EXCLUSIVE PART I: Interview with former Church of Wells member
POSTED: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 - 11:18pm
UPDATED: Sunday, February 2, 2014 - 1:22pm
Houston, TEXAS (KETK) — We've been closely following the story of Catherine Grove, the 26-year-old Arkansas woman who vanished from her home and joined the controversial, Church of Wells.
This story has since received national attention from CNN and Headline News. KETK’s Nicole Vowell has been investigating this story, and she sat down with former member, Patrick Jones, of the Church of Arlington—which is now known as the Church of Wells.
"I was going to school, I was working at Walmart, I was a Christian," Jones said.
23-year-old Jones from Houston described himself as a devout Christian, a youth minister and a “saved man” before he ever knew of the Church of Arlington (The Church of Wells).
Then, Jones says, he says he met an Arlington church member, Corey McLaughlin, who is currently still a church member in Wells. Around February 2010, he and McLaughlin decided pay the church of Arlington a visit to meet church elder Sean Morris, McLachlan’s cousin, and check out their church.
"They invited us up to go preaching at the Super Bowl,” said Jones.
KETK asked Jones if that is something they commonly do-- street preaching and things of that manner? Jones says that's pretty much what they believe in, evangelizing in mostly ‘open air’ preaching,
The church members preaching methods were different than he was used to. He says they would preach harshly and try to convince people they were not “truly saved," and they would also constantly condemn people to hell.
Regardless of their preaching style, Jones says the members, "baited him in" and told him to abandon everything and move to Arlington and join their church—so he did.
“I quit school…I quit my job….I left my whole family," the former member said.
Jones then moved in with his church "brothers" in Arlington.
He describes the living arrangements: “Three or four brethren would live in a small R.V., and then the house next to Corey's (McLaughlin) was Ryan's (Elder, Ryan Ringnald) and his wife, and that was the sister's house. Most of [the members] would live there, and then Jesse (another member) had a house, and the rest of the sisters would live there."
After a short time, Jones told KETK he started noticing a change in himself. "I became so prideful and so arrogant, and I was so quick to tell people they're going to hell….I caught myself walking like them and talking like them and dressing like them and praying like them," Jones said.
After a while, he says he started having second thoughts.
"I wanted to leave, like after a while like because everybody was like, I felt like, it was like 'cult-ish' because everyone was dressing alike. I was like ‘man Corey, what did we get into?’ I was confused I was like what is this? And he was like man it's the Lord. But you know, something inside me was telling me this is a cult."
Jones says he felt trapped, he felt like he was being held ‘spiritually captive’ and there was no way out.
"I felt like, if I leave, I felt like where am I going to go? You know that was my first question. At this time, I had preached very harshly to my mom and basically told her and just condemned her and told her she was going to go to hell because some of the elders told me that I needed to cut all ties and that I need to stop talking to friends and family and cut everything loose, and so I did because they felt like I was holding on to some stuff and Houston, and so I did. I called her and preached to her and I said unless you repent, I can't have a fellowship with you, basically I couldn't talk to her."
He said he felt like he had no family to turn to besides his "spiritual" family in the church, so Jones stayed.
Then he noticed his freedom was becoming more and more limited, and the requirements to determine his salvation were becoming more and more strict.
"I just felt like closed off…I didn't have freedom to do pretty much anything," Jones told KETK.
Nicole Vowell: “The elders have to approve of a lot of things?”
Jones: “Oh yeah, if it's like marriage, or like very important things the elders have to approve of, there was times like I wanted to get a job. There was this energy company that wanted to hire me. I was looking for a job, I was praying, and I felt like this was the exact job that the lord wanted me to have and then Ryan and Jake were like 'we just don't believe that's the Lord's will.’"
Jones says the Elders use of "God's will" for everything became excessive, "They use the Lord to like use people, or get them to do things that they feel is right.”
Nicole Vowell: “Do you believe that?”
Jones: “I honestly believe that with all my heart. They would say, even if the Lord says, 'Drink this cup of water.' It's like outrageous!"
After a supervised trip home to Houston to visit a friend and preach, Jones started thinking again that he wanted to leave the church for good. But, he says his thoughts haunted him and it wasn't easy. "When I first left, I had heard so much that I was going to hell that I started to believe it…the first couple of week I was just totally destroyed, I had a hard time eating, sleeping, drinking because I felt like God was angry at me…the stuff that they said it would be played back in my head you know because I heard it so much."
Jones says the fear mongering took a toll on him, "You need to fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, rather than believe, believe, believe, believe, believe." So Jones started to believe, believe that he needed to get out.
Part two of Jones' emotional story about how he left the church and what happened after he departed will air Thursday , September 19 on KETK.
For past coverage and background on the Church of Wells, follow the links below.