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The End Before the Ending

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

Previous Chapters


Chapter 6


"Why are you still with her?"

"She’s not part of the mission. How do you know she really loves God? If she doesn't love God, should you even be married to her?"

"STOP!"

"What, you’re going to leave now and just go home to her? It’s the middle of the day. Neal, James Ranger wouldn’t let his employees talk to him this way. Are you going to put up with this?"

"STOP!"

Neal was firmly asking Amie to JUST...STOP...TALKING. It seemed like for the first time she was spewing a geyser of words straight from her heart; how she actually felt could not be stopped. I slammed a door, stormed out of the office, and headed home to my wife who apparently didn't love God.

How did we get here? It started with harassing, bullying, and shaming two young children.


Kristie's Story

On March 28th, 2016, just a few short months before the Erskine Fire would rip through the Kern River Valley, Kristie reached out to the church with this message:

Subject Looking for opportunities to help

Message We are a full time homeschooling, retired military family who recently moved to the area. We have visited the church every week since we found you and want to help out and volunteer anywhere we are needed. We both will be attending Joe's House on Tuesdays because we live in the Wofford Heights area.

I now wonder if she regrets sending it...


Kristie, her son and daughter, and (now ex-) husband began serving in the church. When the fire hit, they were all-in with All For One. While talking with Kristie this week, she recalled the closeness she felt to us, the Preston family, and the church through all the countless hours of volunteer work. But she soon realized that closeness came with strings attached. The more she volunteered her time, the more love-bombing took place. The less she volunteered, the less time and attention she was given.


In the fall of 2016, I had the opportunity to baptize Kristie and her son in the Kern River, at Riverside Park. I watched the baptism video today and cried. So much pain. With every expanding story, so much pain. I met with Kristie and her husband many times during the year and a half they attended church with us. Loved them. And in the end, I didn't stick up for them. I can only offer apologies so many times. Kristie has heard it before, but I gave another today. Her son is brilliant - thriving now. When I knew him, he was young and struggling to fit in at a new school in a new town.


Fast forward to December 2017

The cafe at Wofford Heights Foursquare Church had been transformed for a day into an art studio. Giant trees were being painted on a giant canvas - decorations that would eventually adorn the Christmas stage seen below.



Volunteers were on the ground, painting and talking. Kids were running everywhere. Snacks were scattered throughout the room. It was the middle of the afternoon and I walked across the street to the bus stop. My eldest daughter, Kristie's daughter, and the Prestons' daughter were friends. I have three daughters and no hair. Through all the stress and (lack of) wisdom I've gained, allow me to describe middle school girl friendships. They fight, they cry, they make up. The process repeats over and over with varying degrees of time in between each step. But it's always the same cycle. These three had just finished the cycle and were talking to each other as they stepped off the bus, concerned about something. Kristie's son was last to exit, visibly upset. Crying. He had been laughed at, mocked, and picked on by others while riding home. As I walked closer to them all, I could hear deep cries, see his tears; he could barely breathe without hyperventilating. I knelt down to his level and invited him in to the church for a minute. Typically he and his sister would make the three minute walk home themselves; mom was at work. But today, he needed a break.


We entered the cafe and I began talking with him. I am not a kid whisperer, but I did have small chocolate donuts to offer. That always helps. The girls continued on, knowing I was taking care of him. Not a minute later and I heard Amie's voice, raised, and authoritative, coming from the doorway just outside the cafe. She had cornered the girls. She was angry. I won't pretend to remember exactly what she said. The girls don't clearly remember either. But she was upset at Kristie's daughter. Pointing fingers and yelling at her. Amie thought she was defending her daughter. She wasn't aware the girls had worked things out. The cycle had completed. To me, it looked like she was acting like a peer, not an adult. Turning her attention toward me, she boldly said, "They need to leave. They're not welcome here." She was referring to Kristie's children. Her son was still crying and upset. I calmly tried to talk logically to Amie. She wouldn't budge and doubled down on the command. "Get them out, now! And why is he eating our donuts? Those are not for him!" Looking back, it sounded like the tone of Cinderella's stepmother. It sounded evil. I turned up my volume, she turned up hers. She reminded me she was now the boss. I reminded her the purpose of church - compassion and grace. She insisted they were not welcome in the church. The pissing contest was over. My attention turned back to the children. Caught in the middle of an adult's temper tantrum. Wide eyed and in shock, we all exited the building. My blood was boiling.


