Welcome Home Special Episode Transcription


ANNOUNCER – Welcome Home. From Simmons Radio: The Shark and The Simmons Voice, this is Welcome Home. A show about news, culture, and stories that impact Simmons University. No matter where you are we’ll keep you updated on what’s happening at home.

Katie Cole – Welcome back to Welcome Home. My name is Katie, I use she/her pronouns.

Sarah Carlon  – I’m Sarah Carlon, I use she/her pronouns. 

Iz Indelicato  – And my name is Iz and I use they or she pronouns.

Cole – We have a lot to talk about this week, we had a major investigative piece go up this week, it’s actually a series. So at the time, we’re recording this three of the four parts are currently up. And it’s really interesting. It’s basically a destructive faith group has been operating on Simmons campus or meeting on Simmons campus and Iz realized this and investigated and Iz do you want to tell us a little bit about what you found and kind of your whole process with that.

Indelicato – Yeah, Katie. So I have been actively investigating this story for the past nine months, but it’s kind of had my eye on what was going on for I want to say probably a year and a half, if not longer, because going to school in Boston, a family friend said, “Hey, just be careful if you’re joining a faith group when you decide to get to college The Boston Church of Christ is a destructive faith group that has historically preyed upon college students and there have been years of controversy.” So I did some research on that and I realized that there was history there and then once I got to school, eventually, I learned that they were meeting at Simmons, and students were actively recruiting other students into the Church, and also kind of getting a sense that Simmons students who left the Church, they did not leave on, I don’t want to say good terms, but they left having that emotional, psychological damage that has been recorded since the 80s and the 90s and really, since the origin of the Church.

Cole  – Yeah, so let’s talk about that a little in your investigation, you pull out basically the fact that this church has been operating, knowingly operating since the 80s and 90s. A ton of you know, colleges and universities in the Boston area identified them as basically dangerous and predatory on their campuses. I think

Indelicato -I just want to say something really quick. It’s, um, it started in Boston, this Church started in Boston, but now it’s an International Church. so it’s not just Boston schools that are warning students and barring And it’s not just Boston schools that are barring the Church, from meeting on campus. This is National, and also, in a sense, International. So I just wanted to point that out. But it does. The Church did originate in Boston, in Lexington, Massachusetts, eventually becoming the Boston Church of Christ, which eventually became the International Church of Christ. So those are just two terms that I want to just explain really quickly before we get into and then also point out that this goes beyond Simmons. It goes beyond COF schools, beyond Massachusetts, and so on and so forth. So I’m sorry Katie for butting in but I just wanted to say that quickly. 

Cole – Oh, no, it’s completely fine. 

Indelicato  – Oh, wow. Thank you. 

Cole  – Definitely the foremost expert on this in at least our podcasts, but you’re welcome. So yeah, they’ve – This group has existed as Iz said, for years, has been warned about for years college students have been warned of it. Iz got some documents that are from I think Northeastern University, basically saying like to watch out for the Boston Church of Christ for students on campus. BU has warned about it. Because they have been found to have practices that are not necessarily healthy for students. In that they, let me see how to put this. Iz actually can you describe a little bit about kind of the practice? I think you’d probably be the better person to tell me a little bit about

Indelicato  – I am the resident expert. Yes.

Cole  – You are the resident expert.

Indelicato – Yeah, absolutely. So something that I just really want to distinguish and I hope that everyone keeps in mind reading these stories and listening to this podcast is that it is extremely vital to separate beliefs from behaviors. So this is not about religion, we could be talking about any group. It I don’t know I said this in an Instagram story, but we could be talking about a club or a group that likes cats or hangs out with cats or something like that. And that’s fine. But if their behaviors are impacting people in a really negative way, that’s what becomes an issue. And that’s what Reverend Thornburg, who is essentially the person who sort of wrote the book on on why this group is predatory towards college students really drilled home and that’s one of the biggest things that I’m taking away.

Cole  – Reverend Thornburg is from BU, correct? 

Indelicato  – Yes, he is. So Reverend Thornburg was the Dean of the BU Marsh Chapel for a long period of time. 

