My name is Alison Chambers (nee Pearson). I live in Ireland but grew up in New England, on the east coast of the U.S.A. I was born and raised in ‘The Truth’ or the 2×2/ Cooneyite ‘Way’ which has no officially acknowledged name. I have been an ex-member of the group for approximately 20 years, having ‘professed’ for about five years. I am now an evangelical Christian and this is my story. At the time of writing, I am 38 years old, married with three children; a horticulturist who is now a stay-at-home mother.
I remember back to two years of age, and my recollection (although somewhat rose-tinted I suspect) of age two to nearly five was quite idyllic. I remember running in the sunshine, picking flowers in the field, being afraid I might step on a snake, playing on swings and in the sand box with my sister and occasionally with other children. There were many meetings, of course, and I mostly remember them as snuggling up between my parents, usually on a sofa, listening to stories about those unbelievably stupid children of Israel, and others, who constantly forgot what they had promised or learned no length before! As I used to listen, I remember thinking, ‘I will never be that stupid. I will always trust God and I will never disobey Him.’ I remember falling asleep on the way home from night meetings in the car, and then not falling asleep, but pretending to, so that I could get carried in to bed!
I also had a shadowy awareness of ‘bad’ people, such as women who wore ‘pants’ who were going to hell. I remember asking my mother one day when out shopping why that woman over there is wearing pants. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to do something that would cause them to go to hell. I think I asked if she (the woman) knew (that her pants/trousers were going to cause her to go to hell) and thought we should tell her. My mother just told me you can’t go around telling people things like that.
My life as I knew it all changed drastically the day I started school. I will paint the scene. This was 1970s America where boys and girls alike wore jeans and t-shirts and the vast majority had shoulder-length hair with ‘bangs’. Their worlds involved Superman and Wonder Woman.
Enter me, wearing my lovingly home-made frilly, lace-trimmed dresses, stockings/tights and patent leather shoes. I had two braids that I could sit on. I had never had a ball thrown at/to me before. I had never heard of Superman or Wonder Woman, and had only seen a tv (a turned off one, that is) a couple of times at an aunt’s house. In those days there were few enough channels on tv that everyone watched most of the same programs and the children were always asking, ‘Did you watch—- last night?’ I eventually figured out that they were talking about tv, and would just say, ‘No’.
The teachers were ‘bad women’, wearing pants and short hair. I was a bit afraid of them at first, and had communication problems, as I didn’t speak with the local accent and didn’t understand some of their words.
I kept to myself most of the way through school. It was not in my personality to befriend the other ‘losers’ so I preferred my own company. I observed the whole school system like a fly on the wall, but I was never part of it. The image I portrayed to other people was not me. It used to annoy me terribly when someone would curse/swear across the room and then look over at me and apologize profusely. Did they think I had never heard a swear word before?
I never snuck around or lived the double life, because I was very serious and believed that we were not living for this world, and it wasn’t worth throwing away everything just for a few pleasures here and now.
As I got older, I didn’t enjoy the company of the Friends, or that of outsiders. I fit in nowhere, except in nature. I spent long hours roaming through the woods, writing poetry, philosophizing and that sustained me. I loved the Earth and my ambition in life was to live like the Native Indians, fully off the land. I wanted nothing to do with society. At times I didn’t like the God who created us and then wanted to ‘break’ us. And that God who considered the earth to be like dirt under his feet because he was going to destroy it all anyway and create a new one. But I still hadn’t conceived of any other options.
I will keep moving along, but will mention that during the few years that I was ‘doing what was right’ (14-19 years), I was consumed with anger and hatred and frustration. My future stretched out in front of me reflected nothing but dreariness and misery.
Shortly after leaving school, I decided to go to Ireland. I had been there on a visit to see relatives a couple of years earlier and, despite protesting greatly at being taken there, I felt a connection and felt the people (I had met mostly farmers) had a respect for nature that wasn’t present in the part of the world where I lived. I thought long and hard about it, changing my mind several times, but then I made up my mind and that was it. I went under the pretext that it was a holiday, but I never intended to go back.
