Places Where Our Children Find Safety

nancyNancy Kauffmann is a denominational minister for Mennonite Church USA. This article was originally posted on Mennonite Church USA blog, Menno-Snapshots on May 10, 2016.

I appreciated the reflection on “When Abusers Have Done a Lot of Good” by Alan Stucky posted on Doves’ Nest. He talks about the trap we can so easily fall into when the person who has abused is someone who has been known “to do so much good work.”  No one wants to undo that good work, so we might choose to be silent. He ended with the following reminders:

  1. The abuse itself has already undone the abuser’s good works, and it will come out eventually. There is no way I can stop that from happening.
    2. By keeping it quiet and not being a victim advocate, I am actually undoing my own legacy and my own good works.
    3. My participation in a cover-up will eventually come out, and that I can’t hide either. 

I think Allen is naming a reality that too often happens. But I also think there is another scenario that plays out many times in our faith communities.

The fact is that many of us do not understand how abusers operate, and because we don’t, any process or accountability we put into place can  be easily manipulated by them if we aren’t careful.

I remember a pastoral counselor who specialized in working with abusers say that sex offenders create a secret, private “kingdom” which they will defend at all costs. They may deny, minimize, blame or discredit the victim, blame  or discredit the reporter of the abuse, triangle the congregation/community, use scripture to justify, threaten or play the victim themselves, claiming false accusations. Or they might admit to what is known, act repentant and demand they be instantly forgiven in order to keep anyone from finding out about other victims or situations.

Abuse in the congregation that is not addressed is like poison that increases the pain of victims and survivors even more and spreads throughout the system to affect the health of all involved.

A pastor friend once told the story of visiting members of her congregation when she began her ministry assignment and hearing veiled references to something that happened over 30 years ago. When she pushed for more information, members would say, “Well that is in the past,” or “It doesn’t help to dredge up the past.” But clearly it was affecting the health of the congregation. Finally, she was able to uncover that a well-loved and trusted elder had sexually molested one of the youth. Thirty years prior, the elder had denied the accusations and bullied the victim and the congregation into becoming silent. Eventually the victim and her family left the community, and the congregation put the whole matter behind them. But the poison was still present. After many long hours and hard work, this pastor and some strong leaders in the congregation were able to move the congregation to the place of healing and health by using resources within their community and their conference. While the abuser had died and understandably, the known victim didn’t want to have anything to do with the congregation, it was discovered that there was at least one other victim still in the congregation who had remained silent out of fear because of what she saw happen to the other youth. When she saw how hard the congregation was working to deal with the past and to create a safe space policy, she finally felt empowered to come forward. Then, years after the abuse, the congregation surrounded her with love and support. For this congregation as with any, it has been an ongoing process that the congregation has committed to. They continue the hard work of being a safe space for all in the congregation. This value is posted by the main entrance of the building, so all members are reminded of their commitment to be a safe space. It has been a welcoming sign to visitors, and several have even decided to join because of that commitment upfront.

I commend congregations who have put into place safe space policies that outline clearly what steps will be followed when an allegation occurs.

Samples of such policies can be found at Dove’s Nest. It is extremely important to be proactive in setting up such policies before a congregation has a known situation. Attempting to deal with an allegation without a policy can be disastrous and only empowers the abuser and disempowers the victim.

The Panel for Sexual Abuse Prevention for Mennonite Church USA has named some other excellent recommendations for a congregation to be proactive.

The story of Jesus blessing the children is found in several of the gospels, but it is the Mark 10:13 version that names how Jesus felt when “the disciples spoke sternly” to the people bringing the children:

“But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.’”

I put this account alongside the words of Jesus in Matthew 25, “…just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.”

What kind of a church do we want for our children and grandchildren should they ever encounter the threat of abuse?

Let’s make sure our congregations are places that our children will find safety.

What I learned…from ministry to social work

I left congregational ministry a year ago to answer a call to ministry as a social worker at our local sexual assault crisis center.  A part of my work now is training congregations to recognize and prevent child sexual abuse. What I have learned would shift how I do ministry with children and youth, and I’d like to pass some of my learnings on.

