Stories About the Church of Bible Understanding, Written by Those Who Were There

This site contains stories written by people who were in the Forever Family and the Church of Bible Understanding.

You can read the stories by clicking on the titles under the heading “The Stories” on the left side of this page.

If you have your own story that you would like to submit to this page, send it to me at cobustories @ gmail dot com.

You can also read my book, Captive Congregation: Fourteen Years in the Church of Bible Understanding, which is available as a Kindle book or in paperback.


I hope that all Church of Bible Understanding members will benefit from reading these stories and that these stories will bring back memories, whether good memories or maybe not quite so good memories (I’m sure it’s a mix of both for all of us).

For me, it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. I got a lot of benefit from being in COBU at first. I learned to hustle carpet cleaning jobs. I learned to talk to anyone about anything – though what I talked about was usually getting saved, moving in with us and I convinced a lot of people to get their carpets cleaned. I enjoyed the all-night Bible studies, where we stayed up into the early hours of the morning studying the Second Coming. I’d even say that my first year or so in COBU was pretty good.

But other things were going on that I began to become aware of over time. We couldn’t get married or have relationships with the sisters. I learned that in COBU, we had a higher calling than all other Christians did, and that because of that, I couldn’t leave because that would be looking for an easier way to serve Christ, and as Stewart said, once we knew these things, we couldn’t go back to not knowing them and God would hold us accountable to the knowledge he had given us. (It was only by studying cults and abusive churches when I was still in COBU that I learned that this is a claim made by a lot of different cults.) When I used to complain about how things were in COBU, somebody always told me I was the guilty party  because I had helped make things this way. That’s why I wasn’t able to walk out of the meetings that went on until two in the morning in the Woodruff basement until we settled whatever issue we were on. Someone always said, “You helped make things this way and we can’t end the meeting until we settle the issue at hand.” The guilt was like quicksand. The more I struggled against it, the more I sank into it.

Part of COBU’s hold on me was that many of the things we did seemed good. Stewart’s tactic of saying there was a cult among us helped me to believe that all the strangeness was coming from the secret cult members among us who were fouling up the works. It was never clear to me who was in the cult and who wasn’t, but I figured that if anyone looked tired and wiped out, they must be unreal cult members and that they were a danger to my spiritual survival and that I should avoid them. I was sure that all the older brothers and sisters were in the cult, because of how wiped out they looked, not realizing that their tired appearance had to do with the long hours of work in the church businesses, the sleep deprivation and the general frustration of living the way we did. I was still new and the slow poison of COBU hadn’t hardened me into an unreal person yet. As long Stewart was coming down on other people and not me, it was even fun sometimes to see those weird older brothers get blasted. It was great entertainment, because Stewart was often clever and witty. It was great theater – as long as I wasn’t on the receiving end of that abuse. I feared that I would become like the older brothers. I would do anything not to be like one of them. I would work hard at my Christian training.

There was extreme legalism and condemnation, and in later years, Stewart increasingly pounded the terror of spending eternity in hell into us. It was campaign he started almost immediately upon his so-called repentance at the Grace Meeting in 1989, where he appropriated forgiveness and a carte blanche wiping clean of all past wrongs for himself, while at the same time moving in more aggressively than ever to put us into bondage to the fear of death and hell. However strange Stewart might have been from the beginning, at least before this, he used to preach about being born again. He talked about getting saved and urged us to go out to the highways and byways to compel the people to come in. After the Grace Meeting, which he claimed was a time for all of us to start over (including himself, for reasons he was never too clear about, other than that he had left the grace of God out of his teachings), he began to slam the doors of heaven in our faces. He portrayed Jesus as an angry judge who was going to cast us into hell. At every meeting, it seemed as if Stewart ignited the flames of hell before our very eyes. Brothers and sisters made desperate fever-pitched confessions and screamed about how they were recommitting themselves to Stewart’s teaching of the week, after having confessed they had been guilty of not being faithful to Stewart’s teaching of last week.

After 1989, Stewart also began driving the church business. Although he said we were all cheaters and rebels, he seemed to portray the businesses as a way of acceptance in which we could make money to support the purpose of the church. During this time I learned that although I was not worthy of heaven, that no matter how many hours I worked, I was not worthy of a day off. The COBU brothers and sisters’ had work has led now to a the multi-million dollar Olde Good Things architectural antique business and even more luxurious living conditions for Stewart Traill, a man who constantly preached to us about putting to death our lives in this world. While Stewart was amassing his fortune, and surrounded by a harem of female followers, the rank and file church members lived in squalor and were denied the natural human right to marriage and were denied compensation for their long hours of labor.

