A religious group with a large global following has been given the council’s blessing to build a new church in Ellon – but who are they?
The Jesmond Gospel Hall Trust will create the facility on Balmacassie Brae.
Despite some concerns that the location was not “appropriate”, local authority planning chiefs have now rubber-stamped the proposal.
The hall will be behind the town’s Tesco supermarket, next to the household waste recycling centre and around the corner from BrewDog’s brewery.
Plans for the hall were submitted earlier this year on behalf of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, a group which has 50,000 members located across the world.
The church hopes to welcome members of its congregation to the Ellon venue early next year.
Who are the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church?
The brethren was formed in Plymouth back in the early 19th century and believe the Holy Bible is the true Word of God.
Devotees live in accordance their reading of its instructions.
Its members say they are “deeply family-oriented”.
The church congregation regularly meet on Sundays to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and preach the Gospel.
However the Christian church has been forced to deny allegations of operating as a secretive cult.
Does ‘secretive’ group restrict contact with non-members?
One gay former member in Southampton claimed he endured “lies, control and fear” in an interview with the BBC.
Fritz Penney alleged that members keep themselves separate from non-Brethren and “would not live in houses with walls that adjoin those of people who are not members of the same church”.
He further claimed their access to the internet is restricted and filtered.
But the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church questioned his account and insists it embraces “individuality and mutual respect”.
Leaders also say members “extensively engage with the wider community on a daily basis”.
Another former member told The New Statesman about its “doctrine of separation”, whereby followers “divide themselves from the perceived evil of the world”.
An edict from 1960, forbidding Brethren from eating with non-Brethren, remains in place.
How ‘Aberdeen incident’ splintered group decades ago
When pondering whether it was “a cult”, she wrote: “We wore headscarves and were forbidden from cutting our hair. We weren’t allowed televisions, newspapers, radios, the cinema, holidays, pets or watches.
“We were told that everyone outside the Brethren was part of Satan’s army and they were all out to get us.”
She and her family left in 1970, after the “Aberdeen incident“, when leader JT Junior was accused of being found in bed with another member’s wife.
Around 200 people are said to have “walked out in disgust”.
Leaders these days hail the group’s “strong and generous charitable spirit”, with many “willingly devoting their time contributing to philanthropic efforts to relieve the load on humanity”.
Why is a church hall needed in Ellon?
Group leaders argued the Ellon venue was needed to hold “specific services, for which numbers must be strictly limited”.
They said it was “essential” to have small gatherings of no more than 45 people as each member actively takes part in its services.
However, the hall will not be leased out for use by other organisations for social events.
Services are expected to be held in the new Aberdeenshire hall on Sunday mornings and Monday evenings.
It will also be used for gospel preachings on Sunday afternoons.
A spokesman said the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church was “pleased” that the Ellon hall plan had been approved.
He added: “After many years of searching for a suitable location, this new Gospel Hall will now deliver a much-needed place of worship for our local congregation.
“The new Gospel Hall will soon enhance the appearance of this underutilised location through a sensitive design that reflects the local area’s character.
“As a mainstream Christian Church whose members live by values of care, charity and compassion, this new Gospel Hall will also play an important role in coordinating our extensive charitable activities in the local area and across the region.”
Does the church have other locations in Scotland?
In the north-east, the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church operates in Peterhead and Balmedie.
The religious group was recently given permission to open a “members-only” shop in Kinross called Campus & Co.
But only full members of the church will be allowed to enter the premises.
Profits from the store will be donated to the Caledonia One School Global in Alloa – also run by the brethren.
The church also has bases in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth and Kirkcaldy.
Meanwhile, it boasts 50,000 members across the world including Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the United States.
The church hall was due to be located just metres away from a proposed McDonald’s drive-thru restaurant, but the plans have since been withdrawn.
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