By Cheryll Shacknow
CHERYLL SHACKNOW'S STORY
Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.
My name is Cheryll Schacknow, wife of Mark Schacknow. My maiden name was Cheryll Arnold. I am writing my story to tell you the history of my life with Gospel Assembly Church.
My story literally begins at birth. I was born to the parents of Kenneth and Wilma Arnold who were already members of Gospel Assembly Church. From what I remember my parent's history began with Bro. Hafford (now deceased). My mother told me at one time they had been in a fellowship meeting around Missouri, and were so impressed with the teachings, they sold their home in Missouri, and moved to Birmingham, AL.
I was dedicated as a child to the Lord in the Birmingham GAC where Kenneth Nation was the minister at the time. I remember as a young child, going to church where the boys would sit in the front of the church with an usher between them and the girls with an usherette between them. We didn't usually sit with our parents but always in the front of the church. I don't know why, we just did. It was okay though because we got to be with our friends.
I remember a girl that would always pull my hair. My parents would ask the minister to handle this since we were always told to counsel with him. He would do nothing of course. I can remember my mom being upset because I went home crying. However, we did not know at that time that the minister was having a relationship with the girl's mother. The minister (Kenneth Nation), a married man with children, was having an affair with a married woman in the church.
When this affair became known it created a catastrophe for both families. The children of the minister and his wife were devastated as well as the husband and children of the other family. My sister had spent the night with this other woman's family when all the truth came out. On that night, the other woman's husband was stabbed. My sister was a witness.
The girl that used to pull my hair ended up being my best friend. As you know kids can hurt each other one minute, and forget it the next, which is what we always did. I remember how upset all these innocent kids from both families were and the "shaking" it caused in the church, but the church went on, the kids and the spouse's of the minister and other woman were forgotten and another minister was put in the church. Both couples got divorced and children were hurt and all of this because of a minister who was supposed to be a man of God.
I believe it was a short time later when my family left the church in Birmingham and moved to Springfield, MO. My father, with TM Jolly's help, tried to build a church there. It never got off the ground and so for several months we began traveling every weekend to the GAC in Kansas City, MO where Reverend A.O. Ming was the minister. We eventually moved there and began attending church. I would like to add that to my knowledge Bro. Ming was a fine upstanding Man of God. He was a meek man with kind, soft-spoken words and always had a positive remark to lift you up. Bro Jolly eventually moved him to another church and Bro. Richard Fitzsimmons became our pastor.
Bro Fitzsimmons was a family man who eventually, after being spoiled like so many of the ministers with new cars, a pay check, and a nice parsonage to live in where all the "saints" of the church paid all the expenses, did not want to relocate at Bro. Jolly's request. This caused a split in the church since some people wanted Bro. Fitzsimmons to stay. The saints in the church all began fighting, getting together after church and the bickering was awful.
I remember when one young man who spit on an older man in our church because one was for Bro Fitzsimmons moving and the other one wanted him to stay. Someone removed the big picture of Bro. Jolly from the wall of the church foyer during this time since there was such a disagreement. The church had pictures of Bro Sowders and Bro Jolly on the foyer walls. Eventually, Bro Fitzsimmons moved after splitting the church. We had several visiting ministers and I believe it was Bro. Bob James that became our next minister.
When I was 18 years of age, my mother died and almost 6 months after her death, my dad married a woman from the Eldorado church. Bro James and his wife introduced them. This was a very hard time for me since I had lost my mom, became an instant mom to my youngest brother of 9 years old for about six months, and now had to accept a new mom in such a short period of time. As you have probably heard, accepting a change in a family status is hard, as it was for me since my mom's death was so fresh and now I was to be excited about my new mom. Imagine how a 9-year-old must have felt. I cried the day of my father's wedding. It felt more like going to another funeral. How could I be happy for him when I missed my mother so much? My dad and step-mom seemed so happy and when I heard them laughing together in their room, I cried in mine. It was hard for me to accept that my dad could forget my mother, his wife of 30 years, so quickly.
My stepmother and I had many disagreements. She immediately began trying to run my life. I just tried not to say anything because I didn't want to say something that I would regret later. This made her angry. She went to the pastor and told him things about me and I got called in and yelled at by him. There was not good judgment used in dealing with the situation. He later apologized for yelling at me but there was never any counseling to try and get a solution.
My mother, Wilma Arnold, was a kind and generous, truly Christian woman. I never appreciated that as a child. I saw my mother, who earned a good income selling real estate, take abuse at my father's expense, all in the name of Jesus. You see, the man is the head of the house, according to God's Law, and the woman is to be in submission to the man. However, where does it say that to be in submission you lose your identity and become a slave to the man? My father was verbally abusive to my mother, brothers, and at times my sister and myself. He never was much of a family man. Always working and if he had time, he would occasionally attend special functions, such as Christmas or Thanksgiving with the family.
