South King County, Washington -- The drowning of a 5-year-old girl by her mother in a Portland
motel room in March 1986 thrust Community Chapel and Bible Training
Center into the consciousness of South King County.
The murder was linked by prosecutors and former chapel members
to teachings on demons and spiritual connections - intense relationships
with people of the opposite sex - at the large, nearly 20-year-old
Burien-based church headed by Donald Lee Barnett.
Public scrutiny has driven the independent church further into
isolation as Barnett and church officials routinely refuse public
comment on Community Chapel. Critics - mainly former Chapel members
- charge that the church drifted far tot he religious fringe.
Some content the church has gone beyond the fringe into cult
In the two years since the Portland tragedy, hundreds have fled
the church, only to discover that they cannot easily walk away
from the troubles Barnett's teachings have brewed in their lives.
Adultery, damaged marriages, divorce and even child neglect are
the consequences for some.
Most who leave Community Chapel are forced to forsake friends,
beliefs and a lifestyle that was dictated by the chapel. Guilt,
confusion, distrust, embarrassment and lonliness are among the
byproducts of their decision to quit their church.
It is former members' story of disconnecting from Community Chapel
that we want to tell. As one woman who left the chapel two years
ago put it: "When we left we felt like we were being worldly,
independent, rebellious - all those things we weren't supposed
to be. We know we had been too open, too vulnerable, and we felt
very guilty about it."
After two months of interviewing former chapel members, and chapel leaders, other religious leaders in the community and cult experts, the Valley Daily News has found:
Barnett and church officials have maintained their silence. Repeated
requests by the Valley Daily News to talk with church leaders,
including barnett, went unanswered. Even the church spokesman
- the only person appointed to talk to the media - refused to
return telephone calls.
All church members are forbidden by leadership to talk with reporters,
and they are abiding by that order.
"They have been trained not to talk to the media," said
one former church leader, who asked not to be named. "You
are an agent of the devil."
The three part series researched and written by Valley Daily News
reporter Nathalie Overland begins today. (next)
TIME HEALS THE WOUNDS SLOWLY, SAY EX-MEMBERS
Dave and Paula, the King family and Jamie are among the hundreds
who have left Community Chapel in the past three years, making
what they often call the "agonizing" decision to leave
a church that controlled their time, their minds and their lives.
They have fled an independent, charismatic church whose sanctuary,
chapel, kindergarten through 12th grade school and
Bible College spread out on more than 40 acres between Burien
and Normandy Park.
Once the flagship to 22 satellite churches in the United States
and Canada, the Burien church now oversees only 12. Ten satellite
have closed their doors since 1985.
With the exception of Doug and Melinda King and Mark Tokers, most
of those interviewed requested anonumity and have been given pseudonyms.
Some are involved in legal action against the church. Others
want to insulate themselves from a past that has at least temporarily
reduced their lives to rubble. Many are just humiliated.
"It's really embarrassing at first to think we could be manipulated
like that," said Mrs. King, who like many former members
still lives near Normandy Park, not far from Community Chapel.
"If you'd ask me then I wouldn't say I was being controlled.
But I was."
When former members talk about the chapel, they often pause when
attempting to explain terms that used to roll easily off their
tongues, terms like "warrior bride" and "connection
love" and "manifesting a demon." It seemed so
real then, they said, but now former members sometimes laugh at
the phrases that once were the cornerstone of their belief in
Community Chapel's idea of religion.
Humor, however, has not come easily. It has taken many ex-chapel
members months - even years - to come to terms with what happened
to them in the church.
It all began in the late 1960s, according to one former church
leader, when Barnett taught that the end of the world was at hand
and that his Community Chapel was being groomed to be "the
bride fo Christ," part of an elite work of God to win the
world to Christ in the world's final days. To be prepared, chapel
members were told to "purify" themselves.
In the 1970s, the chapel took another turn toward the religious
fringe. The congregation became obsessed with "movements
of God," new experiences that were to purify chapel members,
said the former church leader who asked not to be named. Soon
wave after wave of new "moves" kept the faithful thirsting
for something new and increasingly appealing - from falling down
under the "power of the Holy Spirit" as if fainting
from some supernatural power to casting out demons that they believed
had taken over people.
The church's subtle control of members began with these moves
and ushered in constant change that was supposedly ordained by
God, former members said.
"Many of these things would come and go, but Barnett would
always point out how dead and boring other churches were and how
alive Community Chapel was," said the former leader.
King, a 37-year-old electronics technician who works for King
County, said the congregation was primed for a new move of God
in the mid-1980s. "The church was so captivated by the supernatural.
Everyone was ready to go for anything that seemed spiritual.
It got to the point where you didn't know how much was emulation
and how much was real."
Spiritual dancing was the new move of God, and it eventually would
rend the congregation. Mark Yokers, a former elder and Bible
college teacher who resigned his chapel posts last month, said
spiritual dancing was never a move of God.
