Council leader Meryl Gravell and chief executive Mark James are very enthusiastic backers of Towy Community Church and its Project Xcel, so much so that they have taken to showering this evengelical group with public money to build a bowling alley, etc. Meryl told us only this week that the work the church is doing will help reduce the burden on the council's social services budget. It sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Almost too good to be true.
Buried deep on the church's website is a piece about Mercy Ministries, and it plans to open a Mercy Ministries house right here in Carmarthen. The website is fairly terse about this project, but just in case anyone decides to edit the church's website, here is what it currently says in full:
Why not, indeed? Or why not widen our search, and put Mercy Ministries into a search engine. Perhaps Mr James's office was too busy to do this, but if they had typed "Mercy Ministries Scandal" into Google, they would have been in for a shock.
Mercy Ministries was founded by an American fundamentalist Christian called Nancy Alcorn, and it now has affiliates in several countries, including the UK. Mrs Alcorn even has her own Youtube channel, where you can listen to her preaching about demonic possession and the need to cast out demons. As with so many other organisations of its kind, Mercy Ministries also teaches that homosexuality is inherently sinful, and it is virulently opposed to abortion.
You will find plenty of accusations on the Internet about the methods used by Mercy Ministries, including repeated allegations of exorcisms to cast out demons in cases such as eating disorders, and Mrs Alcorn is very critical of modern psychiatric practice.
In 2008 the respected Sydney Morning Herald investigated the Australian affiliate and uncovered practices which eventually led to the closure of two homes there. It is worth a read.
Towy Community Church does not yet operate a Mercy Ministries house, but it is a partner church of Mercy Ministries UK and intends to open a residential centre.
Carmarthenshire County Council needs to open its eyes and ask itself some searching questions.
Towy Community Church is not the only evangelical grouping to have sprung up in Carmarthen in recent years. Another is Living Word, a group understood to have some very influential adherents. Here is an extract from its Statement of Faith:
'That those who believe in him look forward to the sure and certain hope of eternal life whereas those who do not will spend eternity separated from Christ, in hell'
Of course, the more traditional Welsh chapels continue to minister to their flocks alongside these newer organisations. The Bethel Evangelical Church has applied for planning permission to change the old MFI building in Carmarthen into a community centre, and there's another one in Ammanford doing the same, without massive financial support from the county council.
A final thought. It would seem that the decision last week to loan Towy Community Church £275,000 on top of the huge sums already received in grants will not need to be ratified by our democratically elected councillors in full council because the Executive Board gave itself powers to complete the deal back in May.