Stewart used the fear of death and talk of our soon deaths in a calculated and purposeful way, with a specific goal in mind. He got us to give up our own desires and to work hard at the income gathering machine of the church, because as he said about our human lives, “You’re going to lose it all very soon anyway.” We were also Stewart’s uncritical and captive audience. He was the Great Bible Teacher to whom God was revealing exclusive knowledge that was, in Stewart’s own words, “hidden since the time of the  Apostles.” He sometimes hinted that God was revealing things to him that the Apostles themselves didn’t even know about. He claimed that God had given him “the riches of assured understanding,” which was an infallibility claim not unlike that of the Pope. He strutted forth on the stage of the theater of his mind before his dwindling and isolated band of followers, who were always willing to praise and admire the king’s new clothes, transparent as those garments may have appeared to all observers. (The club and the whip were brought out when necessary on those who whimpered about their doubts about those great truths or about the way things were being done around here.)

This is my point of view about COBU. I’ve written a lot about it in my other pages about COBU. The purpose of this site is to provide a place for anyone who was in COBU to tell their story in their own words, their own way. Your comments are appreciated as well.

Story submissions can be sent to to cobustories @ (Stories can be of any length. You can use your full name or just your first name. You can also remain anonymous. One of the contributors used the name Loyal Brother.) I can also transcribe your story if you send me a recording of yourself telling your story.

Contributions from those who are still in the Church of Bible Understanding will also be accepted, though if you’re still a member of COBU, you are not likely to want to submit your story. But I know you read these pages and you’re welcome to read what the others have written.


28 thoughts on “Stories About the Church of Bible Understanding, Written by Those Who Were There

  1. I looked up his mansion in Coral Springs FL. You enter on Wiles Rd just off of North University Ave (Hmmm). He lives fairly close to the country’s largest swamp (Hmmm).
    Most houses in that neighborhood have a pool. His seems to be the largest and is on a dead end (Hmmm). Because of the trees you can’t really see the road to his house (Hmmm).

  2. So sickening! When he passes away who gets all the luxuries he leaves behind? Is he aware that he cannot take it with him? He had the appearance of holding faith and a self sacrificial lifestyle, yet….when the $ came rolling in…actions speak WAY louder than words or a boring dress code for decades! SO GLAD I LEFT (was there from 1976-1985) Praise God for the truth, and escaping a lie of a life. One day it really will happen: Stewart WILL stand before God and give account. I am glad I am not in his shoes.

  3. Hello! For some of you who may remember me; I am Peggy Bristow. I lived ten years in COBU. I been out of touch with so many ex-COBU members, I have no idea of what is happening in COBU today. Can any one fill me in what has been going on with COBU in years passed? I am just curious.

    Since leaving COBU I became a member of Glad Tidings Church in the Bronx, I received a lot of spiritual healing, I suppose like many of you. I am so grateful to Jesus for setting me free.

    Anyway, I would like to know just how much of the church still exists? What has Mr.Trail been up to. My goodness, that man must be in his late seventies, right?
    Is Gail still with him? Again I am just curious.

    God bless you all.
    Peggy Bristow

    1. Hi Peggy,
      What year did you leave COBU? To fill you in on what has been going on, a quick explanation is that in 1989, Stewart Traill said he was starting over. It seems to have been an effort at damage control. (If you go to my LINKS page, you can read Sabrina Erdely’s story. It’s very well written and can explain a lot of things.) And after his “repentance,” he got much, much worse in his treatment of us all – though now when I read back on what people have written about their time in the church long ago, I realize it’s the same thing – just different varieties of it. How much of the church still exists? Not much. There are a couple of residences and maybe total membership is around 80 or 100. Traill is now living in a large mansion in Florida (you can see it here: ) They spend a lot of time working at Olde Good Things, which is the church’s architectural antiques business. Gayle is still with him. She was badly injured in a car accident and there are “alleged sightings” of Traill traveling around with another female. I’ve probably left a lot out, but that’s a basic version of it. I’m glad to know you are receiving a lot of spiritual healing. Please feel free to contribute to this site by sending your story to Jim L.

  4. Hello James,

    Thanks for filling me in, I do very much appreciate it. Let’s see…I am not sure of the year I left COBU, but I do remember it was during the time when the sisters were thrown out on the streets of New York City, and in the dark of night; when 515 was sold.

    The sisters were seriously and urgently trying to find a place to live. I was the only sister at the time who had a telephone in my room. I even had a telephone conference box that could convert calls into conference calls. We would call Jimmy to get permission to get funding to rent a house. Every call we made about getting money to rent a house, we were told that we were doing numbers, or that we were not acting responsible.

