Warnes, Louise

Leaving the 2x2s – I was born and raised in the “Truth Way”, third-generation on my mother’s side, and first-generation on my father’s side, in the UK. There were five of us: my eldest sister, Tricia, then me, my brother, Charles, two years younger; Julia was six years younger, a twin (sadly Mum lost Julia’s twin at birth), and lastly, Rachel, ten years younger.

When my eldest sister was fourteen, she became extremely ill and was admitted to a hospital near the elephant and Castle in London. I saw Mum and Dad’s anguish and despair as they more than once rushed to the hospital having been told by the medical team that Tricia could die. At that time I started to pray. I prayed so hard that God would heal and make my sister better.

Now, because of the nature of Dad’s work, we rarely got to gospel meetings or weekday meetings, and as we lived away from other professing families, we did not mix with other friends’ children. We were brought up much more liberally than a lot of the children in the “Truth Way”, mostly because Dad, being a fridge engineer, worked long hours. In fact, he left early for work before we were up, and often he didn’t get back until we were in bed. So Mum had the task of bringing us up. But Dad was another story! He loved us and provided for us, but one look from him and we frazzled!!

However, we always went to the Sunday morning meeting which was held in a very elderly gentleman’s house. It was not exceptionally clean, and despite the roaring fire that was always alight in the fireplace, there was an overriding sense of dampness, and we got used to seeing the odd mouse dropping, amongst the dog hair on the carpet. Meetings were to be endured. My brother found them boring, and I did not always want to go.

Going back to trying to pray for my sister, when I was fourteen, I vowed, that at the next open meeting in a gospel mission, I would stand up and profess. I desperately needed God in my life. One day, Mum and Dad had been to see Tricia in the hospital, and with no thought for Dad who had driven partway to London and back, I asked him if we could go to the mission. I can see Mum’s face now as Dad said, “If you would like to go, we can go.” She was not happy; she knew how tired Dad was.

However, we went, and incredibly it turned out to be an open meeting! There were a few of the friend’s children who had obviously spoken to the workers and asked for an opportunity to stand and profess!! Of course, not me, I did not think I needed to ask their permission!! I had no idea what I was going to say, so when a young man stood beside me to give his life to the Lord I just stood up, copied what he said, and sat down. All I knew was that I wanted to declare to everyone that I believed and needed God in my life. Strangely, Dad did not say a word on the way home. I sat and thought, “what have I done?!” When Mum heard what I had done, she was furious. In hindsight, I now realise she knew what a rocky road was ahead of me, and what would be expected of me, so much that I was oblivious of at that time.

I do remember walking to school the next day with a feeling of lightness and somehow different. I did not take part in the meetings for a while, I was very self-conscious and shy. It was not until one of the workers came to a morning meeting that I felt I should say something, and thereafter I took part in each meeting with the obligatory prayer and testimony. For the next 44 years, I was going to battle with those meetings, taking part, feeling shackled as to what I wanted to say knowing it would be frowned upon.

I need to tell you the background to my parents, how they met, and how I ended up being born and raised in the “Truth Way.” Dad was raised as an only child. His parents were extremely strict Brethren. Dad was preaching at an early age and taught in Sunday school. His father, my paternal grandfather, was a lay preacher of the Hellfire and brimstone type!

Mum’s father, my maternal grandfather, had been christened in the Church of England, and although not a church-goer, always said he was C of E!! Mum’s mother, my grandma, had been raised in the “Truth Way,” but she stopped going at an early age when her mother, after losing three sons in their early teens, stopped attending the meetings. These tragedies left her totally bereft and broken and she never fully recovered from the loss, especially, as the villagers said, she had given everything to the “workers” instead of her sons.

However, when Mum was about nine, and her sister seven, my grandma joined the “True Way” again, and was very zealous and a staunch believer, so much so, that my grandfather, who would have nothing to do with it, would not speak to her for a year! Once Mum came of age, she stopped attending the meetings. She could see the detrimental effect it had had on her parent’s marriage, and she once remarked to her Mum, “when the workers speak—you all jump!!” They had a type of control over those who went to the meetings. Mum tried different denominations, but none appealed, so did not go anywhere, but she always had faith and belief in God.

