“The classis safe church team saved my ministerial butt,” was how one British Columbia pastor put it. Within one week of arriving in his new charge, he was informed that an allegation of abuse had been made against the pastor that preceded him. It fell to him to announce to his new parishioners -- before he even had a chance to get to know them -- that their previous pastor was now being deposed. “I didn’t know who to turn to or what to do, so I called the contact person for the classis safe church team,” he said.
That was just one of the stories told at the recent Safe Church Conference. In a workshop about how safe church teams relate to their churches and their classis, participants shared their stories and their best practices.
Sharing What Works
British Columbia has a thriving safe church team, but it wasn’t always that way. Faye Martin suggested that starting out by highlighting the abuse response panel process can be off-putting to churches. She recommends instead initially highlighting positive areas such as education, advocacy, and prevention.
Support for Survivors
In Classis Eastern Canada, the roots of a safe church ministry were planted nearly two decades ago. A few pastors had been confronted with parishioners who had experienced abuse. They realized they were not qualified to deal with these situations, but they didn’t know where to turn. So those four pastors gathered a group and created a Survivor Support Ministry, funded by the classis, to provide counseling funds for abuse survivors.
That group was also committed to education and prevention, so they rented a van and gathered a group of six that included pastors, survivors, and counselors. They took their show on the road, traveling from church to church doing presentations for councils, leaders, women’s groups, and congregations. “Every time,” said Sarah Cook, “women would linger behind to share their stories. It gave permission, opened the door, gave the churches insight into the fact that as leaders, they needed to address this, that it is in their church.”
Many Churches and Classes Still Need Teams
What concerned everyone at the recent Safe Church Conference most is that so many churches, classes -- even entire regions -- still lack safe church teams. The entire U.S. eastern seaboard, the Heartland States, and California are woefully underserved.
Safe church reps said that the best way to get a safe church team going is to start by asking pastors how a safe church team can support them in their ministries. Ask questions like: “What do you need from us? How can we help you with issues that perhaps you are already dealing with in the congregation?”
I guess the adage I learned from my mother is also true in safe church efforts: honey almost always works better than vinegar.