Ruth-Ann Klassen Shantz has a long history with Silver Lake Mennonite Camp in Sauble Beach, Ont., and a story she has kept long hidden. But earlier this year she shared with the camp’s board of directors her allegations of long-term sexual abuse by a former camp director.
Describing herself as a “camp kid” in her “My voice” statement posted on Silver Lake’s website (slmc.ca/statements), she recalls turning 12 the year Lawrence Pentelow became camp director, a position he held from 1978 to 1987. “Lawrence quickly became part of my world. He knew me well. I trusted him. My family trusted him,” Shantz writes, adding, “The years of grooming and sexual abuse by Lawrence robbed me of what camp was meant to be for me and, more importantly, robbed me of who I was meant to be.”
In spite of her claims of abuse, which are alleged to have happened over many years at the camp and elsewhere, and which are named in her online statement, Shantz went on to serve at Silver Lake as counsellor, summer staff, board member, board chair, and a volunteer at work weekends for 20 years.
In her own words, she says, “I have spent my whole life denying the depth of my pain because I did not want the truth to hurt anyone else. My inability to ask for help when I was 17 years old was deeply rooted in my desire to spare both the people and the institutions I loved.”
“So why now?” she asks. She says that she is choosing to not allow the abuse, which will always be a part of her, to define her: “This statement is about honouring my 17-year-old self and every other girl, daughter, mother or grandmother who has stayed silent. I cannot recapture those lost years when I chose silence and protecting others. It has taken me 35 years to choose me. It does not matter what your circumstances are in life or who has created them. Please choose you. Always choose you. It has taken me a very long time to get this right.”
In email correspondence with Canadian Mennonite, Pamela Fehr, Silver Lake’s current board chair, writes, “Based on legal advice, [Silver Lake] did not investigate this matter, as it involved an individual who was last employed by [Silver Lake] over 30 years ago. It should be noted that upon receipt of the trespass notice, . . . Pentelow sent a number of unsolicited emails to Ruth-Ann in which he acknowledged wrongdoing in relationship to Ruth-Ann at a time when he was in a position of power and influence, and the very negative impact that wrongdoing has had on her.”
At Shantz’s request, the police were not contacted regarding these allegations.
CM contacted Pentelow in preparation for this article. After contacting legal counsel, he responded with three statements and requested that they be quoted in whole:
- It is with deep sadness that I write knowing that many lives are affected by these words.
- I apologize to Ruth-Ann for the stress and pain caused to her as a result of our relationship.
- I acknowledge the proactive work that the board of directors of Silver Lake Mennonite Camp is doing as a result of this situation.
The Silver Lake board has been working in response to Shantz’s allegations. In a recent press release, the camp lists a number of initiatives:
- First, it issued a private trespass notice to Pentelow, banning him from the camp and camp events.
- Even though Silver Lake has “policies and procedures related to workplace practices and issues of harassment and sexual violence,” they were reviewed, “seeking counsel and input to ensure they meet best practices and are broadly known and understood by staff.”
- Then the camp also took the “opportunity to develop a new training curriculum not only for our own staff, but also available to the broader camping community.” According to Fehr, this material is being developed with Carol Penner, the coordinator of Applied Studies at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ont., who developed the “Sacred trust” material on church and sexual abuse for Mennonite Church Eastern Canada. The camp’s material, which is “primarily scenario based,” is still in draft form, although it is now being finalized after a pilot project in the spring. Silver Lake plans to release it together with MC Eastern Canada to any camps in Ontario and beyond that are interested in it.
Silver Lake’s press release ends by saying, “The board remains fully committed to the safety of all its community members, and welcomes your prayers at this difficult time. We are driven by a vision of positive, open Christian community, and saddened at its failures for Ruth-Ann.” Anyone with comments, concerns or questions is asked to contact Pamela Fehr by email at email@example.com. The statement and news release can be viewed at http://slmc.ca/contact/governance/statements/.
See also “Broken boundaries”