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Rival religious sect push out congregation and take over Camden church

'Spiritual squatters' took over the Rochester Square church almost three weeks ago. Picture: Paul Wright 'Spiritual squatters' took over the Rochester Square church almost three weeks ago. Picture: Paul Wright

Thursday, March 6, 2014
10:22 AM

A congregation in Camden has had its church taken over by another religious group after worshippers broke into the building and set up their own “spiritual space”.

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Parishioners of the Rochester Square Spiritualist Church in Rochester Square, Camden Town, discovered their home of almost 90 years had been transformed into a new base for the squatters almost two weeks ago.

The half-a-dozen or so members of the building’s “new congregation” – called the Rainbow Family of Living Light – said they entered the building believing it to be abandoned.

Inviting the previous congregation to share the space with them and come to their “spiritual workshops and yoga classes”, they have turned the church into their own home, complete with sleeping and cooking areas.

But the owners of the building are demanding the squatters be thrown out.

“Our congregation has been there since 1926 when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle [author of the Sherlock Holmes books] laid down the church’s foundations,” said Graham Hewitt, assistant general secretary of The Spiritualist National Union (SNU), which owns the church.

“I don’t know what this group is doing here, all I know is I want them out.

“The police said they couldn’t do anything because it’s a commercial building so we’ve now had to look for a court order.

“It’s all very disturbing – the church was only temporarily closed for repairs.”

The group of squatters say they will not be moving.

“We consider ourselves to be a peace-loving community, we’re not here to fight with the congregation,” said Hymn, one of the members of the Rainbow Family.

“We won’t close the door to anyone who wants to come and use the church and we want to share the space with them.

“We want to share everything – especially hugs.

“But unless the court tells us we have to move on, then we’ll be staying.

“The sign outside the church said the building was closed ‘indefinitely’ so that’s why we moved in as we believed it to be abandoned.

“This has become a sanctuary for people who have nowhere else to go.”

Donny, another member of the group, suggested the congregation would benefit from their presence in the church.

“It’s clear the church leaders want us out,” he said.

“But some members of the congregation seem very open minded about us being here.

“There was a concern we were just heroin addicts or that we would be damaging the church, but we’re not.

“We think we can offer a vision that will allow people to liberate themselves from hierarchies like the one here and give the congregation control of their own church.”

“But we’re not a cult.”

While insisting they had the support of some members of the congregation, the Ham&High was unable to verify this.

One of the congregation members who did speak out, but did not want to be named, called the group’s occupation “maddening”.

“They won’t let you in unless you’re homeless and police officers seem to be at a complete loss as to what to do.

“They should leave as we just want our church back.”

A court order - obtained yesterday - has given the group 14 days to leave the church.

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