How Does a Safe Church Team Support Someone With a Criminal History?

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Safe Church has developed the following mission statement: 

Safe Church Ministry equips congregations in abuse awareness, prevention, and response. We help build communities where the value of each person is honored; where people are free to worship and grow free from abuse; and where abuse has occurred, the response is compassion and justice that foster healing.

As a church, the initial focus for a Safe Church team is often developing policies to ensure that everyone feels respected and protected at church. Training for people in leadership positions of the church helps to create an environment that supports the policies developed by the safe church team. In addition, we encourage churches to implement the Circle of Grace program, which helps create a common language that builds trust and respect for people of all ages within a church. 

Even as we do the work of creating safe and respectful church communities, we must always be aware that we live in a fallen world, sin is a part of our worldly reality. How do we respond as a Safe Church team when people with a criminal history would like to be engaged in the life of the church?

We must respond with both compassion and justice. We want the church to be a space where those who  have committed a crime can be accepted and supported on their journey towards wholeness, healing and reintegration into community. A system of accountability is an essential part of that journey for the individual, as well as to foster a sense of safety and security for the entire church community.  

Safe Church encourages churches that are working with ex-offenders to develop a covenant of conduct with the individual. A covenant may include a small circle of individuals who know or are willing to get to know the individual and are ready to support them. Genuine relationships are one of the best ways to prevent re-offending. This group will be responsible for developing a covenant that establishes clear boundaries for the individual who would like to be a part of the church community, while maintaining a safe environment for the rest of the church members. 

As a church, we need to appreciate that this covenant is developed with a degree of privacy for the individual involved. Those involved in implementing the covenant are directly responsible for holding the individual accountable to the stipulations set out in the document for reintegration to the church. Limitations to participation within church functions are delineated to create a safe environment for all members of the church. Concern and care for the individual must be weighed against the safety of the entire community; therefore any covenant of conduct must be carefully considered and rigorously maintained. 

As a community we lament that we live in a broken world, but we also realize that we can offer the support and guidance to individuals who would like to be in communion with us as believers. We cannot turn our backs on others, but we can offer a way forward with the proper systems in place.

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Attached you will find sample documents. Please note, these are not to be used as legal documents. These are examples of how to build your own policies specific to the needs of your own church community.

Additional information related to the question of how a congregation can maintain a safe church environment and also welcome those who have offended sexually can be found here: Criminal Sexual History and Involvement in Church: Resources

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