(Editor's note: Today's second part of a three-part series on
Burien's Community Chapel explores how former members cope with
the fallout of leaving the church)
Seventeen-year-old Cami King, who left Community Chapel two years
ago, still has difficulty trusting people and hates organized
Kim, 25, joined Community Chapel five years ago as her first venture
in Christianity. Since she left the church five months ago, she
hasn't been able to figure out what Christianity is really supposed
Richard, a former church leader for 10 years who was reluctant
to discuss his association with Community Chapel, now considers
his once full-time commitment to the Burien church a "mistake."
Those are common reactions among individuals who have attended
and then left Community Chapel, run by Donald Barnett. Like hundreds
of others, Cami King, Kim and Richard have fled the church that
former members say once exacted all their loyalty and commanded
much of their time and money as well. In addition to spending
most of their free time in church activities, the members bankrolled
much of Community Chapel's 44-acre-estate, worth $10 million.
Today most of Community Chapel's congregation has scattered, some
seeking refuge in their homes, in new churches, or in their resolve
not to be duped again. They are battered emotionally and spiritually.
They find it difficult to trust others, to submit to leaders,
to expose themselves to the world as people who once supported
Community Chapel. Many not only blame the church for their damaged
lives, but point to themselves as well.
"I feel like I've been spiritually raped," one woman
said. "And I know I'm responsible for allowing it to happen."
Those who leave resolving to find a new church often are disappointed,
unable to settle in after years of believing that other churches
are "dead" compared tot he emotionally charged atmosphere
at Community Chapel. Some vow never again to step foot inside
a sanctuary. A few are looking for revenge.
Among the wreckage are the children, most who attended Community
Chapel's K-12 school because enrolling them elsewhere was frowned
upon by church leadership. A former chapel elementary school
teacher who left the church in early 1986 said she witnessed the
stress in the children's lives when the church began spiritual
"There was a lot of stress, a lot of vandalism at the school
that you never saw before," she said. "I think the
kids saw the hypocrisies and they certainly were affected by the
divorces. It was implied that if children were in the way, they'd
have to be casualties. The 'move of God' was more important."
One woman, who always considered her best friends a model mother,
said she was dismayed to see her friend change. "I slowly
watched her lose interest in her family. She didn't have time
for her children any longer because she was spending her time
with her connection. When I said something, she said she wasn't
concerned because God knows her heart."
The rule that "God knows the heart" has securely tethered
many of the remaining members to the chapel, former members said.
Despite the evidence of destroyed marriages, shipwrecked families,
and even suicide, those who remain at Community Chapel apparently
hold fast to the concept that the move of God is real - it's just
that people aren't handling it correctly. "Some people realize
that things are wrong," said one former member, "but
they feel that people haven't handled it right. Now, they say
the elders are cleaning it up (by attempting to expel Barnett)
and the church will become what it was intended to be."
Other former members, most of whom asked not to be named, attribute
lingering Community Chapel membership to several factors. Some
said those who stay are hooked on having their lives controlled.
Others said the remaining members are satisfied with the doctrine
of spiritual connections. A few maintain that personal pride
won't allow some to face the possibility that they have been deceived.
Members are taught that it is better to "go with the spirit"
rather than to use their "natural minds." That teaching,
former members say now, was a form of mind control because the
congregation was discouraged from applying logic or reasoning
to what was happening in the church.
Former chapel members say that once they began thinking for themselves
they soon realized the church is fueled by mind control.
Yet those who leave say they are wracked with both guilt and apprehension
over what has happened. Some accuse themselves of being too vulnerable.
Some are angry that they followed a man, not God. Some are afraid
it will happen to them again.
The needs- and the hurts - of those who emerge from Community
Chapel are as varied as the patchword of personalities that comprise
the congregation. In response to those needs, some local churches
have flung their doors open to welcome those religious refuges.
A few of those churches and other Christian organizations have
established programs to address the specific needs of former members.
Several who have left also wait patiently to console those who
continue to exit the church.
Still many needs are not met, a fact that frustrates both the
former members and those attempting to help.
"I think people on the outside need to understand that even
if a person leaves the chapel, the chapel takes a long time to
leave them," said Tim brown, former director of Colossian
Fellowship, a local group that monitored Community Chapel for
several years. "Both sides need to work together to find
out what works."
Some former members said more counseling is needed for those exiting
"People who leave don't know what's normal or good,"
said one former member who supports more counseling. "We
weren't allowed to hurt or have anger because those were demons
or pride. So we didn't know how to think or be normal."
Other former chapel members doubt whether anyone understands Community
Chapel well enough to offer adequate relief to those who leave.
"I don't know if people are equipped because they haven't
dealt with this type of thing before," one former member
said. "And people in the chapel won't listen to them. They
feel outsiders just don't understand."
Those who are particularly equipped are former members. A few
of them are working diligently to convince remaining members to
leave the church and support them when they do.