Mum and Dad were introduced to each other by Mum’s Aunt. She knew Dad had broken off his engagement to his fiancé and thought he would get on well with Mum!! They certainly hit it off, and when Dad was introduced to his future mother-in-law and heard about the Way she was following, he was extremely interested, due to the fact he was not happy in the Exclusive Brethren he had been brought up in.

Dad and Mum then attended some gospel meetings being held by the “workers” who were holding meetings nearby, Charles Rollings and Ken Pagington. Consequently, Dad embraced the whole Way and professed; Mum took another six months before professing also. Having made their choices to be part of a Way that “had no name,” Dad and Mum were expected to conform to the way the friends looked and lived. Mum had to grow her hair and wear it long and up on her head, long dresses, no makeup, certainly no trousers for women, and no listening to the radio or watching television!!

Dad happened to be a television and radio apprentice engineer, which was rather awkward, but before he could change his occupation, he was conscripted into the RAF as a radio engineer and posted to Singapore for his national service. Dad and Mum dearly wanted to be married before he went so that Mum could go with him, but as Dad was under twenty-one, his parents would not give permission, no doubt showing their displeasure toward their son for leaving the Exclusive Brethren, and it was through knowing Mum that he was now following another Way.

In 1955, Dad duly sailed for Singapore and was taken in by the workers and friends. They were very loving and made him at home, and the outward standards were not so apparent. Once Dad turned twenty-one, he sent for Mum, and she went on a troop ship, taking three weeks to get to Singapore, and three days later married Dad. I believe their time in Singapore, the love, acceptance and welcome they received was what held them in the “Truth Way.” In fact, Mum often used to tell of Alex Mitchell, the head worker there, asking her and Dad not to judge the Singapore friends on their dress and hairstyle which was so different from English standards. (The women wore short hair, sleeveless tops and blousy slacks.)

Once they returned to England, now with my eldest sister, life became very tough, both financially and emotionally. The workers told Dad he was not going to be able to continue working with televisions and radios, so Dad, who could have had an excellent job on returning to civvies, had to retrain as a refrigeration engineer and to make ends meet he held down three jobs.

Of course, “meetings in the home” are one of the stipulations of the “Truth Way,” and it was not long before Mum and Dad had one in their home. The workers would turn up unexpectedly, no phones in those days, the mid-1950s, and even though money was noticeably short and food tight, Mum would have to feed them and us, while often going without herself.

I was born 20 months after Tricia, and our brother came 2 years after me. With three young children and a home to run on extraordinarily little, and a husband who, when not working, was running the workers round and giving them his time rather than his young family, it took its toll on Mum.

One Sunday Mum was trying to get tea and asked Dad to mind my brother while she got on, as there was to be an evening meeting. Dad was writing to some workers, and said, “No, the workers come first!!” I know, as Dad got older and wiser, he regretted so much how he put the workers on pedestals, to the detriment of his young wife and family.

From the time I wanted to know God in my life to when I met my future husband, I had never been brought up in an atmosphere of openly judging and criticizing those “outside.” We were encouraged to show respect, kindness and love, regardless of who the person might be. Mum had a great capacity to love, her warm loving heart embraced everyone. She would welcome our school friends, and when my younger siblings started having boyfriends, she would give them all the same welcome. I know of many professing families where this would never have happened!

Dad had been brought up by a very authoritarian father. He was expected to excel and grew up wanting to please his parents, so marrying someone they disproved of was not easy for him. He was strict with us, especially my elder sister, brother and myself. By the time, our two younger siblings came along, he had mellowed quite a lot!! He never lifted a finger against any of us—one stern steely stare was enough to keep us from doing wrong. He worked all the hours there were, often not getting home until the early hours. Mum always stayed up to make sure he got home safe.

