The Office of Abuse Prevention was established by Synod in 1994, noting that, “We need a radical change in our thinking about relationships between men and women and between parents and children, and we need changes in church polity and practice. We need to begin to focus more directly on prevention of abusive behaviors in the home and in the church. We need to have educational materials which focus on the creation of all people in the image of God and the need for respectful behavior toward the physical, emotional, and spiritual life of women, men, and children.” (See the Agenda to Synod 1994 pp. 146-154) In 1997 Synod approved the concept of an abuse response team, now known as a safe church team. The name change to Safe Church Ministry reflects a broader and more positive approach, highlighting the need for education and awareness in addition to an effective and appropriate response in situations of abuse. Since that time, for almost 20 years now, synod has recommended over and again that each classis maintain a safe church team. So why is it that the majority of our classes have no safe church team?
Perhaps one reason is the office of Safe Church Ministry itself. It’s wonderful that the CRC has an office dedicated to abuse awareness, prevention, and response. But the danger lies in thinking that Safe Church Ministry owns the ministry. It’s their responsibility, it’s up to them. That lets everyone else off the hook, right? Let someone else worry about abuse.
In my 5-year tenure as director; I’ve spoken to well over 100 people who have left the CRC because of the way their situation of abuse was handled. (There are surely many, many more stories that remain untold.) The problem is not only abuse at the hands of a church leader, although that is especially egregious. Our CRC congregations are filled with people who have experienced rape, child sexual abuse, and domestic violence. There are children and vulnerable adults who remain in harm’s way and many who suffer in secrecy and silence (where abuse thrives). God hears their silent cries. As the Church, we must open our ears, be willing to listen, to learn and begin to understand, so that we can respond with compassion. Tremendous healing is possible in the context of congregations. Our God is an amazing, redeeming God. Can we see it? Do we want to see the transforming power of our Lord at work? First, we must be willing to enter into the place where it is most needed. When we pray, your kingdom come, we are praying for an end to abuse. The choice is ours.
Safe Church records over 1,000 interactions with congregations and individuals each year. We see ourselves as an equipping ministry. It’s such a blessing when we can make connections with local safe church team members who can walk alongside and offer support, encouragement, and expertise. Sadly, in many places there are no connections to be made. Whose ministry is this? Please don’t leave it up to an office in Grand Rapids. (Note: total Safe Church staff equals one director and one administrative specialist.) Our role is to equip congregations and 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. The question remains, whose ministry is this? Take some time to browse our Safe Church website to learn more. Contact your classis clerk and ask, “Whose ministry is this in our classis?” Take a moment to consider whose ministry this is in your own congregation. Who might be willing to step up and say, “This is my ministry.” Maybe it’s you. Whose ministry is this? It belongs to all of us.