BRAINERD, Minn. -- A Twin Cities-based touring folk-rock musician and Luther Seminary student publicly accused a former Nisswa pastor of sexual assault and said he’s not the only victim.
Jonathan Rundman, 49, identified himself as a victim of David Uhrich, the former senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Nisswa, in a video posted Thursday, July 23, to several social media platforms. In the minute-long video, Rundman said he was the accuser behind Uhrich’s ouster from Christ Community Church in December 2018, when the church leadership team placed him on indefinite administrative leave and requested his resignation. Uhrich submitted a letter of resignation a day after that meeting.
“In December of 2018 I contacted Christ Community Church and told them my experience of abuse. Dave Uhrich was asked to resign,” Rundman said in the video. “Since then my own investigation has uncovered more than 15 additional victims. I am making this public statement for three reasons: one, to break the silence about my experience with Dave Uhrich; two, to hopefully prevent any other people from becoming victims in the future; three, to empower other victims from the past.”
The alleged assault, which Rundman described in an interview Friday as unwanted touching, took place in 1990 when he was 18 years old and a touring musician with a band called Captive Free. The band was associated with the organization Lutheran Youth Encounter, of which Uhrich was vice president at the time while also serving as Rundman’s supervisor. Lutheran Youth Encounter, later shortened to Youth Encounter, was a Twin Cities-based organization engaged in youth ministry, including the sponsorship of year-long mission tours for Christian bands worldwide. The organization disbanded in 2016 after 53 years.
Rundman said he told Lutheran Youth Encounter leadership about what happened with Uhrich a day after the alleged assault — which he specifically said occurred Feb. 11, 1990 — and later that year, Uhrich moved on to work for other church organizations before becoming a pastor in Nisswa. A former official with Lutheran Youth Encounter to whom Rundman said he directly reported his assault did not return a request for comment Friday.
Uhrich, 67, was the senior pastor at Christ Community Church in Nisswa for 23 years, according to his LinkedIn profile, and he first became a pastor there in 1992. The nondenominational church counted 130 people as affiliates at the time of his resignation.
Reached by phone, Uhrich said he was unaware of Rundman’s video, but acknowledged he knew Rundman. When asked to respond to Rundman’s sexual assault accusations, Uhrich laughed and said, “He’s been making that claim, I think, for 30 years.”
Uhrich said he knew nothing about Rundman’s apparent investigation revealing at least 15 additional victims.
“I have no idea who he’s talking about,” Uhrich said. “ … None of them have talked to me, so I don’t even know who it is referring to.”
Uhrich said he did not deny allegations are out there and Rundman’s allegations led to his resignation from Christ Community Church. But he said neither Rundman nor any of the other apparent victims ever approached him, and if Rundman wanted to address the matter, he should contact Uhrich.
Uhrich said he had no idea why at least 15 people revealed to Rundman their own stories of alleged sexual assault.
“Oh, there could be thousands of reasons. I wouldn’t even want to speculate,” Uhrich said.
When asked whether the reason he left Lutheran Youth Encounter was due to Rundman’s accusations, he said it was because he graduated from seminary and entered the call process with the church to become a pastor. He said he wasn’t sure of the timeline of events that occurred when he left the organization.
“That all came about in the same time, and now you’re asking me to go back and try and put in order the things that happened during the months as I transitioned from being employed with Lutheran Youth Encounter to being in the call process with the church and all of those kinds of things,” Uhrich said.
Uhrich said he had no way to prove the allegations were untrue.
“Let me tell you a story. If I gave you a down pillow and told you to go to the edge of town and cut it open and flap it in the wind and let the feathers fly, and you did that and then you came back to me and said, ‘OK, now what?’ And I said, ‘OK I’d like you to go put all those feathers back in the pillow,’ you wouldn’t be able to do it,” Uhrich said. “That’s the same thing as trying to prove a negative. If you’re asking me somehow or another to prove something to you that is the opposite of what rumors or allegations or accusations or anything else out there, that’s the same as trying to put those feathers back into the pillow.”
Rundman comes forward
For Rundman, posting Thursday’s video was the culmination of nearly three years from the point he decided he could no longer stay silent about his experience with unwanted touching from Uhrich.
“It’s the culmination of a three-year investigation, which I began in the fall of 2017. I initially wondered if I would make a public statement using my name, but I got good advice early on from law enforcement and my attorney to try to do the investigation and retain my anonymity. Which I thought was wise advice. I proceeded with good counsel from my advisers to see what I could do, keeping my anonymity,” Rundman said.
Rundman filed a police report with his hometown Edina Police Department in November 2017 in which he described the circumstances of the assault. The report was transferred to the police department in Moorhead, where Rundman alleged the 1990 assault occurred. In the report, a detective stated he consulted with the Clay County Attorney’s Office and determined no criminal charges could be brought forth due to the statute of limitations. The report was forwarded to the Nisswa Police Department, which stated it did not have any sexual assault investigations involving Uhrich.
After the report, Rundman sought the advice of an attorney and began reaching out to a network of people with past associations with Lutheran Youth Encounter.