Preventing child sexual abuse is an adult responsibility, and it is a responsibility that should be in the forefront of awareness for those working with children and youth (hereafter referred to as children). We are oriented toward nurturing the faith formation of the children in our congregations, and to do that we need to also be concerned with creating an environment that is safe.  Further, the call of Jesus points us to caring for the vulnerable among us. Children are vulnerable, both because of their size, but also because their mental, emotional and spiritual selves are still developing.  As Maya Angelou says, “Sexual abuse… can take a child who knows nothing and turns her into a child who believes nothing.”


Child sexual abuse typically happens because someone manipulates the child, and perhaps protective adults, to the point where the abuse can happen. Research tells us that 90% of victims know their abuser, and that offenders with the youngest and most victims are often actively involved in the church. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t trust people in our congregations, but it does mean that we should set up policies and procedures that enable us to have a wise trust.

What does this mean for how we engage in ministry with children? Abuse usually happens when a child is isolated with a perpetrator. Adopt a two adult rule. Best practice is to set up policies so no adult is alone with a child, and if they are alone, it should be in a public space. It is also important to invest time and energy into educating the adults who work with children about child sexual abuse, especially how to respond if a child discloses abuse and how to intervene if they see behaviors which make them concerned that a child is being groomed to be abused.

There are two other statistics that made me re-evaluate how I engage in ministry with children.  Between one quarter and one third of those who sexually offend against minors are juveniles themselves. And the demographic of the average first time child sexual offender is a 13 year old male. I would no longer feel comfortable having a youth be responsible for caring for children at church, at least not without other adults being present to supervise. I would also rethink the activities we played as a youth group. Games played in the dark would likely be replaced, as they provide such easy cover for groping or other forms of assault.  These would not be changes that would be easily welcomed by our youth. I would also be saddened to make them, but would use the change as opportunity for further conversation about why the change is necessary.

Finally, I would be much more intentional about healthy sexuality and personal boundary education. That education would focus on both equipping parents to have open, on-going conversations with their children, as well as creating space for that same type of conversation and teaching within the congregation. If our children cannot talk about issues relating to sexuality why would we think that they will talk to us if something bad or confusing like sexual abuse is happening to them? Fortunately, MCUSA has an organization, Dove’s Nest, that can help us in this task. I highly recommend that you connect with them to utilize their knowledge and expertise. As a faith community, we care about our children.

Let us commit to nurturing their faith development in settings where their whole selves are valued and protected.

For 13 years Ross Erb served as Associate Pastor for Children, Youth, and Families at Park View Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He now works as a Child Advocate at Collins Center, a local non-profit that seeks to eliminate sexual violence and it’s impact in the community. When not working, Ross loves to read, garden, and play and watch sports of all types.



Reflections on Empowering Parenting

When I look at my kids I see the best parts of me and my spouse. My kids give me joy and hope, they ground me in my daily reality with their needs and routines. Before I became a mother, I’d only brushed the surface of my deep capacity to love. I desire to teach them, empower them, guide them and equip them to be healthy and whole people. And as a mother, it is also my responsibility to protect them.  Sexual abuse and assault are real, and have continued to happen to 25 percent of women in our country and up to 16 percent of men.

How do we protect those that we love? How do we protect our most vulnerable humans?

I don’t have all the answers. And sometimes the work of prevention can feel nebulous. We are never sure if we are doing enough. Are we asking the right questions? Have we thought through the possibilities? Who can we really trust? We all have these concerns – we want the best for our kids. We want to protect them. And we hope we’re not missing something.

In our family, there are a few things we’ve come to value, ways of being really, that we believe help in the development of healthy sexuality and lay the groundwork in the prevention of sexual abuse for our children.

