Archive for Hillsong Mercy Ministries

Hillsong’s mental illness link is no surprise to me

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on March 18, 2008 by hillsongchurch

Tim Brunero

When I was deep in the hell of the Year 12 HSC a fellow student at Carlingford High School invited me to a ‘HSC Hype’ study camp run by the Hillsong Church. I had no idea what I was in for.

But after what I experienced I couldn’t possibly be surprised by today’s media allegations the Hillsong Church’s mental health arm ‘Mercy Ministries’ is little more than an amateur hour demon-exorcising clinic that leaves vulnerable mentally ill girls worse off than when they started.

Not after what I saw 13 years ago when I ended up with a hundred or so other 17-year-olds at a remote convention centre enduring, between sessions of study, a week of activities with a deep undercurrent of hard core Christianity.

A week that culminated in a late night ‘conversion session’ on the final evening.

We were all packed into a room and seated cross-legged on the floor. In strode Christine Caine, now a senior pastor at the outfit.

What followed was an exhausting two-hour marathon of fire and brimstone – a textbook example of extreme emotional manipulation.

At the end, when we were all pale and adrenalised, we were told to bow our heads. If we wanted to be saved, all we had to do was raise our hand.

We were told our thumping hearts was God knocking on our souls – a physiological response to stress dressed up as spiritual calling.

As meek hands were raised, we were whipped up further; “There’s more, I know it, Jesus may never knock again!” We were kept like that for over ten minutes.

Then those who had raised their hands were removed from the room. The whole disgraceful episode led to the church being banned from advertising such camps at our school.

As you can probably imagine since then I’ve kept a pretty keen eye on the church and watched its stadium like churches mushroom out of the sprawling estate they own deep in McMansion country in Sydney’s north west.

I’ve watched them spread their tentacles to the depressed suburbs of Waterloo and Redfern.

I’ve watched this organization, which pays no tax and files no financial documents with the ATO, grow in political influence.

Former PM John Howard opened their new convention centre in 2002, Peter Costello has addressed their conferences and federal politicians Senator Steve Fielding and Louise Markus are from amongst their flock.

I’ve wondered how much how much of the money they ‘tithe’ from their followers goes to ‘charitable’ projects like ‘Mercy Ministries’ and how much goes to bigger buildings, money making schemes like CD and TV sales around the world, and how much into senior pastors’ pockets.

I’ve wondered how people can buy their steroid enhanced form of worship where talking in tongues, exorcising demons and going into trances of religious ecstasy are the norm.

How people can attend their church services, which more closely resemble rock concerts, and not see they are primarily designed to bamboozle the senses.

And I’ve wondered how people can tithe 10 percent of their income to a church whose boss, Brian Houston, said last year raked in $50 million.

Where growing the church both in wealth and it numbers matters above all else.

In fact I wondered enough to go to their services to see for myself.

When I arrived a young welcoming committee rep, Rani, met me. Together we watch and sing along to a band, seven attractive young singers and a thirty-person choir.

Those on stage, none of whom were older than 35, have their eyes closed and hands raised in religious rapture as the concert style lights sweep the room and smoke machines puff away.

Two huge screens overlay the song lyrics about “surrendering to Christ” with images of the action on stage and close ups on the audience from multiple camera operators.

One girl two seats down with her eyes closed keeps singing the songs long after they’ve finished, clearly in a trance.

After the music stopped, an older man hit the stage, telling us he’d just read a book about the leaning tower of Pisa – built in 1173 as the belltower of a nearby church.

He said no one could remember who designed or constructed it – but they could remember who paid for it, an old woman who’d left 60 gold coins for the purpose in her will.

The moral of his story was this woman was remembered 800 years later, and if we gave to Hillsong we could be remembered in 800 years as well.
We were directed to the tithe envelopes on our seats, where we could put the recommended 10 percent of our income. Conveniently, we could pay with cash, cheque or credit card.

We weren’t really being asked, we were being told.

Next was a church news video presentation encouraging us to enrol in one of the many conferences, weekend retreats, or ‘diplomas’ in theology offered at Hillsong’s religious school.

At the end there was a conversion session exactly the same as I encountered at the ‘HSC Hype’ study camp.

Right at the end, people who were sick identified themselves. Others crowded around them placing hands on any available piece of flesh and muttering and mumbling away to themselves, talking in tongues.

On the way out, I saw a large Polynesian man. I was told he was Brian Houston’s bodyguard.

Rani informed me his presence was necessary as some people who don’t agree with the church’s teachings run up on stage during Brian’s performances.

I was amazed at the positive energy the feeling of community was great – it’s just a pity it costs so much.

I realised it’s this rock concert-like show, full of literal smoke and mirrors, together with their other hocus-pocus that gets people in.

And if that’s all they did, you could hardly complain, people should be able to believe whatever they want, however kooky.

