle to ensure there was no clear view of him.

Chad reporters also contacted Mrs Spademan, who was staying at a condominium in New Hampshire, USA, believed to belong to Pastor Kevin Hamel, of the King's Chapel.

She too refused to comment on or even consider the allegations.

She said: "You don't have to put them to me, I already heard them in the States.

All I can say is it's a pity you don't get your stories from the place where it's true.

"It's a pity people are not trying to do good in Chechnya and all the other places in the world where kids are being abused, so please don't ask me to comment."Mrs Spademan added:

"Whatever I say, newspapers go for the sensational. It doesn't matter whether it's true or not.

There's too many dreadful things in the world going on at this moment for me to contribute to anything you want to say." I have to sleep with my conscience.

You will have to sleep with yours."

The power of Syro . . .

THE SECRETIVE community of the Bethel Interdenominational Church at Mansfield Woodhouse is controlled by guilt, fear and a loathing of liberal thinking in the outside world, according to former members.

But for those like Martin Farmilo, a committed member for 17 years, it initially presented the image of one huge loving family. "At first, it was very loving and open.

You could feel overwhelmed with love," he told Chad. "What was so attractive was that it seemed so outlandish to the outside, but it felt so good to be in with a group of people who did not bat an eyelid when somebody got up and started to speak in tongues.

"And John Pawlik, born and raised in a Catholic family, said: "I felt as if I was looking for something. I had heard gossip about that place saying they had something wonderful happening there.

Other people said they were swinging off the chandeliers, so we decided to go and have a look.

"There, pastors John Hibbert and Stephen Jeffs and their colleagues claimed to be disseminating the word of God as heard by Jean Spademan, left, known to her followers as the prophet Syro.

Loyal members devoted almost all their spare time and money to the ministry, helping to build their church, as well as extensions to leaders' homes and even a swimming pool at the Spademan house on Ley Lane.

Others carried out more menial tasks. "If you were selected, it was quite an honour to clean windows for members of the ministry team," said Mr Pawlik.

"The ministers are regarded as 'icons'."

"You were told you were doing it for Jesus," said another ex-member, Sarah (not her real name).

Those members who asked for some small payment in return for their labours were reportedly told 'to look into their heart'.Yet donations were always expected from the congregation.

As well as their regular tithe - 10 per cent of their earnings - members were urged to give 'love offerings' and special donations.

These would fund property purchases, holidays at Disneyworld for church leaders and their families, Ralph Lauren shirts for Mrs Spademan's grandchildren and other expensive gifts, as well as paying for enormous phone bills.

"They would have special offerings for Syro or somebody in the family.

They would build her up because she gives of herself so much and just sacrifices so much in helping people and so on that we should be willing to give back," explained Sarah.

Also paid for were church leaders' regular trips to the USA.

The only time Mr Farmilo went to the USA with the church he had to pay his own fare.

Since then, he has contributed almost £20,000 to the church and claims he was made to feel he should 'go without' rather than avoid making donations.

Others would regularly place IOUs and even their jewellery in the collection box.

"People would come forward and pledge what they did not have.

It was a sort of faith offering.

You are made to feel if things are hard and you give at a time like that, then you will really be blessed," he said. Although he feels cheated, Mr Farmilo claims he is not bitter.

Other ex-members are less forgiving and some have accused church leaders of hypocrisy.

"They say your eyes are not supposed to be on material things, yet they surrounded themselves in luxury," said Daniel.

"I would say it's been an easy option to a good standard of living.

"Another ex-member, whom we have called Simon, said: "I used to think the most Christian thing to do would be to help those who are the quietest in the church and the elderly.

But it was just helping Jean Spademan and her cronies.

"Mr Pawlik recalled: "One thing that made me think that money was the main controlling factor for the pastors of the church was when two people joined and came to the front, praying to be saved and to become reborn Christians.

"Afterwards, I heard John Hibbert describe them not as 'two new souls', but 'two new tithes'.

