Janet Frick grew up in rural Michigan in a family that believed in the powers and mysteries of strict fundamentalist Christianity, with its revivals and Bible camps, prayer sessions and evangelists.

Frick always felt like an outsider and said she was publicly denounced as a "Godless child" for her inability to speak in tongues. She said her parents were ostracized for having such a sinful daughter and for not shouting "Hallelujah" loud enough.

"It was very, very traumatic," she said. "It has affected my whole life, really."

Today, Frick, a 47-year-old Fairfax County special education teacher, is a leader of the first Washington area chapter of Fundamentalists Anonymous, a national volunteer support group aimed at helping people overcome any residual feelings of anger, guilt or fear that ex-members often have toward their families and churches.

"For a lot of people coming out of fundamentalism, the church was their whole life," said Frick. "So, when they start breaking away, they have the pressure of friends and family. There's going to be a void in their life, and they need to fill it again."

Nationally, Fundamentalists Anonymous was founded in 1985 by Jim Luce, an assistant portfolio manager at a New York bank, and Richard Yao, a Wall Street lawyer. Luce had fundamentalist family members, and Yao was a former church member.

"Within the past 15 years, fundamentalism has become much larger than ever before, with the advent of the TV ministries," Luce said. "Previously, fundamentalists didn't want to be part of 'this world.' They wanted to be 'in the world,' but not 'of it.' "

He said his purpose in founding Fundamentalists Anonymous was to "educate the American public that the fundamentalists have a very specific political agenda," and to help people who might be "hurting" because of their fundamentalist associations.

The group, which is nonprofit, has more than 30,000 members in 44 affiliated chapters, as well as an annual budget of $30,000, Luce said. It has just initiated a project to offer legal support to ex-fundamentalists "who believe they've been had."

The organization's backbone, however, consists of the local support groups, such as one that meets every other Sunday at Luther Place, a District church at Thomas Circle NW.

The Washington group has about 10 regular members and 20 periodic attendees. There are no dues, but participants ask for donations. Meetings are open to prospective members, but not to the public. Those interviewed asked that their full names not be used.

"We do not proselytize, and we do not try to tell them what's right for them," said Frick. "We believe in religious freedom, and any path they choose is okay. I would say the majority still have some faith in a divine being. I really can't think of anyone attending who has turned away from religion altogether."

One member is a 29-year-old District resident who works as an administrative director for a nonprofit organization. In her early teens, she began to question the teachings of fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism implies a literal interpretation of the Bible. In its generic sense, it refers to teachings in a variety of conservative Protestant denominations -- those that emphasize morality, missionary work and commitment to Jesus Christ.

"The whole mindset was sort of we-they," said the District resident. "They believe that those people out there who drink and play cards and have fun are not going to make it to eternal life."

Eventually, she left the church, but said she has suffered tremendous mental anguish and isolation. "Dance -- that's the one issue that still disturbs me most is not having been raised in a family that danced," she said.

Janet B., who helps lead a group, is a 48-year-old College Park resident. She grew up in a strict Roman Catholic family, but later became associated with two fundamentalist churches.

"I didn't get caught up in them hook, line and sinker -- just hook and line," she added. "I watched Jim and Tammy Faye {Bakker} on television for several years. It wasn't just for the message, it was for the music. I sent them money -- $5 or $10 at a clip. They talked about tithing, which is 10 percent, but I didn't have control of our money."

Another member is a 22-year-old Gaithersburg mother who was "born again" into a fundamentalist church at age 16.

She became a fanatic. She took all her old rock records -- Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane -- and smashed them. "I wanted to have kids so I could raise them up in this religion," she said. "The only purpose for anything was this Jesus stuff."

After two years, however, she became disillusioned with what she claimed was a fundamentalist obsession with Satan. She also tired of petty jealousies and snobbery among church members, and with restrictive religious beliefs.

"One of the highest joys for a human being, in my opinion, is to live in a universe where we do not know the absolutes. Because, when I was a born-again Christian -- when I was thinking 'rebellious' thoughts -- I can remember thinking that they had stolen all the mysteries out of my universe, and that it just wasn't any fun any more.

"Why Fundamentalists Anonymous?" she asked. "It's a place where I can go where there are people who, when I talk about certain things that happened, I get a lot of nodding heads, and 'Yeah, I know what you mean.' It's very strengthening to be in an environment like that."