Friends and supporters of an Arkansas couple trying to distance their 26-year-old daughter from a controversial East Texas church say Andy and Patty Grove had nothing to do with the fundraising, prayer and financial boycott campaigns inspired by their efforts to reunite and reconnect with their 26-year-old child.
Around July, Catherine Grove dropped out of sight for roughly a month. After resurfacing, she told her parents she was staying with the Church of Wells and discouraged them from coming to pick her up. Concerned, her parents followed her from Arkansas to Texas, where they became the center of an ongoing controversy and media frenzy.
The Church of Wells first made national headlines in May 2012 following the death of a three-day baby girl whose parents – members of the church – waited 15 hours after the baby passed away to call 911. An autopsy later determined the baby died of natural causes, but Cherokee County authorities are still investigating the death.
In regard to Catherine Grove, the Elders of the Church of Wells say this is by no means any kind of “cult abduction” situation. They contend Catherine Grove is simply staying with them, where she feels more comfortable, so she can learn valuable lessons about her own salvation.
Supporters of the Groves highly dispute this account. As a matter of fact, this controversy has spawned several efforts to oppose the Church of Wells unrelated to the parents.
• A fundraising effort designed to help Andy and Patty Grove to afford to stay in town.
• A boycott to shut the church down financially that targets all aspects of the Church of Well's store at 502 Rusk Street in downtown Wells, including the gas station/grocery store/lumberyard /lawn service.
• A Facebook page urging the public to pray for Catherine Grove. This page also hosts statements from various people who claim to be family members of Church of Wells parishioners who are highly critical of the church and its individual elders.
Affiliates of these opposition efforts continually emphasize Andy and Patty Grove have nothing to do with any of it.
The thrust of the opposition is the apparent belief that Catherine Grove is not staying with the Church of Wells of her own free will – despite her statements to authorities that she doesn't wish to leave. Cherokee County Sheriff's Capt. John Raffield said no laws appear to have been broken by the church and that Catherine Grove appears to be in her right mind.
“We're not psychologists or doctors though – we're dealing with criminal law,” Capt. Raffield said.
Church of Wells parishioners counter that they are doing nothing wrong, have harassed no one, and that these stories are nothing more than manipulation on the part of others.
The “prayer” page, they contend, is not as much about prayer as it is to pose negative comments and criticism of the church.
Jake Gardner, one of three elders of the church, said it is hard to bear being compared to cultists like David Koresh or Jim Jones when it is simply not true.
The Groves, initially quoted by multiple news agencies that the Church of Wells is a “cult,” say they never used that description in reference to the church.
The Groves declined immediate comment to the Jacksonville Daily Progress Tuesday.
Meanwhile, a recent profile of the Church of Wells in the Jacksonville Daily Progress attracted some ire from readers.
“I thought your article read more like an opinion piece in defense of the group, rather than a news article,” one reader wrote. “I realize that almost every news article and radio-TV news story these days oozes with opinion and bias. Still it would be refreshing to read a news article that doesn't editorialize unless it's in the editorial-opinion section of the paper.”
A woman who identified herself as area resident Sue Smith, said she was one of the fundraiser organizers who helped the Groves get the money they need to stay around Wells.
She declined to state how much was raised, but she did say around 250 or so people attended the event.
Another message came on Twitter from Eric Mofett, who identifies himself online as the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Pocahontas, Ark.
“@BenTinsley just to clarify,” Mofett wrote. “The Grove family did not set up the facebook account, organize the boycott or set up the account to help.”
Additionally, the administrator of the “Pray for Catherine Grove” page has very emphatically named herself as the sole creator and administrator.
“This page was not set up nor is it managed by anyone from the Grove family, especially not Andy or Patty Grove. I'm the page creator and administrator. … I have no family relation to the Grove family,” she said. “I saw them for the first time and heard their story at First Baptist Church on August 25th. I was so saddened and desperately wanted to help Catherine and her parents. … They NEVER asked me to do so.”
Church of Wells elder Gardner has said Internet criticism will not deter parishioners from making sure Catherine Grove gets the support she needs to be saved.
“I don't know why they are saying she is trying to be saved,” Smith said. “It doesn't take a person two months to be saved.”