That put me into a state of confusion.

"Having lustful thoughts and 'not being right with God' were the most heinous sins a Bethel member could commit.

Some say they were subjected to lengthy interrogations about their thoughts, Mrs Spademan claimed to know, until they were browbeaten into making confessions - often false.

When Mr Pawlik was called for deliverance, he recalls a 'brilliant' feeling that he was going to be released of the demons in his life.

But he explained: "I was accused for two hours of doing all sorts of things, the majority of which I had never even considered, never mind done.

"Despite ministers claims that he had been 'swept clean', Mr Pawlik was troubled that he felt no different. "I thought 'this does not make sense.

There's no reality.

After that I started getting negative and watching out for things.

I started looking at people and people's attitudes - how they were in church and how they were outside of church.

"Mr Pawlik's interest in martial arts and sci-fi films was denounced as 'evil' and his family's Catholicism deemed to be 'wrong'.

He claims members were not permitted to go to discos or anywhere where they could be exposed to lustful temptation.

Sex and guilt are key factors in Hibbert's sermons.

He preaches that sex before marriage, adultery and particularly homosexuality have 'no place in God's kingdom'.

According to Sarah, pastors favour the 'power of suggestion' to target members suspected of sinful thoughts or deeds.

Some were actually rebuked and humiliated for their apparent misdemeanours, often lustful thoughts about others in the congregation.

Once expelled, former members were ostracised and shunned by those who remain.

Said Simon: "At the church, you used to hear a lot of emphasis on hell. It was aimed to really putting the fear of God in you.

They snuff out the self-belief, so you turn to God more.

"Looking back as an adult, it was all there to create an atmosphere and emotion - a situation where you felt captivated by your own guilt." said Mr Pawlik.

Members are encouraged to 'die to self' and give their lives and minds to God, he explained."You don't get angry, swear, have any attitude.

It is absolute mind control.

"The ex-members all tell of the strain on their relationships with relatives who were not Bethelites."My mum was utterly distraught beyond belief by the whole thing.

She is quite a strong Catholic and used to go to mass every Sunday and for me to have moved over to this faith made my life and my relationship with her untenable," said Mr Pawlik.

"I lost closeness with most of my family," explained Mr Farmilo. "A number of them were really concerned, but they could not say anything because I was so far in.

"When Mr Pawlik left the church in the mid-1980s, he was told by ministers he would lose everything he had, including the wife to whom he is still happily married.

He now describes the ministers as 'spiritually and morally corrupt'.

"I was lucky," he said. "I left that church angry, but weaker minded people feel guilty for years and years and they go back.

"I went back one night and John Hibbert said 'there's a young man in here who has left and unless he comes up here and gives his life to God, he will have an accident on his motorbike'.

"I was the only one who had a motorbike.

"Almost all the ex-members who spoke to Chad have now become so disillusioned by their experiences they have turned their back on organised religion altogether.

Said Sarah: "They have hurt a lot of people who are now being healed, but a lot of us do ask for their apologies.

I've personally forgiven things they've done, but it's hard to forget," she said: "If they really got on their knees before God, they would know they would need to change things there a little bit."

Bethel Church robbed me of 12 years of my life

DANIEL belonged to the Bethel Church for 29 years - most of his life. Introduced to the church by his mother, who ironically he was later advised not to let his children see, little did the young boy realise that the prophet and pastors he then looked up to would have such a powerful effect on his life.

His marriage and its subsequent break down.

His working and social life. His relationship with his family and children.

All were controlled by the hands of the church, according to Daniel, who, speaking for the first time about his traumatic experiences, revealed to Chad the extreme consequences of worship at the Bethel Church.

"I have been robbed of 12 years of my life from my teens until when I left - socially and religiously," says Daniel, looking back over the height of his involvement in the church.

"You were encouraged to do what they wanted with the threat of displeasing God if you didn't.

