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In 2023 we are featuring Safe Church Coordinators who are directly equipping congregations in their classis or region. For January, we feature Atie Ott!

Atie has made abuse prevention her life’s work. Early in her life, Atie worked as a psychiatric nurse helping to open community group homes during a time of deinstitutionalization of psychiatric healthcare. Atie later stayed home raising her children and continued her education as a social worker. After completing her degrees in social work she worked as the Coordinator of the Mobile Crisis Team with Canadian Mental Health. She responded daily to calls that required de-escalation, situations of severe self-harm, overdosing and attempted suicides.  She saw the direct repercussions of cycles of abuse and committed herself to the work of abuse prevention. With her experience in this work and the call to abuse prevention, she was asked to organize a Safe Church Team at her church in the late 1990s. It was a time when there were very few resources to help create abuse prevention policies and very little awareness that abuse happened just as much in the church as it does in other places in society. Atie said, “this is not a job to me, it is my passion. I have seen the damage abuse causes and that is why I am so committed. I have seen it on a daily basis - and I have seen it in the church.”

Atie and a highly capable and committed team of individuals worked with ministry leaders to create an abuse prevention policy for her church. After Synod approved the forming of Classis Abuse Response Teams, later renamed Safe Church Teams, she was asked to organize the Classis Huron Abuse Response Team where, along with other committed individuals from Classis Huron, they developed a mandate for the Team. Eventually they had representatives of all the congregations in Classis Huron and worked to educate and support the churches, the people who were affected by abuse, and provide training and access to the Advisory Panel Process. Much support and encouragement came from Beth Swagman the first Director of the Safe Church Ministry of our Denomination.

In 1998, Atie and the team hosted a few workshops for member churches of their classis. Eventually it grew into an annual inter-classis training event that has continued to equip the church to understand the many faces of abuse. This inter-classis conference will again be resuming this year on March 4, 2023 (find more information about registration, click here!). 

When Atie was asked about a key highlight, she quickly noted how far the church has come. She recalled experiencing a wide range of resistance to the work of abuse prevention: “Background checks are of the devil; this is the devil’s work” were a few phrases she recalled a pastor saying. “People didn’t think it was important or necessary, but we don’t see that resistance as much anymore, it took years for there to be acceptance. We have made much progress but there is still a lot of work to be done.”

Atie is also adamant that she was a small part of this (and that there have been so many dedicated and committed people who have worked very hard and contributed much towards making this dream of becoming Safe Churches a reality). 

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