The Walk Cult: “Who invited all these Tacky People?”
This post is for all the babies born into the former cult known as The Walk around the years 1973 to 1983 who need to know what drew so many of their parents and their parents’ contemporaries into the delusion of the Church of the Living WRod Kingdom that was to come.
This accounting is from my perspective as a young wife and mother who had grown up in the Christain Tabernacle with some good sense of moral standards and acceptable behavior of young Christian Women. Other cliques or sections of the Church of the Living Word cult, I’m sure will have different perceptions to tell.
At some point in the early 70s, it seemed like I blinked. And when my eyes opened the atmosphere had changed with so many strangers. I kept my initial reaction to myself, “Who invited all these tacky people”. I wondered what was wrong with me that a goodie-2-shoes should think such critical thoughts.
I’m feeling stuck on this sentence that I need to bridge the introduction before diving off the deep end feet first blurting out fash backs that I have vowed to never make public. But, wait, I was hurt deeply as was the love of my life who lost his life to the whims of the Walk leaders.
There are children, including my own children, that I feared will be hurt by learning the “truth” – only because I tried to do the right thing, always – that stance can be very lonely. Respecting privacy is important to me both personally and professionally. But, in telling the truth, the Walk leaders never seemed to protect any “Parishioners” Privacy or personal boundaries – and there is the problem.
I Regret Sharing the Vision of Shiloh
As a dedicated Christain tween, I was excited to go to a church camp/retreat at Lake Darling in Brighton, Iowa every summer. Then the opportunity opened for a few of us teens to go to Church Camp in California – where I ended up sleeping under a table…wait for it.
During the school year, Christain Tabernacle would have guests from California such as John “Bobbie” Stevens, Vere Thomas, Harold Williams, and John McCune – they all had children who were so fun to meet. Bill Arnold and Fred Bickhart came home from their “missions” at different times to become assistant pastors and youth group leaders. – They had children, too, who were absorbed into our nice little groups of mostly girls.
Then there was Wayne Barton, the organist. We had met him earlier when he was on tour performing at the High School for the Travelog Events. It was a coincidence.
A few of our youth group had older siblings who ended up in the South Gate church. Boyd Gardner, an only child, went to California. Shortly thereafter he was killed while riding a motorcycle do the freeway.
When Diane and Jeanne were in Washington, we girls all made mu-mus and had a big slumber party at my parents’ studio. We were locked in. (There may be a photo of all of us girls at the party, still floating around.) The older boys tried to get into the party. but, my mom, an army battle-ax, stood guard. I was among the younger girls and still incredibly naive.
At this big slumber party, Diane was a hit. She told us about the parties she went to in Brazil and the custom-made clothes sewed with golden thread. At her parties, some girls had taken the other girls’ bras; soaked them in water then thrown the bras in the freezer. At the time, that was quite a wild story that made the other girls squeal. We younger less-endowed girls weren’t impressed with the daring antics…Orpha and I were trying to say our nighttime prayers and read our bible chapter.
My older sister accused me of being a no-fun party pooper. I told her that she was insensitive to Orpha, who had been raised Amish. My sister reminded me of how annoying I was being 18 months younger than her, the older and wiser one. I guess my hormones had not kicked in enough to comprehend. My mother would have called it as she saw it, “females in heat”. I did have a boyfriend who was a church member, but, I didn’t understand.” (This was decades before Girls Turn it Off.)
In hindsight, I still agree with 13-year-old me. If we were supposed to be young ladies raised by strict Christian families there were a lot of red flags waving from the missionary’s kids. Screw the Judgemental Spirit. – it gets worse.
A year or two later I got to tag along on a trip to California to go to church camp with the Valley and the South Gate teens…and that was when I first laid eyes on Marilyn and little Rick in the sanctuary of the Valley church. It could have been South Gate -or both….
I remember going into the building. To the left were two offices divided by a short hallway.
JRS was in one room. that had boxes of paper. Marilyn came out of the other room. She had papers in her hand – talk about a “female in heat”! A couple of years a good girl catches on…she was all flirty, giggles and wiggles
. I knew that my mother never would have allowed me to lean in or brush against a male like what I was witnessing. I moved along, not understanding why JRS allowed that since he was married to Martha and had two daughters. I asked someone who that woman was. I was told, “She’s the secretary.”
This was hard to process. The image in my head still makes me want to puke. And what I did not understand was the flashback of my mother being upset months earlier when she told my dad that JRS had “made advances towards her” and she did not want to go to church anymore. I was still surprised that she let us girls go out to JRS’s church camp.