"This powerful influence led to Daniel, who left the church two years ago, to marry within six months of starting to date his wife, Nicola, who came to Mansfield Woodhouse from America when she was 18.

"We started courting and before I knew it we were married.

I was very strongly persuaded into it.

John Hibbert and the others asked me if I realised that if I didn't marry Nicola she would have to go back to America and I may never see her again.

Three months later we were married.

"The majority of the wedding was paid for by the church and the couple were some of 20 or so Bethelites housed in the home of a church family while they visited America.

He added: "The church controlled everything we did as a couple.

" He said Syro named the children with the idea that they must be named by God through her.

And they were persuaded to send them to the school where most of the congregation's children went.

"He said the church also had set ideas about followers mixing and associating with non-members, with the suggestion that 'outsiders' may have a negative influence on them.

Daniel said: "I was never allowed to take my kids to see their grandparents - they came to tell me that.

I knew that hurt my dad. My eldest child is 10 and has only spent two full days with his grandparents.

I could never understand why they did that.

My brother's kids are the same.

"They (the church) would say 'we don't advise it' because my dad was not in the church and might lead me astray.

My mum has been fostering kids and I think she does that to compensate for not seeing her grandchildren. But the church is black and white, good and bad - there are no grey areas - you are either inside or outside the church.

"Daniel continually found himself torn between his commitment to his family and that expected of him by the church who would expect him to drop everything at their command.

He says followers were expected to give the majority of their free time to work for the church in their role as a dutiful servant of God, which included building work on the homes of Syro, the pastors and their families.

Daniel would work all day at Omega Kitchens - the business of pastor Stephen Jeffs - and spend his evenings and weekends labouring for the church.

Daniel explained he was in a 'no-win' situation: "If I said I wasn't coming to do work because I hadn't seen my kids, I would be called an unwilling servant and told that I had the wrong priorities.

"Then if I worked I would be reprimanded for not spending enough time with the family.

"He said: "Everyone is required to help but you never know what anyone else is doing.

You couldn't talk about it because you would be too scared to - you would be accused of 'murmuring'.

And added: "You were always in fear of the phone ringing and Syro being on the other end - we were led to believe she could hear the voice of God.

"A phone call from Syro would usually mean you were being summoned to a 'counselling' or 'deliverance' session.

Daniel was called in an average of three times a year and says he was accused of laziness and lust by a panel of the church's 'inner circle.

'He said: "You could be persuaded to agree to anything because Syro could hear God's voice.

A lot of it was geared around lusting after other people in the church - that was the crux of it. Wanting to be with other people's partners - if you think of it, you have done it.

"But the most harrowing accusations came when they claimed he was being unfaithful to his wife after hearing he had kissed a work colleague at a Christmas party.

Daniel says it was the beginning of the end of his marriage. "I was accused of being in love with this girl after giving her a Christmas kiss, and it snowballed from there. I was given an ultimatum - my wife or this girl - but I still denied it.

" Days later Hibbert called Daniel over to him at a service. "He said 'I don't think you are going to change' and kicked me out of the church.

It all happened so quickly…. 'I don't want to see your face anymore' and 29 years in the church means nothing.

"I went home and my wife called to say she wanted me out and that was it - my marriage was at an end.""My brother and sister are still in the church.

They completely cut me off when I was thrown out of the church.

Last Christmas I worked hard for extra money to buy my brothers' kids presents - I spent more on them than normal.

But he called on Christmas day to say thanks for the gifts but we've not bought you anything on principle.

I assume that principle means not being in the church.

"Looking back, Daniel says Bethel was run more like a business than a church, with members seemingly wanting not what they could offer spiritually, but physically and monetarily.

"I feel very disappointed - I don't think I will go back into any kind of religion. I am not an atheist, but I will avoid any organised religion.

""You take things on good faith but my experience does cloud my view of other religions because of what happened. You are geared in a set way - you stray and you are punished for it.