Cole- In the 80s

Indelicato- In the 80s. Yeah, and sort of wrote the book, so on so about them, and he, he is referenced in a ton of literature and news articles as being the expert. He passed away, so I wasn’t able to get in contact with him but I got in contact with Shellie Jankowsi Smith, who worked with him for some time at BU before transitioning over to the head of Spiritual Life at Northeastern. So that’s a little aside. So what makes this Church problematic, according to different reports, is that they’re known to proselytize to college students, specifically, first-year college students during a time of transition, where folks are away from home for the first time, they’re trying to fit in trying to find a friend group. And essentially, what happens is that the potential convert gets what, what is defined as love bombed, where they’re shown a lot of attention and a lot of interest and coming to a new school and being in a new place, you feel like “wow, like, these are my people, they must be like, it feels so so so right.” And then sort of a sense of deception, about who they are and who these people are, who are being so kind to you. And eventually, as we talked about in the stories after different Bible studies, and Bible talks, eventually they disclose to you what Church that they’re from. And also the amount of time that different things take I know that there’s Church on Sunday, there’s something called midweek, which happens on Wednesdays, which is a service. There are Bible Talks, which are larger groups of students. And then there are discipling meetings or Bible studies, game nights, different events. So students time, the majority of their time, from what we’ve heard in who we’ve spoken with, and in reports from the past is that the majority of the students time is going towards the Church, which in turn, often takes away from academics and friendships and family, which also is a big thing. Yes, Sarah?

Carlon  – You said a little bit about how like from reports, we’ve heard that this Church has been said to prey on college students. And I know you talked a little bit about this with like, first-year students, but how exactly does that start? Like, what does that look like? Because it just from right now, it just sounds like they are joining a faith group. But like, what, how does that process begin?

Indelicato  – It starts pretty subtly, there are a lot of different ways you can start. I think most of what we’ve heard from more recent people that this has happened to is that they’ll be approached and they’ll say, “Hey, we have a Bible group, we’d love for you to come join.” And in Simmons Code of Conduct for Spiritual Life, it explicitly says that you need to be transparent and upfront about what faith group you’re with, which is not the case from the reports that we’ve gotten. And then also from Chris Lee, the executive director of REVEAL, which is an organization that is made by former members who and its purpose is to educate folks about the Boston Church, of Boston Church of Christ and International Churches of Christ. He said that a lot of times, the Church will use sort of front groups, and they’ll invite people to a softball game that they’re having, or an ultimate frisbee night or pizza party, without the person knowing that it is a Church event. And then from there, they ask you to these Bible groups, which are a handful of students, they’re smaller, and then eventually after that, they’ll ask you if you want to study the Bible, which is called discipling. And it’s a rigid format where it’s typically almost always everything I’ve heard except for one interview, is that it’s to students who are a part of the Church one sort of takes the lead, the other takes notes, and then you. And they go through a series of studies, which is referred to/called First Principles. And sometimes it’s called Making Disciples, which is essentially, their step by step process study guide for teaching someone about God, and in Christianity in a way that teaches that the only way to be an actual Christian and only way to be actually saved is to be baptized into the International Churches of Christ, because their entire belief is based on the Bible. So, therefore, they are the only valid religion and any other baptism that you may have had in an outside church is invalid. So you need to be baptized into the Church, and with a baptism into the Church comes an obligation of time and finances. And then sort of those behaviors that we’ve heard about which are sort of separating people from their families, and  

Cole  – Not, not physical separation, I’m just gonna jump in and say, like, emotional separation.

Indelicato  –  Yeah, which I guess in turn ends up sometimes can end up being in physical separation.

Cole  – Yeah, so talking a lot about these experiences, we’re going to hear in a moment from a student who actually got into the Church.

Indelicato – So in reporting the story, something that was difficult was getting folks who would come and talk on the record and finding people who had recent experiences with the Church. Part of this in all the reporting that I’ve done seems to be because of the fear that people have about talking and speaking up, and then also how long it can take for people to kind of heal from what they say is trauma after leaving the Church. But in reporting and posting the story on social media, and up to the Voice’s website, someone reached out to us who had a more recent experience with the Church. We have Abrielle Cunningham, who is a second-year student here at Simmons. And without – I did not know this, but she actually posted a podcast episode sharing her experience with the Boston Church of Christ. And we have her on the podcast right now to sort of tell us, kind of give us a summary of her experience, and then ask her some questions that will hopefully fill in some of the gaps that that there are in the story due to not being able to find folks who have more recent experiences. So welcome, Abrielle, thank you so much for joining us.