Mum really had the job of bringing us up. No doubt, that is why we had such a liberal upbringing and outlook compared to a lot of the friends’ children, but Dad was still very much the head of the family. He still held the workers in high esteem, and in a sense, Mum and us children often took a back seat, but we were never in any doubt how much Dad loved and cared for us.  He just did not know how to show it, as he had not had it in his own upbringing. The workers would turn up, often unexpectedly, and expect a meal and even a bed! It fell to Mum to make the food go around and to wait on them. If they needed a bed, Mum and Dad gave up their bedroom for them while they slept on an extremely uncomfortable bed settee downstairs. I do not think for one moment it entered the workers’ heads where Mum and Dad might be sleeping!!

As children, we were not encouraged to do things that our friends were doing. We had low self-esteem, no confidence, and always wanted to please, afraid to say no. My two younger sisters had a less strict upbringing, but they still were very aware of this sense of oppression! Sadly, their experience, being brought up under the control and influence of the workers, caused them to question the very existence of a loving God.

For me, this makes my heart sore—that a manufactured belief system should rob people of the truth as it is in Jesus. Not a religion, a building, or outward appearance but just Jesus, and being saved by grace, not by standing and professing before the workers, who then held sway over you. Instead of being filled with a sense of freedom in Christ, you were locked in a professing box with fear and guilt as your companion. I was the only one in my family to profess; my siblings did not want anything to do with the meetings,

After I had been professing a year, I was baptised just before my 16th birthday in September 1972. My baptism took place in a river on the Norfolk Suffolk border, which ran through one of the friend’s farmlands. (Little did I realise at the time, that I would marry into this family)

The young men being baptised just wore a shirt and old trousers, but us young girls had to wear an old rain mac pined between our legs to keep it from riding up in the water, and a swimming cap. To say we looked ridiculous is an understatement!! However, the sister workers were extremely strict as to what we were to wear, certainly, nothing was to show that was not meant to be!! Baptism meant we were now able to partake of the emblems every Sunday morning, the bread and wine that were passed from one to another, each person breaking a small piece of bread, and taking a sip of wine from the cup.

One incident sticks in my mind, regarding getting to meetings. Dad would endeavour to get to as many as he could, and I do wonder if he felt responsible for taking me. One day, I had gone home with my school friend, and she asked if I would like to stay for tea. I duly rang home to let them know, and Dad answered the phone. He just said, “Well it is meeting night, Lou.” I immediately felt guilty—I had totally forgotten!!! But he said, “Never mind.” I felt I had somehow failed him, and from then on, I always felt very conscious of Dad. I don’t think for one moment he was judging me, but I felt I had let him down, considering how important the meetings were to him.

I was more of a practical person than an academic. I loved English, art and sewing, but not math!! So I left school with very mediocre CSE grades. However, I had already written to the matron of the large teaching hospital in the nearby city, and having gone through a nerve-wracking interview and tests for mental arithmetic and English, I was accepted as a nursing cadet to work mostly in the City’s children’s hospital in January 1974, and then to commence a two-year training for a State Enrolled Nurse the following year in January 1975.

Having left school in the June of 1973, to fill in time until I could start my cadet training, I worked as a care assistant in the local old peoples’ home, working with these frail and elderly folk made me realise more than ever that I wanted to care for people. Of course, nursing was not something we were encouraged to do, as it meant working shifts and weekends, which meant missing meetings!! But I was not going to be put off, even though I was a bit wary and in awe of certain workers, I was adamant I was going to be a nurse.

Soon after starting my nurse training, I decided to learn to drive. it was not practical to rely on the bus, and to get home on my days off, so although I did not really relish the idea, it was more out of necessity that I started driving lessons. One of the friends, a single lady, lived in the same town as my family and offered to take me in her car to give me some much-needed practice. One of the places we drove to was the family who owned the farm where I had been baptised!!

