Bethel Church, Mansfield Woodhouse

A religious community that aimed for the heavens but faced earthly woes in a failed musical venture.

Bethel Church, also known in its later years as the International Church, is an interdenominational Christian organization based in Mansfield Woodhouse, Nottinghamshire, England. The church embarked on an ambitious but ultimately catastrophic financial venture that led to its liquidation and significant losses for its members.

Origins and Development

Bethel Church, originally known as Bethel Interdenominational Church, was founded by John Hibbert and Jean Spademan. Spademan, referred to within the movement by the biblical name “Syro,” played a significant role in the church’s activities and its sister church, King’s Chapel, in Norwich, Connecticut. The church’s roots are deeply embedded in the Christian faith, aiming to provide a space for worship and community engagement.

The Failed Musical Venture

In a dramatic turn of events, the church ventured into the entertainment industry with plans to produce a large-scale musical titled “Heaven on Earth,” based on the biblical story of Adam and Eve. Eden International Productions, created by church leaders, aimed to bring this ambitious project to life, featuring stars like Russell Watson and Kerry Ellis. The musical was intended to tour major UK arenas, including Cardiff, Nottingham, and Wembley Arena.

However, the project collapsed, leaving the church in liquidation and its members facing financial ruin. The production, which never made it to the stage, accumulated debts of £2.6 million. Members of the congregation, some of whom had remortgaged their homes to fund the venture, found themselves out of pocket, with an estimated 30 individuals in Mansfield Woodhouse owed a collective £500,000. The fallout from this disaster was profound, affecting the lives of many involved and leading to the church’s closure​​​​.

Cult-like Allegations and Aftermath

Prior to the musical’s failure, allegations surfaced regarding the church’s cult-like atmosphere, with claims of controlling behavior by its leadership, including John Hibbert and Christine Jeffs, Jean Spademan’s daughter. Members were reportedly under pressure to attend services and cell group meetings regularly, and to contribute large sums of money towards the musical. The leadership’s demands for financial contributions were framed as tests of faith, with suggestions that failing to donate would displease God.

These practices and the subsequent collapse of the musical led to a reevaluation of the church’s operations by many of its members, with some describing the experience as a wake-up call. The Charity Commission began investigating the leaders, and there was discussion of banning them from running a church again. The International Church, as it was known in its final days, has since ceased operations, and its website is no longer accessible​​.

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