Jul 15, 2021

Anglican church facing flood of claims from 90s cult victims

The Nine O’Clock Service attracted the young with a nightclub style and its leader, Christopher Brain engaged in sexual activity with his followers
Sean O’Neill
The Times
July 15, 2021

The Church of England is braced for a flood of compensation claims from former followers of a cult-like movement that collapsed after a sex scandal 25 years ago.

Former members of the Nine O’Clock Service, which was known as the NOS and drew hundreds of young people to nightclub-style evangelical services in Sheffield in the 1980s and 1990s, have approached the church alleging that they endured abuse and exploitation.

The Right Rev Pete Wilcox, the Bishop of Sheffield, said the survivors had given “harrowing testimonies” about their experiences, and their concerns were being taken “very seriously”.

Sources said that dozens of other former followers of the movement were preparing to come forward to the church authorities to allege sexual exploitation and psychological abuse.

One former member of the group said: “People have been silent for a long time and it has caused them huge distress and trauma. The church told them at the time that they should keep silent, don’t talk about it, the press will destroy you. I think after the MeToo movement people felt ‘enough is enough’ and they made a decision to come forward.”

Some of those seeking help are considering legal action for damages because church leaders had overtly supported the NOS, believing that it would attract younger congregations.

The Anglican hierarchy fast-tracked the ordination of Chris Brain, the NOS’s figurehead, and gave his movement financial backing. He met Dr George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury elect, in 1990.

Brain resigned his ministry in 1995 as the scandal unfolded. It emerged that his entourage included a group of “postmodern nuns” who wore black miniskirts and whose tasks ranged from housekeeping duties to “putting him to bed” at night.

He told a BBC documentary in 1995 that he had been “involved in improper sexual conduct with a number of women”. Now aged 63, he uses the name James Brain and is co-director of a “transformation design” consultancy based in Manchester.

Between 300 and 500 people joined the NOS movement, often donating large sums of money and cutting themselves off from their families.

Despite the church’s role in promoting the NOS, the Right Rev David Lunn, who was then the Bishop of Sheffield, said the hierarchy was not responsible for any wrongdoing.

The present bishop made clear last night that today’s church was taking a different stance and urged former NOS followers to come forward.

Wilcox said: “We can confirm a group of survivors of the appalling conduct at the Nine O’Clock Service in the Diocese of Sheffield, which originally surfaced in the 1990s, have contacted the Church of England. Their concerns and harrowing testimonies are being taken very seriously. Support is being offered and the church is working closely with the statutory authorities.”

Richard Scorer, a solicitor at Slater & Gordon acting for former NOS members, said: “The Church of England has a moral and legal responsibility to those harmed by abuse in the Nine O’Clock Service and it must honour that and ensure that the appalling harm suffered by victims is properly acknowledged.”

Brain has not responded to attempts to contact him.


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