Abrielle Cunningham- Thank you. Um, so my experience with the Boston Church of Christ was very weird like, obviously, it was totally unexpected. But I think as a first-year, especially, those are the – that’s the population most vulnerable, like college students in general, but especially first years, because I really wanted to make friends. And I honestly, I remember the day very vividly because I was walking down the street, and they stop you on the street. They stop you like any place, really, but they stopped me on the street and I thought they were going to ask me for directions. So that’s why I like was I was okay with, like, just going up to them because I thought they were going to tell me they were lost. So I went up to them, or they went up to me. And instead of asking me for directions, they asked me about Jesus. So, um, they just were like, you should just come to one one Bible study. And I agreed, but I, to be honest, I ignored their emails until maybe the second or third email that I got. And I ran into another girl again, and she was like, “Hey, did you get my email?” So I was like, Alright, fine. I can’t avoid this anymore. So I went to one meeting. The meeting was great there. It’s like all college students like,

Indelicato  – Sorry, can I just ask a quick question? So when they invited you to a Bible study? Did you go to sort of one of the Bible Talks where it was a group of students? Or was it the two on one type of dynamic that we’ve been, or that that the Church is known to do?

Cunningham  – I think the first one I went to was with several college students. And then after I did like, some of the group ones, then they started doing like, individual one on one or like, two of them and me or something. And that’s like, something that I didn’t realize what happened because it started as like a group thing, and then it turned into one on one, and then one Bible study a week, but then they were like, “but then we have you have your group one, but then you have your one on one with me and then you have to go to Church. And then there’s devotional once a week,” so it turned into like this once a week turned into like, five or six days a week very quickly. And that was really scary because I didn’t really like I didn’t pick up on it. And honestly, like, this is something that I kind of told my friends later on. Being in a like, religious club or something isn’t cool, quote-unquote, cool. So I wasn’t going around telling my friends like, “I found this awesome Bible study group,” you know, so no one around me really knew what was going on. Until I told my mom, my mom thought it was awesome. She was like, “Wow, you’re, you’re making new friends. And they’re religious, which is great.”
 But she actually was the one in the end, who told me not to go and not to go through with it not to get baptized, because out of all the things that they…  they told me a lot of things, but they told me that, you know, Satan was working in my mom, when she told me not to join, they were saying that it was Satan working through my mom. They said that feminism was wrong, because it, you know, it leads it gives people this idea that they are independent when they are not because we all depend on God. The LGBTQ community, “we love them, but they’re sinning” is what they would tell me. And that doesn’t sit right with me… I have a girlfriend. And at the time, I didn’t. But you know, they, they were telling me that stuff. They told me that eventually, they were going to need to kind of approve, approve who I dated, I guess, and obviously would be someone from the Church. And I don’t know if you guys know what tithing is, but it’s like, paying a certain like percentage of your income to the Church. And I remember as I was getting closer to my, like, official baptism into the church, they sat me down, and they told me, they laid out like this list of like, what my duties will be once I get, once I’m a member for real. And they told me about tithing. And I know, traditionally, I think it’s traditionally, It was like, 15% of your income like goes to the church? I don’t know, I don’t remember if they told me like, “Oh, we need 15% from you.” But they they did say obviously, we know you’re a college student. But you could skip buying yourself a coffee every now and then. Like, you could just skip that $5 on coffee. And I guess pay the church. One of the, I think the hardest thing that I had to kind of cope with, I guess, is that they told me that everyone else, like we’re the only people who are saved, only the people in this church are saved. And that really scared me because I was like, What about everybody else? What about all my loved ones, my friends? And it was just they had to make a sad face and nod and be like, unfortunately, they are not saved. But that’s why you can get them saved. So. 

 Indelicato – And then in talking about the obligations of the church, like once you were in, did they mention anything about, I guess, what can you tell us a little bit like if there was anything else mentioned in that list of obligations?

