Several Women Counseled by NJ Pastor Say He Abused, Exploited Them

By Rebecca Hopkins
markus ehrich nj pastor
Markus Ehrich, pastor of Word Life Center in Stratford, New Jersey, preaches during a Sunday service this past spring. (Video screengrab)

A pastor of a charismatic church in suburban Philadelphia is facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment by former members who say the pastor abused and exploited them during counseling.

Five women have come forward to The Roys Report with stories of alleged sexual abuse, spanning a decade, by Markus Ehrich, pastor of Word Life Center (WLC) in Stratford, New Jersey. The women say Ehrich has a team of female leaders who participate in Erich’s abuse by initiating counseling or discipleship with women. The leaders then reportedly bring up sexual topics, learn about abuse the women suffered as kids, and pass along that information to Ehrich.

One of the women, Amy Ortiz, filed a police report and court complaint last year alleging harassment by Ehrich in 2014 and 2015. Ortiz also filed a complaint alleging conspiracy of harassment by former WLC leader Anna Shrader.

A sixth woman last year filed a police report alleging harassment by Ehrich in 2014. But the woman’s name has been redacted from the report and she did not speak to TRR.

In New Jersey, harassment is usually considered a petty disorderly persons offense, leading to a potential 30 days in jail and a fine. But the women’s complaints exceeded New Jersey’s statute of limitations for harassment, which is five years. And Judge Krisden McCrink found no probable cause for the complaints, according to records from the Stratford Burough Municipal Court. 

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TRR reached out to Ehrich and other staff at WLC for comment but did not hear back. We also contacted Anna Shrader, who no longer works at the church, for comment. She did not respond either.

According to the women, Ehrich asked female counselees to draw naked pictures of themselves, encouraged them to masturbate as a form of worship, asked for specific details of the abuse some experienced as children, and commented on women’s bras and private parts.

ehrich pastor nj
Discussing a drawing used during a counseling session, Markus Ehrich gave an “exercise” to his female counselee: “Redraw yourself completely without clothes from head to toe.” (Courtesy image)

Several alleged victims added that when they refused to keep meeting with Ehrich, he cut them out of ministry.

Ortiz told TRR that Ehrich said “he wanted to be the father figure in my life.”

According to Ortiz’s police report, Ehrich told Ortiz not to “feel shame” for how the abuse she suffered as a child “made her feel” and then gestured toward his own genitals. Ehrich also commented on a naked picture he and Shrader had asked Ortiz to draw of herself, the report states. The report adds that Ehrich also asked Ortiz about the color of her pubic hair and touched her thighs.

Ortiz told TRR that Ehrich also told Ortiz that could pray to “make her breasts grow bigger.”

Shrader passed on details to Ehrich of child abuse Ortiz experienced, the report states. Shrader told Ortiz not to wear a bra to counseling sessions with Ehrich, Ortiz told TRR.

Ortiz added that Shrader also told her not to tell anyone else what happened during discipleship sessions because “the outside world will not understand.”

The anonymous woman in the other police report attended WLC in 2013 to 2014. Ehrich touched her legs above the knee in a counseling session and said she “needed to learn ‘appropriate touch,’” the report states.

Former members also say Ehrich has systemically withdrawn from other accountability structures, often referring to himself with apostolic authority.

“That left us with no umbrella, no overseeing entity that you could take a problem or issues to,” said Steve Hutchinson, a former youth group leader and 28-year member. “I feel he is unfit to be a pastor.”

Boz Tchividjian, lawyer for sexual abuse victims, told TRR that victims are often hesitant to report harassment by pastors and instead blame themselves.

“There’s a fear of if you step forward and expose this type of conduct . . . you will be the one who is forced to lose community,” Tchividjian said. “And that happens all the time . . . and all you’re doing is empowering the offending party to engage in that type of conduct because they feel invincible.”

Other allegations

Ehrich’s inappropriate behavior happened as early as 2005, according to a victim who was a volunteer at the church and spoke with TRR. The woman asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. Hutchinson confirmed the woman’s identity to TRR.

The woman said that in 2005, Ehrich called her late at night several times, naked in his bathtub, and described his penis to her. When she kept telling him it was inappropriate, Ehrich took away her position at the church, she said. The woman eventually left the church and felt shunned.

“He turned everybody against me,” she said.

Mary Rapisardi attended WLC from 2011 to 2013. During that time, church leader Teresa Spencer counseled her, she told TRR. One day, Ehrich counseled her instead. In that session, he encouraged her to masturbate while listening to worship music. He also asked her for her “deepest darkest secret.” And he told her to draw a naked picture of herself so she could work through her “insecurities.”

Rapisardi refused. Ehrich then reportedly told Rapisardi she wasn’t “godly enough” and took away her Sunday School teaching responsibilities. Rapisardi left soon after, choosing not to try to report the matter.

