Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania excommunicates a rape victim. The Senior Pastor’s son avoids church discipline in the process. The church prays for Hurit Estes to be turned over to Satan. Disgusted and angry members start to contact Steve Musser the District Superintendent of the Eastern District of the Evangelical Free Church of America. He ignores Community members’ pleas. Others start to contact the National Evangelical Free Church in Minneapolis for help. People start to resign and walk away from Community.
“Take all the robes of all the good judges that have ever lived on the face of the earth, and they would not be large enough to cover the inequity of one corrupt judge.”
Henry Ward Beecher
“Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men’s hearts Atticus had no case.”
Harper Lee “To Kill a Mockingbird”
“Steve [Musser] for the good of the Church, for the Good of our local Church, for the good of the Evangelical Free Church, would you please step in here and help?”
A passionate appeal made by a member of Community Evangelical Free Church shortly before the excommunication of a rape victim
No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8 NLT
**Corrected a couple of spelling errors and inserted Bible verse (3/10/16)**
Hurit left her marriage to Brock Estes, the Senior Pastor’s son of Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania. The marriage was filled with issues. Brock was addicted to pornography, an alcoholic who allegedly pointed a loaded gun at his wife. There is also the issue of the alleged sexual assault by Brock Estes. The Senior Pastor of Community Evangelical Free Church had one goal when his daughter-in-law filed for divorce. She needed to be excommunicated so he could preserve his job and cover up his son’s alleged criminal activity in the process. In early December 2014 in a restaurant in Lancaster, Pennsylvania Community’s Youth Pastor Matt Carter stated when he heard of Brock’s assault of Hurit. “I would consider that rape…” On December 14, 2014 a little over a week later after saying that Hurit had been a victim of a crime Matt Carter presided over Hurit’s excommunication service.
Three days before the excommunication service Hurit sent out a letter explaining what had happened. That letter is in the first post which you can read here. On December 14, at 3:07 in the afternoon Chris Schreier sent out an email to the church claiming to represent the entire Elder board. In the email Chris said the following:
Dear Members of CEFC,
We know that the letter received by many in our body recently has made the thought of attending tonight‘s service even more difficult. If that is true for you, I encourage you to consider that even more of a reason to attend. One of tonight’s main goals is to share more about how this process has developed over time. Though we will not be able to share all details, we certainly hope that what we do share will help you understand how we have come to where we now stand. This has been a complicated case with much information and hours of testimony from many people. Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.” I urge you to not allow yourself input from only one source. Please come tonight so that we as a body can pray together, share that which must be shared and also better understand our responsibilities as members going forward.
The goal was to excommunicate Hurit because Steve Estes had to preserve his job, and image, and Brock had to preserve his especially with the allegations of illegal activity. That evening at the excommunication service various Elders read scripture verses about church discipline. Hurit did not attend the service. At the service Brock Estes read a statement in which he partially confessed his shortcomings. He admitted to looking at a few inappropriate websites in his marriage. Some of the former members of Community Evangelical Free Church who attended were struck by Brock’s statement. It sounded like it was something Steve Estes would write. The flow, the language…it didn’t sound like Brock was the source of the letter. As a result there are members who believe that the Senior Pastor Steve Estes wrote Brock’s statement and had him read it. To those who also listened to the statement who knew the facts they were stunned by how dishonest his statement was to the congregation. It should be noted at no point during the excommunication service was it mentioned that Brock Estes allegedly raped his wife. Nor was it mentioned that he had also allegedly pointed a loaded weapon at his wife or put her in a headlock in which she could not move or breath. At the service the Elders had Hurit excommunicated and declared that she was not a Christian. Mike Culbert and his wife Kelly led the prayer to cast Hurit over to Satan. Rick Renninger then spoke to the congregation in which he instructed them as to how they were to shun Hurit. At the end of the service one of the Elders, Dave Stott took a huge bag of rocks to the stage and say, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone against Brock.” A number of people were enraged with what they saw and walked out during the service. In the process of abusing their authority Community Evangelical Free Church also manipulated local law enforcement by having a police officer there at the service as well.
