Consent is not just permission; consent also implies that we understand the consequences of our actions.  Learn more about consent in this blog and in future blogs.

December 7, 2010 0 2 comments
Discussion Topic

Our council is dealing with a family who has left the church because of some rude comments that were said to them. Since I have moved to this congregation about 15 years ago I have sensed that there is something missing here .I need help putting my finger on what the problem so I can do...

December 5, 2010 0 4 comments

Network guide Neil de Koning has written a thoughtful article on how the hidden hurts and dysfunctions of individual members can affect the dynamics of an entire church. He states that when the often invisible “elephant” takes a seat in the church we can be tempted to just move over and ...

November 17, 2010 0 0 comments

A community agency recently disclosed the results of a survey on child abuse and neglect.  The results revealed that reports of child abuse and neglect rose 33% in that community between 2000 and 2008.  So the old, familiar question: Is child abuse and neglect increasing or is there more reporting of ...

October 18, 2010 0 1 comments

I'm looking for a sample agenda for what to include when discussing our church's Abuse Prevention Policy with ministry leaders.

I know I can review the policy itself and the processes required, why we have a policy, and what the policy says if there is a report of abuse. Any other...

October 11, 2010 0 1 comments
Discussion Topic

Check out this recent article in Christianity Today about churches dealing with sex offenders attending church.

And if you face this situation, be sure to contact Beth Swagman at the Safe Church Ministry; she has great...

September 21, 2010 0 1 comments
Discussion Topic

Our outreach ministry on Wednesday nights often includes kids who are angry and troubled. Occasionally, when conflict arises, their answer is to walk away - right off the property! These are kids from elementary to middle school age, and often when the youth is in conflict, his or her younger...

September 21, 2010 0 2 comments

Did you read the recent story about the man who killed his wife, stepdaughter, and three neighbors because his wife didn't cook his eggs properly that morning?  Does that just drive you to wonder, "what are we missing here?"  Where have we gone wrong in society and in the church ... 

September 15, 2010 0 1 comments

One question that seems to be on the minds of many church members is, "Why don't  victims of abuse report the abuse at the time that it occurs, but rather wait until they are adults when investigation and prosecution are so much more difficult?"

August 12, 2010 0 2 comments

Late this spring, I asked some guest bloggers to respond to a few of the typical questions I receive when meeting with church audiences.  I am going to ask guest blogger, Judy Cook, retired therapist at Shalem Chr. Counseling Centre in Hamilton, Ontario, to respond to a few more questions. 

August 4, 2010 0 4 comments

Suppose you knew a teen who was caught fondling two toddlers at your church. The teen is reported to the police, and he admits doing a “stupid thing”. His parents hire an attorney and the teen appears before a judge in family court who orders the teen to four weekends in juvenile detention and mandated youth-offender counseling. The judge reminds the teen that if he stays out of trouble, his juvenile record will be sealed and no one will know about his youthful offense.

July 12, 2010 0 2 comments

You can wait for the Acts of Synod to be published, or you can take a peek at some of the decisions of Synod 2010 that impact the Safe Church Ministry.

July 8, 2010 0 0 comments
Resource, Article

enditnow today!

Looking back, Pastor “Jones” should have known. All the warning signs were there. “Stella” often seemed anxious and nervous when “Mike,” her husband, was around. She was always very subservient, so intent on doing whatever he said. Even then, Mike would talk down to her in...

July 8, 2010 0 0 comments

His eye is on the sparrow, but he was tapping my shoulder all morning.

June 16, 2010 0 0 comments

We work over breaks and take a break over meetings.  During meal times and break times, we have several conversations .... each one conducted fast and with few words, but ...

June 15, 2010 0 1 comments

I mentioned in my first synod blog the anxiety I felt driving to synod and then how it seemed to dissipate with meeting and greeting old friends and colleagues.  I felt like the sparrow protected by God's almighty hand.  So I'll refer to these synod blogs as the "view from the sparrow's nest".

