My paternal grandparents professed in 1922 when Will and Frank Wilkie (workers and brothers) came through Colorado from Nebraska. My grandparents were from a Dutch community in Iowa where they had practiced the Dutch reform version of Christianity. The Wilkies brought a poverty mentality which my grandparents practiced until they died.
My parents married in 1928. They lived in Idaho for a few years after they were married. They moved back to Colorado in 1935. This became Mom’s first exposure to the workers, and that connection was through my grandparents. George Rozell was one of the workers my mother listened to. My mother was won over to the 2×2 concept about the time I was born in 1936. I was #6; one brother died at birth, and Joann, my little sister, born 10 years after me, died at age 15.
Our dad wouldn’t attend the meetings, except on rare occasions. Mom would dress her girl and four boys in those homemade clothes and off we would go to convention. When I was 10 two of my older brothers got caught slipping out of the house to go to the movies. Adolescence had set in and we began to rebel against those 2×2 rules. Dad called us all in. He didn’t want us forced into a mold that was not of our choosing, so he made each one of us decide individually whether we would go to church or stay home on Sundays to work on the farm with him. All four boys elected not to go to meetings from that time on. That also meant that we were allowed to go to movies and dances. We also played sports, chased girls and interacted socially. Neither of our parents ever participated in any school functions. None of my brothers ever professed.
At age 19, I joined the army. While in the service in Germany, I became very troubled and confused about the meaning of life. By this time, my sister, Dollie, was in the work. She and my mother were always sending workers around to invite us to meetings. I also had a younger sister, Joann, born 10 years after me who died suddenly at age 15.
At age 21, I professed. When I got home from Germany, I volunteered for the work. I entered the ministry in 1958 when I was 22 years old. It was a huge commitment….No one came to counsel as to the seriousness of becoming a lifetime celibate with no opportunity for a family or an education. It was an act of blind obedience on my part to an unseen force that I wanted to know, but could not grasp. I had little to no clue what I was committing to. All I really knew was that I wanted to give back 100% to the Cause that I reckoned had saved me from a lost eternity.
My first three years were in Colorado. After my second year, I was given the responsibility of being senior companion. After my third year, I wanted deeper and more sacrifice for myself, so I volunteered to go to Germany. My one year there was a nightmare! These men and women workers were living the past, a life so foreign to my concepts that the ability to adjust did not exist within me. Upon the sudden death of my little sister, I flew back to Colorado. Once back in Colorado I would never consider returning to Germany. As a result of her death, my dad was a very broken man and was persuaded to profess after years of holding out. He remained within the fold until his death.
In spite of my rebellion regarding Germany, I was accepted back to Colorado and given more and more responsibility. Perhaps my convention speaking ability made me more popular among friends, who starve for any level of competence from the platform. On issues of conservative versus liberal, I was a liberal. I was never a harsh fundamentalist. A lot of people liked that and wanted me to lead in that direction.
Through the time I was in the work, I always had close friends….a circle of people who were my confidants both in the ranks of workers as well as among the friends. That relationship of love strengthened my self-concept. We inspired each other with positive support. We also confided our alarms to each other regarding those things that eventually became the issues.
Much of our complaint regarded the total lack of leadership among workers…..disregard for the feelings and rights of the people we loved. Unreasonable harshness and strictness that went beyond the authority granted us and turned into a form of violence against the soul. We objected to much of the history of the church, the effort to control, the effort to brainwash, the story of fundamentalist rule from William Irvine to our day. Within the group of minister workers that I knew, only a few exhibited real Christian behavior, or so it seemed to me at the time. I may have been more judgmental then than I am today.
In my 11th year in the work, I read a book called Client-Centered Therapy by Carl Rogers. This book talked about self-actualization….a concept that just made me want to know more. It brought to my consciousness for the first time what I had been experiencing as I interacted with people of various religious backgrounds, a very troubling idea, simply that we as a group did not have a corner on God. A seed of doubt was planted in my heart as to whether a God that encompassed all things would choose a minute band of people to be His people, leaving the rest of humanity to be lost forever?? That exclusivity that brought separation from the ‘world’ was yielding the illusion that we alone are God’s people. In my mind what had been the solution now became the problem.