I remember the time that my mother, who was on the heavy side, got a good commission from selling real estate and bought a brand new Lincoln Continental. She was so proud. She parked it in the garage of our home and asked my dad to come look at it. He smiled and said, "Where's the keys?" Mom handed him the keys and he said to her " Don't you ever put your fat butt in that seat anymore, you will break it down." I remember the sad look on her face. Boy, was that the Christian spirit I was to strive for? My mom stayed with my father all her life, since marriage is forever, for better or worse, and she did not believe in divorce. I saw her take abuse and be called every name in the book by my father since she was overweight. I too, have been overweight as an adult. My father at one time asked me not to sit on his furniture since I might break it down. He stated he would go downstairs and get me a sturdier chair to sit in. Where in all this teaching of God's wonderful love and compassion, respect and honor, should people that call themselves Christians, be allowed, or even feel justified in behaving this way?
As a young adult we were always made to follow the Canon laws of GAC. The women were to always wear dresses with long sleeves and long skirts that came to the knees, no make-up, never cut our hair, attend only church and for fun go to youth meetings and study the Bible. The highlight of our youth meetings was that we might be able to have snacks afterwards. We were not allowed to participate in sports at school, go to theaters, watch television or listen to the "devils" music, or to be ourselves. We were to always prepare to be stewards of the church.
The youth would have general conventions either in St. Louis, MO or Eldorado, IL where we could get together with other youth and fellowship. We were to marry from our church since we were not to date or marry anyone that did not go to our church. However, when we would go to youth meetings the boys set on one side of the aisle and the girls on the other side. We were counseled that we were there to learn of God's teaching and Christian principles and we were not to mingle. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense does it?
One year at a general youth meeting in St. Louis, the girls had stayed in the basement of the church. There were beds in all the classrooms downstairs. As most youth did at these meetings, we would cut up. Our room was right in the corner by the door leading to the upstairs sanctuary. We were all laughing and teasing our chaperon, when all of a sudden, Tom Jolly came on the speaker, and said, "All right you girls lets go to bed now." I didn't think anything about it until years later. I heard when Bro. Jolly was exposed for his indiscretions they found out that he had wired the church with cameras and speakers. Now it was clear how he received his messages from God. He had been listening and watching through these monitors.
I remember one time at Christmas all the youth in Kansas City wanted to drive to the Plaza, (an elegant part of Kansas City, MO) to see all the Christmas lights. The plaza always decorated so beautifully and they would have carriage rides through the district so you could see all the lights and it was so festive. The minister at that time denied us the right to go after youth meeting because it was not a good environment and we should stay away from it. What else could we as teenagers do? We were denied all outside activities. For years the youth could not even get together and play sports, male and female, since it was inappropriate for girls to participate in sports, and we all were to be concentrating on training for the church.
As young adults, my sister and I used to baby sit for a young couple with two sweet little girls. Something happened to this couple and for some reason they decided to leave the church. I remember seeing this young lady, standing in the choir crying, and shortly after, she and her husband quit coming to church. The minister pulled my sister and I to the side and told us that since she was no longer in the church we could not see her anymore. Is this Christianity? I was always taught that the Lord went among people of all statures of life, showed them of His Christianity, and let them see that what He had to offer was something we should all strive for. This confused me since I could no longer be a friend to a Christian lady and her family.
At 20 years of age I became engaged and married Mark Schacknow. I counseled with Bro James, who granted his permission for our marriage. However, through his blam-basting over the pulpit concerning the Schacknow name and family, it was evident that he did not like my husband. There were a couple of sermons that I left the platform crying because of the hurtful things he said about my husband to be. Bro James would reference how Mark's mother traded her mansion for a Schacknow and had lived in a shack ever since. How in the world can men Of God who are supposed to be about his business believe this is how our Lord would treat his fellow Christians?
I did not need anyone to tell me or give me permission to marry my husband as long as I felt God approved. However, out of respect for what I had been taught and the procedures for marrying in the church I went through the minister for guidance. I do believe that I would have married my husband anyway because the Lord had answered my prayers long before my counsel with Bro James. We were of like faith with the same goals, to live our lives for Christ and be good upright Christians. Also, the Lord gave me a dream with me in a wedding dress sitting on Mark's lap and we were on a bus. In this dream I saw a sign that said "Leaving Kansas City" and there was another couple on the bus with us. They asked us where we were going and my response was "to our new home." How much plainer could that be. I had prayed earnestly for an answer to marriage concerning Mark and I knew the Lord had answered.
