RACISM IN THE NETWORK
By Mildred W.
RACISM IN THE NETWORK:
URGED TO SUPPORT THE ILLUSION OF A “MULTI-ETHNIC” CHURCH WHILE BEING SHAMED FOR MY ETHNICITY
- Author: Mildred “Millie” W. | Youth Small Group Leader, Core small group member & Host, Hospitality Team Lead, Saturday Lunches, Cleaning Team, Hospitality Team, Kids Program, Cedar Heights Church Plant Member, Announcements & Prayer at Sunday Service for Church Plant (and more…)
- Network Churches attended:
- Vine Church, Carbondale, Illinois | 2009-2013
- Cedar Heights Church, State College, Pennsylvania | 2013-2016
- This story was published October 2023
HOW I FOUND THE NETWORK
During the summer of 2008, I was in a place where I wanted to know more about God. I had successfully completed my second year as an undergraduate student at Southern Illinois University or SIU and I was happy. My happy was happy. During that time, I felt like I needed to build a deeper connection with God. I was raised attending a Baptist Church called “Greater Faith Baptist Church,” in Waukegan, IL. I knew the importance of having a faith-based community and I wanted to have that again. I was in community with the campus gospel choir but the amount of gossip and hate that I experienced proved to be unbearable. Gratefully, I met someone associated with the choir but not in it that suggested that I try a local church that was “mostly white folks,” but she enjoyed how they taught from the bible.
I noted what she said and when I returned to campus in the Fall of 2008, I visited Vine Church for the first time with a new friend that I connected with the semester before. We began to attend a group called “Alpha'' on Monday nights at Vine Church. This course was marketed toward international students and those new to Christianity, and the advertising said it would teach us more about Jesus. At that time Steve Dame, a staff pastor, taught the course.
During that semester it seemed like my life got worse and not better. My course load and workload were difficult and heavy. I began to experience people who claimed friendship but who betrayed me more than once. I was exhausted. I also had a new roommate, Carmeica M. or CeCe, who thrived off of drama and gossip. She created conflict anytime she was able. I was in a vulnerable spot.
I was in a vulnerable spot.
Toward the end of that semester, in November, people that I called friends set me up to be gang raped. They invited me over to spend time with them and a new group of male friends they met during Halloween. They proceeded to get me intoxicated. I woke up the next morning in a place I didn’t recognize with little to no memory, only quick flashes of what occurred. Later I would learn that the night was intentionally planned because one of the male friends “wanted me.” So the girls decided to make a choice for me to be a part of their “secret society.” This caused trauma and triggered me all at once. Years earlier during my sophomore year in high school, I witnessed a friend be “slut shamed” after a sex tape was shared through the school. The reality is that she was a vulnerable girl and older males in the school took advantage of her vulnerability. Then blamed her for everyone’s choices with her body including their own.
After the experience, I fell into depression, and I decided to stay. I did not want to pull myself out because I thought I belonged there. I share these details to show how serious I take the arrest of Steve Morgan for aggravated criminal sodomy against a 15-year-old. People who have been raped are impacted for the rest of their lives. The levels of harm and pain do not end because a person “found God” and “repented.”
During that time, my roommate began to gossip more about me on campus and the rumors were relentless. She never checked on me. She never asked if I was okay. I saw my options as being limited: return to the female friends who set me up to be raped, or find refuge at Vine Church. I chose Vine.
I THOUGHT VINE WAS A SAFE PLACE
By the time January 2009 hit I was convinced that I was safe at Vine Church. People barely knew me, and I felt like I was learning about God in a new way. Due to this, in my mind I created a safe place, though now I know that was a mistake.
In his book The Fire Next Time and in an article for the New Yorker, James Baldwin wrote, “And since I had been born in a Christian nation, I accepted this Deity as the only one. I supposed Him to exist only within the walls of a church—in fact, of our church—and I also supposed that God and safety were synonymous. The word “safety” brings us to the real meaning of the word “religious” as we use it.”
It’s clear looking back why the tactics of manipulation worked on me. I was searching for safety.
It’s clear looking back why the tactics of manipulation worked on me. I was searching for safety. My nervous system had not experienced much safety and care in my life. I was in a deep, heavy place, and I needed help coming out.
I dived headfirst into this church and hoped that my heart would catch up. I began attending a Monday night small group and volunteering in different areas including, but not limited to, cleaning team, Saturday Lunches, and Hospitality team.
In the middle of the semester, around March, my roommate met Drake at a local restaurant right before a scheduled concert. Due to her new friendship, her word in the campus community was made even stronger. Gossip about me increased as her popularity increased. My pain over CeCe’s’s actions and behavior against me led me further into the church.
I was heartbroken. I was afraid. I was a victim of rape, and it was not the last time. This was compounded with a lot of childhood trauma. Years later I learned that I was experiencing symptoms of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or CPTSD. I didn’t know it then, but my experience in the church would lead to more trauma.
I had even more to heal after leaving this network of churches.
I was heartbroken. I was afraid. I was a victim of rape, and it was not the last time.
I am choosing to be vulnerable with these details so people understand the devastating effects of sexual violence. Again, I take seriously the fact that these churches are led by a disqualified person who calls himself an elder in the church of God. He knew and knows he was arrested for aggravated criminal sodomy against a fifteen year old boy. Steve Morgan is not above reproach nor respectable. (1 Timothy 3:2-7)
LIFE INSIDE THE NETWORK
MY FIRST SUMMER AT VINE CHURCH
I needed a safety net. Because of all of my trauma and the continued gossip, I was ripe and ready to be “hooked” by Vine Church and The Network. I write “hooked” because it was a common term they used to describe being committed to the church and The Network. For example, Sándor Paull often preached that he was “ruined” by this Network of churches and could never “do” any other church again. He would also say that we needed to be “hooked” in, and he pushed small groups, retreats, team meetings, and conferences to do that. Most of these events and programs required us to pay money to be involved. For example, after the first couple of weeks of small group, the group leader was trained to ask people to contribute money for dinner or other services provided by the group.
In May 2009, I stayed in Carbondale after the destruction and power outages caused from the infamous May 8th storm (the Southern Midwest Derecho) because I needed to continue with my summer campus job. I knew what it was like to not have electricity or water, so it did not phase me. My siblings and I experienced outages during our childhood as our mother did her best.
Because of all of my trauma and the continued gossip, I was ripe and ready to be “hooked” by Vine Church and The Network.
I was grateful to witness the community that formed around Vine Church and the entire Southern Illinois region in the aftermath of the storm. I acknowledge that, though I believe this network of churches is a cult or high mind control group, there are enough people involved who truly love God, and that is why it has succeeded for so long. However, I do believe that those who deny the hurt, pain, and harm caused by Steve Morgan due to cognitive dissonance and others who believe the good outweighs the bad are misaligned with the Divine.
NAVIGATING A WHITE COMMUNITY
During that first summer of being committed to Vine Church, I noticed how hard it was to connect in the larger church community because most of the people, if not all, were white. I could count the number of Black people on one hand. Finding a safe community within the larger church community was difficult.
