Updated: Apr 15
Not every story has a happy ending. Or even an ending at all. This story will conclude far before people's pain has had a chance to heal, far before adequate justice or resolve has finished its work. And far before the powers that be at the National Foursquare Church have finished their investigation. But my hope from the beginning of this writing has been for readers to know this: You are not alone in your pain. You do not need to suffer in silence at the hand of your abusers.
It has been a very dark eight weeks as I've taken a deep dive back into my own story and history. I haven't slept well. My mind has been scattered. My therapist calls it "fight or flight." I've been on edge, moody, distant from my family at times. Quite honestly, it's how I lived every day during the years of 2014-2018. I don't miss it. I am very grateful for where I am now and for those who have helped my family along through this journey of healing. And I'm grateful to be almost done writing this story.
Each post feels like I've been releasing darkness that was still trapped inside -- darkness that somehow was still given power and allowed to survive because it was "secret." Some secrets you can stumble into, because they weren't your secrets to begin with. When we first merged with the Prestons, we weren't aware that we'd somehow become their secret keepers. Tasked with keeping small secrets and secrets that most of the community also stumbled into at some point along the journey of knowing them. Secrets kill relationships. Every single time. They are most often accompanied by lies. And lies are so much harder to consistently spread than the truth.
The only blog title that caused an immediate and visceral reaction from them was the post entitled: The Big Secret. And the secret I shared wasn't even the one they were most worried about. But it says a lot about a person when they'll go to great lengths to protect what they think will keep their image and persona safe.
Please also know that in no way has my story been an exhaustive telling of all the evil that transpired. And yes, it was evil. People were not evil, but what people did, what I did, was definitely evil. I merely scratched the surface. This writing has been as much about exposing truth as it has been about my own confession. My detailed admission of wrongdoings. My culpability in other's emotional and spiritual abuse. It has also been an acknowledgement and a defining of what spiritual and emotional abuse looks like, feels like, and how it continues to play out in real time.
There is something I find very interesting. Throughout this blog, I have been pointing out wrongs that I have done and wrongs the Prestons have done. My consistent narrative has been: "I was wrong, they were wrong." Their narrative has been: "He was wrong, he is wrong." As I've been apologizing, repenting, and owning the details of my own errors, sins, abuse, and so forth, they have been claiming victim status and have been continuing to cover things up and claim that my story is "by and large not true."
Why touch on this detail?
It's to answer a very important question. It's not to promote a "take sides" mindset or to say "I'm better" in any way. I don't believe that. As I stated in the introduction, we are all flawed. The question to answer is simply: How can I make sure I'm not emotionally or spiritually abusing someone? I've been asked this question numerous times over the past eight weeks. My answer has been almost as simple as the question itself. By asking yourself that question, you're already on the right path: Self Reflection. Here are some of my own thoughts on the answer:
Reflect on your past actions; don't immediately justify them.
Go to those you feel you've harmed, allow them the opportunity to share how you've hurt them, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. As hard as this sounds, it's more healing than you could ever know. For everyone.
Ask those you trust to share how they really see you, listen to them, adjust, and thank them for their honesty.
Don't beat yourself up for past mistakes, learn from them, accept the consequences, and move forward.
These four things are what I have been in the process of doing for the past five years.
One friend of mine, who is reading along, told me of a similar situation he's going through at another Foursquare church. He shared the painful details, the abuse, the financial corruption, and how he, and so many others, had to walk away. (Those Foursquare pastors were recently removed for similar issues.) He, too, has been wanting to write it all, get it out and share with others. He asked me, "How did you know you were ready, that it was the right time?" I answered carefully. I told him how I've been in therapy, how I sought counsel, how I waited five years. But most importantly I asked him this question: "Are there people who left that church wounded or abused, and you had a part to play in it?" He answered yes. "Have you reached out to them, heard their stories, and asked for forgiveness?" He answered no. I let him know this, "The only way I have any credibility in this blog is because I spent years seeking those people out, meeting with them, and doing whatever I could to make things right. Until you do that, it's probably not time to write publicly about it." He agreed.
I'm not an expert, nor do I claim to be one. I am simply sharing the steps that professionals have helped me navigate over the past five years.
In the remainder of this post I will share about the time period from Fall 2018-Present Day. Like skipping a stone over water, we'll touch down briefly to connect the dots, without a lot of detail. Why? Because this story has been primarily about abuse, and after 2018 the abusers no longer had power over me. It didn't mean they didn't try, but I realized I had the power to choose how to let it affect me.
I am calling this chapter "The Conclusion," but the story is far from over. Weekly blog posts will cease, but update posts will continue to be shared as this story unfolds.
Also, this is the only post that will allow for comments. Why? Because I wanted the full story to be shared before feedback. That section will exist at the bottom of this post.
Fall 2018 - Fall 2020
The fall of 2018 was a whirlwind. We established two things about Life Church. First, it would be led by a team. Second, it would be part-time for my schedule. I had founded a marketing business and loved it. I was helping local businesses and developing deep connections with those in our community. Similarly, those who began journeying with us at Life Church were encouraging and filled with love. It was truly an incredible church. We had weekly dinners in our home, inviting the entire church to spend time together. We went on camping trips, hikes, celebrated events together, and gathered in each other's houses. A favorite memory was during Christmas when we had two school buses loaded with the church, traveling from home to home throughout the valley for a five course meal. Each course provided by a different household. There were so many fun memories.
