Mary Wakefield Mary Wakefield

The end of brotherly love

Long after it became mired in scandal, the cult continued to exercise a powerful hold over Rebecca Stott

You can never completely leave a religious cult, as this strange and touching memoir demonstrates. Patterns of thinking, turns of mind, will linger with and haunt former members long after they escape.

Rebecca Stott was born in 1964 into the Brethren, a low-church sect that had broken away from the Anglican church in the early 19th century and then broken away from itself, bifurcating into factions as movements set on purity and unity usually do.

Cult is a strong word, but Stott’s branch of the Brethren really earned it. Her great grandfather, a sail-maker, joined the Brethren in Eyemouth, a fishing village not far from where I grew up in Northumberland. Back then the Brethren there was founded on frustration with the tax-collecting Kirk.

The Brethren became one of the most reclusive and savage Protestant sects in history

By the time Rebecca was born, down south in Hove, it was no longer a righteous protest movement. Any brotherly Brethren love had evaporated and the elders, among them Rebecca’s charismatic father, Roger, had taken to shunning and persecuting. It had become, says Stott: ‘One of the most reclusive and savage Protestant sects in history.’ Inevitably, its leader was a sex pest.

When Rebecca was eight, JT Jr, the then head of the church, indulged in a little spree that became known as ‘the Aberdeen episode’. On the eve of some great church council, he drunk himself into a stupor, then demanded that any attractive Brethren wives be delivered to him in bed. Some women went willingly. Some elders offered up their wives.

For Roger Stott, the Aberdeen episode was a deal-breaker. ‘It was like waking up from a prolonged bad dream,’ he told his daughter. He left the church and, though it cost him his job and his friends, exposed JT’s hypocrisy to as many members as would listen.

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