Controversial Commune

The selling that angers Barrington Passage
Maclean’s Magazine
Belle Hatfield
September 26, 1988
The inexpensive menu and rustic decor soon had tourists and local residents flocking through the doors.  But within a month the Old Schoolhouse Restaurant’s opening on July 6, in the south shore Nova Scotia hamlet of Barrington Passage, was at the centre of a controversy.  The reason: some local residents insist that its operators, a communal Bible-based cult known as the Community, have an unfair advantage over other local businesses because community members receive no wages.  The group runs a bakery and gift shop along with the restaurant and has plans to open a Laundromat.  “If they are not paying any wages or workmen’s compensation, they have no overhead, said Viola Richardson, owner of the Seawind Restaurant, one of four other restaurants in Barrington Passage (population 415).  “We have to struggle along paying through the nose.”
Some residents, though, are clearly opposed to the Community on non-economic grounds.  Said Kent Blades, editor of The Guardian, a local weekly newspaper in nearby Clark’s Harbour: “I believe they have a plan to set up a base to reach out to the local community and to win people into their group.”  Some local clergymen have criticized the group in letters to The Guardian. Wrote Baptist minister Rev. Ernest Nickerson: “Christians should not visit the school or eat at their restaurant.”
For his part, Community leader Charles “Eddie” Wiseman denies that the restaurant is undercutting the local economy.  For one thing, he points out that although group members receive no wages, prices at the restaurant must still be high enough to support the Community’s members.  Indeed, an entree of grilled halibut costs $7.50 at the Old Schoolhouse compared with $6.95 at Seawind.  “We have never driven anyone out of business,” Wiseman said.  “Tourists are stopping in Barrington Passage now when they never had a reason to stop before.”
The Twelve Tribes is one of several communes affiliated with the Vine Community Church, established in Chattanooga, Tenn., in 1972 by Elbert Spriggs, a former personnel manager at a local textile factory.  The Canadian branch was formed in 1983.  There are now 60 members in Barrington Passage and about 2,000 others living communally in Eastern Canada, the United States, France and New Zealand.  Group members, who donate their possessions to the Twelve Tribes and work without wages, claim that Spriggs is a modern day apostle of Jesus Christ.
The Community has also aroused controversy by citing the Bible as a justification for administering corporal punishment to children.  In 1984, Vermont State police raided the Northeast Kingdom Community Church commune, also founded by Spriggs, seized all of the children and charged members with child abuse.  But those charges were quickly dismissed in court, and the children were returned.  And in an attempt to ease concerns in Barrington Passage, the Twelve Tribes community recently organized a meeting in which community women attempted to reassure about 70 local women who attended that their child-rearing techniques were sound.  Insists Wiseman: “We are not out to take over the town.”  But as the Twelve Tribes impact grows in Barrington Passage, so do the concerns about where it is headed.

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