“He had such a presence in the church,” she said. “I thought nobody would ever believe me.”

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Word Life Center in Stratford, New Jersey where Markus Ehrich serves as lead pastor. (Courtesy Photo)

In 2013, Kimberly Eichmann, another former member, said WLC leader Sandra Heubner asked her to write down all her past trauma for a private counseling session with her. Ehrich then mentioned the child abuse Eichmann had disclosed to Heubner during a counseling session with Eichmann and her husband. Eichmann said Ehrich told her that she “enjoyed” being raped at the age of 3.

Shanna McIntyre, who led WLC’s prayer ministry, attended a Bethel worship conference in Kansas City with Ehrich and other leaders in 2015. During the conference, McIntyre said, she got sick and went to Ehrich’s hotel room to ask if he had any medicine. Ehrich told her that she looked “better without a bra,” McIntyre told TRR. Other times, she said he’d tug at her bra strap and comment when she was wearing a new bra.

Shanna’s husband, Mike McIntyre, a former youth group leader and 13-year former member, said he mentioned some concerns to Ehrich. Mike McIntyre said Ehrich responded that if McIntyre wasn’t “100 percent on board, then you’re dangerous.’”

McIntyre added that Ehrich claimed that his “accountability people were with Bethel.”

TRR reached out to Bethel and asked if Ehrich or WLC is a member of a Bethel network or Bethel-resourced church. TRR was referred to the Bethel Leaders Network (BLN), a “place for leaders to belong to the Bethel family,” according to its BLN website. In an email to TRR, BLN responded, “we can’t provide that information.”

Former WLC member Debbie McClure also notified Bethel of the women’s concerns. She was told by Cory DeSilva, senior project manager, that Ehrich has “no connection with us at Bethel Sozo.”

Ehrich’s history

Ehrich joined Word Life Center, previously called Word Fellowship Church, around 2002 or 2003, Hutchinson said. Ehrich made changes quickly and many people left, including the elders, whom Ehrich didn’t replace. At some point, Ehrich pulled out of the Koinonia Fellowship of Churches, a regional “apostolic fellowship” that mentors church leaders, Hutchinson said.

WLC is still listed on the Koinonia Fellowship of Churches’ Facebook page. But the phone number listed doesn’t work, and no one replied to a private message TRR sent the page.

In 2001, Ehrich was credentialed with Foursquare Church. He lost his credentials within a couple years, said Chanda Crutcher, who’s been supervisor for Foursquare’s Atlantic district for the past year. When TRR told her of the recent allegations, she called his counseling practices “a hot mess” and said she’d look into his records.

“There has to be a message sent loud and clear,” Crutcher said. “I think it matters . . . Being a competent, called, compassionate minister of the Gospel doesn’t make you a licensed counselor.”

Ehrich initially passed a background check, Crutcher said. But in 2002, as part of its annual character assessment, Foursquare required him to share if he’d been “convicted or accused of” anything. Ehrich didn’t respond, Crutcher said. Foursquare gave him a grace period until 2003 to respond. Ehrich didn’t, so Foursquare revoked his licensure, Crutcher said.

Foursquare’s current legal counsel didn’t find any past reports of abuse regarding Ehrich, Crutcher said. Crutcher also called WLC, asking to speak with Ehrich, but was met with a “cold reception from his frontline people,” Crutcher said. Ehrich reportedly did not call Crutcher back.

In January, Ortiz shared her story concerning Ehrich on a blog called Watchkeep, causing some members to leave.

A few days later, Ehrich gave a sermon defending his practices. He said a young girl had said he touched her “inappropriately” when he worked in a daycare as an associate pastor. Ehrich said he was moved from “school to school,” as a result, but gave no details of location.

He said, “they did the investigation,” and he was exonerated. Ehrich said a different girl said the original girl had made up the incident because Ehrich had told her she shouldn’t listen to the band AC/DC.

“In America, you’re guilty until proven innocent,” Ehrich lamented in his sermon.

Rebecca Hopkins is a journalist based in Colorado.

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14 thoughts on “Several Women Counseled by NJ Pastor Say He Abused, Exploited Them”

  1. Kimberly M Chastain

    “There has to be a message sent loud and clear,” Crutcher said. “I think it matters . . . Being a competent, called, compassionate minister of the Gospel doesn’t make you a licensed counselor.” Amen!!! As a licensed marriage and family therapist, I’m often having to play clean up after an unlicensed pastor or staff member practices being a counselor. You would not let your pastor remove your appendix or do open heart surgery, why would you let him be your counselor.