June 14, 2010 0 0 comments

Synod for me is like a lot of training events.  In one respect, synod is a friendly environment to discuss a subject matter that is dear to my heart and therefore easy to talk about.  On the other hand, delegates, like conference attendees, often ask pointed questions and challenge the speaker's knowledge or the opinions of others.  It is this second respect which draws out the anxiety in me and probably in a few other speakers. 

June 12, 2010 0 3 comments

The fourth in a series of questions frequently raised in training sessions:  I am a man who cares deeply about sexual abuse, but what can one man do to make a difference?  Isn't (sexual abuse) primarily a problem women need to learn how to keep themselves safe? Gerry Heyboer writes the following response.  The answer to the first question is "A lot!"  The answer to the second question is "No!"

May 28, 2010 0 2 comments

How should we handle a youth leader who is sending unwanted emails and text messages to a member of the youth group?  (Presume for this question that the leader and group member are of the opposite sex.)

May 21, 2010 0 3 comments

This blog asks the second in a series of questions churches have raised.  Many churches have written a child safety policy, but they report that after a year or two, no one seems to pay much attention to it.  Some churches report that they aren't sure where it is or whether any one is following the policy.
So our question of the week is: How can we be sure our child safety policy is not filed in a drawer and forgotten? 

May 14, 2010 0 3 comments
Resource, Book or Booklet

Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse - Many churches see this happening and even know it is happening yet choose to ignore it.

May 8, 2010 0 0 comments

For the next several weeks, this blog will pose one of several typical questions asked of Safe Church Ministry when we conduct training and education events.  Sometimes the answer will appear in the blog itself, and sometimes a guest will be invited to respond to the question.
This week's question: Is there a particular personality type who is more prone to commit abuse against a child?

May 6, 2010 0 0 comments
Resource, Article

Safe Church Ministry Child Safety Survey – Part 1
Results and Summary
April 23, 2010

A hearty, Thank You! to all who participated. Your responses have encouraged, challenged, and motivated us in our work toward making more churches safer in the CRC.

I. Introductory...

May 5, 2010 0 3 comments
Resource, Article

"The Voices of the Silent" is a short story of child who kept his abuse a secret.  The secrecy and the pain of the abuse impacted the child's ability to adjust to school and to fit in with his peers.  But his struggles did not go unnoticed by a caring teacher.  The author gives a glowing tribute...

April 21, 2010 0 0 comments
Discussion Topic

You remember the child rhyme: "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me".  They got that one wrong!  If you want a new perspective on that rhyme, talk to an adult who is in an abusive relationship.  I've heard from women and men that they would rather be struck with a...

April 20, 2010 0 4 comments



Forgiveness may have some "positive" impact on the abuser as well. It is important to acknowledge that one cannot paint all abusers with one brush, so the following ideas may not fit every situation or every abuser.

Some abusers feel enormous shame for the wrong they have committed. It is a hideous thing to perpetrate a crime against a child, a child who is a relative, a child entrusted to your care, etc. Forgiveness is a process that can help release some of the shame that is deeply hidden and scars the soul of the abuser.

Forgiveness can also be a source of acknowledgment that the genuine confession and repentance have been heard and forgiveness offered.

And just as the forgiveness of our sins by Jesus Christ may continue to amaze any one of us, so too the forgiveness of one's sin of abuse committed against another can result in the abuser feeling amazed, grateful, humbled....

Please provide some positive actions resulting from "Forgiveness" as that pertains to the abuser.
Judy Cook gave positive results for the abused, but, to me very little difference in Forgiveness or non-forgiveness as it pertains to the Abuser.

Perhaps this is appropriate for these types of situations!

You are right -- it is in fact appropriate to forgive someone's offense. Jesus asked his father to forgive his abusers even while he was experiencing being tortured on the cross by them. When I forgive someone, even if that person has horribly wronged me, then I receive freedome and healing for my suffering at the hands of that person. My forgiving someone is not even dependent on the wrongdoer's confession (Jesus' torturers were not asking to be forgiven). My forgiveness is a giving up of my right to hold onto my legitimate anger, and a giving up of my right to judge the person who has wronged me, in the name of Jesus, who also forgave me all of my sins.