After the excommunication service, Hurit found refuge in the home of a friend. She was emotional. About 20 individuals gathered at her friend’s house including Hurit’s parents. When Hurit walked through the door and saw her mother she fell in her Mother’s arms and sobbed. People were there for about an hour. One of the elder’s wives who shortly before hand prayed that Hurit be turned over to Satan came to the home of Hurit’s friend. Hurit’s friend told the elder’s wife that Hurit was there. Hurit who was to be shunned by the congregation, was still supported by her friend. She was not going to shun Hurit. Other people from Community in their bravery refused to engage in the shunning, and stood up to the church. This elder’s wife then went back to the Elders and reported on Hurit being in the home of a Community member. As a result their list of grievances against Hurit’s friend’s family grew. Other people started to be dragged into this situation and it began to ensnare more people.
An Appeal to Steve Musser of the Eastern District of the Evangelical Free Church of America
After the trial, as the Elders, and Steve Estes moved forward to discipline a rape victim, many families grew concerned and upset. They were losing faith in their Elder led government and were growing disillusioned. A number of people started to contact the Eastern District Office of the Evangelical Free Church of America. The Eastern District of the Evangelical Free Church of America is responsible for all churches in the states of Delaware, Virginia, New Jersey, Eastern Maryland, Eastern New York, Central and Eastern Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. The District Office is located in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. The man responsible for running the District at the time was Steve Musser. He was the District Superintendent and responsible for all Evangelical Free Churches. Today Dr. Eddie Cole runs the district. Part of Steve’s duties at the time was to lead the district’s Church Development Team. The role of this team is to support all the churches in the district. Before coming on board Steve Musser served as the Senior Associate Pastor at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Following the trial a number of people started to contact the District Office pleading for help. They contacted Steve Musser. Below is the correspondence between one concerned church member of Community Evangelical Free Church and Steve Musser.
CEFC’s member’s email to Steve Musser on October 27, 2014
Trust you are well. Thanks for getting back to my text and providing your email. I am sure you can fill every hour of every day given the responsibilities you have and I want to thank you personally for the work you to on this earth to further God’s Kingdom.
This has been a very difficult process as I’ve communicated to you. My wife and I love our church and are seeking to do the right thing but know getting you involved is going to be hard for folks. We feel right about doing this, or view is that it can only help all of us. So, what dates do you have available in the neat term to meet here in Elverson, Pa? How about Nov. 6 any time after 6:30 PM? Could you give me some guidance on how to approach this? In other words, should I meet personally with Steve and other elders or do this in an email? I know this is hard but I feel the best approach would be for you to meet privately with Steve. Simply share your concerns directly and then tell him of my request to meet with you and the elders. This is the best first step. Can we talk about this? Would you work with me here a bit on the best way to handle this and I will do this and let you know when I do or even include you on the email, however I would like an understanding prior to doing this.
Secondly, on behalf of Hurit (the lady being disciplined) who gave permission to ask you, what recourse does she have in the evangelical free church to have her hearing or his process reviewed by a larger session. Is that normal course of “business” respectfully. Can you give a brief answer so I can get back to her and if she wanted to contact you can she? Within the Evangelical Free Church of America, each local church has the authority to complete its own affairs, including situations like this one. I’m afraid there is no “appeal” per se. However, we do all we can to use moral suasion to address situations like this.
Steve Musser’s response on October 27, 2014
Just got back from New England.
Replies are in “red” below.
CEFC member’s email to Steve Musser October 27, 2014
Welcome back. You are certainly busy.
Thanks for your comments below. I will pray about this and get back to you as soon as I can.
CEFC member’s email to Steve Musser on October 29, 2014
I am going to reach out to Steve [Estes] in the next few days and when I do I will let you know.
Would appreciate your prayers.