I walked them home. But not before her son tried to hand back a half eaten chocolate donut with a trembling hand. Humiliation and shame in his eyes. After talking with Kristie and making sure the kids were in the house, I re-entered the church and headed straight to the third floor offices. Neal was preparing for his next big "On Track" video shoot, but we would be having words. There is a lot I will internally suppress. Bullying a child is not one of those things. Amie was already present. I went off. Neal was immediately on the defense and taken aback. After a minute of very "respectful" and direct rebuke, I let them know I was heading home to Stacy...


...and now we're back to where this week's story began.

She unleashed against my wife. I stormed out. Kristie didn't come back to church after this. I didn't blame her. Had Amie ever apologized, this story wouldn't have been written. Had she ever responded to Kristie's multiple attempts to meet and talk things out, it would have just been a misunderstanding coupled with repentance, and maybe even some forgiveness. But narcissists are never wrong. What is there to apologize for? It's one thing to say, "We aren't perfect, everyone makes mistakes." It's entirely different to listen to how someone has been hurt by your actions, empathize, and ask for forgiveness. But that takes humility. And humility can't share a heart with narcissism.


To this day, I know of three couples, from the inner circle, that Neal and Amie systematically and psychologically broke down and broke apart. There was a pattern: it was always for the "mission;" there was always a random Bible verse to support it; the man in the relationship was good, and the woman was "from the devil" or "a distraction" or "tearing him down." It makes me sick. Those are their stories, not mine, even though they definitely tried with me. This particular time was an overt attempt, but not at all isolated.


Why Share This Story?

It showed the amount of spiritual and psychological abuse that occurred more and more. It showed the harassment and bullying that grew exponentially after the moment this couple took the reins as senior pastors. To this day, it makes me physically ill. I knew after the confrontation, it was the end before the ending.


Last night I only slept two hours. I knew I'd be writing this today. My fingers feel heavy. Each word takes extra time to type out. I receive no joy or satisfaction in reliving this or asking Kristie to relive it. It's still traumatic. Oh, and her daughter, now a senior in high school, wanted me to share this, from her, "It was definitely a cult."


Kristie and her children have not been back to another church. Her kids won't have anything to do with it. Yes they talk about a creator, higher power, something out there, but organized religion, no thank you. People have ruined it. I understand why. I also own my part in that.


The Point

This blog is written for those dealing with emotional, psychological, and spiritual abuse at the hands of leaders, especially leaders in a church. It's my confession and my story. And it has now directly helped over 100 people (that we know of), and has over 4,000 subscribers. People from all across this nation.


This past week, Neal released a video rebuttal (referenced below) in which he shared how he believed we have been against him publicly for years. However, up until now, we hadn't shared our story with anyone, not even our own family. My father texted this to me in the midst of writing this post:



Honestly, I wish I had told my family, our close friends. We held all of this inside for the last five years. Only our therapists knew the details. That wasn't healthy. Unfortunately, church culture had trained us that it was "gossip" to speak out against anything to do with leadership. That alone is spiritual abuse and conditioning. And I taught it. I preached it. I came down hard on others who shared their stories. I also admit it, and I'm so sorry for doing it. No part of me thinks I wasn't part of the problem. I played a huge part.


January 2018

We are nearing my end at Wofford Heights Foursquare Church. But my story isn't quite over yet. The church had no money. We'd lost close to a hundred members. Most of our time was spent developing "On Track" video curriculum, and honestly, the content was weak. We had become very cultish (based on my explanation here). All historic church membership from years past had been revoked, and every attendee had to commit to the "On Track Process" in order to become a member again. NDA's (non disclosure agreements) had to be signed by every leader, which in and of itself isn't a bad thing, but they were added because there was such a lack of trust within the church ranks. If you read the fine print, members were required to, "Protect the family". It sounded like an episode of the Sopranos.


