Steve Estes Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania wants to separate from the EFCA. The EFCA has been working hard to resolve the issues in Elverson, but Steve Estes and the leadership are challenging Minneapolis and the District leadership. The seminal moment thus far occurred with the December 4, 2016 business meeting and letter that was dropped off at Hurit’s house. In the process Steve Estes and the Stoltzfus leadership allegedly blindsided the EFCA denomination.
“The duty of youth is to challenge corruption.”
“The fight for justice against corruption is never easy. It never has been and never will be. It exacts a toll on our self, our families, our friends, and especially our children. In the end, I believe, as in my case, the price we pay is well worth holding on to our dignity.”
“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
Matthew 5:14-16 NLT
Does this verse from scripture apply? Are the “good deeds” coming out of Steve Estes church reflect well on the Christian community?
The Wondering Eagle is coming up on the first anniversary of starting to write about Steve Estes and Community Evangelical Free Church on March 6, 2017. Over 50 articles about this deeply corrupt Evangelical Free church have been written. If you are not familiar with the story, this is a quick synopsis. Brock Estes allegedly raped his wife and pointed a loaded gun at her. When Hurit was tired of the alleged domestic abuse she filed for divorce. Then Steve Estes, the Senior Pastor, coached the church through practicing church discipline on his ex daughter-in-law. Steve Estes allegedly did this to preserve Brock’s job at the Berks County Jail, and also his as well. If you want to read the entire story in detail I will direct you to “Steve Estes and Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania: A Painful Story of Domestic Abuse, Inappropriate Church Discipline, and Failed EFCA Polity.” Plus there is also “Hurit’s Public Excommunication While Alleged Criminal Activity by Brock Estes is Withheld from the Congregation: Appeals for Help Fall on Deaf Ears to Steve Musser of the Eastern District and National Evangelical Free Church of America.” There is a lot of ground to cover and if I make any mistakes in what is said below, then I invite correction. There is a lot of conflicting information that I had to wrestle with in putting this post together.
Behind the Scenes at the EFCA
Eddie Cole became the Superintendent of the Eastern District shortly before the situation at Community Evangelical Free Church spilled out onto the internet. Previously Eddie was the Senior Pastor at Salem Church in Staten Island. Eddie inherited a difficult situation and I believe Eddie reached out to the EFCA in Minneapolis for help in dealing with this problem. That is how Greg Strand got into the picture. For those of you who do not know Greg Strand directs the EFCA’s Biblical Theology and Credentialing. In addition I believe Greg Strand overseas the EFCA Theology Conference which just took place at Trinity International University. I actually wrote about this conference in “An Overview of The Evangelical Free Church of America’s (EFCA) Theological Conference – The Reformation at 500: Also with Al Mohler Being One of the Main Speakers Does the EFCA Believe Child Sex Abuse is a Joke?” According to multiple sources in Elverson its my understanding that the EFCA put together a fact finding committee that consisted of 5 people to look into the situation with Steve Estes church. This committee met with former members of Community Evangelical Free Church. Then they met with Brock Estes and finally Steve Estes and the Elverson church Elders. This fact finding committee met with the leadership of Community Evangelical Free multiple times in trying to understand what happened. In the process it is also my understanding that Eddie Cole humbly approached the family of Hurit and apologized for what happened. What would happen over the year is that Eddie Cole, Greg Strand and the EFCA poured a lot of time, money and effort in trying to fix this situation. I will go into more detail below but the communities of Elverson and Morgantown should know that the EFCA worked hard in trying to fix the situation.
It is my belief that the EFCA after investigating the situation determined that Steve Estes church is in the wrong. And that the practice of church discipline on an alleged rape victim was inconsistent with the values of the EFCA. A list of about 14 recommendations were presented to the leadership of Steve Estes church. One of them was for the church to hold a repentance service in the community of Elverson. The EFCA wanted Steve Estes church to hold a repentance service that would be open to former CEFC members, Hurit’s family, and the community. Both Eddie Cole and Greg Strand realized how controversial this church discipline became and how the fabric of the community was being torn. They allegedly wanted a repentance service to take place so that the community of Elverson and Morgantown can heal, and that the community can find peace. In the mind of Steve Estes, Merle and Dave Stoltzfus that was not meant to be. What allegedly happened next was profoundly disturbing and revealed that Community Evangelical Free is a rogue church inside the denomination.
