Sunday, 2 March 2014

Background - Part 1: Freedom, Secret Contact, Death and a Funeral

I was brought up in the Exclusive Brethren (EB) cult, who have now rebranded themselves as the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church (PBCC).  I left the group in 1986.  I was 22 years old and wished to pursue a life free from control, bigotry and oppression.  This was the best, but also the hardest decision I have ever had to make.  

As a result of the life choice I had made, I was completely cut off from almost every aspect of my life.  I say almost, as fortunately I worked for a "worldly" firm as I had not succumbed to the pressure to work for brethren.  I had to move out of the family home I shared with my parents and was shunned by family and friends alike.  This simply because I did not adhere to the EB/PBCC doctrines and wanted my freedom.  The brethren teach separation.  That means separation from all others who do not form part of the brethren fellowship, even separation from Christians.  I became someone from whom they had to separate.  

Without going into full details at this point, life was very difficult for the first few years.  It was a real struggle to adjust to "normal" life.  I had to start anew, with a blank canvas, trying to fit in, trying not to stick out as odd, making new friends and trying new things that I had never been able to do before because they were "worldly".  Sometimes I was desperately lonely, longing for the love of my parents, to talk to them, share a meal with them, spend time with them.  Sometimes, when I was very sad and lonely and couldn't sleep at night, I would drive to my parents house in the early hours of the morning and just sit outside in the car for an hour or so, just to try to feel close to them.  

However, no matter how difficult life was, and it was difficult, and no matter how unbearable the pain and loneliness were at times, I never once considered going back to the brethren.  I had my freedom and to keep hold of that, I had to accept the hurt and loneliness as the price that came with it.

A few years after I left the EB/PBCC, I met and married my husband, Dave.  Dave was the best thing that had happened to me since leaving the brethren.  We have two children who are now adults, Jade and Zaine.  

As time went on, from around 1991, the four of us gradually developed a secret relationship with my parents.  The children were little and they loved to see their grandparents and their grandparents were overjoyed to see them. The contact had to be hidden to protect Mum and Dad, because there was a big fear of them being punished if the relationship was found out.  They were not meant to have anything to do with me.  My elder married brother, Clem, did not know about our relationship.  If he had found out he would certainly have told the priests and Mum and Dad would have been punished, very likely by excommunication.  By keeping our relationship secret, my parents were able to keep in touch with both their children. 

On 3 February 2008, my father died suddenly, aged 95.  This was a shock!  Dad was one of those people everyone assumed would just go on for ever, despite his great age.  I'm really happy that a few days before he died we had one of the best telephone conversations we have ever had.  
My father.  Richard Sture. 
Although my brother had my mobile and home telephone numbers, he did not contact me to tell me of my father's death until several hours later.  When he finally did let me know, he told me that Mum did not want to see me and that I must respect her wishes.  I don't believe she had said that.  The following day, Dave took me and our children to see my father in the Chapel of Rest at the local hospital.  Afterwards, we went to see my mother.  She was most pleased to see us, but we were not allowed past the threshold of her home as my brother and his wife, Marilyn, were there and they stood in the doorway.  All I longed to do was to hug and comfort my mother, but was unable to do so because of my brother's and his wife's hostile presence.  My mother looked totally broken.  Every time I said something to her, Clem or Marilyn spoke in her place, even though she had opened her mouth to try to answer.  It was very sad.  We told them that we would be attending the funeral and we asked them to let us know when it would be.  Clem said that he would find out if if were would be allowed.  Dave took him to one side and told him very firmly that he was not asking permission to attend the funeral.  He was telling him that we would be going.

A day or so later a member of the brethren, Peter Gurr, telephoned.  He told us when the funeral would be taking place and told me that we could attend but must bear in mind a strict dress code.  Trousers of any kind were forbidden for me or Jade.  Makeup was not to be worn, nor jewellery, except for a wedding band and of course I would have to have my head covered.  I pointed out that should I decide to wear trousers to the funeral, the brethren could not legitimately object because a funeral is a public occasion.  Peter Gurr told me that my father would not want me to attend his funeral as an "undesirable".  I hadn't realised that wearing a pair of smart trousers would make me an undesirable!

