Man says impact of 'brainwashing' remains 3 years after leaving Plaster Rock church
Greg Comeau says his family has been split since he and his wife left the church and a daughter remained
Greg Comeau left the Family Worship Center church in Plaster Rock three years ago and he says he experienced what he considers "brainwashing" that still impacts his life today.
"Even still today, my wife and I will look at each other in amazement and say to one another, 'Can you believe we did this? Can you believe that we left?'" said Comeau, who now lives in Dieppe.
"You have to understand the stronghold that brainwashing has on people."
The church is at the centre of allegations that its leadership is using its influence with congregation members to have them shun family members who are not also members of the church, and in particular, family members who were previously members of the church and left.
Comeau and his wife Jennifer left the church in April 2013, after 23 years.
Comeau says he has had little contact with his oldest daughter, Rebekah Berry, who is still a member of the congregation, since he left the church.
"It's like having your right hand missing. I mean because of the closeness of the family," said Comeau.
"Part of you has been detached. It's a severance."
CBC News spoke with Rebekah Berry. She rejects the claim that the church influenced her decision to reduce contact with her parents.
"I am not happy that it has come to this, but I want to publicly thank mum and dad for how they raised me. I am sad that we do not walk the same road anymore, but I am thankful that they instilled it in me so strong that I have not deviated from the way that I was raised. Really, that should make any parent proud," said Berry.
"I am tired of being made to feel like I am being forced by the leadership in the church, even by my husband. You can take all of those out of the picture and I have still God almighty that I answer to in my daily life."
Comeau says their strained relationship worsened around the same time he began supporting the Facebook posts of former congregation member Trevor Argue.
Argue's posts talk about the deterioration of family relationships when people join or leave the church. Argue's own mother and youngest brother remain the church.
Argue says he has little contact with them.
Comeau says he struggled with the church's teachings from an early stage.
"Put it this way, Greg Comeau — then — was a zealot for [former pastor] Dana McKillop, and was very deceived, very deceived," said Comeau.
"The one thing you never did was ever come against the preacher, never. Whether it be Dana McKillop or [current pastor] Daniel McKillop, you never went against what they said," he said.
"You could never get it right. And regardless of how hard you tried, how much money you gave, how many services you attended, how what you thought was dedication to God, you never could get it right."
'We are respectful'
CBC News has spoken to three other people who have relatives in the church, some of whom are former members.
They told similar stories of diminished relationships with family members. None of the three wish to be publicly identified.
In December, members of the community held a protest outside the church on Sunday, Dec. 13.
Around 30 people attended, holding signs, saying "stop the abuse" and "family comes first."
Pastor Daniel McKillop of the Family Worship Center declined to be interviewed by CBC News, but provided an email statement on Sunday.
"We are respectful of our collective right to diversity of thought and beliefs, and we are committed to making active contributions to support our communities and our fellow residents — with a goal that family relationships be strengthened both within and without our local congregation."
If you have more information on this story, please contact reporter Redmond Shannon.