Safe Church Ministry equips congregations in abuse awareness, prevention, and response. We help build communities where the value of each person is honored; people are free to worship and grow free from abuse; and where abuse has occurred, the response is compassion and justice that foster healing.
Safe Church Ministry fits into the calling of the CRCNA in the following areas. First, it is part of Mercy and Justice. Abuse is a grave injustice with devastating consequences. In abuse, power is misused for selfish gain, to harm, manipulate, or control. This is opposed to the way of Jesus, which is revealed in humility, valuing others above self, and taking on the nature of a servant (Philippians 2). We are called to follow Jesus’ way, valuing people, who are uniquely created in the image of their creator. Safe Church partners with the Office of Social Justice, cosponsoring training in Restorative Practices for congregations, a process that values the voice of each participant. Increased use of Restorative Practices was approved by Synod 2005 and reaffirmed by Synod 2010 as a response to the Abuse Victims Task Force Report.
Safe Church also intersects with Faith Formation and Servant Leadership by helping to ensure a faith-nurturing context in our congregations of safe, respectful relationships. Safe Church offers a wide variety of web-based resources for congregations and church leaders, including webinars, PowerPoint presentations, documents, and Worship materials. Safe Church Ministry also acts in a consulting role, sometimes partnering with Pastor Church Resources, regarding situations related to abuse that arise in congregations. We offer assistance as church leaders respond to issues such as integrating ex-offenders into the church community, domestic abuse, bullying, boundary violations in ministry, and child sexual abuse. Safe Church also continues to promote and subsidize the Circle of Grace program, which involves children and youth in creating a safe environment for themselves and others. Circle of Grace promotes a shared sense of God’s presence in sacred community and is being used in a growing number of CRC congregations.
Safe Church Ministry accomplishes its work through volunteer safe church team members who act as resources and catalysts for abuse awareness, prevention, and response in their own congregations and classes. Team members work to develop and implement safe church policies, and offer educational opportunities to prevent abuse. And in situations of abuse, they can walk alongside, providing a listening ear, offering support, and pointing to resources. New safe church team members are needed for this important work. Training and team support are available. Synod has over and again reminded “all classes in the denomination of the vital importance of a safe church team” noting that, “a safe church team is an important part of the pastoral care that the church offers to its members.” (Acts of Synod 2014; p.559)
A bi-monthly electronic newsletter is sent to over 500 people involved in safe church ministry throughout the United States and Canada. A Safe Church Conference was held November 4-5 and over 50 people attended (representing 22 different classes). Two plenary events, one about a church response to interpersonal abuse, and another about child sexual abuse were open to the public and were live-recorded. In 2016 Safe Church piloted a mini-grant program, which assisted team members in New Mexico, and in Ontario, to offer safe church educational programs. We hope to expand the mini-grant program in 2017.
At the time of this writing, Safe Church staff consists of one director, who is assisted by a 6-8 person volunteer Advisory Committee. Hopefully, a part time associate will be hired soon (to replace a full time administrative specialist). Safe Church remains below its 2011 staff budgeted capacity; we work hard to maximize our resources, and give congregations a good return for their ministry share dollars. During 2016 staff conducted presentations and team training events in: Grand Rapids, Holland, Byron Center, and E. Lansing, MI; Chicago and Palos Heights, IL; and Denver and Colorado Springs, CO. Staff also recorded over 1,200 interactions with congregations and individuals in 2016 (About 300 of these were with Canadians). We track these interactions with keywords: About 400 interactions were related to abuse awareness; 375 were team focused; 200 had to do with a situation of abuse; 125 were about a policy concern or question; and 57 were related to the Circle of Grace program.