But when I forgive an offender it does not mean he is scot-free. Forgiveness does not release the offender from responsibility for his actions. Actions have consequences, and a person might have to accept just punishment and/or loss of position because of abusive actions. Abusive behavior also demands restitution for the harm caused, changed behavior that is not abusive, and a willingness to do what is needed to effect reconciliation.

When a church community forgives an abuser, but at the same time is diligent in holding him or her accountable for his actions, grace abounds.

Thank you Angela for a thoughtful and well-balanced approach to this complicated issue. The protection of the weak and vulnerable is certainly Biblical.

I Like the idea of the adult having to petition to keep their juvenile record sealed. Hopefully it would not be an expensive process as most young adults are short on cash. I'm sure many juvenile offenders turn out to be productive and "harmless" members of society, but not all of them turn out so well. If the employers hiring them can at least be alerted that there is a sealed record it gives them some small recourse and alerts them that they should get to know this individual well before they decide.
Hopefully we are capable of allowing truly reformed people a second chance under close supervision, but as leaders in Christian ministry with children in our care, our first responsibility is to protect and nurture those children. It is a difficult situation when you need to balance the two duties of protecting our kids and allowing someone a chance at having a life after repenting from a crime. For me the swaying factor is that the children are yet "innocent" and are vulnerable without our protection while the repentant person did in fact commit a crime and while thier situation may be difficult it is not impossible. I suppose it sounds a bit cold, but sadly the consequences of our sin often haunt us for a very long time even after we've repented and its no different for juvenile offenders then it is for adults.

Okay fellow bloggers....let's step up to the plate and offer some advice to Veronica. Many of you have been in her shoes. What finally broke the log jam in your church?

I can suggest you contact the church's insurance agent. Sometimes they can be helpful in applying some pressure. Also, you can inform your council that they might bear liability if a claim is made and the claimant can show that the council was urged over several years to write a policy, but refused to do so. Such a refusal could be used to show the council failed to take reasonable steps to prevent an incident from occurring. And don't forget the "fire drill".

What is that? Just because your house has never burned to ground doesn't mean you don't help your children understand the dangers of a fire and practice how to get out of the house if a fire happens. We have to wait for danger to knock on the door before we do something to prevent it? Nonsense! Parents don't wait for a child to run into the street after the ball before reminding them to look both ways and watch for cars. Let's get proactive and prevent the problem from occurring. Are there council members out there who want to wait and see what happens to a child who becomes abused?

Hello Veronica,

You raise an important issue. A child safety policy and volunteer training should incorporate ways to protect children and volunteers. Everytime the policy warns against being alone in a car or classroom with a youth, the policy is doing exactly that. Still, a portion of each training could be spent helping volunteers and staff understand the importance of protecting themselves and each other from allegations. My experience is that some volunteers and staff resist the notion of self-protection if they interpret it to mean that there are limits on "doing ministry" and "building relationships" with youth. Taking unnecessary risks for the sake of ministry can often be problematic for the youth and the worker. The rules are there for a purpose and the purpose is not to prevent ministry but to facilitate healthy ministry. It isn't easy though, so gathering even once per year to learn the how and why of self-protection is a worthwhile activity. I hope directors of youth ministries are considering this topic as they plan and prepare for the new church season.

Are you kidding? I'd just love it if our congregation even attempted to do this. As volunteer leaders in youth ministries, we are so vulnerable to so many things. Our congregation has been working on an abuse policy for almost six years and has gotten nowhere. We have begged, pleaded, and threatened to quit as leaders, but nothing seems to move them. The Council just doesn't see this as a problem because it's never been a problem in the past.

The high school youth group does background checks on those attending work trips because the sponsoring organization requires it. We have never had a problem with someone not wanting a check, but if that were the case, he/she would simply not be able to go along, and I'd look a little more carefully at whether he/she should be in youth ministry in the first place.

I would like to see more information given to workers (especially volunteer workers) on how to protect themselves from bogus allegations. Especially in churches where there is a high rate of unchurched kids attending programs, congregations can be seen as potential sources of income to some families. We had a case in our area of a GEMS worker who was accused of sexually abusing an unchurched girl. It went all the way to court before the girl broke down and confessed that her father made her manufacture this charge because "we don't have enough money." This charge ruined the woman's life; she subsequently left the church and has had problems with depression.