The next day, we had a phone call from a close friend who worked at the cemetery where Dad was to be buried.  What he had to say shocked us.  He told us that the brethren had requested that the grave of an unrelated elderly brethren lady (who had died years previously) was to be reopened for Dad to be buried with her.  We found this to be horrific.  My father was a dignified man and we knew he had money put aside for a plot for him and Mum, for when the time came.  To think that he was being buried like this was just awful.  It was like he didn't matter.  We couldn't understand why they would be doing this, surely he should have his own fresh plot which in the future would see Mum joining him?  

In time, we came to realise why they had planned to bury Dad like this, and I will reveal this in Part 2.  Dave intervened and spoke to members of the brethren.  In brief, it was grudgingly agreed that Dad would have a new grave and Dave visited the cemetery and chose the plot.  He actually helped to dig the grave.  He felt it was the last thing he could do for his father-in-law.  I was so glad he could do this.  It meant so much to me.

The funeral was on 8 February 2008.  Close friends, Helen Ghinn, Mark Ghinn and his wife Deb, joined us.  I had chosen my outfit with great care.  I was not wearing a dress or skirt!    I would soon become the only female ever to wear trousers inside one of the brethren meeting halls.  They were black and cropped to just below the knee, teamed with knee high boots and a long coat.  The brethren  would never realise.  And the best bit?  I know that my dad would had slapped his thigh and flung his head back and laughed heartily at what I had worn, and got away with.  We are very alike, Dad and I.  
After the brethren left, Dave and Zaine finished the filling in and we placed a couple of pot plants 
We arrived about an hour and a half before the time we had been told as we could all recall when "outs" had asked to attend brethren funerals and had been told a time to attend, but in reality the actual funeral had taken place before they arrived.  However, it appeared not to happen on this occasion.  We were the first there and waited for everyone to arrive, which they did, in droves.  Everyone stared as they walked past us and into the meeting hall.  There were only one or two smiles, most people looked away as soon as we caught their eye.  Owen Cook who had spent some time out of the brethren and had socialised with us in the past totally ignored us.  We were met by chaperones Peter and Jean Gurr and were told that once everyone else had arrived and were seated in the hall, we could then enter by the back door and sit on the back row with them.  

I found we were sitting directly opposite my mother and she looked at me with love in her eyes and waved at me, smiling gently.  Several times throughout the service she did this.  My father's open coffin was in the centre of the room, as is their custom.  After the service we left and drove straight to the cemetery, arriving well before the brethren.  We made our way to the grave and stood at the head-end.  After around 20 minutes the brethren began to arrive and there seemed to be much confusion amongst them regarding what they should do.  They didn't make their way down to the grave to stand with us, the leaders hadn't arrived yet and they were like headless chickens. When the leaders finally arrived, the brethren, feeling more confident now, started to group at the opposite end of the grave to us.  Mum arrived in a wheelchair.  I was saddened to see her like this.  She looked so old and defenceless.  Dick Lynes, a local leader, asked us if we would stand away from the grave and on the path.  Dave told them that we were there to pay our respects to a much loved father and grandfather and we would remain standing where we were.  He stood with his arms around me and the children.  Mum smiled sadly and waved at us.  She looked totally broken as if, now that Dad was no longer there, she realised she was utterly at the mercy of the brethren, which of course she was.

The brethren circled the grave, standing shoulder to shoulder and jostled, trying to force us out.  We just stood our ground.  By now, anyway, I was going nowhere because my stiletto heels were firmly planted in the soft earth.  At no point did my brother or his wife make eye contact with me.  My brother prayed and I remember standing there, grateful for the support of my family and close friends.  I was aware of all eyes staring at me.  I didn't grieve until I got home.  I was numb and it felt like I was back in the brethren, being judged and ridiculed by them.  I kept all my emotions in check like I used to back then

..........Next:  Kidnap, Lies and Searching for Mum


43 comments:

  1. Unbelievable cruelty by a group who profess to be Christian.

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  2. I agree, Laurie! So much needless suffering!

