Nathan St. Marsaille shared with us a story in one of the comments the ESN: Stories of COG Trauma post, detailing WCG’s response to a tragic suicide on the Ambassador College campus.
We would like to thank him for sharing this account, which we haven’t read anywhere else before. It’s another tragic example of the dreadful atmosphere generated at Ambassador that continues to permeate in COG culture today.
I want to briefly share an account that I have never heard anyone share before. I was a freshman student at AC Pasadena in the spring of 1974, which happened to be at the height of the ministerial crisis that occurred that year, mostly over the conduct of GTA, and a few doctrinal issues. Early one spring day I attended my usual bible class, except that this day Roderick Meredith was the substitute teacher. He spent the better part of an hour rehearsing all of the horrors of the coming tribulation — in graphic detail. I can remember him telling us how all of our unconverted loved ones would suffer. A fellow freshman, whose real name was Jeff S. stayed after class to talk to Meredith about this — and Meredith gave him more of the same. As I walked to my next class, Jeff S. happened to appear along side of me, visibly upset about this, and made some comment about how hopeless all of this was. That was the last I saw of Jeff. Later that afternoon, we all arrived at a mandatory assembly in the gym, where it was announced that Jeff S. had committed suicide earlier that day by jumping off the Arroyo bridge — evidently just minutes after I had last seen him. The announcement was made — but it is what followed that was most troubling and revealing. The person doing the announcing of the suicide, who was a college administrator, took great pains to make sure everyone in attendance understood that Jeff’s parents did not blame the college, and that no one at the college was at fault. Then, after this terrible announcement and explanation, which took maybe 5 minutes, HWA got up front. Without the slightest acknowledgement of this terrible event, and without breaking stride, he launched into a tirade against all of those ministers who would dare question his authority. To HWA it was like a bake sale had been announced for the coming weekend. I will never forget the appalling atmosphere in that gym that day — students were crying because of Jeff S., and then HWA launches into his usualy fit of anger. Years later I found out first hand from someone high up at AC that Meredith was reprimanded for his insensitivity. I’m not blaming anyone for a suicide — that falls to the individual who commits it — but the complete indifference to this tragedy, as well as the atmosphere that contributed to it, is very indicative of what that college and that church was all about.
To us, this is reminiscent of the Terry Ratzmann shooting massacre when the LCG minister (another Meredith connection, unsurprisingly) was preaching that demons were to blame for chronic depression, knowing full well that Ratzmann was being counselled for just such a condition. The indifference, dismissal and insensitivity in the aftermath of that horror were largely the same, and so was the lunacy that led up to it as the minister completely botched handling someone of Ratzmann’s instability, despite numerous warning signs, and he served only to make the situation worse by applying tenants of fundamentalist Armstrongism to a volatile situation.