Collier Berkshire

Indiana Mennonite minister, teacher, and missionary in Thailand resigned after admission of misconduct

In 2019, Collier Berkshire (b. 1954), an ordained minister at Midwest Mennonite Fellowship’s Sandy Ridge Mennonite Church (Bremen, Indiana) and its subsidiary Cornerstone Chapel (Elkhart, Indiana), confessed to “moral failure” with a woman who was a congregant at Sandy Ridge at the time of the disclosure. The woman reported Berkshire’s conduct to church leaders in 2019, seven years after sexual contact by Berkshire reportedly began, when the woman was a teenage employee at his business.

Berkshire had hired the teenager from a Beachy Amish community and allegedly engaged in what multiple community members close to the case described to MAP as grooming.

A comprehensive 2019 study (University of Alberta) exposing patterns of sexual abuse in religious settings defines sexual grooming as “the gradual sexualization of a relationship between a person with religious authority and a child or teen, ‘beginning with non-sexual touching that progresses over time to sexual contact, whereby the child may not even understand the abusive and improper nature of the behaviour.’  … Often by the time the abuse happens, the child feels they have given consent.”

The Sandy Ridge leadership team would later state to MAP that Berkshire’s actions were “wrong, hurtful, unacceptable, and sinful,” but they denied that it was an abuse of his position as clergy. When asked if they understood Berkshire’s actions as clergy sexual abuse, they stated that they “don’t have reason to believe [Berkshire] used his position to get what he wanted” although “the greater responsibility” is Berkshire’s “because of his position and age.”

At the time the misconduct was reported in 2019, Sandy Ridge and Cornerstone did not have a congregational policy for abuse prevention and response, although a children’s program they operate has a policy that defines sexual abuse as “Any verbal, visual, or physical activity engaged in, or permitted by, a person in a position of authority and responsibility, when the purpose of the activity is to satisfy the perpetrator’s emotional or sexual desires, and the result of the activity is the exploitation of a child, adolescent, or other individual who is under the authority or supervision of the perpetrator.”

Berkshire reportedly continued preaching after church leaders became aware of his misconduct and neither the Cornerstone or Sandy Ridge congregants learned of the allegations or his admission until two months later, when Berkshire made the first of two statements to the Sandy Ridge congregation. Multiple parties later described this statement as vague and implying some kind of emotional affair.

In August 2019, after the church reportedly asked Berkshire not to preach for a period of time as part of a process of restoration, Berkshire instead chose to step down from leadership at both Cornerstone and Sandy Ridge. He made a second statement to the congregation in which he referred to his “moral failure” and announced that he and his wife would be leaving the church.

Multiple parties commented to MAP that Berkshire’s departure circumvented the requirements church leaders had developed for him and also stopped a process of clarifying the nature of the misconduct. One person from the congregation said, “His leaving did not require anyone to take a stand one way or another. All of a sudden, it didn’t matter what people believed.”

In December 2020, the Sandy Ridge leadership team spoke to the congregation, asking for forgiveness and urging them to “move on,” saying that what happened was “in the past.” They told congregants not to talk “negatively” about what happened, which would amount to “stirring Satan’s pot.”

As ministers in Midwest Mennonite Fellowship are not credentialed by a denomination but only ordained by a congregation, Berkshire’s ordination at Sandy Ridge and Cornerstone was removed upon his departure. The church website still features videos of his sermons, and in January 2021, he officiated a funeral for Living Hope Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational congregation in Goshen, Indiana, where Berkshire and his wife are now congregants, and his son is a minister. Additionally, in 2022 and 2023, Berkshire served as worship leader at Living Hope.

In March 2021, a community member gave notice of Berkshire’s misconduct to the Urban Youth Workers Retreat, where Berkshire had previously spoken and was featured on the website. The organization’s board later stated to MAP that they were unaware of the situation until that notification, but that they then removed his talks from their website and “removed the possibility of asking him to come speak in the future.”

In addition to resigning from Sandy Ridge and Cornerstone, Berkshire also resigned from his position as a board member and teacher in Thailand with the Institute for Global Opportunities (IGo).

Editor’s note: Prior to his first term in Thailand with IGo in 2007, Berkshire served as assistant principal at Maranatha Bible School, Lansing, Minnesota. Pete Peters and Howard Bean both served as principals at the Midwest Mennonite Fellowship school during Berkshire’s time as assistant principal.

Church-related positions

  • Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, Olive Branch Mennonite Missions, 1996–1999
  • Ordained minister, Sandy Ridge Mennonite Church, Bremen, Indiana, 2002–2019
  • Assistant principal, Maranatha Bible School, 2004–2006, 2010
  • Served in Thailand, Institute for Global Opportunities, 2007–2010
  • Board member and instructor, Institute for Global Opportunities, 2010–2019
  • Minister, Cornerstone Chapel, Elkhart, Indiana, 2019
  • Worship leader and funeral officiant, Living Hope Christian Fellowship, Goshen, Indiana, 2021–present

Documentation

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