Mid-Kentucky Presbytery responds to report about ex-pastor Jud Hendrix

A Louisville Presbyterian church with a nontraditional congregation is grappling with the fallout from a sexual misconduct investigation into its former pastor, who left under murky circumstances 11 years ago.

The investigation, a 24-page report compiled over several months, was released last month and outlined violations that occurred over several years at Covenant Community Church under former pastor Jud Hendrix, a local organizer who left the congregation in 2013 .

Police are not involved, said Jerry Van Marter, clerk of the Mid-Kentucky Presbytery. But the investigation alleges that Hendrix abused his position of power during his time leading the church, with a congregation largely made up of younger adults who felt left out of traditional churches, through actions such as:

  • Repeatedly crossing personal boundaries, including including sexuality in teachings and kissing women on the mouth during the passing of the peace, along with engaging in ‘sexual behavior’ with at least ten women in the congregation;
  • Consuming alcohol in church, even after presbytery officials had withdrawn permission to do so, and encouraging alcohol consumption at church celebrations;
  • Hosting regular parties with congregants at his home, and playing games such as spin the bottle and truth or dare with congregants at bars, where current and prospective members were asked personal and sexualized questions;
  • Presenting himself as a licensed masseuse and, during his time as a minister, providing erotic massages to some church members, without a license;
  • Texting a photo of his genitals to at least one congregant and at another time trying to unzip a female congregant’s dress at a party in 2010, which was reported to the presbytery for disciplinary action;
  • Disparaging congregants who expressed discomfort with his actions, including public “mocking” about the person who filed a formal complaint against him.

Hendrix was interviewed as part of the investigation and acknowledged that his behavior was inappropriate, the report said. And in a text message to The Courier Journal, he said he “deeply” regrets what happened and has since “addressed the personal dynamics that led to my misconduct to ensure it would never happen again.”

“I take full responsibility for my actions, and I am deeply sorry to anyone I have hurt,” he wrote.

The report was prepared by a six-member investigative committee set up last November. The group, consisting of senior presbytery officials, an abuse attorney and a licensed psychologist, interviewed several current and former members and pastors of Covenant Community Church, along with other local church leaders, over the winter and spring before submitting the investigation to the Mid- Kentucky Parsonage. in May.

In a text message, General Presbyter John Odom said he was grateful for the “difficult and dedicated work” done by the investigative committee. The presbytery is pushing to add new policies regarding sexual misconduct investigations to its bylaws.

“I and the Presbytery pray that the report will bring healing to all involved, and I am grateful that the Presbyterian Church (USA) has processes in place to hold its leadership ethically and morally accountable for their actions,” he wrote.

The current pastor of Covenant Community Church, Rev. Abbi Heimach-Snipes, took over as the new leader of the congregation over a year ago. Church members are “brave and fierce, beautiful and resilient, and also tired,” she said in an email, but it has not been an easy path forward.

“The outpouring of support and solidarity from the Presbytery and the broader Louisville community reaffirms our already fervent belief that telling our truth was the right thing to do to prevent further abuse,” she said. “Our prayer is that the courage of Covenant Community Church will help stop and prevent any potential abuse, and that it can inspire others to speak their truth as well.”

Hendrix has been a fixture in the community in recent years. He has helped organize The Big Table, an annual multicultural gathering in Iroquois Park, and the 2023 Walk A Mile in My Shoes Migration Simulation. Both events were promoted by the city, although a spokesperson for Mayor Craig Greenberg said his office was “unaware of these allegations” when asked last month.

He also served as executive director of Interfaith Paths to Peace, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “violence reduction, racial equality, and intercultural peacebuilding.” He worked as a consultant for New Possibilities Associates and held an adjunct professor role at Bellarmine.

While Hendrix left the church 11 years ago, the Mid-Kentucky Presbytery Report cited concerns among participants about Hendrix’s “current access to vulnerable populations in his continued work as a spiritual leader, professor and consultant” and recommended sending a copy of the study . to groups he has recently worked with.

In an email last month, Interfaith Paths to Peace said Hendrix has not been the group’s executive director since January, although he was still listed on the online staff directory as of May 21, a day after the report’s release. That web page has since been completely updated.

A Bellarmine spokesperson said Hendrix is ​​no longer involved with the university and that efforts to reach New Possibilities Associates were unsuccessful.

‘This is how we move forward’

Covenant Community Church, with a congregation meeting at Bardstown Road Presbyterian Church, bills itself on its website as an “open and progressive… community of radical welcome and inclusivity,” with an emphasis on “belonging over belief.” The church, one of more than 40 churches under the Mid-Kentucky Pastery umbrella, is open to LGBTQ+ individuals and congregants who “often felt judged or rejected” in other churches, the study found.

Hendrix left his position as pastor of the church in 2013 following a church investigation into allegations that he tried to unzip a woman’s dress during a party in 2010 and allegations of inappropriate behavior that continued over the next few years.

His ministry validation was suspended in February, a month after he announced his resignation in an email to congregants. He told church members that the move came out of a desire to pursue other goals, and he was released from ordained ministry in the Presbyterian Church in August.

According to church documents cited in the report, Hendrix remained in “good standing” with the Mid-Kentucky Presbytery after his departure. While a former law clerk told investigators the designation was intended to indicate he was no longer under formal investigation, those behind the new report said they found the designation “misleading.”

Covenant Community Church, meanwhile, has said its members are “pleased” with the investigation, which was sparked by a mission study in 2020 when a new pastor was called.

Hendrix’s conduct “constituted pastoral, sexual and spiritual abuse and caused enormous harm to us individually and collectively,” Covenant said in a statement.

Heimach-Snipes said she has seen the church “intentionally move toward a more transparent and accountable culture” as members spoke out and came to terms with their experiences.

“The people at Covenant Community Church are wonderful. I only wish that more of us, like her, could pay attention to our own need for healing, increasing our ability to work toward God’s dream – a more just and liberating world – a world we all long for.” she said. “Living and working for that dream, that is our calling. That is our faith. This is how we move forward.”

While no criminal conduct is alleged, the power given to church leaders “inherently compromises their ability to have a consensual relationship with a congregant,” the report said. Some congregants who spoke to the investigative committee felt complicit years later, the report said, and have since struggled with personal judgment and damaged their self-esteem.

While in a position of power as a pastor leading a church, Hendrix presented himself as an equal to other members, the report said, which “allowed him to participate freely” in the congregation’s party culture. In turn, other members felt unable to speak out out of “fear of being punished by the church as a whole.”

The presbytery’s research committee will remain intact until mid-August in case others come forward who want to share their experiences.

The report made several recommendations, including providing a copy of the investigation to organizations that recently worked with Hendrix and changing the presbytery’s sexual misconduct policy to include new standards for transparency. Some congregants were critical that the presbytery had not kept them in jail. loop during the initial investigation into Hendrix, allowing him to shape the story – and protect the anonymity of prosecutors.

In the meantime, Covenant Community Church has contracted with Into Account, a nonprofit organization that provides resources to churches and individuals who have suffered harm in Christian settings, and has pledged to be transparent and a safe place for its congregation in the future.

“It is our continued commitment to centering the experiences and needs of survivors, which compels us to remain fully open to hearing and proclaiming their truth, even when it is difficult,” the church said in a statement. declaration. “We believe this is the only way to heal as a church.”

Reach Lucas Aulbach at [email protected].