Empowering our kids over their bodies. One of many mantras in our home is, “You get to choose who touches your body and how.” We repeat this in the midst of heated arguments, in showing love to each other, in maintaining personal space, and a variety of other circumstances. It always applies. In setting these boundaries, our kids are learning to say, “no.” They are practicing the power of using “no” or “stop” clearly and with conviction. And they are learning what it means to respect the boundaries of others. Our hope is that this cultivates self-confidence in and agency over their own bodies and the ability to more easily recognize unhealthy or inappropriate touch if or when it happens.

Talking about sex. Sexuality is a part of being human and as such it is a natural reality that we encounter in the context of family. As parents, my spouse and I have chosen to answer our kids’ questions that arise about sex honestly and with transparency. Our bodies are not shameful and so we consistently call all our body parts by their names. We are not ashamed of our sex life around our children. Our bedroom door is rarely locked, but when it is, our kids understand and respect the fact that sometimes mom and dad take time to love each other in a special and private way. We teach them that sex is a natural part of a healthy relationship. And we create space for healthy, open conversation about sexuality, which is happening more and more as my kids are transitioning from childhood into adolescence. The easier it is for my kids to talk about and embrace their own sexuality, the easier it will be to recognize if or when something is wrong. If they are in a dangerous situation, they’ll be equipped with the knowledge, confidence and power to name it, escape it, and talk to us about it.

Raising strong, resilient girls. The root of sexual abuse is patriarchy – a system that values women less than men – and it works by objectifying women, creating a sense they are less than human, objects to be consumed. I recognize that in our society, even in the year 2016, my girls have the cards stacked against them in terms of their value. My journey towards seeing myself created in the image of God and recognizing my power as a woman has been hard-fought. But together, my spouse and I are working to empower our girls from the start – teaching and modeling for them wholeness, confidence and self-assurance, because in the times we are living in, they’ll need tenacity to believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are enough – to not be manipulated or enticed by any person or system that would devalue them. And in the same vein, we’re raising a young man who understands and respects the dignity and personhood of women, created in God’s image just like he is. This is our long-game, investing in our children. Through raising self-confident girls and an awakened young man, we are ever-so slowly changing the culture of our society, dismantling patriarchy and contributing to a shared understanding of the full equality and personhood of women within our culture.

Sexual abuse is real, our kids are precious gifts, and we’re all doing the best we can. Daily I pray for wisdom in mothering – ears to hear what my kids are really saying and insight to understand what I see. Parenting is not easy, but with intentionality and daily grace, we take it one step at a time.



Jenny Castro is a mother of three children, ages 12, nine and seven. She is coordinator of the Women in Leadership Project and communications associate for Mennonite Church USA. She also serves on the Panel for Sexual Abuse Prevention for the denomination. Jenny is a member of San Antonio Mennonite Church.

Ministerial Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedure updates

‘Ministerial Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedure’ provides updated process for the church

 Ministerial Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedure is a resource to equip Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada to address ministerial sexual misconduct directly and boldly.

This work builds on previous policies and procedures developed by denominational leaders throughout both national church bodies in 2000 as a guide for congregations and area conferences in addressing ministerial misconduct, including sexual and ethical misconduct.

The revised and updated Policy and Procedure incorporates valuable input from area conference ministers, survivors of ministerial sexual abuse, professionals who work with sexual abuse and legal counsel in both the USA and Canada.

“This updated Policy and Procedure takes seriously the insidious nature of ministerial sexual misconduct,” said Karen Martens Zimmerly, Mennonite Church Canada Executive Minister, Formation & Pastoral Leadership. “And therefore it includes more checks and balances to hold both the accused minister and the area church accountable and requires that an individual with professional training in sexual abuse is a part of each team involved in the procedure.”

The document includes theological background, definitions, a policy overview, and a step-by-step outline for a complaint procedure. A flowchart of the various steps and forms for use in the process are offered as addenda.

It is intentional about offering a fair and deliberate process that also offers care for the complainant.

“The revised Policy and Procedure pays special attention to the complainant to insure that abuse involving a child is reported, that the safety of the complainant is named and that the complainant is kept informed throughout the process,” Mennonite Church USA denominational minister Nancy Kauffmann said. “There is also an option for the complainant to appeal a judgment made by the Ministerial Leadership Committee.”

