March 16, 2014
Do you make sure children are never unattended in your church building?
Have all volunteers in ministry been screened through criminal background checks?
If you are clergy or staff, do you have separate email accounts and Facebook pages for your personal and church use?
Do you have a plan for when a registered sex offender becomes a regular participant in your church?
Do you post photos of the children’s Christmas pageant online without consent of the parents?
These are just some of the questions raised over the past two days at our biannual training for the conference Sexual Ethics Response and Intervention Team. As many times as I have participated in such trainings, I always learn new ways of protecting the safety of our congregations and clergy and the people we serve. And I am reminded how far we still need to go to make our sanctuaries (and fellowship halls, and Sunday school rooms, and youth events, and email conversations), truly safe spaces. Our mission shares support these trainings and pays for a coordinator (Rev. Marilyn Robb) of the team, and the team in turn ensures our disciplinary mandate to train lay and clergy across the conference once every four years. In the meantime, this team is available to resource local congregations around these important safety measures as well as to assist in responding to cases of sexual misconduct.
Every church is required (by our insurance company as well as our conference policies) to have a Safe Sanctuary policy in place. When the entire congregation is educated about the policy, it creates a mutual understanding of expectations and procedures. When the policy is enforced (one of the mantras from this weekend’s training was “no exceptions”), it builds trust in the system and is our best measure of prevention from harm.
We have a variety of resources available to you including sample Safe Sanctuary policies on our website, information about obtaining background checks, and we also pay a resource person (Dr. Elizabeth Windsor) to assist in developing policies and updating our online tools and information. Training for new clergy happens at the new pastor’s orientation in June and at licensing school for local pastors. Workshops for laity and clergy are available at our district leadership academies, and this June at annual conference, a representative from our team will lead a workshop on Safe eSanctuaries (preventing abuse online). Information about our conference misconduct policy and procedure is available for download in a number of languages and should be made available in your churches for laity and staff.
I know that we can’t be prepared for every potential harmful situation, but our call to Do No Harm, Do Good, and to Stay in Love with God reminds us of our moral obligation to create safe spaces for the people of God to grow in their faith and share in ministry and mission. May we strive to do all we can to make it so.
Connected in Christ,