Apart from the normal culture differences of two countries, I also experienced unexpected culture differences in religion. The list is something like this:
Where I Came From (USA) ~ Where I went to (Ireland):
We avoided ‘worldly fashions’ in clothes ~ Fashion sense was trendy and Expensive
My family was quite a-materialistic ~ Materialism was rampant
Men with moustaches or beards ‘lacked understanding’ and weren’t baptised ~ Brother workers had moustaches
We avoided any semblance of celebrating or acknowledging Christmas ~ Christmas was openly celebrated, with workers asking what Santa brought
We were part of a very special, mystic ‘thing’ that was too special to even describe as a religion, the only Way to Heaven ~ The Friends were another Protestant faith
Long hair meant waist length at least ~ long hair could be shoulder length
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. The most disturbing thing to me was the fact that all of the Friends considered themselves Protestants. I would have thought that we were above such a label. If someone left or married ‘outside’, once it was within Protestantism it wasn’t so bad (despite plenty of bad attitude toward those churches). If someone married a Catholic, that was horrific. This just didn’t make sense to me. When I was in the North, someone casually mentioned the ‘First Convention’ (in reference to Crocknacreive), which I found a bit shocking, too.
When I was back in America at convention, there were Irish workers there, as there often would be, and I listened carefully as they got up on the platform and used the same words I had been listening to all my life, droning on about how wonderful it is that God’s Way is exactly the same in every country all around the world. For the first time, I didn’t take them at their word, but realized that they must actually be lying. Surely they could see the differences.
I finally managed to extricate myself from the meetings and workers, because I didn’t like living the double life that the young people were living (although I did it for a while), and this wasn’t the same ‘special’ religion I had been brought up in and it did nothing for me. So I realized I really knew nothing at all about life and decided to go live it. When I made this decision I also stopped reading the Bible and praying.
WORLDWIDE CHURCH OF GOD
Sometime later I met my husband, who had a similar upbringing to mine due to extreme religion. (Incidentally, he knew of the ‘Friends’ and has a few relatives in it.) His family, under the regime of Herbert Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God, had strictly kept the ‘sundown Friday to sundown Saturday’ Sabbath, all of the seven Jewish Feasts of the Old Testament, avoided unclean foods, and avoided celebrating Christmas or birthdays. (And this is in rural Ireland with a 98% Catholic population, where this type of thing would really stand out).
We both had had painful upbringings, being the oldest of our families and the first to be released into a community where there were no others of our kind. We both had had an overdose of religion and swore we would not make our children suffer like that. We wanted them to be normal.
We did attend the WWCOG church for a year or two, but then the drastic doctrinal changes came into the church and there was a great falling away. My study of Armstrongism, while I never bought into it, shed light on more that was wrong with the Friends.
I also studied the Jehovah’s Witnesses a bit, only out of curiosity, as they used to come around regularly, and I actually learned some basic Christian things from them that I had failed to pick up elsewhere (such as original sin), but of course their overall doctrines were extremely leaky.
TURNING TO GOD
One night, my husband was praying and he asked me if I had said my prayers or something to that effect. I informed him that I didn’t pray. He asked ‘Why not?’ It seemed such an absurd question to me. ‘How can I pray?’ I said. ‘God doesn’t listen to people who are not willing to do what they know they should be doing’. He said that that was ridiculous, and when I thought about it, I realized that other people were not under the restrictions that I was. Here I didn’t even believe that the ‘Friends’ were biblical, and yet I still viewed God as he had been presented to me by them. Ordinary people on the street (whom I would have, unfortunately, considered spiritually inferior) could pray to God for help when in trouble, but I was not able to because of my ‘knowledge’.
Also in discussions about the Bible, (which were always plentiful in our house), when I would explain what a verse meant (and I could explain away anything!), he would often say to me, ‘No, that’s only what you’ve been told it means. I wonder what it REALLY means.’
So at some point, I decided to pray to the God Who Created the Universe. I just stripped him down to his basic function as Creator, and left out all of the other aspects of ‘God’ as I knew Him. He was also the God who created me, and I took a chance that He would bother to listen to me, given that he had bothered to create me.
