In a small house overlooking a lake in Wauconda, a minister directed his female followers to go into a back room and take off their clothes.
In one-on-one sessions, he got naked, touched their bodies and told them to touch his.
He called them prayer sessions.
What allegedly happened in that room over a series of months would spur a criminal investigation in one county, spark civil litigation in two others and reopen the age-old debate on what's a cult.
Calling it "light therapy," the minister, Philip Livingston, testified in a Kane County case that he repeatedly performed the naked ritual — claiming it helped cure everything from drug addictions to yeast infections. He said it was done only with consenting adults who were members of his donor-funded Light of the World Ministries. But one participant testified that a teenage girl was involved too.
The case offers a window not only into the evolution of a fringe church, but also the struggles of authorities to know when such a group warrants their attention.
Livingston's supporters have maintained he's an earnest, albeit unconventional minister who has done no wrong. But a Kane County judge this summer ordered that three children be kept away from Livingston and his church. That was after police in Wauconda, inLake County, where Livingston's church is now based, launched a pending criminal investigation.
Since then, aCook County judge has ordered Livingston, his wife and his top assistant to stay away from the onetime follower whose allegations of child endangerment sparked the latest legal rounds.
The cases cap allegations that have long dogged the onetime contractor — a man whose preaching career sprang from leading a renegade prayer group at one of the area's largest churches.