Cunningham – So the list of obligations, I guess, was the they told me how many times they expected me to be at Bible studies, be at devotional, be at church, which added up to maybe like, five, at least five days a week. And they kind of backed that up by saying, it’s only like an hour or two out of your day. So you just got to work around that. And the unit gave me the example that obviously, because we’re college students, if you have a lot of homework, like we understand that, like if it happens once, but like after that, like, You got to, you got to schedule your time better. So that was one of the list of obligations, there was the talk about the tithing and giving money, eventually, they said, you know, once, once you’re an adult, and you get a real job, that will be involved and then, but as a college student, maybe you can chip in five bucks here or there. And then um, there was kind of this, I don’t know if they made it explicit, but there was definitely this underlying sense of whoever I’m interested in the future, like romantically, I need to run it by them. And that was, they said that they would guide me. And that’s like, I would tell them about it so they could guide me, they oh my gosh, I forgot one of the craziest things. They told me that I had to confess to them. So, and this is something I actually read about once I like, left it that a lot of people, they get people to confess, so that they can hold it against them when they tried to leave. And thankfully, they did not hold anything against me. When I told them I was leaving. Well, actually, I sent a text and then blocked all them. So I don’t really know what their response was to me leaving, but at the time, one of the list of this obligations was confessing. And I remember we sat in literally a circle, and they all went first to show me that it’s okay. Then it was my turn to confess. And, I mean, I honestly confessed I was having premarital sex. I don’t really care about that. I confess having premarital sex. Um, I like girls, but like, maybe I don’t if I want to be saved. Question mark. Um, I use swear words. You know, it was like, that kind of stuff I didn’t I haven’t done anything shady. I haven’t like, killed a person. So it’s not like they had much hold against me. But um, yeah, I had said, It was weird, because they gave me a week to prepare for the confession. Because they understood that, that could be weird. So they told me about how I need to confess. And they were like, at our next meeting, we’ll do that. So you can prepare, you can write out a list. I also have a journal with me from all the Bible studies that I had with them, and they took all my notes. I know you guys can’t see it. But I have like, a whole notebook of notes that they took for me. And I mean, I was okay with it. Because one of the girls was like, really good at writing and like, just could write a lot faster than me. So I was fine with it. But then eventually, when my mom was getting involved, she was like, why are they writing your notes for you? What are they writing? So.

Cole- What were they writing?

Cunningham – Well, um, they wrote a lot of like, metaphors about being saved, all the Bible study stuff, scriptures and like, what it means to be saved, who is saved. I feel like, if you just look at it, from an outsider point of view, it doesn’t look bad, per se, because it really does just look like Bible study notes. But it’s all their interpretation of the Bible. And I was just kind of sitting there listening, you know, following along in my own text, but they would take all the notes.

Indelicato- Yeah, that’s what Danielle Agrella said, in one of our interviews that it seems like it’s a normal Bible study, it doesn’t seem weird, unless you understand what it’s like to actually be a part of it. And another source that I spoke with, who was a Northeastern student and is now living in California, said that part of the reason that he thinks people are nervous to come forward is because they feel almost embarrassed or silly for having had this happen to them. And I know that you mentioned something like that in your podcast, and I see I see your face right now. Kind of smiling and laughing. Yeah. Did you feel a sense of that? And like embarrassment or shame about what, what took place?

Cunningham- I mean, like I was saying, before, being in a telling my friends I was on a Bible study wasn’t exactly cool. So I felt a little, like embarrassed about that, like, that. I was going to Bible study, like three or four times a week, and that all of a sudden, like, I like I love God, and I’m going to be saved. Like, you know, it just wasn’t something that I wanted to tell all my friends. And then even after it happened, like I found that even talking about it after it was like, gosh, I was so like, stupid, really. Like I can’t believe I didn’t see all these things that were happening, because they were happening really quickly. And so that that kind of felt embarrassing, I guess. Um, but besides that, like I honestly don’t have a problem with talking about it like, I don’t feel I don’t feel shameful talking about it now, because I don’t know, like it could it could happen to anyone and I think it’s really important. And I don’t know, I’m just not ashamed of it. I used to be scared. Because, you know, they told me that people who are in it aren’t going to be saved. So when I left, I was like, Oh, my God, I’m not going to be saved, I’m going to go to hell, like what? You know. And I had a really hard time, unfortunately, like, coming to terms with, quote, unquote, I’m not saved. But I know that’s BS.