At the same time, we were meeting with countless people who had been chewed up and spit out by the Foursquare Church. Each time, we heard their stories, wept with them, and welcomed them into our church and our home. It was during this season that I really began to explore my experience at the Foursquare Church in Wofford Heights. I started to read about emotional health and spiritual abuse. It opened my eyes up to what truly had happened to us and through us. And then it happened again, in December of 2019.
Church Split #2
A second church split at Wofford Heights Foursquare. Neal and Amie had pushed yet another pastor beyond the point of no return. Half the remaining church went with them. The pastors are now my friends. I didn't know them at the time, but after meeting with them, hearing their story, and grieving with them, we were connected. We've remained connected and I love the new church they've formed. We've been supporters of them from day one. It's helping so many in our community. I'm not naming them because this is my story and any person I've named so far has had a direct correlation to my abuse. This was separate, but it was consistent. And it is their story to tell. It did prompt me to once again reach out to the Foursquare denomination and ask for an investigation. That time, there was a new President. Still, after 9 months of waiting for a response, they refused to investigate. Instead, they pushed to help me with closure. Closure? I didn't have closure issues or even reconciliation issues, I had issues with ongoing abuses resulting in two catastrophic church splits within two years. I had an issue with a denomination that refused to investigate very serious allegations raised by hundreds of letters written in by former leaders, pastors, council members, and staff. But, the system was still corrupt.
The 2020 Letter to Foursquare President Randy Remington
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Letter Sent to Randy Remington in 2020
This is the letter I sent to the current Foursquare President Randy Remington back in 2020 . Letter Summary:
My name is Jon Feldschau and I was a Licensed and Ordained Pastor with Foursquare for 18 years.
I have a lifetime of positive history in the Foursquare Church.
From 2013-2017 I was the Senior Pastor at Wofford Heights Foursquare Church.
In 2014 we merged with a Foursquare Association and began co-pastoring.
In 2017 I was pressured to resign and give the senior pastorate over to Neal Preston.
In 2018 I removed myself from Foursquare because of unethical (my opinion) decisions that our local Foursquare leadership made.
I now pastor a Southern Baptist church plant that is the fastest growing church in our community.
The Wofford Heights Foursquare Church is currently being pastored by abusive pastors who have a 10 year pattern of continually harming people and have driven the church into two church splits in under 2 years.
I am asking that Foursquare leadership investigate the following by interviewing current and former ministry leaders, former council members, and former pastors of Wofford Heights Foursquare Church.
I am asking that Foursquare leadership replace them with a new pastor/pastors who can help the church heal and help restore the Foursquare reputation in the Kern River Valley.
I am committed to help with this process if asked.
I believe that our local Foursquare leadership has become a “good ole boys club” between Neal Preston, James Ranger, and Bill Chaney. James looks at Neal as a son and Bill and James are best friends.
I am including (letters below) some of the correspondence over the years between myself, Glenn Burris, Neal Preston, and Bill Chaney (for reference).
My Story “I changed your diapers!” That is what I was told, as an adult, by my Foursquare pastors Larry and Sue Spousta. See, I grew up in Salem Oregon as part of New Hope Foursquare Church. A church with a deep history of strong Foursquare leadership. Out of that church came District Supervisors Larry and Sue and our newly elected President Randy Remington, each having a very unique and impactful role in my life. Larry and Sue not only pastored my entire family through my senior year of high school but Larry continues to be a Spiritual Director in my life today. Randy Remington, while I didn’t have direct contact with him regularly at New Hope, would allow me speak at both the middle and high school summer camps at Beaverton Foursquare Church for multiple summers. It was during his visits to those camps that I would glean wisdom from his leadership. My wife Stacy and I met at Life Bible College in 1996. We began dating in the fall of 98 and were married a week after graduation (in 2000). Graduation took place at Florence Ave Foursquare Church. A week later, at that same church and on that same stage (my college church), I said my vows to my wife. We immediately moved to Colorado Springs where I was a full time youth pastor at Summit Christian Fellowship and my wife worked with Larry in the district office. During that time I worked extensively with Kelly Fellows and helped to develop youth camps. Two years later, we felt God leading us back to California and began working with Rob McKenna at El Segundo Foursquare Church aas youth pastors. We served in that role for 11 years, loving it. Stacy grew up in Lake Isabella, CA. In the summer of 2012 we were visiting her family and while I was going to pick up “take out” pizza, felt God clearly call us to pastor in the Kern River Valley. A miracle took place. God spoke to myself and my wife at the same time while we were in separate locations! God arranged everything and the following summer we were installed as Senior Pastors of Wofford Heights Foursquare Church with the blessing of the outgoing pastors Jerry and Sandy Ruff. We served as Senior Pastors of Wofford Heights Foursquare Church for 5 years. During that first year we merged churches with a Foursquare Association church Enforum, led by Neal and Amie Preston. We really wanted to co-pastor together. With both warning and excitement, we received the "go for it" by our District Supervisor Ron Pinkston. I want to pause here. There is a reason I am dropping all the names in this letter. Larry, Ron, Kelly, Rob, and so many more can attest to my character, love for my family, church, and for Foursquare. Having attended Life Bible College and having served in so many leadership roles I could continue to list names, and will include additional names at the end if further character references are necessary. In addition to Foursquare leadership, I have consistently led in each community I have been a part of over the course of my life. Currently