Christ's Household of Faith acts like a deadbeat dad

The St. Paul church has fought for 20 years to avoid paying for a former member's kids

IN THE 1960S, Michael Rooney was a DJ for a small radio station in Mora, Minnesota, and he couldn't stand local pastor Donald Alsbury. But Rooney had to see him regularly, because Alsbury spoke on a talk show at the same station. He'd go on air and discuss the Bible, Jesus, and the way to live with God running through your soul.

As a side job, Rooney worked at the local theater as a projectionist. He'd feed film through the machine and sit back as it flickered images out to the masses. It was free entertainment for Rooney, but the films got old after the first or second showings, so in the crammed confines of the projection room, he'd pull out a book.

One night, he opened up the Bible.

He began to read passages that said stuff like: "And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me."

It made him shake his head. He knew that he could present something such as Mark 8:34 to a dozen different religious scholars and get a dozen different interpretations of what it meant. But he kept at it. Night after night he waded deeper into the text. Then he realized there was someone who knew what it all meant. It was the guy he couldn't stand: Pastor Donald Alsbury.

"I was struggling with the Bible," Rooney says. "He knew all the answers."

The good Pastor Alsbury came from the traditions of the Missouri Synod of Lutherans. At the age of 23, he realized its teachings were wrong. "Bullshit artists," he would later say of other religious scholars. At that point in his life, Alsbury had an experience in which God began to flow through him. It compelled him to undertake a mission to create a community in which his children could live under the correct observance of God's teachings. It would require followers to cast away their current lives. This included selling off all their financial assets, savings, homes, property, cars, and clothing. That act would become the mortar of his new community.

Rooney started to talk with Alsbury regularly. This led to convincing his wife, Patricia, that becoming part of this new community and following the good pastor was the way. In 1970, along with several other families, the Rooneys moved into a communal setting in Mora and began to follow Alsbury's teachings of God.

So began Christ's Household of Faith.

And so began the Rooneys' marital problems.

Patricia had difficulties with the religion. She was forced to adopt a drab wardrobe. She was required to continually produce children. She had little to no control over her daily life. And something about Alsbury gave her misgivings. For the next several years, she would drop in and out of Christ's Household.

On one occasion, Patricia left and took her four children to live with her sister in the nearby town of Cambridge. She did this without the consent of her husband, and he didn't appreciate it. He later went with a few other Christ's Household members to get his kids back, storming into his sister-in-law's home.

"They held us down on the ground," says Patricia. "We were in the middle of a birthday party. And then they hid the kids in different homes of the members."

But Patricia didn't back down. Instead, she made a plan. She soon appeared at Christ's Household's schoolhouse and took her children back.

"What she doesn't tell you," says Alsbury, "is that her brother-in-law was outside the schoolhouse with a machete in his hand, telling anyone that if they tried to stop her, they'd have to deal with him."

The capture and recapture of the children ended with two Christ's Household members being found guilty of trespassing. The kids stayed with Patricia. Eventually, Michael decided to leave the church and return to his family.

"There was a whole variety of reasons," he says. "My marriage was troubled and I had my kids and I wanted to make it work."

When Michael returned to Cambridge, he made amends with his brother-in-law and took up work at the local machinist's shop. This went on for a couple of months.

During this time, Christ's Household of Faith started to move its home base to St. Paul. The church bought an old Catholic schoolhouse in the Summit/University neighborhood and set it up as the base of operations.

Not once during this time did Michael think about the church. "It was no longer a part of my life," he says.

But then it happened: God compelled Michael to return to Christ's Household. And eventually Patricia, once again, agreed to follow him.

The choice didn't sit well with her. In addition to her previous concerns, she now faced strained housing arrangements. She found herself sharing various homes near the schoolhouse with a rotating cast of families. One morning, Patricia awoke to find a couple at the foot of her bed, speaking in tongues.

Patricia also disliked the Sunday services where worship sessions would be held all day long—that is, unless the Vikings were on.

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