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Response to Gretchen Harrington Murder

July 25, 2023

On Monday, July 24, 2023, a retired Christian Reformed pastor was charged in a murder case. Rev. David G. Zandstra (now 83) was the pastor at Trinity Chapel CRC in Broomall, Pa., in 1975 when 8-year-old Gretchen Harrington was kidnapped and murdered on her way to Vacation Bible School. While Zandstra denied involvement at the time, he has now confessed to the murder.

In the wake of this shocking news, the Christian Reformed Church in North America would like to extend condolences to the Harrington family. We were heartbroken to hear about Gretchen’s kidnapping and death back in 1975. We are additionally grieved now to hear that a CRC pastor was responsible for her murder.

We join in prayer for the Harrington family and the Broomall, Pa., community. We are grateful that local law enforcement did not stop in their pursuit of answers, and we pray that the truth for Gretchen and any other survivors of abuse or violence will continue to come to light. We also commit to continue striving for our congregations to be places of peace, welcome, hospitality, and safety for all who attend and visit. 

As a denomination, we work hard to help our congregations be safe places that actively prevent abuse in all its forms. We encourage all congregations to have safe church policies and procedures in place to help prevent abuse. (To learn more about the tools available to congregations in the area of abuse prevention, visit Thrive’s website.) 

We have also adopted a code of conduct for all ministry leaders at all levels of the denomination. And we encourage all congregations to undergo training in how to respond to reports of abuse. (To learn more about abuse response, visit Thrive’s website).

Despite these systems, we know – and have seen in Gretchen Harrington’s case – that sometimes our best efforts fail. For this we lament, and we commit to a church culture in which abuse in all its forms will not be tolerated.

Anyone who has concerns about a situation of abuse is encouraged to report it to the appropriate authorities. The U.S. national sexual assault hotline is 1-800-656-4673 (U.S.). The Canadian sexual assault hotlines are available by province. People can also confidentially contact CRCNA safe church staff at 877-272-6206 or [email protected]. Concerns will be taken seriously and responded to promptly.