A couple of months ago I interviewed Judy Meston, a long-time friend of Lonnie Frisbee. She appeared in a recent documentary about Frisbee but was unhappy with the results. The documentary makers had an agenda and skewed the truth.
I didn’t know much about Frisbee, and I have been discovering that even much of what I thought I knew was wrong. I’ve had to correct an article I’d written in the past because I was under the impression that he had “never” overcome his struggle with homosexuality. Another friend of his kindly corrected me on that point.
The last I heard from Judy, she stated that had some of the chronology wrong. She wanted to talk the next day. I was going to be busy, however, and said we would have to schedule for another time. I have not been able to make contact since.
Now, a couple months later, I’m moving on and publishing the article. If the time comes that I can correct the errors in chronology, or, anything else. I will do so. Right now, this is as close to the truth as I can come.
Lonnie Frisbee and Calvary Chapel
chuck and lonnie
The funeral for Lonnie Frisbee was held at the Crystal Cathedral. Chuck Smith, Love Song, and representatives from Vineyard were all there. Sitting among the mourners, Judy Meston leaned over to her husband and whispered, “I can hear Lonnie laughing.” The last time Judy and Lonnie had been at Crystal Cathedral, they had been kicked out for not being dressed appropriately.
Judy first met Lonnie Frisbee in high school in the drug culture of the day, but Lonnie began to read the Bible, and as he read, he changed. He quit the drugs, realizing that “pharmakeia” was not of God. He also began to bring his Bible to school and witness to Judy and others.
Later, Judy ran away to San Francisco, not knowing that Lonnie had moved there. In a park, she ran into a guy who greeted her with, “Praise the Lord!”
Startled to find another hippy Jesus Freak, she asked, “Do you know Lonnie Frisbee?” He did, and he took her to him.
As she walked through the door, Lonnie said, “Judy, I was praying for you, yesterday, and God answered my prayer.”
Before long, both of them would end up back in Southern California. Judy returned to the drug scene while Lonnie joined up with Chuck Smith at Calvary Chapel. Chuck was the teacher. Lonnie was the evangelist.
One day, while driving to a party in Laguna Beach, Judy spotted Lonnie by the side of the road. She hurriedly whispered to her friend, “Don’t look at this guy. I don’t want to talk to him.”
But Lonnie waved at her, and she stopped the car and rolled down the window.
“What are you doing?” her friend asked. “I thought you didn’t want to talk to him.”
“I have to,” Judy said.
Lonnie looked in through the car window and said, “Judy, Satan is after you to destroy you.” He handed Judy the address of an old motel across from Newport Beach that was being used as one of the many communes set up by Calvary Chapel for the kids who were coming to Christ. It was a white building with a blue roof, thus, its name, Blue Top.
Judy moved in. Sometimes Chuck Smith would visit the Blue Top. Sometimes, the police would knock on the door in the middle of the night. In the back of the police car would be some drugged-out kid. They didn’t know what to do with these kids, so they brought them to the commune, hoping they might straighten them out. Often, these kids were transformed forever. Sometimes, they left, never to be heard from again.
One day a drill sergeant of a man knocked on the door. He had several teenagers with him. He said, “I’ve heard you kids know Jesus.” When they said yes, they did, the big man ushered his group inside. “Sit down,” he told them. “These guys are going to teach you about Jesus.” This was Lavern Romaine, the man who would become Chuck Smith’s assistant pastor for many, many years.
Judy says that despite the fact that no one really knew what they were doing, miracles happened. God was moving.
The rules in the communes were strict, which Judy would eventually understand as a necessity when you were dealing with twenty-eight kids off the street and from the drug culture. They had to find a job within thirty days or work at the church. They attended Bible studies at night. The boys could go to the beach, but the girls were prohibited.
Initially, Judy protested. Steve Carr, the elder over Blue Top, explained. “God has you here. You’re like an unbroken mustang. He’s going to keep you here until you’re broken.”
Judy stayed at Blue Top for four or five months. She became comfortable with the way of life and the rules. Then, just as she entertained thoughts of living this way indefinitely, Steve Carr pulled her aside for another conversation.
“Judy, you’re done here. You’re going to move out and move on.”
