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Title Community of Jesus - Mothers of invention

Community of Jesus - Mothers of invention October 16th, 2007 - Reporter Michael Valpy travels to Cape Cod to explain how a bizarre religious group fabricated by two charismatic women sparked controversy and alleged abuse at an elite Ontario private school October 6, 2007 - ORLEANS, MASS. -

They were two overweight boozing housewives who hid their drinking, their harridan brawling and their lesbian affair from all but a few obeisant servants. They lived like royalty with a private plane at their command, a Jaguar, a Bermuda estate and a flat in England. In private, they read cheap magazines, consumed vast amounts of food, fought physically and shrieked at each other for hours on end. Publicly, they consorted with important figures in American politics and society, and met Pope John Paul II for a chummy chat. And having founded an ultra-authoritarian Christian community that attracted the wealthy, the successful and often the mind-bruised to their compound on Massachusett's Cape Cod peninsula, they reached across the border to embrace Grenville Christian College, the private Ontario school now the subject of great controversy, and a naive hierarchy of the Anglican Church of Canada. These were the Mothers, as the two women styled themselves. The prioresses of the Community of Jesus. Mother Cay Andersen, who ran a bed and breakfast with her building contractor husband Bill at the picturesque Orleans cove of Rock Harbor - until she met up with Mother Judy Sorensen, who, with her wealthy financier husband, also called Bill, had a summer cottage two miles away at Crystal Lake. Their partnership, amazing in its audacity and charismatic despotism, produced the multimillion-dollar faith-based community that continues today under the mantra, "There's nothing more beautiful than a life of obedience." Mother Cay died 19 years ago and Mother Judy has largely moved offstage, replaced by the equally authoritarian, more intelligent but less charismatic Mother Betty Pugsley. But the religious dogma they stitched together out of their imaginations and the twists and turns of their own lives is what lies behind the current Anglican Church inquiry and Ontario Provincial Police criminal investigation into allegations of 20 years of psychological, physical and sexual abuse of students at the recently closed Grenville, located near Brockville. As a close relative of one of the founding Mothers, speaking on condition of anonymity, put it: "Everything at Grenville was right out of the Cay and Judy playbook." [...]

For at least two decades, the regimes of autocratic leadership purporting to represent the will of God, absolute submissiveness from members, apocalyptic sin-drenched theology, bizarre abhorrence of sex and reported degradation and maltreatment of adults and children at each venue were identical, hidden behind a veneer of genteel respectability and high-society schmoozing abetted by Anglican priests and prelates as well as, in the U.S., clergy from other supposedly liberal mainline Protestant denominations. What is surprising, maybe even astonishing, is that Community of Jesus control over Grenville was first reported in the U.S. media more than 25 years ago during a periodic journalistic branding - there have been five since the 1970s - of the organization as a mind-control cult. Yet, in Canada, Grenville has been seen as nothing other than an elite private school associated with Ontario's WASP moneyed class and the Anglican Church, until this past summer when abuse allegations surfaced shortly after the school announced at the end of July that it was closing because of declining enrolment and rising costs. [...]

In the early 1960s, Cay and Judy befriended Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch evangelical minister who had sheltered Jews from the Nazis. She introduced them to Mother Basilea and Mother Martyria, who in 1947 had founded the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in Darmstadt, Germany, with the objective of making Germans repent for their wartime sins and employing much of the strict 'discipline' and psychological sin-scouring later embraced by the Community of Jesus. Cay and Judy decided to create a satellite community of the sisterhood. First, Mother Martyria paid an advisory visit to Rock Harbor. Then came Mother Basilea, bringing four nuns from her sisterhood in 1968 to form the nucleus of a religious community. Judy started having a sexual affair with one of the nuns and was considering running off with her, which infuriated Cay, by then fighting with her on a regular basis. Mother Basilea ordered all three to Darmstadt for counselling and harsh spiritual correction. Peter Andersen said Judy stayed for six months, but his mother tired of it and left earlier. "It was 1969." Cay said, "We're going to do this 'community thing' better. We can do it better than these people." And so the Community of Jesus was born, incorporated under Massachusetts law the following year. [...]

