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.
What happens when there is a breach of this call? Here are some lessons from a church sexual abuse scandal.
Conference Safe Sanctuaries Policy – North Carolina Conference
PowerPoint Training Presentation – an orientation to the work of Safe Sanctuaries
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)
Trak-1 – Source for criminal background checks for Safe Sanctuaries implementation
All churches in the NC Conference are to have a Safe Sanctuaries policy in place. Should your church need assistance with educating your church members on Safe Sanctuaries best practices, the district can send a trainer to your church to conduct the training (60min onsite session) or provide your church with the materials to conduct its own training. For more info or to schedule a training session at your church, e-mail the District Office (firstname.lastname@example.org) and you will be connected with the Assistant to your District Superintendent.
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 UM Churches:
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.
First Steps to a Safe Sanctuaries Policy – suggested procedure and ideas for local churches as they design and implement their own policy.
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