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  3. nothing remotely Christian,spiritual or Godlike about these people. the brethren should hang their heads in shame.

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  4. I can personally vouch for the truth of this story as we are like sisters, but it is still uncomfortable reading, being reminded of the things that went on at that time. Sadly, the worst is yet to be told. Well done for getting this out there, Marion

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    1. Thanks, Helen. Yes, sadly, this story does not get any better. It gets a whole lot worse and is still ongoing

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  5. We experienced similar cruelty when burying my late father. The difference on this occasion however, was that my Father had left the HEB some years before, as we had, and my two sisters were still 'in'. On his death, we immediately notified my two sisters and made the necessary arrangements for his burial. Two days later we were contacted by one of my sisters who was quite insistent that we told her where my Father's body was, so that they could remove it. On those grounds I refused to tell her where his body was, but informed her when and where the internment would be. She asked if it would be OK for a 'handful' of close relatives to attend. We agreed. The undertaker we had appointed was actually a business customer of mine ( I was selling tea and coffee machines!) was himself a committed Christian and a lay preacher and was prepared to conduct a short graveside service at our request.

    When we arrived at the cemetery, myself, my wife and daughter, a lady friend of my Father's and her son, we were met with the sight of 30-40 HEB who dived into the back of the hearse when it arrived and promptly took over. This poor lady, who might have ended up as my step mother, didn't know a thing about the HEB and we had never met. You can imagine our embarrassment and unease, especially when she stepped forward to lay flowers in the grave, only to be chased away by an irate HEB elder shouting 'No flowers'.

    Why do they want to interfere in this way, with somebody who had made it very clear they were no longer interested in the HEB? He left no will, so it definitely wasn't a special request. I cannot forgive what they did. How can I when the perpetrators have never even apologised?

    The cruel twist in this story, is that my Father had been very ill for quite a while and was basically living in squalor, while his 'in' brother lived just 4 houses away in the same street and never called once. Where was this charitable, 'help anybody' HEB spirit in 1994? It wasn't there, so HEB please do not insult our intelligence by trying to claim it was.

    Mark Elliott

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    1. Mark, that is dreadful. I shudder to read stories such as this and to know that the perpetrators are doing this is the name of Christianity. So sorry to hear this.

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    2. Mark what a horrendous story and they call us opposers - this was them being opposers and horrible with it. Thank you for sharing this.
      Jill

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  6. Marion,

    Well done for having the courage to make a public record of your experiences of the Exclusive Brethren known from 2012 as Plymouth Brethren Christian Church.

    It is easy to see how some consider the PBCC / EB to be the modern equivalent of the Pharisees of the Bible. The PBCC really are the epitome of an extreme sectarian separatist group.

    Even when family members are genuinely Christian, if they leave the PBCC / EB they are treated as Apostates, Iniquitous and Unfit to Eat or Drink with, because in the PBCC / EB’s view, being inside the sectarian walls of the group is the only place a Christian should be.

    The damage the PBCC causes to family relationships is astonishingly unchristian and furthermore they divide the Body of Christ by refusing to eat, drink, fellowship, worship or sit at the Lords Table with any other Christian in any other Christian Church.

    We’ve also experienced the effects of “Separation” at the grave side of relatives being buried.

    - PBCC / EB refusing to attend the burial service of non member close relatives from outside the group, even when the close relative is a father or mother !. PBCC / EB then attending the graveside of said relatives, but keeping a good distance away and refusing to speak to any non member grieving relatives !

