Senior 'Skinnydipping' Survival (part 3)

What happened on Senior Survival 2015, 2016, 2017

At this point in the story I now know how the pastor and teacher were reinstated, but not why. 

See Part 1…  

See Part 2…

I know the conference didn’t follow policy, because they told me so when I asked.  So what happened on the trip to make me question the why? 

From what I understand, the SLA seniors left for their Senior Survival Trip from South Lancaster MA on September 15, 2017.  Crossing two state lines (New Hampshire & Maine), the pastor announced on the bus “she has a surprise for the students’ mid-week.”  It was understood to be skinny dipping.   Multiple girls reported that the pastor talked about the skinny dipping daily and referred to it as something exciting and fun. 

Based on the accounts shared; while the girls, pastor, and teacher were gathered in camp on the fourth day.  The pastor began taking her clothes off.  The pastor encouraged the girls with statements about everyone having the same body and that they should be confident with their body parts, including “we are all women.”  Girls have shared that the pastor stripping in front of them made them feel very uncomfortable.

Those not willing to comply were pressured by the pastor and told “it’s not a big deal, just come.”  Others hear “Just do it, its tradition.” 

Several girls have remarked that this was the first opportunity to bathe and wash their hair in four days.  The leadership had recommended that the girls bring wipes for daily cleansing.   It must have been pretty rough as two girls leave camp without any chaperones on the evening of day three to find a swimming spot to bathe.

The pastor hikes with those participating to “the first place the boys couldn’t see them”, although it has been reported that on that same day the pastor shared with a male student that they [the girls] would be skinny dipping later.

It seems the pastor further encouraged the option to strip” to feel cleaner.”  She added that the girls should “embrace their bodies, that they should feel comfortable, not feel scared in their bodies,”  and that there was “no risk of the boys seeing them.”  …even though the boys knew…

One young lady, who states she repeatedly said no, was so pressured that once she finally did undress, she found herself exposed in the shallow water because she didn’t know how to swim.  Feeling awkward and uncomfortable, and without any soap or shampoo, she removed herself from the water.  She sat on the beach and waited, not wanting to hike back up the trail to camp alone.

Others decided to wash their hair, however it was made clear to the girls that for the shampoo they would have to remove the top of their bathing suits.  One young girl complied.   When she requested the conditioner she was informed, by the pastor, she would have to remove the bottom of her suit.  To this she was pretty upset, pulled her top back up and swam away.  How do you come to terms with your pastor making you get naked just to wash your hair?

Approximately 40 minutes later girls begin to arrive back in camp.  Some expressed regret for participating, stating they wish they hadn’t gone, because “they felt uncomfortable.”

At no time have I heard a student use the words “nude bathing” when describing the incident.  It was always called “skinny dipping.”

Can you imagine being on a canoe trip for the first time?   It’s a go, go, go kind of trip.  Camp setups at each stop are exhausting with strange sounds at dusk and dawn.  There’s that unnerving  hike to the outhouse in the middle of the night.  Different food.  Bugs.  Camp breakdown and off you go on the water for another x hours of paddling.  So what should have been a really cool atmosphere, wildlife interaction and class bonding included a pastor showing off her C-section scar, which is very near her groin area, girls openly discussing in front of the boys the upcoming “exciting activity” and seemingly a teacher not objecting to any of this.   I question if the boys are wondering which girls will participate?

For the record, I have no issue with skinny dipping, especially with my spouse.  I do have a problem with children, at varying developmental stages and ethnic backgrounds being coerced to strip down in an unfamiliar environment, by chaperones (the pastor and teacher) with their distinct positions of authority.  Multiple girls, repeatedly expressed how uncomfortable they were with the idea on the trip and later share how they were harassed by these two women.

It's amazing how this has escalated in 24-months.  Three trips prior, a group of girls from the Class of 2016 innocently requested to go skinny dipping.  The same pastor said yes and then later asked, if she could join them.

On the next trip, the pastor and teacher organized an optional Skinny Dipping time.  On this third trip, girls who protested (mind you, the majority of the group) were aggressively approached and leverage with “Just do it, its tradition”.

In several months some will argue that it’s ok because in Maine the age of consent is 15.  Are we suggesting that because the law does not regard it as statutory rape, then it’s ok?

Multiple students expressed how uncomfortable they felt throughout the trip with the pastor constantly egging girl students to fight her.  The pastor, who practices mixed martial arts, would tell the girls to “come at me” repeatedly.  Once a student engaged in the “mock fighting” it seems the match wasn’t called until the pastor pinned the student to the ground, (that is by laying on top of her.)

Many girls admit they did not tell their parents about the skinny dipping because they were “uncomfortable."  So now, these two women (a pastor and teacher--whom I understand are recipients of the Protect the Vulnerable Certification) have created an “uncomfortable” relationship between the girls and their parents.

Instagram pictures have surfaced.  It appears the pastor “likes” several nude photos of women on the widely popular social media site.  When the pictures were shown to me and I realized what I was looking at, I was alarmed.  Later it was pointed out, that this pastor is disseminating pornography to her audience of young girls and boys who follow her on the site. 

