Pooky’s Tale: Part Fifteen of My Life Inside the Narrowgate Cult at Messiah College
This is the first of several entries that are co-written by other Narrowgate members. The information was gathered through interviews and from original journals, notes, and letters written by Pooky at the time of Narrowgate. These first-hand accounts are fascinating to read, almost 25 years later. It is always refreshing to get another person’s perspective, and given the subject matter, it’s important to understand that Narrowgate had long-lasting affects in the lives of many people.
Take me back to the night we met, and then I can tell myself what the hell I’m supposed to do: And then I can tell myself not to ride along with you. (Lord Huron)
Pooky’s first visit to Narrowgate was in room 301 of Kline Hall of Science at 7:00 PM on March 29, 1994. She was invited to attend this meeting by the Freshman class president, who was attending Narrowgate at the time and was actively recruiting. Though she had reservations, Pooky decided to check it out. This particular meeting was being advertised across campus, as two “Apostles” and a “Prophet” were scheduled to be there. She sat through the entire meeting, fervently asking God to have a word for her – the desire to personally hear from the maker of Heaven and Earth was intoxicating. After the meeting exceeded the 3-hour timeframe for the room reservation, the meeting was moved to another room inside Kline at around 10:00 PM. Two hours later Pooky circled the Prophet, watching him interact with others. She finally approached the Prophet and asked if he had anything to tell her. Indeed, he did.
The Prophet encouraged her to get in the Word, and harvest nuggets of Truth. She would be able to provide many interpretations of the Scriptures, some that were not revealed to most people, and that she must write those things down. He then went on to say that he saw Pooky serving others with hardened hearts in a strong women’s ministry, perhaps in a prison system. As Pooky had earlier that day been inspired to dig deeper into the Word (to see if Prophets and Apostles were even a Biblical concept), she took this as confirmation that she was hearing from God – and she was more eager than ever before to hear more from this personal God. Pooky wrote about her first visit to Narrowgate in this letter, which you can click to view below. It was tucked inside one of her journals that were pictured at the top of this blog.
It is worth noting that Pooky attended Narrowgate about six months before Dom – they would not even become a couple until almost a month later in late April of 1994. In her notes, Pooky identifies two main drivers that led to attending Narrowgate – wanting a customized “word” from God (via The Prophet), and wanting to learn to hear God’s voice on her own.
Several years later, after Dom and Pooky had gotten married, Narrowgate was still using the same theological bait on the hook. Hearing God’s voice was very much a motivational factor that kept them in the group.
Thanks for the memories, even though they weren’t so great. (Fall Out Boy)
In the early hours of Friday February 21, 1997, Pooky was speeding North-ward in Sophia’s car with Liam’s wife and infant daughter to escape the group. They had just fled after Liam declared he was no longer married to Emma, rejecting both Emma and their infant daughter. It is interesting to note that in Dom’s journal, it said that Pooky came and woke Dom up, before telling him that she was leaving the area with Emma. By comparison, Pooky recalls that she and Emma left Enola (after confronting Liam) and went back to Emma’s apartment to get the baby and flee North. Pooky recalls calling Dom from the apartment while Emma got the baby ready for travel. Pooky believes she never had the chance to return to her apartment to get any clothes or anything before she left. She believes she woke Dom up by calling on the phone, before begging Dom to not listen to Liam. This is a good example of how we can recall different things, many years later. It ultimately doesn’t matter, though it is interesting that a totally different sequence of events is remembered here.
An editorial aside about trauma: That Narrowgate was traumatic to some of its members is absolutely beyond refute. In an excellent article written for The Mighty dot com, fellow Messiah alumni Donald Cribbs (who coincidentally attended Messiah during the time of Narrowgate back in the 90’s) wrote about the dangers of unprocessed trauma. He wrote that the trauma survivor “must shoulder the burden of that trauma for the rest of their life” and then went on to accurately describe some of the symptoms of trauma. As a result of Narrowgate, both Pooky and Dom have suffered from what Cribbs describes as “intrusive memories, visceral flashbacks, obliterating nightmares and surges of overwhelming emotions” and can relate to the graphic (but highly accurate) description that “each occurrence shreds through the survivor like a hail of bullets strafing their flesh and vital organs.” Dom and Pooky were certainly not alone here: of all the people who were affected by Narrowgate, Emma and the baby are perhaps at the very top of the list. It is with the greatest compassion and respect that they have been given the opportunity to move on, to forget, to heal. Emma, as Liam’s wife, was traumatized by the actions of her husband. Their infant child was certainly affected by the actions of her father when he chose to abandon them. Some other past members of Narrowgate have been very open in sharing their experiences for this blog. Some people have been supportive of the blog, but have been unwilling to share their own experiences. And some have chosen to simply move on, and not look back. Every person processes trauma in different ways – there is no room for shame here. Each person is the architect of their own journey through recovery and healing from Narrowgate.
This flight North in the early morning hours was most certainly a traumatic event, and recalling this adventure, Pooky remembers only fragmented memories and pieces from this trip. In a Time Magazine article by James Hopper and David Lisak, the authors note that a person may block out much of a traumatic event while being able to recall other details with incredible accuracy. That is certainly the case, here. Thankfully, Pooky’s journal entries and memories give us a glimpse of what took place over those days.