I spoke with my then group leader, Amy J., about this, but she hesitated to invite me into her friend group. I realized I had to find a community of my own. I prayed and asked God to send more people that looked like me. God answered my prayer in the Summer and Fall of 2009 through my ability to invite people. Around that time I was asked to “multiply” out of my small group to become a “core” member in a new group to be led by Brianna N. or Bri. Bri later proved to be racist and a narcissist, but more on that later.
I realized I had to find a community of my own.
In August of 2009 I was excited and grateful to attend my first youth summer camp.
During my time at the camp I genuinely experienced the presence of God. I recall sitting near one of the cabins talking to Amy J., my small group leader at the time, about a dream I had. That morning, Josh Franklin, a staff pastor, called all the youth leaders together to share with them that the church had been robbed the night before. We were a couple of hours away at the campsite. After that update, I immediately pulled Amy J., to the side and explained to her a dream I had the night before. In that dream the church was robbed and it was identical to what Josh F. shared with us.
In the dream, I was in the vine church lobby. I walked around the church building and eventually went to the youth room. I was laughing and playing in the room when two young boys entered the room. They did not see me. They looked around and went straight for the game consoles, and began to unplug them. I asked them to stop. I told them that they should not steal from the church, but they did not hear me or see me. They got the game systems and walked to the children’s program where they exited out of the side door. During the dream, I followed them the entire time and asked them to stop but they did not hear nor see me. After sharing this with Amy J., she was awe struck because of the detail and the similarities in what Josh shared with us as youth leaders. She guided me to read the book of Daniel.
I also began to notice that some of the people at Vine were jealous of my spiritual gifts, and I noticed people were talking behind my back.
Though I did not get much guidance besides reading the Bible, I knew that dream was shared with the staff pastors, including Josh, because it was common practice for the leaders to talk in-depth to each other about the people they were leading. With this new attention I began to feel the pressure of having the gifts, talents, and abilities that were natural and God-given. I also began to notice that some of the people at Vine were jealous of my spiritual gifts, and I noticed people were talking behind my back. This reminded me of the drama and gossip I had experienced before with my recent roommate and many others.
I realize in retrospect they had me right where they wanted me. Leaders had decided they wanted me around, and they did what they could to make me meek and easy to control. Bri N. ensured that that happened. I’ll share a few stories next.
One of my first nights in Bri’s small group proved to be an indicator of her heart posture toward me. At the end of the meeting, I was able to pray for and help a young woman. I hosted the small group and as Bri and the woman left my house I smiled and said, “take care of her.” I felt a sense of camaraderie with the woman and was being playful. Not long after, Bri decided to exert her authority. She directed me to meet with her and told me she “knew what she was doing” and “did not need me to tell her to ‘take care’ of anyone.” This showed me that she was not at all like Amy J. and that she was not safe. She fixated on a small, beautiful moment and made it into something that it was not, then chose to shame me and make me feel small, unwanted, and unsafe. Demeaning and controlling the “interactions” of the people in her small group would be a common practice for Bri. The DC pastor at that time, Aaron Kurnert, empowered and encouraged her behavior.
I realize in retrospect they had me right where they wanted me. Leaders had decided they wanted me around, and they did what they could to make me meek and easy to control.
I had to invite more people to feel safe hosting the small group in my home. Months later, the small group was full of Black Women and Bri N. During this time, Bri N. began to intentionally look past me as a potential new small group leader. She would groom others who were more appealing to her, women who were my friends and who had not been in the church as long as me. This hurt and confused me. Hadn’t many pastors said it’s important that new leaders have a “long track record” in the church before they began leading? And I was already leading informally—many people would speak to me about my gifts, abilities, and talents. Assuming I would be chosen next for leadership, they asked me what was next for me in the church. All this while Bri, the person who agreed to take responsibility for my spiritual well being, chose to see me as replaceable and unimportant through her actions, words, and behavior. This hurt.
Eventually, Bri’s small group “outgrew” my place and moved to meet at a new location. At that time we also got a new DC Pastor, Casey Raymer. It was obvious who in the group Bri was grooming to be new leaders because they would be tasked with the responsibility of leading the group at different points instead of Bri. I remember being in group and being able to celebrate with my friends but also feeling like sh*t and unworthy. This is how the system of the church worked.
I became docile and lost myself more and more, hoping to achieve something that I did not want but others in the church told me I was made for.
I became docile and lost myself more and more, hoping to achieve something that I did not want but others in the church told me I was made for. Yet my small group leader and DC pastor did not believe I was “called to leadership,” even though I was a youth leader and led every woman in the group in more than one way. Everyone depended on me, but I was not a “leader” in the context of the church. It was confusing and frustrating on top of trying to complete a college degree.
With this I began to see more of Bri’s racist behavior in how she worked to prevent my influence in the lives of the women I invited to small group. During that time, most if not all of the Black women I invited were going on a journey with their natural hair and I was guiding them through it. Before one of the meetings at the group’s new location, Bri pulled me aside and asked me to stop sharing about our hair. She shared how I and the other Black girls in the group were sharing our experiences, and decided that it made “others who were not Black feel excluded.” So Bri asked me to get us to stop bringing it up as much.
Bri, my small group leader, shared how I and the other Black girls in the group were sharing our experiences, and decided that it made “others who were not Black feel excluded.”
Also, around that time, the film "The Blind Side” had been released. Bri, who grew up in Memphis, used this as a talking point to relate to the Black women coming to the group. The film in it and of itself was harmful, there is still news making headlines of that harm to this day. There was no shortage of people within the Black community discussing it. She did not make attempts to know me, or us, more. Bri used the lens of a white woman to lead, and made no attempts to learn from our world view as Black women.
Because of my gift of leadership and my sincere efforts to invite others to connect with God, the small group I was in transformed from a few white women and me to a group full of black women. Over time, this small group “multiplied” three times with Black women as leaders due to my support. I invited, nurtured, trained, and unofficially led each of those leaders.
VINE LEADERS TRY TO GET BLACK PEOPLE TO “STICK”
Before it was a major, I minored in Black American Studies at SIU and was invigorated by the flood of information focused on Black history and culture. Authors like Carter G. Woodson, Toni Morrison, Audre Lourde, and James Baldwin jumped off the page, giving words to things I had experienced. I felt alive during these classes.
Michael Stephens was the only Black pastor at Vine Church. He was in charge of Saturday lunches (Vine’s program for the less fortunate), occasionally preaching on Sundays, and announcements (a role which made him very visible as the person who introduced the main pastor, Sándor Paull, before most sermons). During a meeting with Michael I shared how excited I was about the things I was learning in my Black American Studies classes. He told me to “be careful with that stuff.” I was confused, but, as had become my habit, I submitted to what my leader said. I did not question him.
During a meeting with one of Vine's pastors, I shared how excited I was about the things I was learning in my Black American Studies classes. He told me to “be careful with that stuff.”
Once when serving at a Saturday Lunch, a white small group leader from Vine, who was the girlfriend of one of SIU’s football players, made remarks about knowing more about my culture than me. I remember being taken aback and hurt.