Steve Musser’s email response on October 30, 2014
You certainly have my prayers! I received your voice mail and I will be praying about this meeting with the three elders tonight. God is sovereign and I know He will use this time. I will set aside the 6th. No problem. We can reschedule.
CEFC member’s to Steve Musser on November 5, 2014
At the time I am going to hold off on contacting Steve Estes regarding a meeting over this matter. Given where we are in this current discipline case and given the stress on relationships I’m not sure the time is good? As you’ve indicated, it will not influence any decision they make in the near future relative to Hurit’s discipline.
We’ve heard from a long list of experts , from which Leslie Vernick was the most recent, who understand the impact of destructive marriage dynamics our pastor’s son’s wife unfortunately experienced. They’ve all communicated clearly their knowledge on how to manage these situations in the church. All of them say the same thing “the elders need to have a teachable spirit” in circumstances like this. There is a way outside the black and white status quo discipline arena. My wife and I, and others are simply in a different camp relative to what we believe these two young souls needed at the time of this crisis, and presently in their lives. We communicated this “disconnect in our minds again” to our elders in our recent meeting at our home. The elders feel that discipline is the way the church should go. They referred to it as “CCEF heat”.
The other obvious dynamic that we struggled with, and I know several elders have begun to struggle with, is the nepotism throughout the process. Again, we voiced that concern in our recent meeting. The touching point of Elder Family members throughout this process can only be identified by folks like ourselves who have been intimately involved in this process.
As of late I understand that several other families have contacted you regarding this issue? Maybe on these grounds you could reach out to Steve relative your concerns with this process? Can we discuss this?
In closing, after being a part of this process, and seeing the many hours that elders have put in to this process, I want to tell you personally how much I appreciate your commitment and time dedicated to the church. I can’t imagine all that you deal with daily in your position but I have a small glimpse into how much you do. Your service to God’s people is greatly appreciated. The knowledge and insight you projected to my wife and I give us both hope and confidence in the leadership of the Evangelical Free Denomination.
God Bless and feel free to call me if you like.
Steve Musser’s response on November 16, 2014
I received your message. I want to assure you that you have in no way whatsoever offended me. To the contrary I continue to pray for you and the situation and I am encouraged by your concern and care for everyone involved.
I understand your decision and I agree. I think you’ve done what you can and this is what the Lord asks.
I plan to contact Steve in the next few weeks as part of my normal responsibilities. I am praying for the Spirit to lead and for God to open the door for a conversation about everything. I will not indicate any contact with you or with others.
Blessings my friend,
CEFC member’s email to Steve Musser on December 9, 2014
I left a phone message today. I trust this email finds you well.
Steve Estes and our elders have made a decision to excommunicate Hurit Estes. This is happening Sunday. Many of our members are feeling very disturbed and just astounded at the “lack of transparency by our elder board, and lack of understanding” of what happened to this young lady. All we have ever asked for (many families, many times) is for our elder board to please reach out to any organization and seek guidance on this particular case which is not black and white, but grey at beast. It would seem prudent to do so simply to make many in our congregation who have been members for many years, love our church and are concerned about the reputation of our church in our community, have a sense of peace about this direction. They will have nothing to do with this. Our Elders have found Brock (Hurit’s husband) to be repentant. They are satisfied with their ability to determine this, yet when asked by many women in our church if there has been any pursuit on his part toward his wife, they admit there has not been and feel it would be “punitive” to require this? Odd, at best, to any thinking Christian aware of the abuses by him. We have so many mature women (and men for that matter) in our church that could and were willing to help assist the elders in this situation (Two in particular have masters in counseling from CCEF from which our church sponsored for these very situations). One is on staff for this very reason. None of these women were approached for help or direct involvement. It comes down to the fact that Hurit filed for divorce, five month after Steve asked a very select group of women to try and manage this behind Hurit’s back, and before he brought this to the elder’s attention. At that point, he communicated to Hurit and her parents she would be excommunicated for pursuing this. So, given that our elders only believe that adultery and abandonment apply in the case of divorce . It’s been justified.