I am the president of the Kernville Chamber of Commerce, the owner of a thriving local business: Creative Consulting (technology and business consulting with clients including: Bakersfield Police Department, Habitat For Humanity Kern County, Kernville Union School District), the pastor of Life Church (a Southern Baptist church plant in 2018 with over 200 members), serve on the Mid-Valley Southern Baptist Association Board of Directors, and work daily with our local school district, law enforcement, county/federal politicians and government agencies on valley wide improvements. I list all this because I want you to know that I am fully connected to our community in a healthy way and can show that on a relational and business level. In 2014 Wofford Heights Foursquare (under my leadership) merged with Enforum (Neal and Amie Preston’s leadership) and we chose to co-pastor together. Like all new things, it started out great. However, it soon became apparent that Neal felt he needed to be in charge. We went back and forth for years, with both good seasons and not so good seasons. But in the summer of 2017 after Neal came back from vacation he asked for a meeting, just he and I. He began telling me that “he can’t do this anymore” and either he becomes the senior pastor, or he will need to leave and half the church would follow him and it would be devastating for the church. He told me that "because I was the senior pastor on paper with Foursquare" he felt that he was not truly an equal with me in co-pastoring. After weighing his ultimatum I reluctantly agreed and was told it was only an internal “paperwork with Foursquare” change. However, as soon as I resigned, it became apparent that this was not the case. Bill Chaney scheduled a time to come and install Neal and Amie as Senior Pastors and my title was changed to Executive Pastor. All of this felt very sneaky and forced. It came out later that Bill and Neal had private conversations on how Neal could convince me to step down. I’ve included both my resignation letter and the original resignation letter that I wanted to send to Bill but then modified because Neal thought it made he and Amie look bad. This was one of my biggest regrets, I never should have resigned. But I received a lot of pressure from Bill Chaney, James Ranger, and Neal. Within 5 months I was stripped of salary, position, harassed, and ultimately fired, then “un-fired” but given an ultimatum that included the following, "If you want to stay as a pastor, you must cut off relationship with people who have left the church”. At this point, about 15 families had left the church as a result of Neal and Amie’s harassing leadership style. Ultimately, I resigned and left quietly. Neal wasn’t upset with this, however, others followed. This upset him. The majority of the church including the entire council, most ministry leaders, and most tithing members left soon after. This was church split number one. The interesting part was this, each person who left had their own reasons why, but the reason wasn’t to “follow us.” It was their own issues with the harmful behavior that Neal and Amie lead with. My original hope after leaving was to plant a dual association church that would be an elder led (congregational polity) Southern Baptist church with a Foursquare Association (theology). There is room for this within Southern Baptist. When I approached Bill Chaney with this model, his words were “that would be abhorrent to Foursquare” and “there is no biblical basis for an Elder led model in scripture”. Within a week I received a letter from Bill stating that I not only didn’t have an appointment with Foursquare any longer but was not to say I was associated with Foursquare at all. I get it. Bylaws. But it was harsh. Letter is attached. Since that time we have planted a church and it is thriving with over 200 members and has a deep and meaningful reach in the community. Over the past 2 years I’ve been going to counseling and writing this letter was at the advice of my counselor. Why? Because for 2 years I’ve kept my mouth shut in this community and seen the devastating result of Neal and Amie’s continued harmful leadership. We’ve had dozens of people continue to leave the Foursquare church and attend ours. Each time I counsel them to not hold onto bitterness but to forgive. Never bad-mouthing or speaking ill of Neal and Amie. At this point, let me share the tone of this email. I am not angry or bitter toward Foursquare leadership, but I am frustrated with the lack of follow through and investigation as this is not my first letter. About a month ago there was a second church split. Campus pastors who were given full responsibility over the church so that Neal and Amie could pursue owning a restaurant, were similarly harassed, belittled, and ultimately let go. The “story" of how and why they left that was told to the congregation by Neal and Amie was a fabrication. About a third of the remaining church followed them. Hearing their story was like cold water to the face. We didn’t know them at all and yet shared the same story. Their story and ours is not isolated. I have a list of over 90 individuals who have been personally harmed, harassed, or shamed by Neal and Amie. Some have relocated to other parts of the country just to get away! Others have had significant life changing trauma because of their direct harm. Bottom line, I have never in my life met a couple who are so charming, likable, and have so much potential, yet have a documented history of lying, cheating, and stealing. I can show and share proof of this if asked, but it would take too long to share in this letter. All that said, I want to get back to the main point. I love the Foursquare Movement and while I am not currently connected “officially", it is my family. Above all else, I love people. I am a pastor because I have a heart to see people come to know Jesus and strive to love him and love others. I’m not a justice person or a right fighter unless it has to do with people getting hurt. This letter addresses that topic alone and has only one ask: Make right by this community by replacing Neal and Amie Preston as pastors of Wofford Heights Foursquare Church and bring in a new pastor to help with the healing process. If this is not done, I believe the church is very likely to die. On paper, it may look like the church is doing fine, however, I’ve seen them fabricate monthly reports in the past or skew numbers to make it look more healthy. Let me be clear: I have no vendetta against the Prestons, nor do I want or need revenge of any kind. I actually want them to succeed in life and believe they are wildly