A 26 year old volunteer at the EFCA’s Salem Church in Staten Island, New York is alleged to have abused a 12 year old. Salem under the leadership of John Welborn acted decisively. This post is about what transpired, and how the church responded to the allegation. This blog which writes about dark subjects is impressed with the quick and proper handling of this difficult situation.
“Let the darkness find you if it must. Throw off the quick and tempting escapes, and seek help only from those who would teach you to grow, feed your soul, embrace your heart, but would not steal away your journey.”
“All the trials we endure cannot be compared to these interior battles.”
Teresa of Avila
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
Isiah 43:2 NIV
There is a developing story that is taking place in a key Evangelical Free church in the Eastern District. This blog has long been concerned about the issue of sexual abuse inside the EFCA. Former pastors who served in different parts of the EFCA communicated to me how background checks were lax in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. When you think about it a denomination that stresses autonomy while trying to practice congregationalism would be very attractive to a sexual predator. EFCA One, the national biennial conference for the denomination recently occurred in Chicago. I wrote as to how the EFCA needs to discuss the issue of sexual abuse. You can read that in, “Why Sexual Abuse Needs to be on the Agenda of EFCA One in Chicago.” But before we get into what allegedly occurred at Salem let’s look at this historic and key church in the Eastern District.
A Brief History of Salem and its Current Pastor John Welborn
Salem Church has its roots in John Lunde who was a Norwegian speaking man. On November 20, 1905 Lunde began befriending many Norwegian immigrants and in the course of time he began to share faith with them. Several men converted and they settled on Staten Island to found the Norwegian Evangelical Free Church Mission which consisted of eight members. You can learn more about the history of Salem Church right here. For more on the history of the EFCA, I would direct you to “A Brief History of the Evangelical Free Church of America, plus the History of the First Evangelical Free Church of Los Angeles.” While there have been a lot of shepherds at Salem Church let me mention a couple that led the church over the years. In the late 90’s you had Ivar Overgaard who led the flock for five years. Ivar from what I understand eventually moved to Norway. Then you had Nathan Clayton who led Salem for two years. Nathan was the Senior Pastor at the church when September 11, 2001 occurred. In 2005 Eddie Cole became the senior pastor at Salem. He led the church through the Superstorm Sandy which hit the New York and New Jersey area incredibly hard.
What makes Salem a key EFCA church in the Eastern District if my analysis is correct is that it has been a launching point for people to enter the EFCA Eastern District leadership. Eddie Cole moved on in 2015 and became the District Superintendent of the Eastern District. This blog has written about him in several situations or commented on his publications. Examples of that can be found in, “Eastern District Superintendent Eddie Cole Interviews EFCA President Kevin Kompelien” , “Some Thoughts on Eddie Cole’s Article in Christianity Today on Sharing the Gospel with those Who Do Not Think of Death or Eternity” , “Eddie Cole From the EFCA’s Eastern District on Both Following Jesus and the Movement of Jesus” and ” EFCA’s Eastern District Superintendent Eddie Cole on Normalizing Failure.” Furthermore this blog reviewed a talk by Jessica Cole which you can read in, “Jessica Cole on the Vital Role Women Play in the Church (EFCA Eastern District Conference).“
After Eddie Cole left Salem he was replaced by John Welborn. John Welborn according to my research comes from the Atlanta, Georgia area. However he had lived in a number of places and attended high school in Florida. Welborn then attended Liberty University and went onto Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. John became the lead pastor of Crosslink Community Church which is near Harrisonburg, Virginia. Harrisonburg if you are not familiar is home to James Madison University. John led Crosspoint for seven years. When Sandy slammed into New York, Salem played a key role in disaster relief. That is how John Welborn first became connected to Salem Church if my research is correct. When Eddie Cole left John Welborn became the pastoral candidate and soon the next leader in an EFCA church with a long and rich history. John Welborn has an older blog that he wrote when he was in Virginia. Hopefully he can get this going again in the near future. One last point as I finish the history of Salem. This blog has heard from several people connected to Salem about the role the church played in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City. Then Salem played a key role in helping Staten Island rebuild after Sandy hit the area. Its my sincere hope that the EFCA has documented, written about and preserved the history from both incidents. Its loss would be tragic.
An Allegation Against Angelo Paulino and how Salem Church Responded
Angelo Paulino is 25 years old. He was a volunteer at Salem. In addition he volunteered with the YMCA and also according to the social media I looked at the Police Athletic League of New York City. It appears as if his social media page has been taken down. According to the criminal complaint Angelo attempted to abuse a 12 year old boy in the restroom of Salem Church. The alleged incident occurred on March 2, 2019. This is how the local press described what happened.
Paulino escorted the victim, who was 12 years old at the time, to a bathroom where no other people were present, according to the criminal complaint.
While pointing to the boy’s lower body, the complaint alleges that Paulino asked, “Can I see down there?”
