ELKHART, Indiana (Mennonite Church USA) — Mennonite Church USA Executive Board (EB) staff are moving forward in their efforts to prevent abuse and strengthen accountability across the denomination. Following the D. Stafford & Associates (DSA) investigation into the responses of Virginia Mennonite Conference (VMC) and Lindale Mennonite Church (LMC), Linville, Virginia, to abuse complaints against former Eastern Mennonite University vice president and LMC member Luke Hartman, Mennonite Church USA EB staff released a response sharing their findings and recommendations.
“We are committed to learning from our mistakes,” church leaders said in a statement following the January report, “and we renew our ongoing commitment to transparency and justice and to not re-victimizing or causing further harm. As imperfect leaders, we offer the church what we have learned through this process and will make every effort to move forward with justice and grace as our guides, promoting healing and strengthening accountability at every level of Mennonite Church USA.”
Healthy Boundaries Training
One of the six commitments Mennonite Church USA leaders made in their response was to hold a “Healthy Boundaries 101-201” national training in May. The training, carried out via a contract with FaithTrust Institute, will take place May 10-11 in Kansas City, Missouri. All area conferences and agencies were encouraged to send at least one or two representatives to the training.
Using the curriculum “A Sacred Trust,” the training will address fundamentals of boundaries in ministerial relationships including power and vulnerability, dating, dual relationships, gifts, finances, personal needs and self-care.
“Due to the sexual abuse and clergy misconduct case in Virginia, it became painfully clear how we were not fully equipped to provide the support needed for victims, congregations and conferences,” said Iris de Leόn-Hartshorn, director of Transformative Peacemaking for Mennonite Church USA. “Mennonite Church USA contacted FaithTrust Institute and worked on a plan to provide training for area conferences and leaders across the denomination. Healthy Boundaries does not only pertain to sexual misconduct but also covers finance, the internet and other areas that are important for pastors and church leaders.”
After the initial training, Mennonite Church USA has committed to build an agreement among all conferences to hold regular trainings on healthy boundaries in ministry for all pastors and credentialed leaders in the church. The denomination’s Leadership Development office is working to ensure that all pastors credentialed in Mennonite Church USA participate in a healthy boundaries training and that new pastors do so within the first year of their employment.
Protocol and Procedure for Ministerial Misconduct Files
Mennonite Church USA’s Leadership Development office, in collaboration with FaithTrust Institute, has developed a Protocol and Procedure for Ministerial Misconduct Files that clarifies how Ministerial Misconduct Files will be used to aid in the prevention of future abuse by pastors who have been accused and found to have engaged in misconduct. Misconduct files contain copies of documentation from area conference misconduct proceedings sent from area conferences to the national office.
The protocol states that “conference ministers and the national office will consult the misconduct file of any credentialed leader who desires to renew their Ministerial Leadership Information (MLI) form or to be considered for a ministry position in Mennonite Church USA,” allowing for better vetting and understanding of any earlier cases.
According to the policy, pastoral search committees will be notified by their conference minister of a candidate’s recorded misconduct “in writing … including the date and nature of the charge, resulting judgement, any sanctions and the compliance of the credentialed leader.”
Additionally, the Leadership Development office will provide orientation to new conference ministers that includes “reviewing the misconduct cases of any credentialed leader in their conference and the documentation in the Ministerial Misconduct Files.”
“Though Ministerial Misconduct Files are maintained with professional confidentiality, their existence is not secretive in nature,” the protocol states, “and the national office encourages their consultation through the appropriate channels for the purpose of abuse prevention.”
Mennonite Church USA leadership has also pledged, in response to the DSA report, to compile learnings that can be shared with the wider church and used as a resource by the church’s Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention as it develops a process for dealing with violations of sexual boundaries by non-credentialed church leaders.
Other commitments made by Mennonite Church USA include walking alongside and supporting Virginia Mennonite Conference (VMC) as they follow the recommendations of the DSA report and hosting “listening circles” within VMC to hear the community’s stories, concerns, thoughts and ideas and work toward healing.
Also being explored for the future, according to de Leόn-Hartshorn, is possible training for advocates who can walk with people who have been harmed and advocate on their behalf.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” de Leόn-Hartshorn said. “We believe having people trained throughout the church to help conference leaders, pastors and congregations identify what healthy boundaries are and to know what to be aware of when boundaries are not being respected and possible interventions — from reporting to providing support — is just a first step.”
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NOTE: Two spots remain open for the May 10-11 “Healthy Boundaries” training in Kansas City. For more information, contact Iris de Leόn-Hartshorn at firstname.lastname@example.org.