As fate would have it Gerald was scheduled to speak in the Tampa Florida Congregation of the World Wide Church of God where I had attended with my wife and two children ever since graduating from the University there in 1978.
Guess what the date was. January 16, 1986.
As some readers may recall that was the day somewhere before 9A.M. Herbert W. Armstrong died. My wife left a message at my office to call her right away late that morning. When I reached her at home on the phone she seemed shell shocked as she told me the news of his death. I was a little shaken, more dazed, because everything seemed to have changed in an instant. Things I thought to be true went out the window. At that moment while I waited for my client to finish an urgent phone call himself on a business matter I was looking out of his 14th floor office window that looked out over the downtown business district and out across Tampa Bay. I remember everything was so crisp and clear in the bright sunlight that bathed the city and glistened off the bay. Things gradually began to become more clear to me as well - bathed in a new light so to speak.
When I hung up the phone after getting the news from my wife and consoling her a bit I suddenly remembered that this evening was Gerald’s visit…I had definitely planned NOT to be there, now I planned NOT to miss this…this was going to be GOOD!
When I arrived at King High School where we rented the auditorium it was about 7 P.M. and the Bible Study was scheduled to start at 7:30 P.M. The mood was somber and the conversation quiet and shallow. No one really had any words that made any sense, and certainly did not want to state the OBVIOUS…the prophesied Zerubbabel, as Gerald Waterhouse continually referred to Herbert as had DIED. Everyone in the church knew that Herbert was a type of Zerubbabel and was completing the “Spiritual Temple,” which was his prophesied commission and WOULD live until the return of Christ to personally present this “Spiritual Temple” to Christ. Then Herbert would assume his rightful place in a top position ruling in the Kingdom of God somewhere among the Apostles, the Prophets, the Pillars, the Cornerstone, bla bla bla….snoring again. But apparently I was the only one that had the nerve to mention it, out loud to the pastor, who wrinkled his nose and suddenly developed a tic in his neck and upper lip. He abruptly turned and briskly walked away as pastors did when there was something they did not care to deal with…lots of other brethren that needed greeting you know.
There was a folding table, a single folding chair, a glass of water, and a small reading lamp and a microphone. Everyone was already in their seats and waiting quietly for the key speaker to arrive. He had not been in the auditorium visiting with the church members as one would expect, no one had really seen him yet except the pastor and a few key people. He was behind the curtain on the stage and right at starting time he emerged from the stage entrance door, head down, somber, and walked slowly 25 feet from the door to the table and sat down. He placed his Bible on the table squarely in front of himself and adjusted the microphone position. The pause before he spoke became uncomfortably long. He had not looked up to even see if he had an audience and was probably hoping when he looked up it would be to an empty room. If he had a conscience, I thought, this moment had to be his most difficult.
I was not expecting what came out of his mouth but knew there was only one honest thing he could utter at that moment. While still looking down at his Bible and the microphone a couple inches from his mouth he spoke very quietly and like someone who had been completely deflated, clearly in disbelief.
He said, “Well brethren….long pause….I guess I have been wrong.” I heard nothing else that evening, remember nothing else. For me there was nothing else to be heard. Most if not all of the other members looked at it as just part of God’s plan, just speculation that failed. For me it was much more…why I didn’t walk out at that moment and never return to the WCG I do understand…but that is all ancient history now and so I write.
Gerald Waterhouse did not wait three days and three nights before believing he had been a false prophet just like his boss, that night of January 16, 1986 he knew. But no matter he had many rounds of golf to play, He would reinvent himself and have a new story soon enough!
I remember having a conversation in 1996 with Roy Holladay, a former UCG president and pastor and WCG former pastor. We were at the Pensacola Feast site a year after the breakup in 1996. I was not in the UCG but my parents were so I was there to visit with them. I told Roy about this experience during a conversation we were having. I had never seen eyes get so large, (except for Rodney Dangerfield) I was ready to duck, expecting any second they would dislodge their sockets and hit me. Then after stuttering he forced out a restrained but very angry reply, “well he was only wrong on that.” Some other members standing around in the conversation quickly realized they had other places to be and vanished. I smiled and thanked Roy for talking with me. Since then when he sees me his eyes start to bug out but he is polite and restrains himself as I smile pleasantly at him.