(My mother at one time was a real beauty. She modeled for my father, a photographer. She was used to dealing with men having grown up in the Depression with brothers and all boys in the neighborhood. When the guy was getting drafted and blown to bits in WWII she joined the WACs to become a surgical tech. She rode a motorcycle and had a pilot’s license. She was a photographic artist. She was smart and drop-dead gorgeous when she wore red lipstick when she presented herself as a professional entrepreneur partner with my dad. She did not fit in with the other church ladies who had never been out of Washington much in those days.
When I overheard my mother telling my father how disgusting Stevens was – I had this awful feeling in my gut (I feel it now, too) It was the same scared and bewildered gut-wrench feeling that I had in 1953 when my mom was raped by a town leader- and I did not understand what was happening…Anyway… my mom rejected JRS. After that, he seemed to set her up. He’d have ‘confession time” during the times his circus came to town. He’d tell the congregation that if they had anything against somebody in the church to go to them to confess. I remember a whole gaggle of women, younger than my mother, flock to her. They told her they were jealous of her long hair; that her husband allowed her to wear make-up and professional suits. and that her husband let her do things like driving out of town…I recall looking up at JRS looking towards my mother and laughing. I did not quite understand – except for the fact that I never understood why the other girls fought at times over ‘stealing boyfriends”. I, personally, had the love of my life since kindergarten – I understood love – but I did not understand why boys were property to steal…
…It was after that my mother “let herself go.” She was often depressed. – I understood that a few years later when I was in nursing school that depression was not accepted for what it was really in the Walk. That all makes me angry about what that man did to my mother and no one cared….yep, I’m still shocked that my mom let us travel to California for a church camp. The whole purity thing from the pulpit was a sham that I still find mind-boggling even now that I’m no longer sweet and innocent.)
Back to the Sanctuary in CA
Growing up in the photography business, I was my dad’s sidekick. I went to weekend weddings with him. I was taught to be very respectful in the sanctuaries of every church. I was to be polite to every pastor and priest. When a head covering was required I wore a hanky on my head out of respect.
Here I was an impressionable teen from rural Iowa in a nice church the fastest-growing state in America, with all of the high school boys acting like hooligans in the sanctuary with John Robert Stevens playing “hanky panky” on the side. I came to grow spiritually…while my older sister ran off with the other girls she boss I sat in the back waiting on the Lord and reading my bible trying to be invisible so I would not embarrass my sister. (Sibling thing.)
I saw this young boy there near Wayne Baron’s organ. (Ooops! That did not come out right – but I’ll leave those words – a Freudian slip.) Wayne was laughing. The big boys were hosting around and “touching”. I did not know any of the guys. I did not know who the young boy was either. I was uncomfortable with more than the horsey around in the sanctuary already. But, then the touching…how did they have so much freedom to be crossing uncomfortable boundaries and everyone was “OK with it”?
This was not an isolated incident. Later I learned that the boy was Marilyn’s son. One of the older guys was among JRS chosen ones. I forget what they called these “ministries”. One of them married my older sister a few years later. (David C and that did not turn out well.)
I think the first words one of the big boys said to me was something like, “So, you’re from Iowa. We have flush toilets here. Not outhouses. I felt like sh!t rather than “close to God”.
I don’t remember one trip to California from the two trips to camp. I probably would never have gone back, except for the fact that I was supposed to be my sister’s chaperon or tattle tale to keep her safe. I failed miserably.
The service was exhilarating at camp and between times of flying “standby” back and forth. I was a bit afraid that a “witch” might come to service in South Gate. I had heard rumors. You most likely have heard both updated versions of that fiasco that should have been a red flag to every adult in those two churches – but it was not.
At the camps, I met my friend Arthur. The other guy our age did not like him. He was sweet and we talked about the Walk and how God was moving, and the celebrities that would float in and out of the Valley. I realized that those celebrities were humans also seeking a higher power.
There were a few times with Jim, hit on me. I was not interested, but he’d say things, like, I can give you more than that boyfriend at home. “He doesn’t love you like do.” I did not even know this – but I turned the table on him and did some over-acting swooning that turned him off. Jim was one of the hotshot JRS favorites. During worship, Jim, was so “spiritual”. But walking alone behind some of the older girls he was crude. He’d describe the girls’ butts. One girl’s bouncing bottom he described as juggling a pair of cantaloupes. I could see that – but I did not understand how one could praise god with so much fervor and then switch back to a disgusting jerk.
I wondered how JRS and the elders did not see how disingenuous Jim was when a few of us were told to “get your spirits right”.
