Jacksonville Daily Progress
Elders of the controversial Church of Wells have disclosed quite a bit of new information regarding the scope of their community's evangelistic efforts, their efforts to locate new members, an outline of their belief system in regard to religion and medicine, and the current status of the member family whose 3-day-old baby died in May 2012.
The answers were both an elaboration on a previous face-to-face interview with a Jacksonville Daily Progress reporter and a response to questions posed by a JDP reader. The questions were forwarded to church elders on Tuesday and answered fairly quickly.
The clash between the Church of Wells and parents Andy and Patty Grove has made national headlines. The Groves' well-published belief is that their daughter — 26-year-old Catherine Grove — is under an immense amount of influence and pressure to stay with the church. Cherokee County authorities have gone to great length to determine Catherine Grove is of sound mind and body and that church members have broken no laws.
In response to the allegations, elders Sean Morris, Jake Gardner and Ryan Ringnald contend the Groves are making baseless accusations against the congregation and blowing their daughter's stay — and also the church's motives for allowing Catherine Grove to stay — completely out of proportion.
Likewise, loaded, legally precarious words such as “kidnap” and “cult” have been tossed around in news accounts and attributed to the Groves. But Patty Grove denies having ever used those words.
Church elders elaborate on belief system, saying parishioners were approached to join at 'pivotal and changeable' stages of life
As part of the Tuesday exchange, elders said their church was founded as a result of their evangelistic efforts and their travels across the U.S. in 2009 and 2010.
“Many souls were saved, awakened, stirred to believe God again to bring revival as he has been known to do in the past, even in this nation,” elders said. “Because of this we faced a dilemma: Do we send these people to the modern, for the most part, lukewarm church of America? How could we? Thus we took up the charge, seeing as God had blessed our ministry to these souls, to continue to care for them, rather than sending them off somewhere we knew not.”
In the second year of the church, 2011, elders said, “Twenty-six souls were saved. Many of the persons who were converted were already at stages in life which were pivotal and changeable. Many were in school, graduating, or just out of school.”
Elders Morris, Gardner and Ringnald said when they decided to move their church from Arlington to Wells — largely or financial reasons — they behaved no differently than a missionary society would when endeavoring to plant a church in a foreign land.
“In such cases: the people are sold out for the cause of Christ, set to labor for the planting of a biblical church, witness to the people, make a sufficient living in the process, and cooperate in all ways necessary until ends meet by the providence of God's time,” the elders said. “According to biblical Christianity, all Christians are missionaries - whether foreign or local - and they ought to live with such purpose and zeal in all their God-given vocations.”
Mother of three-day old baby who died in May 2012, a church member, is pregnant again, they confirm
This is the second time the church has made national headlines in recent memory. In May 2012, a three-day baby girl, whose parents were members of the church, died. After young Faith Pursley passed away, her parents waited 15 hours to call 911.
An autopsy later determined the baby died of natural causes, but Cherokee County authorities have said the investigation has not been concluded and is still ongoing.
The answers provided by the church this week share new information about that situation.
That tragic birth, a “home birth” by decision of the family, was overseen by a midwife who believed it would go smoothly.
According to the elders, the parents of Faith Pursley had several children before Faith's passing — none of which were home births like hers.
“This same family is pregnant with another child, and they are using the hospital,” Morris, Gardner and Ringnald stated.
In another development, an affidavit from Catherine Grove has appeared on the church web page (www.thechurchofwells.com) stating that Grove believes her parents have attempted to infringe on her rights to freedom of religion and choice. It also states Grove considers herself free to come or go from the church as she pleases. It is stamped by Notary Public Melissa Ramos and filed in Dallas County.
Following is the specific (word-for-word) question and answer email exchange:
Q: (A reader asks:) “From your article, I have no idea what these people believe. Did you ask the Church of Wells elders what they actually believe, and why it is that their group is controversial from a belief or doctrinal standpoint? If so, I would like to read a follow-up of your story with this information.
We live in the Bible Belt, so I think most readers are asking themselves after reading your article, 'how is this group any different from the other hundreds of churches in the area?'
