Brethren leader in NZ; reads ‘riot act’ to fol­low­ers

Sunday Star-Times - - FRONT PAGE - JACK FLETCHER AND BE­VAN HUR­LEY

The supreme leader of the Ex­clu­sive Brethren church – a reclu­sive mul­ti­mil­lion­aire from Syd­ney – has jet­ted in to New Zealand, an in­sider says.

Bruce Hales, also known as the Elect Ves­sel and Man of God, has wide-rang­ing pow­ers over the 40,000 world­wide mem­bers of the Ex­clu­sive Brethren, 8000 of whom live here.

A cur­rent church mem­ber said Hales was vis­it­ing be­cause he was un­happy with his New Zealand fol­low­ers and had raised con­cerns about their be­hav­iour.

The mem­ber asked not to be iden­ti­fied for fear of be­ing la­belled a traitor and ex­pelled.

It’s un­der­stood Brethren con­gre­ga­tions in New Zealand have also been told to re­pent for their ex­ces­sive con­sump­tion of al­co­hol.

A church spokesman, Doug Watt, de­nied Hales was in New Zealand for that pur­pose.

‘‘We hold reg­u­lar bi­ble study ses­sions for en­cour­age­ment, pas­toral care and spir­i­tual growth for the com­mu­nity. We’ve been en­joy­ing en­cour­ag­ing bi­ble read­ings to­gether in Christchurch for a few days and also have meet­ings in Ran­giora,’’ he said.

Watt said around 1000 church mem­bers at­tended the bi­ble con­fer­ence in Christchurch.

Al­co­hol is a key fea­ture of life in the Ex­clu­sive Brethren, who call them­selves the Ply­mouth Brethren Chris­tian Church; for­mer mem­bers have de­scribed how mantras were re­cited in the church such as ‘‘drink makes a strong man stronger, and a weak man weaker’’.

Se­cu­rity was tight as thou­sands de­scended on the church’s Christchurch strong­hold await­ing Hales on Fri­day.

On Fri­day, a white-shirted church mem­ber at the gate, Eddy Suck­ling, was un­able to say how many peo­ple were in­side, but cars were forced to park on the grass sur­round­ing the 200-plus-space car park along­side the hall.

At least 15 white buses were lined up as well as more than 20 white vans. Shiny white SUVs and pick-up trucks filled the neigh­bour­ing streets.

Hales, who usu­ally trav­els in a Bom­bardier CL-600 Twin Jet Chal­lenger, was also ex­pected to visit Whanganui and Auck­land on his visit to New Zealand.

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