I resurrected my King James Bible and read it straight through. I don’t think that I had read every part of the Bible before. I had read the New Testament, the gospels many, many times and Psalms and Proverbs and made several starts of the Old Testament, but usually didn’t get past the first 3-4 books. I had also done a lot of reading bits here and there. I had been brought up to read 1-2 chapters at a time, morning and night (rushing in the morning, tired at night).
So I attempted to read it with an open mind, and to listen to what was actually being said, and not what I had been told it said. I know that reading through some of the gospels, I placed my full trust in Jesus as my Saviour and this was when I became a Christian.
However, I still had trouble when reading the Bible, especially the New Testament. Some verses would just jump at me and point an accusing finger and say, ‘No, you’re all wrong. Look it’s here in black and white. The Friends are right. You’re going straight to Hell.’ And even though I logically knew this wasn’t true, it would still inspire panic in me.
When I had started to pray to the Creator God, I used ordinary, conversational language, not ‘King James’. So I decided that it was ridiculous reading the Bible in an old-fashioned language and I started reading the New King James version. I found this helped the situation, as the wording of many verses in the KJV was so deeply ingrained in my head and associated with certain meanings.
Probably around this time, I presented my first physical petition to God. It was based on Matt. 7:9-11 (which of us being evil would give a son a stone when he asked for bread, and would our Father not give much better gifts than us); on the prayers of Hannah and other women who asked God for a child; and on the fact that David and several of the OT leaders prayed to God before going into battle and before doing physical things. And God was displeased when they went about things on their own without consulting him.
At this point, we had been ‘leaving the door open’ for about two years for another child. I had been very much of the mindset that if God wanted to give us a child he would and constantly prayed that His Will would be done in this regard and that I would accept it. But it had come to the point where I was starting to consider which alternative therapy I would employ in order to move things along a bit. So, due to the above reasons, I decided that rather than trying various things to enhance fertility, that I would just Ask God. He could do it.
I asked Him once. Less than two weeks later I knew I was pregnant.
I have to admit that this had a much more profound affect on me than becoming a Christian. I knew that Christ had died for my sins, but He had died for EVERYONE’S sins. I was just one more of millions cashing in on it. But when God showed me proof that He had
1) heard my (selfish) prayer and
2) cared enough about me, personally, to give me what I asked,
it was completely overwhelming. I felt that I had never done anything good in my life. I had done nothing only rebel and look out for myself. But God actually loved me so much that he would grant me my deepest desire in the physical here and now. This was not the God that I grew up with, who only wanted to test and try us and make us suffer and suffer more.
The fact of the pregnancy was miraculous enough in itself. But nine months later, I gave birth to a girl. I had two boys and had entertained dreams of this beautiful little blue-eyed, blond-haired angelic girl I was hoping to have during my previous pregnancies. This time, to inoculate myself against disappointment, I didn’t even let the possibility of a girl come into my mind. I was completely shocked when she was a girl.
And as time continued, she grew into the EXACT image, at about two years of age, of the beautiful child I had pictured years earlier. Not only did God give me my request, but He gave me my deepest desire, above and beyond what I would have dared to ask for. He certainly knew my innermost thoughts.
FINDING A PLACE IN THE BODY OF CHRIST
Though it was not a pressing issue, I was aware that as a part of the ‘body of Christ’ described in the New Testament, I should have been in contact with and having fellowship with other Christians, and I did pray for this. I had kept an open mind towards returning to the meetings, imperfect as I knew they were, but I was definitely not led in that direction.
Having familiarized myself (somewhat) with the Bible, the first time I heard someone actually preaching the Bible and completely making sense of it was Charles Price of the Peoples Church in Toronto, on tv. My in-laws introduced us to him and after some time, we all decided we would like to know more about him and what religion he belonged to. My husband looked up the website and rang Toronto, only to be told that they were simply an independent church in Toronto. There was no worldwide network of ‘Charles Price followers’. We could not hook up with a small group of these people here. Because we were still looking for the ‘ One True Church’, we just couldn’t understand how someone could put out such good, biblical teaching and not make provision for people to follow globally.