There were frequent meetings at Vine that members were required to attend. Some were trainings, others were regular meetings. I do not recall exactly why we were at a certain meeting, but I do remember praying and feeling a sense of overwhelm and sadness as I felt the burden of there not being more Black people in the church and more healing happening. I expressed this to Jamie, a fellow core small group member. She was ten-toes-in to support me in praying, but she, being a white woman, did not know how. I began explaining how to support me in my efforts to bring more Black people to the church. Bri discouraged her and me from having further conversations about the topic.
I also recall around the same time at another meeting Bri approached me and assumed that I needed prayer about being afraid of poverty. I have never been afraid of something that I have already experienced and survived. My mother took care of us well and shielded us. She made it possible for me and one of my older siblings to be in college. I was able to graduate from high school in Germany because of what my mother afforded us. Yet, the idea was that because I was Black that a fear of poverty was innate, and that is racist ideology.
This pattern would become more and more obvious over the next several years in “The Network.” I would simultaneously be valued and urged to invite Black members to the church while I was cautioned and warned against expressing my Blackness.
I would simultaneously be valued and urged to invite Black members to the church while I was cautioned and warned against expressing my Blackness.
At some point, I looked up and the church had changed. More Black folks were attending and it felt more comfortable for me and others. However, other issues became evident and visible.
I did not invite every single person of color (PoC), but when a PoC who presented as Black came, many people, including the wives of pastors, such as Amanda P. and Claire D, would come and look for me. They believed that I was the person that would make PoC “stick.” Many people trusted me as a leader, including the APIDA, Latinx, and Queer communities. In the system of this church network and out of it, I am consistent. That is why sharing every name no matter the level of harm is how I have chosen to present my bravery. I have witnessed a lot of these names and many more harm people over and over. I did not have any days off from this.
During a team meeting, Sándor Paull invited me up front to speak about evangelism in the church. It was shared widely that I was the person to go to when folks needed to learn how to invite people. Especially Black people. Immediately following this event more was expected from me and I felt the pressure. But still I was told that I wasn’t “called to leadership” in this church system.
Church leaders wanted an SIU football player to stay at Vine and give up his dreams in the NFL so he could eventually be one of their staff pastors. When he refused, my group leader Bri said he was "unleadable" and not worthy of my consideration.
In the Spring of 2011, a lot was moving and happening. I was preparing to graduate with my degrees in Social Work and Africana Studies. I had a crush on a young man named Stephen F. He was an SIU football player who attended the church and was considering entering into the NFL draft. Leaders at the church tried to talk him out of it, encouraging him to “stick around,” but he chose to follow his heart and what he felt his calling was.
I recall speaking with Bri about my crush for Stephen. She said that he was someone who was "unleadable" and not worthy of my consideration due to him not “following God’s plan for his life” (translation: he wouldn’t bend to the leaders’ request). They wanted him to stay and give up his dreams in the NFL so he could eventually be one of their staff pastors. That was their vision for his life. I admire that he followed his heart and God. I would be remiss if I did not mention that Stephen was a Black man, and at that point they wanted another Black staff pastor. So they thought they could “hook” him in, but it did not work. They wanted Stephen to fill a spot and take a title that felt misaligned for him. At that time Kendall L. had begun attending the church, and they set their eyes on him next. More on that later.
Sándor Paull invited me up front to speak about evangelism in the church. Immediately following this event more was expected from me and I felt the pressure. But still I was told that I wasn’t “called to leadership.”
Also occurring during the Spring 2011, my roommate, Genae W., was preparing to leave to plant Brookfield Church in Athens, Ohio. She was one of a few Black people in the Network who were a part of a church planting team, and the only Black member of the Brookfield team. During that time, in my opinion, she was treated like a bug or a pest when she reported the racist remarks that she experienced while working at an area sporting goods store in Athens, the southeast Ohio college town where they decided to plant. She was not honored or respected. Eventually, she left the church plant and returned to Carbondale. Vine Church members treated her like she was broken or fragile when in reality she was one of the strongest people. There was not enough support for her and others to process the reason she returned. It was not a private matter because everyone spoke about it. It was harmful, not okay, and again, racist ideology led to this lack of support, awareness, and skills to help her heal. It was heartbreaking to witness.
GRADUATING AND WAITING ON THE NEXT CHURCH PLANT
When I graduated with my undergraduate degree in the Spring of 2011, one of my mentors on campus suggested three colleges to research for graduate school. On that list were Penn State, Syracuse University, and Boston College. During that time, I felt clearly that the next church plant would be in Pennsylvania. I began to share this with my trusted group of friends. We would talk about it and fantasize about being on the mission for God and taking greater risk. Being “all in” for Jesus.
During the Autumn of 2011, I worked at a local school and needed to plan for a summer job. I was also completing two online courses to have my degree conferred. I crossed the stage in the Spring with enough credits, but I needed to finish my full course work. I also prepared to move into a new small group: a coed small group. I had outgrown the women’s group I was a part of.
My friends and I would talk about church planting and fantasize about being on the mission for God and taking greater risk. Being “all in” for Jesus.
During that time, I accepted a role as a camp counselor in northeast Pennsylvania for the summer of 2012. It seemed no church plants would be announced at that time, so I decided that spending a summer away would be good for me. I would learn to serve God in a new capacity away from the church. After completing my degree program and serving at a high capacity at the church, this break was the welcome escape that I needed. I was excited to get away, connecting with God on my own. Anyone who knew me during that time or wrote a letter to me was aware of how deeply connected I was and still am to God. My connection is continually strong. I spent my mornings in the mountains and woods of northeast Pennsylvania, praying and meditating in between work and other job responsibilities. I grew in knowledge of my faith at voluntary Sabbath Services learning about the origins of Judaism. I heard from God even more. I had more clarity than I had ever experienced in my life up until that point.
When I returned to SIU, I was refreshed, rejuvenated, more me, more free, and happy. I was a better version of myself, and I was proud. I went into my work and service with more vigor. However, not long after my return I began to feel a deep sadness and restlessness.
I remember riding in the car with others in my small group to the 2012 Fall retreat, staring out the window with feelings of sadness. I was not sure how long I would be able to keep “doing this.” A friend noticed and asked me what was up. I spoke with them a bit, but ultimately I knew that I needed to speak with my DC Pastor, Casey Raymer. I connected my feeling of restlessness to the feeling that a substantial change was coming and God was preparing me. After our conversation, Casey encouraged me that the next time a church plant was announced, I should pray about it. We both felt this was my next step. Also, he was giving me “permission” to go on the church plant if it was aligned with the plant’s leader. It was the system of the church that anyone who went on a plant had to have the permission of their DC pastor and the agreement of the planting pastor. I have to pause here and say that Casey Raymer is a man that loves God through and through. I am sad that he is the face of Vine Church during this upheaval. No one is perfect, but I know a pure heart when I meet one.
Vine Pastor Casey Raymer encouraged me that the next time a church plant was announced, I should pray about it.
At some point, I was in my small group, and I asked a question to one of the group members who was in the process of interviewing for PhD programs about one of the universities he mentioned during our group’s discussion. He was excited to answer my questions and began to share with me the peaceful experiences he had while interviewing at that university. It was Penn State. After arriving at home after the group, I decided to research Penn State. I looked at the website and remembered that I had visited the site over a year ago after the guidance from my mentor. I felt immediately that the church plant was going there. This was the end of October 2012.