He added: "The biggest thing that affects me is that I no longer exist to people that I respected and brought my kids up with and that hurts.

Now I am something they want to wipe off their shoe."

The names in this piece of the article have been changed to protect identity.

History of the Bethel Church

BETHEL Interdenominational Church started life at a site on Grove Street, Mansfield Woodhouse, when it belonged to the Pentecostal movement.

But the arrival of Pastor John Hibbert heralded the move to new and continually expanding premises on High Street and the breaking of its affiliation to 'The Assemblies of God'.

One ex-follower who witnessed the change comments: "I knew the ministry were getting more involved with themselves - more like stepping back than a community church."

John Pawlik added: "Because there was no governing body regulating them they were left to their own devices and created their own rules as they went along.

He said a 'team' was set up with Jean Spademan as the prophet figure, John Hibbert named as an apostle and Stephen Jeffs - Mrs Spademan's son-in-law - as a pastor.

Others soon became part of the 'inner circle'.'Special offerings' funded the extensive development of the church complex, with all building and renovation work completed by church volunteers.

Chad reported the opening in December 1982 of the new £95,000 complex consisting of the main church, meetings rooms and lounge which has since further expanded to include Bethel Cottages.

The latest addition to the sprawling complex - a creche for members' children - is currently being completed.

The initial church building expansion coincided with a tour of America by Pastor Hibbert 17 years ago.

He had already established the independent Bible-based Bethel Church in Woodhouse and had met Jean Spademan who gave her life over to God.

She became known as 'Syro' - believed to be a reference to a Syro-Phoenician woman who appeals to Jesus to save her daughter from a demon.

Pastor Hibbert and Mrs Spademan landed in Jewett City, Connecticut, and formed a relationship with Sam J. Wibberley (47), pastor of The King's Chapel.

The King's Chapel, now based in Norwich, Connecticut, is a small, non-denominational church unaffiliated to any institution in the United States, but the bond with Bethel remains strong.

John Hibbert and pastors in America all look to 73-year-old grandmother Jean Spademan for direction, according to ex-members.

Rarely seen at church services, apart from the occasional wedding, she is the omnipresent force leading the ministry of Bethel and King's Chapel churches.

She is usually in steady communication with church leaders in America, whether in person while on one of her extended stays in Jewett City - usually at Wibberley's home - or by telephone from Woodhouse, say former Bethelites.

And she is often present, via the phone, at deliverance sessions in America to allow Wibberley to consult her.

A constant stream of visitors floods over from America to Woodhouse, and vice versa, either to celebrate weddings, which often occur between members of the two churches, or to work.

And the request for a suitcase full of goods for Syro is often coupled with each journey.

An ex-member said: "At Christmas a lot of people would get invited to England and would be asked to bring one suitcase for yourself and one for Jean Spademan.

"Martin Farmilo added: "There are always people over here from America - sometimes for six months.

"He says visitors stay at Syro's or other church members' homes and include Sam Wibberley, who comes over to preach at services.

Mother-of-six Jean Spademan, who has numerous grandchildren, lives on Ley Lane - minutes from the church - with husband Fred, who ex- members say has no involvement with Bethel Church.

Martin added: "She runs it, no doubt about that. We are told every message preached has come via the 'hotline' to her.

"Yet during his time in Bethel, he saw her at only a handful of services."Part way through one service someone took her to the front and she spoke from the platform.

She said that while she had been sitting there she had been bombarded with one thing after another - what was going through different people's minds, such as bad temper, lust - she would go through her list.

"She said 'I could pick you out if I wanted' and half the people in the church went to the front on their knees, including me.

"He added: "She is the instrument - it is stressed that it is from God.

If she is mentioned (in church) it is as an illustration of a really good servant."John Pawlik added: "Syro doesn't got to church anymore because if there is anyone who had a bad thought about her she will have pain.

If you don't believe in her she will have pain.