On these trips to CA, I got to go Disneyland and Knotts Berry farm on the cheap ticket book. The missionary kids thought I needed a date. I was fine without a guy but I’d get set up anyway. Some of the CA kid’s family had a kidney-shaped pool. So we got to go for a “swim” and a snack – but that turned out not so relaxing even with the caviar and champagne. A spam sandwich and glass of milk would have been fine – but I was told to not be such a “Beverly Hillbilly”. My friend, Arthur was left out.
The ties we went out to Denny’s or Bob’s Big Boy after church, Arthur and I would sit in a booth by ourselves to split a salad. Neither of us had money to spare. But, I needed to eat sometime. Sitting off to the side was Arthur’s idea – we were just friends but he was protective. He knew how it would turn out at a restaurant. The older boys in particular would throw food, be lewd with the waitresses, loud and obnoxious. We were embarrassed. No one of the girls seemed to control the guys’ behavior. They might get kicked out of the joint. Arthur and I felt that they weren’t good witnesses from Christ. I wondered why they even went to church. I also wondered why these boys, young men who would probably be drafted to go to Viet Nam in a year or two were so “anointed” that JRS had taken them under his wing.
The 2nd time I went to church camp I got set up with David. He was nice enough. At camp, we had a Snipe Hunt. Arthur made sure I was safe. My older sister got to talking with David. When we all got back to camp, I noticed my sister was not back. So the elders flipped out in panic and organized a search party. I wanted to go with them because I knew where I had last seen her.
My sister and David were found – they said they were just talking – If my sister said they were only talking and not paying attention- I believed her. But the Bro did not. No, I was not jealous. The love of my life had always talked no matter what we did. – What do I know?
After camp, we all went over to the Williams house. No adults were home and we all were high school students. In Iowa, you had to be 21 to achieve the status of adult food even though the boys could get drafted at 18 and get killed before they could have a drink in a bar or get married. I know that I was very tired after the service. I was in the habit of praying and reading my Bible….but no…instead of getting to go to sleep at the house, the girls had their boyfriends over. The William’s had lots of alcohol – I have no idea if there were anything but an empty bottle left by the time morning came.
I felt that I had alcohol pushed on – so I gave in to accept a goblet or whatever proper liquor glass that was given to me. I took a sip then set the glass down pretending to “still be nursing my drink”. I wanted to go to bed. I had to pee. But every room and bed couch was occupied by a couple. Not one couple was Harold or his wife, Mary. I have no idea where they were. Maybe in intercession at the church?
The only place I found to park my body was under the dining room table. I pray that I did not wet my pants in my sleep.
That is what it was like for me in California when the vision of our own church camp- the future Shiloh was born and it would have flush toilets.
Bells Will be Ringing…We’re going to the chapel…
My sister graduated from High School and spent a year in college running up phone bills talking to David on the phone. However, at college, Russels’ son John Paul had been to the same Christain college a year before my sister went. John Paul was smitten with her since he was 13 and she was 12. (I was 11) John Paul was a champion trumpet player who needed a competent piano accompanianist – thus John Paul (Not to be confused with Joahn Mark JRS nephew) and my sister spent a lot of time together practicing. He was convinced that he had found the one. My sister thought he was irritating.
My sister had a dorm curfew. Sunday nights our parents always got her back late after curfew because of church services. If it wasn’t enough that growing up we never had a bed time because of church especially on the school night when the Circus was in town. I think John Paul was always late as well, but he was in the men’s dorm and a sophomore who participating int he the random panty raids on the girl’s dorm.
Maybe I did not get this typed out exactly in order…but, anyway…
The two ended up married as did several other girls, one was our foster sister who had lived with our family for several years. She married David in CA not John Paul.
Our foster sister was pregnant when she got married to Harold and Mary William’s son. It happens. No judgment was intended on my part. But, I this is extremely relevant to the whole What Happened before the 1980s in the Walk thing….
She got married at the Valley church “Officially” after my sister’s wedding at South Gate to David. My parents and all of my sisters drove out to CA for my older sister’s wedding to David…and things were not what dumb-dumb me expected…
I’m such you were expecting to be reading about the Word and Worship in the Walk…this was 1969 about the time that youth worship was called the Bless-in. For that matter, this part is not even about weddings when what God has joined together no man will put asunder… yeah right.
This was the opportunity for my family to be invited to the home of John Robert Stevens and his lovely wife Martha – next to Blix house and down the street from Barbara Strizand’s lawyer who lived next to the church ladies’ boarding house. ( I forget her name.) JRS had often said, “We need to get these girls over to the Blix house and put them to work.)
Our impression had been the JRS was very sacrificial and humble – screech! (Sudden fingers across the blackboard. -awakening.)
