real life

"We were overrun by fear." Bridget grew up in Sydney's C3 Church. She says it ruined her family.

“I wanted to reach out and say RUN!”

Watching footage of an old school friend still stuck in the folds of C3 Church on Sydney’s northern beaches, Bridget Harris felt all the memories she’d suppressed from her childhood come flooding back.

She’d escaped the church – which she now describes as a “cult” – but her father stayed. He died by suicide in 2014.

A Current Affair ran an exposé last week on C3 Church. Post continue after video.

Video by Nine

The church was her family’s entire world.

They moved from New Zealand to Sydney when Bridget was just nine and quickly became highly esteemed members.

They went to multiple services a week including two on Sundays, along with bible college, conferences and every and any social event the church was offering.

“Everything was about this church and its leader pastor Phil Pringle,” Bridget told Mamamia.

Last week A Current Affair aired their three month investigation into Pringle who lives a million dollar lifestyle thanks to tax-free donations from thousands of believers. Over three decades, the former garbage collector has amassed more than 100,000 members at 500 churches worldwide.

Phil Pringle
Phil Pringle, founder of C3 Church and his wife Chris. Image: ACA.
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"Go make millions and give it to the house of God," he can be heard preaching from the stage in the ACA package.

Pringle currently owns a clifftop mansion in Sydney's Mona Vale, worth $3.4 million when he bought it seven years ago. He also flies around the world in business class, and drives luxury cars.

For Bridget, this exposé into his manipulation and lavish lifestyle was all to real. Pringle’s church rinsed her parents Nigel and Lucy of all their money, leaving them in debt and eventually homeless.

Looking back, getting money off his worshippers was all Pringle's services seemed to be about. They were expected to tithe, which means giving 10 percent of their income to the church.

"Basically he was like 'the more you give to the church financially the more blessings are going to come in your life'," Bridget remembers him telling them.

"You have desperate people at church - people that are yearning for help. I've sat there and watched him 'heal people from cancer' because if you 'give to the house of God' you'll get the healing you need. If you don't give to the house of God, God won't give you the miracle you need in your life'," Bridget explained. "How can he say that?"

bridget and joanne
Bridget and her partner Joanne. The couple share three daughters. Image: Supplied.
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They were also told that if they donated, they'd be rewarded with more money in return. "God is the perfect accountant, he knows everything that you give and gives it back with interest," a C3 preacher tells his audience in the ACA footage.

"There was incredible pressure [to donate]," Kerry Ferguson, a former worshipper told A Current Affair.

"You were brainwashed into giving money...there were nights in my house where my children didn't have food and I didn't get any assistance whatsoever.

"It's trickery, a total con-job," said Kerry.

That promise of returned riches was also hollow for Bridget and her family, despite the thousands and thousands and thousands they handed over.

When Nigel fell ill with a rare lung disease, Bridget's mum became his full time carer and the family were desperately in need of help. But when they turned to their church, they were ignored. As they quickly spiralled into debt, Pringle's devotion to them evaporated.

Bridget family
Bridget's family in period dress at Ballarat goldmine. Image: Supplied.

"We were at Oxford Falls Grammar, the school attached to the church and when my dad became sick he couldn't afford my sister Zoe's last two years of high school. She'd been there since kindy. My dad had paid a student's fees years before [because the church asked him too]. He was a massive contributor. My sister wrote a personal letter to Phil asking him to sponsor her so she could finish high school. He didn't even have the decency to reply to her letter," Bridget told Mamamia.

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Bridget says she can't see any other explanation as to why her father, who had dedicated more than two decades to this church, was suddenly dropped.

"Because Dad didn't have any money left he was no longer an asset to the church - that's how I see it. One day he was a follower and the next the church turned their back when he didn't have any money to offer," she said.

Bridget's life in lock down.

Over the past week, other memories of her former church life have started to trickle back in Bridget's memory.

Bridget found a video of a concert she'd performed at, where she and the other little girls were wearing wedding dresses. At the time she was just excited to wear something pretty, but as she told Mamamia, the real reason they were wearing them was because they were "virgins for christ."