"The deception of spiritual dancing lies in the mixing of
what people call spiritual love that also involve erotic love,"
said 39-year-old Yokers, one of three elders to resign since spiritual
dancing began. "People are deceived into thinking it's God
when it's a mixture of things."
Dave and Paula found security in the church
Dave and Paula, who left the Community Chapel in early 1986, began
attending the church when it was a Bible study meeting in a Des
Moines home. They were welcomed into the cozy gatherings even
though they were burned out on drugs. The teenage couple soon
traded their hippie lifestyle for the security of the growing
"The teaching didn't seen bad at first," said Dave,
a 42-year-old who works in construction. "They were preaching
the gospel and the church was growing. But everyone who came
in was a new Christian and they didn't know the word of God.
All they knew was through Barnett and we had to totally submit
Like many chapel members, they lived humble lives, refusing to
indulge in pleasure and declining to purchase a home because they
believed the end was near. Many members didn't decorate their
homes or allow their children to sleep between sheets adorned
by cartoon characters. Most non-church interests were considered
too worldly, and church activities always came first.
"I would have taken my kids to the park more," Dave
said. "But I was head of the Sunday School department and
we had to make our own curriculum because everything else was
inferior. So I didn't have time for things like the park>"
In the early 1980s, Barnett visited one of Community Chapel's
satellite churches in Wisconsin and returned with an account of
how the Wisconsin pastor had successfully rebuked a demon in one
of the Wisconsin members. Although some Burien members were skeptical,
testimonies from visiting Wisconsin members convinced most that
rebuking demons was bonafide.
Anger was no longer an emotion. It was a demon. Fear wasn't
just a reaction. It was a demon. Doubt wasn't a thinking process.
It was a demon.
In 1985, spiritual dancing and "connections" between
individuals of opposite sex were introduced to the congregation.
The demon theme helped legitimize the connecting. Demons would
be blamed for such normal reactions as jealously.
In 1984 Paula and Dave were facing personal problems and considered
leaving Community Chapel. However, Barnett's promise of a new
move of God that would heal the couple's hurts convinced Paula
and Dave to stay.
"So we were ready when spiritual connections came the next
year," Paula said. "We were broken and looking for
something to renew us. I used to go stand in front of the church
because I knew God wanted me to have this new experience. I thought
I needed it."
Dave wasn't convinced, and stood on the sidelines as he watched
his wife become swept up in the new trend.
"Then one day it happened," Paula recalled. "I
was dancing with someone and this force gripped me. He wasn't
an attractive man, but I felt I couldn't live without him because
he was part of this experience. It was like a drug, but we thought
it was God."
Dave objected to his wife's new obsession, but he soon found there
was no relief for him.
"I felt I was wrong and our relationship was really torn,"
he said. "But I couldn't go to church for counseling because
they would just say this was a move of God."
Dave began losing sleep, and by the fall of 1985, he was contemplating
suicide. A nervous breakdown followed. One evening the church
security arrived at his doorstep and temporarily removed all the
guns from his house. As Christmas approached, church counselors
recommended that Paula not return home but instead spend time
with her connection. She did as she was told.
"This was typical of the way Community Chapel stepped in
to control your lives," Dave said. "It was played out
a hundred times at the church."
Soon after Christmas, Paula said "something snapped"
and she lost interest in her connection. Paula and Dave celebrated
New Years in Hawaii and decided there that they had to leave the
"We knew then that the connections were wrong, not us,"
Dave said. "We could see the lust and seduction that had
The King family found a commitment to God
Doug and Melinda King weren't looking for a new church in 1977
when they accepted a friend's invitation to visit Community Chapel.
They liked the commitment to God they saw there. Their established
and conservative church in Renton seemed dead compared tot he
lively worship at the chapel. They joined.
"It seemed that the church started to get a little larger,
then it just grew and grew and grew," King said. "And
as the church grew, there were more employees, and all the power
seemed to affect Don."
Barnett began to claim new "visions" and "revelations"
from God and in the summer of 1983 he claimed to have a new form
of worship which was revealed to him by God, former members recalled.
This new worship was "dancing before the Lord" initially
a free form of individual expression that was allowed in the sanctuary.
By 1985, this dancing had evolved into a teaching that encouraged
members to find a "Connection," or dance partner. Soon
partners were instructed to stare into one another's eyes, eventually
known as "connecting." Partners were told that Jesus
was in their eyes, and that they were to love their spiritual
connection to express the love of Jesus. Hugging and kissing
"Don was preaching at the time that we have so many inhibitions,
God was using connections to break down these barriers,"
Mrs. King said. "He had all the bases covered and so well
explained by scripture."