The document is available online at For questions, contact Terry Shue, director of Leadership Development, at or 574-523-3095.



Webinar–Sexual Abuse Prevention

In this webinar, Anna Groff, executive director of Dove’s Nest discusses best practices for sexual abuse prevention in our congregations.  Some highlights:

  1. Believe–if a youth discloses sexual abuse/violence, believe him/her (2:3 women have experience sexual violence)
  2. Learn more–know and understand grooming signs for sexual abuse
  3. Implement and follow a protection policy
  4. Consider and safeguard against youth on youth/child sexual abuse
  5. Nurture healthy and deep listening culture
  6. Understand boundary crossing vs. boundary violation
  7. Intentions are irrelevant

Increase safety:

  1. Decrease isolation and secrecy
  2. Increase supervision–2 adult rule
  3. All activities should be observable and interruptable
  4. Provide education on personal, emotional, and physical boundaries
  5. Educate about appropriate touch

Additional informational about protecting our children can be found on Anabaptist Faith Formation Network. Here is a copy of Anna’s powerpoint presentation.

Youth Leaders as Cultivators of Resistance to Sexualized Violence



Youth leaders are in a position to play a powerful role in sexual violence prevention.

In fact, for better or worse, you are already impacting your youth’s relationship to sexual violence whether or not you are doing so intentionally. The ways you nurture relationships among the youth, tell the Christian story, and teach youth to embody that story in their lives all shape youth’s relationship to sexualized violence, even if you are not talking about that violence explicitly. This is hard news in that it means youth leaders have a weighty responsibility to make sure that your practices foster resistance to sexualized violence rather than vulnerability. It is good news in that it means you have the power to make a real and positive difference.

One of the most important things you can do to prevent sexualized violence is make sure that you understand what it is, how it impacts youth, and how it intersects with Christian formation. Policies are good, and they are also not enough. Resistance to sexual violence needs to be woven through everything that you do. In the same way that you organize youth programs and faith formation around resistance to war and poverty, you need to intentionally incorporate resistance to sexualized violence into your ministry. To do this, you need to know what you are talking about. Trauma and Recovery is a fantastic book that can help you understand sexualized violence, its traumatic impact, and what is needed for both resilience and resistance. Proverbs of Ashes can help you get up to speed on how to think about sexualized violence with respect to Christian theology and practice.

Once you understand sexualized violence and its impact on both individuals and communities, you will be in a good place to work resistance to abuse into your curriculum and programing. Here are a few of the many ways you might think about doing that:

Talk about sexualized violence openly and often. If a quarter of the people in our communities were being shot, we would be talking quite a lot about gun violence, and we need to be talking about sexualized violence with the same gusto. Silence on the topic of sexualized violence is dangerous. When there is a sense among the important adults in a youth’s life that sexualized violence is an inappropriate or uncomfortable topic of conversation, youth who are being abused will be less likely to tell adults that it is happening and less likely to ask questions about how to best protect themselves. Talking about sexualized violence acknowledges that it exists, gives youth language to understand it, and creates an environment in which it is ok to ask questions that could be lifesaving.

Describe survivors and others who are resisting sexualized violence as modern exemplars of faith. Encourage youth to value prophetic anger, pursuit of justice, and radical love through the stories of both biblical and contemporary survivors of sexualized violence who are fighting for their own survival and the survival of all others vulnerable to this violence. When you demonstrate respect for survivors of sexualized violence and look to them as teachers and models of discipleship (as opposed to psychologically broken individuals who need to be repaired before they can contribute to the faith community) you cultivate resistance in youth to the notion that being sexually abused warrants shame. Shame prevents people from resisting sexualized violence when it occurs. Freedom from shame empowers those threatened by sexualized violence to advocate for themselves, for friends who are being abused, and to break the cycle of violence.

