The Frisby Legacy

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

A more likely story, however, is the one told by Pauley, who was attending the church at the time and ended up taking over sermons after Curtis was dismissed.

"He got a divorce," Pauley says, simply.

Records show that Curtis' wife, Tamara, filed for divorce in November 2000. And when Neal Frisby filed his ministry's annual report with the Arizona secretary of state four months later, Curtis' name was no longer on the list of officers.

Shane Rebenschied
Robert Brooks, the unlikely heir to Neal Frisby's cathedral.
courtesy of Robert Brooks
Robert Brooks, the unlikely heir to Neal Frisby's cathedral.

It looks like it's been painted over with Wite-Out.

By the next year, Curtis was out of the pulpit.

"Curtis wasn't living the way his dad thought he was supposed to — which is the way he was supposed to be living," Pauley says. "People saw that. His dad got letters. And we lost a lot of people over it."

"Here he was, this holy roller, Pentecostal, and his son gets a divorce, and it started all sorts of speculation and rumors," Allen Frisby confirms. "Pentecostals don't even believe in divorce." (Curtis emphatically disagrees with the two men's claims, saying his father never spoke to him about the divorce, and anyway, it was his wife who filed.)

Trying to get something started on his own, Curtis filed papers to start CVF Ministries. But while he worked to promote Christian concerts, and attempted to hold crusades of his own, the venture stalled.

Neal Frisby's experience notwithstanding, it's hard to build a ministry from nothing. But a much bigger complication may have been that Curtis was needed at home.

Neal's wife, Margaret, had died in 1999, the year before Curtis' divorce. Neal, who hadn't been healthy for years, only grew worse in her absence.

Curtis dreamt of the pulpit, but he submitted to the less appealing task in front of him.

Neal was not easy to take care of. He'd always been insistent on his way of doing things, and the illness seemed to take his air of authority and turned it to downright orneriness. Zan Pauley recalls him throwing Curtis out of the house, then changing his mind, then throwing him out again.

Curtis just took it. His devotion to his father's needs was total.

"He wouldn't even pick up a cup for himself," Curtis explains wearily. "He could do it — he just wouldn't. So I did. I tried to do what the Bible said, basically. 'Honor your father and mother.' I just took it to the extreme, to the point where I couldn't even go to the bathroom. Because I couldn't get away."

Some people who saw father and son together were shocked at the way the old man accepted his son's lifeblood, even while refusing to give him another chance at the pulpit, or even treat him with respect.

"I saw Curtis wipe his own father from the bathroom, and no one else would do that day to day," says Jenkins. "No one. I told Neal, 'This is your son and he cares about you. He'd have to, to put up with what you're doing to him.'

"But Neal was stubborn."

By the time Neal Frisby expelled his son from the ministry, he hadn't been well for more than a decade. Indeed, one of the great ironies of Frisby's life is that a man famed for his gift of healing — a man who spent decades telling others to believe that Jesus had the power to heal them — was himself wracked by pain for more than a decade.

Frisby's troubles, his associates say, started in the early '90s and never fully left him. And while he continued to labor over his scrolls until the final years, the pain kept him from the pulpit long before that.

"He wouldn't be there for a year, then he'd come back and preach every Sunday for six weeks," Curtis recalls. "Then he'd disappear again for months. That's the way it went until the end of his life."

In court papers, Frisby's lawyer called the illness an "undifferentiated somatoform disorder," which basically meant a number of physical complaints that didn't add up to any known medical condition.

And while his lawyer described the condition as a "mental" disorder, the pain certainly felt real. Frisby would visit his chiropractor two, three, four times a day.

"I'd go a certain time, come back a certain time, come back a certain time, go a certain time, come back a certain time," Frisby himself explained in a rambling deposition in 2003. "That's the truth, so help me God."

The deposition came as part of a lawsuit that the Frisbys filed against the chiropractor, Craig Seitz, in 2002. According to that suit, the evangelist paid Seitz's practice a staggering $800,000 over an eight-year period.

The Frisbys argued that Neal was not in his right mind and that Seitz should have refused to treat him. (The suit was settled out of court in 2004; terms were not disclosed.)

The chiropractor had apparently been worried for years about a suit, so he secretly recorded his conversations with Frisby's wife, his son Curtis, and with Frisby himself. The transcripts were entered into the court record.

While there are gaps in the text, the transcripts do Frisby no favors. They seem to offer clear evidence that the famous preacher was slipping, badly.

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