The New Year is a time to dream, to imagine. What will 2019 bring? Before the Safe Church Conference in September of 2018, a message went out to key safe church leaders across Canada and the U.S. inviting them to imagine, dream if you will, as they answered the following question:
Please write a paragraph or two describing the following: If you could wave a magic wand and have safe church ministry, fully supported at all levels and happening perfectly in your classis, what would that look like day to day in your church, classis, or community? (Be creative, dream a little, and be specific.)
Though there is not space here to share all of the “dreams” we received, we thought we’d share a few of our dreams with you:
Each church will have a team of concerned leaders for Safe Church implementation. Education of congregations will be integrated into informal gatherings with various informational methods. Prevention will be built into congregational life both through policy and implementation. Honoring the dignity of every individual will be a priority for every congregation. If the unimaginable horror of alleged abuse does occur, every congregation will stand ready to respond appropriately. The accuser/possible victim will be heard and offered support; the accused/possible perpetrator will be afforded due process and support as well. Anyone who has been found guilty of a crime, after paying dues imposed by the government, and if they so desire, will be included in church life with proper caution and mentorship put in place. The community around us will see that we belong to a faithful God of second chances and healing for all the oppressed. Yesterday, at church, a little boy about three became separated from his family. When, I saw him crying I took his hand and we searched for his family together. He became more and more anxious and finally, I picked him up and told him, “Don’t worry, we all love you here and we will help keep you safe.” That’s my hope and my dream.
My experience tells me that after an initial flurry of activity in screening and attending a training session the congregation feels ‘safe’ and content to turn to more pleasant topics. It would be helpful to find creative ways to enhance the visibility of this ministry so that those who are struggling with repressed memories or who bear the scars of an unjust process as they worship, socialize and are active in the ministries of their church would be reminded that they are loved. Notices in washrooms and in the weekly bulletin are some ways to attend to this. It is my dream that every congregation in our classis would ensure that they have an active SCT, which connects with the other churches in the region and with Safe Church Ministry. with a willingness to be held accountable for providing screening and training as warranted, either internally or together with other churches. The training could be provided by those who have developed the skills and knowledge. Safe Church ministry would be strengthened if every classis or a combination of two or more classis would be able to hire a Coordinator to facilitate the educational process, provide resources and encouragement to individual SC teams. It is incumbent that churches focus on sustainability and continuity within this ministry.
I would wish for a Classis web page that included 15-30 minute videos of engaging presentations (with re-enacted situations, maybe) that equip volunteers for the different types of ministry with minor and vulnerable persons. They would include an expert practitioner teaching about signs of abuse; someone from Family and Children's Services walking through what reporting looks like; demonstrations of situations that happen in ministry with kids such as how to constructively discipline bad behaviour (codes of conduct); the Advisory Panel Process with steps of support for victims of abuse and for persons who offend; etc. These video segments could then be used by any group or person in a church for the safe church component of orientation and training. At least once a year at Classis meetings, each church would report on its progress in training and also report in a bare bones style of any situations they are facing that we need to pray for. There would also be on Classis website a standing list of counseling, trauma, and legal professionals who are available for help when situations arise. I would love to see all churches of Classis using a standardized resource such as Plan to Protect so that there could be cluster-training events that fit with how each church carries out their work. Above all, safe practices would be the normal way of doing things and the whole congregation would be up to speed on those and support them.
The awareness of healthy relationships has become second nature, habitual for everyone. We can now begin to assist those traumatized by these horrors because we have started to understand that these things do, and have happened, and we can reach the next level in being able to talk more freely and assist in the healing process, making victims into survivors.
Everyone who walks into the church senses God’s love and acceptance. It feels safe and free to share personal struggles in a context of compassion and understanding. The church calendar includes various kinds of small groups, including those focused on addiction recovery and trauma healing. In the bathrooms are business cards from local organizations that offer various kinds of help—the local domestic violence shelter is one of them. The name of a safe church team leader is listed right along with other leaders in the church, and the welcome area includes Safe Church Ministry brochures along with other information about the church. Every fall is Circle of Grace Sunday, where adults and children learn together about what the year holds in terms of the Circle of Grace program for each age level. Adult Sunday school on that Sunday informs parents about the program and answers any questions that they have. One of the announcements in church is about an upcoming event for Sexual Assault Awareness month. It includes a presentation and a candlelight vigil at the neighborhood Community Center. Church members are invited to join in this community event. Following the event, the church prayer team will offer a prayer time for those who desire to pray for those who have suffered abuse—and special inner healing prayer will also be offered to any who request it. It feels good to be part of a church that acknowledges brokenness and abuse; yet still has hope in the Lord’s power to heal and to bring about good even in the face of this evil. The community takes notice —this is a church that cares. Several people have joined the church as a result of their trauma healing and addiction recovery groups, they’ve seen God’s power at work in this place and it draws them in.
Our dreams are not all the same. Safe church ministry—abuse prevention and response—looks different in different places, depending on the dreams of those who work to make the dream happen. What part of these dreams resonate with you? What dreams do you have for abuse prevention and response in your congregation or classis? Don’t hesitate to contact Safe Church Ministry. We want to work with you to make your dreams into reality in 2019.