It was there that I initially met with my future husband. Of course, the family was known to Mum, as she had played with my future mother-in-law when they were children. Such is the nature of the “Truth Way,” you only ever mixed with the friends!! Most people in the “Truth Way” are connected by blood or marriage. Because it’s frowned upon to marry outside of the Way, all the young people must choose someone going to the meetings, if they want to marry.

My year as a cadet nurse, working in the children’s hospital for eight months, then four months in the main hospital outpatients was a happy and fulfilling time. To a certain extent, I was kept within the constraints of the Way by only mixing with the friends outside of work. I never went out with those who I worked with, and once they realized that I was not going to go with them, they stopped inviting me. I was trying to be good! Trying to be as perfect a professing young lady as I could be. I was shy, had extraordinarily little confidence, and as one of the meeting elders remarked to my Mum one day, “She is rather backward in coming forward!!”

It was when I was staying at the yearly Convention in Suffolk, that I got to know my future husband, the farmer’s son from the farm where I had been baptised. I was in my first year of training when we started to get serious. He would see me after work, much against his mother’s will, I am sure! His father was a tall serious man, not very assertive, and was most definitely not the head of his household!!

We went out for five years before getting married. For the first three years, I was not invited back to his home, even though we were all supposed to be in the one true Way!! He would see me at home with my family who welcomed him warmly, but he was always with his older sister!!

I learned from Mum after we were married, that the workers looked upon him and his sister as the way all children should be in professing families! I shudder to even write that!!

Despite reservations on both sides and some of my own that I would not let become exposed, we continued to court all through my training, and subsequent jobs. I continued working in jobs where I lived and had unsocial hours, so meetings and missions were not on my agenda. It was my relationship with God and how I acted toward others that seemed more important.

The longer we were together, the more something was not right, but as I was in love, I pushed these little niggling thoughts to the back of my mind. However, something happened one time that made me see my future husband in a slightly different light, and it unsettled me. It caused me to question whether I should continue the relationship.

I then wondered if I should go into the work—not that I had any deep yearning to give up everything and go and preach the gospel, but I was in an emotional turmoil, being pulled in every way.  One night I had a profound experience that I will never forget. I was lying in bed at home, turning over and over in my mind what should I do. I was praying for God to guide me, to give me an answer, when I was suddenly gripped by the thought, “Don’t marry!” It was so strong. It was almost like I was wrestling with an unseen power! I believe now it was God telling me not to marry!

I had a variety of jobs, and one was as a live-in nurse to a lady with multiple sclerosis. She was bedridden, and I was her main carer, although she had a live-in companion. To reach my place of work, I could go via the farm, so after three years, I was invited to tea, an excruciating experience, I had to endure for the next two years before we married. Why did I not flee then the sense of being judged by how I dressed. Why did I not see that by marrying into this family it would not change? Why?!! The only answer I can give is I was in love, and this love was blind!!

I have since been told by many different people, that they were all hoping and praying that we would not marry. In fact, my sister told me the day she heard we were going to marry that her heart sunk!! But we did! Was there a fear on my part that I may not have found anyone else? We managed to get a mortgage on a 3-bedroom semi, with a good piece of garden. Having gotten the keys on the 1st of February 1980, for some reason we set our wedding day on the 18th of March!! Giving us just six weeks to decorate which was desperately needed as the house had stood empty for several years!

I had been offered a job at a local hospital, and at the time of my interview, I had been promised accommodation for six weeks until we married. But when I enquired a few days prior to starting my new job, I was told there were no rooms vacant, so, I imagine, very reluctantly, my in-laws said I could stay with them, as they only lived a mile or so from the hospital!! This meant for six weeks I lived with them, working shifts, and being taken to all the missions there were!! I also realised, unlike my own warm-hearted and loving parents, that I was marrying into a family totally absorbed in worker worship.

The first time I went to the mission with them, I was speechless at how they were more taken up with who had missed the meeting, who was there, who wore what, who the message was for, and passing judgment and criticism all the way home. I still remember sitting in silence asking myself, what am I marrying into? They were part of the “Truth Way” we had all been brought up in together, yet they were so different from how I had been brought up.

