Mother tells about church life

RUTHERFORDTON — After a full day on the witness stand, Shana Muse completed her direct testimony in a Department of Social Services action regarding the custody of Muse’s four children.

DSS is seeking to gain custody of the children from Kent and Brooke Covington, members of the Word of Faith Fellowship church in Spindale.

The Covingtons have been caregivers of the children since last September when Muse left the church to try to get her life in order.

Muse eventually sought counseling from Wellspring Retreat in Albany, Ohio, and returned to Rutherford County to try to get her children back.

Most of the day was cross examination by the Covington’s attorney Tom Hix, who took Muse through a myriad of details of her recent and not so recent history.

Hix’s cross examination had begun on Aug.21 and was continued Friday. All of next week is blocked off for the case in front of Judge Randy Pool. Numerous schedules for the lawyers involved and for Pool were adjusted to make room for the case.

Following redirect questions, Judge Pool posed multiple questions to Muse about the practices inside the controversial church. It is DSS’s contention that the children would be better off outside the church environment, which is why Muse supports the DSS action even though she would not get immediate custody of the children.

Redirect questioning was done by Muse’s lawyer Ed Hensley, DSS attorney Brad Greenway and attorney Rob Greenway and attorney Rob Martelle, court-appointed guardian ad litem for the children.

Pool also inquired about possible living situations for the children in Florida where Muse wants to return to be near her mother, sister and other relatives. Muse said her mother owns a vacant house next to her own where Muse could live and Muse’s sister lives about 7 miles away.

Judge Pool inquired about the church practice of what the church calls deliverance circles, or strong prayer session in which a person is placed in the center of a group of 15-25 people who yell and scream at the person until the person’s demons are released through a breakthrough.

Muse, along with the children, was part of the church from the spring of 2000 until September 2002.

All members of the WOFF are subject to the strong prayer, also called blasting, said Muse. Each of her four children were subjected to dozens or hundreds of blasting sessions while Muse was in the church.

Muse testified that children as young as six were blasted and children as young as four participated in blasting others.

“Everybody (took part in blasting),” said Muse. “As soon as they could stand on their two little feet they are blasting.”

Most of the blasting sessions for children were ordered by household leaders, church leaders or teachers in the church’s school. Some sessions were voluntary. Children who misbehaved were subjected to the blasting to correct their behavior and drive out demons.

Muse said her then 6-year-old son was subjected to a blasting to which her son objected.

Muse said her brother-in-law, Rick Cooper, held the boy in a chair by his legs while the blasting took place.

Muse said people yelling get right next to the person and scream or shout short statements or groan deep, loud sounds.

“(They’d be) an inch away, they would crowd them,” said Muse. “I’m sure it was quite scary for a child.”

The sessions last anywhere from a half hour to over three hours. Muse said her children were subjected to sessions ranging from 30 minutes to 90 minutes.

Muse said her two youngest children, both boys, were blasted almost daily in the two and half years Muse was there. Muse said she witnessed about 40 or 50 of those blasting sessions and participated in many of them.

Sessions would also take place at home. Muse stayed in the home of her sister, Suzanne Cooper. There were between 19-25 people living the house and everyone, including children, would participate in home blasting sessions.

Muse testified that the mother of a church leader who was in a wheelchair was blasted by the entire congregation for 45 minutes. Muse said that Jane Whaley, the founder and leader of the WOFF, told the elderly woman that she was not born again.

The elderly woman disagreed, but Whaley, according to Muse, yelled that “God told me you were not born again” and the blasting session ensued while the woman tried to get away.

Lengthy testimony about spankings and a isolation practice called church discipline occurred during Hix’s cross examination and during other questioning of Muse during the day.

Muse said each of the boys, the other two children are older girls, were spanked close to 200 times in two and half years by multiple people including Muse, teachers and church leadership.

Hix’s cross examination hit on a number of aspects of Muse’s past before she entered the church, in her time at the WOFF and at some of the visitation sessions that have taken place since.

During Hix’s questioning, Muse told of a time when her youngest son was on church discipline for nearly four months. During that time, the boy was forced to stay at Kent Covington’s business, Diversified Corporate Technologies, where Muse worked.

If there was school that day, the boy would go after school. If there was no school that day, he would spend all day there listening to audio tapes, sorting parts for the business and also working in a garden at Muse’s request. The boy was not allowed to play with any other children.

Hix went over Muse’s past drug use and how much Muse knew in advance what the WOFF was like. Muse was serving a jail sentence in Florida for a bad check charge when she decided to move to Rutherford County with her sister and WOFF member Suzanne Cooper.

Muse detailed the multiple times she tried to leave the church before leaving for good in September 2002.

Muse said it was a constant personal struggle living in the WOFF.

“I believe I was brainwashed with the fear of going to hell if I left this place (WOFF),” she testified. “I tried to make myself believe this is where God wants me, but it was a constant war inside of me.”

Hix had Muse testify to the state of mind of each of the four children both before Muse moved into the WOFF, during their time there and since Muse had left.

Muse said she has seen personality changes in all the children and said that, for the most part, they don’t talk to her at all during their supervised visits.

Muse said all of the children have told her they want to stay in the WOFF, but Muse believes that the children have had the fear of leaving drilled into them and once the children were out they would eventually return to a normal life.

Testimony in the case continues Monday with expert witnesses for both sides expected to testify as well as Muse’s children, the Covingtons and possibly former and current WOFF members.

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