A reclusive Christian sect wants to open a members-only shop at its closed-off compound in Three Mile Cross.

The Plymouth Brethren Christian Church wants planning permission to open the shop at its Reading Gospel Hall on Church Lane.

The sect – which discourages social contact between members and non-members – says the move will bring its shop and gospel hall closer together. It also says all proceeds will be reinvested into its charity organisations.

The Berkshire branch of the Plymouth Brethren already runs one of the organisation's Campus & Co members-only shops on Arkwright Road, on an industrial estate in the west of Reading.

Campus & Co shops serve as supermarkets for members of the Plymouth Brethren, and are closed to non-members.

Now the church wants to move the shop to its main compound in Shinfield, where its Gospel Hall is behind two security gates. A spokesperson for the Brethren told the Chronicle this would ‘bring our congregation’s local Gospel Hall and Campus & Co store close together.’

They said: “This will help local members to access the shop with greater ease while also reimagining an ancillary building adjacent to the existing Gospel Hall to ensure it best serves the community.”

The Plymouth Brethren is a small Christian sect whose members tend to be born into the church and that encourages its members to only socialise with other members of its congregation.

Its website says that social contact with non-members is 'permitted' but must be 'consistent with Holy Scripture and his or her committal to the bond of the Lord’s Supper.'  

It also says members should only 'eat and drink in social fellowship' only with people who share their faith.

Plymouth Brethren members also do not watch television or listen to the radio ‘except in an educational setting at school.’ The church says this because it is ‘difficult to filter out content’ that could be ‘corrupting or damaging to children and vulnerable younger family members.’

An article in the New Statesman magazine published last year also included testimony from former members who said they’d been cut off from friends and family after leaving the church.

But the Plymouth Brethren says it does not ‘break up families,’ and its website explicitly denies that it is a cult. It says its members ‘live and work alongside’ non church members ‘in the mainstream of society.’

The spokesperson told the Chronicle that income from its shop will go towards the church’s charity, the Rapid Relief Team.

They said: “Proceeds from the new store will play a vital role in delivering enriching benefits for the wider Shinfield community.

“This includes through the important work of the Rapid Relief Team charity, which has an established track record of delivering invaluable support to communities across Berkshire.”

The church’s planning application is pending decision at Wokingham Borough Council.