Focus on empowerment. Empower youth socialized to minimize themselves (especially girls, people of color, trans and genderqueer youth) to use their voices, be loud, take up space, and assert strong boundaries. You might literally design spiritual practices for youth that involve 1) yelling loudly and giving thanks for the divine gift of their voices, or 2) taking up as much physical space as possible and praising their bodies as infused with divine love, strength and value. A secure connection with one’s body, a conviction that one’s body and voice are inherently valuable, and actual practice asserting that value can cultivate a capacity to resist sexual abuse in youth who are most vulnerable. Likewise, empowering youth socialized to maximize themselves (especially boys and white youth) to listen, value others and empathize can form those taught by society that it is ok for them to perpetrate sexual violence to instead work against the perpetuation of that violence in their own relationships and among their peers.

This is just the beginning, but it is a good beginning, and it is a beginning that will make a difference.


~Hilary J. Scarsella

*Our Stories Untold would be glad to continue this conversation with anyone who is interested. Contact Hilary at

*Hilary also revised/wrote new liturgy for communion which includes inclusive language suitable for people that have experienced sexual abuse and violence.


Understanding Sexual Abuse

As I sat down to write this write this blog post, I thought about what I wanted to know as a youth leader, despite the fact that I am a trained therapist. So, I will share the definition of sexual abuse, what I have learned as a youth leader and what I have learned working with survivors of abuse on a professional level. Additionally, I will provide some online resources for your own edification.

As both an urban youth worker and a trained music therapist who has been in practice for 15 years (4 of these years treating children of sexual abuse), I understand the fear, the thoughts, and the worry associated with “sexual abuse”. As a fellow youth worker, I want to assure that it is not your responsibility to fix or solve problems for survivors of sexual abuse. We are called to love, support, encourage and to report incidences of sexual abuse. Check your state requirements for mandatory reporting; the state of Pennsylvania requires all who work with children be designated as reporters of abuse with a required training and certification.

The American Psychological Association defines sexual abuse as “unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent” ( One of the most important lessons when working with children is to never assume that you know what is happening. There are accepted signs of abuse, but you never want to assume that there is a situation of abuse. Always ask questions, be curious, you never want to put words in the mouths of children. For example, you may ask, “has someone been touching you?” They may respond,” my mom touches at bath time” or “you mean, like when my cousin touches me”.  Again, do not assume you and the child have the same definition for touch. If the response is: “You mean like when my cousin touches me,” ask them to explain what they mean. “Can you tell me how your cousin touches you?” This ensures that they are telling you in their own words. Above all else, you want to avoid shaming, there is no place for shame in the child telling you their experience of abuse, it is not their fault.

Instead, reassure them that they did the right thing by telling you, tell them that it is not their fault, remind them that you are there for them. This is the tricky part, if you are a mandated reporter, you have to let them know that you need to report this, so that they can get help. This typically induces fear, worry, and upset feelings as the child has more than likely been trained to hide what is happening to them. As a youth worker, get someone else to help you, you do not have to do this alone.

As a youth worker and a trained therapist, I have learned to value community and self-care. Hearing stories of sexual abuse can trigger many emotional responses inside the person hearing the story. You need to speak to your fellow youth workers, to your pastors, to a trained therapist, to process what you heard, to understand your own feelings surrounding this. Ultimately, you need to be gentle and loving toward yourself, just as you are to the child whose story you are witnessing. There will be grief, anger, sadness, despair, and hope that redemption is possible. So, reach out to your support system, pray for yourself and the child and their family, pray for many children whose stories you do not hear, but who experience sexual abuse, be gentle with yourself, show love to yourself, and allow yourself to feel the emotions.

Children have the capacity for resilience and healing and we should trust that this is there inside of them. Despite the abuse, God has not forsaken or forgotten them, but please be careful to avoid typical Christian platitudes “God never gives you more than you can handle” or “God is punishing you” (sadly, this has been the churches response at times). Be genuine, tell them you are sorry this happened to them because it should NEVER happen to anyone, be silent and listen, show mercy to yourself and them in that moment.