But they really shouldn’t have to pay for it. And the Church shouldn’t really be trying to ‘cure’ mentally ill people with prayer and holy water. And they really shouldn’t be targeting public school children to grow their church.

But at least after today’s news everyone now knows how these people work. And no one in future, from governments down, can pretend to be surprised.


Mercy Ministries – The Victims Speak Out

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on March 18, 2008 by hillsongchurch

Hell or a godsend: women tell their stories

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on March 18, 2008 by hillsongchurch

March 18, 2008

MORE young women who say they were damaged by their time in Mercy Ministries have come forward to tell their stories, as further details emerge of the fundamentalist group’s questionable practices.

“I have been in the program, too: once in Sydney … and the other time at the Sunshine Coast home, where they kicked me out when they caught me trying to hang myself, [saying] I was a risk to their program,” Melissa, 24, said yesterday.

“Their methods are harsh. You get separated from the entire non-Christian world: no TV, no newspapers and just three, 15-minute phone calls home a week.”

Melissa, who did not want her last name revealed, said she, too, began to harm herself in Mercy Ministries. Since she was kicked out in 2005, she has sought professional care for depression, bulimia and drug addiction.

“I went to another place, one that treated me like an adult and helped prepare me to cope in the real world,” she said.

“I saw a lot of girls come and go from Mercy Ministries during my time there – many were in very extreme situations.”

Another woman – a 24-year-old from Castle Hill who did not want to be identified – entered the Sunshine Coast house in December 2004, after she developed bipolar disorder and tried to kill herself. “Until this morning I thought I was the only one to have been through this – now I know there are others,” she said last night.

She described “eight very long months of sheer hell” in which she was prevented from using prescription medication to help her sleep, triggering debilitating migraines. The staff refused to let her have even the most basic painkillers to cope with the symptoms. “These are only some of the times I was denied medical and psychological help. There are many more,” she said.

The Herald invited the former managing director of Mercy Ministries, Peter Irvine, now its sponsorship manager, to give contact details of young women who had successfully graduated from its program. No response had been received last night.

But one graduate wrote to the Herald about her positive experience in the ministry’s Sydney house: “I graduated four years ago from the Sydney home after having previously being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression and borderline personality disorder. Before I entered the program, my life was in danger – being in Mercy completely changed that around.”

Since graduating, she had completed a degree, was part way through her honours year and has been accepted into a doctorate program, she wrote, because of the lessons she learned in Mercy Ministries.

Ruth Pollard

This story was found at:

The business of giving Mercy

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on March 18, 2008 by hillsongchurch

March 18, 2008

DEEPLY felt ties bind Mercy Ministries, Gloria Jean’s and the Hillsong Church, connected through a complicated chain of directors and former directors – as well as donations.

As they deal with allegations, revealed in the Herald yesterday, of inappropriate treatment of residents in Mercy Ministries’ Sydney and Sunshine Coast houses, they insist the organisations are completely unrelated, despite sharing common board members and directors.

“Hillsong do not own or run Mercy Ministries … Hillsong are a financial supporter, as are many churches in Sydney and around the country,” said Peter Irvine, who until recently was both the managing director of Gloria Jean’s Coffees and a director of Mercy Ministries.

Mr Irvine is still on the board of Mercy Ministries and is responsible for its corporate sponsorship, and told the Herald he had taken a back seat at Gloria Jean’s Coffees, although he is still a board member and shareholder.

He said there was no conflict of interest in holding the two roles, saying he had focused for the past year on publishing a book and consulting businesses on franchising rather than any day-to-day running of Gloria Jean’s.

Mercy Ministries’ accounts were audited each year, Mr Irvine said. However, it produced no annual reports and would not publicly release any financial information.

A copy of its financial statements and reports submitted to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission last October indicate it had income of $1.365 million in 2006, yet it is unclear how much of this includes transfers of Centrelink payments by the young women who seek out Mercy’s help.

As to the women’s allegations, Mr Irvine said: “In any program you will always get a few that are disenchanted because they do not get their way and then criticise everything.

“The girls are not forced to come into the program … our people go out of their way to explain and prepare them.”

Two former directors of Mercy Ministries, Mark and Darlene Zschech, who brought the program to Australia from the US in 2001, have also been associate directors of the Hillsong Church’s annual conference.

Darlene, described as “one of the key worship leaders at Hillsong Church”, and her husband no longer appear to have any connection to Mercy Ministries.

Mercy Ministries’ accountant, Stephen Crouch, is married to another organiser of the Hillsong conference, Pastor Donna Crouch.

The Hillsong Foundation, the church’s charitable arm, supports Mercy Ministries to deliver the programs.

Gloria Jean’s Coffees supports Mercy Ministries through corporate donations and fund-raising activities that include cash donation boxes in stores and an annual fund-raising weekend, “Cappuccino for a Cause”, where 50 cents from each cappuccino sold goes to Mercy Ministries, a spokeswoman said.

