By Ray Stern
By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
"I'm not bitter at Robert," Curtis insists. "I just think he could have handled it better."
Indeed, the Frisby boys were in bad shape at the time of their father's death. Both of Curtis' kidneys failed just days before his father died; he's since had a transplant, but he subsists on a disability check from the government and the kindness of friends as he tries to get his ministry started. (To that end, he's hosting a crusade at the Last Day Revival Center in west Phoenix in October.)
One month after their father's death, Curtis' brother Joel was killed in a freak moped accident. Curtis admits that Robert Brooks cut a check for $4,000 to help with funeral costs, but he says it in the context of lamenting that Brooks didn't cover the whole thing.
But blaming Brooks for accepting the gift of the cathedral is perhaps easier than blaming his beloved father for giving it. And Zan Pauley, for one, is convinced that Brooks has been doing exactly what Neal Frisby wanted.
The house, for example, was something the evangelist insisted should be torn down. "He didn't want it to become a shrine," Pauley says. "That was Neal's orders."
Indeed, of all the stories told about Neal Frisby's final days, it's one from a man who'd practically been a stranger that rings most true.
In his very first meeting with Frisby, Brooks says, the evangelist talked about handing over his cathedral.
Frisby said that God gave him a dream the night before they met.
"In his dream, he was there in the pulpit, and he told everyone to follow Robert Brooks," Brooks says. "God was telling him to turn over everything."
The Capstone Cathedral today has been stripped of all signs of its former owner. Gone is the sign with Neal Frisby's name out front, gone the pulpit so familiar from late-night TV, gone the interior rainbow color scheme that Neal Frisby had touted as so symbolic.
Frisby's ministry, too, is gone from the premises. Miracle Life Ministries LLC, now run by Neal's brother Gerald, has moved to an office off-site.
There they still answer the phones "Miracle Life Neal Frisby's ministry." They're still working on mailings and are planning to reprint a number of Frisby's sermon booklets. But the Capstone Cathedral is now the Capstone Center, and inside is Robert Brooks' church. Trendsetters Church, he calls it.
About 125 people attended one recent July service. The church hasn't grown since Brooks took over, but it doesn't appear to have shrunk, either. At the July service, the congregation seems cheerful and the worship team talented. If the sermon is a little long, well, Brooks has time to learn brevity.
Brooks says he's been trying to go slow with changes. He knew it would be a rough transition; he didn't want to put up a sign of his own until the congregation had time to adjust.
Eventually, he wants to get on TV, or a podcast. (That's the worldwide part of his vision.) But these days, the Capstone Center doesn't even have a listed phone number. And if you do manage to get through, the church answering machine lacks the typical message stating service times and visitor information and it isn't exactly easy to get a call back.
Neal Frisby's been dead for a year. But Brooks says his congregation is only beginning to move on.
"It was hard for people," he says. "From what I understand about his ministry, a lot of people didn't even believe Neal Frisby was capable of dying."
And that's one reason that changes are necessary.
"The man had a very unique ministry," Brooks says. "I think he was misunderstood, even by his own parishioners. Because all the focus was on Neal and I think that was far from what Neal wanted."
For his sermon in July, Brooks focuses on the story of the Good Samaritan. He tells the congregation how a poor man was lying in the streets, beaten and robbed, but the religious leaders passed by without stopping to help. They were too consumed, Brooks explains, with being righteous.
The Bible, he says, calls for Christians to go out and help people. Not spend their time locked away, studying the scriptures.
It's impossible not to think of Neal Frisby working feverishly over his scrolls long into the night, unwilling to stop long enough to pay attention to his children.
Even in his sermon, Robert Brooks makes a point of talking about his priorities: God first, but family is second.
His ministry, Brooks stresses, is last.
It's a big change for the former Capstone Cathedral. But it's hard not to think that maybe, by the end of his life, even Neal Frisby might have approved.
In his final days, Pauley says, Neal seemed to finally realize the toll that his overwork had taken.
"Take a look at me," he once told Pauley sorrowfully. "This is not what you want to do to yourself."
And in those final years of sickness and pain, the once-famous televangelist sat with his loyal follower and spoke of his biggest regret.
"He regretted," Pauley says, "that he hadn't spent more time with his family."