By BEN TINSLEY and AMY BROCATTO PEARSON
Jacksonville Daily Progress
WELLS — The sister of 26-year-old Catherine Grove is supporting her younger sister's decision to stay with the controversial Church of Wells and away from her parents, who are trying desperately to get her to return home.
During a telephone interview this week from her home in Fayetteville, Ark., Amy Grove said her sister, Catherine, sought out Church of Wells parishioners because she wanted new friends in a community who could help her escape her controlling parents.
“I think she's trying to get protection from my family,” the 30-year-old said. “Catherine truly sees the Church of Wells like the early church — as a group of Christians who seem persecuted. So she wants to join them because of their persecution. She feels their pain.”
Amy, who said she and Catherine have always shared a close bond, said she felt comfortable speaking for her sister, but acknowledged Catherine, whom she described as an “introvert” really just wants to be left alone.
Reached by telephone for comment Friday afternoon, Andy Grove — father of the two sisters — said he was in a brief meeting and would call back shortly. But neither he nor mother Patty Grove returned this call prior to deadline.
A request for a face-to-face interview with Catherine Grove was declined Friday. However, Church of Wells Elder Sean Morris responded in an email that Catherine's only reason for coming to Wells was "to seek an assurance of her salvation with Biblical counsel and help."
During the almost two-hour interview, Amy Grove talked about what it was like to grow up in a four-daughter missionary family under a minister father. Amy Grove described her parents as “manipulative” and “controlling” as she outlined a life she said was fraught with constant, sometimes violent, conflict between parent and child. Amy contends that one time, her father burned boxes of her books. She claims the girls were not allowed to have a door on their shared bedroom, nor were they allowed to watch TV, use computers, watch Disney movies or write in diaries.
Always controlling, the Groves used a brain injury Amy suffered as an excuse to gain legal custody of her, she said. At one point, Amy added, she was so angry with her father she phoned 911 and threatened to do him bodily harm. There were no charges pressed against her as a result, she said.
“I was so mad at them for trying to get legal custody,” she said. “They were keeping me hostage out on the farm, not allowing me to work, not allowing me to have money … friends or phone calls.”
Catherine sought out the Church of Wells as a way of breaking free, according to Amy. Amy said she herself did the same by running away to a women's shelter, immersing herself in the Episcopal Church, and ultimately getting married only to escape her parents.
“I had to marry a man to protect myself,” Amy said. “ … My parents are scared of me. They want to hide me under a bed. I'm their little 'demon child.'”
In July, when Catherine left Arkansas to live with parishioners of the Church of Wells, the Groves followed her to the area, contacted the local media, and tried to persuade their daughter to come home.
As missionaries, the Groves were no stranger to fundraising, which they are also benefitting from in Wells currently.
All Catherine wants is some peace and relief from the stress imposed on her by their parents, her sister said.
Tuesday, Andy and Patty Grove dropped by the offices of the Jacksonville Daily Progress unexpectedly to discuss the coverage of their daughter's situation.
During the conversation, Andy and Patty Grove insisted no one contact Amy Grove, whom they contended is mentally disabled.
But Amy Grove called the paper of her own volition Wednesday evening and again Thursday morning. This call led to an interview, recorded at length on YouTube, starting with http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EiG2obg0k34.
The situation between the parents of Catherine Grove and the Church of Wells has been brewing for some time. Church of Wells elders also contend the parents are blowing everything out of proportion and spreading incorrect information about the church.
Amy, who says her parents have tried to gain legal custody of her by portraying her as a brain-injured person, believes her parents don't see her as an individual and insist on defining her by that label of “brain-injured.”
Amy contends that MRIs and brain scans from several hospitals show a perfectly normal brain. Amy said she now works as a licensed yoga instructor and is married to her “best friend.”
As far as Catherine is concerned, Amy said there was a disconnect in their upbringing — their parents' constant representation that their souls had been saved. This came into great conflict with the reality of their controlling behavior and unwillingness to allow even the smallest measure of freedom, Amy said.
“I think she sees how they are hypocritical, how they have treated me and how they have lied,” she said. “They lie. My parents lie all the time. … Now, I think my sister wants to be left alone.”
Wednesday, Catherine Grove swore an affidavit in Dallas County which is posted online on the Church of Wells website stating she is of sound mind and asking her parents to leave her alone.
“I affirm I desire not to be contacted or interrupted by immediate family, relatives, past friends, or anyone who would infringe upon my aforementioned rights, until I desire to make contact with them,” she said, continuing, “I affirm I am mentally, emotionally and physically healthy.”
Amy Grove said she loves her parents but believes they have gone overboard trying to get Catherine back. She said they are in serious danger of permanently destroying their relationship with her.
“My parents have taken everything out of proportion,” she said. “I just don't think they are thinking right at all. … I think my sister found herself a little nest and I think my parents have blown it. This is her safe house — I'm not kidding. … She sees this as a fertile place for her roots to sprout.”
Amy offers that she feels “sorry” for the Church of Wells.
“I think it's very sad for how all these other Christians are treating them,” she said. “I think my sister might dedicate herself more and more to the church.”
She said it's much like when she and Catherine were younger, when friends their parents didn't like were chased away with threats of police and legal action.
She said she doesn't think Catherine will be willing reconcile with her parents unless they are willing to take a chance and attend something like family therapy, possibly having a year-long “trial separation” the meantime. She said her sister has every right to stay where she is. But she fears her parents will never give up on trying to recover her.
“I think she will go crazy if she goes home,” Amy Grove said. “I think it would ruin my sister.”
A recording of the interview spans several copies available and can be accessed online starting with http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EiG2obg0k34.