I spent the month of November doing God’s work. During that month, I had a dream that I was sitting in the sound booth at the Vine church crying in a chair. I told the dream to my close friends. That same week, I went into a local coffee shop and saw a friend there, Sara M. (she has also left the church Network). She was known to have a strong gift of prophecy as well. We spoke and she felt like she knew the church plant was going down south. Sara and I were both convinced of what we knew God told us, but we couldn’t figure out how we could both be right. How could the new plant be both down south and at Penn State? At that moment, Joyce Y. (she has also left the network), who was part of my friend group, walked into the coffee shop. She was excited about something, but could not tell me anything other than this, “Millie, remember that you hear from God clearly. That’s all I can say.” I would later find out that Vine was going to send two church plants in the same year—one was going east to Pennsylvania and the other would go south to Kentucky. Joyce was on the media team that recorded the video for the surprise that would come in the following weeks. She was in the process of editing the video when we encountered each other at the coffee shop.
Information about future church plants was closely guarded by leaders until “it was time.” This is one way that sensationalism was curated in the church, which is a tool of manipulation.
I want to pause here and explain to those who are not familiar with the culture and system of this network of churches that the “senior leadership” would not share with anyone the locations of upcoming church plants. This information was closely guarded until “it was time.” This is one way that sensationalism was curated in the church, which is a tool of manipulation. Even though it is true that the leaders tried to manipulate us by sensationalizing their announcements, it’s also true that Sara and I accurately heard from God about the location of the future plants. Stating these truths shows that even through all the harm in this network of churches the spirit of God in those of us who do our work is real and true as well.
JOINING THE CHURCH PLANT TEAM AND PREPARING TO PLANT
The church plant was announced during the December 2012 team meeting. At that meeting, I was scheduled to serve on the worship team to help with the sound board. The dream I mentioned before became a reality. I was in the booth when both church plants were announced. I fell into my chair crying after hearing that Penn State would be one of the next college towns that they would send a church plant to. The evidence of my clear connection to God again proved fruitful and accurate.
I met with Dan Digman that following week. That day we were set to meet in the church in the lobby. He texted me and offered to order food for us for the meeting since it was lunchtime. I thanked him and texted him my order. He asked if I wanted cilantro on my food, I replied, “naw.” Because cilantro tastes like mop water. I quickly sent a follow up text message and said, “I mean no, thank you.” He replied that it was okay for me to be myself. This would prove a lie as my time under his leadership proved difficult, disappointing, and harmful. After this meeting, I was welcomed in as one of the first people on this coveted church plant team.
Church planter Dan Digman told me that it was okay for me to be myself. This would prove a lie as my time under his leadership proved difficult, disappointing, and harmful.
In the Spring of 2013, we began to meet weekly for church plant training. During that time, it became clear that cliques were beginning to form. Many people mentioned this to leadership, but little was done. Conversations were held but this seed was planted from the culture of the church network. Cliques had been part of the culture before I first started attending the church and prayed for God to send more people that looked like me to ease the struggle of finding community. These red flags were a precursor to the type of leader Dan Digman would continue to be.
Due to my former roommate’s experience on a church plant, I began to look up the demographics of State College and the campus. I spoke at length with people on the church planting team about how we needed to be intentional about welcoming people of color into the church in a safe way. I read stories that troubled me and I knew that I would have an experience of hate and racism if I did not prepare myself properly.
During this season as I prayed and fasted continually, I received massive visions and prophetic downloads of things I could not comprehend but now make so much sense. For example, I remember being at the Cedar Heights church planting retreat and during one prayer and worship session with friends, I heard God say, “Three years, You are a healing hope to the land, and Georgia.” I could feel God begin to speak with me differently. He spoke in a code, not to keep me guessing or wondering, yet in a way to keep me safe. He knew I would share information with the church leaders around me because that is how I was brainwashed—to tell my leaders everything.
During this season or preparing to church plant as I prayed and fasted continually, I received massive visions and prophetic downloads of things I could not comprehend but now make so much sense.
Over time these breadcrumbs from God have all proved to be accurate. For instance, I discovered my mother’s brother was retiring from the Air Force and building a house in Atlanta, GA. Before I moved to State College and after the Network Summer Conference, I visited Georgia and spent time with generations of my family. Also, I left the church network exactly three years to the date of Cedar Heights first public service. This is why God told me “three years.” Currently, I have returned to Carbondale and I work on campus specifically supporting Black students in cocurricular activities. I made this choice after my own healing and returning to the earth-based practices of my bright and well ancestors. My spiritual work and connection to Most High allow me to help the earth heal. I am a healing hope to the land.
Each breadcrumb I have come to find has multiple connections throughout my life; these are only a few.
At one of the church plant training sessions, Steve Morgan’s wife said “some of you won’t make it.” Her saying this felt sensationalized, as if she wanted to create fear in our hearts. What I knew then and now know was that it was a tool for creating false fear frequencies. She said this to create the feeling of shame that followed everyone who left the network of churches. The culture of this network of churches is that if you left a church plant, you were disgraceful and far from God. Shame followed everyone who left. Again, this was the culture of the church rooted in the beliefs, behaviors, and choices of the network leaders, specifically Steve Morgan and Sándor Paull.
At one of the church plant training sessions, Steve Morgan’s wife said “some of you won’t make it.” She said this to create the feeling of shame that followed everyone who left the network of churches
During the Network Summer Conference in 2013, the last event before the big move for both church plant teams, I was in a session in the youth building and Cathie Paull, Sándor Paull’s mother whom I respect and love very much, prayed for me with others from the City Lights church plant in St. Louis. They welcomed in the Holy Spirit and at the end Cathie Paull stood in awe stating, “I have never seen the Spirit of God fall on anyone like that.” I remember feeling like my dreams were my guides because I had a dream about that very moment and the power of God falling on me nights before. The way the power of God filled every part of my being sent centuries of Divine Protection before me, behind me, in me, and all around me. I still feel that divine protection and safety to this day. After that experience, I knew I was ready for church planting.
That summer as a church plant team we did our work. We planned, we built, we held events, we were invited. The folks in the church plant who had already begun to start their cliques continued. Planning outings excluding people and not showing any remorse. We spoke to Dan about the cliques and the lack of diversity we noticed on the Cedar Heights website. How that would not be a welcoming environment for all people. We talked often as we had during the team training, but nothing changed. Eventually, we were placed in the State College High School. When I say placed, I mean by God, I feel like that location was heaven sent. It was close to the place I lived with some okay people, some great people, and some racist people. It was hard, fun, difficult, and lovely all at once.
A few of us spoke to church plant pastor Dan Digman about the cliques and the lack of diversity we noticed on the Cedar Heights website. How that would not be a welcoming environment for all people. Nothing changed.
A few of the people that I lived with were Kayla B., a white woman and sister-in-law to the Pastor of Cedar Heights, Dan Digman, who continually displayed racist and tone-deaf behavior.
