The First Christian Church of Sedgwick took the side of its pastor, who has been charged with a child sex crime, over its children, according to a couple who pulled their children out of the church after they saw how its leaders handled the situation.
One of the parents’ complaints is that the church leadership allowed the pastor to participate in children’s activities after it knew the pastor — Kevin Berry — was being investigated for a child sex crime.
A video posted on the church’s website shows he was allowed to participate in a children’s activity after the church told parents he would not.
Berry, lead minister at First Christian Church of Sedgwick, was arrested July 13 on suspicion of aggravated indecent liberties with a child. That’s more than a year after a police reports says the sex crime could have started and almost 10 months after it was reported to police.
After allegations were made against Berry in September, the church sent an Oct. 8 letter to churchgoers informing them that Berry was being investigated and saying the “church leadership firmly supports our pastor (Kevin Berry).”
The letter said Berry voluntarily chose to no longer participate in children’s activities at the church while he was under investigation.
Summer and Curtis Peters, whose children attended the church’s youth group, said they don’t think Berry actually refrained from participating in children’s activities.
A video posted on the church’s YouTube account two months after the letter was sent shows Berry narrating a children’s Christmas pageant. Near the end of the video, a woman says that Berry and his wife helped write the children’s play and were “such a vital part of all of this.”
The Peterses, who attended Berry’s church until the fall, said their teenage children were regular attendees of the youth group but stopped going after they saw how church leadership handled allegations against Berry.
Reached by phone, Berry referred all questions about the investigation to his attorney, who did not respond to The Eagle’s requests for comment.
David Hewett, an elder at the church, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The church also did not provide the requested full text of a letter it says it sent to churchgoers in October.
Berry was charged with aggravated indecent liberties with a child, a felony.
The police report, which is heavily redacted and includes the original report by the Sedgwick Police Department and a supplemental report by the Harvey County Sheriff’s Office, says the alleged crime happened at the listed address of the First Christian Church, which shares an address with Little Hands Preschool.
The Sedgwick police report lists the offense dates of Aug. 21, 2017, to Sept. 25, 2017, the date the report was made. The Harvey sheriff’s report lists June 1, 2017, to Sept. 23, 2017.
The complaint filed in Harvey County District Court says the alleged crime occurred around mid-September.
The Peters family’s concerns with Berry began in September, when a neighbor told them to check if their own teenage daughter was OK.
The couple then spoke with a youth leader, who is no longer with the church, and several children, asking if anything at church made them feel uncomfortable.
What the children said “raised flags” about inappropriate behavior on the part of the pastor, Curtis Peters said. Later that Sunday evening, as rumors buzzed through the town of fewer than 2,000, church members, elders, children and the pastor gathered to discuss the concerns.
“When the kids saw the pastor in the room, they truly felt uncomfortable,” Summer Peters said. “They were scared to say anything, scared to speak up.”
Elders in the church chastised the concerned parents, including the Peterses, and acted as if the children were lying, Summer Peters said.
It was implied that law enforcement was not needed, Curtis Peters said.
“From that point on, it just didn’t seem like the church really was concerned about the kids as much as they were about the pastor,” Curtis Peters said. “I don’t feel like they really did anything to distance the pastor from the situation.”
Curtis Peters said he reported the sex crimes, which he did not want to describe to The Eagle, to the police.
The church did not put Berry on administrative leave until July, when it did so at Berry’s request, a statement released after his arrest said. A March statement by the church said Berry had begun “personal counseling and will receive further training on leading and appropriate interaction with children and youth.”
Both the July and March letters say that the church leadership supports Berry.