I don’t know if you have ever seen this professional black-and-white photograph of John Robert Stevens with his hand folded under his chin…? My father was the photographer for that sitting. When it was time to hand over the final portraits my parents expected to be paid….uh-uh, nope. Stenvs manipulated my folks into donating the whole bill to the church. We needed the money coming.
Back to the weddings…
Before the wedding in January, I went out to CA to spend time as maid of honor time with my sister. I have no idea how we scraped up the money but we did. There was going to be a New Year’s eve party. My sister was living a Brenda and John P’s home with the 3 older children. Brenda decided that I should go and I should have a better outfit than my Sunday-go -to-meeting dress. She took me to a store and pushed me to get a push-up bra. I got this cute mini-dress with a V-neck that sowed cleavage.
I admit that I looked great. I had to spend my prom dress money on that dress. So when the prom time came to go with the love of my life, Randy, I wore my bridesmaid dress and that sexy dress to go out to eat where Randy expected to propose to me…after 12 years, K to 12.
Enough about me for a while.
David married my sister. JRS nephew Paul married J, the foster sister in Vegas, about a day before their spiritual ceremony in the church.
The whole family took pictures and my sister was embarrassed that our parents did not wear coordinating outfits but wore their church outfits. We did not have the money for much other than the trip.
Here is the kicker. The church was not told when Paul and J eloped. JRS lied so that no one was supposed to know that Pual knocked up a girl. As it turns out One of JRS’ girls got “knocked up” too and it was a secret. Who really should care? As long as they loved each other…
John and Martha’s house…
….it wasn’t a castle. But it sure was not modest. The furnishings were not the quality of a pastor who told stories about only having beanie weenies to eat.
I saw this wonderful piece of artwork in particular. Yes, I saw it in the piece that some were talking about on the cult education forum. I knew he had it on his wall in 1969.
We were served I think cornish game hen with Benedictine wine. JRS showed us all around the house proudly.
At one point I went to the bathroom. Mind you the couple did know that his nephew was sort of marrying into a modest Iowa family. Someone would have had time to tuck reading material under the sink…I’m sure there had to have been articles to read. Mostly the magazine had full-page living color nudes. All stacked in a nice wicker basket…
I don’t know how many of you knew that the Calander Factory was in Washington, Iowa. Back in the 1950s+ all of the original artwork was at that location. The printing process was different than it is today. So my father was contracted to photograph each regional art piece that would be going into the calendar as part of the process. Some of the contract images were the original Play Boy images which were tasteful works of art but still should not have been in full view of young girls.
The only reason I feel necessary to bring this up is that I was used to seeing Play Boy art work. Thus I can tell you that the magazines in Stevens guest bathroom were not tasteful works of art of adult women over the age of 21. I have discussed this with a few others who verified that they saw similar.
Make of this what you will. I’m not a lawyer. However, I know enough to have pass on this information relevant to patterns of behavior in the cult. I should move on…
Back home in Iowa…
For several years every Saturday night, the youth group had a Bless-in. My long-time boyfriend and I went faithfully, then we’d go out to have whatever fun that one could do in Washington and still get home by 9. I had to play piano at church and teach Sunday school So no late nights for us Christian kids.
Hippies were coming and going. Young ones and older ones. Folks were getting married.
I was looking forward to prom with the love of my life. I did not know where I was going to go to nursing school or how I would pay the tuition. I was also collecting items for our kitchen as we were planning on getting married as soon as Randy turned 18 with his parent’s blessings…I was a good Christian girl and this boy had waited to do things right…If you are thinking that this is not your business – you are correct… but that did not stop Russell and Bickhart from calling me up for ministry in front of everyone Randy and I knew our whole lives at church.
No, they did not call Randy…just me…to tell me that,” verily, verily the Lord is concerned that you will get pregnant before you finish school. go thee to California and go to nursing school free – no tuition for the ADN program in California…”
It was settled. Randy and I got broken up – we were allowed to go to the prom since we had reservations. I was given a ring – I was forced to give it back. AS soon as we graduated I was shipped off to Califonia with a few hundred bucks and told to get a job and go to school. I had no place to live – it was assumed that I would live in JRS to keep an eye on me.
I did manage to get to church camp in Hawaii where we seemed to pick up a few more hippies. One guy’s mom ran off with one of the hippie guys.
I did what I was told. Randy went off to Colorado to work in a dude ranch while I went to school. I couldn’t stand it. Work did not accommodate church services. When I did go, Arhur and I grabbed a bite to eat in our own booth as we watched the youth groups act like hoodlums. Arthur revealed why no one liked him – he was gay, but he was going to get married to a girl. That did not “fix” him. I could not stand it without Randy. So Arthur helped me figure out how I was going to get to the airport to fly to Colorado – I would drop out of school.