I should probably just mention at this point that the Worldwide Church of God took a complete u-turn after the death of its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong, and slowly turned into what is now classed as an evangelical church. The vast majority of the followers deserted during this time, and many formed offshoot churches, but my parents-in-law stuck with the direction the church was taking them. And I, though I was going through my own experiences, somewhat followed in their wake.
My in-laws again led the way to a new, local evangelical church. We scrutinized everything, trying to determine if this was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. I blanched at a lot that reminded me of the Friends. I remember remarking to the pastor after a few months, when he approached me and mentioned the ‘Cooneyites’, that ‘they say practically all the same things you say here, but just live it out differently.’ I remember one sermon where he was talking about Jesus being the Way and the Truth. As far as I had come, I still sat there with a sinking feeling, knowing that I was the only one in the room who knew about the Way and the Truth.
In fact, during the same above mentioned conversation, the pastor had approached me by saying that he had heard I had been a Cooneyite, but knew that they didn’t use that term. I replied as I always did, that Eddie Cooney had been one of the ministers, but had left and that they weren’t Cooneyites. He said that that was very interesting, claiming to know very little about them except what he had read in a leaflet by an ex-member years ago, but mentioned that he did know that Eddie Cooney had been ex-Faith Mission.
That comment stuck with me, because I tied it to a conversation I had had a few years earlier with a neighbour. This man is familiar with the Friends and with the Faith Mission. He mentioned the Cooneyite connection, I denied the label, as always, and he surprised me by quite adamantly insisting that the Friends actually WERE Cooneyites. He then told me a story about how Edward Cooney left the Faith Mission to start this new thing, followed by his being ex-communicated by his own people and how the new group became so extreme at one point that they refused to sit at a table to eat with people they considered ‘unbelievers’. I had found the conversation a bit amusing at the time, but didn’t think much more about it.
So, having heard of Edward Cooney being connected with the Faith Mission by two different people, I started to wonder if there was any truth to it. Out of purely idle curiosity (I didn’t think it would make much difference to me) I decided to google ‘Edward Cooney’ to see if there was any little scrap of information about him that I could glean. DID I EVER UNDERESTIMATE THE INTERNET!!
I was in complete shock, firstly, that the ‘Way’ was written about and documented. I still believed that it was a well-kept secret, having absolutely no documentation. I spent a few weeks, when time would allow, absolutely glued to the internet, reading article after article. I read Lynn Cooper’s online book, The Church With No Name; and then, finally, came to Kathy Lewis’ book, The Church Without a Name. I had to read it through a couple of times. Some areas I had already come to understand, but other areas I reacted quite strongly to, feeling that she must be lying.
(For instance, when she said that the ‘Friends’ don’t believe in the Trinity I thought this was untrue because I did believe in the Trinity; but this was obviously as a result of my own bible-reading. Months later, we sang ‘Jesus is the One we Worship’ in church, and I thought, ‘Hold on here, we don’t worship Jesus. This is wrong.’ When I went to find the scriptures to show to the pastor to show that that hymn was in error, I couldn’t find them. In fact, Jesus was worshiped from when he was just an infant.)
The fact that words like ‘gospel’, ‘truth’, ‘way’, and others had been re-defined opened up worlds for me and gave me a great release from the occasional ‘flashbacks’ that I couldn’t explain. (For proper definitions of them, consult any dictionary!) And learning the details of the history helped me understand the origins of a lot of attitudes I had and in many cases still hold. (For instance, considering big, flashy weddings ‘inappropriate’ or ‘gaudy’.) For an abundance of factual historical records pertaining to the group, I would recommend the Telling The Truth website by Cherie Kropp . And I am eternally grateful to Kathy Lewis for her book, The Church Without A Name.
MORE EXPERIENCES OF GOD
Going back to church, I found that things took on much more meaning for me, now that I had gone through an intensive period of ‘de-programming.’ (It is a lifelong process). Jesus’ sacrifice and the mercy and grace of God all became much more real.
