Stewart Traill and The Church of Bible Understanding

I wouldn’t consider this “mysterious” but it is part of PA legend, and cults are part of fringe strangeness…

Stewart-Traill-House-FloridaNothing says “free country” more than the guy who reaps the rewards of others’ labor and rest happily in a Florida mansion owned by a church organization he founded and leads himself. Stewart Traill is one such man. Now in his late 70s, Traill resides in a sprawling mansion in southern Florida, owned by The Church of Bible Understanding, formerly the Forever Family.

Stewart Traill was born in Quebec, Canada in 1936, to Donald Stewart Traill and Lorraine Lillian Tanner. His father Donald, a Presbyterian minister, disapproved of what his son had created with the Forever Family, and ultimately disowned him.

In the late 1960s Stewart Traill, then a self-employed vacuum cleaner salesman, claimed to be an atheist with every intention of discrediting the Bible. He turned to Christianity when he decided he could not adequately explain miracles.

His was a form of self-taught Christianity, as he attended no church. Instead he began to mingle with Christian youths who would gather at Robin Hood Dell, also known as Little Lehigh Park, near Allentown, PA. In true cult-leader fashion he began to gain these young people as followers.

Though some of the crowd thought Traill was up to something, and didn’t agree with his tactics, one Christian group member, George “Skip” O’Neil, began spending time with Traill and forming what would become the the Forever Family.

They would meet at the Message Coffee House in Allentown, with other young Christian friends of O’Neil. There they would engage in Bible studies, discussions and evangelizing, with Stewart Traill leading and teaching the group as it grew.

Initially Traill enlisted some group members to help him find used, broken vacuum cleaners to repair and sell, continuing with his original business. But eventually his “church” was able to sustain him, with members living in a communal arrangement, working and giving most of their income to the church.

Traill lived well, giving up his vacuum cleaner business, but his family saw none of the church profit. They lived meagerly, and Traill is also known to have treated them cruelly. Especially his wife, who was made to weigh herself and was spanked by Traill, as witnessed by one church member, if she her weight was not to his satisfaction.

The cult spread, as Traill had members set up satellite groups, or “fellowship houses,” in other states, eventually spreading to New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Washington D.C., North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

Aside from being a cult-leader, Traill was also a licensed pilot and bought a plane with church money so he could travel between these locations. Over the years The Church of Bible Understanding amassed quite a fortune, and Traill purchased other planes including a jet.

Stewar TraillTraill was a natural leader, though harsh and domineering. Through various forms of psychological control — the only way one can really build a cult — he managed to keep a growing flock to support him. He also established quotas, and any member not bringing in sufficient new members through evangelism, not meeting their quota, were accused of faithlessness.

Is Traill a wack? Is he completely self-deluded, egotistical and able to control others, or a smart man with no integrity or conscience who had an idea to earn a living without having to work? He apparently started out as an atheist after all.

Maybe he was just clever enough, albeit devoid of compassion, to see how far he could take it. Maybe he’s sitting in his Florida mansion with a big smile on his bearded maw, knowing how he took so many people for a ride and got a free ride of his own. Traill not only brings in money from members, the church has established businesses which profit the cult.

Among them, Olde Good things, worth over $7.4 Million with locations in Scranton, NYC and LA, and Dallas. Cult member Paul Szostak manages the Grand Ave., LA location; S&G Photographics and Christian Brothers Carpet Cleaning.

The apparent good work Traill’s organization does in Haiti is likely just a front to lend legitimacy to a cult that rakes in big bucks, and much of it tax free.

The story of trail and his cult is a long one, too long for me to get into here. Below you will find some references, which I used to put together this post. You can also google it 🙂

The History of the Forever Family and the Church of Bible Understanding
Stewart Traill, the Al Capone of the 21st Century!
My Church of Bible Understanding Story
Ex-Members Tell of Poverty, Powerlessness
On the Traill: Difficult To Peg Reclusive Lead

5 Comments to Stewart Traill and The Church of Bible Understanding

  1. Elva Hofmeister says:

    I know you are trying to put a positive ending to your news story by saying at least Stewart Traill and his cult did some good with their work in Haiti, but That “work” was the hook used to make CoBU appear legitimate so they could solicit donations which they turned into a very handsome profit of which only a small fraction of the fortune they have accrued actually is utilized in their mission.

    When they report their earnings to the IRS, the portion attributed to their work in Haiti includes the operating cost of the staff which is a drop in the bucket when compared with the profit retained. Pretty sad that their work in Haiti gets such a small portion of the proceeds, especially since they were the lure used to solicit the donations that made Traill and his cult so profitable.

  2. Spaulding says:

    Thanks for your comment Elva. I’m going to make an edit to that paragraph.

  3. Elva Hofmeister says:

    Thanks for setting the record straight.

  4. Roland Ruiz says:

    I lived there for several years and have so much to say I won’t have room to type it. it is so true that he took money from people.if anyone wants to know more you could always get in touch with me

  5. joseph collinsworth says:

    I don’t think he is a fraud. He has too much understanding of God. He has to know God exists. And he knows he will be judged someday. He’s not insane.