Cole – Can I ask? So you said basically, that you to leave the church, you sent a text, and you blocked all of their numbers. And I remember hearing that in the podcast that you did, too. And we’ll link that podcast in the description for kind of more of your full story. But can you tell me how you felt when you were going to send that text message to say, I’m leaving this church?

Cunningham- So when I, at the same time, that I sent the text message, I also blocked and unfollowed everyone on social media too. I made them all unfollow me, blocked everyone. But the days leading up to that I was very scared. But it was mostly because of I thought that I wasn’t going to be saved. Initially, when I was building that text message and everything I really was like, if I do this, I won’t, I won’t have them anymore. Because not only did, you know, we do all the religious stuff together, we hung out. And, like I said, from before, as a first year, making friends like this was, it was a good thing. I needed friends, or you know, not toxic friends like that, but I needed friends. And I thought that, and because I was spending so much time with them, you know, doing meetings four or five times a week, I knew that if I cut them out, I wouldn’t be, that was part of my social life. And something my mom asked me, too, was, you know, do they have any other extracurricular activities? Who are they friends with? They’re all friends with each other? Like they all room with each other. They’re BFFs. Like and when she asked me that as like your right, like, Who do they hang out with? They literally only hang out with each other because they think they’re saved.

Indelicato- And I know you said that they all roomed together from different reports that I’ve heard from people across the country, again, that this is happening in different ICOC congregations. Not only rooming while on campus, but moving in together off campus. Are you aware of that happening in Boston?

Cunningham- Yes, 100%, I went to their apartments, and we did Bible studies there. So it wasn’t just Bible studies on campus. Or we went to multiple campuses too like it wasn’t just out campus. And I don’t know if I can like, say which specific campus, but they were, like banned from a Emmanuel. Emmanuel banned, the International Churches of Christ, or the Boston Church of Christ. And I remember one of my very first Bible studies, the girl told me that. She was like, we don’t hold them there because we were banned. And that should have been my red flag. But she explained it and said, “Oh, you know, like 20 or 30 years ago, something bad happened. But that’s, that guy’s out of here. We’re not like that anymore.” So I was like, Okay, fine. You guys have changed great. But Emmanuel hasn’t. So whatever. We just hold it at our university, whatever. So it was, they held stuff at our university, and they held them at other universities. To name a few. There was Wentworth, MIT, Simmons, I know they couldn’t hold them at Emmanuel, Boston College, I think, too. And the crazy thing is that all these, all the people that I met, they’re literally from all of the different universities in Boston. So there’s recruiters everywhere.

Carlon- I know you talked a little bit about how your mom kind of stepped in and was like, pointing out these things like well, you know, who else do they hang out with? That sort of thing. What was kind of the, I guess the beginning of the end for you? Like what, what was that point for you where you realize that you didn’t want to be a part of the church anymore? 

