A pastor in Aylmer's Church of God reportedly tried to change the way a couple disciplined their children before their practices landed them in a courtroom.
Anne Thiessen, who until her death in 2000 was perhaps the second most influential pastor in the Aylmer congregation and a confidant to church leader Danny Layne, tried to take the family of nine under her wing when they arrived from Mexico in 1999, according to her husband, Peter, and her daughter, Rose.
"She was working with them in their discipline methods," said Rose Thiessen, who like her father, is not a member of the church.
The family was one of several in a congregation of nearly 200 people that drew special attention from Anne Thiessen, they said.
Her goals were twofold: That discipline should not be excessive or inconsistent.
"She was teaching families how to punish without abusing," Rose Thiessen said.
Her visits to the family home were about more than discipline -- Anne Thiessen hoped to help families whose roots were in Mexico to adapt to their new surroundings.
But her efforts ended when in December 1999, she became stricken with breast cancer, and refusing medical treatment, died 10 months later.
The family on trial, whose seven children were seized from their home last July, has a reputation in the community of being good and decent, Peter Thiessen said.
Their discipline practices, as his wife saw them, were the product of ignorance, not cruelty, he said -- they simply didn't understand the range of ways to discipline or the importance of being consistent.
Sitting in his Aylmer home near a portrait of himself and his wife, Peter Thiessen marvels at how his wife kept her faith in the church and her devotion to family members who didn't belong, enduring a tug-of-war that has split many families.
But he is still haunted by her death, one the family says was agonizing, an account disputed by Layne.
Peter Thiessen also questioned whether a recent memo in which church leaders purports to shift practices on corporal punishment and faith healing will be directed at anyone but the media.
Church leaders wrote they'll "allow" parents to take children with serious diseases to doctors because, "(Government has) passed laws with severe penalties, limiting our liberty to treat our seriously ill minor children exclusively with spiritual means."
Church leaders also wrote parents should never "spank" in ways that abuse children physically, psychologically, or spiritually because "child abuse in any form is a hideous sin and is contrary to the teaching of the Word of God."
The trial of the Aylmer family continues tomorrow, its contents virtually secret because of a publication ban.
At the trial's conclusion, Judge Eleanor Schnall must decide if the children need further protection.