According to former members, Remnant Fellowship Church was founded upon control. Previous congregants allege in HBO Max’s docuseries The Way Down that leader Gwen Shamblin Lara preached extreme obedience: to her, to God, and to her controversial Weigh Down diet, which instructs followers to only eat when prompted by hunger pains. But Natasha Pavlovich was one person Shamblin could not control. (Shamblin has refuted claims that she practiced authoritarianism and that the Weigh Down diet is unhealthy).
“Gwen Shamblin was not expecting for me to be such a strong person who stands up for herself. She was expecting me to go away like all the others,” Pavlovich says in the show. “Surprise, surprise. I ain’t going nowhere.”
Though Pavlovich was never a member of the church herself, she was connected to Remnant via Joe Lara, who Shamblin married in 2018 shortly after divorcing her first husband. Lara and Pavlovich met in 1984 in an acting class. At the time, Lara was around 21 while Natasha was just 16. The two dated on and off for several decades. “When you see someone who’s so good looking and you want to be with them, you push away the red flags,” Pavlovich says of their relationship in The Way Down.
On Nov. 29, 2010, the couple welcomed a child. Shortly afterward, they moved to Nashville so that Lara could pursue his dreams of becoming a country music star. Pavlovich describes this decision as part of a deal the couple made with each other: Joe had until their daughter reached kindergarten to pursue his music career, and if it didn’t pan out, they would move to Chicago where Natasha had family and both she and Joe could find work. When that time finally arrived in 2015, Joe refused to move, ultimately filing a police report accusing Pavlovich of sexually abusing their four-year-old daughter in order to retain custody. According to Pavlovich, interviews between their daughter and doctors revealed that Joe was lying. By this point, she says her relationship with Lara was irreparable.
Lara met Shamblin while working as a handyman in Tennessee (the Remnant Church is located in Brentwood, about 10 miles outside of Nashville). Lara reportedly had a history of dating women who could support his lifestyle, and former Remnant Fellowship members speculate that his marriage to Shamblin was opportunistic: he got access to her money and power (and the church’s recording studio), while she got a husband who was publicly supportive of her (her previous husband, David Shamblin, wasn’t as involved in the church).
After Lara filed the police report, he and Pavlovich became entangled in a contentious legal battle over the custody of their daughter. Having already spent $200,000 on lawyers, Pavlovich eventually chose to represent herself. In December 2020, a judge concluded that she and Lara retain 50/50 custody. Lara’s lawyers, who also represent Remnant Fellowship, filed a motion in limine at the beginning of the case that prohibited Pavlovich from presenting any evidence about Remnant due to freedom of religion.
Pavlovich made plans to appeal the 2020 ruling, which would make the case public record. In The Way Down, she recalls then receiving a phone call from Lara’s lawyer saying that Lara wanted to “put all this behind him.” Pavlovich asked if if Joe would be willing to admit that he lied about the sexual abuse claims, to which Lara’s lawyer responded, “I think he would readily admit that.” She added that the move was, “based on what’s in the best interest of Gwen Shamblin Lara” — who recorded a video deposition as part of the case — “and the church and their reputation, and not in the best interest of our child.”
In 2021, a judge ruled that Pavlovich be made the primary parent, awarding her sole decision-making in regard to her daughter’s religion, education, extracurricular activities, and non-emergency medical care, among other things. “I’m waiting for our daughter to finish school and then I'm moving out of the neighborhood,” Pavlovich says. “I get to move up to 50 miles. I will move up to 50 miles.” She adds that she’s concerned about Remnant Church members following her and parking trucks outside of her apartment. “It’s reasonable for me to believe they are filming me, following me, because they are trying to get any dirt on me. I need to get out of here.”
Natasha is currently still living in Tennessee. She’s set to release her first book, Among Stars: Ten Habits to Skyrocket To Success, later this year. On May 29, 2021 Lara, Shamblin, and five other Remnant leaders were killed in a plane crash. Lara is believed to have been piloting the plane. Though Pavlovich hasn’t publicly commented on Lara’s death, she has raised concerns about his ability to fly a plane in previous years.