“Immediately, I started getting emails and calls, ‘Me too, me too, me too,’" he said. "It was a wave of victims coming forth and telling me that it was a lot bigger than something that happened to me.”
Rundman said in 2017, he was motivated to revisit this experience by a burgeoning #Metoo movement and the realization he shared something in common with the subjects of two movies: “Spotlight,” which featured the Boston Globe investigative journalist team responsible for uncovering widespread clergy sex abuse in the Catholic church, and “The Keepers,” a Netflix documentary series investigating the unsolved murder of a nun who suspected a colleague and priest of child sexual abuse. He’d also recently begun applying for seminary school and said this gave him a new perspective on the role of a pastor.
“I realized that I had a secret just like the victims in the movie did,” Rundman said. “They were so inspiring, so I thought, I want to be like those people in those movies. I want to tell my story.”
The specificity with which Rundman relayed his account, including the exact date, was aided by a journal he kept while touring the north-central region of the country as a musician. He said looking back at those entries, his 18-year-old self was convinced reporting Uhrich to Lutheran Youth Encounter would prompt his immediate dismissal. But that isn’t what happened, Rundman said. Uhrich remained at the organization for several months before moving on to a youth camp and then Nisswa, according to Rundman.
“It’s terrible. It’s terrible. My investigation has just shown me where there were many, many times since the mid-’80s, where someone knew about what was happening and they could have stopped it,” Rundman said. “For whatever reason, they didn’t go further or it was a slap on the wrist, allowing him to move on freely to other leadership roles working with young adults and teenagers. And it happened over and over and over again. It’s terrible.”
Rundman said his video post, in addition to its presence on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Rundman’s website, has already empowered more victims to come forward. This includes both alleged victims of Uhrich and others who’ve experienced sexual assault in general. He said he had no interest in approaching Uhrich, as Uhrich suggested he do.
“I’m not very interested in Uhrich actually. I’m very interested in the people in Nisswa and Brainerd, especially anyone who has been a member of his congregation, and I really want them to hear my experience. My heart is open for people from the past,” Rundman said.
Video prompts other public accusations
Eight of the more than 15 alleged victims Rundman cites have shared their stories with the Brainerd Dispatch since Rundman first approached the newspaper in 2018. In the wake of the video post Thursday, two of those men and one other joined Rundman in publicly acknowledging unwanted experiences with Uhrich.
Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, who works as a church layperson with the Olive Branch community in Rochester, commented on both Rundman’s Instagram and Facebook posts.
“I am one of the 15 that was also sexually assaulted by Dave Uhrich in the same era,” the Instagram comment stated. “Gratitude to Jonathan for his leadership, compassion and courage.”
SERIOUS NEWS. #metoo #churchtoo On Sunday, February 11, 1990, I was sexually assaulted by Dave Uhrich. I was 18 years old, and Uhrich was my supervisor in the organization Lutheran Youth Encounter. The following day I reported the assault to leadership at the LYE office. 1/ pic.twitter.com/lKa7TXNipR
SERIOUS NEWS. #metoo #churchtoo On Sunday, February 11, 1990, I was sexually assaulted by Dave Uhrich. I was 18 years old, and Uhrich was my supervisor in the organization Lutheran Youth Encounter. The following day I reported the assault to leadership at the LYE office. 1/ pic.twitter.com/lKa7TXNipR— Jonathan Rundman (@jonathanrundman) July 24, 2020
Friday, Colligan said during a phone interview he hoped Rundman’s public statement brought awareness to people.
“I hope it keeps other young men safe,” he said. “I hope because of the awareness of people, this won’t happen to others. I hope that other people who have been assaulted will feel like they’re not alone.”
Colligan said it took nearly 30 years to realize what he’d experienced was assault, and despite sharing a friendship with Rundman, the two did not know of the other’s encounter until Rundman began pursuing his investigation. Since then, Colligan said he’s tried to deal with the conflicting emotions for the first time in many years.
Christopher Boudewyns, a New Jersey-based photographer, retweeted Rundman’s video with the statement, “#metoo I am one of the 15.” Now 53 years old, Boudewyns described during a 2018 interview a similar scenario to the one Rundman said he experienced, except he said his encounter with Uhrich occurred two years earlier in 1988. Boudewyns was 22 at the time and part of a Lutheran Youth Encounter band called Daybreak.
“I’m glad that it’s getting attention, and I hope that it gives other victims courage to speak out also,” Boudewyns said by phone Friday.
A 53-year-old pastor from Rubicon, Wisconsin, was the third man to publicly state he’d experienced something similar to Rundman. Tom Pietz of St. Olaf Lutheran Church has served as a pastor for 25 years in various locations, and in 1989, he was a member of a Lutheran Youth Encounter band called Kindred.
Pietz said while he didn’t view his experience with Uhrich as being as extreme as some others, he felt compelled to share his story in part because of the sexual molestation of a young family member and the impact that had on their life.
“Here we are, the word is out, let’s make it known, the few of us who were actually approached by Dave Uhrich to say, ‘Hey we were the ones that experienced this,’” Pietz said.