Shortly afterward, I believe I had my first encounter with the Holy Spirit. It is difficult to explain, but I will attempt it. It was a fabulously beautiful day, a rare thing in Ireland. I had been looking out my bedroom window at the breathtaking view out it, soaking up its beauty just before I went to pray. Before I even had a chance to get started, God just showed me that what I had just witnessed WAS Him, in all of its beauty and glory, but that it was only the tiniest little piece imaginable of not only Him, but of simply what He had created. Whenever He shows me a glimpse of Himself, the vastness of what is God is so far beyond comprehension by the human mind that all I can grasp of it is that I can’t grasp it. But it makes me and this little world seem very, very small. And it opens doors to another reality out there, behind a veil, that is really more real than the visible, tangible things in our world.
Another significant moment was a dream I had. In my dream, I saw a rainbow stretching out in front of me. In between me and the rainbow, there was nothing but white clouds, but a voice coming from the whiteness was shouting excitedly, ‘He’s coming, He’s coming, He’s coming!’ (I had no doubt that this was in reference to Jesus’ return.) I thought, ‘Everything hasn’t happened that has to happen before He comes’. And then, ‘Oh, well, I obviously was wrong.’
The joy I felt as I sort of floated forward was unexplainable, and I can safely say that I have no fear of death since then. Now, I am not claiming that that dream has any prophetic value, or is any new revelation from God. It was just a dream. But considering how many times over the years I had dreamed of Jesus’ return and woke up in the middle of the night in a complete panic, it just showed me the level of healing that had taken place in my life. And I know that the best is yet to come. Our lives are not just about here and now, although I believe that every little detail of the present is significant.
CURRENT CHURCH ATTENDANCE
After about one year of attending the Laois Bible Church, and just when I was starting to warm up to people and was re-arranging my lifestyle so that I could get more involved with church activities, my husband decided that we wouldn’t go there anymore.
I knew that fighting his decision was not the right approach and that the situation was in God’s hands, but I was still devastated. Only in hindsight could I see how instrumental my being cut off from the church was in developing my ‘hunger’ for God. I would never be content now to attend church on a Sunday and listen to one sermon for my week’s ‘feeding’. I comb the internet for good transcripts of sermons and Christian articles. I listen to sermons and discussions on tv. I read the Bible a good bit (I highly recommend study Bibles) and pray off and on all day long.
God taught me that a church is not about ‘belonging to a right church’. It is not about friendships and socializing. It is not about getting into the thick of all the activity, as I would be inclined to do. He taught me to approach everything spiritually, seeking His guidance foremost in all things. He taught me not to depend on the minister to do the studying and relay it all to me Sunday, but to search and study for myself. Also, if you are looking to people or a church for help, they will usually let you down. Basically, He took my focus off the church and made sure it was firmly placed on him. And I did return to church, less than a year later. We now attend that church Sunday mornings and a Methodist church Sunday evenings.
Around the time that we returned back to the Laois Bible Church, they were announcing that there would be a baptism coming up and anyone interested to contact the pastor. After hearing this, I thought immediately, ‘I need to be baptised’. And then I realised that we were supposed to go to a wedding in England during the weekend in question. Having considered the issue, I decided that I would have to tell my husband that I couldn’t go to England because I felt it was more important to be baptised.
However, I didn’t say anything to the pastor that day, because I always like to pray about things first. And God then very, very clearly told me not to do it. I accepted this, thinking that the timing obviously wasn’t right, and even thinking that maybe I wasn’t ‘ready’ for baptism.
A couple of weeks later, my husband had an accident on his motorbike. When I walked into the Emergency Room, the first thing he said to me was, ‘We won’t be able to go to England now’ (he had a broken pelvis). I had expected him to be more upset about the state of his bike than the state of himself, but he was more upset about missing the trip to England than anything.
And it was one of those breath-taking moments when I realised what God had just done. He told me, ‘No, you don’t do that. Just sit back and I’ll take care of this.’ God moved a mountain and I was baptised that weekend and I didn’t have to make a stand that would most likely have caused problems. I’m not suggesting that his broken pelvis was just an unfortunate side-effect in order for things to turn out right for me, but as C.S. Lewis would say, ‘That’s part of his story’. All of our lives are such an interwoven tapestry and every little detail is in God’s hands.