talented, but I definitely believe their role (senior pastors) is the wrong fit for this couple. For clarification, I do not personally benefit from their removal in any way. We pastor a loving, growing, healthy church and also have a very successful local business. I simply am asking that Foursquare investigate the claims I am listing. But here is the problem in the past. I’ve written President Glenn Burris twice before, along with Bill Chaney. At times the actual, private (sent through Facebook Messenger or email) letter has been handed down to Neal Preston and Neal has read it (although edited) aloud to those who want to hear it. To me, this in itself calls into question the institutional fortitude and ethics of the Foursquare organization in our local Foursquare District. How does this happen? I believe it happens because of a “good ole boys club” mentality that can all too easily permeate within a modified Episcopalian form of governance. In this particular situation I believe it may goes like this: Glenn Burris shares the concerns with Bill. The concerns I voiced about Bill and Neal’s compromised leadership (see letter below). Bill in turn shares with his best friend James Ranger (who is Neal Preston’s “spiritual father”). James not only shares with Neal but then publicly preaches a message (at Wofford Heights Foursquare Church) saying that “all of Foursquare” is behind Neal and Amie’s leadership and that he personally views Neal and Amie as “next to perfect” as leaders can be. By the way, when that message was shared by James at Wofford Heights Foursquare Church, about a dozen additional families left the church. It grieves me to know that the majority of other churches, business leaders, and active community members see the Foursquare church as a negative part of this community because of how the Prestons have led. All I am asking is that you please read the documents I’ve already shared in the past (see attached) and hear this message: the same grievances still continue and are escalating. Please just investigate. I’m not asking you to agree with me. I’m only asking for the due diligence of an investigation. And a response this time. Each time I’ve asked for any kind of investigation I’ve either not received any response or been asked to “no longer associate with the Foursquare Movement” (attached letter from Bill Chaney). I would also love to have a conversation in person or over the phone. I can easily drive down to Los Angeles. I care so much about this movement and only want to see it succeed in this community that I love. As I’ve written in the past, this letter is for those I am emailing it to: Randy Remington, Glenn Burris, and Tammy Dunahoo. I will respect your decision on how to proceed. But I also know this. Over a dozen of these letters from others in the church have been written and ignored. How many will it take before an actual investigation takes place? Twenty, fifty, all ninety that I know of? Let me reiterate my tone, since by now it may sound skewed. I am not angry, but I am frustrated. I am not a loose canon and this information will stay with those to whom I email it. Thank you for reading this and the following attachments. -Jon Feldschau Senior Pastor - Life Church - Kernville, CA
(Sentences that share personal information or specific names has been redacted)
Randy's Response - February 9th, 2020
I received your communication and will follow up with you within a week or two. I’ll need to catch up to speed and carefully read the communication you’ve sent.
I know that the quest for organizational and relational health is the priority in this next chapter and I want to serve everyone well as we work towards those ends. Thanks for putting it out there, I know that it’s not easy to do so.
I’m thankful for the time that I had at New Hope in such a formative time of my life and the relationship with Larry is an ongoing one that I truly value.
September 8th, 2020
After several follow up emails I sent him, he finally responded with this in September of 2020:
Thank you for your persistence in this matter. I understand that you have sought to work this out through every relational and organizational channel possible. I am grieved that we still find ourselves with loose ends and a seeming lack of resolve and reconciliation.
As you can imagine, upon my election, I have had many of these types of matters brought to my attention and along with every other aspect of this transition, I have had to simply be realistic as to what and when I could engage everything and I know that my Admin Assistants communication along the way kept you in a place of knowing that a conversation would happen, but not certain as to ‘when.’ Again, I sincerely apologize for the delayed response,
I’d like to propose a path forward that has at the heart, a conversation for reconciliation + peace for the sake of the gospel witness in the city and closure for everyone. This path would involve our new General Supervisor, Wendy Nolasco. Wendy would find the mutually agreed upon neutral party to mediate the conversations. Wendy is abreast of the situation and has my full confidence and trust regarding her heart of integrity, wisdom and leadership. If you can initiate communication with her, she will respond promptly and get the ball moving.
Jon, I’m prayerful and hopeful for you to find righteous closure, as I am for everyone involved.
Blessings on you and your family, may you find great joy and fruitfulness in this season of life and ministry.
Randy Remington President | The Foursquare Church
Closure for everyone. It's easy to read between the lines. "Lets all just move on." I don't believe they understood the damage that was continuing by their lack of intervention and investigation. And, while I do believe Wendy Nolasco, the current Foursquare General Supervisor, to be fair in her assessments, she and her family came out of James Ranger's church in Bakersfield. And her family, my family, and the Preston family were friends before she was promoted up the ranks in Foursquare. I still have a lot of respect for her and her family. But when she and I met on a zoom call on September 11, 2020, my expectations weren't super high.
The Meeting with Wendy
Reconciliation. That was her title for this meeting. I asked very clearly for an investigation, she responded with reconciliation. And it was clear to me that this was her aim. To be fair, at this point, I don't think even Wendy knew the extent of the abuse that had taken place. But she did know a lot. Looking back, it's hard to believe how her only aim was for myself and Neal to "get along" and "work things out" for the sake of the "community."
