Safe Sanctuaries: Children, Youth, and Vulnerable Adults
Recognizing the growing threat of child abuse and its presence even among God’s own people, the 1996 General Conference adopted a resolution on “Reducing the Risk of Child Sexual Abuse in the Church” which states, “God calls us to make our churches safe places, protecting children and other vulnerable persons from sexual and ritual abuse. God calls us to create communities of faith where children and adults grow safe and strong.” Safe Sanctuaries is the movement and initiative to fulfill this call upon us – to make our churches safe places for the young and the vulnerable and those in ministry with them.
Safe Sanctuaries is not just a policy. It is a way of doing ministry!
Safe Sanctuary Policies
According to the actions of annual conference, all churches in the NC Conference are required to have a Safe Sanctuaries policy in place. The conference Safe Sanctuaries Team is available to resource local churches as they develop their own unique policies. Once those policies are in place it is the responsibility of a local church to do its own training for their people relating to that church’s policies and procedures.
If you have questions, or need some guidance with establishing a policy for your congregation, please contact the chair of the Conference Team on Safe Sanctuaries: Rev. Mamie Alley.
Sample Policies – a source to help you get started writing your policy (while the language deals specifically with child abuse, consider how they may be expanded to care for youth and vulnerable adults)
- First Steps to a Safe Sanctuaries Policy – suggested procedure and ideas for local churches as they design and implement their own policy.
- PowerPoint Training Presentation – an orientation to the work of Safe Sanctuaries
- The Two-Adult Rule – simple steps for safety and protection
- Traveling with Youth: Abuse Prevention Strategies – helpful tips for making trips safe for everyone
- How I Came to Love Permission Slips – how to use these crucial forms for contact and medical notification of the children and youth who participate in your events
- Safe Sanctuaries and Vulnerable Adults – tips for using your policies to protect adults in need of extra care and attention
- Safe Sanctuary in the Nursery – tips for areas of potential concern in the nursery
- Trustees Issues for Safe Sanctuaries – looks at property and insurance considerations that relate to Safe Sanctuary policies for the local church
- Protecting Your Image – tips for working with church web pages and social media
- Guidelines for a Response Plan – suggestions for procedures to include in your local church Safe Sanctuary Policy and training
- Gun Safety – How to make sanctuaries safe in the midst of gun violence
Church Safety and Security
- UMC Book of Resolutions #3428: This resolution, “Our Call to End Gun Violence,” includes the recommendation that all UMC churches post a sign that prohibits carrying guns onto church property.
- A 3-Session UMC Bible Study on Micah focusing on gun violence prevention: “Kingdom Dreams, Violent Realities.”
- Risk Management Checklists from Brotherhood Mutual: offers checklists for all kinds of risks churches face, from cybersecurity to natural disasters, gun violence, and automobile accidents. These checklists can be helpful for developing your own plan and thinking through the various risks involved.
- Guide to Developing High-Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Houses of Worship from FEMA: includes guidance for forming a team to to create a plan, content for the plan, and a special section for preventing and responding to active-shooter incidents.
- How to Respond to an Active Shooter Handbook from the US Department of Homeland Security: This guide recommends running, hiding, and taking action against the shooter only as a last resort.
Ministry with Registered Sex Offenders
We are called to offer grace to all persons yet how do we best do this and protect children, youth, and vulnerable adults? By the guidelines of Safe Sanctuaries, anyone who is a registered sex offender may not be in ministry with children, youth, or vulnerable adults. Additionally, anyone who is a registered sex offender must have a covenant with the congregation with which he/she is connected. While we want to include all people in the life of the congregation, we know from research and experience that we put those who have offended in a difficult position without these boundaries in place. Keep in mind that those on the registry understand the need for boundaries, so be open and transparent.
Understanding the participation of Registered Sex Offenders is vital in creating healthy boundaries and accountability in our congregations. How does participation of Registered Sex Offenders pro those who are most vulnerable from abuse? This short video will introduce this aspect of Safe Sanctuaries®, opening up conversation for small groups, during training, and in congregational gatherings.
As far as the inclusion of a Registered Sex Offender is concerned:
- Know the state laws, and know that when this person is released and registers, it becomes public knowledge.
- Gauge the congregation, and discuss how you will present this situation to different groups in your congregation to help them understand the balance of safety and grace.
- Under NO circumstances may the person ever work with children, youth, or vulnerable adults. There are many ministries of the church where this person may serve.
- Secure written consent from the individual to talk to his/her parole officer, and have a candid conversation with the parole officer. It is best if the three of you can meet to talk about the terms of the covenant.
- When writing your covenant, remember three things: 1. Providing safe spaces for all congregants, 2. Caring for all of God’s children, and 3. Belief in repentance and forgiveness.
In the Covenant:
- Begin with a Statement of Grace – Outline the redemptive power of grace and the need to create a safe place where no harm is done. Can state that the document is done for the protection of all. Ensure the vulnerable are protected. Provide accountability for the offender as well as prevent false accusations.
- Include Terms of Participation – This will vary but should always include:
o The individual will not accept any leadership or representational position within or on behalf of the church.
o The individual will have covenant partners who are adults that are not related to offender. It should be clear that a covenant partner MUST be present to be on the grounds of the church.
o There should be NO relationship with a child, youth, or vulnerable adult and cannot participate in those types of ministries.
- Parole Officer – Initial the agreement and should keep on file
- Change in Leadership – All parties know about the agreement so issues will not slip through the cracks because there is a change in leadership.
- New congregation – If the offender leaves the church and transfers to another church then the new church will be notified.
Here are some examples of covenants employed by other United Methodist churches:
- Foundry UMC – Washington, D.C.
- Foundry UMC Covenant Letter
- Goshen UMC – Gaithersburg, Maryland
- Fridley UMC – Fridley, Minnesota
For all sexual offenses, ensure that the church has insurance coverage for two reasons:
- A registered sex offender is now a part of the congregation
- Ability to provide resources for the affected party and not damage the ability of the church to continue mission.
Knowingly allowing an offender in the congregation can possibly affect insurance coverage. Make sure you talk to the insurance carrier and secure written affirmation. A covenant agreement is helpful to show the church did not participate in putting people in vulnerable position for both insurance and court.
The conference’s background check service provider is a company called Trak-1 (http://trak-1.com/). The prices are affordable and the turn around time is short.
To Set Up An Account
Clergy – To set up an account for your church, just call the New Accounts representative on 1-800-600-8999 ext. 3431. Tell them that you are with the NC Conference of the UMC Southeast Jurisdiction and that you would like to set up an account for your church. That way you will get the same discounted pricing that our conference gets. They will walk you through the application. It can usually be done in one day and you can submit your first background check request the same day.
How to Request Help from the Safe Sanctuaries Team
Safe Sanctuaries policies are highly contextual. Each church has different ministries that need to be considered. It is important that each congregation has a team to create the policy and train the congregation on their specific policy.
The Safe Sanctuaries team can be a resource, can share best practices, and is happy to consult with you as you do the work of creating your own policy. If you are interested in this support, please reach out to the chair of the Conference Team on Safe Sanctuaries: Rev. Mamie Alley.
Media Center Resources
Check out these resources available to borrow from the NC Conference Media Center.