I was not the only PoC on the Cedar Heights Church plant; TyNica D. was also part of the team. TyNica’s self-hate for being black or of anti-blackness was evident and showed in the way she communicated with me and others. I recall a conversation with her where she told me that Black people needed to “get over slavery” and she admitted that she did not like being Black. Both comments showed racism in different ways. More on the continued displays of racism later. As always, I shared my concerns with Dan Digman, and nothing was done. I spoke to him at length about my concerns for TyNica and he was ill equipped to address it so he chose not to do anything at all.
WHY I LEFT THE NETWORK
MOVED TO PENNSYLVANIA TO PLANT CEDAR HEIGHTS CHURCH
In the months leading up to my first job, my friend and group leader Joyce and I continued conversations about Christianity and the history of harm done to Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities and bodies. I remember before we moved, I combed through the internet to search for information on racial reconciliation in the church, but could only find information from old white men such as John Piper. Joyce and I would pray and think through the lessons of race in the church continuously. We searched for other voices and they were few and far between.
In the months leading up to my first job, my friend and group leader Joyce and I continued conversations about Christianity and the history of harm done to Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities and bodies.
I am grateful for what I did find in those days. It helped me immensely with navigating the microaggressions in and out of church, in my friend groups, and community. In March 2013 before we moved, a group of us visited State College together. I remember taking Sarah and Kaleb C. to get ice cream for Kaleb’s birthday at the local Cold Stone. Kaleb and Sarah were a couple that would become Dan and his wife Claire’s right hand couple, and they were part of creating the cliques in the church. While at Cold Stone, I spoke with them about Liberation Theology, something that was new to me from my research. We spoke about the importance of learning and growing to become better versions of ourselves and more like Christ. Kaleb claimed he was committed to learning and growing, but proved to be a bigot as did Dan Digman. I hope others who experienced Kaleb’s leadership will write their stories about Kaleb themselves. I will write about Dan more as I continue.
GROWING TENSION AFTER OF THE DEATHS OF TRAYVON MARTIN, MICHAEL BROWN, ERIC GARNER, AND THE FERGUSON UPRISING
In 2013, George Zimmerman was on trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin. In the summer, he was acquitted of all charges. I remember Matt M.,who was a youth leader with me and also a small group leader in the church at the time, messaging me about a post on facebook. I wrote something along the lines, “Black people get to respond however they need to due to the continued history of harm to their bodies. It’s not up to you to determine their response.” He messaged me and began a debate about the truthfulness of whether or not Zimmerman was racist. Ignoring the words I posted, he began to state that the FBI did an investigation and “proved” that Zimmerman was not racist. I did not understand how an innately racist system could “prove” if someone is racist or not.
Matt M. continued stating that the court of law was correct and that Black people were essentially wrong for how they felt. He said that, as a white man, he did not think that he was automatically racist for (insert whatever reaction to a situation) he had. I told him I was not wrong nor simply an angry Black person because I was hurt over the harm and murder of another Black person. At the same time, it was my right to be angry. We left it there. I was no longer engaged after that conversation.
The youth group at that time was bustling with Black girls and boys. Matt’s reaction and mindset were not only harmful, he had a place of influence over the youth, younger white adults, and other adults around him.
Matt, one of the youth leaders at Vine, told me that, as a white man, he did not think that he was automatically racist for (insert whatever reaction to a situation) he had.
A year later, I thought about engaging with him again to see what he thought about the uprising in Ferguson over the murder of Michael Brown, but I stopped myself. I thought it was best not to break my own heart in hopes of him finally having clearer eyes and a heart. I thought it would be a waste of my time and energy.
Sharing about court cases, I want to add that a year before we moved to State College, Penn State was facing its own scandal with child sex abuse. The Sandusky scandal now feels serendipitous that God would call a church plant to that place. I wonder what went through the minds of church leaders who knew of Steve Morgan’s own sexual violence against a teenager. I understand why Sándor Paull would always preach about being scared of litigation against this church network. I would have been afraid too if I was keeping that secret of the founder having been arrested for aggravated criminal sodomy of a minor. I pray that many legal cases are filed. May those who choose to bring these cases against this network be divinely protected. May each brave person who does this win in more ways than one. So it is.
My first job in State College was at a local shoe store called, “BareFoot,” owned by a racist and sexist Jewish man named Arthur F. This troubled me because the Jewish people that I knew, including my current family, always welcomed me and invited me into their community with kindness and ease. The people Arthur hired, with the exception of a few, also had the same views.
I understand why Sándor Paull would always preach about being scared of litigation against this church network. I would have been afraid too if I was keeping that secret of the founder having been arrested for aggravated criminal sodomy of a minor.
I leaned on Joyce and other friends in the church plant. I worked there and did my best to remain faithful to God and the mission he called me on. Several months later, Karissa T. (she is no longer a part of the network) helped me by recommending me for a job on campus that she did not get the semester before. The director reached out to her for recommendations and she immediately gave him my name. I interviewed and I was offered the position as the Program Coordinator of the Paul Robeson Cultural Center (PRCC) at Penn State. This was a huge sign from God that I was where I was supposed to be. God opened the door and I made sure that I proved that I belonged there. I remember when I put in my two weeks notice, Arthur F. asked me “if I was qualified” to work on campus. That was one of the nicer racist and sexist things he said to the people of color and women who worked for him.
After I was a few months into my new job on campus, I began to connect the dots to the many conversations that I had with Joyce. I quickly realized that the issues of whiteness and oppression that I was seeing at Penn State were the same issues that I saw at Cedar Heights and Vine Church. I acknowledged and accepted the reality that they were both Predominantly White Institutions, or PWIs. Though the church claimed to be after God’s own heart, there was no active and intentional effort to heal the seeds of racism within individual people and the wider community. The breadcrumbs were slowing and swiftly becoming a loaf. I continued on God’s mission and was excited about what was to come as my first semester working on a college campus as an adult came quickly. As usual, I gained favor with many, including staff, students, and the local community. It is part of my gift that keeps me happy to serve God and the human collective, even if they do not consider themselves a part of God’s family.
Though the church claimed to be after God’s own heart, there was no active and intentional effort to heal the seeds of racism within individual people and the wider community.
During that time, the nation was wrestling with the murder of Michael Brown, the uprising in Ferguson, the death of Eric Garner, and the uprisings in New York and around the world. The Western Church system was not equipped to handle this, especially this network of churches.
MY FRIEND KENDALL L, A BLACK NETWORK PASTOR, WAS FORCED TO RESIGN
One afternoon, I was in my room in State College, PA, praying and I felt with certainty that I should send certain bible verses to both Kendall and Michara L. At that time, they were both close friends. After sending the group text message, Kendall called me immediately. He explained to me that he was praying about talking to Mike Stephens, another staff pastor, about the burdens on his heart.
The story he shared was this: Kendall’s grandfather passed away from the body. His grandfather was a significant person in Kendall’s choice to pursue Aviation as a career path. Kendall was on a fast track in his life as a pilot before Sándor Paull, Mike Stephens, Steve Morgan, and others convinced him to change his mind and join The Network as a staff pastor at Vine Church. After Kendall returned from his grandfather's funeral, he began to have doubts about how the leadership in the church operated and if his life was truly on the path God called him too.
Kendall was on a fast track in his life as a pilot before Sándor Paull, Mike Stephens, Steve Morgan, and others convinced him to change his mind and join The Network as a staff pastor at Vine Church.