Ernie was so concerned 1) because his children were also Instagram followers of the pastor and could see the pastor’s likes of inappropriate pictures and 2) because she had been reinstated back to work at the church and the school with no limitations.  He decided to get involved.  He visited and shared in person with the principal and then the conference president the Instagram posts.  Neither party appeared to take any action regarding the activity.

So Ernie is now willing to talk to Burt.  Burt is not. (Eye roll)

After talking to a friend in media, I learned three girls would need to come forward and share their stories for confirmation of the incident.  The reporter could keep their names anonymous.

Different parents were calling, repeatedly.  They didn’t want to stop sending their kids to school where the pastor and teacher continued to work, call risk management, speak to their pastor, church delegates or the media.  I was so annoyed.   In a heated call I informed Burt I was done.  There is nothing to do if no one is willing to share what happened out there.  I didn’t take Burt’s calls or texts for several days.  There really wasn’t much more we could do.

Burt and Ernie finally speak!

So we're sitting outside the RMV [Registry of Motor Vehicles].  It was hard to listen to Burt respectfully.  “There is another parent pretty upset about the trip.  Their daughter participated, but I can’t share what happened’s not my story to tell.”  “Will you be at the meeting?” (Eye roll)

I met this parent at “the meeting” where concerned parents and alumni had gathered.  I watched and listened to them tearfully share their daughters’ story.  Fighting back my tears…I had a private argument with God, there was no way my conscience was going to let me forget this moment.  I was… “back in.” 

The media card was on hold.  I was informed, “we need to keep our mess in the church community.”  I was not a fan of this idea —I prefer transparency.  Months later it will be pointed out that "God does not NEED us to protect His Church.  He just asks us to be truthful and honest.  We should be rejoicing for the media to report everything the church does.  If we’re not, than we have a problem."  I  Agree!!

Here are the policies that made me question why the pastor was reinstated so rapidly (at least some of them):

SNEC working policy page 23, Sexual Abuse:

Regardless of explanation, includes all contacts and interactions in which a child is used to sexually stimulate or gratify another person, and includes, but is not limited to:

1. Exposing oneself before a child

2. Exposing the genitals of a child

SNEC working policy page 24, Hiring and Retention of Employees:

All SNEC employees - current or potential - who have been adjudicated as guilty or culpable for any offense, at any time, involving the sexual abuse, or neglect of a child will not be retained or hired.

SNEC working policy page 26, section b. Supervision of Volunteers, sections ii, and iii:

ii. All allegations of inappropriate conduct involving a minor will be promptly investigated by the leadership of the church.  The church will respect the rights of all parties involved in the alleged incident and treat all matters concerning the situation discretely, confidentially, and in accordance with local child abuse reporting laws.

iii. Appropriate corrective action - discipline, counsel, or removal from ministry - will be taken when necessary.

as well as…

NAD Working Policy page 376, FB15 Children’s Ministries Departmental Policies: Areas of Emphasis, section 6b:

Safe ministries, whereby our churches:

b. Adopt safeguards to protect children from physical, emotional, sexual, and spiritual abuse.

NAD Working Policy page 337, E87 20 Guiding Principles and Concepts Underlying the Development of this Policy, section 4:

All accusations of Sexual Misconduct shall be taken seriously.

4. Protection of All Involved—The confidentiality of those involved, including the Accused and the Accused’s family, the Accuser and the Accuser’s family, shall be respected.

The Timeline Continued

December 7, 2017   Girls' Supporters email the Adcom & Executive Committees a Confidential Reporter Letter calling to question the Working Policies which were violated on Senior Survival by Conference Employees (the pastor and teacher). 

December 8   Confidential Reporter Letter is circulated throughout the community.                     (Noon-ish)   Girl's Supporters begin receiving hateful texts and phone calls.  Wow.

(12:53pm)   SNEC President/Communications Director replies to the Reporter Letter that he” will be in touch.”

MassLive (a well respected Massachusetts News Organization posts this story)  - “Nude bathing between female students and chaperones during a Massachusetts school trip investigated by DCF.”

The Pastor files Harassment Complaint against Ernie:  Ernie is a parishioner of the College Church, a Girls' Supporter and the only person (along with his wife) to meet with both sides of the issue to date.  He is just trying to help this situation get resolved. 

December 9    School Board Chairperson who organized the joint meeting on October 30th requests a “parent to parent” talk with Burt.

December 12    SNEC President/Communications Directors replies to Reporter Letter.  Suggests a meeting.

December 13    Girls' Supporters reply with possible meeting dates and times.  This cycle goes on for weeks.  A meeting will not be scheduled until December 29.  This delay gave the pastors’ time to prepare and take Ernie to court on December 26, 2017. 

December 19 (evening)   Ernie receives Summons.  FYI-It’s pretty hard to get an attorney consultation six days prior to Christmas.

December 20    SNEC President & Communication Director sends out Statement regarding the SLA English Department Head and Bible Teachers Suspension for Sexual Misconduct. 

December 22    MassLive posts article on the English Department Head and Bible Teacher Suspension.  It should be noted that the Bible teacher has been a regular chaperone on the Senior Survival trips.