"Another ex-follower, who was handpicked to spring clean Mrs Spademan's house - it was looked upon as an honour to be selected - added: "She is controlling, manipulative and always ill.

"Pastor Hibbert, meanwhile, plays a more active and visible role in the church and preaches at the majority of Bethel services, and is described as a very controlled and professional individual.

One ex-member says: "He is very good at handling people - a very persuasive person. "American ex-members have formed a self-help group to support each other through the difficult times that follow leaving the King's Chapel.

It is only now that ex-Bethel members are having the courage to speak of their experiences.

John Pawlik says: "You have a lot of baggage when you leave it. But I felt angry. They say if you leave the church, you leave God. They preach commitment and that if you are not committed, God will spew you out of his mouth. "He added: "You are made to feel like your self-worth relies on them. But you have to have some self worth and believe in yourself.

"Another ex-follower added: " When I first left I felt tormented, I really felt that I was walking away from Jesus - everybody feels like that and that's what keeps people there."

'We will continue to preach God's word'

BETHEL services were recorded for members who were unable to attend services.

The following excerpts of a sermon given by Pastor Hibbert in 1996 are taken from a cassette recording obtained by Chad.

"God hates laziness. The Bible says go and learn a lesson from the ants. You know, all those ants that you've all been killing, pouring boiling water over them, choking them to death with white dust…..The Bible says go and learn a lesson from the ants thou sluggard. Why? Because they work hard, you know that? They have a very organised colony and they work extremely hard."

"It's because people like some individuals in this building tonight give in to their lust and it captivates them, it controls them, it drives them on to ever deeper depths and ever stronger impulses and forces until they are out of control and are a danger to their fellow humanity."

"I know there are people here tonight who are being driven by sin and some of you have frequented this church for a long time, but I know tonight you are driven by sin."It brings spiritual death. It brings a deep, deep emptiness and while ever we stand to preach in this church, I and my colleagues in this ministry, we will continue to preach the standards of God's word and what God says is sin and we will not allow that to be adulterated by the spirit of this age and by the liberal thinking that is going on all around us."

"The Bible still says that it's sin to have sex before marriage and those of you in this building tonight, you young people, who have indulged in sex before marriage, you have committed a grave sin before almighty God for which you will answer in eternity."And I don't care what parents say. I don't care what school teachers say. I don't care what politicians say. I don't care what social services say. I don't care what anybody says. The Bible says it is sin and it will remain sin until the judgment day."

"Homosexuality is a diabolical evil and people are not born homosexuals, they choose to be homosexuals and it is a diabolical sin condemned in God's word as the last downward degenerate step of humanity, and wherever it has been allowed to be promoted throughout history as it is being allowed to be promoted in our modern society it has wrecked civilisations and brought down empires, and it will do so again and you will live to see our modern society fall into the depths because of its embracing of the sin of homosexuality."

"There is no place in God's Kingdom for sexual sin of any kind and it destroys, it pulls down, it produces disease."And when the dreadful disease of AIDS began to take its deadly march through societies around the globe, I thought 'well, what a tragedy. But at least one good will come out of it. Surely this will be a deathblow to homosexuality.'"How wrong I was. For the devil and the liberal thinkers took it and used it for the very opposite and solicited sympathy for sin instead of sympathy for the sick."

MP calls for a cult register

MANSFIELD MP Alan Meale has again called for a register of all religious movements and cults, following Chad's revelations about the practices of the Bethel Church.

The MP, who is a member of the Parliamentary All-Party Cults Group, has warned that if the psychological tactics favoured by Bethel Church leaders were used by employers, employees would be entitled to substantial amounts of financial compensation.

Mr Meale added: "There needs to be a register to protect the people involved in these movements, their relatives and the communities in which they exist. Everyone, from parents, to social services and neighbours should be allowed to know what these organisations are. They are usually very secretive and impose huge pressures on the people in them.

"A register should also lay open the church's business dealings and its aims and objectives, he added.

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