    1. Hi Kimberly
      So glad you’ve said that! Being a Pastor isn’t the same as being a Counselor. I’ve felt for a long time that there are a lot of “amateur psychiatrists in the Church, both among leaders and anyone who thinks they know you and understand you. Simple fact is that it’s only God who really knows us, and it’s very sad that this kind of thing has caused many people serious problems. If only they would learn! When I trained as a mental health nurse one of our tutors advised that you’re better off with a wise Psychiatrist, even if they’re not a Christian, than with an unwise Christian who may well say the wrong thing and cause problems. I’ve found that to be the case personally. Jesus can and does use wise counsel from trained and stable, normal and responsible professionals, no doubt about it. If only pastors and others would learn.

      1. Kimberly M Chastain

        Susan,
        I couldn’t agree with you more, sounds like you had a wise tutor. The thing that angers me even more is “amateur counselors” do great harm and hurt the name of Christ. After someone has been abused, given unwise counsel, etc. they turn their back on God. It that is who God is then I don’t want anything to do with Him. I lovingly tell clients you have to separate God from that person. God was angered more over your abuse than you were. There can be eternal consequences.

  2. Terence Emmanuel

    Great article. Very detailed. There is such lack of accountability with non denominational churches. This shows that even being part of a network does not mean accountability of spiritual coverage. Hope Bethel Leadership Network will take its responsibility. It is very sad and shocking though.

    1. Bethel is a cult. Period. Got too weird and out there for AOG, an org I was twice a part of. They are too busy sitting on the graves of dead men whom they claim have special spiritual power in order to “soak it up.” They know no moderation and do not understand that greed for “spiritual power” is often called witchcraft in the scriptures. Wanting to look super anointed for others is just carnality. True spiritual power is love in action. And the fruit of the Spirit is what the spiritual gifts are for. They are not for personal ego which is just pride…

  3. Ehrich is but one of a growing number of pastors who have adopted the “apostolic authority” moniker as a convenient way to avoid true biblically based mutual accountability among Christ’s followers. The New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movement has gained both momentum and credibility within recent years in many evangelical churches, especially in congregations with weak governing boards. NAR asserts that the offices of apostle and prophet need to be restored to the church (as opposed to their being gifts of the Spirit as taught in more orthodox charismatic and pentacostal traditions). As an office within the NAR framework, apostles enjoy nearly unlimited authority, relying instead on the circular glad-handing provided by the so-called “spiritual covering” of other apostles. It is the same old hierarchical, authoritarian leadership structure adopted by power-hungry humans throughout history. Most of what I’ve recently learned about NAR comes from a really helpful resource book called “A New Apostolic Reformation? A Biblical Response to a Worldwide Movement” by Dr. Douglas Geivett, professor at Biola University, and Holly Pivec, a Biola researcher and journalist (Lexham Press, 2014). There is also a connection between at least a few of the founding members of the Association of Related Churches (ARC) and NAR. Chris Hodges, founding pastor of Church of the Highlands megachurch in Alabama, is one such example. In fact, the Highlands website openly uses the term “apostolic covering” in its description of leadership accountability. There truly is nothing new under the sun, only the same corrupt mindset that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for displaying in their pursuit of power over others.

    1. ‘Spiritual covering’, ‘apostolic covering’. I’d like to know how these faux biblical concepts are operationalised in real life. ‘Not’, is my impression.

  4. Mellisa Fernandez

    Pulpit Predator. I hope women who are being abused now come forward now. He needs accountability and he needs to never be a “pastor” again.

  5. Goodness. When I worked in a large corporation, a manager’s behavior was deemed actionable (rightly) if he even touched a woman on her knee or made inappropriate comments about what she was wearing.

    Time and again, these pastors are stepping so far over the line they no longer know where it is. The difference? No accountability structure, and having a bunch of friends and relatives as elders doesn’t count. The more power you have over people, the stronger the accountability structure you need, but as we see time and again with independent churches and church networks, the opposite is the reality.

    1. Kevin Carlson

      Although it’s across the river, Stratford NJ is considered part of the Philadelphia Metropolitan area.

  6. My husband and I were attending Word Life Center (Word Fellowship) for several years. We started to notice how the church was becoming very cliquish especially with the women. If you were not in the group, where you were not in. We also notice that Markus Ehrich teachings were not lining up with the world of God. Markus Ehrich and his so-called leaders were using different versions of the bible when they taught class which added to the confusion. Markus Ehrich was moving the church into a seeker sensitive church tradition. We noticed his teaching were not line with the King James version of the bible, a word for work translation. When you answered questions quoting from the King James, he would dismiss you.
    We also notice that Markus Ehrich wanted women to be in leadership or men he could control. If you went against Markus Ehrich and you were a man, you know longer had your leadership position. It seemed that he preferred to have the women in leadership positions, especially ones he could control. We final made the decision and left the church.
    We started to attend a church that was affiliated with the Koinonia Fellowship of Churches and meet former church members who were from Word Fellowship when Markus Ehrich become pastor. From what they said Markus Ehrich started to change the church and cancel the men’s and women’s groups when he became pastor and things changed. Many of the church members left. I will prayer for these women in the article, some of them I know from Word.

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