Proverbs 3:5 ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.’
COMMENT ON PRAYER
I can’t say enough about prayer. I believe that most of our ‘work’ as Christians is done through prayer. As Psalm 127 says, ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain.’ We can waste so much time and energy and effort doing things that we think are worthwhile, but Jesus can accomplish so much through us when we are in tune with what he’s doing through prayer.
COMMENT ON THE BIBLE
And I can never say enough about the Bible. I advise reading it and reading it and reading it some more. But it is necessary to read in conjunction with prayer for understanding and also it is extremely wise to use the resources available to us from others who have studied the bible particularly over the past 2000 years since the canon of the New Testament has been completed.
What newborn baby born today would be able to invent a language, speak it, invent a counting and adding system, and then devise a method of writing on paper or the such, and then move on to invent a computer with all its programs, and then invent an airplane, manufacture the different components and transport them from around the world, etc. And yet, through the advances made by previous generations, a child of 3 or 4 years can sit up to a computer and use it.
It is the same with the Bible. For any of us to read it without guidance, there is very little progress that we will make in a lifetime, in comparison to what we can understand with help from those who have preceded us. As regards being afraid of being deceived by false doctrines, it is important to pray for protection and discernment every time we approach the bible or other resources. And God will show you. He wants to.
I find that the bible is a system of checks and balances. When a doctrine is correct, all verses that you can think of pertaining to the doctrine and others, just click into place and make sense like pieces of a puzzle fitting neatly (when you go, ‘Aha, that’s what that meant!). Whenever a doctrine is not right, there are always those niggly little verses that contradict. And this is why I believe it is so important to be familiar with the whole Bible, because the Holy Spirit will bring verses to our minds, once we have read them, to either affirm or contradict what we are thinking.
REVIVAL IN IRELAND
I feel and so do many other Christians in Ireland, that we are witnessing the beginning of a great and exciting revival in this country. Already, lively evangelical churches are forming in all the main towns across the country, mostly in the past ten years. They are growing rapidly and hopefully will continue to do so and I hope that someday a new term will be coined for the history books for this revival to replace the ‘Celtic Tiger’, which is now a thing of the past.
Missionaries are pouring into the country which was once known as ‘The Land of Saints and Scholars.’ Despite all the missionaries, Catholics, Protestants, and even the workers, that this country sent out all over the world in previous generations, it is now being considered a mission field. Saint Patrick’s job is being done all over again, mostly by American and English men. The Catholic Church has lost credibility with many of its followers and the Celtic Tiger (materialism) has let people down as well and there is a huge outcry to God for something real. Many of the foreigners who arrived as a result of the Celtic Tiger, particularly the Africans, are also Christians and I believe that the presence generally of foreigners has been quite instrumental in allowing Irish people to put aside their own differences between Catholic and Protestant in the presence of drastically different cultures.
I just couldn’t help mentioning this, because I find it very exciting to be witnessing and it is so clear how God is working to lead people to himself.
IN CONCLUSION (at last!)
I have found reading and discussion on the TLC (The Liberty Connection forum), which is exclusively for Ex-2×2’s, extremely beneficial. Because most of us have a gaping hole where we should have had a normal childhood (those of us B+R), we can relate to people from all over the world on certain issues. Women in their thirties getting their ears pierced for the first time can meet women who got theirs pierced in their sixties!!
There are many Christians on the board, but also many non-Christians, so there is someone for everyone. Our present circumstances are all different (even the Christians belong to varied types of churches) but we have our pasts in common. And this is something we can’t relate to with anyone who hasn’t been there. Among normal people, there are always those moments when someone mentions an old movie and everyone knows it except me! Or when people are talking fondly about their childhood memories of Christmas where I only have emptiness instead of memories. There are certain stories and circumstances that the people of the board understand that no one else out there would get.
I have added my story to this site so that a wider group of people out there could hopefully relate to parts of it and also so that God can receive the praise due to Him for what He has done in my life. I have no problem revealing my identity because I have nothing to hide and everything to shout from the rooftops about!
By Alison (Pearson) Chambers
July 7, 2011