The Pastor who sets them dancing

Seattle Post-intelligence/April 10, 1986
By John McCoy

Over its 19-year history, no revelation has more confounded the Community Chapel and Bible Training Center than the one Donald Barnett received last spring.

Barnett, the chapel's founder, pastor and "anointed of God," decreed that a higher spiritual realization could be found by dancing at church services with someone else's spouse. Finding one’s "spiritual connection," he said, opened up the possibility of a holy, complete and wonderful spiritual love.

Last summer, Barnett told his congregation that he was initially reluctant to replace solitary "dancing before the Lord" with spiritual couple dancing, "but a dancing angel came into me and I knew this was of the Lord."

Arthritic knee

As a result of the revelation, the pastor and his flock soon found themselves dancing for hours, night after night, with their "spiritual connections."

"I began to cry uncontrollably while dancing," said Barnett, whose dancing continued despite an arthritic knee. "The spirit of the Lord was on me mightily."

But this new dancing has been deeply troubling to some.

An open letter to Chapel members from David and Nancy Dobbs is typical.

"We have seen the devastation in the lives of those we love, we have personally ministered to individuals who, under the deception of spiritual experience, have engaged in sexual liberties, including adultery," they wrote in a resignation letter dated March 22.


There are now some empty seats at Friday and Sunday -services in the church's 2,000-seat Burien sanctuary. Enrollment is down at the Chapel's Bible School. At least two satellite churches have broken away. Others have died for lack of interest. Meanwhile, Chapel leadership has been wracked by the departure of key elders.

Nonetheless, Barnett seems to be taking the exodus in stride. Those who are leaving, he has said are possessed by demons of legalism, jealousy and stubbornness.

"To follow God, I'll pay any price," he told his congregation in a recent sermon.

Donald Lee Barnett, the son of a Pentecostal minister, was born in Idaho and grew up in Tacoma, says his older brother the Rev. Robert Barnett.

"We were raised three boys in a very godly home by very godly Parents," says the elder brother, now a fundamentalist pastor in Boise.

After high school, Donald Barnett attended a Bible seminary in Boise, married and found a job with the Boeing Co. In the 1950s and early 1960s, he conducted Bible studies at fundamentalist churches in South Seattle, West Seattle and Des Moines.

Barnett was dismissed from all three churches for teaching "false doctrines," according to a biography assembled by Tim Brown, director of the Colossian Fellowship, an evangelical Christian group concerned with biblical orthodoxy.

Barnett claims a doctorate in divinity. Brown says he has been unable to find evidence that Barnett finished seminary training or was ordained.

Robert Barnett says he doesn't know if his brother was kicked out of any churches. "It might be" the Idaho clergyman says. "I just never heard it."

In 1967, Donald Barnett started a Bible study group in his South End home. The group prospered, moved to larger homes and later incorporated.

In 1969, some members of his congregation sold many of their possessions and put second mortgages on their homes to finance construction of an adult Bible school on five acres of rural land in Burien. What had begun as a spirit-filled, speaking-in-tongues, faith-healing Pentecostal fellowship, Barnett began describing as "the move of God in the final days.

As Chapel membership grew the congregation bought 36 more acres nearby.

The Chapel built elementary and secondary schools, put up a gigantic Sanctuary, employed its own security force and set up a printing press and recording studio. Chapel publications soon listed nearly 150 outreach ministries ranging from hospital and jail visitation to deliverance teams that cast out devils.

About 1977, Brown contends, the Chapel took an authoritarian turn. The bylaws were rewritten so that only a four-member board headed by Barnett could make decisions.

Barnett demanded that members give a full tithe or be expelled. He also encouraged members to report the faults of other members to him or his elders, Brown says.

In 1983, Barnett told his congregation that he was taken in spirit into heaven, where he sang with angels and experienced "oneness of being" with Christ. Shortly afterward, he instituted "dancing before the Lord," the free-form, individual dance that evolved last year into partner dancing with "spiritual connections."

They yell, sob, pray and dance

A half-hour before the Friday service is scheduled to begin the Community Chapel and Bible Training Center is full of worshipers.

For the most part, they are young, white and middle-class in appearance. The men, beardless with hair cut short, wear coats and ties. The women wear dresses and, knowing they will dance for hours, ballet slippers. At 7:45 p.m., the time the service is supposed to begin, the sanctuary is filled with the din of hundreds of Chapelites speaking in tongues. While children play in the pews, their mothers and fathers stretch their arms heavenward, yelling, sobbing and praying incomprehensibly.

The dancing begins

The language of the Holy Spirit fades away as the choir ascends the stage to sing.

Members of the congregation - joyful and beaming - begin to dance.

Some dance alone, throwing their arms and legs about with abandon. Others, in accord with Pastor Donald Barnett’s teaching, dance with their "connections," the man or woman with whom they have achieved a special, spiritual relationship. Infrequently is the connection a spouse.

Barnett, his white hair brushed back in a pompadour, dances at center stage front. His white dress shirt is unbuttoned, partially exposing his bare chest.

He and his partner move like flamenco dancers without the castanets. He wraps his around the woman and stares intensely into her eyes as they glide about floor. She returns his gaze.

Clinging couples

Barnett dances first with his wife, Barbara. Then he dances with his connection, a much younger brunette. Both women are clad in long, full dress with tight bodices.

The dancing goes on and on. In an upstairs hallway, couples hold each other tightly, many of them praying.

Finally, about 9:30 p.m., Barnett ascends the rostrum to deliver the sermon. Bowing his head in prayer, he thanks the Lord for "putting out the dross," those who have questioned his teaching.

Inevitably, some will be snatched by Satan, he says. But those who stick with him, he promises, are marching to glory.

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