The church was strict, she remembers. "We were overrun by fear," said Bridget. "My inner most desires were always controlled by guilt."

They were expected to speak in tongues and were told that if they didn't pray to Jesus, they'd go to hell.

There was no social interaction outside of the church. As Bridget grew up she wasn't allowed to parties or sleepovers, or to text boys - let alone date them. She wasn't even allowed to catch public transport until she was 16.

Bridget and Nigel
Bridget and her dad Nigel. Image: Supplied.

"You're completely brainwashed. I didn't realise I was in a cult until I was well out of the church," she told Mamamia.

Sex before marriage and homosexuality was a sin, but Bridget and the other teenagers at C3 weren't even allowed to have romantic and sexual thoughts. If they did, they had to internally repent to God. "We had to be the purest form of human we could be," she said.

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The strict controlling nature of church life left Bridget unable to form her own opinion, because she was so terrified about 'going against the church.'

"If it [your opinion] was different to what you were taught there was something wrong with you," she said.

But in Year 12, her friends staged an intervention.

"They were like 'you need to run. This is not right - the way you are living'," Bridget remembers them telling her when they had her alone.

She ended up running away from home and living with her uncle for a year and a half. She did eventually reconcile with her parents, but after that act of rebellion the church no longer had a grasp on Bridget.

Even if she wanted to return now, she couldn't. She had a child out of wedlock, and is in a same sex relationship - both huge no-no's at C3.

Her father's demise.

Bridget may have broken free as a teenager, but her parents remained strictly religious and dedicated to the church despite Pringle's desertion.

Religion was their life - they had no where else to turn.

But as Nigel went in and out of hospital battling his sickness, the debt piled up and he eventually filed for bankruptcy and fell into a deep depression. The family was left homeless for a few weeks, as they battled through hospital bills and council housing waiting lists.

Nigel died by suicide just before Christmas 2014.

The church knew, Pringle knew, but both remained silent.

"Friends of ours organised a small room on the church grounds (not in the main auditorium) for the funeral and I remember going outside for a cigarette and I saw Phil Pringle walk past. It was then I was like, 'you don't give a shit'. He knows everything going on inside his church grounds. He didn't even go inside to pay his respects to my dad," Bridget told Mamamia.

"C3 Church Oxford Falls ruined my parents' lives," Bridget said.

"I am incredibly lucky to have gotten out."

An impossible task.

Having grown up in C3 Church, Bridget knows all to well that it'll be impossible to get through to anyone inside.

Pringle has his back covered against "backsliders" like her.

"There will be people who backslide against Christ and who go and talk about me and slander my name and do not be fooled," she remembers him saying in services.

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A spokesperson for C3 told A Current Affair, "C3 Church has robust governance policies in place regarding remuneration of Pastors which extends to the remuneration of Ps Phil Pringle. All remuneration is set by an independent board of Directors and the quantum is benchmarked to organisations of a comparable size in the Education sector.

"C3 Church complies with the disclosure guidelines articulated by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC). Ps Pringle confirms he fully complies with all his taxation obligations."

When confronted by the ACA reporter Dan Nolan, Mr Pringle dismissed the suggestion the church demanded donations from people, even when they were financially struggling.

"We always advise responsible giving. Nobody has to tithe, we do not require them to," he said.

Phil Pringle
Phil (far right with microphone) at a Sunday service. Image: YouTube.

Bridget is scared to tell this story - it's raw and it hurts. But the A Current Affair investigation has made her realise that she has to try. So today on her dad Nigel's birthday, Mamamia is sharing her experience.

"I don't know how Phil and [his wife] Chris can make false prophesies and promises and live with themselves," she told Mamamia.

Bridget knows that inside the church, they will have been told the news broadcasts are "just evil stuff, stuff from the devil."

She knows that unless they experience the tragedies she has, they'll likely never see the truth.

But she's willing to try to get through to them.

Mamamia has contacted Phil Pringle for comment. No reply had been received at the time of publication.

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