Community Chapel & Bible Training Center (CCBTC)
A Tribute to part of my life from 1979-1987
Summary of Community Chapel Memories: I discuss my 8 year involvement with a remarkable church in Seattle, WA that ultimately fell into error. These years were very difficult for me, ultimately leading to the end of my marriage. But, these times contributed to who I am today, and I thank God for them, as difficult as they were.
Community Chapel (CC) based in the Seattle area remains the most remarkable church I have ever attended or visited in my life. I have visited literally hundreds of churches in the USA and abroad. Never have I seen or experienced such powerful worship, such penetrating preaching, such a consuming love for God by any people. That CC eventually derailed and destroyed itself is a great tragedy. Especially remarkable at "the Chapel" was it's fantastic music which animated and inspired worship as you have probably never seen...unless you were there! I believe that most of those fortunate enough to have attended CC would still say in spite of it's shortcomings, errors, and demise, Community Chapel was one of the most interesting, if not best, churches in the world.
You can read about the history of this church as well as others' impressions of it here:
Community Chapel Gathering (Dave Kenady's Absolutely Fantastic CC Memorial Site Featuring Chapel History, Timeline, Reflections, Newspaper Articles, Music, Sermons, Unfolding Revelation of God Tapes & Notes, & Photos ).
Many more sites pertaining to Community Chapel now exist (as of 4/1/2007). A few others are:
Steve Born's CCBTC Site God bless you, Steve!
Some of my favorite music from Community Chapel (moved to it's own page)
If you think the worship looks a bit enthusiastic, you should hear the music!
And, if you have enjoyed reading this page, please send me a quick message.
My Personal Experience at Community Chapel
For eight years I was a member of CC of Kirkland, Washington. Fred L., a plumber who had graduated from the main chapel's bible college was pastor. Towards the end of these years I served as the chairman of the deacon board that had oversight of the mundane (business) issues of the church. The Kirkland fellowship had about 300 members and was the largest satellite church of the 'Mother' Church in Burien (Seattle), Washington with about 3000 members. Since the two churches were only 45 minutes apart, we often visited the Burien church. When I began attending I was recently separated from military service, and had already been married to "Cathy" for about 7 years. We had two children, Dedie and Christian. Both our children attended the Christian School. Attendance at CC normally required 3-4 services per week, plus functioning in some ministry role. It was like having an extra job. People who attended essentially had their job and their church, and time for little else. But, the church was remarkable in many regards such as worship, & teaching ministry. 'Chapel' as it was simply called was the kind of place that would typically cause visitors to have 1 of 2 reactions. They would either love it or hate it. If they loved it, they would frequently fly home, sell their home, quit their jobs and move to Seattle to join the church.
By the time I left the chapel in 1987 I was still married, but it sure didn't feel like it. CC fell into error. But, like all cults it had much to offer, and I believe some of it was genuinely inspired by God. If cultic churches did not have some superior things to offer, nobody would join them, right?
Was Community Chapel A Cult?
This question will elicit many answers. Many charged that it was, and I assert it certainly had many cultic practices. Throughout this document I will give warnings about cultic church practices. I am not a bible scholar. Certainly before we can answer whether CC was a cult, one must first define what a cult is. Frankly, depending on how you define a cult virtually every church in America would qualify. Read here an excellent discussion of whether CC was a Cult on the main CC memorial site of Dave Kenady.
Supposing CC was a Cult, Why would I have joined a cult?
People don't set out to join a cult. In fact, I seriously doubt anyone has ever awoken one morning and asked, "Say, where is a good cult I can join?" If cults were perceived to be cults by prospective members, no one would join them. Some churches are viable churches, and then devolve into cults. In my opinion, this was the case with Community Chapel. I was a young man freshly out of the military. I was new in the Seattle area. I had much to learn. Cults generally recruit the young because they lack the knowledge and life experience to discriminate well. So it was with me. I was 26 years young and at this age was convinced I knew everything.
This church was absolutely one of the most remarkable churches I've ever attended, and I've attended hundreds of churches in the USA and abroad. Parts of it were so glorious and wonderful. Other parts were crooked and toxic. Eventually the latter parts overtook the former and the church fell into great and embarrassing error. A former member and colleague Mr. Dave Kenady of the Burien Fellowship has created a fantastic memorial website that contains downloadable audio sermons and songs from the church. He calls it Community Chapel Gathering. Since his site does an excellent job of documenting the Chapel and it's tragic demise, I will only discuss only it's effects on my family and I.
