A former children’s minister at The Village Church has been charged with indecent contact with a child, allegedly in 2012 during his church ministry.
Matthew David Tonne, the 35-year-old accused, was dismissed as associate children’s minister from the Southern Baptist megachurch on an unrelated matter in June, senior pastor Matt Chandler said Jan. 24 in video and printed comments at thevillagechurch.net. The alleged crime occurred at the Mt. Lebanon Retreat and Conference Center, a Baptist ministry in Cedar Hill, Texas.
“We want to state clearly that there are no persons of interest in this investigation that have access to children at The Village Church,” Chandler said. “We would not let anyone who is under investigation for a crime like this be near any of our children at TVC.”
Tonne, a husband and father of three, had been out of jail since Jan. 9 on $25,000 bond. His original court date of Jan. 29, has been rescheduled to Feb. 7, based on documents filed in Dallas County District Court.
The Village Church is making at least one change in its ministry to children, Chandler said in the website comments.
“We have decided to no longer do overnight events with elementary children based on counsel from MinistrySafe,” Chandler said, referencing the ministry founded by attorneys to help churches, camps and ministries protect children from sexual abuse. Additionally, the church has hired a director of care, Summer Vinson Berger, whom Chandler described as a licensed professional counselor skilled in trauma care.
“She is helping us evaluate all of our current practices and will help us further strengthen our ministry here,” Chandler said. “We view physical and emotional safety as a top priority and will continue to pour resources into that area.”
Chandler, president of the Acts 29 Network of congregations focused on church planting, participated in a Baptist21 panel discussion on abuse in advance of the Southern Baptist Convention 2018 Annual Meeting in Dallas.
“We need to be trained in this,” Chandler said on the 2018 panel, encouraging churches to get expert help in avoiding abuse of all kinds. “I don’t care how well you know your Bible, we are not ready for this. We have got to get Christian outside help that helps us understand what to do in a fallen world.”
No details of the 2012 incident were available, other than a statement about the health of the victim and the victim’s family.
“Earlier this year, the minor came to a place where it was possible to verbalize the memory of what happened for the first time through ongoing therapy. (Cedar Hill Police) Detective (Michael) Hernandez has been investigating the case since that time,” Chandler said. “It took courage and strength for the child and the family to share this information, and we want to support them in any way possible.”
The church has no other reported incidents of abuse at the 2012 camp event, Chandler said.
“We have been working with the family and Detective Hernandez to do all that we can to bring healing and the light of justice to this situation,” he said, “including the decision to make this investigation public now.”
Parents and children at The Village Church have no need to fear for their safety from sexual predators at church events, Chandler said.
“We are committed to doing all that we can to protect our children,” he said.