"Protect the Family" NDA

To give you another snapshot of how "Us Vs. Them" the church was becoming, this was the 2018 "Church Vision" theme: Gates and Walls. Gates. And. Freaking. Walls. It sounded like we were literally building a prison. The Safe People Selector tool had just been released, and the inner-circle was getting smaller and smaller.


Daily Projects for January 9th, 2018

It was on this day, January 9th, 2018 that Neal cornered me and said I "owed the church a debt" for how bad I had run it. I would have to work 40 hours a week for significantly less pay. I sent him the following response. The first sentence references a personality test we had both taken in order to understand and communicate clearly with each other:


"I am being very careful in how I write these words. Remember, I’m a “P” perceiver. I know you’ll read them in the “black and white” of a “J” - Judge. And so I’ll do my best to think of that as I’m writing. I know from several conversations over the past months you and Amie believe that the church is in it’s current state because of my leadership over the past year or years. And your last words to me (when I asked to step back hours per week because of my 30% voluntary reduction in pay) were “you owe a debt and need to still work 40 hours”. Neal, I will not take that as truth upon my shoulders. From my vantage point you and Amie pretty much “peaced-out” last year. The year that I “had the reigns”. You were unavailable, working on a for profit business and other things, and not pulling weight in overall church related positions. This is not only my point of view or opinion, it is also most of the council and church leadership’s view. And through that time, I went to bat for you both, defending your actions while personally not agreeing with them. Here is the major difference between then and now. When I was leading last year I couldn’t tell you or Amie what to do. I couldn’t assign you jobs, regulate your schedule or anything close.  I tried on many occasions to set up repeatable meetings, lock down structured positions, etc. To no avail. You would not have it. Now I understand that this last paragraph you probably see close to 100% different. That’s fine, but not true. You both stood up in front of the church and announced that we would see a lot less of you as you pursued outside the valley related things. If you need a refresher on it, watch this recording. (While taking a full salary mind you). Let’s fast forward. If you want to negotiate over time vs money it’s super simple. I am fully on board for this mission, and I realize that this season a lot of work is needed, but as I step back in salary, I will step back in hours. I’m willingly taking a $2,000 a month or $24,000 a year cut, I will take a 12 hour a week cut in hours. It’s what’s necessary. And if you have an issue with it, take the $24,000 and solve that issue. It’s a luxury I didn’t have last year.  And when I take deeper cuts in salary I will also take deeper cuts in hours. This will allow you even more flexibility to hire as you wish while retaining the best parts of my skill set. That said, I do believe that this is temporary and soon we will have more time because there will be more money. You know I’ve shown and proven loyalty, friendship, and trust with you, even when I see things the way I’ve described above. That’s gotta account for something, right? Bottom line for me, the reduction in hours and pay IS the compromise. I am not willing to work a 40 hour work week at a 30% pay cut. If you make this a mountain, it will crumble underneath you. I know you, and especially Amie, believe many things regarding salary, worth, value, position, etc. Just remember that the only reason you have the salary you have is because it was my salary that I convinced the council to equalize for one full time position for your family. In addition to that, you also receive an extra $2,000+ a month in tax deductible donations to Enforum that pay off a mortgage to a building you privately own. Without a board overseeing it and without a legal lease agreement. So don’t talk to me about equal, legal, or fair value. It doesn’t make logical or legal sense. Also, I will not be subject to the 10-5 Tues-Thurs schedule. I will work on my projects and work remotely in the community and take most meetings outside the building. End of story. No compromise. This is not a dictatorship or a communistic leadership driven organization. And I love you and the people of this church too much to allow you run it that way. The end."


Reading this back, all these years later, I am proud of myself for standing up. I wish I had done it sooner. I wish I had stood up for more people. For Kristie's son. For the small shaking hand giving back a donut. I can't shake that image.


