Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX


September 20, 2013

Church of Wells: The Elders speak

War of words pits church against the parents of an Arkansas woman


WELLS — The Church In the Community

But what is a cult? A group that promotes exploitation? Thought reform?

Many reporters have used terms such as  “cult” and “compound” in regard to the Church of Wells — invoking images of the Branch Davidians, Heaven's Gate, or even the Manson Family.

The very definition of "cult" is a derogatory term for religious groups whose beliefs or practices differ from the norm, yet there is not a clear or consistent definition.

Perhaps techniques used in writing horror stories need to stay there. In his book "Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field," contributor Julius H. Rubin contends that the term "cult" has far too often been used to discredit certain groups "in the court of public opinion."

And who are these Church of Wells parishioners?

Believers, certainly.

Many are street preachers, aggressive evangelists out to save souls.

As of the 2010 census there were 790 people in the town of Wells. According to the elders, the Church of Wells has roughly 50 parishioners living in 20 dwellings around town. The church itself was moved from Arlington to Wells and followed by so many members because it was more profitable to create jobs in East Texas than scour the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex for them — many times to no avail.

The in-town businesses are co-owned by church members. In addition to the store, there is a lumberyard, a saw mill and a land scapeing business. Also, food is available to be delivered from the store to any local residence.

There has been a lot of scuttlebutt on the Groves' Facebook page regarding Wells residents who don't want the church in their town. But for all intents and purposes, the only real grocery store in town in church-affiliated. It was not immediately clear if there are any competing paper mills in the area, but the one affiliated with the church is very prominent.

This shop, R&R Mercantile, has the appearance of being much smaller from the road but has a very deep design with lots and lots of room. Management reports a huge meat clientele — people from all about town and beyond.

In addition to selling groceries, the church's local grocery store does good business as a gas station and even has special days during which discounts on fuel are available.

"East Texas is big on diesel trucks like loggers use," a store manager said. "The sawmill we have in back is relatively new. We have a lot of specialty items.

Elders of the church often preach on campuses such as Stephen F. Austin State University. Each enrolls in at least one class there so they will be allowed on campus.

They see theirs as an educational path they can help provide to other believers. They say it comes from a lack of essential instruction in other religions. They worry that many practice what they describe as "Church-Ianity," which is more of a country club than a real place to worship.

Elders go as far as the describe other Christian church as "asleep."

“We never heard the essentials of the gospel,” Elder Sean Morris said.  “This is our path, so that others will know the truth of the scripture.”

As for Catherine Grove, who elders said was declining to be interviewed, there is much work to be done, Sean Morris said. She seems to be fine physically and emotionally but is still working on her spiritual health.

“She isn't doing spiritually well,” Morris said. “It has been a great grief that the media has misrepresenting her condition.”

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