GRACE Investigation & Assessment

A Message from the Highlands Community Church Board of Elders | November 13, 2020

Highlands Family,

The purpose of this message is to let you know that as a church we have begun working with an organization called GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment).

Back in June, we shared about the immediate termination of Derek Nelson when Highlands leadership learned of his sexual misconduct committed against adults. Sexually inappropriate behavior in any form is unacceptable, and will not be tolerated at Highlands Community Church. We grieve with the victims and their families, and continue to express our deep sorrow that the perpetrator in these instances was a staff member at Highlands. We continue to support the victims, including providing independent professional counseling. We likewise grieve and stand with all survivors of abuse and trauma of any kind.

We are working with an outside organization that has the experience and professional qualifications to conduct an independent investigation and assessment. We are not under any legal obligation to do this, but our desire is to take every measure possible to care for anyone impacted, and prevent this from happening in the future.

Our hope is that the GRACE investigation and assessment will accomplish three things:

  • Provide an additional safe, independent avenue for any additional victims to come forward and experience healing. (If you are a victim or have relevant information, you can contact GRACE directly and confidentially, using the contact information provided below.)
  • Allow an outside organization (GRACE) to assess our organization and identify any vulnerabilities we might have, so that we can put every defense possible in place to prevent this from happening in the future.
  • Continue restoring trust where it was broken, and move forward with unity and confidence as a church family into the bright future we believe that God has in store.

Who is GRACE?  

GRACE stands for Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment. GRACE is the leading evangelical organization specializing in awareness, education, and investigations of sexual abuse handling by religious organizations.  

GRACE’s team has extensive professional experience interviewing victims of abuse, perpetrators of abuse, and witnesses with relevant testimony. Their desire is to get to the truth of the matter so that compassion and assistance can be demonstrated to those who have been hurt and the institutional leaders can be equipped to make the necessary organizational changes that will create a safer community for the vulnerable and a less safe community for those who abuse.    

GRACE’s investigative section includes multiple former abuse prosecutors as well as law enforcement with expertise in abuse and trauma. Each investigation will get a hand-picked team for maximum relevancy and effectiveness in finding the truth. If needed, the GRACE investigative team will include a multi-disciplined team of experts such as clergy and/or psychologists with expertise in the areas of trauma and abuse. Investigations are conducted based upon GRACE approved safeguarding best practice standards.   

You can learn more about GRACE on their website: 

What will GRACE do as part of the investigation and assessment? 

As part of the investigation and assessment, GRACE will listen to individuals who have relevant information, synthesize that data, and present the findings along with recommendations to Highlands leadership and to others at their professional determination. The findings and recommendations are based on GRACE’s decades of experience in investigations and utilizing best practices in the field. As investigators, GRACE is committed to follow the facts wherever they may lead. Being independent means that GRACE investigators are never directed or controlled by any person or institution, including the institution that requests the investigation and assessment 

How long will the investigation and assessment process take?  

GRACE has begun their process of investigation and assessment as of November 4, 2020. GRACE has told us that on average the process takes between 6 and 12 months.  

Who can I contact if I am a victim or I have relevant information to share?  

We invite anyone who is a victim or who has relevant information to contact GRACE in confidence. The investigation and assessment is being led by Lee Ann James with GRACE, and she can be reached directly by email at Please be assured that any contact with GRACE would remain completely confidential.  

What if I have questions for Highlands about the investigation and assessment? 

If you would like to speak with someone who is part of Highlands staff about the investigation and assessment, we ask that you contact our Highlands staff liaison, Pastor Kerry Warren, who is coordinating with GRACE:  

What if I am in need of resources or care for unrelated abuse or trauma? 

If you have experienced abuse or trauma of any kind in the pastwe grieve with you, and stand with you as a church. If you would benefit from care or a referral to professional counseling, please contact Pastor Barry Brenden at  

If you prefer to contact a public organization, the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center may be a helpful resource for you:  


Thank you for your prayers and steadfast faithfulness to God through a challenging season. Our desire is that He will receive all the glory, and that our community and world will experience the hope and healing of Jesus. 

Highlands Community Church Board of Elders