When is it ever a good idea to bring the abuser and their victim back together, especially without any repentance or remorse or acknowledgement from the abuser?
Throughout the conversation I eventually agreed to mediation between a neutral 3rd party to help Neal and I talk. I did make it clear I wouldn't be trying to be friends, all of this felt very unhealthy. I asked for an investigation. She told me something I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around. She said, "Why would we investigate Neal when we have no authority over you? You're not Foursquare anymore." She kept hammering down on that point. Authority. Authority. Authority. She said they wouldn't be investigating. Not after the two church splits, over a hundred letters, proof of hiding financial data and influencing tithing members to give outside the church, and a church that was now hovering around 30 members, down from over 400. If all of that wasn't a reason for an investigation, what was? She emailed this in response.
Wendy's Email Response - September 21, 2020
Thank you again for being diligent to reach out. As committed in our call, this email is a follow up from our conversation together. In our conversation, it seemed evident to me that you are carrying significant pain from the breakdown of your relationship with Neal & Amie Preston, Wofford Heights Foursquare and The Foursquare Church altogether.
It is in the spirit of contending for unity and for the sake of the gospel witness in the community of Wofford Heights that I write you today. After consideration to your requests we are declining any further investigation on the matters presented. We have concluded that the matters you have brought forth have been dealt with in an appropriate manner.
To the request for a neutral party to broker peace between you and Neal, we have found that this is a necessary and appropriate step to take from the perspective of contending for the gospel witness in the community of Wofford Heights. If you are open and submitted to participating in this process, we have ascertained a qualified mediator to facilitate this dialogue. In our conversation you mentioned that this is a time that you have sensed a desire to lay down offense and approach this matter from a posture of humility. It would be encouraged that you endeavor towards this end. Given the unique dynamic that you are removed from any organizational stewardship and/or responsibility with The Foursquare Church, this is truly an at will process.
My request is that you would hold fast to your commitment to participate and/or decline until the process has been thoroughly completed as indicated by the mediator.
Thank you for your time and attention. I am praying for you, Stacey, Neal and Amie. May peace reside in your very being so as to be a presentable witness to the gospel of Jesus, which was bought and paid for by His own blood.
Serving the Kingdom together,
The Foursquare Church
I emailed her back, letting her know I would move forward with what she recommended, however, I was very reluctant. And I let her know I didn't agree with her decision. She connected me with a wonderfully gracious pastor from Orange County, completely removed from the "Good ole Boy's Club". I had several zoom calls with him, and it seemed like we were making progress (in his opinion) toward mediating a conversation with Neal. Then came the breakdown.
In October of 2020, I had a mental breakdown. I couldn't move forward with anything. And honestly I'm still working through it. Everything came to a stop. I needed a break. My emotional and physical state was not healthy. I stepped back from Life Church for three months to focus on our family. And when I came back into the church in early February of 2021, I knew it was the beginning of the end for me as a pastor. I wasn't burnt out, the church was healthy, and I loved the people, but my outlook was different. I can now say it had a lot to do with unresolved trauma, but at the time I just knew I needed to leave. I wasn't the right person to lead these wonderful people. And, my passions had shifted. I really loved my other job. Creatively helping small businesses, marketing, I was good at it. I enjoyed it. I still do. Also, the COVID reset really caused a lot of self reflection. So, in August of 2021 we told the church and in October of 2021 we had our last Sunday at Life Church.
Resignation Letter (Life Church) August 14, 2021
To the Elders, Leaders, Friends, and Family of Life Church:
For Stacy and I this pastoral journey began in 2000 and we had no idea how incredible a journey it would be. In 2013 that journey led us to Wofford Heights Foursquare Church and in 2018, with most of you, it led us to form Life Church. I wouldn’t change any of that. But something has changed. Just as quickly and decidedly as God moved in my heart that we were called to this valley to pastor, he has decidedly told me that season is over. We are not called away from this valley but from the role of pastor. I can’t put my finger on one reason why, but I do know there are several logical reasons. But first, let me tell you, this is not an easy decision to make, in fact, I have held on, too tightly, for a while. But this past Thursday, as I was outside walking and praying, it landed on me like a ton of bricks. And on Sunday, the minute after worship was finished and I was about to speak, it felt wrong, in my core. That I was not suppose to be the one leading this church anymore. It was the strangest feeling in my life. I love all of you, and that isn’t changing. I will still be your neighbor and friend. But I need to step aside and allow the person God wants to pastor you their place. Now, back to the logical reasons. First, as you know, this has been and continues to be a very trying year for our family. We are working through a multitude of things and I believe God is calling me first and foremost to pastor and lead my girls. I know my heart is divided when trying to pastor and lead Life Church and my family. Honestly, I stink at trying to do both together. Also, my children are in the unique window of their lives (11, 13, 16) where they all enjoy the same things and can do the same things at the same time. I want to capitalize on these last few years with them and make the most of every single weekend and opportunity. I am more passionate about Jesus right now than I have been in a long time, but I don’t feel right about directing that energy toward a church body other than my immediate family at this time. I don’t know if God will ever call me again to pastor, I’m not shutting the door on the future, but he doesn’t usually let me see too far ahead at any given time. This may come as a shock, it may not. For those journeying close to myself and my family, they are all in agreement that this is a good decision for the betterment of everyone. Hear this, I’m not abandoning you. I will walk the process through with the Elders and Jason Blankenship in whatever capacity is needed to make this a smooth yet swift transition. Life Church is strong, has a good foundation, and will continue to grow and develop under new leadership. It was never my church, it was never Stacy’s church, it’s always been and will continue to be Jesus’ church. Part of me wants to just hold on and not obey, but the feeling I felt on Sunday as I was speaking was so strong and evident: the grace has lifted and God wants someone else to fill this role. It feels wrong to continue. I can’t be more clear about this. I’ve talked to Stacy, the Elders, Pauline, Jason Blankenship, best friend Chris, and spiritual advisor and pastor Larry Spousta. Telling them exactly what I’m telling you. Each time I expected to hear someone say “Don’t do it or you’re wrong”. That hasn’t happened, at all. Each time it was confirmation. In fact, the only reason I was thinking about continuing and not stepping down is because I hate letting people down, more than anything! I don’t want to disappoint you, I love you and you’re family. But that’s a really selfish reason to continue. That’s pride. And so, this is my resignation letter and explanation. I will stick around and work to make sure the transition is smooth for the time that is needed. Love you all.
