Of all human groups, the church should be the most comforting for the hurting. After all, we are called by God to be welcoming, caring and nurturing. The turmoil in many congregations and denominations over sexual abuse shows in stark relief the results of trust broken.
In Nashville in 2011, the General Assembly passed Resolution 1122, calling the Church to prevent abuse and minister to the survivors and victims of abuse. For many years the General Commission on Ministry (GCOM) and regional commissions on ministry have been encouraging boundary training and other “safe church” practices, requiring these trainings for pastors to maintain ministerial standing, and for leaders who participate in camp and other youth programming.
Each of our congregations has the opportunity and responsibility to create safe space and context for ministry. We are called to 1) assess the safety of our ministries 2) educate and train our leaders, and 3) assure that children, youth, and adults alike are respected and cared for in life-giving ways.
Most of us never think there will be a problem in our congregation, until the unthinkable happens and lives and communities are devastated. The very act of creating safe space and understanding proclaims to those in our congregations and those who yet to be in our congregations that we care about their lives. To be a safe church is to be a community of Christ’s welcome.
All Disciples congregations are provided free support materials through the Insurance Board and Praesidium. (Your congregation does not need to be covered by IB in order to receive this support. It is an arrangement for the denomination.) A national leader in abuse risk management, Praesidium provided an in-depth abuse prevention education workshop at the 2011 General Assembly.
Through the online SafeConduct Workbench on the Insurance Board site, your congregation can do free self-assessment and boundary training as well as begin your process of background checks. You will find resources in abuse prevention policy development, a parents’ guide for teens and the Internet, Internet safety guidelines, electronic communications policies, social network guidelines for parents, and adult/child affection policies. Resources are also available through regional ministries.