One woman compiled a packet that uses scripture to refute many
of Barnett's teachings. She sent copies of it to her friends
who still attend Community Chapel and one returned the packet
refuting the scriptures with chapel thinking. She said the incident
hasn't discouraged her.
"I was never totally spaced or walking around with glazed
eyes," she said. "But I was definitely controlled by
the church. And those who stay still are too."
For Cami King, who was instrumental in urging her parents to abandon
Community Chapel in 1986, life - particularly her Christian faith
- is now confusing.
"I talk to God sometimes, but I guess I just don't know anymore,"
Her faith, she said, has been lanced by a church that condones
adultery and splinters families. In the nine years that King,
her parents and four younger siblings attended Community Chapel,
the teenager had plenty of time to observe the church. When she
wasn't in Community Chapel's school, she was involved in church
activities. She didn't do much else.
"I'd go to school and worship services, that was about it,"
King, then 15, was in ninth-grade at Community Chapel's school
in 1985, when students were first encouraged to dance with each
other and with their teachers during school worship time.
"You didn't have to dance, but were told that we would be
on the outside looking in on the move of God if we didn't,"
King said. "Some kids ended up with strong connections with
King danced, first by herself, then with girlfriends. When a
male asked her to dance, however, she refused. Like her mother,
Melinda, the younger King didn't want strange men touching her.
"At home I'd hear from my mom that it wasn't right and at
school they said it was right," King said. "I was confused."
She watched as her father became moderately involved with his
connections. She witnessed a friend's mother bring her connection
home to be "lovey-dovey" on the couch. She was dismayed
as her peers became involved with their own connections, some
of them teachers, some of them married.
"I saw a lot of hypocrisy and cheating. I saw them going
the wrong way. I knew it wasn't right."
King took her complaints to her parents. Doug and Melinda, and
her concerns helped prod the family to leave Community Chapel
in early 1986. Two years later, however, this articulate 17-year-old
is still grappling with the fallout of Community Chapel.
"I don't want to go back to church. I don't want to get
involved again, trying to figure out what's right and who's God."
The Kings visited other churches after they left Community Chapel,
but were frustrated in their efforts. King's parents said they
weren't sure what they were looking for, but they knew it had
to be a church where they didn't know anyone.
"We just wanted to work into a new church on our own,"
Melinda King said. "We started floating around, but we still
haven't found one. For now, our family is our church. We still
have some work to do here."
Today Cami King embraces activities that were discouraged during
her tenure at the chapel. She works at a day care, attends sports
events, volunteers on a phone line for latchkey kids, and goes
out with her new friends. Her old friends, the one she knew for
years at Community Chapel, won't talk to her anymore.
"It was really hard for me to leave those friends,"
King said. "It was like taking all your friends and all
you've learned and throwing it out the door."
Kim, who asked that her real name not be used, had never been
involved with a church before she stepped into Community Chapel's
sanctuary. She was looking for a new dimension to her life in
the early 1980s, visited Community Chapel, and decided to stay.
There, in 1984 she met a young man, made plans to get married,
and learned that she was pregnant.
Chapel counselors told the couple to break up because they were
incompatible. It they didn't follow that advice, the counselors
threatened to expel them from the church for "spirits of
rebellion." Kim miscarried. Her fiance left her and the
church in 1986. Kim stayed, leaving four months ago after deciding
that she didn't want to spend time, "connecting" with
married men. Today, she, too, is confused about religion.
"Being a new Christian, I didn't understand that they were
wrong," said the dark-haired soft-spoken woman. "Now
I know that you should never get involved in a place that tries
to fit you into their mold. They wanted me to be things I am
Now she occasionally attends a church that meets in a home, but
she isn't really satisfied because the music - which initially
attracted Kim to Community Chapel - isn't the same. She chose
a church that meets in a home, she said, because it seemed safe
and removed from the sprawling Community Chapel sanctuary.
"I'm actually taking a break now," she said. "I
have a real big fear of putting myself under a pastor. It's like
who can you trust and who can't you trust?"
Richard, who also requested anonymity, joined Community Chapel
in the late 1960s to attend the church's Bible College that taught
Barnett's brand of Christianity. Following graduation, Richard
assumed a leadership post in the chapel, a position he held for
more than a decade.
Richard went along with Barnett when dancing was introduced to
the congregation in the early 1980s, but left the church when
spiritual connections were encouraged. As a church leader, Richard's
responsibilities included some marriage counseling.
"I was helping to save and mend marriages," he said.
"It wasn't the dancing, but the (spiritual connections)
dating that led to break up marriages because adultery was practiced
but never condoned. I couldn't support that."
Richard no longer attends church, and he feels betrayed.
"My sojourn at Community Chapel is something I now view as
a mistake," he said. "I no longer want to be identified
with that place in any way."
(Next: Early warnings about Community Chapel ignored; other churches
feel powerless to intervene)