Of course, our highest priority should be on making the kids safe. But if we simply throw our volunteers into the arena without any training on how to protect themselves, we are making a grave that could harm them forever.

I like that idea! What a potential for hearing and being heard, for listening and talking, for education and prayer.

Beth told me this morning that the presentation is Wednesday evening.

posted in: Synod - Day One

Thank you! The reunions are a comfort, but so is the knowledge that people throughout the denomination are praying for this ministry and for the delegates of synod who will seriously consider the Victim's Task Force Report.

posted in: Synod - Day One

When do you present? I'll be praying for you and for the Task Force. Praying that God will give all understanding and compassionate hearts for those whose lives have been shattered in ways that are hard to comprehend. Glad for the friendly reunions and the signs that God is actively with you.

posted in: Synod - Day One

Hello Angela. If I had a nickel for every time that issue was raised.... Child safety policies are a two-sided coin or nickel. On one side, we need to protect children because they are too young, small, vulnerable, or naive to be able to protect themselves from an older teenager or adult who thinks and talks above the level of the child's comprehension. On the other side, we need to protect teens and adults who volunteer in our church's programs. Our volunteers could quite innocently put themselves in a place where someone could accuse them of wrongdoing. The accuser isn't always a child; sometimes another adult raises suspicions of a volunteer's conduct and the volunteer has only his or her word that something didn't happen. Why take that unnecessary risk? If volunteers would be willing to be screened, accept some training, and follow some basic, common-sense rules, and that would add a measure of safety to their relationships with youth, I would hope people would be less inclined to protest.

Child safety policies are really about reducing the risk of abuse occuring or an allegation being made. Because almost every volunteer qualifies to be a volunteer, the policy has very little to do with trust and almost everything to do with setting a standard for reducing the risk.

You can't purchase a home with insurance and can't purchase a car or register a vehicle in most communities without a protection policy. We need to think about prevention more than just the perception that policies are a hassle.Churches without a policy that have gone through the tragedy of a child abuse complaint would likely wish that they had a policy that would have protected them or guided them through the process from complaint to resolution.

I know other people have faced Angela's situation - shout out some support and advice to her.

Thank you for the comment, August. You have a wise and reasonable system in place for sending emails that are of a general interest to the congregation.

The question that therapist Judy Cook responded to came out of the context in which the emails and texting were personal and sexual in nature between a youth leader and a youth group member. I am supportive of Judy's response to this particular question. If the purpose of the emails or texts, spoken or not, is to attempt to engage a minor in a relationship that is not appropriate because of age or circumstances, the parents and other church officials may need to intervene. Sometimes a gentle reminder of appropriate boundaries can help resolve the matter. When the emails and texts become persistent, are unwelcome, and demonstrate a desire to bypass parental supervision or church leader supervision, a more serious problem looms. As Judy indicates in her response, ignoring the problem is not helpful. In fact, ignoring the problem may communicate that the matter doesn't deserve attention - and that can lead to continuing misconduct.

I believe this goes a bit too far..
I have the church's mailing list and if someone would like to send something to the congregation I do it. If a member would like to be off this mailing list, I simply delete the e-mail address.

I do not include youth e-mails yet until they ask me to include them, or when they make profession of faith.

August Guillaume

Our church is currently without a Safe Church team. As the head of the Nursery Ministry this leaves me and my co-chair stuck trying to write and implement safety policies for our nursery. The church membership is resistant to most all safety practices as they don't see them necessary in our small town. We found out very quickly that the terms "Abuse Prevention" and "Safe Church" make some people quite angry. They feel like if we need these safety procedures that we must not trust them and they get insulted. What can we do to change these perceptions?

