I am a former member of Grace Church. I am ashamed of how long I attended, was deeply involved and committed to this church. I wanted to share some of my concerns as a warning to all involved or thinking of being involved.

I started attending my first year of college, which is a time of extreme vulnerability and often openness to new ideas. They lured me in with smiles, emotional manipulation, and promises of a group of people in which to find support. I ended up sacrificing 9 years, thousands of dollars, sleep, my family and close friends, my health many times, and my college degree. (This is not an exaggeration.)

I was strongly encouraged to join a ministry team. I enjoyed the people on my team, but the culture of the church was that you gave all of your time to the church. After a year or two on the ministry team, a friend and I were the only ones left on that team, and we were doing graphic work to support the whole church – signs, posters, flyers, power point slides, brochures, etc. I barely slept, staying at the Ward Theater until 2 or 3 in the morning regularly, to meet deadlines from the leadership. I was in college, trying to get a teaching degree. I was sick constantly due to my lack of sleep and high stress levels. None of the leaders questioned these long hours and the toll it was taking on me or others. We were not paid or compensated for our efforts as it was simply expected of us. I don’t know how many hours I spent there each week, but I know it was more than 40.

After operating at this level for too long, I was asked to be the leader of another ministry. I didn’t want to as I wasn’t equipped or trained to be a ministry leader, nor did I like the work they asked me to do. They essentially made me do it. I tried and failed to lead a team of people. Eventually, my leadership role was taken from me without a conversation about it. I just simply wasn’t asked to leadership meetings anymore. I was confused and hurt. I was not set up to succeed and then never supported along the way.

Once you’re involved, it is very difficult to get out. It’s hard to see the manipulation, emotional and religious malpractice as the leadership is very good at convincing you that you’re just not seeing it correctly. They would talk around me in circles to convince me that it was actually my fault. As you start to question decisions and how situations are mishandled (of which there are many), you are told that you’re being divisive. People are told not to talk to you if you’re questioning or considering leaving the church. The person leaving is always the one at fault and current members are discouraged to talk to the person leaving.

Once you’re out, you start to realize all of the red flags. There is an absence of critical thinking and questioning. There is lack of accountability of the leaders. What the leaders say is “truth.” When I was thinking of leaving and confiding in “friends” at the time about concerning interactions with the leadership, I was told by a member that we must trust the leaders intentions; that the leader must have good intentions. I was trying to convey my specific concerns, deep hurts and all the red flags I was seeing, and I was completely dismissed. I was told that I was gossiping and being divisive. I know countless others who have left that didn’t want to share their stories of control and abuse as they felt that it was gossip. THIS IS NOT OK and a serious red flag of a controlling environment.

I painfully remember going on two wilderness pilgrimage trips. These are week-long intensive (and stressful) backpacking trips. During my first trip, I struggled a lot. I wasn’t prepared physically and certainly not, emotionally and psychologically. I broke down a lot trying to carry a canoe. My partner was not allowed to help me carry or balance the canoe even though he wanted to do it. He was reprimanded for helping me. Somehow I made it to camp the end of the day. During the day’s debrief around the campfire, everyone was supposed to talk about my failings that day. I had to endure people talking about how I failed and what sins I was committing. Thankfully, I had a friend there who stood with me and tried to stop the conversation. He was also the one who helped carry my canoe earlier even though he knew he would be reprimanded. At the end of the trip, I had a partner who just quietly encouraged me the whole day. He supported me and let me take my time. At the end of the trip, we all received lists of our strengths and weaknesses from the other people on the trip. It was the most shame-inducing experience of my life.

There is a lack of joy at this place. As a woman who ended up getting married and having kids while I was at GC, I constantly felt like I wasn’t good enough or serving enough. I felt like I had to sacrifice everything, and if I did anything to take care of myself, it was perceived as selfish. I was told by other women in the church to submit to the leader of the family, my husband. They instructed me to take care of all the household tasks, children’s needs and anything my husband needed while never complaining. I was told to stay home with my children whether or not I wanted to work outside the home. I was asked constantly to confess my “sins,” which usually included not having the energy to do all the things to support my husband and children while having a positive attitude. If I wanted to work outside of the home, I was questioned why I would even consider it because I should be the one teaching my kids everything. Many of these ideas from my “leaders” came from books like “Created to be his Helpmeet” and “How to Train up a Child.” As someone has already said in another post [on Reddit], these books advocate for practices that constitute domestic violence and child abuse.

My decision to leave came down to my concern for my children learning and being around these abusive teachings. It took my children to finally convince me of what was really happening. I also simply didn’t trust the leadership. When we decided to leave with a group of other deeply concerned members, we attempted meeting with the leadership to explain why we were leaving and we were completely ignored and dismissed. We attempted to set up a meeting several times. I was there almost a decade and they stated they already knew our concerns and didn’t care to listen to us because they were pursuing “important ministry opportunities.” I felt absolutely used after spending thousands of dollars on their giving projects and countless sleepless nights doing work for them.

Though I am not sharing all of my concerns here (and not giving all the specifics), I want to start the process of expressing my story as a warning to others. GC is a place of incredible manipulation and control. People are not free to be themselves or have critical thought. The stories are numerous (NOT an isolated few) and painful and have caused real, long-lasting harm. Though I do not know all of the ways forward, I am certain that GC is an unhealthy place and absolutely needs to be stopped.