December 26 (8:30am)   Court Hearing #1

December 29    Adcom  & Girls' Supporters Meeting date is scheduled for Jan. 3, 2018.

  Press contacts Ernie via cell phone.

January 1    Adventist Today posts an article

                   Fulcrum7 posts an article

January 3      Girls' Supporters meet with ADCOM. 

January 4     Adcom Member sends email to the Girls' Supporters stating his personal concerns over the information shared. 

- There were moments when we wondered if we were pushing too hard with our concerns and then the Chaperones Camp would lash out at us.   It felt like high school all over again.

January 5      Pastor summons Ernie back to court.

January 11     Court Hearing #2

January 17     We learn the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Statute of Limitations for sexual assault:   Criminal Cases allow for 15 years & A Civil Case allows for 35 years from when the victim realizes what happened to them is wrong.   [There is a short YouTube video that highlights this Boston case, Spotlight Official Trailer #1 (2015).  We won't post it here because it has two words that violate our language policy.]

January 18     Burt sends email requesting update from Adcom.

- President/Communications Director responds for the first time since ADCOM Meeting 15-days prior, asking us to be “patient with the process.”

January 22     Another parent files a DCF 51A Complaint.

- Adcom Member shares with other members, the October 31, 2017 DCF Report that identifies the pastor and teacher as Negligent (culpable?) and adds that the actions of the chaperones will affect the students in years to come.  Evidence is contrary to the SNEC President / Communications Director's consistent claim (that there isn’t anything of concern in the report).

- Immediately, the pastor and teacher are placed on leave by Adcom, again, and a recommendation for termination is voted.

- Pastor files DCF Appeal

This is the impression given by supporters of the female pastor.

This is the impression given by supporters of the female pastor.

January 23      Ernie and his wife (members of the college church), receive texts and calls asking them to stop their questions about the pastor.

- Candle Light Vigil for the pastor is announced.

- College Church Board meeting held to discuss “how to deal with the family that is attacking the pastor” (Ernie and his wife).

January 24     President/Communications Director replies to the Girls' Supporters email request for information… he states ”actions are going to be taken with the teacher.”

- Candle Light vigil is held for the pastor, just outside the Conference office door as employees are leaving for the day (I noticed not more than 50 people on my way through town for an appointment.  I will later learn that several individuals at the vigil were not supporters, they just wanted to see what was said and done.  I felt bad for the employees trying to leave for the day--subjected to such tactics).        

 - Adcom meets with Pastor Supporters

 - President/Communications Director is quoted “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to join the Vigil in support of (the Pastor).”

January 27      -Adventist Today Commentary. You’ll find it in the News area.

January 28     Executive Committee Meeting, canceled by Chair (President).

Reading the Facebook banter tied to the Adventist Today Commentary, I realized kids are online constantly.  I didn’t see any comments from the girls involved, not even the kids supporting the pastor.  Instead, I saw a few people attacking anyone who spoke up for the girls affected, or against their idolized Pastor.

The Atoday Facebook post was so jaded and controlled that any comments of support for the girls were removed and then the people commenting in support for the girls were blocked from making further comments.  Eventually Adventist Today blocks and removes all comments.

Our kids are smart, compassionate and have the ability to move mountains.  Why are we failing them?  They need a safe environment to share their opinions.  I’m not sure we have the full picture still.  Instead we hold joint meetings designed to intimidate them.  Why would they come forward, when faced with that kind of pressure?

February 1    Burt speaks with the Detective in Maine.  The Sheriff’s department assigned the case to their Sex Crime Specialist upon hearing the details of the incident.  The Detective is audibly upset to hear that the Chaperones (the pastor and teacher) are still employed and in contact with the girls.

February 5    Adventist Today removes Facebook comments and reposts #metoo backlash article.

February 22     Personnel Committee Meeting Chaired by President/Communication Director Postponed from February 22 until February 28. (It’s actually scheduled for the 26th).

 February 26     Adcom rescinded their recommendation to terminate the pastors’ employment to the personnel committee.

March 7   This issue remains unresolved.  To my knowledge both the pastor and teacher are still on administrative leave and yet there has been continued contact with students.  I have not seen or heard of any actions being taken by SLA, SNEC, Atlantic Union or the College Church to address the questions of our young girls and boys.

The Bible teacher was removed from the SLA Building in front of several students and then later fired.  This was kept very quiet.

The female pastor is still slated to deliver the Commencement Speech for the Class of 2018 in place of the Bible Teacher.

With just a couple months left before they graduate, I fear nothing will be done and these girls will become adults never knowing what all the issues were about.  For some, they will view this as their “cool” pastor and teacher being unfairly treated by the church never understanding the higher calling that God has for us.  Others will look at pastors, teachers, and the God they portray, as bullies who force them into inappropriate situations and then ridiculed them when they speak up about their discomfort. 

In the end, there is no winner in this mess.  There is only the girls and the stories they could share to fill in the gaps we may not understand and to process all that has happened.

With hope, I sincerely pray our conference will survive and the community will heal as God sees fit.