This all was taking place in the last three years of a 14-year stint in the work. I had known for several years that William Irvine was the undisputed founder of the 2×2 church. Harry Brownlee had told me first off and then I had confronted both George Walker and Andrew Abernethy about it. Their description (to my way of thinking) was convoluted, leaving me wondering why they could not give me a clear description of the church history. The feeling grew stronger that I must leave the work…a thought that brought almost overwhelming sadness on the one hand, because many of the friends were my friends, some I had brought in through my own ministry. What would I say to them? How could I justify my actions when it seemed to me that some of my preaching messages were more effective than they had ever been? Was I leaving out of pure selfishness, or did I have legitimate reasons that would provide a life outside?? How would those friends know that it was not them I was divorcing, but rather an ideology that simply was not me? How I longed for the freedom to be me!
Upon discovering that I would leave, one young man wanted to speak with me. His message: Les, you will never draw another breath without feeling regret that you walked away from God and His calling for your life…please don’t do this to us! The battle lines were drawn. When I volunteered for the ministry I was asked to leave all, which I did with little or no feeling. When I departed the ministry, I now truly felt that I was leaving all. All that I had worked for. All the relationships I had come to enjoy so much…. it took me years to realize that much of what I did and was motivated by stemmed from my own ego. The cocoon of comfort which surrounded me with the applause and approval of hundreds of friends was suddenly stripped away. Even the approval of my parents and many other relatives …gone! I was left alone to face a world I had intentionally alienated myself from years before. I was courageous on the outside, but ponderous and foreboding inside.
I tried to soften the impact by announcing ahead of time that I would take some time off to clear my head. That only made things worse. Not a single person inquired as to my reasons for leaving.. they did not want to know. My health was 100%. I provided no excuses…just walked away.
I left the work when I was 36. In 1963 when I flew home from Germany, my sister Dollie stayed there in the work and was there for several years. The worker staff in Germany used her as a nurse to care for the old and infirm sisters. When she finally came home, her nerves were shot, so she quit the work. I can almost guarantee that she has never entertained one single thought that there is anything but the 2×2 for her. She constantly tries to get us back. Dollie ended up marrying an old man, a widower who had meeting in his home. They lived in wedded bliss for 30 years.
Once I left the work, I wanted knowledge. I spent six months in Trinidad, Colorado, where I got a state nursing home administrator’s license with the help and tutoring of good friends. One of the courses was Reality Therapy. God knows I needed some reality in my life! When I graduated, there were no openings in the State of Colorado for nursing home administrators, so I moved to Durango, Colorado where my three unprofessing brothers lived. I took a course in Restaurant management. There I managed the A&W for a year for one of my brothers….not for me. Then I got my state stock brokers, life and health insurance licenses. I did well financially, but I didn’t like it, so I got a real estate license as well. That profession seemed to fit better.
My second year out of the work, I met Chris, a tall attractive blond. The leftover relationships I had from being in the work never really took shape or I would have married an ex-worker or a 2×2 girl. Chris was 17 years younger (age 20). We didn’t appear to have much in common. She had no particular interest in religion. She was much like an orphan…had been raised by adoptive parents who had little capacity for parental love. Her dad was a tyrant, her mother was a chronic diabetic who died not long after. My own self-image was that of a rescuer. I had the idea that I could save her! The bags of my 2×2 baggage still intact, and still reeling from my tumultuous departure from the work I was struggling to launch a semi-normal life. After dating for five months and upon discovering that Chris was pregnant with our first child, I plunged into marriage with the same zeal and energy that I had used in the ministry. I married Chris when I was 38, she was 21, and I continued to go to meetings until I was 44 years old. Ah! But the waters of marriage were very troubled through the first five years.