After our wedding we moved to Eldorado, IL and remained in GAC. We attended church services regularly and listened to the ministers' talk about situations and publicly humiliate Christians over the pulpit. There was good sound doctrine as well, but it was hard to listen when you wondered when it would be your turn to be skewered.
While we lived in Eldorado there was a family that had a little girl that Bro. Jolly was always praising. He told everyone how sweet a child she was. No one thought anything about it since he would always admonish children. However, not too much later, this child's parents separated and we heard that her father had been accused of molesting her. Everyone was shocked. We knew this family and it was hard for my husband and I to believe this. Years later we found out that this was one of the little girls that Tom Jolly had molested. What a shame! Again, this family suffered at the hands of a so-called "man of God". I did not believe this father hurt his child. The parents divorced and the children were in a split home and I don't know how long the children were kept from the happiness of their fathers love.
When my husband and I moved back to Kansas City from Eldorado, we were excepted back with open arms. Bro Snider was the minister there at that time. My husband and I began playing in the band again. Mark played trombone and myself the saxophone. We had always tried to stay involved in church. Going back time after time even when things would come across the pulpit that was meant to better us. Words of wisdom supposedly. However, I believe to this day that a lot of what is said is the minister's personal philosophy mixed with the scripture. Don't get me wrong. Some of these men can open the scriptures up to you and entice you to learn. Then after they get your attention they cause you to trust them so much that when they are correcting you out of what they call Christian love they make you believe it is for your own good. I now know this is a form of brainwashing and when you are raised in this atmosphere all your life you believe it to be proper.
One day one of the women called me and asked if my daughter and I wanted to go with her and her child to the theater to see Pete's dragon. I knew the teaching about being in theaters and how it was not a Christian environment but how could a Walt Disney movie be a stumbling block to a 4-5 year old child? So I, like most others, fell into the situation of relaxing my standards. Well, that's all it took to give the minister his sermon one Sunday. The lady that I went to the movies with told the minister she had seen me leaving the theater with my child. Bro Snider approached my husband and myself concerning this and told us that due to the situation he would have to make an example of us by taking us out of the band. However, the other lady was admonished for coming forward and making him aware of our shortcomings. How his humiliating us and making us "examples" served the purpose to prove Christianity is beyond me. I always heard you should pray with those that slip and lift them back up. However, we continued to go to church believing that the minister had our best in mind. Boy, talk about brainwashed! We fell right into the category with hundreds of others. We allowed the minister to persecute us openly and we smiled on the outside and questioned on the inside, while praying and crying out to the Lord to help us to understand and stay faithful through it all. It was a very hard experience.
After so many repeated episodes like this my husband and I quit GAC. My father told me that since I no longer went to GAC and was no longer a Christian then he could no longer have anything to do with me. I was his daughter. How can this be good Christian teaching to disown your own flesh and blood? I was so hurt. I looked at him and said, "God does not have a useful place any longer since all of you are sitting in his judgment seat doing his work for him." I did not have a relationship with my father for 2-3 years. It was awful since my husband and I owned a mobile home that was located on my father's property. My father proceeded to try to split our home up and I, being torn between loyalty to my father out of respect for my parent, and love for my husband, was in torment. How our marriage survived is truly a blessing from the Lord.
My father has always given large donations to the church and therefore has been recognized by the ministers as a good man. They do not know how my father treats his children and in-laws when church is not in service. You see money buys you recognition no matter what goes on outside of the church. I never heard my father apologize for any of his shortcomings until after my mother's death. His mistakes were always someone else's fault. My siblings and my relationship with my father are still very distant. He is a ruthless businessman, sparing no mercy to gain his wealth, even to the point of cheating his own children. He gives his best to the church and we gained the leftovers, which was very little in the way of family love. We have so little respect for him. I hope if he ever reads this that he realizes he has missed the prime years of his children's lives and all we ever needed from his was his love and positive guidance without ridicule and backbiting.
My husband and I moved from Kansas City to escape my father's abusive tongue and intrusions, as well as the problems in the church, and went to the Birmingham, AL GAC. We felt led to relocate there and since I grew up in Birmingham and had a niece there we believed we could be happy. We were for a while. We settled back into church and the people all welcomed us back. The minister was Asa Gillespie. He preached the stern gospel and emulated Bro. Jolly's teachings and scolding.
Sometimes you would just want to crawl under a pew. The people would either be happy or walking out the church doors dragging their feet from the humiliation of being whipped from the pulpit. We still tried to remain faithful and work in the church. People with enough money to buy their seats on the platform were the ideal Christian role model. How does money make you a better person? Some of our best times were when we were eating bread and soup and talking about the love of the Lord.