Given the graphic and violent details that Hurit shared with our elders, we have no where to turn but to you for some guidance. My wife sat in a three hour meeting with Hurit and one of our pastors about two weeks ago, and listened to one of our pastors’ confirm that a crime has been committed against her. Our elders have decided to bring this to the congregation for discussion, and are now refusing to take any questions from our lay people. I personally feel they are crossing a fine line by indicating that family members have recused themselves on votes, yet participated in developing charges, participated in full elder discussions before and after these votes were taken, and have been provided all of the documentation from the trial. When I compare the need for congregational insight, and good decision making on behalf of our church, in our last and final congregational meeting in November, we spent most of the time discussing our new Capitol campaign and building project, and then read a three minute letter updating on this situations but refused to take any questions. Buildings seem to matter more than lives.
I am sure you sense the frustrations (down right anger at times) in my email. I admit I’m struggling. There have been so many relationships from committed families tested daily, so much nepotism involved her that I must now turn to you for help, and ask you to please develop on over site committee to review this decision, and require our elder board to submit to you while you interview families, elders, and Steve Estes on this matter. I for one am willing to submit to your findings and decision, why would anyone have a problem with this? We are not a pastoral run church, we are an elder run church. We must have confidence that in the Evangelical Free Church, we can appeal for help, maintain our Christian relationships with our fellow believers, and stay in a church we love dearly?
Steve for the good of the Church, for the Good of our local Church, for the good of the Evangelical Free Church, would you please step in here and help? Our elders meet Wednesday to plan the entire excommunication service for this coming Sunday.
Thank you for your help.
Steve Musser’s response on December 10, 2014
Please know that I am in contact and doing what I can.
CEFC member’s email to Steve Musser on December 11, 2014
FYI, an elder from my church contacted me today and asked during our conversation if I contacted you. I indicated no comment. This elder did indicate that you had heard from members of our Church. Call me if you have questions.
Steve Musser’s response on December 15, 2014 (The day after Hurit’s excommunication)
I’m afraid this is the last email you will receive from me concerning the Brock and Hurit situation.
I spoke with Steve Estes and I did indicate that “a number” of people had contacted me about the situation. I absolutely gave no names.
I had a phone conversation with the board and learned a lot. Steve recused himself. Unfortunately, there are significant varying perspectives on this situation and how things came to this point. I’ve therefore come to the conclusion that for me to truly understand the situation I would need to do many interviews and much research. I don’t feel I am in a position to do this. I listened to them and shared a few concerns. I’m afraid it is in God’s hands my friend.
With that last email the District Superintendent of the Eastern District Steve Musser, refused to address or deal with the situation. He also refused to reach out to national and ask for assistance. Steve Musser chose not to respond to other people who emailed him asking for help from their denomination. They were all ignored by the District leadership.