University of Toronto theologian David Reed, an expert on cults and new religious movements, points out that the Community of Jesus in its picturesque, idyllic setting - and other such communities - quickly gained favour in the seventies as a counterculture alternative to the rampant individual freedoms and sexual liberation of the prior decade. "What you sometimes get is a kind of conservative overreaction," he said. "The whole community movement was a reaction to the hyper-individualism that they inherited." The fallout from flower power and too many summers of love. As word of the community's formation spread through New England and across the United States, a handful of single women became the first to join, followed by young academics and professionals, people from business and government, and the socialite elite, refugees from the drug culture and hippiedom, many carrying the wounds of troubled and unhappy childhoods and looking for certainty in life, for rules, structure and something to belong to. [...]

They bought, or built, picture-postcard clapboard houses - average current value: $1.2-million - around the Andersens' bed-and-breakfast, which was enlarged and renovated into the community's retreat house, now called Bethany. Boston magazine described the 35-acre compound as utopian, like a Norman Rockwell Eden, with neither gull dropping nor stray twig to defile the neat lawns and walkways. 'A luxury apartment for Mothers ' as they were now called, Cay and Judy was installed above the community's chapel. A 1985 Boston Herald article, quoting a community defector who had been close to the Mothers, described the apartment as 'equipped with every amenity' sauna, hot tub, luxurious carpets and furnishings and modern electronic equipment that allows them to hear, and in some places see, everything that goes on in the 10-acre compound. The bedroom contained a single, large bed. [...]

'Light sessions' were the daily fabric of community life. Wives were encouraged to hit their husbands in the relentless pursuit of confronting sin. Families were ordered frequently - and at a moment's notice - to move to different houses. Children were regularly taken from their parents, placed with other couples and ordered not to speak with their mothers and fathers. [...]

In 1969, three pastors and their wives came together to run the Berean School in Canada in a handsome, half-century-old stone building just east of Brockville, leased and later purchased from the Roman Catholic Redemptorist Order. Berean is Christian code for a number of Protestant sects that take a fundamentalist, or literalist approach to scripture - a reference to the city of Berea mentioned in the Bible's Book of Acts whose inhabitants - eagerly examined the scriptures every day to see whether  things were so. [...]

When the Berean Fellowship broke up at the beginning of the seventies, the pastors changed the school's name to Grenville Christian College. Many of the teachers who had come to the institution to prepare for being overseas missionaries simply stayed on, their numbers swelled by Berean missionaries abroad who found themselves with nowhere else to go but Grenville. [...]

The school needed church structure, the Mothers said, which Anglicanism provided. Anglican liturgy should be introduced straight away into the school chapel as had been introduced into the community's chapel. Plans were laid for the entire staff to visit Cape Cod in the summer for a two-week retreat - an event repeated annually for the next 20 years. The Mothers, in short, took over with a dazzling coup de cole. [...]

Meanwhile, all but a handful of the Grenville staff community swore vows of obedience to the Community's teaching and submissiveness to the Mothers. Staff children deemed to be 'rebellious' or 'haughty' suddenly found themselves shipped to Cape Cod for spiritual correction. Cape Cod children similarly were shipped to Grenville. [...]

According to former senior staff and students, Charles Farnsworth became the Mothers' all-powerful Grenville deputy, running the place with a feared inner circle of staff known as the A-team and ordering light sessions for students and staff at all hours of the day, abrupt relocations of staff families and removal of their children from their care. He was known to prowl the school grounds until 2 or 3 in the morning, taking notes, and to scan the campus through binoculars during the day 'echoes of the Mothers' reported electronic surveillance equipment. [...]

Now, the school is closed, and complaints about Mr. Farnsworth and others have been made to the police and the church. The Community of Jesus, its representatives say, has moved beyond certain past behaviour and is as vibrant as ever. However, former members say that little has changed, that the Community is deeply in debt after building a huge new chapel and that virtually all the original families have been fractured as members have left. Numbers have shrunk, they say, to about 270 from 350. Signs at the site warn would-be visitors the facility is closed due to construction. All that is missing is the Kool-Aid, Peter Andersen has written on an anti-cult website, a reference to the Jonestown tragedy years ago. [...]

Now, 34 years after the Mothers' celebrated motorhome visit, the diocesan Anglican bishop, George Bruce, is finally asking questions. And so are the police. This is a summary extract from the full article as it appeared on Globe and Mail, Oct. 6 2007 Full Article