    - As non members, not allowed to attend the burial service of relatives who died inside the PBCC / EB, but allowed to attend the graveside. However, no PBCC / EB relatives spoke to their non member relatives. All PBCC / EB kept to one side of the grave, with non member relatives and family on the other side of the grave at a distance ! It appeared as though the grave itself was used as a physical separation barrier ! with PBCC / EB just glaring at the small group of non member relatives gathered on the otherside of the grave. The atmosphere was terrible, really tense.

    The lack of basic Christian love and compassion in the PBCC / EB is extraordinary and the lack of understanding about basic bible teaching is also extraordinary.

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    1. Thank you, Brother Rev for your comment. You are absolutely right regarding the basic lack of Christian love and the lack of basic bible teaching. After I left the brethren I was embarrassed to have to ask others what the significance of Good Friday and Easter Sunday was. I had no idea because I had never been taught

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  7. Thank you for having the courage to speak out. Those who have left the HEB/PBCC have so many stories to be told about the cruelty of this group towards those who have left. Some prefer to leave it in the past and others find it cathartic to talk about the cruelty. Probably one of the worst things about the actions of the PBCC is the number of people that they have turned off of Christianity completely by their teachings and their actions. I know many who have chosen to have nothing to do with religion because it's just to hard to risk the same kind of hurt again.

    Just a bit of my story - when my father was dying of a brain tumor, my brother and I asked for an opportunity to meet with him to say goodbye. This was denied by the brethren. He died a couple of months later and they buried him. We were informed of his death and burial about a week after it had occurred. Some years later during the period where the HEB were trying to make amends for some of their actions, my mother apologized for the way things had been handled, but it doesn't change the hurt and it doesn't bring back the opportunity to say goodbye to my father. We also now know that their supposed period of trying to make amends was all a farce and they shut the door on any relationship with family members who had left as quickly as it was opened. Again we had to chalk it up to just another cruel action on the part of the HEB.

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    1. Anonymous, I am so sorry to hear how you were treated when you father died. No, apologies do not change the hurt or mend the breaks and time cannot be reversed. They are unbelievably cruel.

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  8. I can totally sympathizewith you on this occasion as my E/B mother , passed away, and my E/B father and brother, did not contact me until 6 weeks later by letter. Their excuse was ,they thought I might cause a scene at the funeral.
    But apologised for that on their visit,3 or 4 years latter, when they came round to say I had been wrongfully withdrawn from.
    Incidently I told them ,they never told me I had been withdrawn from, that I was asked to leave my parents house when I was "shut up".
    Well done to stand your ground, I'm sure that was noted by heaven in your favour.

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    1. That is just so awful. Standard rubbish from them to say that you might cause a scene. We recently received defamatory letters from them in which I was accused of being bitter at the funeral and Dave of being antagonistic. Just ridiculous. We behaved in a totally dignified manner because we loved my father and were there to pay our respects!

      As for being wrongfully withdrawn from, so why can they still not have anything to do with you? I assume that is the case? An apology usually is accompanied by a change of behaviour, but not, it seems, if those apologising are the brethren.

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  9. "Causing a scene at the funeral" is a standard excuse of the paranoid Exclusive Brethren (PBCC Ltd). They must bear much guilt to know that they have behaved in such a way that might lead others to retaliate. As it happens, those outside of the group are able to behave in a much more compassionate, caring and considerate manner than many within. In the limited circle of a closed cult, behaviour becomes ill defined, crude and gauche. There is failure to distinguish between what is morally right, or wrong.

    Well done, Marion, for telling your poignant, and shocking, story; it is well written, and holds attention. I hope you will continue to produce further episodes, to an even wider audience.

    #notapublicbenefit

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    1. Thank you! I'm working on Part Two now

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  10. Great great work. Lovely blog.
    You may have to put their "brand new official name" "plymouth brethren christian church" into the title to help the search engines (& broose)

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  11. Thank you - now there's a thought. I will revisit....

