The organization’s name has changed, and so has the location, but the charges being leveled against former Chattanoogan Gene Spriggs and his following are no different than those 19 that were brought against the group a few years ago. Elbert Eugene Spriggs is the leader of the Chattanooga based Vine Community Church. Today, the former Central High-School football star is overseeing a cult called the Northeast Kingdom Community Church in Island Pond, Vermont.
Shortly before Spriggs and his group began selling off church owned property in the Chattanooga area, a number of former followers surfaced to denounce the church’s practices in general. It is charged that children are beaten and members are mistreated and ill-fed. Soon after these charges were made public, Spriggs relocated his “church” to Island Pond and had enjoyed relatively good relations with natives of the tiny community until several weeks ago when a child custody case involving a former church member and his wife – still a Spriggs follower – went to court. That’s when former members testified that children were frequently whipped with wooden rods.
Elbert Eugene Spriggs induced Charles Brown and his wife Tommye to hitchhike from Jackson Hole, Wyoming – a 14 day long trip to Island Pond to live in “the promised land” according to Elizabeth H. Holland, reporter for the Boston Herald American. The newspaper recently devoted a series to Spriggs, his followers and the problems they are now encountering with the community.
The “promised land” turned out to be anything but the Garden of Eden, the Browns said. According to Ms. Holland, the Browns became disenchanted and bitter after spending less than five months in the kingdom. They told the reporter they left the group after seeing church members thrash children with wooden rods. The children were walloped for inattentiveness and asking for seconds at supper.
Brown said he saw one small girl castigated until blood streamed down her leg and another little boy whipped 11 times in a five day period. When faced with similar charges, members of the Island Pond group defended its “spare the rod, spoil the child” philosophy as biblical discipline that exercises the devil and makes the children pure of heart.
The kingdom is operating in Vermont as the Vine Christian Community Church did here. Members run a restaurant similar to the former Yellow Deli – a bakery, dairy farm, printing shop, a plumbing outfit and a construction firm. They also own about 15 houses in which they live.