Hundreds obeyed the pastor, eagerly seeking the spiritual experience
that was promised from connecting. Families began to erode, bringing
them into their homes. Single church members and even children
also were encouraged to find connections - sometimes with married
"We were told God was leading us in this," King said.
"We were to give in , that it would go against everything
we know as right and wrong, but to let God move."
Mrs. King refused, but didn't leave the church.
"I didn't think the elders and pastor could be so far off
the track, but at the same time I couldn't bring myself to do
it," she said. "And I thought that if I left the church,
I would be out of the will of God and possible wouldn't be a Christian
King was employed half time to oversee the church's electronics.
Between work and worship services, his life was largely spent
at the church. While his wife would slide away whenever anyone
would sit next to her in a pew, King decided to try connecting.
"It didn't make sense to me, but I figured who am I to question
leadership? I just left myself open and waited to see all this
good we were told we would see."
Soon two women began pursuing King, calling him and coming to
the house to visit.
"When Melinda was jealous, counselors told me she was just
trying to inhibit the move of God," Doug said of his wife's
reaction to his spiritual connections. "Our marriage began
to fall apart."
Church counselors advised King to maintain his connections, even
though he said he was not "overwhelmed" by them. In
January 1986, Mrs. King left the church. Six months later, her
"I didn't ever see God in it," King said. "And
I never felt the same way about my connections that they felt
about me. Everyone was running on pure emotions and there was
no clear direction. It became confusing."
Jamie found her connection mystical
Jamie, who was attracted to Community Chapel in 1981 when she
witnessed members "zeal and serious commitment" to Christianity,
wasn't like many of the other chapel women, preferring no-nonsense
clothing to the romantic lacy styles donned many others.
"I didn't want to dress that way, but I thought it was just
a matter of pride," Jamie said. "So I told the Lord
to make me into this little defenseless pink ball of fluff, and
when I left the prayer room I ran into a man I respected a lot
who told me that God was going to turn me into this pink ball
of fluff. To me, that he used the same words I had prayed was
beyond coincidence and boosted my faith in the church."
The next weekend, she found the first of three connections. Her
last connection, she said was "the most powerful."
"There really was something supernatural about it, like mysticism,"
Jamie said. "I started feeling I couldn't live without this
guy. And I felt like I had the Lord's love for him."
In late 1986 Barnett, who had selected Jamie as one of his connections,
asked the attractive brunette to be his "mega" - or
main - connection. Jamie estimates that Barnett has had some
30 connections, all young and attractive, since connections were
introduced to the congregation in 1985.
"It was great flattery, having the pastor interested in you.
It was like the greatest honor in the church," she said.
"But I still had this other guy who was just sweeping me
off my feet. He was just the opposite of what my husband was,
and I was in love."
Jamie and her husband, recognizing the damage to their family
from her connection, left the church in December 1986, but were
talked into returning by other church members. She returned to
her connection. In January, a counselor coaxed her husband to
return to church and he found a connection.
That spring, Jamie's connection, who was single, began dating
a woman from the chapel. That gave her more time to analyze her
situation at Community Chapel.
"We weren't supposed to gossip or think thoughts, but it
got to the point where the place was just weird," she said.
"I decided I couldn't stay there. I still thought connections
were a move of God, but people were handling it all wrong. Everyone
was becoming obsessed with themselves."
Meanwhile, her marriage had deteriorated to "the most miserable
thing." She considered divorce but decided she didn't have
biblical grounds to leave her husband. Jamie and her husband
decided to rebuild their marriage, and last August left the church
without a word, except to resign from her job at church.
"We were told that we were all on a potter's wheel,"
Jamie said. "We didn't look good now, but things will be
beautiful when they are finished."
That, she said, never will happen at Community Chapel.
Dave put a gun to his head seven times in 1985. He almost pulled the trigger twice.
His children knew what was happening behind the master bedroom doors in their home near the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Dave was despondent because his wife was dating another man - with the encouragement of his church, Community Chapel and Bible Training Center.
His wife Paula was advised by counselors at the Burien church to spend more time with the other man. Dave, Paula was told, needed to be free of demons of jealousy, insecurity and rejection.
She was advised to leave her husband of more than 15 years.
Jamie gave birth to her first child in 1984, quit her job and discovered she had more time to become involved in activities at Community Chapel, her church since 1981. Jamie always enjoyed gourmet cooking and throwing elegant dinner parties.
At the chapel, however, such pastimes were frowned upon as useless, and church friends accused her of having a demon of the fear of rejection.
Jamie soon abandoned her hobby, turned off her television set, quit reading newspapers and magazines and spent most of her time at Community Chapel. When the local church started dancing during services, she initially liked the idea of expressing herself that way during services. Her solo dancing turned to dancing with men in the congregation and eventually evolved into a succession of church-condoned relationships or "connections" with men other than her husband.
In late 1986, Community Chapel pastor Donald Barnett asked
the attractive brunette to become his "mega connection."