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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Faith

In a small Texas town, a place to follow Lucifer


IMG_0596 | Nguyen Le/The Cougar

The church holds services every Saturday in the evening when most other shops in the area have closed. | Nguyen Le/The Cougar

There is a church in Old Town Spring, but God is not worshiped there.

It has been a while since the Greater Church of Lucifer’s controversial, headline-grabbing first service. But while the protesting is no more, the emotions remain.

“There were some people boycotting Old Town Spring,” said Matthew Lynn, the local chef and owner of Ellen’s Cafe. “Somehow they thought the shop owners have a say on who could open up down here. We’re just individually owned properties.”

Talk of the town

Except for an episode in which his patrons reacted to the pentagrams, black clothing and tattoos that adorn the church’s members, Lynn said GCoL has been a quiet neighbor.

He, however, regarded the Luciferian establishment as a challenge from the higher power.

“I didn’t want the church here when I first heard about it,” Lynn said. “I was four-square against it, but if you don’t give it any energy then it doesn’t have any energy.”

The place also unnerved followers of the other religious establishment in the area, the Immanuel United Church of Christ, where Rev. Ron Krueger is the pastor. He has not yet visited GCoL, but did say that he would make time to do so in the future.

It will be a welcome-to-the-neighborhood kind of gesture, Krueger said. It would be something different to the sign-waving, the shouting or the praying that occurred on Oct. 31, 2015.

“There were concerns about the people who were in that church that they may not be following a very good path,” Krueger said. “It sounded like something that wasn’t fulfilling and certainly wasn’t Christian, which is our path. I had a concern for the people of the church, too, that hopefully they would find the right path for them.”

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GCoL has a phone number that is out of service. It is also not listed as one of the merchants on Old Town Spring’s website. | Nguyen Le/The Cougar

On June 13, the church’s board of directors, HopeMarie Ford, Michael W. Ford and Jeremy Crow, posted a statement on GCoL’s Facebook announcing the resignation of co-founder Jacob No due to mismanaging donations and funds.

The post also revealed his real name as Jacob McKelvy, the owner, digital marketer and consultant at JBM Consulting.

“Obstacles and challenges which we currently face will be overcome and conquered,” the statement read. “We are now putting together steps to ensure this does not happen again in the future.”

GCoL’s official website is currently down as it is being transferred to an in-organization owner.

Operators of GCoL declined to comment when contacted via email.

GCoL went through two vandalism incidents. Their Facebook page has a video titled “GCOL HATE CRIME” showing a couple smashing the front window with a cherub statue. The second one, which made local news, revolved a branch of a 200-year-old pecan tree getting sawed off to damage the church’s roof.

Maria Gagis, manager of The Black Sheep Bistro and The Italian Joint restaurants, thought the acts were horrific reactions to “something you don’t like.” She is also a member of the Old Town Spring Preservation League, an association overlooking the area’s lands and merchants.

“I’d like to know in what church that any minister, rabbi, congregation thinks that that kind of behavior is OK?” Gagis said. “If you have enough time to chop down a tree, you should come to my house, trim some of my trees and I’ll pay you for it.”

IMG_0586 | Nguyen Le/The Cougar

Surveillance warnings absent during spring break now appear around the church. | Nguyen Le/The Cougar

Friction between faiths

To Pat, a metaphysical shop owner who kept her last name and business name hidden, extensive media coverage on the Luciferian church placed the town on the map.

“Why don’t people come and find out what they are?” Pat said. “If you truly believe in your faith, you shouldn’t be afraid.”

Besides GCoL’s leaders, Pat would be the first to know about the happenings around the church because her shop is close by. It was also the proximity that got her harassed by the protesters.

On GCoL’s opening day, a protester used oil to flick a holy cross onto the porch of Pat’s shop. When Easter came, two of Pat’s weekend employees got heckled while they were on a smoking break. She also said that the church’s sign was dented the night before.

“The shop owner next door told me, ‘This is not the Christianity I was taught,’” Pat said. “She was appalled. They think religion gives them a right to do what they want.”

There is a petition on Change.org calling for GCoL to be jettisoned for the sake of the town’s image and prosperity. It has yet reached the halfway mark of its 500-signature goal.

Pat believes the petition’s purpose ignores the true damaging agents to the town: layoffs from the recession, election year and lowered oil prices.

“(GCoL members) only meet, at most, twice a month,” Pat said. “They’re not missionaries going around and trying to convert you.”

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Typing “Greater Church of Lucifer” into Google Maps will return no results. | Nguyen Le/The Cougar

The Path ahead

Pat said protesters won’t be around if the news cameras aren’t.

“As long as you don’t harm other people or children, what you believe is your own business,” Pat said. “How you treat other people tells who you really are.”

Aaron Ott, an anthropologist and lecturer for UH’s Religious Studies program, was not surprised at the visceral outbursts and GCoL’s reclusive nature. He cited that, even though the West is in a post-Christian era, people don’t want to give up what they know.

“Because Luciferianism and Satanism are conflated by those historically Christian assumptions, a person may not be Christian at all but they will still react to it,” Ott said. “They think it’s an attack on the homeland.”

Ott trusts that GCoL and Luciferianism can have a future in the U.S. One suggestion: refrain from using anti-Christian symbols such as pentagrams or the horned deity Baphomet.

Back at Immanuel United Church of Christ, Krueger said he would not shun people from the church should they come to his establishment. He specified that there won’t be a form asking your beliefs upon arrival.

“Jesus welcomes all,” Krueger said.

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