CC was a worshipping church. I have only seen similarly animated and spirit-driven worship in 2 other churches since, and I've attended hundreds. I think due to my military training (my ability to follow rules and respect authority figures) I was able to become a prominent and moderately successful member in a church that stressed discipline above almost anything else. The level of discipline did not seem strange to me, having just come from the military--but, it was strange. At the same time, I had one attribute different than most members: I had not been become a Christian at CC. My Christian experience was broader. Almost everyone who attended CC with me stopped attending church altogether when the Chapel ceased to exist. I noted with interest that those who remained within the ranks of organized Christendom after the implosion were generally those who had NOT been 'saved' at CC. In other words, if the only Christianity they knew was what CC had to offer, when the church imploded, there was nowhere else to go. CC in typical cult-like fashion had been very deliberate in denigrating all other churches as inadequate, doctrinally apostate, etc. They had separated & alienated themselves from the rest of Christendom.
Warning: If you have not visited a number of other churches since you were saved, I encourage you to do so!
Warning: If your church thinks it is superior to all other churches, or is the ONLY doctrinally correct church, you are possibly in a CULT.
Such churches need to apply the principles of the brother of the Prodigal Son (see Luke Ch 15) and the humility taught in the parable of the wedding feast below:
Luke 14:8 - When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; Luke 14:10 - But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.
Demons under every couch
Since Eve gave Adam the forbidden fruit, man has been blaming his shortcomings on his wife or the devil. Personally, I find this a cop-out. I no longer give any place to a personal devil. Many bible scholars quibble over whether the persona of the devil was not more an invention of the ecclesiastical oversees of the middle ages than a force to be reckoned with and revealed by God. These church leaders desired (like ecclesiastical leaders immemorial to present) more to control people than to help them. I sometimes think the devil is the unofficial 4th member of the so-called 'trinity' for many Christians...as he gets more 'press' from pulpits than the Father, the Son or God's Spirit. The chapel went through it's 'deliverance' phase--we all had to get 'delivered' of our legion demons. I began to realize CC was getting into fantasy land when I was asked to come in so others could pray that God would 'deliver' me from a demon of California--whatever that was! These Seattle folks had an inferiority complex. They were terribly jealous and suspicious of Californians. Apparently some missionaries were once sent out to California, and the natives converted the missionaries, instead of the other way around. So, Chapelites believed that anyone from California was a dope-smoking drug dealer who recently got out of jail. Anyone from California was suspect, because several members (former Californians) apparently had been drug users. This was their experience, but it definitely was not my experience. I imagine they were just jealous that I got to grow up with sunshine, sailing, surfing, and beautiful beaches. To this day I refuse all prescription & over the counter drugs. I do not drink alcohol. I have never smoked tobacco much less the favorite weed of our current and prior US presidents. I'm as drug-free a person as could be found on earth. Yet, I can specifically remember on one occasion telling a brother that I was going to resign and leave the church. He immediately told me with all the prophetic authority he could summon that if I left chapel within one year I'd be laying in the gutter dead with needle tracks in my arms. I guess this is what he feared for himself, and I earnestly pray he never came to such a pass. But, to suggest that I would self-destruct this way if I left the church shows the depths of the fear they attempted to instill (as cults commonly do). In this case it was the very necessary fear of leaving the "Mother Church" they hoped to instill. Fortunately, I was unwilling to believe their fear talk, and did leave the church within a month of this brother's twisted revelation (and I live to tell about it).
You cannot imagine how difficult it was for people to voluntarily leave the church. They were cast as dropouts, or people unwilling to obey God, 'pay the price,' trust in God, etc. I have nothing but respect for the people like Brother M.S. one of the bible college instructors who had studied Physics, who left voluntarily over the intense fear liberally dished out to keep members with reservations in the fold. It took great courage and conviction to leave...especially when it also meant fracturing your family. Recently I have spoken with BJF and JS of the Kirkland fellowship who had to endure the incredibly humiliating ordeal of separating themselves from chapel for their own integrity and survival. The worst thing (and there were many) that chapel ever did was put these people of integrity through a literal hell of disfellowshipping ("turning their souls over to Satan for destruction"). Talk about deception! How greatly some cultists, pastors, and politicians attempt to play God.
Warning: If you are in a church organization that tells you that you will suffer great disaster if you leave their church, you are possibly in a cult.