December 15 and Beyond: Appeals to the National Evangelical Free Church of America, Hurit’s Shunning, and People Start to Resign
The ink wasn’t even dry on Hurit’s shunning order and Brock Estes called the lawyer and said he was ready to sign the divorce that morning on December 15, 2014. When people realized that neither Steve Musser or the Eastern District was not going to intervene people started to contact the National Evangelical Free Church which is headquartered in Minneapolis. They had hoped that Minneapolis could step in and do something. One CEFC member spoke to a person in leadership in the headquarters. He asked for help and said that many were concerned. He hit a brick wall. Another member from Community spoke to Brett in the Church Finances Department. He described Brett as being arrogant and pompous. He asked if he knew about the financial situation at Community, and what was happening with people walking away and Community Evangelical Free’s moral failure. Brett hung up on this member and 5 minutes called him back. Brett wanted to know what the moral failure was. This member explained that the Senior Pastor of Community twisted scripture and that a woman who was abused by her husband and treated inappropriately was excommunicated. Brett said they knew, people were calling and with that the conversation was over The National Evangelical Free Church knew of the situation in Elverson and they were okay. Buildings mattered more than people. The National Evangelical Free Church was okay with it and not going to get involved. It was a local issue and they didn’t care. This policy only affirmed bad behavior and reaffirmed the problems in Community Evangelical Free Church. Another family who had contacted national learned that since Steve Estes was not ordained in the EFCA, the denomination can’t remove a minister who is corrupt. The Evangelical Free has no means to remove someone who is not ordained in the EFCA. The only way an EFCA pastor can be removed is if he is ordained in the denomination, then his license can be yanked and he can be brought before a board. This family was stunned to realize that Steve Estes is accountable to no one. Immediately after the excommunication of a rape victim members started to resign and walk away. A large number of families resigned. Over the past year it is estimated that 50 families or members within the church have walked away from it. It was during this situation that some realized how controlling membership covenants can be. One family who resigned recently notified the church that they were leaving. Community EFCA told them that they will take their request under consideration, and then finally released them. Many of these families had been involved in Community for a decade or longer, plus they were also committed to giving to The Capital Campaign. What is going to happen to The Capital Campaign if members are going to continue to resign? As people who are committed to giving money leave how will Community make up for their loss? Will there be more pressure placed on those who are still there? Some members are deeply disgusted but are staying trying to reform their church. All of these families believe that the church was wrong to excommunicate Hurit. They were also stunned that Brock Estes got a pass. After all the lesson that Community sent to the Elverson area is this: divorce is a sin, not submitting fully to your Elders is a sin, but Brock allegedly sexually assaulting his wife while under the influence of alcohol is fine.
In January 2015 another family resigned. Community had a list of grievances that were growing against them. At the resignation meeting the church wanted to meet with them, and that meeting was held by Matt Carter. In the meeting Matt Carter raked this family over the coals. Community was upset that they did not shun Hurit, and that they defied their authority. They accused them of being prideful and of knowing better than the Elders. They accused them of being manipulative. They were given instructions by Al Kimball on how to treat Hurit. If Hurit’s friend walked into her daughter’s apartment and saw Hurit there she is to walk out. After the meeting Matt Carter emailed this former Community family and gave her follow up advice on “gossip” and Hurit.
- Don’t discuss or listen to any discussion on the case.
- Don’t attend any meetings that are intended to discuss the case.
- If approached, discourage others from attending those meetings.
- Continue to not seek or initiate contact with Hurit.
- Apart from common courtesy, any/all conversation with Hurit simply encourages her to meet with the elders to repent and reconcile.
- Thank you for agreeing to abide by the decision of the elders as you pray and consider your decision. We are praying along with you.
During this season over 60 people have approached Steve Estes and Community’s Elders about Hurit and Community dismissed them. People have taken a witness to speak to the Elders in trying a Biblical way of confronting with two witnesses, and they have been brushed off. A couple of pastors in the area have heard of the situation and reached out and were rebuffed and ignored. Community because of its theology acts very arrogantly and looks down on other churches in the area. Even today people are continuing to approach the leadership. Several outside organizations have contacted CEFC and offered to help, but Community’s Elders refused any outside counsel. During Hurit’s marriage the young lady sought out help from a few friends, approached her husband, and the Elders of Community Evangelical Free Church. Huirt, who was excommunicated asked for a third meeting but the Elders refused to engage her. Huirt also told her story to the church. CCEF was willing to give outside counsel but the Elders refused it.
Today Brock Estes is now in another relationship. The question remains if the person he is seeing is aware of his alcoholism, the alleged incident with the gun, and the alleged rape. It’s my understanding that Brock also goes to Iron Works Church in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. On the one year anniversary of her excommunication service Hurit went more public about what happened. Her Four Square post is gaining more traction and has been shared on Twitter. People are still resigning, just the other day David learned of another member of the congregation who made the decision to resign.