Building a safe church
The Board of Education is equipping volunteers in congregations to engage in safe ministries.
Over the past three and a half years, child protection workshops have been conducted across the Synod, helping many people in ministry understand child protection requirements, where to turn in difficult situations and how to provide safe and welcome spaces for children to encounter God, to develop relationships as part of a community and to grow in faith.
It has become apparent that children are not the only ones in need of special care and protection in our local congregations.
A church — where people of many different life situations come together in worship and fellowship — can be a unique place in our society. Some people may only approach a church when they feel at their most vulnerable.
For that reason, the Board of Education has been investigating ways to help raise awareness about child and vulnerable person safety and about protection for people involved in various local ministries.
The aim is to raise awareness and provide tools to help people think and act in ways that help make the church’s ministries a safe place for all.
Safe Church Awareness Workshops acknowledge a more holistic approach to safety and protection awareness-raising in the church. They cover topics essential for child protection and extend people’s understanding of who can be vulnerable beyond children and young people.
Conversations are opened to consider how to include and care for people in congregations who might be less physically able, intellectually disabled, mentally ill, or emotionally struggling. Inevitably, that leads to questions about how to care for each other in ministry: anybody can be vulnerable, depending on their circumstances at a given time.
Darren Wright, Riverina Presbytery youth and family worker, said, “This training calls us to be more than just aware; it puts us in a position where we are empowered and emboldened to further create the Kingdom of God among us.”
The Safe Church Awareness Workshops include exploration of safe church foundations (duty of care, transparency and accountability); child and vulnerable person protection; understanding and responding to abuse; protective behaviours; safe leadership; and safe programs and environments.
Safe Church training consists of an introductory Safe Church Awareness Workshop (six hours) and a shorter refresher workshop (three hours) every three years.
Bruce Batten, an elder and volunteer scripture teacher, said the workshop was good for getting up-to-date and sharpening his understanding. “It was professionally presented and engaging.”
In late 2010 the Synod of New South Wales and the ACT became an endorsed training partner of the National Council of Churches in Australia’s Safe Church Training Agreement (SCTA).
That means the Safe Church Awareness Workshops meet the national standard for Safe Church Training and are recognised across member denominations.
The option is also available for individuals from the Uniting Church to attend another denomination’s SCTA-endorsed safe church workshop.
“Cross accreditation” is particularly practical for regional and rural areas where all the local churches can attend the one workshop. It is a good example of how churches are working together for a common Christ-inspired goal: to proactively seek to keep all people physically, emotional and spiritually safe and to respond with love, compassion and justice where, despite our best efforts, someone has been hurt.
The common agreement is about committing to safe church practices as a whole church, not just one’s own denomination.
Through partnership with SCTA, the Synod also has access to the Safety Management Online databases system, which records and tracks an individual’s participation in the introductory safe church awareness workshop and subsequent refresher courses every three years.
Who should attend?
In 2007, Synod resolved that volunteers who work with children in church-run programs (including SRE in schools) are required to undertake training in child protection and appropriate behaviour as it is crucial to understanding the legislative obligations and possible risks associated with working with children and young people.
It is also strongly recommended that other leaders (for example, ministers, youth, children and family workers) and those with pastoral support and oversight roles in a congregation (for example elders and members of church council) should attend.
Without the awareness and active participation of other leaders in a congregation, the knowledge and procedures volunteers and ministry leaders learn through the training can be harder to implement and sustain.
Teresa Read, a children’s and family worker said, “[Safe Church Training] is about the church as a whole valuing children and making sure there is a safe place for them, not just leaving it up to the children’s or youth worker.”
Lenny Ohye, a volunteer youth leader, said she appreciated that the workshop looked at practical ways of being a supportive church community. “When you make being a safe church a priority, you are demonstrating the values of the church to be safe and welcome.”
Mr Wright said the workshop much more than just “ticking a box”. “This training is about how we can care for each other, especially the vulnerable around us; not just about protecting kids from inappropriate behaviour and leadership. It’s about being a church community that together takes seriously God’s call to love our neighbour as ourselves.”
Resources for congregations
As part of participating in a Safe Church Awareness Workshop, each participant is given for later reference a Safe Church awareness manual containing the information discussed in the workshop.
Useful templates for congregations — such as the code of conduct, permission forms, driver declarations, and volunteer declarations — are available on the Children’s Ministry “Safety and Protection” webpage: https://childrensministry.org.au/safety-and-protection/
For details of upcoming workshops visit: https://childrensministry.org.au/safety-and-protection/upcoming-training-events/or phone Emma, 8267 4290, or Rowena, 02 8267 4295.
Safe Place Position Statement
The Uniting Church in Australia believes that all people are made in the image of God and as such we accept every individual regardless of race, age, creed or gender.
As a Christian community we believe that God reaches out to us in love and acceptance, and that our relationships with each other should express love and respect and not be abused.
As a community of faith we are committed to providing a place in society where human beings can explore what it means to be made in the image of God.
As an expression of this commitment, the Uniting Church in Australia recognises its responsibility to provide worshipping and pastoral communities that are free from abuse and that provide safe environments for all people to explore and express their faith in the Gospel.
Policies for the Prevention of Sexual Misconduct, October 1997