The suspect is quoted in the complaint as then saying, “Can you give me a kiss on the cheek? I would do nothing to hurt you.”
During the encounter, Paulino allegedly was standing in front of the bathroom door.
The incident caused the teen to “fear for his safety,” the complaint states.
The incident was reported on June 25, 2019. Salem immediately removed Angelo from the community and prevented his access. On June 27, former New York sergeant and current Salem pastor Ed Fieramosca interviewed the family who made the complaint. After the interview Child Protection Services was contacted immediately who then referred the case to the New York Police Department. Angelo came in for questioning it appears and in the process he was arrested. Salem Church then sent out the following note to the entire congregation on Tuesday July 9, 2019 around noon.
The incident has been published about in the local Staten Island media. Its also worth noting that Salem is bringing an outside agency to examine their child safety policy.
Salem Posts the Incident on Facebook Plus did a Recent New York Times Article on a Sex Abuse Situation in Matt Chandler’s The Village Church Influence Salem to Respond Quickly?
Salem then did something that was controversial. The EFCA church posted the letter that was sent out to the congregation publicly on the Facebook page. I studied it and seven hours after it was posted there was at least 45 comments from members and attenders of Salem. Many felt that the church had gone too far in what was posted. Below is a screen shot from Diana Prince that communicated her concerns. This summed up the debate that took place.
Then Salem Church took down the letter and the post. From my understanding the issue that Salem struggled with is that Angelo was a volunteer inside Salem and also outside the church. There was deep concern about the alleged behavior occurring outside Salem and the church wanted to notify the community. It was a difficult call but I believe John Welborn was trying to make the correct decision. I am not questioning the intentions of the church leadership.
One aspect to this situation that really amazed me is how fast Salem responded to the allegation. And I am wondering if there was an external motivating factor that could have taken place. On June 11, 2019 the New York Times published a deep story about child sex abuse situation that allegedly occurred by a youth pastor at Matt Chandler’s The Village Church down in Texas. The scandal broke before the Southern Baptist Convention met in Alabama. The article detailed how Matt Chandler’s church failed to handle a situation properly. You can read the story in, “Her Evangelical Megachurch Was Her World. Then Her Daughter Said She Was Molested by a Minister.” You can also read how The Village Church responded to that Times article in, “Matt Chandler’s The Village Church Responds to the New York Times Story of Child Sex Abuse by a Minister Through an Internal Email to Members on Tuesday June 11, 2019.” Part of me is wondering if the leadership of Salem read that article in the NY Times, and then you had the allegation against Angelo and if that drove the church to respond as quickly as it did. This blogger is not trying to be difficult this is just an honest observation that I am wondering about.
What Salem Did Right and Analysis of the Situation
Before writing this post I ran the letter that Salem sent out with someone who is a professional who works with sensitive issues like this in their job. They were impressed by how Salem responded and wished that another church they were dealing with would have responded in a likewise manner When I think about this and review what happened this is what I think Salem did right.
- Acted immediately.
- Reported the situation to CPS.
- Removed the alleged perpetrator from the community.
- Communicated the name to the Salem Community.
- Bringing in an outside agency to examine child safety policies at Salem.
- Contacted and cooperating with law enforcement.
One aspect that I found honestly refreshing about this situation is that Salem did not impose the two witnesses rule or require multiple eye witnesses. Often times that is flimsy and questionable especially in situations like abuse. But its admirable as to how Salem has handled this situation. Also I can understand the difficulty and controversy with the Facebook post. However I think this church was trying to make the right decision in a difficult situation.
To be perfectly honest I very much can understand how situations like this can leave people jaded and cynical. This blog has written about some dark stories. From an Evangelical Free in Pennsylvania that practiced church discipline on an alleged sexual assault victim to an Acts 29 in Tennessee that covered up the voyeurism and manufacturing of child pornography inside a church. You can read those in the blog’s table of contents. So its easy to develop that jaded line of thought. However, in this situation at Salem I honestly don’t see any of those indicators. From what I have read, heard, and even asked another person to review in all situations Salem got high marks for how they responded. But sometimes you have to see the dark stories in order to see how well Salem handled this situation. Compare and contrast this situation with Sovereign Grace Fairfax, formerly of Sovereign Grace Ministries down here in Virginia. You can read those stories in, “Sinfully Craving a New Church Name? Sovereign Grace Fairfax Becomes Redeeming Grace Church.”
So this blog wants to give kudos to John Welborn for the decisive and fast response. If I were at Salem this quick response should encourage me to see the church leadership in a more positive light. If any evidence comes forward that suggests otherwise then this situation should be re-examined. But honestly I don’t see that happening. I see a church that made the right decisions when they had to. Its a tragedy and its heartbreaking that doesn’t change. But Salem appears to have navigated a mine field and did so in the right manner. If I were a parent at Salem I would be more encouraged by how this church responded. This blog will be following the situation at Salem as this story develops. My hope is that this church will find peace, healing and closure. This blog wishes Salem well.