The Church of Wells certainly appears to be very different, at least from a practice standpoint (examples: relocation of its members from Arlington and other places, presumably its members uprooting from their homes, jobs, families, etc.; the church running a business and members living at their meeting place, a la compound-style; the church being investigated for a baby's death because the leaders allegedly told the parents not to seek medical help until it was too late, etc.).
In my experience, a person's or group's practice usually reflects its theology or doctrine or worldview.”
A: (Church elders respond:) This Church was born out of our evangelistic efforts and travels across the U.S. in '09/'10 - many souls were saved, awakened, stirred to believe God again to bring revival as he has been known to do in the past (even in this nation). Because of this we faced a dilemma: do we send these people to the modern, (for the most part) lukewarm church of America? How could we?
Thus we took up the charge, seeing as God had blessed our ministry to these souls, to continue to care for them, rather than sending them off somewhere we knew not. Also, in the second year of the church (2011) 26 souls were saved. Many of the persons who were converted were already at stages in life which were pivotal and changeable. Many were in school, graduating, or just out of school.
• The Church does not run the business, but individuals who attend the Church run the business. There are unsaved people (non Church members) who work at the businesses. The work arena is separate from Church operations. The businesses are owned and operated by Church members (NOT THE CHURCH). All Churches have members who own businesses, this is no different.
• The meeting place is not “a la compound style.”
It would be better considered, as is common all across the country, as a House Church. Many Churches begin this way, and then they move into bigger buildings when the larger capacity is necessary for accommodation The Churches in the new testament were, without variation, House Churches (see Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19).
Q: (A reader asks:) “Is the church against modern medicine? Do the members pool their resources, like the early church in the Book of Acts -- is that their model?. Also, the 'elders' appear to be very young, and therefore inexperienced. Have they had enough time to accumulate knowledge and wisdom and life experiences in order to lead this 'flock?' These questions should have been answered in light of the unorthodox practices mentioned above."
A: (The church answers:) The Church is not against modern medicine. Many births happen in hospitals, with midwives, etc... but this particular birth (Faith Pursley) was, by the choice of the family, a home birth. This family had several children before this tragic death and none of them were home births.
They were done through a midwife, and by the time of this late birth he believed that he knew enough that things would go smoothly. He, nor the Church, is against modern medicine. This same family is pregnant with another child, and they are using the hospital.
• We do not pool our resources. The early Church in the Book of Acts did not pool their resources either. The inquirer is probably referring to Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-37.
These passages speak of distribution of things among the people of God according as they had need, and selling of possessions according to the initiative of certain individuals, but it does not teach a selling of all persons belongings to pool them into one pot (which leaves no room for financial autonomy).
Our Church is financially autonomous. We have our own homes (as we can afford it), our own bank accounts, cars, phones, etc.
• The elders are young (mid-late twenties), but according to scripture this does not disqualify an individual from being a spiritual elder over a biblical Church. Timothy was an elder, and even ordaining elders, and yet he was a youth (1 Tim. 4:11-16). Also Jesus Christ Himself, the Elder of elders, he was only 30 years old. The apostles were probably all in their 20's - early 30's, John the Baptist was also 30, etc., etc.
As for extra-biblical history: Charles Spurgeon (known as “the prince of preachers”), was only 18 years old when he began to pastor, George Whitefield (renown as the leader of the First Great Awakening in England/America in the 18th century), was only 21 when he was ordained as a bishop in the Church of England, etc.... All of these were at the age of a "youth" when they became Church elders.
As for biblical history: Josiah (age 8), David (approx. age 15), Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Samuel, Joseph, Hezekiah (age 25), and more, were all used at extraordinarily young ages to be spiritual leaders among God's people.
• Why are we so controversial? In extra-biblical and biblical history, every genuine move of God was often riddled with controversy and persecution, but these afflictions did not conquer the work of God but prospered it! There is an old saying which was said in the 1st century - “The blood of the martyrs is the seed bed of the Church.” Should we expect anything different today? Shall it be any different, especially now, in a time that the scriptures declare to be: “The Last Days?”