We’re uncovering a cult in central New York. The Word of Life Christian Church went from a mysterious building in Chadwicks to front and center in the national spotlight.
Lucas Leonard,19, was killed after enduring a beating spanning nearly 12 hours, his brother Christopher narrowly escaping with his life — all at the hands of their family members, their pastor and fellow parishioners.
However, this story goes back much farther than the night of the attack in 2015 and Eyewitness News investigated.
Gregory Ames met Jerry Irwin in 1987. Irwin’s home in Richfield Springs doubled as a congregation named Mt.Zion.
“I knew I was looking for something more than what the churches around could offer. I started going in and out and this was interesting because I have never had a prophet speak to me before,” Ames said.
Peter Puleo started as a baptist minister and came into more of a Pentecostal charismatic experience. He traveled to Richfield Springs to speak with the congregation from his church Mt.Zion Ministries in Herkimer.
“He had a really strong view that God heals today and he would pray for the sick and he saw some success with that and so that lead him to get speaking invitations all over New York State. He would do that as much as he had invitation to do so,” Pastor Michael Servello Jr. of Redeemer Church in Utica tells us.
“There are language and terms that are used by a certain group of people that can mean something in other areas in other ways. I would never identify Peter as calling himself a prophet. I think he would call himself and evangelist for sure,” Servello said.
As Jerry Irwin worked to shape his budding congregation, an unknown dispute led him to cut ties with Peter and Mt.Zion Ministries entirely. He renamed the group City on a Hill and began identifying as a prophet himself.
“You gotta understand the prophetic to understand how it fell in. Jerry would speak into your life and he would see things like wow! How did you know?” Ames said. “A prophet only sees in part, and he only sees certain parts and he doesn’t know the whole story. Jerry was a man who wanted control. The church was given a word, that there was four pillars. Now, Jerry didn’t know how to do this because he didn’t want to just be a pillar; he wanted to be the cream of the crop.”
While working to figure out his leadership role, Irwin moved the group to several locations across upstate New York.
“We became a church down cellar down here in Bridgewater, at the Parrys’ and we built their cellar up so we could meet down there. That’s City on a Hill Church, and then we moved from there to Chadwicks,” Ames said.
What Faith Allows continues all of this week exclusively on WUTR.