Cunningham- So thankfully, I had the most wonderful first-year roommate we were random roomies, but she ended up being my best friend. And I would come home a lot and cry because I was like, No, everyone’s not going to be saved, my loved ones aren’t saved, being gay is a sin, like, I don’t know what to do and thankfully, like my roommate was very non-judgmental. And she was actually one of the first people I told about the Bible studies because we live together. So I would tell her, I’m going to a Bible study. And thankfully, she, she never made me feel bad about going to Bible studies, or exploring my spirituality, or anything. And even when I told her the stuff that was scaring me about the Bible studies, she was never judgmental, which I really appreciated. So when I keep my mom updated, and I, because my mom is religious, so she thought it was wonderful that I was getting involved in this until I told her all the little red flags over the course of the semester like that, the you know, they needed to pick who I was going to date, I needed to confess to them, you know, that stuff. And finally, there, the week came, where I told them that I was going to get baptized. So I got baptized as a baby, for the Catholic Church, but they told me that that is illegitimate, because you were a baby, that doesn’t count, pretty much, so that I needed to do it again. So I finally told them, “Okay, I’m ready to do it.” And I can do it before we go on winter break, which was in December. So I called my mom and I was like, “I’m committing I’m doing this” and it was like, great, you know, I’m like, love, God found God, you know. And then my mom was like, “Wait a second, what’s the church called again,” because they, I forgot to say, they told me before that also, in my list of obligations, that if I join their church, I have to tell my mom, that I can no longer be part of her church because she’s Catholic. She’s not the Christian that they want, or whatever, she’s not part of the, the ICC. So they were like, that’s something you’re gonna have to tell your mom. So I told my mom, that I’m gonna get baptized, it’s gonna be great, I love Jesus, but I’m not gonna be Catholic anymore. Not that I was ever a devoted, Catholic, Christian. But I told her that. And she was kind of like, wait, like, Why? Why do you have to? Why do you have to do that? Why can’t you still come to church with me? You know, not that we go to church that much. Anyway, she asked me again, “what’s the name of this church?” So I told her. And then 30 minutes later, I got a call and she was like, “this, this I just googled this church, this is terrible you need to get out of that.” She sent me this long, long paragraph like they asked you to do this, this and this that is not right, that’s not okay. There are so many red flags here. And my mom, too, she also felt very guilty, because she knew I was doing this. And she felt like she should have saw the red flags as well. But she didn’t. So she was ready to, she texted me and she was like, “I’m coming up to get you this weekend. I’ll get you your train ticket home tonight. I do not want you near them,” like all this crazy stuff. So I told her I told her I had plans that weekend, though, and that she did not need to come back up because I was hanging out with my friends. Because even though they kind of did get to me about some things, I have to say that they didn’t get to me 100%, because I was still having premarital sex. During my Bible studies, when they, they asked me every week or so they would check in on me like they would always ask me, how’s the abstinence going? And I would say it’s going great. I, I deleted everyone’s phone numbers. I don’t I don’t text them anymore. I don’t call them anymore. Like I’m doing great. But I was having like sex on the side I would have. I would have sex the night before, go to Bible study in the morning and be like yeah, my night was boring. So as I said, some things definitely did get to me like people aren’t saved, you know that stuff that really did make me feel guilty and really pressured me and made me feel bad. But I can’t say that I was there 100% because I was still having premarital sex. So, but my mom freaked out. She told me that she was going to come and get me and I told her, there was no need to do that. And she actually, I, because I was with my friend because she called me while I was with them. And I gave my friend my phone. I said, here, talk to my mom and my friend said to my mom, “like, Don’t worry, we’re hanging out with her all weekend. She’ll be fine.” And that was the end of it.

Indelicato- And I have a question. First of all, thank you for, for sharing that with us. After realizing that this wasn’t a good situation for you, did you report it to Simmons or make anyone aware like an RA or something like that? And why whichever decision you made? What was the reasoning behind that?

Cunningham- So I think that week of me deciding that I didn’t want to go through with it I didn’t reach out to any, like any adult or anything, or any professor, but my mom knew about it. And, you know, mom went all, she literally called herself mama bear, which is so weird she never calls herself that. But for this situation, she called herself mama bear. And I know she called Emmanuel to get the backstory. And then she called Simmons, not necessarily to report because I really didn’t want her to report it because I was still like, it was still fresh. I was like, I don’t really want you to give them my name. I don’t want them to know anything, I don’t want to get them in, I don’t want to get my friends in trouble. Because I think we’re still my friends. I was like, I don’t want to get them in trouble because they’re good people. And I just want to say here too, that they are really genuinely nice people, like the people that I had these Bible studies with, and who I hung out with on the side, who I met through the Bible studies, they really are great people. They’re super nice and I don’t think they mean any harm. It’s just what they know. Like, my mom said that they were also brainwashed into thinking these things, and they can’t help it, you know. So anyway, she called Simmons, didn’t exactly report it but Simmons said that they were aware of it, but couldn’t do much about it. And that was really the end of it, she didn’t she didn’t really push any farther because I didn’t want to push any further.

Indelicato-  No, that makes sense. And what you said about you not wanting to report it, because they are they are well meaning people, an administrator that I spoke with at a different Massachusetts higher-ed university said that even if students come forward at the university that they are from, if they actually want to report it, or have anything done about it, they need to fill out an incident report and go through that whole process. And because of this, the administrator said that people decide it’s not worth not worth doing it um, not only out of fear of any repercussion, but also because of some of the trauma that people say that they have, after leaving. So that is definitely something that is super interesting. And then I know that you blocked people’s numbers, and on social media, but at that point, we were still on campus, did you have any fear or any feelings about what it would be like if you, if you ran into the folks that you were studying the Bible with on campus? 