He felt like he needed to fly again, and believed he could do both; be a pastor and fly. He mentioned how other staff pastors were working and serving. Flying planes in honor of his grandfather as well as his childhood dream was something he could not shake.
I spoke with Kendall and encouraged him, as his then wife had already done, to speak with his leaders. At the time, the church was growing, and the senior leadership assigned a sort of “supervisor” to new staff pastors to support them in their work and training. Michael Stephens was Kendall’s. They were the only two Black pastors. Go figure.
Kendall felt assured and organized his meeting. In that meeting, I was told that Michael seemed to understand what Kendall was saying about him flying again. Kendall also shared his thoughts about the way leadership was approached and what God was revealing to him through prayer, fasting, and biblical study. After their meeting, Michael encouraged Kendall to speak with Sándor. The devotion that Kendall has to God was evident to me in the way he pursued Michara. He fasted and prayed for weeks before approaching her more than once. He does not just act on something. He is a person that gets clear in his energy field and in his role through his direct connection to the Most High God. Black people do hear from God without a white man or any person being the mediator.
Kendall felt like he needed to fly again, and believed he could do both; be a pastor and fly.
Later after, Kendall met with Sándor Michara called me, hysterically crying, confused, and heart broken. She explained that during their meeting, Sándor focused on Kendall’s ideas about the leadership issues he had begun to see in the church, not his dream to fly and honor his childhood dream, self and new ancestor his grandfather. In that meeting, Sándor attempted to force Kendall to say that what he was praying about and discovering in the Bible for himself was “demonic.” He also called Kendall “unleadable.” During that time, Kendall and Sándor went back and forth. Kendall left that office understanding that another conversation would be had. Instead, moments later, Sándor got on the phone and called Steve Morgan. Shortly after, Sándor walked down the stairs to Kendall’s office, again told him he was unleadable, and gave him a week to leave the staff. Later, to save face, Sándor retracted that command and declaration from Steve Morgan to fire Kendal and instead gave him a month to “pray” and “consult” God. Kendall had already done that. He was clear. The initial reaction was enough for him to begin to make different and better choices for him and the family he was building with his then wife.
It is a wonder how I stayed in this network of churches after this experience and the events surrounding it. Being so far away I was not able to comfort my then friend.
Sándor attempted to force Kendall to say that what he was praying about and discovering in the Bible for himself was “demonic.” He also called Kendall “unleadable.”
Kendall and Michara took the month to pray. Michara told our friend group that they would be leaving the church and church network during a visit we all took in the fall of 2014 to Carbondale and SIU. People like Tim and Margaret Pappoe and Kristin Gregory helped to support them in this process. Years later, the Pappoes and Kristin would join Sándor Paull’s Christland Church in College Station, Texas and be staff members there.
The treatment Kendall and Michara received worsened. Michara was kept out of conversations about her life and the changes. Kendall was made to look like he chose to leave the church and the will of God to pursue something worldly. Which was false. A monetary gift of about $20,000, which was given to Kendall and Michara to help support them in paying Kendall’s student loans from a very expensive Aviation Flight degree, was changed to be part of his salary. This change meant they would have to pay taxes on that gift. The gift was large enough to be more or equal to half or over half of most people's salaries. This made them indebted to the IRS the following year.
Kendall was made to look like he chose to leave the church and the will of God to pursue something worldly. Which was false.
The leadership at Vine and in The Network, Sándor Paull and Steve Morgan, tasked staff pastor Greg Darling with telling Kendall about the change in the status of the monetary gift due to Greg having a role with the church finances during that time. Greg, seeming to be afraid or not wanting to do this task, thought it best to ask the only other Black pastor, Michael Stephens, to tell Kendall he would have to pay the money back. But Michael refused this and forced Greg Darling to do it himself.
Kendall and Michara had to figure it out, and this was hard. It would piss anyone off at the way these two, who had sacrificed their lives and careers for the advancement of this network of churches, were treated, as if they were the scum on the bottom of someone’s shoe. When the leaders had ordained and praised this man in front of the whole church only a month before, It felt serendipitous for his grandfather to pass like he was protecting his grandson from this cult.
THE NETWORK’S RESPONSE TO UNREST IN THE CHURCHES AND THE NATION
Meanwhile, the nation was going through a fire of uprisings and changes. Folks in the church began to say that Black people were overreacting to these incidents of violence across the country. They thought that “Black folks were being attacked” by a spiritual and demonic enemy who was making them “divisive.” They insinuated that Black folks did not have a clear connection to hear God. They used the situation with Kendall and Michara as an example of the “cloudiness” of God’s voice to those who were in Black skin. I prayed and asked God what to do. I felt clearly God told me to wait and stay.
During Fall 2014, I supported Penn State students in protests and die-ins in honor of Michael Brown and Eric Garner as the non-indictments for their killers came from the courts during the holiday break in November. I was hoping for some relief in the Spring that did not occur. In the Spring of 2015, my brother graduated from his first police academy out of state. A few months later, someone in his graduating class shot and killed an unarmed black boy who was on break from college. In another incident that semester, a student of mine was tased by the local State College police a week after they were officially granted approval to have tasers. The student was a petite Black girl who they alleged had attacked them after they escalated an incident at a local McDonald’s in the downtown area. The McDonald’s was a place where students always gathered after the bars—all students, not just students of color. Due to the negligence and lack of support from my supervisor and others, the student ended up being charged and convicted. I attended her court dates with her friends and other staff and community members and did my best to support her through it.
People at Cedar Heights Church and in The Network thought that “Black folks were being attacked” by a spiritual and demonic enemy who was making them “divisive.”
I kept telling Dan Digman about each incident. Yet again, he was ill-equipped. He kept repeating the same thing most white people were saying, “I will never know what it will feel like… (insert offense statement).”
During that academic year, the white people in the church tried to make sense of it all. I remember Dan Digman’s mother visiting and her saying to me, “I am sorry for what’s happened to your people. It must be so hard.” I was hurt. Were we not all God’s people? Was this not an age-old problem? What the fuck was going on? Over and over again, white people apologized but did nothing to change themselves; they only temporarily felt guilty and then moved on with their lives.
In the Spring of 2015, on a quest to find support through a Biblical perspective, Joyce and I attended a conference that I found online, The Kainos Movement. The conference was meant to help people start or continue multi-ethnic ministries. At that conference we learned so much and shared community with many beautiful people.
The teaching that stood out to me was that of Soong Chan Rah. He spoke about how the Western church was culpable for the murder and death of Black bodies. How it had to be addressed. How God was calling to us more. He spoke about the ancient practice of funeral dirges in the Jewish tradition that can be found in the book of lamentations. How it was necessary for us to mourn as a Church body the death of all brethren, no matter the hue. He spoke about his time in Ferguson meeting and praying with the community there. How his heart broke as more hardship and even death met the community continually. Soong opened his speech with a story about a Portuguese man who wrote journals about his voyage to the coast of Africa on some of the first slave ships. How that man somehow justified the inhumane treatment he witnessed by recalling the Queen of England’s decree of “Manifest Destiny.” To him this decree made the behaviors and actions of his colleagues blessed by God. The book is “Prophetic Lament: A Call of Justice in Troubled Times” released in 2015. It is a worthy and necessary read.