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    1. Sickening behaviour by the breth. Disgusting and beyond words...... Gordon Martin

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  12. Just to make everyone aware, comments related to the content of THIS blog are welcome. Any comments that are unrelated, or are a personal, unjustified and defamatory attack on anyone else, will not be published.

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  13. What an amazing lady you are. Also what a beautiful husband you have. Your story is soooooo sad. I wish you and your family the very best

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  14. I vouch for the truth of Marion's description of her father's funeral at which we were present, and completely do NOT understand where the EB/PBCC get the idea Dave was antagonistic - we thought his behaviour was exemplary on the day, given the excruciatingly difficult circumstances for all involved (but especially Marion and her family). NonEB as far as I'm aware, had not usually been allowed to attend burial meetings, and had often been treated appallingly even at graveside services (as some of the comments above show)... so it was new territory for all of us, EB and non- or ex-EB alike. Jitters on both sides of the EB-constructed separatist exclusional fence.

    As for Marion being "bitter" - that surely is for her to say how she feels in her heart, not some outside peeby observer who knows hardly ANYTHING of what's been going on in totality from Marion's point of view. I would just opine that the Brethren should perhaps look at how they've treated Marion and her family over the years (and continuing), and ask themselves if just possibly she might have reason to be ever-so-slightly bitter?

    Google definition of 'bitter': "Feeling or showing anger, hurt or resentment because of bad experiences or a sense of unjust treatment."

    Hmmm, I think ALL exEB would have a right to feel this way if they so choose, without condemnation from the peebs thank you very much. And not a few never-EB people have also been treated terribly badly by Brethren over the years. Perhaps it's time - as volubly expressed by the recent Charity Commission decision here in the UK - for the HEB/PBCC to buck up and taste a little of the bitterness and hurt some of these people feel, due to decades-worth of Brethren action/inaction. (No Brethren, you do not need to plaintively cry, "Oh but there are people who say we have gone to the ends of the earth for them; treated them WONDERFULLY!" That goes without saying, you silly people - that's what churches and Christians are SUPPOSED to do, for crying out loud.)

    R.I.P. Mr Sture - I never knew you, but your loving strength of spirit shines on in Maz and her family. xx

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  15. Thank you for sharing this Marion. When you put it down so factually, it beggars belief!
    We were told at my husbands Mother's funeral that we should stand apart at the graveside. A distance of 50 metres was mentioned as being suitable. When we got to the graveside, we were then told we could stand a little closer, so ended up being about 20 metres away. The same happened at his Father's funeral 2 years later. We were not allowed close to the graveside until after all the EB's had gone because they crowded round it.

    How does this behaviour show Christian compassion?

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  16. Wow Marion, I had no idea that this cult existed in the 'modern world'. I feel so sorry for children that are born into this cult. No-one should be ostracized like this, cut off from families, friends etc it really does not make any sense. Thank God that you have been given some almighty strength and I hope your mission can succeed in showing the world what this cult is about and it is not right and should be abolished. I will read your other blogs. Good luck

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  17. There can be little doubt that the attitudes within the EB/PBCC are anything but Christian. Jesus commended a Roman Centurian for his faith; He sat at Sychars well with a social and religious outcast, and shared a glass of water with her; He ate and drank with publicans and sinners, and St Peter in his epistle ( 1 Peter 2.21 ) said that HE ( Jesus) is our example, and we are to walk in His footsteps. So forget that charlatan Bruce Hayles ( He is a false prophet ) and Look to Jesus, our High Priest; Saviour; Redeemer; Author and Finisher of our faith. and OUR EXAMPLE !. "The POOR heard Him gladly, and marvelled at the GRACIOUS words that proceeded out of His mouth". "Never man spake like this man !" Jesus is a WONDERFUL Saviour ! Alleluia !

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  18. We werent allowed to go to my mums funeral tho we were very close to her; told to stand over in the corner of the cemetry and not one person spoke to us! Hard to believe the treatment but true.

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  19. Does Peter Derrick Ghinn sound familiar?