The six weeks leading up to our wedding were taken up with getting the main decorating done in our new home, the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living room. I was once again made very aware of how domineering and manipulative my soon-to-be mother-in-law was. She chose the wallpaper, carpets and fireplace. As I didn’t want to make a fuss or appear ungrateful, I went along with her, but from that moment on, I kept her at arm’s length.

I vowed I would not let her manipulate me and run my life for me. I was quietly putting in a protective layer between us because I could see that my soon-to-be husband would never stand up to her. She was then and still stands between him and me. However, I was so certain that once he was no longer living under the same roof as her, he would man up, and stand up for us as a separate unit—how wrong I was!!

So, with reservations on both sides, we had the usual “Friends” godless registry office wedding, followed by a very subdued reception, where admittedly one of the workers who had come, did pray, and of course, we attended the mission that same evening—to the immense pride of my mother-in-law!! The next week should have been a short honeymoon, but both my husband’s parents went down with the flu, so he had to go back to work as their livestock needed feeding. Thus, our married life started.

Over the next three years, I worked in a local hospital for the elderly. I worked alternate weekends and often Wednesday evenings, which I welcomed so I could miss attending the meetings!!

Our life as a married couple was controlled by my mother-in-law. She would expect us to go to the farm whenever she had friends or workers over, and even though I would protest and say to my husband, they are her visitors, not ours, he never went against her wishes!!  So, I went along to keep the peace.

Three years after getting married, we decided to start a family. Sadly, I miscarried our first baby, but soon became pregnant again and had the first of four daughters. Over the next ten years, I stayed at home to bring up my four daughters. The workers were always around, and the mid-week Wednesday night meeting was taken away from my in-laws’ place and given to us just after our youngest was born.

We lived about fifteen miles away from the nearest convention grounds, so when it was preparation time for the workers to get the grounds ready for the annual conventions, we would have two or three workers at the mid-week meeting. This meant I had to get supper ready for them to have after the meeting!! My mother-in-law would put on a three-course meal when she had the meetings, but having four young children and later when I was working, I reduced the meal to finger foods—much to her disproval!!

Bringing up children in the “Truth Way” is not easy. Where I had been able to have friends and have a more liberal upbringing, my husband and sister-in-law had been brought up very strict. They had been taken to every mission within a 50-mile radius, and so we were expected to do the same. When I said no, my mother-in-law then insisted she would look after the children so my husband and I could get to the missions!! I was experiencing crippling migraines throughout this time that made me feel ill, so often I would plead a headache to get out of going!!

As the girls grew and came to the age where they were expected to go to the meetings, the pressure from my mother-in-law increased. She wanted her grandchildren to be the prime examples of perfect friends’ children. She would preach in the meetings and drop obvious remarks. She would be critical about the way I dressed them, and she often bought them matching dresses.

When my third daughter was about 15, she said she didn’t want to go to any more meetings. She was struggling with being bullied at school and suffered from anxiety. We accepted her choice. But sadly, when my mother-in-law heard, she told her in no uncertain terms that if she didn’t go to the meetings, Grandma could not love her or nor could Jesus!!!! Hence to this day, my daughter has no time for anything remotely religious.

My two eldest daughters met their future husbands both of who were professing. One daughter professed before getting married. My other daughter married before professing, so consequently, her husband had to stop taking part in the meetings and was not allowed to take the bread and wine!! I was furious! What an appalling pressure to put on my daughter who did eventually profess, but it was not easy for her, especially living in London away from her country upbringing. My two younger daughters never professed. They both struggled with anxiety and depression, and have had incredibly challenging lives, having children before marrying, causing their grandmother’s pride to plummet!!!  But that is another story!!

During the intervening years, I continued to go to meetings, have workers come and stay, juggled work as a nurse, and was controlled up to a point by my mother-in-law. By this time, I was digging my heels in and standing up to her in a quiet but determined way.