It all depends on who decided the emails and texts are "unwanted." And it also depends on the content of the emails and texts, when and how often they are posted, and what they are designed to do, from the point of view of the youth leader and his/her supervisor. If the party deciding the messages are "unwanted" is the youth, we're talking about harassment by the youth leader, and civil authorities should be called immediately, for the protection of a minor. If it is the parents who don't want their son/daughter communicating personally with a youth leader the "why" of that becomes very important. Is the son/daughter in trouble in some way which includes conflict with parents? If that is the case, wise counsel from a trusted youth leader can help to either protect or/and facilitate resolutions for the teen, even though the parents may disagree with the approach and consider the youth leader to be interfering.

However, if the youth and youth leader are alligned in a pseudo-equal relationship, where both agree that they have "something special" which is private and personal, then we are talking about seduction (emotional and/or sexual). The youth leader in this case has stepped over a boundary which a good abuse policy can (and must) define. Some of the most common signs that signal concerns by parents, other youth leaders, or friends of the youth include: 1) Lack of transparancy with other youth leaders/supervisor about the reason for personal contact outside of meetings or youth events. 2) A pre-occupation with, and frequent emailing/texting of "the problem(s)" experienced by the youth, with the leader reciprocating in kind by a sharing of his/her own personal problems. At minimum such a youth leader should be removed from his/her leadership position, and receive re-training to understand the power imbalance inherent in a mentoring relationship. At worst the police may have to step in to protect the youth from behavior that is self-serving or even predatory.

It is a leader's responsibility to set and maintain proper boundaries, those spelled out by a Safe Church Policy. And it is a leader's responsibility to stay in the mentorship role and not equalize the relationship, even if the youth would welcome it.

Thank you for your comment. There could be many solutions to this question and there is value to sharing what has worked in your church community. I hope others will add to this site their solutions how to keep a child safety policy front and center as each new church year begins.

Second Question: File all approved policies in one binder and if possible publish all policies (without names) on the church web site.

One answer to question of the week:

The first steps are concensus building and promotion. Begin by requesting in writing that a Safe Church Coordinator (SCC) be appointed by Council. Before writing the letter, float the idea to your Chair of Council, to your Pastor, and to anyone else on council who you think might be interested in having this policy implemented. In discussion, work at building concensus. In the letter to your Council include a possible job description for a SCC, and recommend some names of people whom you think would be willing and able. Talk to both men and women whom you feel share your desire for Safe Church policy implementation. Talk also to heads of other church ministries -- Sunday School, Nursery, GEMS, Cadets and Youth Group primarily -- and brainstorm with them how the volunteers under their supervision can best implement the policy requirements that pertain to their ministry.

If all of this begins to sound like a full-time job, don't despair. Take the long view and seize the conversational opportunities when they present themselves (e.g., over coffee after a church service, at congregational meetings, etc.). Be prepared to engage in advocacy for quite some time. In other words -- be patient but persistent!

Here's a couple ideas for Abuse Awareness Sunday -
1) Create a short article for churches to publish in their monthly newsletter the month before the Sunday or of the Sunday. The material for this article could be about the same as would have been on a bulletin insert. The article could be sent to churches via their email address. The church newsletter editor could add a few sentences about what the church is doing on Abuse Awareness Sunday. This method would conserve paper (by not using a bulletin insert) and would reach all church members in time to anticipate the theme Sunday.

2) Change Abuse Awareness Sunday from September to October or April. In the US, October is Domestic Violence Month, and April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

What do others think?

Good words are creative. "And God said,"Let there be light!" From the beginning that is the way it was to be. However, after Adam and Eve's fall words could also be destructive. They could do just the opposite of their original purpose. Instead of building up, they do tear down.
When words are used destructively again and again they suck the life out of a person. When so much of a person's value is destroyed it may be a relief to be physically attacked. Or the person may have so little "self" left that they begin to believe in some way they deserve not just the words but also the physical punishment.

posted in: Sticks and stones

Thank you for the great suggestion. If a person in your local church or community has a story of healing or restoration that he or she will share, that story becomes a powerful witness to other people who have been abused and to the general church member who may be unaware of how abuse impacts a person's life. Are you thinking of a 3-minute video to be shown during a worship service? Perhaps through these blog comments, someone may be encouraged to begin a journey of disclosure that could be shared with the broader church.