Community Chapel was a very legalistic, rule-bound church. The Pastor's vision of God was that of an ogre with a fly swatter just ready to smack us all down for our countless sins. Officially he preached against 'legalism,' but throughout most my years there, this was an intensely legalistic church environment. If rules were not followed to the letter, members were 'disfellowshipped' & ostracized. The chapel leaders preferred to call themselves a 'holiness' church. The crazy part was people were literally killing themselves to follow the rules of men. We were expected to arrive 30 minutes or more before services to pray and wallow in our sinfulness. And, often we had services lasting 3 or 4 hours during which time we were literally beaten up by pastors with an axe to grind. We were told other churches were selling 'cheap grace.' (The bible says grace is the free gift of God) but Chapel marked it up putting an incredibly high price on it. We were counseled to beat on our breasts and admit we were 'a worm and no man.' There was abject hypocrisy as we later found out that many of our highly esteemed pastors were living according to standards well below those they required of us. Luke 11:46 - And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.
It was a blessing to return to my Presbyterian roots and be treated once again with dignity and respect, and not be treated like a despicable sinner in instantaneous need of God's wrath. You know, a man from Galilee who works as an advocate with his Father in heaven treats EVERYONE with such respect that he went to painful lengths to get us all a pardon from a death sentence.
While there could be many definitions of legalism it is characterized by Christians who are more interested in having you follow the law, than to understand & receive the grace purchased by Christ's atonement. Legalistic pastors are a bit like our militaristic US policemen....they want you to follow the law, or they will punish you. Legalistic pastors describe in greater detail the "fire and brimstone" and in lesser detail the "abundant mercies of the Lord."
Warning: If you attend a church that treats you like a despicable sinner, and admonishes you frequently to be 'perfect,' you are possibly in a cult.
Socio-Economics and Education
I made the statement that cults tend to draft the young. The young lack experience and discrimination. They are also able to accept things like rules to follow that older people would balk at. We certainly had some folks in their 40s and 50s, but I would estimate 70% of this church was under the age of 35. There were many wonderful things to attract people who sincerely desired to know, love, and obey God. Sadly, with the chapel's extreme emphasis on discipline, they came too much to know, love, and obey men, not God.
Chapel discouraged education. They encouraged going only to their bible college. Experience must have shown that those who were not exclusively socializing & educating themselves at Chapel saw a grand and glorious world of opportunity (and even spirituality) out there. They were tempted to leave. When I first joined the chapel I was counseled by an Elder to not go to a secular college. This was very foreign to all my prior coaching and mentoring. Several times the Pastor told me to not buy a house (something I saw as a prudent move for my starving young family). Hypocritically, the pastor himself (about my same age) owned his own home. I struggled constantly trying to support my family. I realized that my GI Bill entitlements would run out if I did not use them. I wanted to go to college. I wanted to be able to support my family. I naturally had to hand over large sums to support chapel. (For 3 years my deductible donations were higher than my net taxable income). I finally enrolled in college. My wife did not like me returning to college. She 'reported' me to the church authorities when I enrolled in college. My case really put church leadership in a bind. They absolutely did not want me attending any college. I had been pre-ordained as too stupid to go to bible college. I was to be a 'worker bee' who just labored so I could turn over my paycheck to the church so others more promising or spiritual than I could go to bible college. My family and I were literally living in abject poverty, paycheck to paycheck. It was despicable, frustrating, and awful. They told me that by denying my own needs I was building up treasure in heaven.
My Father was a millionaire. And, no, I make no apology for him. I grew up in a nice home in a very desirable beach community in Southern California. He was very frugal with his family & I was therefore not spoiled. But, after nearly a decade of Chapel-induced poverty I also knew that many people lived a whole lot better than I was. In fact, in 1982 my Father drove his new $80,000 Mercedes up to Seattle to visit me. He was so embarrassed at the humble (but cheap) mobile home we were living in, he refused to come in the house. He chewed me out in the street and humiliated me fiercely telling me what an embarrassment I was to him forcing his grandchildren to live in such 'squalor.' This made an impression on me.
My wife despised our modest lifestyle, but would not consider working. One year I worked two full time jobs. I also had to continue going to church 3-4 times per week. I suffered extreme sleep deprivation. Being a laborer without a college degree, I could not get a better-paying job. Because my spouse was unwilling to work, I could not take a sales job that might have potential. I had to have the biggest paycheck I could get. The economy then was terrible, and I traveled from layoff to layoff. It was discouraging. Since I still had my GI Bill, I finally realized that if I enrolled in college I would receive the immediate benefit of income equivalent to an extra part-time job, as well as a future benefit of greater career potential. This made great sense to me. So, to college I went, ultimately finishing both a B.S. degree and an M.B.A. in just over 3 years. Church leaders did their best to discourage my college, but I had them over a barrel. I told them I'd only be able to keep my tithes up with the added income of my 'extra job.' (I called it an extra job since it actually paid me about $12/hour to attend college). And, in those days, that was an acceptable rate to me (demonstrating just how necessary a college degree was). So, I continue to thank God to this day for the GI bill. It helped me survive, it got me educated, which in turn, helped me to become financially successful in spite of having to support 2 families.
