The End: Part Eighteen of My Life Inside the Narrowgate Cult at Messiah College

On Monday February 24, 1997, Pooky, Emma and her baby arrived at our apartment in downtown Mechanicsburg. Though they were worn out from the long drive, they requested a meeting with the rest of the group in Shippensburg at 9:00 PM.  They wanted to share what they had experienced and learned since they left a few days earlier.

After we arrived in Shippensburg and everyone was present, Emma explained how she believed that we were all living in gross sin and rebellion against authority.  She said that we needed to pray like we never prayed before for Liam to be set free.  After that, Pooky shared a little bit about what The Prophet had shared, regarding the group having to end. The response was not very positive, and some of the members were dubious and snapped at her for what she had shared.  Emma then encouraged us to enter into a time of corporate prayer.  She said that if we could pray in tongues, that would be best, as it was believed that this allows your spirit to pray directly to God without your mind, will or emotions getting in the way. In a sense, it was viewed as a kind of pure prayer. That is why “praying in tongues” is often called your “personal prayer language.”

A common belief that Narrowgate shared with most other charismatic churches is in a “private” or “personal” prayer language, commonly called praying in tongues or praying in the spirit. This teaching is derived from a practical interpretation of “glossolalia” from verses such as 1 Corinthians 14:14-15.

The belief is that believers are able to communicate directly with God in a language that is unknown to the speaker, but is known by God. This “private prayer language” differs from what is known as “speaking in tongues”, or “xenolalia”, as documented in the Second Chapter of the book of Acts, where people were able to speak in actual human languages that were unlearned by the speaker. The “private prayer language” is not a language at all, as verified by several studies conducted by respected linguists.

Several studies have been conducted on this phenomenon. In a 2013 research article on glossolalia, a neuroscientist by the name of Andrew Newburg stated that “Glossolalia brain function appears to be more similar to other trance-like states in which the frontal lobe activity diminishes as the person loses their sense of purposely performing the practice.” This seems to align with the use cases of “glossolalia”, as evidenced in modern charismatic churches – many people chanting nonsense syllables in a service, reaching an altered state of consciousness through the release of feel good chemicals in the brain, causing a type of biochemical “high”.

It came as quite a shock when I read some academic studies showing that this phenomenon is neither unique, nor exclusively a Christian practice.

In the charismatic Episcopal church that I grew up in, as a teenager I was shut in an office with one of the priests, and encouraged to repetitively utter out loud any gibberish syllables that came to mind – that by doing so, I would unlock my own personal prayer language. Pooky had the same thing happen to her while in the Narrowgate cult. Neither of us ever did anything more than just repetitively chant nonsense syllables. Doing this type of “chanting” seemed to release feel-good chemicals in our brain. Doing this type of “chanting” also helped us fit in with those around us, who did the same thing. And since charismatic theology believes that only true believers have the ability to speak / pray in tongues, this reinforced our group belief that we were “special” and “chosen by God.” The uncomfortable question I had to face is because other non-Christian groups such as the practitioners of Haitian Voodoo can do the same thing with the same results, are they also “special” and “chosen by God?” Or have we all been performing the same repetitious “chanting” that produces a measurable, expected biochemical response? Food for thought.

And now, back to our story.

While we were all praying, I looked around at the people in the room, and noticed Oliver sat with his arms crossed, glaring at the wall. This wasn’t going well. I got the feeling that some of the people were not at all in agreement with what Pooky and Emma shared, and resented them for it.

After the time of praying, Pooky went to talk with Oliver, to try and work things out. He was one of the people who earlier snapped at her after she shared.  I don’t know if they worked things out or not, but we left Shippensburg that night and went home.

