I had the great fortune of sitting down with Carol Knieriem from Dove’s Nest to learn more about how this important organization was born and what we can look forward to in its growth and development.
Carol, tell me, how did you get connected with Dove’s Nest?
I’m vice director of a local organization that acts as special advocates for abused children having received court-appointed monitoring. I recruit and train volunteers to advocate for abused and neglected children in the court system. We meet with the children and we talk with anyone involved in that child’s life. We even talk with professionals who are working with the family. Volunteers then write reports to the court about what’s going on and they advocate on behalf of the child.
I connected with Dove’s Nest because of my work with abused children. The Director and founder, Jeanette Harder, is a friend of mine and we attend First Mennonite in Lincoln, Nebraska together. We are both passionate about child protection. Since I work full-time, I couldn’t take on the task of co-founder at Dove’s Nest, though my heart is in this work and I serve as Vice President and Treasurer.
What has been the reception of Dove’s Nest?
It is just amazing. I mean, as we move forward it is amazing what God is doing with this ministry. I feel like it is God’s ministry, not ours. He is making it thrive. We have gotten really good financial gifts to get us started. Someone who is really passionate about child protection and wanted us to do something about it has helped finance Dove’s Nest and get it started. We’ve received a few smaller grants, which we are just blessed with. The work is there…people are calling all the time asking for the resources. There are congregations in the midst of deep turmoil dealing with abuse in their churches. We are hoping and praying the resources we provide will prevent abuse from occurring in the first place. There is so much work to do! We hired someone to do part-time work (but they’re scrambling to keep ahead of everything to do!). I really feel God’s heart in this work.
Dove’s Nest seems relatively new for Mennonite Church USA…why?
There has not been any leadership from Mennonite Church USA around child protection policies for our churches. It hasn’t been an issue at the forefront. People are much more open to it now. For instance, we were at the 2011 MC USA Convention in Pittsburgh. At that time we submitted to the convention planners that we wanted 3 workshops…they didn’t grant space for us to do any of them. This year in Phoenix, though, we submitted for 3 workshops and we got all 3! It just shows that people are becoming more aware that these issues are real in our churches. Abuse is a really difficult issue for people…they have a hard time believing it could happen in their church let alone that it has happened in our church. It involves and affects our relationships with everyone: the abuser and the abused.
What does Dove’s Nest offer to churches?
We have a “Circle of Grace” Sunday School curriculum available absolutely free. This was funded by a donor so that we can provide the curriculum to every MC USA church (of which there are nearly 1,000). We’ve gotten only about 100 requests for this free curriculum. We don’t just want to send it to every church, though we could. It is important work and we take child protection seriously. We’d love to connect with the Sunday School decision-makers at individual churches so we can be certain the materials make it into the right hands so they’re not forgotten and we can maintain a supportive relationship.
What do you see as steps MC USA can take to ensure the issue of abuse in the church is taken seriously?
Well, at convention the delegates passed a child protection resolution which was a huge step in the right direction. I’d say, too, to take child protection seriously even if they haven’t personally experienced abuse or abuse in their church. I’d want MC USA to recognize that it could happen and any effort to protect children is going to be wonderful because if any one person is abused it affects everybody. Every body. Abuse is devastating. If we can prevent even one person from being abused, it is a blessing. If every church had an active child abuse protection policy, that would be a profound step in the right direction. And not just a policy that sits on the shelf but one that gets looked at yearly and implemented in actuality. Dove’s Nest wants churches to equip themselves to be a welcoming space so we have guidelines for incorporating sexual offenders into faith communities. We also have a structure in place for how to care for abuse victims (adults or children) in our communities. It is so much easier to prevent abuse in the church than to deal with the aftermath. There is chaos and hurt when abuse is revealed. If there is a protection policy in place issues of liability are resolved immediately.
What are things congregations can do to create a protected space?
There are simple things that can be done like ensuring there are windows in each Sunday School door. There should be a two-adult policy when working with kids. Churches should publically post their child protection policy on a prominent bulletin board and make it available on their websites. A posted policy actually deters potential perpetrators.
How easy is it for churches to create a Child Protection Policy?
Very. We have examples of child protection policies on our website created by churches in MC USA with content that can be picked up and used by any church. We also have a checklist for churches and schools to ensure your child protection policy covers all the necessary information.
Talk more about the Dove’s Nest Sunday School curriculum.
There’s nothing quite like Dove’s Nest. There are lots of great secular resources, but nothing that pulls everything together from a Christian perspective.
We believe this curriculum is important because there are times we can’t always be there with our children…this gives our children tools to use when we’re not there. The older kids cover topics like relationships and how the mainstream media fails to share how God can be part of these relationships and how God wants us to be safe.
Logistically Circle of Grace is prepared for children ages preschool through 12th grade. There are 1-4 lessons per year depending on the age. You can start anywhere kids are at, so you needn’t have had the curriculum in the past to begin now. It builds on the previous year’s work and as their issues change so will the topics. A church would pick out a certain time of year that their children will go through this curriculum. Before lessons begin letters go out to parents so they know what’s going on and they will be clear about the language being used. Our deepest hope is that our children will never experience abuse but if they ever did, they, too, would be equipped with age-appropriate practical tools for what to do about it.
What would you tell someone interested in Dove’s Nest materials?
Just go online and fill out a request to receive the free curriculum. It is that simple.
What is the future of Dove’s Nest?
First we’re trying to be present. Right now we’re really focusing on MC USA churches but we’re planning to expand and make this curriculum and policy information available to other denominations as well. We’re working on gathering more resources like a speaker’s bureau, more books and even training materials.
In January 2014 we’re planning a daylong board event since we are a virtual organization and our board is spread out across the nation. There will be a gathering in Nebraska in 2014 for people interested in this work. Contact Dove’s Nest Program Coordinator, Jon Stanton.
I should say, too, we’re currently looking for a treasurer for our board, someone who is passionate about the issues of abuse in the church (and who likes numbers, too!).
Thanks for your time, Carol, I’ll end with the Circle of Grace Meditation from your materials:
Raising your hands above your head
and then bring your arms slowly down
keeping them outstretched.
Extending your arms in front of you
and then behind you
embracing all of the space around you
knowing that God is in this space with you.
Then slowly reach down to your feet.
This is your Circle of Grace.
You are in it.
Learn more about Dove’s Nest:
800 P Street, Suite 300; Lincoln, NE 68508
Phone: (402) 577-0866