Rachel Reign joined the Victory Youth Group of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, an evangelist and Pentecostal Church. when she was 13 years old and became an assistant at 15. She said she was responsible for fundraising drives and performing strong prayers, calling out demons in congregants.
Reign left the church after several years and started Surviving Universal UK. A charity that reaches out to past members of the church, attempting to gain the past members experience of the church and counsel them over it.
The Guardian interviewed more than 30 former members of the VYG. They described feeling pressured to donate large amounts of money, being told to cut ties with friends and family, and being shown graphic images of dead bodies.
UCKG is an evangelical, Pentecostal church with more than 50 branches in the UK. The United Church of the Kingdom of God is an evangelist and Pentecostal Church that spans many countries worldwide whose headquarters are based in Brazil. The Church’s Brazilian founder, Edir Macedo, has been included on Forbes’ billionaires list and he has twice flown into the UK this year on private jets owned by the church.
Mariah* joined Reign in her Instagram videos when she was 15 and in foster care. She remembers feeling pressure to donate money.
UCKG asks congregants for tithe, or 10% of any income, and encourages them to give large, personal sacrifices in return for blessings from God. Former members said videos were played in VYG sessions of people speaking about selling their possessions, or even money meant for visa renewals.
The young people spoke to the Guardian newspaper describing how their church donations left them relying on credit cards or their student loan. Some even were paying the Church over any other financial commitments and interest on loans, or money for clothes and essential personal spending.
Many of the people the Guardian interviewed explained how the church reacted to their mental health claiming that during church services the congregation would attempt to drive out evil spirits, and one young church attendee stating that ‘…they said I was demon possessed’.
Mariah left the church after seven years, saying she would have left sooner but was afraid of what would happen. The Guardian newspaper was shown videos of possessed people describing the fate of those who had left. Young people, it was claimed, were also shown videos of dead corpses that emphasised their fate in leaving the evangelist Church.
During strong prayers, a church official may place their hands on people and call out demons that are causing bad things to happen in their lives. The church’s Beat Depression service, which was set up to deal with the mental health issues of it’s congregation recommends spiritual cleansing sessions to address mental health issues, but there is no obvious warning to seek any form of medical attention or to engage with psychiatric or counselling services on the web page. The Church has also been criticised for it’s approach to young people’s sexuality, with it’s gay members being subjected to ‘cleansing of demons’, in a attempt to convert them from their sexuality. Many who have been prayed for felt suicidal and there is little ‘conversion’ success.
Former members said the church had a rule that strong prayers should not be performed on those under 16, but the church did not respond to the Guardian’s question on this. Rachel Reign, who is a former Church member and voluntary fund-raiser said she had been struck by the number of people who had described their horrifying experiences in the church.