Gaylord Grace Baptist pastor, founder resigns after months of controversy

By Arielle Breen
Herald Times
July 15, 2019

The Gaylord Grace Baptist Church founding pastor is leaving after 33 years in the region’s ministry.

An announcement on the church’s website shows Jon Jenkins resigned as pastor of Grace Baptist Church July 7 to take a position as pastor at a North Carolina Baptist church.

“As the founder and visionary of Grace, Pastor Jenkins’ leadership has guided our church family through storms, trials, challenges, deaths and hardships — but also through prosperity, new life, expansions and a level of growth rarely seen in such a rural area,” reads part of the church’s announcement.

This move comes after months of attention over accusations and criminal sexual conduct cases that have surfaced with ties to the church and its school dating back about 17 years.

In a previous Herald Times story, Jenkins commented on instances of abuse or alleged abuse involving former teachers. Jenkins said he had reported two of the school’s former teachers to police for sexual abuse of students years ago.

Jenkins said he reported former teacher Aaron Willand to Michigan State Police, and later, another former teacher to the Otsego County Sheriff’s Department.

Willand was convicted in Washington state of raping a child and child molestation in 2006. The survivor, now an adult, is also seeking charges in Otsego County for abuse she said also occurred in Michigan. Willand has not been charged in Michigan.

Jenkins said he also reported former teacher David Beckner to the Otsego County Sheriff’s Department in 2011. Eight criminal sexual conduct charges have been officially filed by Otsego County courts against Beckner. The case was bound over to Otsego County’s 46th Circuit Court Thursday.

The sheriff’s department showed no records of Grace Baptist reporting either former teacher to police.

Herald Times’ Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for Michigan State Police reports filed by Grace Baptist show no police reports filed by Grace Baptist with any references to Aaron Willand or David Beckner.

Clark Martin, a former congregation member and volunteer bus driver, was convicted of criminal sexual conduct against a former Grace Baptist student in 2002 and 2003. According to Otsego County court records from that case, Martin had also molested another youth, a 12-year-old boy, in St. Clair County in 1966.

Martin also pleaded guilty in May to criminal sexual conduct charges for allegedly molesting a teen boy in 1991 and 1992.

Former Grace Baptist congregation members Jennifer Mahoney and Matthew Mahoney were convicted in 2013 on felony charges against a 15-year-old girl in Indiana, according to previous coverage by the Tribune Star (Terre Haute, Indiana) newspaper and court documents.

A former Gaylord Teen Spectacular youth conference guest speaker, Jack Schaap, was convicted in 2013 in federal court in Indiana after he transported a 16-year-old girl to his cabin in Northern Michigan for the purpose of having sex with her, according to court documents.

According to previous Herald Times coverage of the Teen Spectacular, Schaap, of Hammond, Indiana, was listed as a visiting guest speaker during the 2011 youth conference, an event that draws hundreds of teens to Gaylord.

Jenkins previously confirmed that each of the above was connected to Grace Baptist as a teacher, through the congregation or as a guest speaker.

He said Grace Baptist implemented a new policy following the recent public focus on the school’s staff. The policy details ways to better avoid and address issues at the school and church with a strong emphasis throughout the document on the topic of sexual abuse.

Jenkins previously told the Herald Times that the school and church would start using background checks for all staff and volunteers. He said prior to this year, the church and school did not use background checks when hiring.

One former staff member whose daughter was molested by a fellow student previously told the Herald Times she had taken issue with the way Jenkins handled the situation after the abuse occurred off campus.

Sarah Sundelius said Jenkins had not kept the teen offender away from the church and school where her 5-year-old daughter attended and where Sundelius had taught from 2016 to 2018.

Several former Grace Baptist students have also shared their stories about the former teachers who have either been convicted for criminal sexual conduct against minors or are currently facing charges for the same thing.

Several of the victims and alleged victims have also pointed to Jenkins’ role as leader of the church during the time and the requirements to report allegations to police.

A new church

David Gibbs responded on behalf of the Fellowship Baptist Church in Clayton, North Carolina, and said the church conducted a national search for its next pastor.

He said the church is looking forward to having Jenkins as a pastor.

“After much prayer and a national search, Fellowship Baptist Church asked Pastor Jon Jenkins from Gaylord, Michigan to (to be a) candidate at our church,” Gibbs said in an email. “Our founding Pastor, Dr. Charles Ennis, was planning to retire after 51 years of ministry. A number of things stood out about Pastor Jenkins.”

Gibbs said Jenkins’ scope of ministry and the type of programs offered at Grace Baptist, such as radio and college, are similar to Fellowship’s and the church leadership was impressed.

“His preaching and communication skills are outstanding,” Gibbs said. “His doctrinal positions lined up with our historic Baptist faith. His spirit of compassion for church members and hurting people in the community were exemplary.”

“His prior church’s policies and procedures — including the child protection policies and procedures that clearly outline zero-tolerance for child abuse of any kind and require all suspicions of child abuse to be reported to the authorities — were consistent with our church,” Gibbs said. “We believe that if a child is safe anywhere, they should be safe at church.”

Gibbs said the church also conducted a due diligence check on Jenkins’ background and reference checks.

“After this process was concluded, Pastor Jenkins was unanimously selected by the church leadership board and pulpit committee, was recommended by the retiring founding pastor of 51 years, was recommended by a number of church leaders nationwide, and was voted in by a super majority of the church members (over 75%),” Gibbs said.




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