December 4, 2016 Business Meeting
Prior to the December 4th service Steve Estes and the leadership were allegedly telling Community Evangelical Free Church a different story. They proclaimed that the EFCA had a problem with their version of end times theology. Allegedly the leadership was intentionally misleading the congregation about what the EFCA was saying. The Elder Board allegedly refused to take questions for the business meeting, and they had to be submitted in writing before hand. This blog published three sets of questions for members of Community Evangelical Free to consider. You can read those here, here and here. At the business meeting its my understanding that Steve Estes preached and explained why his church must take a hard line on divorce. I heard from a couple of sources that before the meeting certain members of the congregation were going to challenge the leadership on their version of events. In the end no one challenged them. But its my understanding that 2 members walked out of the business meeting. Around this time, but I am not certain if this happened at the business meeting, the Elder Board voted to rescind Hurit’s excommunication. They freed members of the Free Church in Elverson to engage with Hurit again. This was announced at this business meeting. In the process both through the business meeting and what would happen the following morning the leadership of the EFCA denomination would allegedly be blindsided by Steve Estes.
A Cold Letter Written by Steve Estes?
On Monday December 6, 2016 Doug Mountiz showed up at Hurit’s house at 7:30 in the morning and dropped off a letter addressed to Hurit. This one page letter was incredibly cold from my understanding. In that letter Community Evangelical Free said that over two years had passed since Hurit was placed under church discipline. It said that the case of church discipline was complicated due to family connections in the church. The goal of rescinding the excommunication of Hurit was to help preserve the church which was being torn apart in two. The letter did not apologize to Hurit or her family for what Steve Estes church did. Instead they were releasing Hurit from church discipline in order to preserve the church. The church refused to admit that is was wrong. Its also my understanding that the Community Evangelical Free church still believes that Hurit did not have Biblical grounds for divorce. Also the letter from what I heard declared that that there would be no formal service of restoration. Next the letter also declared that Hurit is no longer under church discipline. Finally the letter closed out saying that if Hurit had any questions she could contact Al Kimball.
The tone, flow, and language used in this letter left many with the opinion that Steve Estes authored this letter. It was like the letter that Brock read at Hurit’s excommunication service. At that service many people believe that Steve wrote that letter and had Brock read it, as it was similar. This letter combined with the business meeting revealed that Steve Estes church had jumped the gun. This was done without the knowledge of the EFCA leadership in Minneapolis, or the Eastern District. Allegedly when the EFCA leadership in Minneapolis saw the letter that Doug Mountiz dropped off they were horrified. This letter I believe led to increased tension between Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson and the national EFCA denomination. The EFCA was uninvited by Community leadership and were blindsided and its my understanding that they were surprised that Elverson behaved this way. With that it was realized that this is an Elder Ruled church and not an Elder Led, which is how the EFCA operates. There is another question that needs to be asked. When this letter went out did Al Kimball know that his name was at the bottom of the letter in the understanding of “for further information please contact Al Kimball?” It is my belief that Al did not know this was happening. It also begs the following question…does Al Kimball realize that he is a tool of Steve Estes? Community Evangelical Free Church has allegedly notified the EFCA that they intend to break away from the denomination. There are a lot of challenges that exist which I will get into below. There is talk in Elverson that Community Evangelical Free Church has been removed from the denomination. As of February 27, they are still listed on the EFCA Church Locator.
How the Free Church in Elverson shows up in the church locator.
Analysis and Challenges That Remain
I believe that the EFCA has finally come to understand the challenges that face this rogue church. They realize the problems and issues that exist. Some of the sources I have spoken to finally feel validated that the EFCA is taking this situation seriously. Having said all that there are three main challenges that remain for the denomination and this rogue elder ruled Evangelical Free Church to wrestle with.
The first issue is that of the communication challenges that currently exist. The EFCA embraces the congregational model which does have its challenges. In a healthy relationship the information flows down from Minneapolis, to the district and then to the church who disseminates the information to the congregation. In this situation the leadership in Elverson is allegedly rejecting both the advice and leadership of the EFCA from either Eddie Cole or Greg Strand in Minneapolis. So here is the problem. In one way you have people attracted to the EFCA brand, but in this case you have a rogue church that is inconsistent with the values of the denomination. So how do you keep people from joining or getting involved who do not know the challenges or issues? After what happened to Hurit, what could happen to other people in that church? In my history, I and so many others have become involved in the EFCA because they are attracted to the brand name. That is one major challenge for the EFCA, and here is another issue. If Steve Estes as well as Merle and David Stoltzfus are going to mislead the church and tell their congregation something different how does the EFCA communicate their decisions to the congregation? How does the EFCA in Minneapolis communicate that the EFCA the problems that exist? How does the EFCA get around Steve Estes and Dave and Merle Stoltzfus? One possibility is for the EFCA in Minneapolis to write a letter and send it to the congregation and in the process by-pass the leadership of Steve Estes and Merle and David Stoltzfus. I don’t believe that has happened before in the EFCA, and if I am mistaken then please correct me. But it is something that the EFCA should strongly consider doing.
