Friday 16 December 2011

Mercy Mysteries - Towy Community Church responds

In the wake of critical reporting in the press, here, on Caebrwyn's blog and elsewhere, Towy Community Church has written to its members to give its own version of the truth, or perhaps I should say Truth with a capital T. Perhaps it is a sign of these straightened times, with so much else being in short supply, but the letter is very economical with the Truth and in parts utterly misleading.

Here is the link to the letter on the church's website. Given the church's record on editing out inconvenient statements and claims, a full copy has been made. Just in case.

The letter begins by saying that one individual disagreed with the Council's decision to loan the church money (on extremely favourable terms, ed) because of perceived links between Mercy Ministries UK and the now defunct Mercy Ministries Australia.

If by individual they mean the author of this blog, Cneifiwr will set the record straight. Cneifiwr disagrees with the entire £1.4m package of funding the church is getting for its bowling alley project from Carmarthenshire, and not just the loan. There are many reasons for opposing this project, but to put things into focus, in the same week that the Council approved the latest funding request from the church, it published plans for spending cuts which will hit everyone in the county, but in particular many of the most vulnerable and defenceless people.

How can you square building a bowling alley with huge injections of public money when the council is planning to close homes for the elderly, close a respite home, scrap respite holidays for disabled children, reduce care for children at risk from abuse, etc., etc.? Answers from members of Towy Community Church on a postcard, please.

The church says that concerns expressed in this blog and elsewhere about Mercy Ministries were based on false information linking Mercy Ministries' operations in the UK and Australia. That is utterly misleading. Mercy Ministries is an international organisation with operations in a number of different countries. What links them is the parent organisation founded by Nancy Alcorn in Monroe, Louisiana.

Mercy Ministries is not shy in making claims for itself, as you can see for yourselves with a simple Google search. And the same Google search will throw up many and varied accusations made against the organisation. Books published by Alcorn claim that girls with eating disorders, who engage in lesbianism or who lead sexually promiscuous lives, open themselves up to demonic possession. She went on,

Secular psychiatrists want to medicate things like that. But Jesus didn’t say to medicate demons, he said to cast them out.

Copies of manuals used to combat "demonic possession" were leaked to the press, and in response to criticism the organisation told the world that it had now adopted a new curriculum, and it says it does not perform exorcisms as part of its treatment.

You can make your own minds up, but several key facts remain.

(i) Towy Community Church carried an article on its website announcing its support for and affiliation with Mercy Ministries. It also said that it was hoping to open a Mercy Ministries home in Carmarthen. Cneifiwr was able to locate a copy of that article as recently as 12 November 2011.
(ii) At the beginning of December, the church's pastor, Mark Bennett, responded to a number of written questions put together by Caebrwyn and Cneifiwr. Here is what he had to say about the Mercy Ministries article:

The Mercy Ministries article which was previously on our website but had been removed in June of this year (by New-wave design) was written some years ago.  Our motive at the time was to see young women who were self harming receive help.  We are not planning to set up a Mercy Ministries home in Carmarthen. To answer your question ' Why not?'   Not everything that begins in seed form gets off the ground.   
Somehow, then, an article which Mr Bennett says was removed in June 2011 (before the negative press coverage) was still there in November 2011, which was of course when the scandal broke and the article really did disappear. 
(iii) The church now says:
In relation to the Towy Community Church links to Mercy Ministries UK, the church gave a very modest monthly donation of £20 for a short period of time to support its work to help vulnerable young women. It is one of many relationships we have with organisations that do very important support work in the community, and whilst we are unable currently to help fund their work, we wish them well with their difficult and important work.

It is not clear when the monthly contributions ceased (within the last couple of months perhaps?), but you can see for yourselves that Towy Community Church still supports the aims and operations of Mercy Ministries. 

(iv) Finally, the letter dismisses criticism that it is less than transparent in its financial affairs. Mr Bennett told us that for legal and operational reasons the church had changed its legal status in 2010. The fact remains that the only places the public could go to inspect the church's accounts, namely the Charities Commission and Companies House, have nothing to show, except for a brief statement on the Charities Commission website that the church's income and outgoings fell below the £10,000 annual threshold for reporting for the relevant period in 2010. How transparent is that? 

At the recent council meeting which approved the latest funding package for the church, many councillors justified their support on the basis that it would enable Towy Community Church to offer services including a food bank, furniture recycling centre and debt counselling service (run on "Christian principles" of course). A brief glance at the church's website says that the food bank and debt counselling service are up and running and have apparently been operational for some time. The furniture recycling service, which one councillor claimed to have used personally, is not mentioned until you turn to the Xcel project itself where it is described in the future tense. All very confusing.

The truth is that none of these services, which were used to justify the council's funding, were actually dependent on that funding. 

The final, and possibly the most innovative example of the church's approach to telling to truth, lies in Phase II of Project Xcel, which will involve the creation of a 500 seater auditorium (this appears to have shrunk from 600+ in earlier versions). In answer to a question from a councillor, Mr Bennett confirmed that this facility would be used for church services, although the church's website neglects to mention this minor detail.  

So here's a question. What do you call a building run by a church and used for church services?

Answer, if you are Towy Community Church in search of public money, "an auditorium".

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