However, information on how much financial support Gloria Jean’s contributes to the ministry, support that has continued since 2003, was unavailable, she said.

And despite the swag of allegations over the Mercy Ministries program – including claims that young women with mental illnesses had been forbidden from gaining access to medical or psychiatric care unsupervised, or from doctors independent of the program, and claims of the use of exorcisms to treat health problems – the spokeswoman said Gloria Jean’s would not be reviewing its sponsorship arrangements.

The Catholic Sisters of Mercy, who have long been involved in health care, education and social welfare programs throughout the country, have stressed that they have no connection with Mercy Ministries.

“All Sisters of Mercy in Australia wish to make clear to their co-workers, family members, friends and associates, current or potential benefactors and any other interested persons, that they have no relationship whatsoever with Mercy Ministries Inc,” a spokeswoman said.

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Corporates move quickly to cut ties

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on March 18, 2008 by hillsongchurch

Ruth Pollard
March 18, 2008


SEVERAL businesses that Mercy Ministries claimed as official corporate sponsors are deserting the organisation, alarmed by the allegations of mistreatment and keen to distance themselves from the controversy.

Rebel Sport had asked Mercy Ministries to immediately remove the Rebel Sport logo and any reference to an association between the two organisations from their website, said Kristian Haigh, the company’s national partnership manager.

“Rebel Sport has no ongoing sponsorship commitment to Mercy Ministries in either cash or in kind,” Mr Haigh said yesterday. “We have been in contact with Mercy Ministries directly regarding our indicated ‘sponsorship’ and are awaiting an official reply.”

Bunnings Warehouse was another business listed on the website as a corporate sponsor.

“Bunnings has no ongoing arrangements of any nature with Mercy Ministries,” a Bunnings spokeswoman said.

The electronics and whitegoods company LG said there was “no formal agreement or longstanding relationship between the two groups”.

“LG Electronics Australia has only donated products to Mercy Ministries, and each request has been assessed case by case. The approximate value of the product donated is less than $4000,” a spokeswoman said.

LG would “review its relationship with any company that was operating in a questionable manner”, she said.

Gloria Jean’s Coffees said it had no plans to change its sponsorship arrangements with Mercy Ministries, despite the allegations.

Other corporate sponsors that had been listed on the Mercy Ministries website included the Sydney Kings, the Balmain Tigers and Australian Opal Cutters.

However, references to specific corporate sponsors appeared to have been removed from the website yesterday.

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Ethics, financial probity for review

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on March 18, 2008 by hillsongchurch

Ruth Pollard
March 18, 2008

FORCING sick, vulnerable patients to see a doctor in the presence of an unrelated third party was both dangerous and potentially unethical, the Australian Medical Association warned yesterday.

Young women who entered Mercy Ministries’ residential care program were required, as per the organisation’s policy, to see a doctor in the presence of a ministry staff member or volunteer, it was revealed yesterday.

“I wasn’t allowed to talk to the doctor by myself; they had a staff member or volunteer with us at all times, and the doctor never mentioned my anxiety or the other conditions I was suffering,” said Megan Smith*. She was in the organisation’s Sunshine Coast house for three months because of anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and other mental health problems.

“The staff used to bring our folder, which I guess contained our medical records, but the doctor would just flip through it and we were in and out in five minutes,” she said.

The executive manager of programs at Mercy Ministries, Judy Watson, confirmed that all doctors’ visits were monitored.

“Monitoring of a general practitioner visit is to assist with accurate medical information relayed and received for the benefit of the resident in their ongoing care whilst at Mercy Ministries,” she said.

But the AMA’s president and chairwoman of its ethics committee, Rosanna Capolingua, said patients must be able to talk freely to their doctor about how they are feeling, without the potential influence of a third party.

“It may be that the patient is under some kind of … duress or coercion to have that person accompany them,” she said.

Without the ability to disclose that, their doctor might be none the wiser. “It would be very difficult for the doctor to determine whether the patient is freely requesting that the person be in the room with them.”

And even if the doctor did ask the patient whether they had consented, the patient may not be able to answer.

“They are already vulnerable, they are coming in potentially under duress and they have another layer of fear on board … they might not have the courage to answer.”

Such is the wider concern that Dr Capolingua has referred the matter to the AMA’s federal ethics committee for consideration, aiming to advise doctors how to manage the situation.

Meanwhile, an investigation into the transfer of Centrelink benefits to Mercy Ministries is under way, after allegations that young women were signing over their benefits, but also encouraged to go onto a disability support pension so the organisation could collect carers’ payments as well.

The Minister for Human Services, Joe Ludwig, has asked Centrelink to investigate the allegations and report on its pay arrangements with Mercy Ministries.

* Name has been changed to protect her identity.

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