Cult's sour note at Albert Hall

The Times (London)/May 31, 1994
By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

The tune sounded familiar, but somehow the words failed to fit. We were at the Albert Hall yesterday, long before the Proms season, and "Rule Britannia" had been taken over by the controversial London Church of Christ - the rousing chorus stuffed with words following a distinctly evangelical agenda. "More than conquerors, in all of this and more, are we who through the love of Christ stand sure," we sang.

Next to the slaughter was "Land of Hope and Glory", now "Lord of Hope and Glory! Lamb that once was slain." When I turned the hymn sheet and saw "I vow to you, my Saviour", I knew it was time to leave.

The LCC, a Christian sect banned from several universities after allegations of brainwashing, managed to pull in hundreds of recruits yesterday after arriving from America with just a handful in 1982. The sect has been described as "frightfully authoritarian" by one consultant psychologist who treats former members.

But recent exposes of the sect's activities did not prevent several hundred people, most aged in their 20s and early 30s, from turning up for its first service at the Albert Hall. Protestors outside tried, for the most part fruitlessly, to dissuade them.

Dennis Ebborall, from Chorley, Lancashire, was wearing a placard proclaiming the sect to be "the most dangerous religious cult in this country".

Inside was his daughter Nicola, 19, who joined the church at Christmas after beginning her university education. "They jumped straight on her and have totally changed her personality", said her father. "She used to be lively and bubbly. Now she is not allowed to get involved in anything outside the church. More than anything, I am worried about her long-term mental health."

Other protesters handed out copies of Close to the Edge, a monthly newsletter published by Triumphing Over London Cults, a group of former LCC members. Ayman Akshar said he was expelled for raising his concerns in a television interview.

In the event, the service could hardly have been duller. The choir had trouble with the top notes, and at one point I thought they were speaking in tongues, a common Christian manifestation, until the conductor stopped them and made them begin again. I prayed only that an official would spot my notebook and expel me also.

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