REBECCA STOTT In the Days of Rain; A daughter, a father, a cult. Reviewed by Linda Godfrey
This is a story of the devastating effects of waiting for the Rapture – and surviving a cult.
Rebecca Stott is the daughter of Roger Stott, once a lay minster in the Exclusive Brethren in England. In the Days of Rain relates one family’s experience of living inside a cult, leaving it, and their life afterwards. The family had been Exclusive Brethren for 100 years:
My family hadn’t belonged to the Brethren, we’d been caught up in them. Caught up like a coat catching on thorns. Caught up in a scandal. Caught up in the arms of the Lord. Whichever way you phrased it, it meant you didn’t get to choose, and that there was no getting away.
The Brethren believe they have to be ‘clean’ for when the Rapture comes, when God will take up all the good people and the Earth will be ravaged by floods and fire. The Rapture is predicted to be coming in anything from a few weeks to a couple of months. Which, for me, immediately raises the question of why this group is getting married, having children and buying houses when all these activities take much longer than a couple of months to complete. But then logic and clear thinking is not one of the hallmarks of cult members. They are too busy trying to do as they’re told. According to the Exclusive Brethren, the world is ruled by Satan and in order to stay ‘clean’, life has to be very restrictive: no living in apartments, because you might be in contact with Satan and ‘worldlies’; modest clothes; cleanliness; long hair for the women. Women do not speak at meetings and they do not participate in decision making. The only book available to read is the Bible; there’s no radio or TV, no cinema, no theatre:
‘We weren’t allowed to talk to other children at school,’ I’d say. They told us that everyone outside the Brethren was part of Satan’s army and they were all out to get us. They called them ‘worldly’ or ‘worldlies’. If you didn’t do exactly what they said, they’d expel you. Then your family wouldn’t be allowed to speak to you ever again. People committed suicide. People went mad.
Understandably, it was dull and boring to Rebecca’s intelligent, questioning young mind. Her father, Roger, was fantastically intelligent and was among the last of the Brethren to be allowed to go to university. He was exposed to books and experiences that he had to keep hidden, and it seems from what Rebecca says that this binary life made him a little crazy.
The book begins on the Fens. Rebecca Stott is there, with the rest of her siblings and her stepmother, caring for her father while he is dying. The writing is poetic as she describes the house, the garden, the environment, and especially the white owl in the trees. Roger wants Rebecca to help him finish his memoir. But one section is too painful to be spoken aloud. It’s about the time when the family left the cult, when the leader of the group they belonged to became maniacal, drinking whisky and taking whatever young Brethren women he wished, fondling them not only in front of their husbands but groups of Brethren men, and having sex with them. None of the Brethren men spoke up. The congregation was in uproar, but obedience was so ingrained that only some families left the cult. The congregation waited till the man died to be rid of him.
Leaving or disobedience is punished. If you are thought to be ‘unclean’ you are shunned by everyone, including your family. You are locked up in a room in the family’s home and visited regularly by ministers and interrogated until you confess your sins. Stott says this leads to suicides, even murders. She tells the story of one man who killed his entire family with an axe after being shunned for three years. We are not told his crime, but Roger Stott admitted it was inconsequential. Rebecca recounts that if you leave the cult you cannot have any contact with your immediate family, your extended family or your community. Plus, you have no skills to deal with the outside world, you don’t know anyone, you aren’t that well educated and you have no work-related ties, because members work in businesses owned by Brethren. Often you will lose your house because to buy a house you would have borrowed money from others in the cult. All in all the Brethren weave a sticky, messy web around the group and keep the members close and living in fear.
This is Rebecca’s story of survival, as well as her family’s history and the story of their life after they left the cult. Her mother continued in her Christian faith and took the children to church. They tried out the Baptists, the Methodists and finally settled on the Anglican church. Her father lost his faith all together and had a severe reaction to living without the tight controls he had had on him. He gambled heavily, drank heavily, went on wild spending sprees, became obsessed by the films of Ingmar Bergman, embezzled money from his workplace and went to gaol, slept around and eventually separated from his wife and family. Through it all Rebecca’s mother kept everything together at home, shepherding her five children through this new world, making sure they were educated and getting herself a job to support everyone.
There are two Australian connections in this book. The first is that Rebecca’s great-grandmother Ada-Louise and her sister emigrated from Adelaide and married Brethren in England. Ada-Louise was locked up in an asylum for 40 years because she was ‘wilful.’ The second, more important connection, is that Sydney-based Bruce Hales and his brother used the scandal outlined in this book to take control of the world-wide Brethren network. Hales is still the world leader of the cult.
This book gives a fascinating insight into how a closed group works and the devastating effects it can have on families and individuals while they wait for the Rapture. I would have loved to know more, but I do understand that Rebecca can only write what she knew at the time and as a child would not have had knowledge of the inner workings of the group, or of her father’s mindset – there is insight regarding the actions of Roger Stott, but little access to his thinking and emotions. Nevertheless, this is still an absorbing gaze into the Brethren, their beliefs and how they operate, as well as a daughter’s fine account of her mercurial father.
Rebecca Stott In the Days of Rain; A daughter, a father, a cult Fourth Estate 2017 PB 400pp $27.99
Linda Godfrey is a writer, editor and Program Manager of the Wollongong Writers Festival. She is studying towards a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Wollongong, and writing a novel about cults.
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