The leader of the controversial sports and religious group called Ecclesia told mourners at the funeral of one of its members Friday that he was suspending the organization's activities for the time being.
Standing in a pulpit before a flower-covered, pink casket containing the body of 30-year-old Faith Viola Hendrick, the Rev. Eldridge Broussard Jr. addressed her family and about 100 others at Pilgrim Congregational Church.
"As of right now I am taking a leave of absence from what is called a ministry . . . Watts Christian Center, Ecclesia--which has seen so much alarm, so much misunderstanding--is about to be no more for a period of time," he said.
Hendrick died Sunday after collapsing at the organization's farm in Oregon. An Ecclesia spokeswoman said Hendrick, an epileptic, had apparently suffered a blood clot in a lung. A coroner determined that Hendrick died of natural causes unrelated to trauma, stress or athletic activity.
Fear Group Is Cult
Broussard, a former college basketball player, blames negative publicity about Ecclesia Athletic Assn., which has run into opposition to its plans to set up a training camp in Oregon. Neighbors fear that it is a cult.
"I would be disrespecting the spirit that I represent, and I will also be disrespecting Faith, if I did not mention there is much controversy surrounding me . . . and surrounding my ministry," Broussard told the mourners. "I will dedicate my life to showing why this woman chose to follow where I was coming from . . . until the last breath that she took.
"I don't apologize for my choices or for hers. And at the proper time I will launch my own personal assault in the direction of the instrument that was used for her passing."
Broussard did not specify the "instrument" in his remarks, but said outside the small church that "I am somehow going to demonstrate that this has been associated with some irresponsible media coverage."
However, Ecclesia spokeswoman Carolyn Von Brunt said Broussard blames Portland television station KOIN, the Los Angeles Times, the Portland Oregonian, Newsweek and other news organizations for inaccurate reporting that caused stress and contributed to Hendrick's death. Von Brunt said Hendrick's epileptic episodes had diminished until the recent controversy erupted.
Interment was at Lincoln Memorial Park in Compton.
Broussard founded the Watts Christian Center in Los Angeles about 12 years ago. He has said Ecclesia was formed to steer children away from drugs and crime, motivating them through tough discipline and athletic training aimed at qualifying for Olympic competition.
About 100 adults and children had moved onto an 18-acre farm near Sandy, Ore. Neighbors have complained there is a "militaristic" attitude, with children lining up at attention every day. But last month Ecclesia withdrew a request to Clackamas County for zoning variances for the farm, which has a four-bedroom house and is zoned as a single-family dwelling.