LEXINGTON, Ky. (Hey Kentucky) — In an open letter released to the public Monday, Tates Creek Presbyterian Church pastor Robert Cunningham detailed allegations of abuse against one of the church’s former clergy — and laid out a plan for the church’s future.
“It has come to our attention that Brad Waller sexually abused boys and men under his care as a pastor of TCPC,” wrote Cunningham in his address to his 1,250-member congregation and the media. ”While all of this misconduct took place over a decade ago, our church leadership is nevertheless committed to handling this horrific news with utmost sincerity, urgency and transparency.”
Cunningham’s statement is in response to the recent deposition of Savannah pastor Brad Waller, who was relieved of senior pastoral duties at Georgia’s Grace Church of the Islands in April after a confession detailing "foot-rubbing" of adult and youth male members of his church.
In a confession from Waller on public record, the former pastor stated: “I, Brad Waller, confess to the sin of abuse of authority in my role as a pastor. I have been rubbing the feet of men and youth in my care. There was a sexual element to this, however, physically it never went past foot-rubbing.” He was deposed from his office at the same meeting.
Waller had served as a minister under the administration of Tates Creek Presbyterian Church from 1995 to 2006, where his responsibilities included directing youth and college ministries. He was also involved in youth ministry at the University of Kentucky.
“Upon receiving this news from Savannah,” wrote Cunningham in Monday’s letter, “we obviously became very concerned over the possibility that similar abuse took place while Brad was on staff at TCPC.”
Cunningham’s letter also details the number of confirmed and unconfirmed victims who have reached out to him since the confession.
“We followed up with every name given to us, and through that process other acts of abuse have been uncovered as well,” states Cunningham. “The most consistent and common stories were of Brad rubbing the feet of high school and college students (all male) during private counseling and mentoring sessions.”
While no active police investigation into Waller’s abuse is currently underway in Fayette County, Cunningham notes that “evidence is also beginning to emerge that conflicts with Brad’s statement that ‘it never went past foot rubbing.’”
A Spotlight in Savannah
Earlier this year a student at Savannah College of Art and Design informed a campus minister of an uncomfortable encounter with Waller, who was a pastor of his at the time. The incident was reported to the church’s presbytery and investigated.
Shortly thereafter, Waller’s own associate Grace Church of the Islands pastor Charlie Turner brought allegations against his superior.
Turner recounts multiple experiences wherein Waller would initiate what he called “couch time,” which involved Waller rubbing Turner’s feet as they talked.
“At first it was a little weird and awkward,” Turner told Hey Kentucky’s Chris Tomlin, “but he was a bit touchy-feely, so I put up with these things which bothered me because it was important for my wife, family and I to have a church where we could be comfortable.”
After the allegations came to light, Turner reflected upon these moments with Waller differently.
“Once I learned of the fetish it sent me back spinning into my past experiences,” said Turner. “It wasn’t him trying to serve me but him using me for his own purposes, which made me sick to my stomach. It took me a while for it to sink in; for me to think ‘this is not OK.’”
Turner also alleges the Waller had similarly inappropriate experiences with Turner’s own 12-year-old son during the child’s counseling sessions.
When Turner brought the issues to the church’s council, Waller was asked to provide names of others he had such interactions with, resulting in a list provided to the presbytery.
“When the session asked him for a list of names, he gave them names of people who are no longer minors,” said Turner. “But his interactions was always with males, developing close relations with individuals on that list who would have been minors at the time.”
Turner notes that he has been in communication with police authorities investigating these allegations in Savannah’s Chatham County.
Ties to Lexington
When he learned the news of Waller’s deposition in Savannah, Cunningham — who himself had known Waller during Waller’s time at TCPC — began to reach out to ask questions of victims in the Lexington area.
Cunningham said he began receiving emails, phone calls and social media messages from congregation and former congregation members concerning similar stories of Waller’s interactions as a minister at TCPC. Cunningham said the number of confirmed stories to date number 10, with “multiple unconfirmed stories and allegations that have come to us secondhand.”
One Lexington victim, who has asked to remain nameless, worked with Waller as a youth and claims to have had several questionable experiences, including one during an overnight outing.
“We were camping on a youth event and I woke up to find Brad’s face moving against my feet,” the victim told Tomlin. “When I woke, he feigned innocence to having done it.”
After reflection, the victim has decided to share his story. “My immediate reaction was to reflect on my friendship with Brad,” he said. “But then I realized that he’s abusing people. He was taking advantage of people who were not compliant. He had that power, and it’s terrifying.”
The victim says Waller also emphatically tried to enlist him and other youths to make videos which he claimed were for the youth group and which also involved the young men’s feet.
“Pastors abusing their power to touch any part of the body of those under their care for any type of sexual purpose is both abusive and evil, and we refuse to entertain any argument to the contrary,” stated Cunningham.
Next Steps for TCPC
As the Waller allegations come to light, Cunningham’s hope is to present a transparent case for TCPC to openly share their experience and prevent abusive situations from happening in the future.
The church has contracted with the faith-based investigatory organization GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) to perform a full investigation of the church and publicly release the organization’s findings.
“Essentially, we are inviting an independent sexual abuse audit of our church, but we want everyone to know that TCPC wants to hide nothing,” Cunningham wrote in Monday’s statement. “That is not to say mistakes were not made, only that if they were made, we don’t want to hide them.”
The investigation will take several weeks and Cunningham encourages additional victims to come forward, ensuring sensitivity. TCPC has said it will release further communications once the investigation has been completed.
In the meantime, Cunningham asks for time and leniency from the community.
“Pray for the victims and for the investigation, and be patient as we spend some time prioritizing both.”
Story by Chris Tomlin, Hey Kentucky.