Small Vermont town embroiled in controversy over religious sect

source: the Associated Press, 18 November 1983, page 4

Associated Press
Island Pond, Vt. —18 November 1983
When Juan Mattatall got his 4-year-old daughter back from the Northeast Kingdom Community Church, it was one of the happiest days of his life.
But for some people in this village it was an unpleasant reminder of the
tension between the town and the fundamentalist sect, which is the subject of a child abuse investiga­ tion. And it served as a reminder of
recent charges against two church elders accused of beating a 12-year-
old and a 13 year old.
“I’m just really disgusted that there’s always something boiling,
but never enough to blow the top off,” Lisa Hilliker said as she fastened
a seat belt around her one-year-old daughter. She said she resents the
fact that some of her closest friends joined the church — a group that
“totally baffles me. ” “I thought of petitioning . . .but there’s nobody around, including me, that has the backbone to do any­
thing about it.”
Island Pond, part of the town of Brighton, which has a population of
1,557, has been embroiled in con­troversy off and on ever since.
The most dramatic episode oc­curred Oct. 10, when Mattatall, a
church defector, was reunited at a police roadblock in Nova Scotia
with his daughter, Lydia, who had al­legedly been abducted.
Mattatall had been searching around the world for Lydia for two
years when a viewer tipped a Canadian television station to the
child’s whereabouts.
“It was the happiest moment I can remember, except for the time I was
reunited with the other four,” Mat­tatall said from his South Burlington
home. He had been granted tem­porary custody of his five children
after a bitter court battle in which he accused church members of beating
the children with rods to discipline them.
Canadian police detained Mattatall’s wife, Cynthia, church elder
Charles Wiseman and his wife, Mary, under suspicion of kidnapping.
However, officials decided not to prosecute the case as a kidnapping
and the three were released.
Mattatall said church members told Lydia that church founder El­bert Spriggs and his wife were her parents and that her real mother was her nursemaid.


Mattatall also said Lydia told him she had been beaten “a lot. “
“She’s been beaten with that rod daily,” he said. “Her bottom is really
hardened and calloused ”
Essex County State’s Attorney David Weinstein said the state is
conducting a “very extensive” in­vestigation into reports of child
Church members have refused to discuss their practices with repor­
ters. But a few members agreed to answer questions if their names
were not used.
One father of three, who works in the church owned shoe repair shop,
said he sees nothing wrong with using a rod to discipline children.
“Were you ever spanked as a child?” he asked, leaning forward on
the counter. “And didn’t you feel grateful afterwards?”
He said the Bible commands parents to discipline their children,
citing the passage that says “Spare the rod and spoil the child. ”


Town Manager Robert Shepeluk said some church owned businesses
have refused to abide by zoning or­dinances. “Sometimes they say they
don’t have to follow man’s laws —only God’s laws, ” he said.
“There is definitely tension in the community.”