St. Paul's Episcopal Church offers training to prevent abuse
Barbara Weller is a clinical social worker who has been working for more than 40 years with victims of sexual abuse. She wishes there was no need for her services. Weller knows that's not going to happen. But because she would rather prevent the ...
Barbara Weller is a clinical social worker who has been
working for more than 40 years with victims of sexual abuse.
She wishes there was no need for her services.
Weller knows that's not going to happen. But because she would rather prevent the damage than treat the consequences, she volunteered to serve as a trainer in a program at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 1710 E. Superior St., called "Safeguarding God's Children."
"I have that background of helping people pick up the pieces," Weller said. "I'm really pretty passionate about this because I would love the opportunity to stop it before it happens."
The program, which St. Paul's has had since 1996, is a three-hour session incorporating videos and discussion. It's required for "all clergy, all paid staff, all volunteers who have any interaction on a
regular basis with children and youth, anyone who has a key to our building," said the Rev. Barb Hauck, a deacon at St. Paul's who also is a trainer.
It's even required for non-Episcopalians who use the church and an adjoining carriage house, Hauck said. That includes Boy Scout leaders and leaders of East Hillside Patch's Mind to Mind
program. Those who remain involved in the activities must take the session again after five years. That's making for two full classes this weekend, Hauck said, because about 45 people took the training in 2005.
It's required of all Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Minnesota, said the Rev. Bill Van Oss, the rector of St. Paul's.
The importance of the training, Van Oss said, "is raising people's awareness of the potential for abuse that can take place in environments like schools and churches, anyplace where there are children that are being entrusted to the care of other people."
At St. Paul's, Hauck has been involved in the program since its inception in 1996. "(I) felt that it was very important and was proud that the church and denomination that I was baptized into many years ago was taking the issue seriously enough to try to do something on the front end," she said.
The training carries over into everything the church does that involves juveniles.
"We have two Sunday school teachers in every one of our classrooms; we have two baby sitters," Hauck said. "It makes no difference how many children there are, you know; there are always a
minimum of two. ... I don't drive teenagers home and end up with one in my car, with me alone. We take this very seriously."
That extends to having strips of glass in all the office doors, Van Oss said. And he takes it one step further.
"If I'm, for example, meeting with a young person, a minor, I keep my door open and visit with them," he said. "Those are the kinds of practices that we adopt in order to keep all of us safe."
The issue cuts close to home. Van Oss, who attended a Catholic boarding school in Wisconsin in the late 1970s and early '80s, later learned that some of his classmates had been sexually abused by teachers. Weller has counseled victims of sexual abuse by religious leaders.
"It's like God abuses you if it's someone in the church," Weller said. "It's 10 times worse when it's in the church."