The second outstanding issue is that of the $4 – 5 million dollar loan with the EFCA in Minneapolis. This loan is a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. Plus the loan issue has become even more complicated by the large number of members who have left. This is a rough estimate but I believe close to 125 people have left, and more are leaving. Community Evangelical Free Church just lost a deacon two weeks ago I believe. The EFCA should not have given this loan to Elverson to begin with. One thing that the EFCA must do is tighten the lending requirements so that a similar situation will not happen again. This loan is bad policy as it is given to a church that can’t afford it. Then there is the wasteful aspect. Think of some of the other EFCA churches that could use that money? Churches that are dealing with flooding in their basement, or need a new building to become more handicap accessible. Or another way to look at it is think of the EFCA ministries that could be done in places like New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh or Lancaster. But if Steve Estes church breaks away from the denomination what happens to the loan? This is my personal belief but I don’t believe that Community Evangelical Free can pay it, and that they are going to be broken by the loan. Its my understanding that the church in Elverson was required to at least raise $1.5 million and that they did not meet that requirement. And if the church in Elverson just applies that $1.5 million to only interest then this church is going to be in a world of hurt in a few years down the road when it can’t make its payments. When Minneapolis approved the loan it was probably done with the belief that Steve Estes church would be a part of the EFCA for many more years. One other sad aspect is that this Evangelical Free church had been the recipient of quite a bit of money over the years. Has Steve Estes been grateful for the money that has been received? Or did Steve Estes and the Stoltzfus leadership just use the EFCA in the end?
The third challenge is the requirements in the bylaws of Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson. The bylaws require that two thirds of the congregation need to vote in the affirmative to separate from the EFCA. With the number of people who have left how is this going to be achieved? Will people in Elverson want to vote in the affirmative and separate when they realize they have been lied to by Steve Estes? With the bylaw requirements how do they get around that challenge? I honestly don’t know how that will be handled. But its a serious obstacle for CEFC to overcome. The question is can they?
There is another problem as well as since Community Evangelical Free Elverson and the EFCA are eventually parting ways. This church was incorporated in the 1970’s as a part of the EFCA denomination through the Eastern District. This church in all likelihood is going to have to reincorporate their property, name, business materials, etc… That is not going to be cheap. But since they want to break away from the denomination they are going to be required to do it. What I predict is going to happen is that at the next business meeting Steve Estes is going to go before those who remain and say that Elverson no longer wants to be a part of the EFCA. Its my belief that Steve and the leadership will manufacture some reason to try and say, “we need to break away.” This church leadership is going to continue to mislead those who are members. Also remember Steve still teaches practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary and is still on the board of Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. That continues to deserve scrutiny as well.
I will be writing about this in the next few days but one thing that needs to be highlighted is that the communities of Elverson and Morgantown need to understand the time and effort Eddie Cole poured into this problem set. When Community Evangelical Free rebuffed the District leadership Eddie rolled up his sleeves and went back to work and tried, and worked with, and got support from Minneapolis in dealing with this church. People flew out from Minneapolis in trying to work with this church and resolve this issue. In the end the problem will be not the EFCA leadership either in Minneapolis or the District. The problem remains with Steve Estes. So its my sincere hope that the community will communicate to Eddie their thanks and appreciation for his efforts. Again it wasn’t due to a lack of effort, these problems exist because of the leadership of Steve Estes. Speaking of Steve Estes its my understanding that the EFCA would not certify him as a pastor. If anyone knows why that happened could you please post the answer below? This situation is profoundly sad. The opportunities that have been lost to fix and resolve this have been disturbing. The church leadership could have righted this wrong at any time, and they still can. Its still my belief that Steve Estes needs to resign. I plan to write a post in a few days about that in further detail. That is the latest of what has happened in Elverson. There are going to be a few more posts that will be written about this situation, again please be patient as I deal with all the information. One final note…for those who are interested Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson is holding their annual dinner and square dance on March 4, 2017. It costs $25.00 for anyone who would like to attend. Again guys please know that I love you.