(This letter was sent to our congregation on August 27, 2018)
Dear GPC Family,
As you read this we are away taking our son to start his first year of college. It’s a time of hope and new beginnings, even if there is a small amount of sadness as we mark another step in his growth into adulthood.
We have been celebrating the work of Stephen Finkel and Ashley Myers this summer. Our Houseboats trip saw several students become Jesus followers, while the rest deepened their faith and commitment to serving Christ and his Kingdom. Working with students is one of the blessings and holy tasks of local church ministry. It’s hard to imagine GPC without our students giving us energy and excitement and hope.
That’s what makes what we’ve heard in the news these past weeks so deeply disturbing. The abuse of children and the protection of the priests who committed those evil acts have led to criminal charges and some deep soul-searching among our Catholic brothers and sisters. Their agony is a good thing. No one should hear even the smallest details of this scandal without feeling their stomach turn and their heart break. It’s far too soon to feel anything but anger, revulsion, and a desire for punishment for those responsible, and for those who helped them cover their offenses.
It’s precisely at a time like this when we look to Jesus for guidance about how to respond. His sacrifice for our sins cools our reckless vengeance—we are reminded that it is our own separation from God that made a Savior necessary in the first place.
But we’re also compelled to remember that Jesus called for special protections for the children in our care. Jesus said: “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea (Matt. 18:6). And later he added: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14).”
We are called to protect and care for our children.
I want you to know that our Presbytery requires that every pastor be trained to identify and report a wide range of abuse and harassment. I have completed this training, and will be sharing that information with Stephen and Ashley, who will in turn make sure that each person who works with kids is prepared to protect and serve them well. We are, as the law describes, “mandated reporters”, which means that we have a duty to stop and to report abuse whenever and wherever we see it take place.
I also want you to know that we already have safeguards in place to protect our kids. This is not new to us, and you can be confident that the team of leaders in our children and youth departments are up-to-date on policies and procedures. Still, we can always do more and better. (We will be happy to share our policies with you if you like.)
My promise is this: I will do everything I can do to make sure that our kids are safe and secure while they’re in our care. That’s a responsibility that I don’t take lightly, and our team will work hard to make sure that we are faithful to that calling.
In the meantime, please keep our Catholic brothers and sisters in your prayers. Pray that the victims will find both healing and justice. Pray that those responsible will never again be in a position to commit these crimes. Pray for churches and schools everywhere, because this isn’t a problem that is limited to any one denomination.
We will have some discussion about this among the staff and leadership of our church, and if necessary, we’ll take this conversation public. It won’t be easy or comfortable, but comfort and ease were never promised to any of us.
We’re going to learn to be vigilant without being afraid. I believe that’s just how God wants us to approach these issues.
Blessings to you and yours, and I’ll see you soon.