It would be my second resignation letter in four years. This time it felt right. For the next six months Life Church was pastored by Jason Blankenship as he helped guide the Elders into a healthy "adoption" by Kernville First Baptist Church. That was such a relief for me. I knew my friends would be taken care of by their loving pastor. A lot of friends still attend to this day. Others found equally healthy other churches in the valley to make their new home. I'm friends with those pastors and it gave me such joy to know that they accepted and loved my friends.
I'll probably never fully get over the feeling of guilt for not pushing through and continuing to pastor, but I absolutely know it was the right decision. I was asked recently if I would consider pastoring again. No. I loved those 20 years; I wouldn't ever take them back, but I know I'm doing exactly what I'm suppose to be doing, right now.
The next season involved quite a bit of therapy. Multiple sessions per week. I have a love/hate relationship with therapy. I love the results, I hate the process. It hurts. Worse than any athletic training. During a season of my life, I was an Ironman Triathlete, competing in athletic events that took me 13+ hours to complete. Swim 2.4 miles - Bike 112 miles - Run 26.2 miles. This was so much harder. I was confronted with the damage I had done to my kids, my marriage, my community, my church, and my own health by prioritizing "the mission" for all those years at Wofford Heights Foursquare Church. No counseling appointment was ever a "blame others" session. It was now my time. To focus on my health. The process went like this: Reveal, Acknowledge, Repent, Forgive (myself), Release. Sometimes it involved others. I was making amends. And it took a very long time. Let me transition to present day: It's still taking my time. But it's healthy. I was finally off the fast-moving train.
Over the years, many people have shared this train analogy with me when describing what it feels like to move with a narcissistic leader. It's a fast moving train. It heads one direction, it's destination is the "mission" and it is fueled by people. When you're on the train, it is exciting. You feel like you are part of something that will eventually change the world. But when you step off the train, it continues to move, and you can feel left behind as it pushes onward, until it's out of sight. It doesn't circle back, it doesn't stop. And it doesn't remember you. That's how it felt for me and so many others who once were used as fuel for the mission. It brings a whole new meaning to being *On Track, or on the train track.
*On Track was/is a curriculum/journal (and I use that word lightly), designed by the Prestons.
We are almost done. But...why am I writing my story now? Why did I wait five years? What was the catalyst? Some of you reading this know the backstory, some do not. Let me explain it in the shortest possible way. It all started at a high school basketball game. Here's an edited/updated version of how I described it on Facebook:
(here's the link to actual original FB post, it's a long one)
February 7th, 2023
It was High School senior year for the Preston's youngest daughter who played varsity basketball. Weeks prior, there was a high school party and drinking was involved. Definitely not the first time. Their daughter along with other seniors were caught drinking (via pictures they all took) and those pictures were rumored to have been turned in to the school by a well respected family who also had a senior daughter, a cheerleader. As a result, per CIF rules, all the students caught with marked or labeled alcoholic drinks/illegal substances in their hands were banned from sports for 9 weeks, or fewer weeks if they took an intervention class with the school. So far, these were totally normal consequences for the actions. However, Neal and Amie tried to pull every string they thought they had to get this reversed for their daughter so she could finish her basketball season. The school didn't budge. For anyone. So the Prestons turned their anger onto the family they believed turned in the pictures and began harassing their senior daughter along with plotting to release damning “evidence” of prior school decisions where students had varying degrees of punishments that apparently weren’t consistent. Then the Prestons had t-shirts made that said "Protect the Kids" on the front, and the back was filled with slogans and a Black Lives Matter type fist in the center.
The slogans weren't bad, in and of themselves, but I believe the entire reason this was created was to harass the high school and the family. They then staged a "protest" at the last home basketball game on a Tuesday, where it was senior night. They passed out the shirts to anyone who would take them. Most didn't know the backstory about why the shirts were made. The high school district had to bring in extra law enforcement officers. Rather than sitting in the section of bleachers the Prestons usually sat in, they instead sat around this family, all in their white shirts, stared them down, and Neal even stood over them while they sat. I believe they were doing the exact opposite of what was written on the back of their shirts.