The point was to get kids straightened out, on their feet, and in the Lord. Then they were to rejoin regular society, free for the grace of the Lord to direct them. It is possible, however, that some of the kids confused the peace that comes from God with the security of their structured environment. It may have been in looking to replicate that atmosphere elsewhere that some within the Jesus Movement would be led into rigid, legalistic movements like Shepherding and the Children of God. Lonnie Frisbee, himself, would take a painful detour into Bob Mumford’s Shepherding Movement.
For the moment, however, life was good at Calvary Chapel. Judy was amazed at how God used Chuck and Lonnie. They were like the odd couple.
Baptism: early 1970’s
Lonnie had the Wednesday night services and was really into Pentecostal gifts. Chuck believed in the gifts, too, but he always said that God does not interrupt Himself. Everything needed to be done with decency and in order, not drawing attention to ourselves. Chuck believed in prophecy, too. She remembers one night there was a prophecy that Chuck’s name would be widely known. Chuck just laughed.
The use of the gifts became a point of division for Chuck and Lonnie. Pastor Chuck told him that God is not a God of confusion. If someone wanted to pray for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, they could do that in the prayer room. Otherwise, too much of what went on in the name of the Holy Spirit, he believed, was just for show and attention.
Their differences over this point finally left to Lonnie’s departure in 1971, but they parted on friendly terms. And though the use of the gifts was the source of the split, Chuck Smith believed in and operated in the gifts of the Spirit. In fact, God once miraculously healed Judy’s father through Chuck Smith’s prayerful touch.
Her father, Mel, broke his kneecap, accidentally driving his motorbike into the back of car. At first, it was something to laugh about, being so much like her father. Then she got the call to hurry to the hospital; he had been placed on a respirator. A fatty embolism had broken off and lodged itself in his lungs.
Judy told her mother that she was going to ask Pastor Chuck to come pray. Her father was not a believer. Her mother looked at the Hustler magazines on the dresser and said, “You can’t do that. It will scare him.”
Judy said, “Mom, he’s dying. I think he’s scared already.”
Pastor Chuck laid a hand on his side and prayed. Her dad felt something move, and he could breathe again. The hospital released him the next day.
For years afterward, when Pastor Chuck would see Judy, he’d smile and ask, “How’s Mel?” For most of those years, though, her dad was still running from the Lord. He could never forget what happened, though. Eventually the day came when he would read his Bible and listen to Chuck preach, and God saved him.
Connie and Lonnie Frisbee moved to Florida to join Bob Mumford’s Shepherding movement. Back at Calvary Chapel, Judy’s husband-to-be was part of the construction crew on the new building. When it was finished, they were married there, a week before the first service, and Lonnie returned to conduct the ceremony.
In Florida, however, the nature of the “shepherding” was such that a member could not act without an elder’s approval. Connie wanted to settle down and have kids. The church told Lonnie he had to get a regular job.
This seems to be when Lonnie’s homosexual temptations got the best of him, and he fell.
Lonnie came back to California and stayed with Judy and her husband for a short while Connie applied for a divorce. Chuck Smith invited Lonnie back into the church but only to run the tape ministry. After a couple of weeks, Lonnie decided this was not for him, and he left.
Lonnie’s brother would later tell Judy that he believed Lonnie harbored bitterness over this period. Lonnie felt he had repented and wanted to be restored to a leadership position. Pastor Chuck had wanted to help him, but he had not been ready to fully restore him at that time. That bitterness, he supposed, was the key to his future troubles with homosexuality. After Lonnie rose again in the early days of the Vineyard Movement, this would be the issue that once more brought his fall. In 1993, it would finally claim his life, through AIDS.
A month before his passing, Lonnie came to visit Judy and her husband. They were to meet for lunch, but Judy’s husband called her and said it wasn’t going to happen. Lonnie was too exhausted. He was bringing him back to the hotel.
Judy would never see Lonnie alive, again.
Lonnie Frisbee was interred at the Crystal Cathedral, which has since been purchased by the Catholic Church. Once again, Judy can hear Lonnie laughing. Her comfort is in the fact that she knows Lonnie had repented of the sinful struggle that had robbed him of his life. As with all of God’s forgiven children, Lonnie Frisbee is now in the presence of his Heavenly Father, redeemed, restored, and, most recently, reunited with Pastor Chuck Smith.