Nancy Ortberg, who with her husband John Ortberg and another couple, Leanne and Jim Mellado, brought into the open accusations of sexual misconduct against its founding pastor Bill Hybels, has said she too had experienced unwanted attentions from him.
Nancy and John Ortberg both worked for the Willow Creek megachurch and Nancy was a board member of the Willow Creek Association, which supports a network of churches around the work.
While Hybels was investigated by the church and cleared, the two couples have expressed their discontent with the investigation and said it was not thorough enough. Hybels announced his early retirement this week.
In a statement released online yesterday headed 'Flawed process, wounded women' Ortberg said: 'I would like to make clear why, after Bill Hybels' accelerated retirement, I remain deeply concerned about the process and church governance that brought us all to this point, as well as the stories of the women who have spoken up.'
She described an encounter, saying: 'My first international trip with Willow Creek as a staff member was to Tasmania. At the end of the three-day conference a small group of us joined Bill in his hotel room to celebrate a birthday and the conference. As we got up to leave at the end of the evening Bill said to me in front of the group, "Nancy why don't you stay for a couple of minutes for us to discuss your ministry work?" I immediately looked at the others for how I should respond and one of them smiled and said, "Okay, see you in the morning."
'Awkwardly I stayed and we talked for about twenty minutes. When I got up to leave Bill stopped me at the door and hugged/held me tightly for about thirty seconds. Stunned, I finally slipped my arms up between us and pushed him away. I went back to my hotel room and cried, not understanding what had just happened. Later I did not know how or who to talk to and began to second-guess and doubt myself as to its significance; that is, until years later when I began to hear stories of other similar encounters.'
She gave details of various women who had approached her and Leanne Mellado with stories about Hybels' behaviour, including one who had alleged to Mellado she had had an affair with him lasting 14 years.
She criticised what she said was the 'slipshod nature' of the investigation into Hybels and the 'overall lack of accountability in the Willow Creek culture'
Ortberg concluded: 'Since my resignation from the Board of the Willow Creek Association (alongside others) more than three years ago, five more women have, voluntarily, told me their all-too-similar stories. I did not seek out any of these women.
'During these last three years many of us have been working behind the scenes to meet with the Elders – which we were able to do in July 2016 –and with Bill, where nine months of email communication failed to result in a meeting.
'I loved both my work at Willow Creek Community Church and its people. Telling the truth about this has been the most painful decision of my professional career, but it is the right one