Bro Gillespie was moved to another church and soon we had a new minister, Bro Stephenson, who was a relatively new minister in GAC. He began to emulate the ministry, preaching fire and brimstone, and telling us all how to live Christian lives, according to Bible and GAC canon laws. Lessons came and went. Sometimes these lessons were so hard to bear. I am reminded of a lesson that my youngest daughter had to learn at the expense of the minister and us. However, the lesson from the minister left a lasting impression, one of sheer disbelief. My daughter was in Sunday school one morning and I guess, as most children do, she began doodling on the table, literally. She inscribed her name on the table in the classroom. It was an all wood table. This was brought to our attention. We have always tried to teach our children to be responsible for their actions. The minister and we decided Angela would strip the table and refinish it. My husband and Angela, doing most of the work, worked tirelessly for several days or possibly weeks, to finish this table. It looked great. Angela was so proud to have made a wrong right. My husband, with our daughter, took the table back to the classroom. The table was taken from the room and refinished by someone else. There was no reason for this, the table looked exquisite.
To me, that was saying that her apology was not enough, and she was sad and hurt. If other children damaged things, someone would blame our child, and without an investigation from both sides, we were told that our children had destroyed something. I finally had enough and questioned the minister as to his handling of these situations. Several times it would come to light that a child from another family in the church was the guilty source. No apology would be given and my children would bear the load. I am not stating they were always perfect, but right is right. Even our government philosophy is innocent until proven guilty.
While still staying through all of this hurt and pain, trying to serve our Lord, we again were faced with more trials. One of my dearest friends in Birmingham was going to marry a boy that was not in GAC. The church strictly forbids that and if you do you are not allowed to participate in any of the church functions since you are married wrong, according to GAC. We were torn between. You see, the church does not allow you to condone these marriages, and if we were to attend the wedding we would be going against the church, in their eyes, and condoning this girls decision. We counseled with the minister, as we have been advised all through these years, to ask his guidance. His advice was to make her aware if she ever had children they would be bastards and the Lord would not bless her marriage since they were not of the same faith. We also were told not to go to her wedding. This was so hard for us. We felt awful. She was hurt and wept and could not believe her friends would do this to her. However, she remained faithful and to this day goes to church there and lives a life for Christ. We have sense apologized to her and told her that we were not Christian to have done this. We realize now it is not our place to judge her decisions. It is between her and the Lord. We are to just show love, compassion, and Christian fellowship by being a light and not a stumbling block to our fellow Christians. We are good friends to this day and she is a wonderful Christian girl. Her husband still does not attend GAC but I have never met a finer man who is a good husband and friend to his wife and her grandmother.
Then the ball dropped! Tom Jolly's indiscretions of sexual molestation came out. When we found out who one of the victims was I knew then that a family had paid dear for a ministers mistake. This was the straw that broke the camel's back. My husband and I could not attend a church that would sweep something like this under the rug. What about the victims, innocent girls, and their families who have paid dearly for this mans sexual deviates?
My husband was offered a job in Columbus, GA. We moved and are no longer attending GAC. Of course, since we are no longer in "the body" we have been the source of many sermons when we have gone back to visit the GAC in Birmingham. The last time I said enough is enough. I do not believe public ridicule, all in the name of Jesus, is what our Lord bled and died for. So many ministers have played God with good people to the point of destroying families.
Since I have been away from GAC I have developed a love for the Lord that has been a blessing to me individually. My connection with the Lord has been stronger. I have been able to meet people from other churches, fellowship with them, and praise the Lord for his many blessings. My husband and I sang in a Gospel group that performed at various churches of different faiths and the Lord met with us. God truly blesses all that serve him with a sincere heart and soul and rewards them with His mercy and kindness. When you have been raised to believe that judging others, without mercy, for their shortcomings is just part of being a Christian it puts blinders on you. To break away from the bondage of being judgmental is a daily struggle. You get spoiled to the teaching of God's word and do not realize you are being programmed to believe you are the only church that God will call up to reign with him. I know now, this is not so. It took me living in another state, away from GAC, to realize their are many wonderful God-fearing Christians on this earth.
I have only touched the surface of many stories of my life as a member of GAC and so many emotions are going through me while writing this story. The Love of my Lord is first and foremost. Then the emotions of the lack of my family connection due to my father's beliefs and actions, along with disbelief, hurt, sadness, anger, and most of all gratitude that the Lord opened my eyes to the control of the ministers and all their handiwork. I believe there are good men that are doing the Lord's business and I also believe the Lord has a work for us to do. It can be done with proper teaching and true Christian fellowship. That is my desire.
I hope my story, while mild compared to others hurt and pain, helps someone to break free of the hold and realize that God is all knowing, all seeing, full of mercy and compassion for all his children, wherever they are. For He is a GREAT GOD!!!!!!
When will all this mess stop and who will be strong enough in the ministers' still there to come forward and expose the others that are practicing in indiscretions?