    The sisters that were present in my room on the evenings that we made calls to Jimmy were confused and puzzled. I eventually came to the conclusion that, Jimmy or Stewart never had any intentions of giving the sisters who were looking for a place to to live any financial assistance.The decision made a lot of sisters resentful, and rightly so. When I was thrown out I never returned back to fellowship.

    Long before 515 was sold I began to question many things about 515 and Stewart Traill in particularly.Things like why did Stewart live better than the other brothers and sisters? And I believe that Stewart himself designed the cult that he wanted. Remember the color system that he designed to indicated how well one was doing with Jesus? If you were voted the color black you had to live in what he called the “Trip Apartment.” But who judged him? Who would question him and his relationship with Jesus?

    And he put most if not all churches in a bad light. He made them seem hopeless, but COBU was the lighthouse on top of the hill. Who was to take a stand and correct him in his errors? Who would have the courage to do that? So Stewart was all alone, with no serious fellowship with someone who could correct and guide him. Who would dare question him?

    We trusted this man and he used us all, and do you think he guilty of any wrong? I doubt it very much.

    Well thanks for allowing me to bend your ears a little. I look forward in reading more comments. God bless you all.

    1. Peggy,
      I remember the whole incident about the church selling 515. (515 West 47th Street, a residential apartment building that the church owned.) When it was time for everyone to move out, any brother who stood up at a meeting and asked to move to another church-owned residence was given the OK. (Sometimes after a little deliberation and having to ask a few times, but all of them moved to Woodruff Avenue, or to other locations.) Not so with the sisters. They could neither move to another church residence and all their attempts to get approval to rent the apartments they located were denied. As I remember they were not “asking rightly,” or some other reason to shoot down the plan. No matter how many times they asked, and no matter how they asked, it was not deemed acceptible enough. Some of these were groups of brothers and sisters who had found a house to rent (or perhaps buy), but none of these plans got approved. As noted above, close to the last minute, any brother was able to move into an existing church property. This left about twenty sisters still in 515 on the last night it was still in possession of the church. That night, they, and all of their possessions were on the curb. I remember seeing a lot of dressers and crates lined up on the curb. Some sisters begged brothers who lived in Woodruff that night to be able to get a ride to Woodruff, but they refused to take them with them. All in all a really bad scene. I am not really sure of the motivation for it on Stewart’s part. Downsizing maybe and getting rid of some of the older ones? Just the general abuse that goes on in a cult? Generally, there was always one group or category of people in the church undergoing punishment. I came to understand in my last years there that this was a useful tactic to keep everyone on edge and working hard. You were either trying to get out of that category, or trying hard not to get put in it. Keeping quiet and doing what you were told and not complaining were ways to avoid that. Very effective manipulation on Traill’s part. I would say he used that same form of manipulation on the “Gayle Helpers,” as the threat of being sent back to Woodruff was always there. And sisters were trying to get out of Woodruff, hoping to be good enough to get to live with Stewart at his house.
      You and many sisters did not return. There were a group of sisters who moved to a seedy hotel in midtown. They still came to meetings and after a period of begging and after they had admitted to their “wrongdoing,” they were allowed to move back in. Lauren A. was one of those sisters. She is still there today.

    2. That would be 1984. BTW 515 wasn’t closed on until 1986. We kept it up for two years. We even used it as a homeless shelter during that time.

      1. Pardon me Owen, but it is almost funny that 20 to 30 sisters were thrown out on the streets, and someone gets an bright idea to turn 515 into a homeless shelter. I honestly wasn’t aware of this, but thanks for the info.

      2. The reason that 515 W 47th Street had to be emptied out is because it was sold to an investor. At the last minute, the investor backed out on the deal, which is the reason why the church still had it for 2 more years. Owen, you probably remember the details better than I do.

        And Peggy, that is real case of irony that 20 to 30 sisters were made homeless and soon afterward the building was turned into a homeless shelter. Well, supposedly, anyway. That was the time in 85-86 when the “Young Sheep” brothers and sisters were going into other homeless shelters like Under 21 and inviting young people over to stay with us. Kind of like an inductee center, as our charity was mixed with recruiting. I remember some of the ones brought in, Reggie B., a girl named Egypt and another young woman named Maxine, who was Haitian. Reggie was sort of like a “star convert” and was seen as a hopeful and doing good by COBU standards of how a new brother is supposed to be.

