The Redeemer Baptist story began in 1974, when around 30 families broke away from the Castle Hill Baptist Church in Sydney’s west, reaching out to local bikie groups, street kids, and others in need, offering live-in support and care. But the story today is about how that breakaway church turned abusive, leaving many of its members emotionally, spiritually and in some cases financially, destroyed.
The Redeemer Church members live a commune-like lifestyle, located in a series of residential properties in the western Sydney suburb of Parramatta. Many of those who’ve now left say the church’s control extended to the splitting and separation of families. Former elder of Redeemer, Alan Nutt, has grave concerns over the division of families within the community: “It’s very deliberate brainwashing to change people’s mindset about personal relationships, family relationships. To be told constantly that your parents are no good, ultimately the young person believes that and therefore if I’m going to make it in this life, I need to be in another household, where I’m going to be ‘properly’ cared for.”
In 1981 Redeemer Baptist Church expanded its ministry to education. Over a weekend they formed their own school called Redeemer Baptist. Catering for both primary and secondary students, for many, it’s the epitome of quality education. One parent from the school said Redeemer was “a fantastic school. There is no bullying, there is no drugs, there is no graffiti, my kids love going there.”
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But at the end of 2004 something went wrong. Twenty-eight Redeemer church members, including 12 school staff, left the community and school en masse. The exodus sparked local media attention and suddenly the school was engulfed in controversy. Parramatta accountant, Graeme Glossop, who has been assisting many of the school staff who have left Redeemer believes they were being underpaid: “They’re under independent teachers’ award and they’re supposed to be paid a certain amount of money. Well, you take an instance of one teacher that’s left, she’s now on $61,500 a year and she was getting paid $11,000 while she was in there.”
One former Redeemer teacher, Vanessa Bromhead, told Sunday that she spent her entire life in the community and had no idea she was being underpaid: “Having always been told, never talk about finances, never ask any questions about finances, I had no idea exactly what I could have been earning. And was unaware what it was, what a normal teacher’s salary was.”
These, and other financial concerns, are now haunting the Redeemer community, but perhaps more ominous is the claim by former members that once they leave the confines of the commune, they are cut off completely from family members left inside.
Redeemer Baptist Church, formerly shrouded in secrecy, finally thrust into the limelight this Sunday on the Sunday programme.
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