We got Emma and the baby situated into the guest bedroom, and then Pooky and I finally curled up together in bed. That is when we heard a very loud banging at the locked door, downstairs.  I was afraid of a possible invasion from Liam, because we were harboring his wife and infant daughter. But thankfully it was not Liam – it was Oliver.  I let him in and then went back upstairs. For a while, he was banging around downstairs.  Pooky and I both still felt uncomfortable about how he acted in the meeting, and given the banging around downstairs, it seemed he was still pretty upset. Emma then knocked on our bedroom door and asked if she could talk to us.  She was also concerned that something wasn’t quite right with Oliver, and so I decided to go downstairs and talk with him.  I asked him if he felt that he was supposed to stay with us, and he said he didn’t know.  I asked him if he thought it was right to stay with us since he wasn’t sure, as I now had full house.  I told him that I thought it wouldn’t be right for him to stay with us, that he needed to go where he knew he belonged, and since he didn’t think he belonged at our house, he should leave.  And so he left.

You brought the flames and you put me through hell
I had to learn how to fight for myself
And we both know all the truth I could tell
I’ll just say this is “I wish you farewell”  (Ke$ha)

The next day we got a call for another meeting in Shippensburg.  Some of the simmering resentment I sensed from the prior meeting seemed to have festered into all-out animosity. It appears that last evening, Oliver went to Isabella & Benjamin’s apartment and told them how we threw him out of our home.  They took him in, and I got the impression they all thought that Emma and Pooky were just causing trouble and trying to split the group up.  In my opinion, it all came down to this line in the sand: they wanted the group to stay together, whereas we thought the group had to end. They wanted to address their concerns with what Emma and Pooky had said at this new meeting.  Pooky and Emma didn’t want to go, but at the last minute I decided to go alone.  I got there a few minutes late, and they all hugged me and laughed and told me how happy they were that I decided to join them. It seemed like their happiness to see me gave them the impression that I was on board with their desire that the group continue meeting together. This illusion did not last very long.

We all sat down, and before they started with what they wanted to discuss, I told them I believed the group needs to completely dissolve, and that I believe we were all still completely deceived.  There is a saying that when something went poorly, it “went over like a fart in church”. What I shared wasn’t quite like a fart in church – it was more like an explosively messy bowel movement from the stage, on Easter Sunday, while wearing a white suit.

There was an immediate uproar, with several people yelling at me and accusing me of trying to break up the group.  Benjamin rushed at me as if to attack, but was held back by his wife.  His voice full of emotion, Benjamin said that God put them all together and that He would NOT want to break the group up – it would be sin to break up.  Robert yelled at me and told me that I could leave, but they decided that they were staying together as a group.  Rose yelled that I was right, that we were all screwed up and were arguing about foolishness.  Oliver said that Emma was a troublemaker and that she was just as screwed up as Liam.  Oliver said that just because he didn’t jump up and obey her at the last meeting, that he was singled out as being a troublemaker, possessed by devils.  He said that just because he wasn’t praying with everyone else last night, so what.  He said that all he had to do was talk in his head to God, and that was the same as prayer.  Oliver just listened to God, and God didn’t tell him to pray out loud with the rest of us, so he didn’t.

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I told them that the group needed to break up as a “church”, and that we could at least agree to work together until Liam was set free.  Oliver said that then Liam could then come back and continue to lead us.  In my opinion, that was the absolute last thing on earth we needed. And so I stood up and walked out of the apartment. Out in the cool night air (it was, after all, February) I walked over and sat on the street curb.  Rose came out and sat beside me and told me that I was right, that we did need to split up, that we were too screwed up in our thinking to remain as a group.  I was grateful that at least I got through to one of them. That was my last Narrowgate meeting. There is much more to this story – I want to reassure you that this is not the end of this series. Though at this point in time we had officially left Narrowgate, it would take several years for Narrowgate to start leaving us. 25 years later, it’s still not completely gone. Part of Narrowgate still remains with us to this day in the darkest of nights, with frantic nightmares. Or on a Sunday morning, when certain Christian buzzwords or phrases or theologies make the heart start thumping in a fight-or-flight response. In 2020, Narrowgate still lives on in our PTSD.

I tried so hard and got so far, but in the end it doesn’t even matter.  I had to fall to lose it all, but in the end it doesn’t even matter.  (Linkin Park)

Over the next few days, Emma and the baby stayed with us. We continued to stay in communication with some of the others, though it was awkward and tense. Our discussions focused on what we knew about the actions of Liam and the others in the Enola apartment – which was precious little.

