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Elizabeth Clare Prophet, spiritual leader of the Church Universal and Triumphant in the Sunday morning news

Apr 04, 1998 07:24 AM
by Daniel H Caldwell

Sunday, 5 April 1998

 Mont. church falters after Armageddon
 fails to materialize

 CORWIN SPRINGS, Mont. (AP) - The bomb shelters were built, the
 food and clothing were gathered, the weapons were stockpiled,
the fuel
 was stored. But Armageddon never came.

 Elizabeth Clare Prophet, spiritual leader of the Church
Universal and
 Triumphant, had warned back in the 1980s that a nuclear
holocaust was
 coming. But when March 1990 slipped by without the prophesied
 disaster, her apocalyptic sect went into a skid it is still
struggling to halt.

 The church is selling two-thirds of its 12,000-acre Royal Teton
Ranch on
 the northern edge of Yellowstone National Park. It is laying off
 members, selling equipment, closing businesses - and losing

 Disillusioned after years of costly preparations for a calamity
that never
 came, followers left in droves upon realizing the world would go

 And Prophet, 58, has a still-undiagnosed neurological disease
 attacks her memory, the president of the church says. In
addition, her
 epilepsy is getting worse. Her fourth marriage ended in divorce
last year
 after her husband left her for their nanny, and her four adult
children have
 left the church, some with bitter words.

 Peter Arnone of Livingston, who was a member for 22 years and
 the church for the end of his marriage, predicts continued
decline for the
 religious sect. He left in 1992.

 ``Elizabeth Clare Prophet has been the magnet for this movement,
 she's running out of gas,'' he says. He adds: ``America is not
as naive as it
 used to be. People are more distrustful of cults with
charismatic leaders.''

 Gilbert Cleirbaut, 51, a management consultant and church
 became church president in 1996. He says he is guiding it away from

 ``Let's move away from fear and the constant building of fear,''
he says.
 ``I don't want to have fanaticism. In every organization where
you have
 fanaticism, love is gone. I want to have a church where our
people are
 very well-balanced, who practice what we preach.''

 Chris Kelly, church spokesman, estimates the church at its peak
 2,000 members living in Paradise Valley and the nearby cities of
 Livingston and Bozeman. He says the number has dropped to maybe

 Cleirbaut (pronounced clehr-BOH) says those members who were
 ``more balanced'' understood that a holocaust was averted
 prayer and have stayed.

 Heeding Prophet's warnings, the sect moved its headquarters from
 California to Montana in 1986 and built a fallout shelter
complex high in
 the Gallatin Range. The structures, with a capacity of 750, were
 under seven acres with stocks of food, water, vehicles and
weapons for
 survival after nuclear war had laid waste to civilization.

 The shelter cost a fortune. Many church members helped pay for
it, some
 by borrowing and mortgaging their homes in expectation that
their debt
 would be obliterated by the coming holocaust.

 Cleirbaut admits the church had to change direction after what
 delicately referred to as ``the shelter cycle.'' Drawing on his
 background, he insists that the means used to restructure
 can be used to revitalize religion.

 Cleirbaut says the church is still making a modest profit -
$554,000 in
 1996, down nearly two-thirds from the year before. And the
church is
 rich in land, having bought what is now hot property among the
 star and Wall Street set.

 But in the last few years, it has chopped its staff from 750 to
172. It has
 shut down its construction department, printing shop, food
 plant, farm and ranching operations, cafeteria, medical office
and book
 distribution center. The shelter is still there. But church
officials say the
 weapons were sold long ago.

 Read a profile of the Church Universal and Triumphant. [at The Web profile
is by a Christian anti-cult organization.]

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