The reaction of the church did not help. Garrett Hughes (overseer of Colorado at the time) rode the bus for 8 hours to get to Durango for the sole purpose of dealing with me. His message to me was that I should not attend meetings until after our baby was born. To say that this was an emotional and spiritual crisis in my own life, one in which I truly needed support and guidance, would be the understatement of all time! Typical of the ‘do gooders’ Garrett had to prove his rigidity by alienating us. What it did for me was give me further reason to evaluate my relationship with the church. Though I said little about it to Chris and still had to work through some issues of freedom, the church was never the same for me after that experience.
Even under these stress-filled circumstances, I was totally thrilled to become the father of a bouncing baby boy named Scott. I was 38 years old when Scott was born. In my view of my life, I considered myself extremely fortunate to have a family. Each and every day I thanked God for letting me become the father of Scott after years of trying to cope with celibacy.
My primary concern became the parenting of our two boys born 14 months apart. Our younger son, Brent, was dyslexic. I was very determined to help him get beyond his problems. We took on the task of reading together each morning before school. That lasted about one year. Chris and Brent just could not do the early morning thing, so Scott and I continued the practice until he was a junior in high school. We read motivational books, then we got into philosophy. We just read everything we could get our hands on. After about five years of me trying to keep some connection going with the 2×2’s as much for my parents’ sake as any, Chris came storming out of our house one day …she was screaming at me: “I hate this god damned, self-righteous church you are in, I hate their hair, I hate their clothes, I hate their control, so just don’t ever try to talk me into attending another meeting!”
I responded by telling her that I shared some of her feelings. I apologized to her for subjecting her to the rigidity of this narrow way. From that time our relationship began to improve. We quit any attendance of meetings and went to marriage counseling. The dysfunctional and distorted picture of my life began to clear up. It started when it became clear to me that I had to take full responsibility for who and what I am. Blaming parents, blaming the church or other circumstances could not be a valid excuse. It was time to make a life for myself and my family completely outside the confines of the church.
When Chris and I celebrated our 25th anniversary, one of our good friends told me that he had given our marriage less chance to work than any he had witnessed in his life. Nevertheless, our emotional circumstances gradually improved. Chris wanted to find her roots. We found her biological mother, a woman who had given birth to 8 children and kept only one. Chris got in touch with some of her siblings ….. even joined them for a family reunion in Iowa City. She has since stayed in contact with siblings, but not the mother.
About ten years ago, Chris was diagnosed with cervical cancer. It had penetrated the wall of the uterus, so was inoperable. She started radiation treatment for it but was highly allergic to radiation. She lost 35 pounds in three weeks. She was losing blood from the tumor where they had taken tissue for the biopsy from 10 different places. The local specialists could not stop the bleeding. She had diarrhea from the radiation and could not eat. I didn’t think she could live more than a couple more weeks.
At that point, against all scientific and medical advice, she and we took her destiny in our own hands. We found an alternative doctor in Toronto, Canada, who said he could help. I flew her up there and stayed for one week. She stayed an additional three weeks. When I met her at the airport in Denver, I saw a brand new woman! She had color in her face. She actually ran toward me, whereas before, she couldn’t walk on her own! In the first week home, she went back to the clinic for a full examination. To the amazement of everyone involved, the tumor was gone! There has been no recurrence since.
The years have been good to Chris and me. A close relationship with our sons and their families is a huge reward in itself. We love entertaining our five grandkids. It makes me feel so sorry for my contemporaries who stayed in the ministry and who arrive at old age with no family. Freedom and peace of mind are further rewards. Chris and I live in Durango, Colorado. Colorado…that renegade state that refused to be fully aligned with the George Walker camp until Ed Cornock died.
It has been a slow discovery process for me. I have turned more and more to the consciousness that religion is not the answer for me. I am acutely aware of the existence of the soul beyond the capacity of the five senses to describe or detect. My studies through the years have been directed to Jungian psychology as translated by more modern writers such as Dr. Wayne Dyer, Sukov, Depak Chopra and others. I have no interest in fundamental Christianity or the literal interpretation of the Bible. I love interacting with people on a spiritual level. I thank God each and every day for the consciousness that I have. I continue to love and associate with people both inside and outside the 2×2 system.