The nights during this time of our lives were truly horrific. Pooky and I would turn out the lights, then crawl into bed together. The night would then close in around us, and with it an ominous dark oppression that seemed to smother us. We would hold close to each other out of sheer desperation, certain that the darkness would squeeze the breath from our lungs. Because we were sheltering Liam’s wife and infant daughter, we were terrified that he or one of his disciples would come for us in the night. And what then? We spent our nights gripped in terror, huddled there in the dark. When we would finally drift off to sleep, one or both of us would frequently awaken with a jump from a nightmare. They all seemed to involve dark beings coming for us. Sometimes it was Liam or Noah who came for us. Sometimes they would brandish knives, the same one used to torment Charlotte on Hazing Night. At night, there was always terror – thick and slippery, wrapping us in its icy black tendrils. We were very clearly suffering from night terrors and other symptoms of PTSD, though at the time we had no idea what was going on. The only thing that seemed to help was to play Worship music on the CD Player, and so that is what we did. One CD, in particular, got played on loop so we could fall asleep. To this day, I have an emotional response when I hear “Draw Me Close” and “Yahweh” by Andy Park – those songs in particular got us through those dark nights.

At this moment in time, the group formerly known as Narrowgate was split into three groups: The Enola Six who were living together in the apartment in Enola (which included Liam & Sophia, Elijah and Olivia, Noah and Mia), the small group of people who thought Narrowgate should completely disband (which included myself, Pooky, Emma & Rose), and the rest of the group who wanted to keep on trucking as a “church”.

Those of us who were not with Liam finally agreed that we would go together in a show of unity to the Enola apartment and try once again to confront Liam and the rest of The Enola Six. Emma stayed at our apartment with the baby, while a caravan drove out to the apartment in Enola. We arrived at the apartment, marched up the stairs (it was a second floor apartment), and filed into the living room. They seemed startled that we had all just shown up, I could tell some of them had been sleeping.

This “intervention” or whatever you want to call it went absolutely nowhere. There was some theological debate, arguments, a call to repentance, and an unhealthy dose of malevolent glares. I found it odd that Liam sat snug up against Sophia, which I would later learn was not coincidence. Our visit was unofficially declared a stalemate, and we all left.

During these days, I went from being employed, to being unemployed. My last day of work at my job came and went. During these days, Pooky helped Emma out quite a bit with the baby, and with helping Emma go to the assistance office, signing up for food stamps, and things like that. Their bond of closeness remained and strengthened. I spent much of my time looking for a job.

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Strange and mysterious phenomena continued during these days. As I had mentioned before, it seemed at moments like I had a blaring moment of clarity where I knew exactly where to be, knew exactly what to say. The path before me was crystal clear, and I only had to put out my foot and it would land on solid ground. I found that I was not alone in this – Pooky, too, had moments of similar clarity, where her intuition spoke much louder than ever before. I was also reminded how Pooky’s mother had called before and told me she had a dream or vision about Narrowgate. And now, Pooky occasionally had dreams that turned out to be accurate. One such dream involved Emma – Pooky had a dream that Emma returned to Narrowgate to be with Liam. Several days later Emma decided to go back to Enola and live with Liam, along with the baby. I can’t fathom the level of courage this must have took for her to go back. I also admired her persistent faith that she could somehow get through to any of them. Emma’s determination that Liam would somehow see reason was admirable – and probably pointless. It is my opinion that he was (and I believe still is, to this day) hopelessly lost. I imagine Emma needed to learn that for herself, by staying with him and seeing it first-hand.

Emma and the baby stayed there in Enola for about a week or two, before she left Narrowgate – this time, for good. She and the baby then stayed with us in our guest room for a few more weeks. I believe she still held out hope that Liam would come out, come back to her and the baby.

He never did.

From Emma, we learned about life inside what remained of Narrowgate. And later still, one of the The Enola Six came forward to share her story…

(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

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