Pooky still recalls the feeling of terror – both she and Emma were convinced that their lives were in danger. Emma was particularly worried for the safety of their baby. Pooky recalled the words Noah had recently spoken to her which came back to haunt her: Noah told Pooky that he was so completely sold out to God, that if God told him to kill someone, he would do it without hesitation. Was Noah literally serious? And would he or Liam come for them? Would the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac be carried out here? In Genesis 22, God told Abraham to murder is own son, Isaac, as a sign of his faith. At the very last moment, God stopped Isaac from committing the murder – but Isaac was commended by God for his faith, for having the determination to sacrifice his only child for God. Pooky remembers the feelings of uncertainty – what would become of them? And when could she return home? Was Dom safe? Was anyone safe? To this day, Pooky cannot hear a song off Rebecca St. James’ album God without vividly remembering the emotions from that drive North in the wee morning hours.
About two hours later, they arrived at the home of Liam’s parents in North Central Pennsylvania, where they wanted some rest before continuing on to Emma’s parents. The unavoidable awkwardness of that situation still amazes me today – Liam had renounced his marriage to Emma, and yet Emma and the baby were there with Liam’s family. Though Pooky does not remember, it was probable that Emma had to provide some sort of explanation as to why she and the baby arrived in the early morning hours with Pooky (who was, to them, a complete stranger). What did Emma tell them, and what was their response? To this day, I can only imagine how difficult and awkward that visit must have been.
Several hours later, Pooky, Emma and the baby were somewhat rested, and left Liam’s parents for the three-hour drive to Emma’s parents in Northwest Pennsylvania. Here, Pooky vividly recalls how kind and welcoming Emma’s family was – they treated Pooky like family, and welcomed them all with open arms.
They stayed with Emma’s parents for a few days, while they worked through what to do. As Pooky had not properly packed for such a trip, she had to go out shopping for clothes and toiletries. They spent quite a bit of time with Emma’s parents and family. One evening they even visited Emma’s grandparents. Pooky also spent quite a bit of time by herself, as she sorted through things.
To this day, Pooky still recalls the feeling of blinders dropping off her eyes – she felt like she suddenly could see clearly and “got it” in regards to what had gone wrong with Narrowgate. The countless hours of memorizing the Bible as a child came flooding back, as verse upon verse came to mind that seemed to counteract the teachings Liam and others within the group had been teaching. She remembers being so excited, and was filled with a giddy optimism – if she would go back and tell people the truth, they would surely “get it”, too.
The pinnacle of the entire trip was when Emma and Pooky drove to the home of The Prophet. The response they got was most certainly unexpected – he was not surprised by what had happened. The Prophet shared how he had earlier seen signs that Liam was off the rails, and had gone to Liam to try (unsuccessfully) to warn him. The Prophet then told Emma and Pooky that this had to end – that things were so bad with the group that it had be cut all the way down and ripped out by the roots, that there was nothing that could be salvaged. He told them that we all had to stop meeting, and that none of the members should remain together in a church setting. He was very clear – Narrowgate had to be completely burnt to the ground.
This road never looked so lonely
This house doesn’t burn down slowly
To ashes, to ashes. (Imagine Dragons)
Over these few days, Pooky wrote out about three pages of notes, which identified different lies the group had accepted with notes regarding why those lies were incorrect. There were also Scripture verses that came to mind as she spent time meditating on the Bible. Prominent among her notes is, written in all capital letters, “THE GENERALIZATIONS MUST END”, followed by a list of some of the generalizations that were being transformed into Dogma within the group. As an example, the perversion of someone within the group clinging to “things” led to the dogma that all “things” must be destroyed or removed by someone else. This was obviously in relation to the concept of people going home to home and throwing out belongings. A similar analogy was made in her notes, regarding marriage: the perversion of someone idolizing their spouse led to the dogma that all marriage should be abolished. The meaning was quite clear – Narrowgate leadership was forcing the entire group to endure correction because some of the members were having specific issues. Her notes cut to the core of the matter: “God must change the heart, not necessarily take / destroy things.”
Pooky and Emma grew quite close over these few days together. Before this trip, Emma seemed to be somewhat untouchable, due to her relationship with Liam. However, Pooky found her to be incredibly sweet and personable, and marveled that they had not grown closer before now. In the many hours they spent together in the car, Emma shared a lot about her life, about her relationship with Liam, and about some of their marital challenges. Emma was convinced that Liam would come around at some point, and come back to her and the baby. She held fast to this belief like a drowning person clinging to driftwood. None of us seemed fully aware of what actually had happened to Narrowgate – and how bleak the situation actually was.
The few times Pooky was able to call Dom, she shared what she was learning. As written in a previous blog, much of it was overwhelmingly confusing to Dom. These were the first baby steps away from Narrowgate, shaky as they may have been. After about three days away in exile, Emma, Pooky and the baby planned on coming back to Harrisburg on Monday February 24, 1997. A group meeting was scheduled for Monday evening at 9:00 PM at Robert & Annette’s apartment in Shippensburg. For those who were NOT with Liam, this was the first official group meeting after Narrowgate splintered.
Given what The Prophet shared, it was also to be the last.
(to be continued)
Narrowgate Blog Series: Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; Part Six; Part Seven; Part Eight; Part Nine; Part Ten; Part Eleven; Part Twelve; Part Thirteen; Part Fourteen; Part Fifteen; Part Sixteen; Part Seventeen