E. Ellsworth Kauffman

Kansas Mennonite congregant restricted after reports of sexual harassment and assault

Ellsworth Kauffman (1924–2022) reportedly harassed, stalked, and assaulted women at Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church (LAMC) in Wichita, Kansas, where he served in various lay leadership positions. Multiple women reported “unwanted kissing and touching [on the bottom], unwanted contact outside of church, and other behaviors which have reportedly occurred over the last 30 years.” Victims say they reported Kauffman’s actions to LAMC pastors Tom and Lois Harder and to other members of the church, but the unwanted behaviors by Kauffman continued.

Kauffman denied the allegations against him and hired a lawyer to send cease and desist letters threatening legal action against MAP and the church.

After the Harders ended their term as pastors in August 2018, the LAMC deacons notified Western District Conference of the reports against Kauffman and offered Kauffman a behavioral expectations agreement, which he refused to sign.

As of April 2019, Kauffman was banned from LAMC property and events, and had two restraining orders against him by members of LAMC.

Prior to his death in December 2022, he was reportedly attending First United Methodist Church in Wichita and he continued to serve as secretary of the board of Mennonite Housing.

Detailed description

In May 2019, MAP worked with Donna Froese, who reported unwanted touching by Kauffman, to create the initial version of this post.

Information from Froese and others in the LAMC community showed that then-pastors Tom and Lois Harder and the LAMC Board of Deacons received a letter in June 2018 about Kauffman’s history of abusive behavior against multiple women. LAMC deacons then met with the women who reported abuse, and the Harders reportedly had conversations with Kauffman about the allegations, but Froese was unaware of any further actions taken with Kauffman prior to the Harders’ departure on August 31, 2018.

Several months later, after interim pastors Luann Yutzy and Eric Buller were installed, the deacons announced to the congregation that they had received reports of “sexual harassment, abuse, and assault“ by “a male member” of the congregation. They reported having informed Western District Conference leaders of the allegations, and in consultation with those leaders and Safe Sanctuary policies, they developed behavioral guidelines for the unnamed perpetrator’s participation in the congregation. (A later report, noted below, would state that Kauffman’s name was withheld at the request of the women who reported being assaulted by him.)

The deacons also invited staff from the Wichita Area Sexual Assault Center to provide educational sessions to congregants, including information about legal options available to victims.

Despite these actions by the church, Donna Froese reported that Kauffman again stalked/harassed her in an incident on April 9, 2019. She then filed a legal Petition for Protection in which she reported that incident and others, all occurring in the LAMC building. The district court issued a temporary order of protection and then extended the temporary order for six months.

In May, LAMC leaders named Kauffman to the congregation and detailed further actions taken by the church, including “informing [Kauffman] he is not allowed on church property, or to attend church events at other locations, and requesting that he not initiate contact with any woman connected with LAMC.” They apologized for “our failure as a congregation to appropriately respond to the women when their concerns were first expressed” and invited others who might have been affected to speak with a pastor or deacon. They also stated that they had notified the Wichita Police Department.

Donna Froese reported that despite these restrictions, Kauffman again initiated contact with a woman from LAMC, and the woman then obtained her own protection order.

On behalf of Donna Froese, MAP sent LAMC leaders a formal request for all documents related to the case. Interim pastor Luann Yutzy promptly acknowledged the request for documentation.

On June 7, MAP published the first version of this post and notified LAMC. The deacons’ board chair replied, stating the church’s intent to share documentation.

On July 7, LAMC sent documentation including the behavioral expectations agreement offered to Kauffman and three letters sent to Kauffman (November 26, 2018February 19, 2019April 24, 2019). A third letter to LAMC congregants confirmed that a second woman had obtained a restraining order.

LAMC also sent a timeline of church actions. It states that when deacons first informed congregants of the allegations, “the women known by the deacons to have been assaulted by Mr. Kauffman asked that neither they nor Mr. Kauffman be named in the letter, and the difficult decision was made to respect their wishes.”

After naming Kauffman, LAMC notified the Methodist church where Kauffman was thought to be attending, as well as Anabaptist churches in Wichita, and Camp Mennoscah. Western District Conference official Kathy Neufeld Dunn advised the decision to notify outside organizations.

The timeline does not include reports of abuse made to church leadership prior to June 2018, or any actions taken by previous leaders during the 30 years Kauffman was reportedly abusing women in the congregation. The timeline refers to previous pastors who had conversations with Kauffman about the allegations, but it does not name these pastors. It then references previous leadership again in an accompanying comment:

“The effort to recognize and change a congregational and denominational culture is daunting. … This change is coming about due to the brave and courageous women who took personal risks to confront secrets held within the congregation and by earlier leadership.”

MAP asked LAMC to provide supporting documentation for their notices to outside organizations, and additional information about previous leadership, as well as to describe how current leaders have addressed several steps in the MC USA guidelines that do not appear in the timeline, such as engaging an investigative team (Steps 2. b. vi-ix).

On July 25, at the request of a community member, LAMC sent a letter regarding Kauffman to Little Eden Camp in Onekama, Michigan, a Mennonite camp where Kauffman has been known to attend the annual Christian Business & Professional week.

In November 2019, LAMC sent additional supporting documentation to MAP, including their notices to outside organizations, both within and beyond Wichita. One document reports of “an incident about five years ago at the Retirees Relaxation Retreat [at Camp Mennoscah when Kauffman] had entered a woman’s room uninvited and tried to kiss her (she was not from LAMC).”

In March 2020, LAMC sent further documentation reporting that Kauffman had again initiated contact with a woman who previously reported harassment by him.

LAMC also shared a list of prior leaders at the church, as well as leadership roles Kauffman held at the church over the years.

Kauffman died in 2022.

Church-related positions

  • Member of the Board of Trustees, Board of Christian Education, and Lorraine Avenue Mission Board at Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church, Wichita, Kansas
  • Chair, Board of Trustees, Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church, Wichita, Kansas
  • Chair of the Congregation, Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church, Wichita, Kansas
  • Secretary, Board of Directors of Mennonite Housing, Wichita, Kansas

First-person accounts

Documentation

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