By Tamica Smith Jeuitt, Communications Specialist
Photo right: Image from Discipleship Ministries website.
According to The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, every local church is required to have a Safe Sanctuaries policy. The church states Safe Sanctuaries is an overt expression in making congregations safe places where children, youth and elders may experience the abiding love of God and fellowship within the community of faith.
"It is not that we are distrusting. We just want to make sure everybody is safe," said Rev. Vickie White, Director of Connectional Ministries and Communications for the Mississippi Conference.
"We wouldn't dream of sending our children to school if teachers and those who work with them did not have background checks. The same thing is true with our churches," she expressed.
For this reason, White is urging local churches to view newly released videos from Discipleship Ministries on Safe Sanctuaries. The short clips focus on training leaders, reporting abuse, registered sex offenders, living in covenants, and healthy social media. There's even a video on how to write a policy.
The Rev. Dawn Flowers of Main Street United Methodist Church in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi is making plans to watch the videos with her congregation this September. Her church recently updated its Safe Sanctuaries policy after getting word that a known sex offender was visiting churches in their area.
"It's not about creating an environment of fear that something could happened. It is about saying we are going to do everything we possibly can to say, we did everything we could. You never want to look back and say if we had only," Flowers explained.
During the 2016 Session of the Mississippi Conference, Flowers led a workshop on Safe Sanctuaries. She said that there are several churches within the Mississippi Conference that don't have a policy. This is partly because many of them feel their church is safe or they don't know how to begin the discussion.
"The great thing about the videos to me is that it is a great starting point for churches who don't even know where to start. Let's start here (with the videos) and then have the conversation," said Flowers.
Once again, the annual charge conference forms will request information from local churches about Safe Sanctuaries. This year, churches will be able to request assistance with developing a policy best for them -- one that ensures all spaces for worshipping and gathering are places of trust.
To read more about Safe Sanctuaries and to view the videos, click here.