It is a privilege to work with our youth and, I know people may not agree with this, but it is an honor when a child trusts you with their story, so recognize that trust while also remembering that it is not your job to fix the situation, but to bear witness. This above all else is the key aspect: bearing witness – people need to be heard and to know that they are not isolated in their experience. We are called to be a community of believers and we live this out as we bear witness to not only one another’s life, but one another’s pain, suffering – this is genuine community.

I hope that you found some of this useful and for those of you have experienced this pain: there is no shame and it is not your fault. For those of you bearing witness, be genuine, be gentle, show mercy, be love.








Janelle Junkin, MA, MT-BC. Janelle is a member and youth leader at Oxford Circle Mennonite Church, Philadelphia, PA. Professionally, Janelle is a PhD candidate at Drexel University’s Creative Arts in Therapy program. She is a board certified music therapist working in Philadelphia, PA, with children and families. She has helped develop community arts programs in Philadelphia and in South and Central America. She has taught as an adjunct in the Creative Arts in Therapy master’s program at Drexel University and in the Urban Studies, masters, department at Eastern University and the Psychology Department, University of the Arts. She is published in the International Journal of Art & Education and in the Journal of Applied Arts & Health.


tGP Podcast–An Interview with Nancy Kauffmann

nancyThis month on tGP podcast, Rachel talks with Nancy Kauffmann who presently serves as Denominational Minister of Mennonite Church USA and is a part of the Panel for Sexual Abuse Prevention.

Nancy and her team have been tirelessly working on the newly updated Ministerial Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedure for the denomination’s credentialed (and non-credentialed) leaders.  In this interview, Rachel talks with Nancy about how ministering people can keep healthy boundaries and ways to safeguard everyone in your youth group.

Before Nancy was in her current role, she served 9 years as a Conference Regional Minister for Indiana Michigan Mennonite Conference, and before that she spent 19 years on the Pastoral Team at College Mennonite Church, Goshen, IN (part of that time was Associate Pastor for Youth and Young adults).

Nancy has a grown son who lives in Manhattan, NY and a son who lives in Portland, OR with his spouse and daughter.

She is a graduate from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary with a Master of Divinity and School of Theology at Claremont, CA with a Doctorate of Ministry.

**Apologies for the technical issues with Rachel’s sound. It does get better as the podcast continues.**

tGP interview with Barbra Graber

In this podcast interview, Rachel Gerber interviews Barbra Graber, a sexual abuse survivor, editor of Our Stories Untold (a website for sexual abuse survivors within the Mennonite Church to share their stories), and founding member of SNAPmenno, the Mennonite chapter of the international Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. In this podcast, Barbra talks about safe practices, self-care, advocacy, and sexual abuse prevention.


December Study Circle

let-the-children-comeLet the Children Come

Author chat with Jeanette Harder

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

3:30pm EST/2:30pm CDT


It’s become clear to me in recent years how critical is the link between personal safety and faith formation.  If children are to develop a trusting relationship with God, they must first have safe and trusting relationships with adult caregivers.

We would like to believe that child abuse doesn’t happen in our churches, but research and experience tells is it does. How do we as formation leaders create a safe environment with trustworthy adults?

In Let the Children Come, Jeanette Harder outlines how to take significant steps toward preventing the tragedy of child abuse and neglect—steps such as building relationships with children and families and recognizing the signs and risk factors for abuse and neglect.

Jeanette is a member of my conference and has agreed to join us as we talk about her book.  I admire Jeanette and the way she has gently, courageously and persistently gone about the work of equipping faith communities to protect children.  She has a wealth of experience, so come ready to learn and ask your questions!

There ARE steps we can take!

Read about them in Jeanette Harder’s book, Let the Children Come, then join the study circle December 13. Sign up now! Jeanette and I look forward to seeing you there!


Shana 2014



Shana Peachey Boshart, Central Plains conference minister for Christian formation and editor of Anabaptist Faith Formation Network, an Anabaptist resource website.