I didn’t see very much of my brother as he worked as an architect in London, I do remember Mum telling me something he had told her. When he was a teenager, he had gone to a convention and had decided to stand up and profess, but someone had said something to him which caused him not to stand up, and he never went to any more meetings or conventions again. In 1998, a month before his 40th birthday he had a head-on collision in his car and died instantly, an experience that rocked the whole family.

In 2008, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and in 2012, I had mouth cancer. I had my long hair cut short prior to going into hospital, the liberation of not having to put my hair up felt so good!! During this time, following a 13-hour operation, having radiotherapy, and recovering from such life-changing surgery, I missed a lot of meetings. I was conscious of my speech being difficult to understand, and I was very aware of having half my teeth removed which meant I was without front teeth!! The workers visited me but at no time did they offer to pray with me. I received a letter from a young sister worker who implied I might need a nudge to get to the meetings again.

In January 2014, my amazing Mum died from bowel cancer. From then on, I started to doubt and question why I felt no joy and no assurance in my walk with God. For years, I had never felt comfortable with things, at convention, the little cliques of friends, the overriding sense of control that came from some of the workers.

I just came to the place where I had to listen to these reservations and acknowledge them. I started to delve into websites on the internet and found a lot of information about this “Truth Way” I was in!!  I had to keep all I was looking into private from my husband, as then and now he is very indoctrinated and will not hear anything against the Way.

In the summer of 2014, we had a tent mission a few miles from us with three brother workers, and I gradually became more unsettled and unhappy, to the point I came close to an emotional breakdown. I knew I had to decide. I was losing weight and was finding attending the meetings a huge challenge.

November 21st, 2014, will always stand out. That day I went early to our nearest seaside town, sat in the winter sunshine, watched the gulls riding the waves, and prayed for God to help me make the right choice: Do I stay—or do I leave?

I was aware of how the friends and workers reacted when someone left. It was going to be the hardest decision of my life because the one person who was going to be hurt and fearful for me was my dear Dad.

Three days later I told my husband. I felt relief, sadness, grief and loss but also an overwhelming sense of lightness where before there had been heaviness. Dad rang up unexpectedly to ask me something, and I also told him. His overriding concern was that I would miss out. He sent me an email, and I replied that I had in no way lost my faith or belief in God, just the “Truth Way”!

I stopped going to the meetings and missions. I was having more corrective surgery, so the workers thought this was the reason!! On the anniversary of Mum’s death, 22nd January 2015, my three sisters, Dad, and I met up in the town where we had once lived and where Mum and Dad would see each other before they got married.

In my pocket was the letter I had written to the head worker in the county. It felt as if it was burning a hole!!  As we walked through the town, I posted it in the first letter box I came across and walked away knowing I had started on a completely new journey. My letter and the workers’ answers are posted in the Exit Letters (Warnes, Louise) on this website.

Seven years later, I now attend a small country chapel. For a year, I just watched and listened to online services where I learned about being saved by grace, and who Jesus should be in our lives!!  Not saved via men called “workers!”

My husband still goes to the meetings, albeit just Sunday mornings. My mother-in-law is in a nursing home, and as old age takes hold, I just see her as a sad old lady. Where once I dreaded being in her company, I now humour her.

The influence from being in the “Truth Way” still rears its ugly head at times. My husband thinks I am a religious fanatic because I now read my Bibles, yes, I have various versions. I also read Christian books and share my poetry and thoughts on a blog. Only my eldest daughter and her husband continue in the “Way”; my other daughter and her husband left during the lockdown. I continue to pray for my husband and all those who are so sure they are in God’s only right way that their eyes will be opened to see that Jesus’ way is not a method; that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (John 14:6).

I hear of young professing couples getting married, and I pray it is a true love match and not because they are limited to who they can choose as partners. To date, I have stayed in my marriage. It’s not an ideal life, but Jesus comes first and foremost now, and I leave my life in His hands.

Louise Warnes
England, UK
June 30, 2022

LINK to Louise’s Exit Letter and replies