When it came time to honor the seniors and this family's daughter's name was read by a student wearing one of the white protest shirts, her name was read quietly in a monotone voice. There was an obvious, direct contrast to all the other names which were read with a loud, enthusiastic sports-announcer type voice. It was met with "boos" from students in the stands. This was confirmed by other students in the bleachers that night. It caused this girl to run to her parents and bury her head in their arms, weeping.
All the while, Neal was standing up in the bleachers, wearing his shirt, nodding his head and it looked so prideful. He can even be seen in a video telling one of his followers to "stop clapping" for this poor girl. It seemed absolutely evil.
So many community members, school teachers, and parents were disgusted by this seemingly arrogant display of perceived power. Also, this isn't coming second hand. I was there, just a few rows down, watching in disbelief but standing with this family in support of their daughter. It was truly awful to witness. I feel it would be awful for any parent to do this, but they consider themselves "leaders" or "pastors".
Additionally, instead of coming out and apologizing, Neal doubled down and posted his own blog post "The Other Side" (it has since been removed but can be read here) where he justified their actions. In the post he claimed his "intentions" were not to bully a child.
Regardless, a child was bullied. It would have been so easy to come out and say something like, "Our intention was not to bully a child, sometimes intended actions and what actually happened are different. We sincerely apologize if this child felt bullied by our actions." But a narcissist can never be wrong. They even went so far as to call people's reaction against their bullying a "clash between heaven and hell" in a text message sent to their cultish church. They saw themselves on the side of "heaven" and anyone speaking out against them on the side of "hell." That's spiritual abuse.
The "other side of the story" is referring to the blog post they just recently took down from their website. A picture of it was linked above.
This was the final straw. And as others in the community began to speak out publicly, I knew it was my time as well. As I've said before, bullying gets under my skin quickly. Over and over, I would hear others coming with their voices, sometimes just a whisper, saying, "this happened to me too." Until the abuse is brought to light, it will continue to grow.
And so I began what I thought would be a short telling of my story. It turned out to be a bit longer than I anticipated. So here we are. And Foursquare responded.
We Are Culpable
Since 2018, each time there was (in my opinion) an overtly ethical, moral, or legal violation I have asked the National Foursquare Church to investigate Wofford Heights Foursquare Church and it's leaders.
In the spring of 2018 when we were fired/unfired/ultimatumed (finally it's my turn to create a new word) and 70% of the church left.
In the fall of 2018 when Pastor Charles & Brenda Twist were escorted off the property.
In the winter of 2019 when there was a second church split and 30% of the church left.
In February of 2023 when a child was bullied.
I was told "no" each time, until I went public with this blog. Within a week of the first post, current Foursquare leadership was sitting in my living room, talking with me and Stacy. They heard our story, empathized, and sincerely apologized. They admitted their own culpability. They admitted to the unhealthy, closed system I've described as the "Good ole Boy's Club." They said they would investigate. Finally. And then this question was asked by one of them,
"Why did you feel the need to go public and not just come to us with your story?"
My blood began to boil. It then settled quickly. It was an innocent question asked from someone who was now in charge but who knew nothing of the history. I responded with this,
"I did come to you with my story. I came to you for five years. Every time there was injustice. Every time there was abuse. And every time all I asked for was an investigation. Every time I was shut down. So to answer your question, 'why did I not come to you this time', because it's not about you. I'm not writing so that you will respond and do something. I'm writing because this is my community. These are my people. My friends who continue to be harassed, bullied, and shamed. In the name of God. And I want them to know they are not alone. They are not crazy. They have been heard and understood. So I'm doing this for them. And you can do whatever you think is right. But let me be clear, this is not about you."
I said it in a firm yet respectful tone. They understood. Their follow up question was simple, "What do you want to see happen?" Our response was threefold. First, we wanted Foursquare to investigate. We were confident that a financial audit alone would show the reasons why these people should not lead a church in any capacity. Second, we wanted Foursquare to bring in a pastor who would restart the church. Third, we wanted Foursquare to offer free counseling to all those who had been abused at the hands of their licensed pastors, myself included. It was a fair request but was not guaranteed.
I could tell these leaders were moved. Tears were flowing. Empathy was given. It meant a lot to me and Stacy, but we had trust issues. Trust issues that were earned. They kept apologizing. I let them know that "sorry" was a really good start, but now what? What comes next?
The Foursquare Investigation
The results will be forthcoming. But they will be coming. Letters are being written again. By the abused. Dozens of them. It's now your turn to write one as well. Foursquare is asking for it. I am asking you for it. There are two distinct "asks" here:
If you've experienced bullying, harassment, or abuse of any kind at the hands of leadership at Wofford Heights Foursquare Church, click this link to email Foursquare your story. We've been assured it is very private and confidential. It doesn't have to be long, and you can be anonymous.
If you haven't experienced abuse, but you have a good reason why you believe the pastors should be removed from Wofford Heights Foursquare Church, click this link to email the Foursquare District Supervisor here. His name is Pastor Mark Slomka. Again, it doesn't have to be a long email. But community support matters. Foursquare has been asking for it. And they did say that receiving these emails soon is important.
