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Ex-Silicon Valley pastor faces abuse investigation

Ex-Silicon Valley pastor faces abuse investigation
A prominent Silicon Valley leader and former pastor is under investigation after numerous families accused him of abusing their children when he ran a youth ministry at a popular South Bay church. Photo The River Church Community, on Google Maps.

By Brandon Pho and Ramona Giwargis. San Jose Spotlight.

A prominent Silicon Valley leader and former pastor is under investigation after numerous families accused him of abusing their children when he ran a youth ministry at a popular South Bay church.

Brett Bymaster faces a second investigation in three years after five families from The River Church Community said a 2021 investigation led by church leaders failed to uncover the extent of his abuse and excluded one of the most serious allegations: the possibility of sexual abuse.

Now more families and young people are coming forward to share their stories, as San José Spotlight learned.

“In recent months, we have discovered that there were deep flaws in the original pastoral investigation process and in the denominational report (which was never made public but only summarized by senior leaders),” the families, who requested anonymity, wrote in an open letter “We now believe that the investigation process and senior leaders withheld crucial information about the nature and extent of the abuse.”

Bymaster, a recognizable figure in political and advocacy circles, is also the founder and CEO of Healing Grove Health Center, a clinic that serves low-income families.

Bymaster told San José Spotlight on Friday that the investigation has no merit and that he has not been involved with the ministry for years.

An employee at Healing Grove Health Center declined to comment. As of Friday afternoon, the center's website listed Bymaster as its executive director.

Bymaster served as youth pastor and principal at The River, located on Lincoln Ave., for five years beginning in 2014. He resigned after receiving a critical employment review in August 2019 based on complaints about his leadership from families of church.

But two years later, young people in the congregation expressed more serious concerns about Bymaster.

The church launched an internal investigation in 2021 led by its own Reverend Theresa Marks, according to an email sent this week by three top church leaders, including senior pastor Brad Wong.

Marks found Bymaster to be a “toxic, spiritually abusive leader” and encouraged church leaders to summarize his findings in a letter. Marks' investigation, which included interviews with 25 people, also questioned the church's management of Bymaster.

The letter was sent to ministry partners and the congregation in August 2021.

“We take full responsibility for not doing the work of keeping our youth and our youth volunteers safe in our youth ministry. We did not provide adequate oversight of the youth program or our former youth pastor,” church leaders wrote in the 2021 letter.

But parents of the alleged victims say the letter sweeps damning details under the rug and questions whether some of the incidents should have been categorized as sexual misconduct, harassment or abuse.

“These are important questions and we take them seriously. We maintain that the investigation was conducted in good faith and that we followed Rev. Marks' guidance diligently,” Wong wrote, along with the church's pastor of spiritual formation, Michelle Manley, and board member. Chris Maitz. “However, we are learning that some students did not feel safe sharing freely in the 2021 research. There are more students who want to share their stories at this time. “All your voices are important and should be heard.”

Wong said the church has now hired an outside investigator, Amy Stier, who has experience investigating religious organizations. The investigation will review Bymaster's leadership of the youth ministry, the supervision he received and the church's response when concerns were raised.

Stier's report will be posted on the church's website for at least a year, he added.

“I am shocked and saddened by the news of this investigation by The River Church,” Bymaster told San Jose Spotlight. “A thorough investigation was conducted in 2021 that resulted in no evidence of sexual misconduct or any further actions against me. I have not been involved or connected with The River since 2020 and I am confident that this recently announced investigation, almost three years later, “Will produce the same results. “I am praying for everyone involved.”

Concerns of the city's youth center

San Jose District 3 Councilman Omar Torres said the allegations against Bymaster are concerning.

“Especially because he is someone our community trusts,” Torres told San José Spotlight. “He violated the trust of our community, especially since most of his organizing is done in low-income neighborhoods like Washington and Spartan Keyes, among other neighborhoods with a high rate of immigrants with many needs and many concerns.”

Torres said he is in the process of notifying the city about Bymaster's rental of the Washington United Youth Center for children's programs.

“Brett rents the youth center for youth activities and, on the private side, for his religious organization. I will be in communication with our Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services department to ensure that we take these allegations seriously and hopefully that Brett and his organization, for now, while the investigation is ongoing, are not allowed into our youth center ”Torres said.

Torres said he will work to ensure that people accused of sexual abuse cannot use city-run youth spaces in general.

“Which is unfortunate, because (Bymaster) has youth programming on Friday nights, and you know, on Friday nights, if our youth don't participate, they will eventually take to the streets and do nothing good,” Torres said.

Bymaster, a graduate of Purdue University, studied computer engineering and worked for 15 years designing chips for medical equipment at Silicon Valley startups. He obtained several patents for his inventions.

Once outside the technology sector, Bymaster became involved in the social defense of vulnerable families.

In 2021, under Marks' investigation, he rallied city leaders to fix a crumbling park in a vulnerable neighborhood, defended businesses facing displacement, and advocated for the closure of Reid-Hillview Airport amid concerns about poisoning. by lead. That year he spoke at a city meeting about a proposal to give San José's mayor more governing power under a strong municipal structure.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Bymaster wrote an op-ed in this publication highlighting the racial injustice and poverty exacerbated by the disease. She shared her experience participating in a Black Lives Matter march with her African granddaughter.

You may be interested in: Light, art and hearts: a vigil to remember victims of the Half Moon Bay mass shooting

Peninsula 360 Press
Peninsula 360 Presshttps://peninsula360press.com
Study of cross-cultural digital communication

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