No Money - February 2018

We needed to talk. This meeting had to take place. We were out of money, completely. I was doing my best to work side jobs in order to reduce the financial burden on the church. I believed it was time for Neal and Amie to do the same. A Foursquare church only allows 40% of income to be allocated for salary. Total salaried positions. We were pushing quite a bit more. Also, the senior pastor was to be paid last, all bills and other staff were to be paid first. But we were running on what I have since named Neal and Amie Math. It's how they justified still receiving $80K a year while I was at $40K. In my best Oprah voice: Neal gets $40k, Amie gets $40k, Jon gets $40k. Sure, sounds great, if the money is there. But it wasn't. So I set up the meeting with Neal. I presented him the following "proposal" letter which I asked to be placed on file and on record with the church. You can download a pdf copy below, but for those reading on a mobile device (89% of you), the text version below is much easier to read.


The Proposal (letter)

To Whom It May Concern,

This is my official recommendation to be kept on file at Wofford Heights Foursquare Church. Each month we spend more than we bring in. I believe we can’t continue to pay our current salaries (Feldschau & Preston) at $165,600 total per year. After reviewing all WHFC finances and overseeing them for the past year I voluntarily propose the following step-down in my compensation package that was offered to me by the Wofford Heights Foursquare Church Council and Pastor Jerry Ruff in May of 2013. I was offered a yearly compensation package of $86,400.

In early 2014 I voluntarily reduced that salary by $300 a month (for budget reasons) bringing my salary to $82,800. In November 2017 I gave back $1,500 of my salary for paying WHFC bills. In February 2018 I reduced my monthly salary by $2,000 ($24,000 a year). In March 2018 I propose I further reduce my salary to $40,000 a year. With reduced pay I also propose to reduce hours to part time or 20 hours per week.I propose to include 12 vacation days a year (in addition to other agreed upon staff or national holidays). I propose that starting immediately my hours reflect the “weekly hour breakdown” as outlined below in order to allow me time to find consistent replacement income. Proposed step-down calendar in salary payout: March 1 - $2450 (for February) March 15 - $1667 April 1 - $1667 April 15 - $3334 May 1 - $0 May 15 - $3334 June 1 - $0 (Calendar repeats at this point. I propose I receive full compensation on the 15th of each month) Starting February 20th, 2018 (weekly hour breakdown) Wed - 10-5pm Tues or Thurs - 10-5pm Sunday 6-12 or 7-1. 20 total hours at $40 an hour.

I propose that the $3566 of my previous salary goes directly into savings each month on the 1st of the month. Which by December 2018 would equal $37,660 in the savings account for the year of 2018.

I also propose that due to our current financial status ($24,000 in the red) Neal and Amie

match my salary reduction starting March 15th by taking home $40,000 a year total for the Preston family. This would free up an additional $3566 per month which could pay any additional overhead, ongoing expenses, etc.

Proposed contingency renegotiation. In December 2018 if Jon or Neal and Amie have not secured 2019 funding to compensate for the 50% salary decrease, a possible reinstatement of hours and salary up to $60,000 (for Jon) and up to whatever amount the council agrees upon for Neal and Amie would be open for discussion.

If this proposal is accepted it will reduce the overall budget by $6900 a month or $82,800 a year. I humbly accept any outcome of these ideas and realize this is just a proposal and not a contract.

Sincerely, Jon Feldschau


Proposal
.pdf
Download PDF • 23KB

I read the above letter to him aloud. It was going very well until the last part where I suggested he and Amie take cuts as well. He stood up; shouted how he and Amie deserved more. That wasn't the point of the letter. And I wasn't in disagreement. I just knew we couldn't afford it financially. Within a few weeks, he went on vacation with the Nash and Lyons family. It was when he returned that chapter two's intro began...


Sunday, March 11, 2018 (revisited)

Reminder: I was sent home. From church. Because I wouldn't cut off relationship with people: Intentional Exclusion. That Sunday afternoon, I requested a meeting with James Ranger (our direct overseer), Bill Chaney (Foursquare Supervisor) and Neal. A conference call was set up for Monday evening, March 13th.


The Phone Call

I took the call in my car, sitting in the driveway of our home. I had requested this call. When we all were patched in, Bill asked Neal to speak first. Neal unloaded on me.