        There was also a police raid on the building and Harry Weinbaum our faithful and true church treasurer was taken into custody. I remember hearing the report of the raid on 1010 Wins newsradio. They said that “Harry Weinbaum, the leader of the cult” was arrested and taken into custody. I was working on a wood floor job with Jim O. and we kept tuned in to the radio to hear the report, which was given every 20 minutes, because we were getting such a laugh out of hearing that Harry was the leader of the cult! Little did they know.

        The reason for the raid was that the shelters, including Father Bruce Ritter from Under 21, complained about our activities. Father Ritter had a fall from grace (a scandal) shortly afterward and the story circulated among us COBU members that God had punished Father Ritter (as in, vengeance is mine) for his having opposed us (that is, for having opposed God’s work).

        Also, around that time Jimmy G. injured himself by jumping over the fence in the back yard of 515, because he was running away from a lady reporter. They wanted him to make a statement regarding Donald Traill getting a beating with a 2×4. Jim had his legs in 2 full length casts and was confined to a wheelchair. Stewart Traill condemned him for fearing a woman and running away from her, saying he got what he deserved for fearing.

  5. Greetings James,

    I too was not sure of the motive behind throwing the sisters out into the dark streets of New York. Many sisters went to 48th street to see if those sisters living in church apartments would put them up for the night, they were turned down flat. The whole time I thought, Jesus would never turned away anyone who needed help. I ended up living with a dear sister who had her own apartment in the Bronx. Sisters from COBU begin to call her to tell her to throw me out. Now this was an apartment that she paid rent on; she never moved into fellowship.

    There was this one sister that was blind. I asked my friend if I could bring her along with me. I couldn’t bare her trying to find a place to sleep for the night on her own. She lived with us for several days before moving to Woodruff.

    That night I saw such a kindness and gentleness, Jesus was looking out for me and others. Even though I saw brothers and sisters, and the unsaved going through my things. It broke my heart, but that night I was set free from COBU.

    And for sisters to move back into fellowship had to admit in a group setting, that they were wrong of how they went about looking for a place to live. What? What wrong? The church failed them, but did they admit that? NO, never!

    I would like to see COBU totally dissolved.And I would like to see those who are still there get the help that they will need once they get the strength to leave. Let’s continue to pray for them. Nice talking to you James, God bless you brother.

    1. Because COBU didn’t write a “Time Is Of The Essence” letter, the buyer postponed buying it for two years. Thus we maintained it while the value rose. (The buyer also owned Governor’s Steakhouse.) They were watching closely in 1984. Had we not vacated, they would have sued the Boo for breach of contract.
      BTW “Time Is Of The Essence” is one of those “only in NYC” things.

      Disclaimer: my only source for this info is Jim Griener, so …..

  6. Hello All,

    I have a question that may or may not be of purpose of this web site, but I just have to ask it.

    I very often get the XCobu4Jesus@yahoogroups in my mail box, I usually don’t have time to read them all. The last few that I glanced over have been disturbing. The topics are filled with strong sexual themes and propositions.

    Does anyone know what is going on with this Yahoo group? Or is there another ex-COBU group that I can join?

    1. Peggy, the group XCobu4Jesus is moderated by Ave Hurley. I had a look at it and it seems like someone has been sending spam messges to the group, with the content that you have mentioned. Ave is not aware of this and has not blocked these messages. There is another group on yahoo called x-cobu. If you look for that in the search groups section in yahoo groups, you can join that group. There are a couple of good discussions going on there at this time. I am moderating this group. If you send a request to join, I will approve and you can join the discussions on that group.

  7. I remember the Atlantic City house in 1976, and also the lofts in New York City. What I remember as particularly disturbing was watching children, some as young as 3, being spanked, sometimes with big metal serving spoons. I tried it on my thigh one time and it hurt like heck. Their buttocks would look like one big dark bruise. I believe in corporal punishment and think it is wrong to persecute parents who spank their children, but this was not “spanking.” I wish those children could get some compensation.

  8. Praise The Lord that I prayed for my boyfriend at that time(1973-1976) now my husband Jim W. from Lehigh Valley area The Lord delivered him from the entanglement of Stewart. I was a very young Christain and only 17 years old at the time I had been in touch with David Wilkersons books and converts testimonies and knew FF was not what Christianty was about. I just would hang out with Jim and than go home and pray pray pray . if I knew what I know now I would have anointed all door ways and areas Stewart was with oil so Satan could not have his way . JESUS is faithful and praise The Lord it has not been easy. For JIm ,the scars are deep but satan has been defeated. We have two children A daughter 34 and a son 28 and the are severing The Lord in all capacities and are married to wonderful spouses . We have a total of 6 grandchildren. The kids and myself we just talking about the past and how dads past may have a lot to do with some church hang ups he has So I began to search for this contact of former Bro and sisters in th FF or COBU

    1. Personally, I was homeless and COBU gave me a wholesome Christian environment and a roof over my head until I was able to get job skills and strike out on my own.