The day before I was to get on the airplane, I got a call from Randy’s mother. He was in the hospital. My trip home was postponed. His parents drove to Colorado. When I got home, Russel was there to pray for me. to take him home to recover.
I finish my semester of classes with strep throat and then pneumonia. I was very ill. But, I was going home Russel was there to pray for me.
Randy would call me at home – but my parents did not allow him to talk to me. I guess it was a word from God. Also, God said to get off my sick bed and go to the U of Iowa to get into nursing school there.
One day on the way to class I rolled my car. I was still weak from pneumonia. I was depressed not having connected with randy and I did not understand why. Until one day, he showed up at my parents’ studio. My mother allowed me to speak to him. She knew he was coming…one of the high school seniors whom they had taken her pictures for the yearbook had come in to get a picture for a wedding announcement in the paper, the Washington Evening Journal. She was excited – she was having a baby too and getting married to a boy Christain Tabernacle.
Long story short, if you know how marriages were set up and manipulated, you can fill in the blanks. The love of my life screwed up all on his own – – that did not mean that we stopped loving each other. There was just no choice but to succumb to the pressure of doing “God’s f-ing will”…enter John Pual, Russel’s son for a replacement for my sister.
Years later Randy’s mom and I talked. She told me that the church killed him. He was driven to depression every time, “they” knew I was going home after John Paul, my arranged husband and I returned to Washington. A few people in the church knew us as an inseparable pair…They knew how we were forced apart again and again, yet they stayed in the cult complicit in controlling one more slave of the kingdom after another in exchange for a position. “They” knew that the decisions should have been between Randy and I. Rather piss poor men fathers who needed to pawn off their offspring to someone who could cover for their sins manipulated under the guise of “the word”. “They” were too deep in the farce to leave or support a victim.
I finally got to the point when I “escaped” the cult that I was going home to get the mean I loved – screw Christ in the Flesh and the Kingdom right back at the sickos…When I got home expecting to see the love of my life at the airport, my mother came to pick me up with my two daughters instead. The first thing she was was, “Randy’s dead.”
You may have heard pieces of the story. a long time ago. This is the first time that I spelled this much out to the public. Randy’s and my opinion was that our first responsibilities were to protect our children.
I already knew he was gone- I knew in my heart we had a close bond that some “soul-mates” have. I have put the “Living Word” before love – I was deceived. I allowed myself to be conned into being a blanket blank “doily wearing helpmeets” for one of the many incompetent young men who were too high in the “spirit”. The intimacy in marriages was when the one made love to a fantasy on a magazine page.
And we worshiped a delusion pussy whipped man in a Hawaiian shirt.
I didn’t blink an eye or shed a tear. I couldn’t react. I was numb. Except I felt “hatred” for the Walk. was the only thing I could feel. The last times I was at Shiloh were for funerals and meeting about selling Shiloh.
JRS would have said, You are trapped in the gall of bitterness.” How did that revelation work out?
I would think that this part of what went on in the Walk would have been about singing in the spirit as we take the kingdom and live in bliss…it did not happen in 1979. JRS’s grave had been pissed. – he deserves more than that. Christmas was a farce and the whole place burnt to the ground.
My version is more like a Romeo and Juliet story that ends with tears. It has taken 40 years and still, the priest has not said, “And all are punished…”
…….to be continued…
The first post was published 3 years ago. click on the title for every long explanation of pre-walk days.
How Did Christian Tabernacle of Washington, Iowa Go from Christian Church to Cult? Part one
I know this is raw and in need of editing-my ree-association… If I don’t hit the republish button now, I won’t find the energy to say what I want to say. tho’ I feel like it seems that I am trying to compete with Harry’s book Spare – I think that little bits here are there may resonate with someone who cries all by themself over, too, their own too crazy to tell their story.
When I pick up the rest of the story, I will get the guts to spell out why I attempted to protect the children in the Walk. I spent 5 years in Anaheim and some at Shiloh and Waukegan. I did get my nursing degree. At times I was closely aligned with the people at the Public Health department because of my nursing jobs. Those professional friends were very concerned about what was going on with Shiloh. I’m sorry, I tried. But, the laws and their training were not good enough to legally counteract the religious cover the leaders enjoyed.
If this is the last thing, I do, I for one will take the responsibility to do what I can to give you some missing pieces you need. Personally, I want to rest in peace that someone finally believes me and believes you, too.
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