My Administrative Assistant, Carol, and I recently attended an intensive 3-day training event in Georgia. Our purpose for attending was to better understand an initiative called Samaritan SafeChurch, which has been successfully piloted in Pennsylvania and is now expanding across the U.S. We were inspired by the passion we saw in this ecumenical group of people, which included Baptists, Methodists, Disciples of Christ, and Unitarian Universalists. All were together as one, to join a movement to end child sexual abuse. We were awed and impressed with the comprehensive program that we saw and the resources that were made available.
One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and ignore this issue. It’s not enough to keep our congregations safe from abuse at church (though that’s a good place to start). Our children don’t live at church; neither do the rest of us. Staying free from sexual abuse will require more.
Of course we want to make sure that our congregations are safe places, where people are free from abuse, so that faith can be nurtured and grow. We also want our congregations to be places where it is safe for people to disclose abuse that they’ve experienced, a place where even painful stories can be heard, where compassion and justice meet, and healing can begin. This is not easy work; it will take an intentional effort, people with passion, and resources of time and money.
In safe church ministry, there are different paths; congregations have varied gifts, skills, and ministry contexts. Yet there are underlying themes that we share about the value of all people and about the nature of abuse and its impacts. It’s time to do more, transform culture so that no person, created in the image of God, ever suffers the devastating impacts of sexual abuse. Are we ready to join a movement?