Cunningham-  I definitely did run into people on the street. But there were some specific Simmons students that I just avoided and thankfully, we didn’t have any classes together or anything, which was really great. But I definitely had that fear after coming because I cut them off, right as winter break began. So I had a few weeks. So when I came back, I was definitely nervous to run into them again, especially on the street by myself. I always tried to walk with my friends or something because I did not want to be caught up alone with them or anything. And I definitely remember one time in, it was February and my friends and I were just at the T-stop and two of my Bible study friends were on the left of me. And I had my friend stand in front of me like, standing around like ,basically like bodyguards because I did not want to be seen, I did not want them to talk to me. And I, they didn’t make any moves to try to talk to me. But I know that they looked at me like they recognized me but I just had that fear about running into them again. 

Indelicato- So I know that like your, your mom called Simmons, is there anything that you wish Simmons had done? Or done differently?

Cunningham- Honestly, I don’t think that Simmons could do much. It really, I think it comes down to the individual who is approached by one of the recruiters which, by the way, they told me that I would need to become a recruiter eventually, I was not about that. But, I think that’s what it comes down to that the individual just, and even if they do decide to go to one Bible study, I think they just really have to be aware of like, the little ways that they can get you and I think that’s why it’s important to talk about it so that they can see because, if Simmons and other universities can’t, like explicitly ban Bible studies, because of whatever reasons, then the only other way to get people to know is through talking about it, and hopefully, talking about it and getting more people to listen, will, I’m not sure if I would say be enough for students, but it would be more than what a university could do, in my opinion.

Indelicato- Thank you. And I’ve heard from former members who I’ve interviewed, that part of what’s holding them back coming forward is that they’re going to be dismissed by the church. And I know, I know, you spoke of how you were still having sex during the Bible studies and everything like that. If people from the church were to come back and comment and say, Oh, it’s because of her sinful nature, or it’s because she didn’t want to stop sinning, which is what other former members I’ve spoken with have said, do you do you have a response to that, or something that you’d like to say, or for people to know?

Cunningham- I can understand how that guilt can really like eat you alive, and make you very scared and not want to talk about it and, just like mentally scar you. And I had thought about if they if they heard me talking right now, I think they’d be very disappointed in me because I was lying. And I was having sex, so I was doing a lot of bad things, to them at their face, whatever. So I would, I would feel kind of bad about that. But, if they said anything to me, like, honestly, I would just, I don’t care. I and I know that for a lot of people, it’s very hard to not care. Like I said, I know it can be very emotionally damaging. And it took me a few months like, at first I still, I felt very guilty, and I cried about it, but at this point where I am now and just learning more about who I am I honestly I would say like F U, I don’t, I don’t care. And I think you’re a great person, I still think you’re a great person, we, our beliefs, we just don’t match up, we just don’t see eye to eye and there’s nothing wrong with that. Not gonna yuck, you’re yum, and you’re not going to yuck my yum. But I don’t care what you think about me, because I like sex and I like girls, and I like swearing and I like listening to music with swears in it. So that’s it. Bottom line.

Indelicato- Awesome. Thank you so much. And I feel like I only have one more question. And it’s sort of bouncing off this sort of like the fear that you originally kind of had, and sometimes still have but have worked through. Do you have anything to say to people who are either who have left and are scared to speak out about their experiences, or people who are still in the church who are kind of grappling with the feelings that they’re having, and maybe thinking of leaving?

Cunningham- For someone who is struggling from, who is still in it or wants to leave, I highly recommend writing yourself a list of your beliefs and the beliefs that you know are not going to change and that is who you are and that’s what you believe in, and you’re not going to bend on those. So for example, I wrote like being LGBTQ, that’s not a sin and that’s not something that I’m going to bend my morals over because I want to be saved. That’s not something I’m compromising on. And I’m not compromising on the fact that my mom isn’t saved, my best friend isn’t saved. That’s just not an option.