Thank you, Fellowship CRC, those are clear and helpful ideas. I think offering a "cafeteria" of resources allows each church to pick what works best in their setting. I'll keep your suggestions at hand as we begin planning for Abuse Awareness.

I've been thinking about this Sunday and wonder if we could focus on what makes a church healthy, so that it prevents abuse. Healthy individuals, families, church communities decrease the likelihood of abuse. Isn't that prevention also. It brings a more positive attitude the whole discussion and empowers people with things they can DO rather than don't do.

I would like to suggest that the Abuse Prevention Team create a video about some "success" stories. We are constantly hearing the same information about the importance of doing thorough screening, proper procedures, etc. Are there any stories of success where someone who was abused has come to experience healing through the work of their church's Abuse Prevention Team? I know abuse is never a happy story, but healing ought to be.

The best way to interface with us is to send an e-mail to our church's e-mail address with appropriate resources pasted on the e-mail. Items such as short well worded litanies, and careful selection of songs would enable us to incorporate that into our worship service. The e-mail should arrive at least three weeks before the appropriate Sunday.

We do not like to use bulletin inserts or other paper based items intended for each member.

Thank you for raising the issue of "spiritual talk". I'm not quite sure how to respond to spiritual talk. Mostly, I feel guilty for even thinking about challenging it when I hear it. I'll give an example. What does "That's a God thing" mean? Isn't everything a God thing? If I agree with the speaker, I'm probably saying that just to be nice. I'm tempted to challenge it, but then will the speaker think I don't give credit to God for His work? See, it just messes me up. The use of spiritual talk reminds me of peer pressure. Others judge you as "in" or "out" depending on whether you say what they say. Those judgments get elevated to a greater impact when people use scriptures to justify the judgments.

I agree that the perfect screening procedure does not exist. However, if a tool is inadequate by itself (the criminal record check), then we should be willing to seek out other steps of screening. An application form can ask about an applicant's experience with other organizations. For example, was the applicant dismissed or terminated for misconduct? Interviews are another important screening step. During an interview, the applicant might describe his or her conduct with a child which could lead the interviewer to question the applicant's suitability to work with that age group. And references are not just about asking your best friends for a rosey review. Some friends or co-workers will share the concerns they have about an applicant if they are assured the source won't be shared with the applicant. The point to be made here is that we should do due diligence to assure parents and guests to our churches that we have taken reasonable steps to consider the appropriateness of each volunteer for a position. What do other people think?

What helped me to understand this difficult concept was the video we watched at the Safe Church Team Chairperson's Conference. To actually see it played out; how the victim and family were able to finally verbalize how they felt about what happened was the key. As the perpetrators go through the criminal justice system they don't see how what they did affected the victim. When you see their facial responses, you can tell that this approach makes it sink in for them. They truly did damage to another person, and the family/friends of that individual.

I would like to share this information at our classis level Safe Church Team. I am going to search the web for videos. Is there a video that you would suggest that is available online?

I've been thinking about your blog and I wonder if part of the answer is that as a church we believe that God and the Bible are the answers to healing. For example: God is love, God heals and the importance of forgiveness. In our minds God is good. What we fail to realize is that in the mind of the victim, the abuse, the pain, the horror, the opposite of love, good and healing has now become almost inseparately linked to God. What the church can do is back off the "spiritual talk". There will come a time for that but it might be a long time before the person is able to include God in the journey. The church can be praying for protection of the victim, that he or she won't wonder away from God, that healing will come. The church should not be quick to push an agenda of forgiveness. The church should show what God's love is by their actions and words. Practical help, acceptance of where the person is at are two examples. The church might want to talk more about Jesus rather than God if that is helpful. The church should be sure to ASK the victim what they need and not assume they know. The journey out of the pain of spiritual abuse can take a long time. Is the church ready to walk that journey no matter how long and curved the road is?

The article seems to suggest that there are more steps of screening that will reveal who past abusers particularly for those who have not been convicted. It would be helpful to know what those steps are if indeed they exist. The perfect screening procedure does not exist. Will reference checks (presumably supplied by the volunteer) or personal interviews reveal something more?