The Frisby Legacy

God told Neal Frisby to build the Capstone Cathedral. Then He told him to give it away

And while the Bible stresses that no one can know the hour of Christ's second coming, Frisby hinted that he might have found a loophole.

Yes, Frisby wrote, Jesus said that no man could know the hour he'd return. But, "Jesus DID NOT say no man could know the year, month, week, or day," he scolded. Neal Frisby, for one, was betting on 1977.

At one point, Frisby made the mistake of predicting that Robert F. Kennedy would reveal some facts about his brother's assassination — Frisby, no surprise, got into conspiracies — and the facts "could" lead RFK to the presidency.

Today the Capstone Cathedral is the Capstone Center.
Martha Strachan
Today the Capstone Cathedral is the Capstone Center.

When the younger Kennedy was also assassinated, Frisby was defensive. He'd never actually said Kennedy would be president, he noted. Just that he could.

Anyway, he claimed, he'd predicted RFK's death. He just hadn't done it on a scroll.

"My father is a witness to this," Frisby wrote. "I walked in the door of the house and told him privately that both M.L. King and R. Kennedy would be removed from the world power scene shortly, with much bloodshed in the nation.

"You say why didn't I tell everybody," Frisby continued, concluding weakly, "I did to some personally." The passage reads like an embarrassing attempt to save face.

Visiting the Capstone Cathedral for a PBS series on evangelical churches, Ronald Balmert spoke to people in attendance who remembered how the place used to be packed. In the early '70s, they said, people would show up at 4:30 p.m. for services that started at 8.

But by 1987, when Balmert visited, only about 150 people sat in the vast cathedral.

"Frisby is a good example of an evangelical figure who gathers a following because of his charisma and claims of healing power," Balmert wrote in his companion book to the PBS series, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory.

"At the same time, Frisby, who elevated himself to the status of prophet, was accountable to no one; because of the increasingly freakish twists of his theology, moreover, erstwhile followers became disenchanted and fell away."

One night, not long after construction had finished, 12-year-old Curtis Frisby accompanied his dad from their house to the cathedral next door to pray.

Curtis idolized his father. And that night, his dad said something that would always stick with him.

"Someday," the evangelist said, "if the call is there, you'll run this. You'll have this place to preach."

It became Curtis' dream. At Chaparral High in Scottsdale, he says, counselors tried to push the idea of college. But he wasn't interested: "I was always going to be in the ministry."

Curtis' brothers, he says, had a harder time with their father's total absorption in spiritual life. But thanks to Curtis' interest in the ministry, he could go where his father went. He led the singing at the cathedral from the time he was 16. In his early 20s, he started warming up the crowd for his dad's sermons.

He remembers his dad bringing him before the congregation, laying his hands on him and praying for God's anointing. "He wants to win souls," the famous evangelist prayed. "Let him minister to the sick."

Curtis is now 46 years old. He's been married; he has a daughter of his own.

He still idolizes his father.

Indeed, though Curtis considers himself a pastor and an evangelist, his faith seems almost a heritage more than the product of a spiritual journey. Asked what he believes, he rattles off the principle of John 3:16: You must be born again.

But asked when he was "born again," Curtis Frisby is lost.

"I felt like I was always saved because I was always around a holy father," he stammers.

Do his beliefs differ from his dad's? "They're exactly the same," he says.

Nearly all of Curtis' sentences begin with "my dad." He's even working on a book about him, The True Story of Evangelist Neal Frisby: Walking With a Miracle Ministry.

"His father," observes Sam Meranto, a friend of the family, "he brags about every day of his life." (Meranto, a weight-loss guru, ordained minister and "guided meditation" entrepreneur, is probably familiar to many Valley residents from his frequent TV appearances.)

In person, Curtis doesn't have his dad's solidness, or his charisma. He's a small man, with a thin, almost emaciated face, and a soft handshake.

But he sounds like his father. There's the same rural twang to his speech, the same rapid stream-of-consciousness. And those who actually saw Curtis preach say, some with a bit of surprise, that he had a gift.

"He got pretty good," Zan Pauley admits. "I don't know if he was copying what he had seen. . . . But he had what his dad had. He had the talent to do it."

What he didn't have, in the end, was his father's blessing. Several years before he died, Neal Frisby banned his son from the pulpit.

There are numerous theories to explain it. Curtis claims they'd had a dispute over the old man's medical care; his father blamed him for taking a lunch break during a physical therapy session that went bad. Leroy Jenkins, the evangelist and one of Neal Frisby's few friends, says the tension stemmed from a business venture that Curtis hoped to start, but that never got off the ground.

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