Former parishioner seeks justice for alleged abuse
The website of the United Methodist Church of Woodbury states “We are all God’s beloved. Our mission is to show our faith and we will show our faith by our acts.”
But three brothers allege that they were abused by Russell Hullstrung, the son of former pastor Robert Hullstrung. The youngest brother, Kristian Chestnut, an attorney from Florida, filed a lawsuit in 2021 after the passing of the Child Victim’s Act, which extended the statute of limitations for a survivor of child sexual abuse in criminal and civil cases. Chestnut filed the suit against the United Methodist Church of Woodbury, the United Methodist Church and it’s various divisions. His brothers Scott and Gregory Chestnut, according to Newsday, each signed $60,000 settlements with the church in 2017.
“It’s very stressful to go through and recount the horrible things that were done to me at the United Methodist Church as a child,” Chestnut said. “But at the same time, I believe by being able to bring a case, I have also been able to benefit a lot in terms of recovery from gaining a far better understanding of what happened to me as a child.”
Chestnut was allegedly abused by Russell Hullstrung from 1983 to 1986, when he was about three to seven years old.
In 1994, Hullstrung had been arrested at age 27 for the rape of a blind and deaf man at the Helen Keller Center in Sands Point. His family attorney adamantly denied the allegation in an article written at the time, but the Nassau County District Attorney’s office told Newsday he plead guilty and was sentenced to one year of probation and time served.
Chestnut said his attorney Dr. Jef McAllister has reached out to the Yale New Haven health care system, where Hullstrung last worked, with news coverage on the case.
“It’s my understanding that they are now taking that on advisement,” Chestnut said. “We are now waiting to see how Yale New Haven responds to this information, and should the hospital not do the right thing by at least putting this man on administrative leave, suspending him while investigation takes place, [I will join activists] to hold demonstrations outside the hospital and protest his presence there.”
Yale New Haven health care system issued the following statement to the Syosset Jericho Tribune:
“Although we do not comment on personnel matters, we can confirm that Mr. Hullstrung is no longer employed by the health system.”
Hullstrung, now 55, was over the age of 18 during the abuse of Chestnut. The alleged abuse included molestation and rape. The abuse took place in the nursery, shed, on a grave and in the minister’s house. When Chestnut told Hullstrung, according to court documents, that he no longer wanted to be abused and assaulted, Hullstrung allegedly threatened to kill Chestnut’s family if he did not comply. Chestnut said his brother Scott was the first to come forward in 1994 after watching an episode of Oprah discussing sexual abuse with his mother, Irene Chestnut, who then drove from Dutchess County to Woodbury to confront the Hullstrung family in person.
Chestnut said his brother Gregory came forward in support of Scott. During that time, Chestnut said he froze. He told his brother Gregory when he was 15, but decided to not tell his parents because his father was very sick. He did not tell his mother until he was 23.
“I was afraid it could kill my father,” Chestnut said.
Chestnut said that his mother was destroyed by learning that all three of her sons had been abused at church.
“My mother immigrated to the United States [from the Netherlands] in 1965 and she met my father on the beach, Jones Beach,” Chestnut said. “They got married six months later, they had kids and bought a nice house that they saved for.”
But the “storybook” life would never be the same after his mother found out her children were abused by the church and family she had faith in.
“My mother was a very religious woman, a protestant from Amsterdam, where she grew up in the Netherlands,” Chestnut said. “She believed in these people, the United Methodist Church and the Hullstrungs who were the supervisors of the church, the minister and the Sunday School director and the youth minister. She believed these people were good, and they turned out to be the worst that maybe Long Island has ever seen.”
The court documents state that Hullstrung participated in youth-serving activities, and he’d often remove Chestnut from the nursery in plain view of care givers.
“I certainly will always remember the anxiety and fear I went through,” Chestnut said. “I had nightmares every single night and I suffered medically. I began falling apart by the time I was 11-years-old. I was very sick and was unable to go to school. It was very taxing on me.”
The suit also alleges that the church and the church divisions knew that Hullstrung had a propensity to engage in child sexual abuse, and still allowed him to serve as staff member with access to children. It alleges that the church failed to warn parents; supervise Hullstrung’s contact with children; correct his behavior; and establish policies and procedures that would protect children from abuse and failed to train employees, administrators and staff in the prevention of child sexual abuse.
According to the documents, Chestnut continues to suffer severe and permanent psychological, emotional and physical injuries, shame, humiliation and inability to lead a normal life.
“I think what a lot of people don’t understand about sexual abuse is that it’s not reasonable to ask a child to be able to rationalize what had happened at such a young age…,” Chestnut said. “I was groomed to believe that we were playing games. Until he began raping me and pain became an element, I didn’t even know we were doing anything wrong to tell anyone about. When I told him I didn’t want to do these things anymore, he threatened to kill me, my family. Living with that stress and anxiety, I can’t recount the thoughts, exact thoughts, what was going through my mind, but I do recall living in great fear for my life.”
The United Methodist Church and the United Methodist Church Conference motioned to dismiss the suit against them because they argued that they are not jural entities susceptible to a suit in New York or elsewhere, rather a religious denomination.
“This lawsuit is about accountability,” Chestnut said. “It makes me feel so much better to know just that the people who did me wrong, the organizations that did me wrong, are not going to get away with it.”
The Syosset Jericho Tribune reached out to the attorneys of the United Methodist Church and its divisions and Hullstrung for comment and received no response.