Cole- Abrielle that just made my heart so full, like hearing the progression of your story, both from listening to this story that you’re telling now and listening to your podcast, I can see like, I can almost see a growth in you in confidence in understanding your support network and like being able, you know, to be more of yourself, and that is, I think, really impactful. And thank you so much for sharing your story and letting us ask you questions about it. Because as we talked about, it can be really hard to come forward. So just thank you so much. We really appreciate it. So Iz and Abrielle, thank you so much for doing this for speaking about this. And I want to just touch on something before we wrap up that we’re talking about. Sarah said that one of her professors said that, you know, people came forward and said that they were approached, people came to us as well. We got messages, emails, comments, saying I was approached by them. I was personally approached, Sarah was approached by this group asking to join Bible study. And so we actually have a couple students who recorded some of their experience, what they saw, what they witnessed with and when they were approached with the church. So let’s take a listen to those right now.


Sara Getman- Hi, my name is Sara Getman, I’m a junior English major and I’ve had three strange experiences with the Boston Church of Christ. So all of these three experiences happened in my freshman year. And the first one, I was walking to class, they stopped me on the sidewalk, and, you know, said hello, were friendly. And asked if I was interested in joining a Bible study, I politely declined, saying I was Jewish and not interested in any Christian Bible study and went on my way. Probably, like a few weeks later, they stopped me again, and I was quite a bit of a rush. So I was definitely very annoyed. And they asked me again, if I would be interested in joining a Bible study, to which I replied, “No, I’m an atheist. And I’m an atheist Jew.” And I was hoping, well, the first one didn’t stick so let’s see if this one does and they immediately backed off and I went on my way. And I felt really weird about those experiences and at the time, I’m in the honors program, and at the time, I was in my learning community for the honors program and I asked everyone, you know, has anyone else been approached by these people asking about joining a Bible study? And just about everyone in that room said yes. Which I guess, now looking back on it kind of shows the scope of how vigilant they were about asking young freshmen students if they’re interested. 

Catherine Bernard- This is Catherine Bernard, I’m a junior, and I was stopped twice by strangers who asked me to join their Bible study group. The first one was freshman year, and I didn’t really think much of it. And then the second one was at the start of sophomore year. And it was just this girl who stopped me on the street on my way to academic campus and she asked me if I was a Simmons student, and I said, Yes. And I thought she was like, a lost freshman that needed directions or something. But then she asked me if I was an undergrad and I also said, Yes. And she asked me to join her Bible study group. And I politely said, No, and I kept walking. And I immediately texted my roommate. And I asked her, like, Do I look Christian, or Catholic? Do I come off that way?

Violetta Spinazzola- My name is Violetta Spinazzola and I encountered, I think, two girls from the Church of Christ. One day, I think, I met another another day, but these two girls stopped me on my way from res to academic at Simmons, this was fall 2019. And they asked me about Bible study and I agreed to like go, or just give her my number. And I didn’t end up going. They never specified what denomination they were of Christianity either but I didn’t really think about it. They texted me, I got a text from this girl once a week on the night of Bible studies as I was going and I hope to see you there all that. Beyond that I didn’t have any interaction. I didn’t see them. But that’s basically what I saw from that.


Indelicato- Thank you to the folks who sent those into us. If you have a story that you’d like to share from, from any capacity, I know that the ones that we just heard, were ranging from being approached on the street to being sent text messages. So any experience you have if you’d like to share with us via audio message or email, let us know. So thank you for contributing. I guess, I guess it’s time to say what we always do. And even though this episode was a little bit different than our other ones, we know it’s going to end exactly the same as they all do.

 Cole- Oh, yes we know. Alright.

Carlon- Ol’ reliable. 3-2-1

Iz, Sara, Katie together- Welcome Home.

 Cole- Oh my gosh, that was the best we’ve ever done it

Indelicato- That was way better.



ANNOUNCER – Welcome Home was created and produced by Iz Indelicato, Katie Cole, Abby Vervaeke, and Sarah Carlon. Our editors are Iz Indelicato and Katie Cole. The theme music for this podcast was created by Matthew Harrison, aka Matty Sun. The cover art for this podcast was made by Carly Dickler.  Special thanks to everyone who contributed in the making of this podcast through writing articles, conducting interviews, creating segments, and so much more. This has been a production of Simmons Radio: The Shark, and The Simmons Voice.