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    1. Hello, I believe Peter Ghinn is my third cousin, with whom I haven't had contact in 40 years; mainly due to Separation. Why do you ask?

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  21. I don't know Peter Ghinn, but I do know of that odious little long nosed gnome from Redhill Peter Gurr. Like the rest of them, what a hypocrite! He didn't care much for his own poor senile mother, especially as he was too busy entertaining Charles and Pansy Dunn's babysitter in the back of his works van... just saying.

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    1. Anonymous, thank you for your last comment. Do we know each other? I feel that we perhaps do..... Are you able to email me on davenmarion.evans@gmail.com?

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  22. I actually know Peter Gurr too. I worked for him. It was his wife who didn't tell me the truth about Mum. If you would like to email me directly, I would be interested in hearing more.

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  23. What a harrowing experience for you. Very sorry to hear what you have been/are going through ... But also full of admiration for your courage and strength in writing this blog. I was at school in Horley with a number of Bretheren families and had 2 very good friends - sadly lost contact once school ceased. Good luck with your blog

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    1. Thank you for your comment. There are a lot of brethren in Horley. I am now working on my book which will be far more detailed than this blog but I will do a Part 6 update. Feel free to contact me if you wish on davenmarion.evans@gmail.com

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  24. Thank you for your story Marion, harrowing though it is. The wonderful part is that God has brought you through though nothing makes up for the loss especially of your mum. Our family has been extricated from this system since 1970 thank God. I believe you have had some contact with my brother Peter in recent times. God bless, David Proctor

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    1. Thank you for your comment, David. Yes, we can certainly be grateful that we escaped from such a cruel, human-rights violating and controlling cult. Yes, we did have a fair bit of contact with Peter, what a lovely man! My book is well under way, and it will be more detailed than this blog. It will the story very clearly of the cult's cruelty and manipulation. Take care, Marion

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  25. Reading about the Gurrs has been a total shock; Peter and Derek worked extensively on my then marital home and appeared the epitome of gentleness and professionalism. Chilling.

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    1. Hello, CavaQueen. Thank you for commenting. Yes, they would absolutely play the part and would never admit to the cruelty they mete out to those who they view as "opposers", simply because we choose to follow a different path.

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  26. Marion I look forward to reading more.
    Eleven years ago I had the good fortune to meet my now wife. Ten years previously she had the strength to leave the Exclusive Brethren after the death of her mother. Last year we received a letter informing us of my wife’s father’s poor health along with a photograph of him & a copy of the doctor’s report. I could see that my wife was upset & was struggling to reply. So I wrote back on her behalf knowing that I could possible get away with saying things that she couldn’t say. Low & behold one early morning we received a phone call saying that we could visit, we went that afternoon. We were a little apprehensive not knowing how we would be received. There was no need to be concerned as we were made to feel welcome. It turned out that my letter had been shown to the Lead brothers who gave permission for us to visit as long as fellowship issues were not discussed & on the condition that we did not eat or drink together. Over seven months we had a total of five visits, on all visit we had conversation on various subjects we my wife’s sister & bother in law along with interesting conversation with father about times gone by, family, jobs, life experiences & more. The last visit was for us a chance to say goodbye as father’s health had detreated & in his words he “waiting for the Lord to take him.” The only mention of the EB was on the last two visits when father whispered to me how his heart felt wished was to see us in the fellowship, my was response was “Yes I know”. Five days later (January 2016) we were phoned to be told how father had passed away peacefully that morning. We were not informed of the funeral. I was pleased to have had the opportunity to meet & get to know my wife’s father, sister & bother in law. They were very likable people & if circumstances permitted we would enjoy spending time together. My wife was pleased that she had contact with her father before his death after 20 plus years of no contact. We do not expect to hear from any one again. Best regards Phil.

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    1. Thank you for commenting, Phil. I'm glad you were happy with the way things were for you and your wife. I think it is a great shame though, that you were not informed on the funeral. Best wishes, Marion.

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