While CC did not specifically seek 'dumbed down,' ignorant people, they did urge us to become or remain that way.
Warning: If you are in a church organization that suggests getting an education is a bad thing, you are possibly in a cult.
Resigning from Chapel
Attending college brought me both education and awareness of other people besides my fellow chapel members. This ultimately helped me realize that I needed to separate myself from the Chapel. In early 1987 I tendered my resignation from the Deacon Board. By this time my marriage was in grave disrepair. We had gotten counseling from time to time at the church, but it was always conflicting with many years of preaching at chapel. This was frustrating. I realized that resigning from the church was tantamount to resigning from my marriage because my wife at the time was far more 'married' to chapel than she was to me. I had good opportunities coming from warmer, desirable parts of the country, and I wanted out of cold, wet, cloudy, and rainy Seattle.
With the very limited contact I've had with former members in the 16+ years since the demise of the chapel, I note with interest that many went on to secular college to upgrade their skills and feed their families. Since I had 2 families to feed, I was very grateful I had 'pushed the envelope' and began my college while still at the chapel. I was that much ahead of my peers.
Connections and Divorces
Shortly after resigning, I was serving in the Army Reserves in Texas for about a month and had been negotiating with them to enter the Air Force as an officer, (having recently completed my Bachelor's degree). I called my wife. I could not have known that in my month away from Washington & CC a new doctrine of 'spiritual connections' had hit the church. Well, Chapel was famous for rolling out it's "unfolding revelations" from God. The chapel was encouraging very tight 'spiritual' relationships with others. (There are numerous verses exhorting us to 'love the brethren).' This new doctrine opened the door to a Pandora's box of illicit love affairs...something that was quite contrary to the legalistic environment we had known up to this point. (Until the advent of 'connections,' it had been prohibited for a man to pray for a woman, or vice-versa).
I was telling my wife that I planned to re-enter the military as an Air Force officer. This would require our leaving Seattle. She told me "Have a good time." I knew she despised me. I did not know she was already in love with DL, who was an Elder at the Kirkland church, and for this reason would not leave Seattle. When I returned from Texas I found that she was frequently driving 40 miles to take lunch to DL at the Boeing plant. She had never once offered to join me for lunch. DL and I had been pretty good friends, attending church together, and even working together at Boeing. Those were difficult days as I realized my wife was in love with another man. What do you do when in the middle of the night your wife gives you an affectionate hug and whispers, "I love you, George" (If your name is George, you probably say a prayer of thanks and then go back to sleep). Since my name was Mark, it had a chilling effect on me. This happened numerous times. Well, there were some painful, embarrassing times, but we all got through it, and I am happy to report that "Cathy" and DL have now been happily married for 16 or more years. Have you seen the bumper sticker, "My wife ran away with my best friend, and I really miss him." I appreciate the humor of it in a personal way.
DL's ex-wife "Carol" and I both lost our spouses in part due to the "connections" doctrine. When our pastor made the absurd suggestion to me in my distress one day that I might want to marry "Carol," I ceased to take anything the church leadership said seriously. Due to deep resentments and political posturing she felt would benefit her, my ex-wife desired to deprive me of my children. Due to the enormous gender-bias of the www.familyinjustice.com system, she had no trouble in using government power to abuse me this way. So, I returned to chapel simply because I could see my children there. I would visit with them, hold them, hug them, and tell them how much I loved them. But, I was looked upon as a renegade since I had resigned. Since the Pastor permitted another man to be dating my wife, I also found a cute one to date for awhile, and called her my 'connection.' I knew this was wrong, and was hoping the Pastor would forbid it. But, since he allowed it with numerous others, he allowed it for me. I did have many wonderful friends at the Chapel. I miss quite a few.
I believe by some reports over 1000 divorces occurred at the Burien church of 3000 people. This is astounding. Tragically, the marriages that got out alive were in the minority! However, I should like to point out that with the intense legalism, and the sometimes awful marriage counseling given, there were a lot of couples who had grown to deeply resent each other and were only staying together so they would not be dis-fellowshipped (a likely result of divorcing). Once there was a hint of temptation (as the connections doctrine provided) the marital casualties ran high. I do not blame my divorce on the Chapel. There is no way we should ever have been allowed to marry in the first place. Competent counseling prior to marriage (which should always be done by any church organization) would have never allowed my ex-wife and I to marry. We were utterly unsuited to each other from day one, and were too young to marry. I thank God that we miraculously produced two wonderful children together. (miraculous as in "immaculate conception"). And, the lengthy duration of our miserable marriage is testimony to our remarkable strength of character and commitment.
