The following Op-Ed was submitted anonymously. The contents of this article might be stressful. Discretion is advised.
Sussex, New Brunswick was previously plagued by the extremist church, Higher Life Christian Centre, which was organized and run by Reverend Philip Hutchings and his wife.
If Rev. Hutchings’ name looks familiar, that is because the pastor has more recently moved his operations to Saint John. His new church is recognized by the name His Tabernacle Family Church and has been under fire for its odd behaviours and controversial sermons. For both non-members and ex-members, critiques of the church are plentiful. This article will serve as an overview of the cult-like church and its harmful impact on everyone involved.
COVID trouble & Dingy tent
The COVID-19 Pandemic was certainly challenging for many people, however, isolation and provincial mandates sought to support the health and safety of all. Rev. Hutchings and his wife did not believe in these sentiments and felt it was their right to ignore the mandates to continue to host services and to have communion at His Tabernacle Family Church.
At the time, the province’s updated emergency order said that churches must choose between either reviewing proof of vaccination by all those in attendance or holding services with 50% capacity with distancing, contact tracing, and no singing. Masks were considered mandatory with either option. Hutchings posted on social media that he and his church would not be following any of the above options. As a result of the violations, Phil Hutchings was arrested.
A year following his arrest, Hutchings took to social media and posted the following statements:
Along with his continued disregard for authorities, he sought back up from his church with printed orange shirts with the saying “MY PASTOR WENT TO PRISON FOR HAVING CHRUCH.”
Controversial/Hate Sermons and social media (abortion/homosexuality)
Rev. Hutchings often preaches anti-LGBTQ+ ideologies on both social media and during church services. When the Higher Life Christian Centre was in operation in Sussex, they previously held two specific services on ‘what is wrong with being gay.’ Believing that these disgusting comments would also serve as great advertising for both their church and religious beliefs, Rev. Hutchings also posted to Facebook the following “experience”:
In addition to the anti-LGBTQ+ comments, they have also repeatedly shown anti-abortion ideals and harmful health/family advice to those involved in their church. For example, an anonymous source detailed a harmful diet that was ‘prescribed’ by Rev. Hutchings, “I have a friend who did 7 days with no food and was passing out at work.”
Another source indicates that Rev. Hutchings tried to convince youth to run away from home due to being surrounded by “ungodly” people and explosively reacted when parents asked them to stop communication with their children: “He literally told my sister to run away from home because she was surrounded by “ungodly” people. They tried to press charges against my mom for kindly asking them to stop telling her this”
Immense scrutiny and news coverage occurred over Rev. Philip Hutchings’ Facebook post in 2015 concerning women’s selfies and cleavage that may be visible in them.
He posted the following and deleted it shortly after the criticisms arose:
Both Global News and CBC News posted articles relating to the incident and those commenting against his statements on May 1, 2015. In their articles, they note that Hutchings would not return any calls or share any comments regarding his public, online comments. In addition to his silence, people at his church also remained quiet and did not speak on his behalf.
One member of the congregation did decide to speak up with their comments. Mary Thompson shared with CBC News that her pastor had a point about showing too much skin: “If it’s okay for cleavage to be put all over Facebook, then what’s it going to be like in 10 years? Are my boys not going to be able to go on Facebook without seeing full breasts or full butt shots?”
To contrast, Jesse-Lynn Jenkins was quick to call out the harmful implications of Rev. Hutchings’ post. She said that his comments were disappointing especially coming from a person who presents himself as a leader in the community. “There’s a way to inspire people and help people. And if shame and guilt are in that, it’s just not productive. It’s the opposite of what Jesus was trying to teach.”
Weird Worship Practice/Time Commitment
Informants have also released questionable photos from church services at His Tabernacle Family church that demonstrate the weird worship practices. Several images show women and children lying down on the dirt floor of the tent where sermons take place.
In addition to the odd practices of worship that take place at the make-shift church, time commitment and church participation as a whole are extremely consuming. An anonymous source reached out and expressed their experience:
“The church literally becomes your life 24/7. We lived 30 minutes away and were expected there Sunday morning and night, youth group Tuesday, Wednesday Bible study, Prayer meeting, moms’ group, etc. When we left it was a complete cutoff. We were blocked from the live page within a few hours and all messages from the congregation stopped. We were completely cut off. I cried for a week because it felt like we were disowned. That’s when we knew we’d made the right decision by getting out. That’s not normal.”
Another source has added the frequent communication that can occur at all hours: “They message you a lot. We were going through some issues, and they’d send me encouraging texts at like 5 am. It was nice to wake up to but then they tried to get everyone up at 5 am.”
Coercing people to join
Jamie Hutchings, wife to the Rev. Philip Hutchings, posted the following to Facebook as a marketing method to promote their church.
In addition to the dramatic posts promising that great acts of God’s powers occurred, Rev. Hutchings’ wife, Jamie has also been noted as contacting underaged girls, trying to coerce them to join their church. A close source revealed this and included the dissatisfaction of the young girls’ parents. Our source specifically stated that: “His wife was also private messaging female students at the middle school to join their cult regardless of being told directly by parents not to be messaging them several times.”
Secretive – difficult to leave
The church is also very secretive and difficult to leave. Some of our sources who would like to remain anonymous have shared their struggles with the process and aftermath of leaving the congregation.
Even when members who have separated believed that they left the religious organization on good terms, harassing videos about them would be later published to the private page that they were no longer able to access:
“Apparently after we left (and we left on very good terms and I have the letter we wrote and their reply to prove it), a video was made and circulated to the members about us. My friends tried to get me to watch it as they were still on the page, but I didn’t want to be filled with bitterness over what they said so I refused. Literally, 4-5 families tried to get me to watch it because they said it was crazy.”
It was not just the Sussex community that had issues with the church as informants who have attended the Saint John location also noted the sickening, ungodly occurrences:
“We were part of the SJ church when they started. The list of families they have split since they came to SJ is long. Luckily, we got out, but we saw so many sickening and definitely not of God. I’m not one to go along with things mindlessly so I questioned a lot. They always treated us well, so I do still have them on FB, and I am still friends with some good people who attend there, but the things I’ve witnessed are disgusting.”
This is only a brief overview of Phil Hutchings’ antics as he uses his church to spread his own beliefs of hate and discrimination. He has created a church, twice, to generate a following that supports him and his messages that berate populations of people, while twisting the bible to fit his personal beliefs, which he then tries to inspire among others.
Steve Woodin commented on a post regarding Rev. Hutchings which summarizes the issues this article aims to present to the public. Woodin writes:
“This “pastor” has already had the run put to him from one community over his homophobic rallies…his claim he could “Pray away the gay,” his body shaming statements towards young girls, and in telling impressionable youth that seeking help for mental health issues isn’t Christian. He’s dangerous. There exists no God I am aware of that falls into line with those statements and actions.”
His Tabernacle Church and the teachings done by its pastor, Hutchings is dangerous and threaten the hard-fought progress of love and acceptance made over the years. The establishment of the religious organization also demonstrates cult-like regulations with time commitments, secrecy, persuasion to join, ex-communication, and public harassment when leaving the church. To reiterate statements by Woodin, “there exists no God I am aware of that falls into line with those statements and actions [of Rev. Hutchings].”