Email Subject: Concerning the Wofford Heights Foursquare Church Investigation
Seriously...you can pause your reading and click one of those links above if you have either a story of abuse or a reason.
Did you do it? Ok...you can now finish the chapter.... 😀
Additionally, financial audits will be done. We have been assured that while the process can seem long, it has begun. That's all I ever asked for. And I have no doubt the investigation will reveal the truth. What Foursquare decides to do with the truth, I have no control over. I hope they share it when they remove the Prestons from the church. I hope it's not swept under the rug in a quiet manner. Why? Because it's what was promised by the International Foursquare Board of Directors publicly at their last convention in May of 2022. They called it "Corporate Repentance."
Here are three important paragraphs:
"We repent for choosing organizational priorities that fly in the face of abuses suffered by victims, and we will strive to take appropriate steps to safeguard those who hurt (Mt 9:36)."
"Moving forward, we make a commitment to put the purity of God’s church (Mt 5:8) before any organization. We will no longer tolerate abusive leadership or engage in decisions that place the abuser above the abused."
"We will not allow leaders to leave uncontested when there is clear evidence of abusive leadership. We recognize that we owe our allegiance to Jesus whose children we have a pastoral responsibility to protect."
That all sounds great. I didn't put those words in their mouths, they did. So now, they can finally follow through. "Clear evidence of abusive leadership" has been proven in this blog. And it's still ongoing. It's been proven in the letters written by other victims. What will Foursquare do about it? Based on what they stated above, here is what they will do, following their investigation.
They will repent to the people of the Kern River Valley for allowing abusive leadership to continue under their authority.
They will safeguard those who have been hurt by the abusers.
They will not cater to or defend the abuser, but will make decisions that protect the abused.
They will not allow leaders to leave uncontested, which is an indirect way of saying that they will share why the leader is being removed as part of their repentance and as part of their responsibility to protect those who have been harmed.
The Final Section
I have one more confession story. As I mentioned earlier in this post, I was barely scratching the surface when it came to describing all of the evil I either witnessed or was a part of.
In 2015 I went shopping at Von’s grocery store. I saw someone in the store that Neal and Amie “hated”. Someone that could not be controlled and was kicked out of leadership and the church.
Amie would consistently make fun of this person’s past addiction to alcohol and their sobriety journey. I wanted to fit in so badly that I went to the wine isle, loaded 10 bottles into my cart, and pulled up in the checkout line behind this person. I unloaded all my wine bottles right next to their things on the checkout table. It was evil. I took a picture and sent it to them. We all laughed. But my laugh felt so empty inside. It was a desperate attempt to try to fit in. I immediately felt awful and dirty.
Why do I share this now? At the end of everything. Because I want to define leadership: Leadership is influence. That’s it. A leader is one who influences.
A good leader brings out the best in another person. A bad leader brings out the worst in another person. I don’t believe Neal and Amie to be good leaders. I’ve seen them bring out the worst in others. Over and over again. Fostering abusive patterns in generation after generation. They brought out the worst in me. Consistently. I own all of it. I did it all. But I was influenced. As so many are still influenced today.
My story has been mine. It’s been jaded, biased, and raw. But it’s full of provable truth. If you’ve read through to this point, thank you. Genuinely, I thank you for taking this journey with me and reading it through my perspective. Agree with me or not, I am not offended by your perspective, and we can still be friends.
In an earlier chapter, I included a letter I had written to Neal, after we left the church, in response to his question, "When have I ever broken my word to you?" I ended that letter stating that I wasn't against him, I just wasn't with him anymore. That was in 2018. And that hasn't changed. I'm not against him, Amie, or his family; I'm against the abuse. I'm against the secrets. I'm against the bullying. It's real. It's documented. And it needs to stop.
I continue to pray for the Prestons. I don’t pray against them. I pray FOR them. I pray that they will someday be able to walk a path of self-reflection that leads them to repentance and healing. Don’t believe me? Re-read every letter I sent to them directly or to Foursquare. How do those letters consistently end? With hope for them. I would love nothing more. It could be healing for so many. But that said, I’m also no longer an eternal optimist. The realist in me fights with the hope, all the time.
I’ll end things here with a promise that more posts will be coming. And while those posts may or may not directly have to do with my own spiritual and emotional abuse story, they will share the ending that is yet to be written because it’s still unfolding.
I want to emphasize again, from the bottom of my heart, how grateful I am to all those who have reached out with encouragement, love, support, and understanding as you've read through this story. I can speak for my entire family when I say that we are very grateful to have all of you in our lives.
The next post will be a post full of questions and supporting documents. Questions that I believe still need to be answered. Starting with this one:
Where Did The $90,000 Come From?
Every month each Foursquare Church in the United States submits a "Monthly Financial Report." I had to fill them out for years. Among other things, each church lists their total income (what comes in) and total expenses (what goes out) each month. In 2022, from June-December, there was over $90,000 that flowed into the Wofford Heights Foursquare Church checking and savings accounts...mysteriously. Hidden even from Foursquare. Where did it come from? But more importantly, why was most of it paid out as tax-free salary? Don't believe me? You'll get to download the reports and see for yourself. And that is only the beginning...
OFF TRACK - QUESTIONS THAT DEMAND ANSWERS
Dropping sometime in the next four weeks…
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