  9. Everyone, take a deep breath.
    You all have something that men over the ages have desired more than gold. And never found.
    Great scientists don’t have what you have.
    Do you know how rare it is to know that God is real?
    And God chose to reveal the Truth to you.
    You are so special.
    Touched by the hand of Almighty God.

  10. Hello, my name is Lauren Donelli. I joined the Forever Family in 1974, I was 13.I was a member for two and a half years. We had changed the name to Church of Bible Understanding during that time, and the school in New York had opened up, and we were starting to send people to Haiti. I belonged to the East side Cleveland lFellowship, although I joined the group when they had a big house on the westside.
    Boy, did I leave the group at the right time! I was so sad to see what became of the Church. Honestly I met Jesus there, but there were definatly things that were off about the group. I was at the Big Meeting when Stewart announced that he was going to o marry Gail, and justifying it from scripture. I just remember thinking, wow she’s a lot younger than him. And it seemed no one dare question him!
    During those two and a half years I said the Sinners Prayer with 45 people, I’m not bragging, most of those people just said the prayer with me to get away from me. But what I realized when I dedicated my life to Jesus was that I had lost my joy. Nothing I did was good enough, I should’ve always been doing more. Right before I left a brother, I can’t remember his name, killed in a car accident not far from the Fellowship house. He apparently was found in the praying position on the road, and tracts were everywhere. Stewart had told all the men in the church to keep journals, and they went through his journal to see if his heart was in the right place to determine if he went to be with the Lord. Seriously, he lived at the fellowship, went to work, went witnessing, attended the bible studies, and prayed. That was the fatal flaw of CoBU’s teaching. There is nothing we could ever do to earn our way to Heaven. By the way, back then my name was Lori Smith.

    God Bless you all!

    1. I have to say I don’t get Stewart Traill’s seemingly ongoing obsession with possessions.
      Especially with all the understanding he has.
      On the other hand, I have no idea how he conducts his life day to day.
      So I won’t judge him.
      But I think it’s telling that he deflects praise from men. He seems aloof?
      “perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force”…
      Unlike many televangelists and other men of God.. who seem to desire man’s praise.
      Can it be that he knows it’s not about him, about trusting Stewart Traill? It’s about putting faith and trust in Jesus?
      I would think so.
      God bless all the brethren who put their faith only in our Lord Jesus!

  11. I wanted to reply to Mr. Collins, although it was forty years ago, I don’t recall that Stewart ever reflected praise. Even then a rumor was spreading that he might be Elijah!
    It’s the stark contrast of the way he lives and those that are in the church. I do remember one of the reasons he wanted to marry again was so he could counsel married couples. But apparently no one could marry. 1 Timothy 4:1-3. And Jesus said, ” No one can serve two masters”. …” You cannot serve GOD and Money”.
    Even 1974 it was evident that there was no one able to refute anything that Mr. Trail said, or question anything he did. ” Absolute authority, corrupts absolutely”!
    God bless you

  12. Oh, one more thing, I saw that someone mentioned Jimmy Greiner, he was one of the leaders at the Cleveland fellowship when I was involved. Does anyone know if he’s still involved, or is he an ex- church member? I hope he’s OK.

    1. That rumor about Elijah proves my point Lauren.
      Some in the church wanted to put Stewart Traill on maybe a pedestal because of the profound way the holy spirit was revealing itself through Stewart. Stewart wanted nothing to do with it.
      I don’t think Stewart started that rumor.
      Stewart’s aloofness, for me anyway, is proof of his intentions.
      It makes sense.
      Finding Jesus is a personal experience.
      A million people can tell you that Jesus is real.
      But until Jesus makes it personal, you won’t have blessed assurance.

      “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”

      This is what Stewart knew.
      Stewart didn’t want or need an audience because God had got up close and personal with him.
      How could you desire man’s praise when God has shown favor towards you?

      I read on another website that Greiner lives somewhere in northern Ohio.
      He is involved I believe, in a church.
      He has apologized profusely for the mean ways he treated the brethren.

      May our Lord Jesus bless and keep you.

  13. Thank you Joseph, l appreciate your reply,
    Jimmy was always nice to me and so was Stewart. I know that Stewart was very gifted in his knowledge and love of the Scriptures, but beyond that, the current state of the group speaks for itself. And that’s sad, it really is.
    GOD bless and keep you too brother

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