By Les Vandenberg
The following was originally posted on 2×2-Church Listserve:
September 13, 2001
When I left the work there was a general assumption that I left because of weakness. The exact opposite was true. I left the day I gained enough strength to become my own person. That day was the beginning of freedom in my life. I have friends in the work still. I love them dearly. Some who began with so much fire and zeal are now questioning either consciously or unconsciously why they gave first-rate loyalty to a second-rate cause. It’s a heart-rending thing to witness.
At the time that I was in the work Colorado had a practice that must be quite similar everywhere… At convention time we were asked to turn in all of the cash we had, each worker was then given back the same amount of money. Usually $75 to $100.
The elder in charge was Ed Cornock for several years. There is no equality in the amount donated by the friends. Some of the friends give to the workers in their field, but some don’t. It’s primarily a popularity contest with the most popular or those perceived as credible workers receiving large amounts while the younger or lesser-known receive little to none. It was understood among us that leaders of the group were responsible to see that everyone had money to live on.
During my years in the work, Ed either inherited or was given a large amount of money in one chunk. He used that money to build a convention barn, which was used for years at Morrison, a suburb of Denver. All of us stopped our preaching work to build the barn. The 20 acres or so belonged to the Tysons, but all of the improvements except the house were community money. When the city moved in all around, changing the value of the land to several times what it had been when the buildings were built, almost all of the original workers were either dead, elsewhere, or like myself, out of it altogether.
This creates an interesting scenario. In the case of the Tysons, Ed Cornock lived there permanently and dominated each and every move they made. Since I was no longer there, I can’t attest to what happened when the move was made from Morrison to Elizabeth where the conventions are held now.
It’s interesting because all over the US if not Canada also, the values of convention grounds are appreciating. The Morrison property probably sold for a couple million dollars. The hypocritical position of the 2×2 church professing to not own property leads to enormous legal problems. In a case where the owners are too old to continue or do die off leaving the estate to their heirs, in some cases the heirs do not agree with usage and values placed on properties. The church has huge investments which cannot be legally protected because they have to be held in someone’s name. Have any of you experienced this firsthand?
I hope you don’t mind if I respond to your questions back to the list even after you wrote to me privately. I just think that most of us are interested in these matters.
It is absolutely true….Jay Jensen whom I know personally from his years in the work in Colorado is a friend with my friends in Colorado Springs, Dennis and Margarite Jennings. Denny and Marg have kept contact with him through all the years of his reeducation to become a priest. Most recently they attended his confirmation and then his ordination. He is now Father Jay! If your brother would like to contact him I could get his phone number.
Most of these issues resolve in the face of education. That’s why the reverse will seldom if ever happen. The denominational preachers are almost all educated at least to some extent. Their knowledge of religion, history of the Bible and of the history of Christianity as expressed through the various churches will exclude them from ever becoming members of an organization that denies its own origin, denies that it owns property, denies its founding fathers, denies that it has a name, denies its ministers the right of marriage and family, and is totally unwilling to face the dysfunction these denials bring about…and then has the unmitigated gall to refer to themselves as the ‘truth’.
There are many very well-educated folk in the laity, but education is denied workers. Information is channeled into them from other older workers who guard and protect their judgments of the rest of the Christian world.
In my 14 years in the work, we talked a lot about love being the glue that holds the church together. When one gains an objective outlook of what really goes on in the church, that love becomes very conditional. It is conditioned upon absolute conformity. It is conditioned upon remaining in a state of ignorance regarding the issues. It is conditioned upon a requirement to be dishonest with yourself.
Marc said it well the other day….when he left the church or stopped going to meetings, no one bothered to inquire what was happening. We’ve heard that same experience talked about by most of us who’ve left the love nest.
The reason we have people on the list defending the 2×2 but yet unwilling to reveal their identity is simply because workers will come down hard on anyone who exposes themselves to outside information. These people are defensive, but mostly they are afraid. The predominant control mechanism in the 2×2 church is fear.
Anything that I say on this list is ready for public consumption as far as I’m concerned. I don’t care who reads it or who knows it.