The conference was refreshing and helped me remember that this was a primary part of God’s mission. No matter what leaders in The Network said.
I attended a conference not associated with The Network - it was refreshing and helped me remember that this was a primary part of God’s mission. No matter what leaders in The Network said.
On June 17, 2015, two days before my birthday on June 19th (or Juneteenth), the Charleston massacre occurred. I remember watching as Charleston began trending right before I went to sleep the night of June 17th. Twitter had become a place where we stayed dialed into what was occurring in the world and more specifically the Black community. Something told me to go to sleep and look at it in the morning. I woke up and did my rituals and then checked my phone. Gratefully, Joyce was my roommate. We sat in the living room as I cried as her and Emily F. watched me. I could feel my heart break. I could barely breathe as I cried and spoke about the significance of my birthday and how this tainted the entire idea of liberation. That a person could walk into a church, a place revered as sacred, be welcomed in and loved, then still choose to open fire and kill as many people as he could with no remorse. This was a clear punch in the gut.
Later, I wrote on my Facebook page, “I don’t want to be around anyone but Black people and my mother.” I was devastated. I was grateful for one of my close friends at the time who was white, Tashina D., saying she got it and held me the best way she could with our physical distance. A Black woman commented about me “feeding the spirit of dissension,” saying that I was wrong, and wanting me to not post what I did. Someone who I considered a close friend, Nicole M., sent me a private message and said how she was hurt as a white woman. I had been a part of her wedding party. She and others did not see me as a human, a person in a Black body. Nor did they see how this event, so close to my birthday, which is now a national holiday, was now tainted with this atrocity. I was done. I deleted my facebook page to protect myself and stop access to me. But I still chose to attend the Network Summer Conference the following week.
RETURN TO CARBONDALE FOR SUMMER CONFERENCE IN 2015
On my way to Carbondale, Cashenna Stephens, wife of Vine pastor Michael Stephens, asked if she could meet with me. When we arrived we went to the church to check in to get our badges and registration gift. At that point, I trusted Cashenna, but during that meeting she broke my trust. I felt like I was out of my body as she pleaded and begged to God on my behalf, saying things that I do not remember. I recall sitting in the room thinking she will never pray for me again. She was disconnected from herself and she was not in alignment with the truth of God. Everything she said to me and prayed for me was harmful, incorrect, and misaligned with the truth of the heart of God. I no longer recognized her. I again was heartbroken. It was a wonder how I functioned.
The next day, during day one of the conference sessions, Carol Anderson stopped me and said that the man who killed “those people” was “evil” and that it was not about race. I stared at her in her eyes to determine if she really believed what she said. The person who murdered the Black people at the church in Charleston admitted that he calculated and planned to kill Black people that night. He intentionally went into a predominantly Black church on a night he knew they gathered to kill as many of them as he could. Carol Anderson “blew me,” as we say in my community. It did not surprise me that I did not say anything. I was only trying to remember that I could breathe in that moment. She attempted to hug me. I walked away from her and did not say anything.
That week, I avoided everyone as much as possible, only going to a few larger sessions so people would not find me and continue to break my heart.
When I entered the youth building for the next session, Josh Franklin found me as worship began. I decided to stand up in the back of the room. He began to speak in my left ear about my Facebook post and the incident. I did not hear anything he said. I was vacant from my body. I was a shell of myself. I just needed to make it through that week.
That week, I avoided everyone as much as possible, only going to a few larger sessions so people would not find me and continue to break my heart.
I remember seeing my former group leader Amy J. She always had a way of knowing what I needed. She sat with me and placed her hand on me and just asked for the Holy Spirit to help me. She didn’t say or pray anything else, she just continued to ask for the Holy Spirit. I wept. I was grateful for her at that moment. Later, during that same session, Margaret Pappoe found me and prayed in a similar, comforting way. I would not allow anyone else to touch me or speak to me. I did not trust the church as a body or community. It was God’s grace that led those two to me, it helped me get through the week.
The white people around me were not healing and did not understand what or why they needed to.
After returning from Carbondale, my body began to react to the amount of stress and heartbreak. My feminine cycle stopped. I went to the doctor over and over again. No one was about to tell me anything. I understand now, it was my body speaking to me and letting me know that my circumstances were not okay. I begin to pull away from the church. I spoke less. I was silent and brooding more. My walls went up. I was protecting myself. My work became my escape. My students became my relief. My co-workers became my community. I kept asking God what to do. I kept feeling like I had to stay.
I began to worry about the white people around me. I learned about Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome or P.T.S.S. from Dr. Joy DeGruy. She holds a PhD in Social Work and wrote the book, “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing.” She wrote this book to help Black folks understand epigenetics and the energy of racism that followed and follows us still. She wrote the book to help us heal. When she visited Penn State, invited by my office the PRCC, she expanded on the cognitive dissonance that white people have to choose in order to make sense of the sins of their ancestors that they continue to perpetuate to this day. I thought about how the white people around me were not healing and did not understand what or why they needed to.
LEAVING CEDAR HEIGHTS AND THE NETWORK
Ultimately, the final experience that helped me choose to leave the church was a prayer meeting held during the summer of 2016. Previously, during the spring, Dan Digman’s behavior and choices toward me and others were unbiblical and extremely harmful. He knowingly attempted to pit people against each other, specifically Black women in the church. He used his position in the church to make excuses for his lack of communication and conflict resolution skills. It is not necessary for me to go into all the details, however, I will share that I recall being in Dan’s office while I attempted to have a conversation about grievances in the church and Network culture. After leaving that conversation, I knew I could never speak to him without a witness again.
Internally, I became undone. I remembered that God told me to stay after what happened to Kendall and Michara, but now more issues were glaring in my face. Dan’s resistance to being corrected by a Black person, especially a Black woman, was clear. It was clear he was using the “blame game” to cause distraction and gaslight me and others. It was a sad and lonely experience.
After several unsuccessful conversations, I spoke with Joyce, who again was my small group leader, about taking a break from Cedar Heights for the summer. We met with Dan and informed him of my choice.
Pastor Dan Digman called a prayer meeting after Philando Castillo and Alton Sterling were murdered. During the prayer, Dan prayed that “Black people forgive white people for slavery.” I was disappointed.
Dan continued to visit me in my office and continually asked my opinion about “race stuff.” At some point during the summer, he called a prayer meeting and texted me, asking me to attend. I was not going to attend, but I did because I had an Afro Latino student who was attending the church and trying to make sense of all of the harm in the country. I felt like I wanted to shield him from the harm in the church as much as possible. I never intended to warn people about the church; my mindset was that of wanting people to discover for themselves reasons to leave the church. I did not want people to follow me, but to follow their own guidance from God.
