Dear Trinity friends,
Thanks to the Trinity members who came to the special congregational meeting on Monday night. There, we updated and discussed the allegations of sexual misconduct made against one of Trinity’s former pastors, James Oakland, who served here at Trinity from 1976 to 1980.
We welcomed Bishop Regina Hassanally, from the Southeastern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA, who updated us on the role of the synod in situations like this one, as well as how pastors are screened prior to being sent to serve in congregations. Bishop Hassanally was straightforward, honest and answered all of our questions. We are very grateful for the Bishop’s presence with us.
I wanted to update the congregation on the work we do to protect the young and vulnerable who participate in Trinity’s ministries. Though the events we’ve been discussing took place almost 40 years ago, the issue of caring and protecting the people in our care is something we take very seriously today.
First, with regard to the hiring of professional staff, when someone is in the application process, there is a thorough vetting of the individual’s background, including references they’ve listed, other references we can identify that they may not have listed, and a criminal and driving background check.
If the candidate is someone on the ELCA roster, the process is even more thorough. There is now a series of tests to be rostered as a pastor or a deacon that is much more thorough than it was back in James Oakland’s day. In addition, whenever a rostered leader moves from one congregation to another, Minnesota statute 148A requires the new congregation to contact the individual’s previous employers for the last 10 years and to ask about work history, and specifically if there were ever any allegations of sexual misconduct. That is a requirement to be completed before you can begin ministry.
We have a set of best practices that we follow that ensure that individual one-on-one meetings happen in public locations, or if in offices, in ways where there is some sense of accountability.
We require that all of our volunteers have a criminal background check before they volunteer with children or youth, and that that background check is completed every 3 years. On trips or retreats, we work to ensure that adults are staying or sleeping in space that is separate from young people. In addition, we do our best to minimize times when an adult leader would be alone with a young person.
We take the safety of the children and youth who are in our care very, very seriously, and we work hard to ensure that safety.
I am telling you about these procedures because it’s important that the congregation knows, and has trust in, the work we do. I have confidence in Trinity’s staff, our volunteers and the processes we have in place.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I can be reached at ToddB@tlcowatonna.org, or by phone at 507.451.4520.