What is “Safe Sanctuaries”?
“Safe Sanctuaries” is the name commonly given by local United Methodist Annual Conferences and local churches to their individual efforts to make conference and local church ministries both welcoming and safe for children and those who minister to them.
Why do we need to have this Safe Sanctuaries program?
We need Safe Sanctuaries for three reasons:
• Jesus commanded us to care and protect the most vulnerable in our communities. Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes a child…welcomes me.” He also said that “if any of you put a stumbling block for one of these little ones, it would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea.”
• The resolution Reducing the Risk of Child Sexual Abuse in the Church was adopted in 1996 and reaffirmed in 2000 by the General Conference of The United Methodist Church. This resolution states that all conferences were to take proactive steps toward preventing child abuse from occurring in the church.
• We have a baptismal covenant to fulfill to every child in our congregation. We have committed through baptism that each child will be “… surrounded by steadfast love, established in the faith, and confirmed and strengthened in the way that leads to life eternal” (Baptismal Covenant II, United Methodist Hymnal, p. 44).
Our efforts in the ministry of Safe Sanctuaries demonstrate our faithfulness to Jesus Christ and our commitment to the protection of all our children, youth, and vulnerable adults.
Is there a set standard of care that local churches must follow?
Local churches are not required to follow an established standard of care or structure for their Safe Sanctuaries policy. The Mississippi Annual Conference Safe Sanctuaries policy does provide a guideline for local churches working to develop their own Safe Sanctuaries ministry.
The Rev. Joy Melton’s book, Safe Sanctuaries, is a guidebook published to help local congregations in planning a thorough Safe Sanctuaries ministry. The book does not establish a standard of care for churches. Each local church is encouraged to adopt the minimum standards set forth by our annual conference and add to their local church policy any additional pertinent procedures it determines is best for its local ministries.
What about youth leading in different aspects of ministry?
Youth are a vital part of the congregation. They are often the heartbeat of Vacation Bible School, Wednesday evening ministries, etc. We need youth to be a part of our congregation and have a responsibility to raise and help form their faith in “the way that leads to life eternal” (Book of Worship, Baptismal Covenant, Congregational Pledge, page 11). We must remember, however, that youth are not adults. When we ask a youth to serve in a supervisory capacity with children or other youth, we are placing on them adult expectations and responsibilities. We can and should find ways to encourage youth to serve in leadership while not placing upon them the sole responsibility for the full care and protection of children or other youth. It is our strong recommendation that youth under the age of 18 can participate in leading Sunday school, VBS, etc. as long as there is an adult over the age of 18 serving in a supervisory capacity in the classroom with them.
Who is required to have a national criminal background check?
All paid staff and non-paid volunteers who work in any significant capacity with children and-or youth are encouraged to have a national criminal background check.
Why should we conduct background checks on existing employees and volunteers?
One aspect of Safe Sanctuaries care includes conducting background checks on persons – both paid and volunteer – who work with children and youth. Doing background checks on staff members and volunteers who have been in their positions prior to the implementation of required background checks provides uniformity in treatment of the workers. It demonstrates that background checks are not targeted or random. Uniformity of treatment helps guard against any misunderstanding or resentment that might otherwise arise.
Asking all staff and volunteers to submit to a background check is one way the adult leaders can demonstrate their commitment to the protection of those within their care. A national criminal background check can also help defend against false allegations if and when they should occur.
What costs are involved?
The cost of a single background check is $9 through Trak-1 Technology. This national background check provides you with Social Security verification, National Criminal Background screening and the National Sexual Offenders registry check.
What if you find these expenses difficult to manage?
It is likely that you will not be able to run all the background checks that need to be run and make all of the improvements to your physical facility at one time. Instead, you may need to create a ranking of the priorities in terms of highest risk to children and begin there. Set a goal of three to five years to be in complete compliance.
Some creative suggestions:
• Ask each potential staff person and volunteer pay for their own background check
• Have a fundraiser for children’s ministry
• Ask people to give in honor of each baptism that occurs in your congregation.
As for facility updates, you might consider asking persons to donate to these projects or conduct a comprehensive “Safe Sanctuaries” fund-raising campaign emphasizing the need to make your church a safe and welcoming place for all of God’s children.
Who will handle the administration of a Safe Sanctuaries policy in the local church?
The administrative-church council should assign someone to be responsible to administer the policy. This can be a paid staff member or a volunteer. The staff person is accountable to the Board of Trustees or Staff-Parish Relations Committee. The volunteer is accountable to the administrative-church council. The policy administrator should prepare to give an annual report to their supervisor and charge conference.
What if we encounter difficulty or have questions in implementing a “Safe Sanctuaries” policy and program in our congregation?
Contact the Rev. Michelle Foster at 601-354-0515.