Dan called the prayer meeting after Philando Castillo and Alton Sterling were murdered. During the prayer, Dan prayed that “Black people forgive white people for slavery.” I was disappointed. After the prayer, Dan walked up to me and asked me how I thought it went. I explained to him that it went welll but could have gone better. As I began to speak, I saw Dan’s eyes gloss over. It was like speaking to a robot. It was eerie. I looked in his eyes but he was vacant. However, I continued to speak. I shared how I was concerned about the white people in the church who had never addressed their family ties to racism and slavery. I explained how I was raised in a home that allowed me to face the oppression I experienced which created a path for me to heal. I shared that I was concerned about the white people in the church who thought the way to heal the racial divide was to place the blame on the perceived anger, resentment, and bitterness of Black people, while ignoring the very real culpability that White-body people needed to take to heal their own sins and the sins of their ancestors and bloodlines.
As much as I wanted to create workshops to help the people in the church, God said no. Three years to the date of the first church service at Cedar Heights, I left the church plant and Church Network.
Needless to say, a month later, as much as I wanted to create workshops to help the people in the church, God said no. Three years to the date of the first church service at Cedar Heights, I left the church plant and Church Network. Remember the breadcrumbs from God I received years earlier? Everything came full circle, with the Most High guiding me the entire way.
I am grateful for every experience, even the ones that broke my heart. The ones that left me shattered and scattered. I forgive all harm. I release all bitterness and resentment. I thank God for guiding me down a path of self-freedom, sovereignty, and healing. No matter what, I remain grateful and also in my power, belief, and knowing that God continues to guide my path. I speak to God all throughout the day and I am healed, holy, and complete.
LIFE AFTER LEAVING THE NETWORK
FINALLY HEALED AND HEALING
In the spring of 2021, I was bringing to completion a medicine container that I entered in March 2021. For several weeks, I practiced a healing modality called breathwork with Erin Telford to help me release trauma that I held in my body, including the many years I was in this network of churches. Due to this work, in April of 2021, I was able to send an email to many network leaders who were important to me during the time I was a member of The Network. I explained to them why I left the church, the harm that was caused by actions, behaviors, words, and choices of leadership and other members of the church and Network.
I shared with many former leaders that I forgave them and that I held no bitterness because of the healing work that I had done.
I shared with them that I forgave them and that I held no bitterness because of the healing work that I had done. Among that group only a few replied to me with remorse, such as Casey Raymer, Greg Darling, Michael Stephens, and John F. (the father of my fellow church planter Emily F.). Others replied with annoyance, such as Dan Digman and Sándor Paull. Some ignored my email altogether, such as Tim and Margaret Pappoe and Kristin Gregory (now Kristin Bryant).
John and Karyn F. reached out to me and planned a call with me. I spoke with them after years of silence. The last time that I had seen them was May of 2018. I stopped at the local Starbucks in State College on my way to Pittsburg to fly to my mother who was set to undergo a major surgery in San Diego. In that conversation, I spoke at length about how the church was a cult, racist, and more. I never heard from them again. Since being back in Carbondale, John F. has seen me and ignored my presence altogether, even with all the information he has. This breaks my heart because I helped to raise his daughters as I was his eldest daughter Emily’s youth leader. I was considered a part of their family. I consider them a part of mine. I still remember the blanket that Emily’s grandmother crocheted for me. Her grandmother told me she prayed for me as she made it. I felt the presence of God when I received it. Her grandmother remembered how I held her granddaughters and family when her husband died. It was her way of thanking me and covering me. I say all of that to show that even to this day harm and heartbreak are still occurring without remorse.
In the email I mentioned, I shared a video I created that outlined what I felt was important and relevant to share. I uploaded the video as an unlisted video on Youtube, and gave everyone in the email correspondence boundaries around the viewing of the video. I gave consent for the person in the email and their spouse to view it. I did not give consent for Steven Morgan or any of his family to view the video. Further, I shared with all included that the video would be deleted in a month. Months later leavingthenetwork.org was launched. I felt this was God confirming that I did what I was guided to do. I am proud of myself for that.
CONCLUSION: A PRAYERS FOR US ALL, AND WHERE I AM NOW
I would like to take this time to apologize to anyone that reads this article/letter that I may have caused harm to while a part of this network.
A prayer that has helped me and my family heal is from the Hawaiian tradition, the Ho’oponopono Prayer. There are two versions of the prayer that I will share below. The original 4 part stanza that most people engage with and an expanded version of the prayer known as the “Ho’oponopono Cleansing Prayer”, which I share below.
The Ho’oponopono Prayer
Please forgive me.
I love you.”
I invite anyone to say this prayer for any level of self-forgiveness they need first and foremost. Then to others they have harmed.
In 1976, Morrnah Nalamaku Simeona began to develop a new form of Ho’oponopono. She created the Ho’oponopono Cleansing Prayer which is as follows:
The Ho’oponopono Cleansing Prayer
Please locate the origin of my feelings,
Thoughts of “(Speak the Issue—I suggest clearing ‘mind control’)”
Take each and every level, layer, area, and aspect of my being to this origin.
Analyze it and resolve it. Perfectly with God’s truth. Come through all generations of time and eternity. Healing every incident and its appendages based on the origin. Please do it according to God’s will until I am at the present, filled with light and truth. God’s peace and love, forgiveness of myself for my incorrect perceptions. Forgiveness of every person, place, circumstance, and events which contributed to this, these feelings and thoughts.”
I share this prayer to invite each of you who have ever hurt someone while in this network of churches to forgive yourself for the harm you caused so that you are able to fully move forward from this in freedom, ease, and unconditional grace from the Supreme Being, the Most High God.
To bring this prayer circle to completion I will share a prayer by one of my favorite mystic mentors Lalah Delia, “I do not wish you harm. I wish you healing. May you be free to move in higher vibrations.” Ase. Namaste. Peace. This prayer is a prayer of release for all that harmed you, including Steve Morgan.
Currently, I am happy. I am in a loving intimate partner relationship. I have a supportive and divinely equipped community to support me though all the ebbs and flows of life in divine neutrality. I am grateful that I healed before “the shit hit the fan.” I am grateful I spend my days being properly compensated to support many healing from high mind control groups and the seeds of whiteness from systems of oppression. I also have the privilege of supporting mutil-ethnic students in their co-curricular activities. More specifically, I support Black students on their journey to being world citizens. Through my work and experience, I always share with them one quote from Toni Morrison, “The function, the very serious function of racism, is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”
I want to remind people of two things. In the Bible, God shares that he will bring judgment on Churches that are outside of the will of God. I believe that this is what is occurring.
I fully believe that my prayers and the prayers of many have been heard by God, and he is currently using all of us with the boldness to speak to answer those prayers. Godspeed dear ones.
I also know that God calls his people to be judges (Psalm 82), not judgemental, but to judge the behaviors and choices of man or humanity according to the will of God. I fully believe that my prayers and the prayers of many have been heard by God, and he is currently using all of us with the boldness to speak to answer those prayers. Godspeed dear ones.
Thank you. Gratitude to you for your heart, courage, and experiences. May all peace surround you. May you heal fully and completely from all harm done. May your healing bless your bloodlines seven generations backwards and forwards. I no longer consent to anyone calling me Millie that is not family. My name is Mildred Monique. My names mean “gentle strength” and “counselor.” Like Christ himself. Grateful for the foresight of God, the evidence is even in my name. As my birthday Juneteenth represents liberation, I wish you to be free and liberated in your heart, mind, and spirit. May you remember who you are and claim your birthright of liberation.