"Jon, you have been acting in rebellion because you're allowing people who are spreading rumors about the church to be in your home. Because of this, you no longer have employment at the church. We would like you to stay at the church if you and Stacy will repent to Amie and I for your rebellion, turn from it, and acknowledge Amie and I as your senior pastors. If you do that, we will allow you in the church but it won't be in employment or pastoral ministry."

I can safely put that in quotes because I wrote it down as he was saying it, back in 2018. I couldn't believe it. He repeated himself over and over, saying the same things. He said God was giving him the strength to say this to me. This was God's will, not his own. Spiritual abuse. James then piped in, defending Neal's position. Bill actually seemed shocked, and he was James' best friend! He was trying to talk Neal out of calling things "rebellion," explaining that it's a heavy accusation, etc. When it came time for me to say something, I had little to offer in response. I told them I needed time to think about everything. I could barely hold the phone. I was shaking. Bill prayed, the call ended, and I walked back inside our house.


I did my best to explain everything to Stacy. It didn't make sense. I slept horribly, woke up the next day, and wrote the following email to Supervisor Bill Chaney.

(click on each arrow to read the content)


My Email to Bill

Bill's Email Response


You can download a copy of the original emails below. Text with personal information has been redacted. Also, certain sentences in Bill's Email Response have been highlighted.


A Very Long Letter
.pdf
Download PDF • 325KB

"I Never Fired Jon"

Why do I include these downloads throughout this blog? I want to show you, the reader, that I'm doing my best to retell my story without adding extra. Also to show that this isn't a "he said, he said" situation. That only applies to stories without evidence. Downloads are evidence. Emails are evidence. Pictures are evidence. Videos are evidence. When asked if he ever fired me, Neal has told many people that it never happened. Neal's recent (last week) recounting of the unfolding story is that:


"He (Jon) chose to split the church, all those years ago." -Neal Preston


This email from Bill begins to prove otherwise. Also, as you'll see in next week's post, the proof continues. I don't doubt that Neal truly believes what he is saying is accurate; it just isn't. Sometimes it's easier to believe what you can convince yourself to believe, rather than facing the truth. Facing the truth, like looking in the mirror, forces you to see a different reality. Often a narcissist or an abuser will choose to believe their own version of the story, even when presented with evidence.


Stacy and I have held the same version from 2018 until now. When close friends or family have asked, we've given this overview of the above events:

"Neal fired me over the phone, un-fired me after a call from Bill, then gave me an ultimatum that I refused, so I resigned."

The second half of that sentence is covered in the next section. We never dove into the details with anyone other than our therapists and a couple of close friends. Even then, they didn't get all the details I'm sharing now.


The Ultimatum

Days went by since my phone call with Neal, James, and Bill. I was working in Los Angeles with a friend. When I returned, Neal and I set up a time to meet. We drove in his truck to Camp 9 and parked. Camp 9 is a Forest Service public campground that overlooks Lake Isabella and has beautiful views. Neal and I talked, and it was going well until he spotted a fishing boat on the Lake. "That's James Ranger," he concludes out loud. Sure enough, James was fishing just beyond where we had parked. I'm not beyond calling it a coincidence, at the time I even thought maybe it was "God's timing." Neal certainly did. At this point, I wouldn't put it past James and Neal to have planned it. But I'm not accusing them of it. Coincidence it is. We got into his boat and let him know about our conversation.


Neal had given me an ultimatum, if I wanted to keep my job, or my ability to attend the church, I would need to do three things: repent for my rebellion, acknowledge Amie as my pastor (in addition to Neal), and break relationship with a list of people. I let Neal know, kindly, that I would not be doing any of the three. I would resign and submit to the Foursquare process moving forward. The "unbiased" process. Led by "unbiased" leadership in Foursquare. Four days later, a meeting took place with Bill & Beth Chaney, Neal and Amie, me and Stacy. We met for hours. It was in this meeting, when I saw the way Bill and Neal interacted, that I first began to piece things together. It felt like the ending to the movie, "The Usual Suspects" (highly recommend watching it if you haven't). This was their plan all along. The plan to remove me completely. How did I not see it until now? The corruption in leadership was being revealed before my very eyes....


Chapter 7









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