One final calamity regarding my situation with the Chapel surprised me. I was rather amazed that the Pastor condoned my wife sitting arm in arm with another man (who was married to another woman). They did this at church services for over a year while they were both married to other people. Because my ex-wife and I were a real mismatch, and because of the Chapel's legalism, we had remained together in a marriage absent of affection and love for years. The situation was emotionally abusive to both of us and sadly both had some resentment at each other. I reluctantly came to see DL not as an interloper, but as a deliverer. I felt guilty for thinking this at that time, but in retrospect, God blessed each of us though the stressful situation. I was in abject misery in my marriage. DL did me an enormous favor. My wife despised me, and I had grown extremely frustrated trying to please someone determined to not be pleased. She had decided to despise me regardless of what I did. I function better when those in my immediate circle respect me.
I was a little surprised by the fact that the Kirkland fellowship took no action with regard to "Cathy" and DL who both initiated divorces against their respective spouses. The Pastor had indicated that there would be 'discipline' if there were any divorces. But, fortunately, there was none.....until they got married! In my judgment, at the time they got married there should not have been any discipline. That was the end of impropriety. But, Brad F., who was I believe at that time in charge of the remains of the Kirkland fellowship issued a dis-fellowship status on "Cathy" & DL. Chapel members will remember the "We regret to announce..." announcements that demanded that members have nothing to do with dis-fellowshipped members. It is my prayer that all the God-fearing people who were dis-fellowshipped through the years by CC have found pardon and acceptance from the true members of Christ's body who understand Christianity is about "Faith, Hope, Love, Mercy, and Grace," not about enforcement of the rules of men (legalism).
Finally I was disappointed that those very few families who continued to 'play church' at the Kirkland facility were allowed to do so. I believe that the building should have been sold and the proceeds should have been placed into a fund to pay for counseling for the many families who suffered grave devastation and dislocation. I especially think this should have been available to the many children of divorcing parents. Instead the egos of a few adults who were not as devastated by the unfolding tragedy of 'spiritual connections' were stroked as they erroneously tried to keep King David alive with extra blankets. This was a great injustice!
I am older and wiser. The pain of the chapel years has given way to true joy and peace and a healthy, loving, accepting relationship with God, something I never had under the legalism of Chapel. I have many errant Christian friends who continually seek to draw me back into legalism (surrendering my liberty in Christ for a 'mess of pottage'). But, I stand fast in the law of Liberty for which Jesus died. I have questioned & defied Chapel teachings to my great and increasing joy. God has been faithful to continue to reveal his love, goodness, and grace in my life. The benefit to painful error is a strong appreciation for the truth when it comes. My deep appreciation for the vastness of God's compassion and grace is largely borne out of the agony of my years at Chapel. So, I can thank God for the suffering and difficulty of those dark, dreary, and rainy years.
If you are a pastor or a churched person and you are unaware that some churches severely scar and injure their members, please do further research! I had to go through a great deal of recovery to renew my mind after my cult experience. I am very reluctant now to involve myself in any church organization. This protective reservation is merely a logical self-preservation instinct. I fully understand why millions of Americans would never want anything to do with an organized religion. These people still hunger for God, but they cannot ever attend 'church' as you or I might know it. I am surprised when I find Christians completely unaware of the abuses many people have suffered at the hands of churches.
I have stayed in touch with just a few folks from the Chapel. One family that escaped intact has been especially kind and helpful to me. Ironically, I never knew them while at chapel. Only after we had escaped to 'Egypt' (California) together did we meet. "Peter and Linda" were extremely helpful to me because 1 or 2 years out, I still was shell-shocked from what had transpired to my life. It was so strange that I could not hope to explain it to someone who had not been to Chapel. "Peter and Linda" had been there. And, even though they had not known me at the time (I was at Kirkland, they were at Burien) they still knew all the trappings of Chapel's subculture, and how it would have affected me. I probably wore them out with my need to re-hash what happened. But, God provided them to help me recover. And, they patiently listened to me with compassion. I knew they understood what I had gone through. This was very beneficial to my recovery from Chapel and my family dislocation.
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Community Chapel Gathering (Dave Kenady's CC Memorial Site)
Mark S. Blackburn, MBA
1310 E Street Victorian
Sacramento, CA 95814
Last Updated: September 26, 2010