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Potter's House: Pearly gates or prison walls?

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Potter's House: Pearly gates or prison walls?
PostPotters House disorder
Mind control
Separation from family, friends
Offerings and tithes

"They say, 'Where's the fruit?' The answer is we're the fruit. We're wasted, we're brainwashed. I've yet to meet anyone that has come out of this who has anything positive to say about it."

-Mark Workman, former Potters House member.

Arizona Daily Sun/Flagstaff, Arizona/Sunday, October 2, 1988

BY TED BARTIMUS AND KAREN M. BULLOCK

Lou Muccitelli, an 11-year member of the Potters House who was recently expelled, feels like a small child discovering the many wonders of the world for the first time. But Muccitelli is not a child. He is a 42-year-old divorced man who is trying to put his shattered life back together.

Doris Workman used to have two sons. Now she feels she has only one. Her youngest, 32-year-old Neil Workman, is a member of the Potters House and has apparently alienated his family, including his brother Mark, who broke his church ties about five years ago. Mrs. Workman, who is a born-again Christian, said she still cries for her "lost" son and thinks about her grandson who she has seen only once.

These views of the worldwide fundamentalist church, which has one facility in Flagstaff, are not unique. Many ex-church members feel they have been brainwashed, deceived and most of all, cast out by a betrayed friend. Many have given thousands of dollars to the church in tithes (donations), buying into a promise of salvation. But some say they received only a large helping of religious and cultic rhetoric, topped off with a twisted Christian doctrine, all sprinkled with the threat of eternal damnation.

The apparent horror stories told by former members of Potters House are all very similar. Many left the church on their own, many had family members intervene and a few say they were expelled for asking too many questions about the church's doctrines and financial dealings.

The Potters House, first known as Victory Chapel, has its international roots in Prescott. The church was established in 1970 by Pastor Wayman Mitchell, who continues to be the ruling authority. Mitchell originally belonged to the International Church of Four Square Gospel, but in the late 1960's he separated himself from the organization and founded Victory Chapel.

The organization took its name from scriptures and literally means what its title implies: a place where people are molded and shaped like pottery into good Christians.

From its modest roots, the Potters House has grown into a powerful religious organization, numbering more than 600 churches worldwide. No one can even guess how many followers are in the church's flock.

The current Potters House, 520 N. Switzer Canyon Drive, was one of the first churches started after the birth of the Prescott facility. Assistant Pastor Tom Eickmeyer said the church is unique in that it keeps no membership rolls and people can come and go as they please.

But Eickmeyer rejects former church members' attacks, claiming they are unfounded and untrue.

"We teach from the biblical standpoint and church membership is built as people…ask Christ into their life," he said. " We do not typify what you would call a cult. Not in any way do we represent a cult."

Another unique aspect of the church is its sterile and pure appearance. No biblical paraphernalia adorns the interior walls; no stained glass graces the windows, and no saintly statues guard sacred doors. None of these worldly creations appears in the Bible, said the assistant pastor, so they do not appear in the church.

Eickmeyer also said the Potters House does encourage its members to tithe only because it is a biblical practice. It is not a mandatory practice and the congregation is expected to give 10 percent of its gross earnings only when they can.

Because the church claims to follow the teachings of the Bible, pastors are not required to attend Bible school. Eickmeyer said Bible school does not give hands-on experience, which is essential to effective pastoring. In addition, Bible school attendance was not required of Jesus's disciples; therefore it is not a Bible teaching, Eickmeyer said.

But the Bible does have specific teachings concerning the role of women in life.

"We have a number of ladies in the church that work jobs, but we do not encourage…for the wife to work, especially when there are children involved," Eickmeyer said. "In a real sense, the woman's place is in the home with her family. The ideal situation is for the wife to take care of the home, take care of the children and be a wife to her husband."

The Potters House is also known as Praise Chapel, The Door, Grace Chapel, La Capilla de la Victory, La Casa Del Alfarero and La Puerta. It has churches in Australia, Europe, the Phillipines, Mexico and South America.

Eickmeyer said the church's philosophy is a simple one: to preach the gospel according to the New Testament and to spread the word through discipleship, derived from early Christianity. The local church is run by Pastor Conrad Orosco.

"Our position…is that people who come in, if they so choose, can leave at any time. We are not here to dominate people," Eickmeyer said.

"We understand very clearly that people are people…and we do not have the right to tell people what to do or who to see."

Eickmeyer said the church is considering action because of verbal attacks on the church, but would not disclose the type of action.

"I feel that it is just a personal problem that they (ex-members) have. They have taken something, I believe, that in essence is nothing and in their own struggle… have tried and fairly successfully made something out of nothing," Eickmeyer said. "The whole thing is crazy. It's insane what they are doing."

But those who feel they have finally found the inner strength and emotional stability to speak out against the church and its preachings do not think they are insane. In fact, many feel they are experiencing sanity for the first time in a long while.

"This is going to be 'Pottergate' when the full story comes out. A lot of things which have been hidden are going to be exposed," Muccitelli said. He was apparently expelled from the organization for asking to see the financial records.

"It is getting to the point of Jim Jones and in 10 years it will be a full-fledged cult and very dangerous to the community," he said.

Mrs. Workman already believes the Potters House is a cult.

"It takes over your life. It has been devastating to both myself and my husband. It's heartbreaking to see Neil now," she said. "Neil always had a good heart. Now he lies a lot to protect the church."

Former church member Dave Diver said he sought truth through his soiled, black Bible, the pages speckled in the margins with handwritten notes. He alleges that many of the Potters House's tenets do not conform with the Bible's teachings.

The college graduate who has intended to be a Lutheran minister became a member of Potters House, then known as Victory Chapel, 13 years ago. He left in January.

"It's humiliating to some people to say you bought this rap," he said. "What got me out of there was my understanding of the Bible, plus the damage I saw there."

Diver said he was at a transition point in his life when he joined the Potters House. He said people are more apt to join when they are vulnerable.

Considering the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37, Diver maintains the Potters House has "gotten to the point where the ends justifies the means, which also is like a cult."

The Biblical story in which Jesus praises a good Samaritan for his humanitarian character can be paralleled to non-church persons such as Rick Ross, a deprogrammer or exit counselor.

Ross has treated ex-members of the Potters House for a number of years, trying to help them reconstruct their confused and segmented life. He uses a simple yet powerful technique on his patients: the power of their own mind.

But Eickmeyer appears to doubt Ross's methods and his authenticity.

"Mr. Ross… is a non-Christian man and his position is a position that is not a Christian position," Eickmeyer said.

"It's the religious guy who want sot make it complicated so he can merchandise and glorify over it," Diver said.

"They (certain church leaders) can do things that are methodical, that go against humanitarianism, against common virtue, and call it Christianity – that's what got me upset."

Church leaders maintain that a person can be an individual as long as they follow Biblical teachings. However, Diver maintains he was taught being an individual was not a part of Christian teachings.

But how Biblical teachings are interpreted apparently sparks disagreement. Diver alleges that Potters House members are brainwashed to the point that they cannot think for themselves and cannot come up with their own Biblical interpretations.

Diver also said Potters House teachings urge members to be selective about what they read and see on television.

"Christ said it's not what comes in the man that's sin, it's what comes out of the man that's sin," Diver said.