Last night a group of us spent the evening going through the draft safeguarding policy which will be presented for approval to the church councils in May. It was not the most exciting of evenings, and some material seemed difficult to tailor appropriately to a small church, and I guess it was easy to wonder we had to invest so much time and effort into putting the policy together in the first place (a huge thank you to Lynda who did the bulk of the work drafting and re-drafting the document).
But the reality is, safeguarding needs to be at the heart of our mission statement. It has to be, if you like, one of the invisible strands running through every part of our church life. Why? Because sadly, the history of the church when it comes to safeguarding has been lamentable and as an institution the church has actually hindered people coming to Christ.
First of all, and most shamefully, there have been wicked people in the church who have either perpetrated or colluded in abuse. I cannot imagine how those who have been abused in the way must view the body of Christ, but Jesus must weep for them.
Secondly, the church has not always listened to or believed victims of abuse. Often it takes years for survivors’ stories to come forward, because those in authority have not spent time hearing the stories of the weak and the vulnerable. The damage such a delay brings only adds to the scars that the original abuse inflicted, and we need to repent of our failure to respond.
Thirdly, even when the church has listened, it has not always acted effectively or professionally to concerns raised. But in today’s culture the days when the church could simply behave as well-meaning amateurs are well and truly over. Particularly with our past, we need to be seen to be acting in line with best practice. Nothing less than the reputation of the gospel is at stake.
Perhaps one way to remember the importance of safeguarding is to think of the word SAFETY. This involves:
Security. This includes making the physical environment of the church safe for all who use it, but also creating a culture of love and listening, where people feel secure enough to share their lives, and to seek the grace of God.
Acceptance. This is not the same as tolerance. Acceptance means welcoming all who come through our doors, no matter what they have done, or what has been done to them. But it does not mean we will tolerate every kind of behaviour or condone those who refuse to accept the need to change.
Freedom. We believe that Jesus Christ still heals today, and comes to give life abundantly. So we should strive for a church where people can be set free from the past and are able to face the future with the strength that comes from the power of Holy Spirit at work within them.
Everyone. It’s very easy to think that safeguarding is the responsible of other people, or those with the right training. If we are the body of Christ, then we should all bear one another’s burdens, pray for and love one another, so that all are valued for who they are.
Transparency. We need a culture of open, honest communication where there are no secrets, and everyone knows what is happening. It is in this culture, ironically, that confidences are better understood and respected as there is no fuel for rumours or gossip, and people understand better the boundaries between what is public and what is private.
Young people. Young people need to be accepted for who they are, and the potential they can achieve. In today’s world young people grow up in a state of confusion and uncertainty, often not really knowing who they are or who genuinely cares for them. We want the church to be a safe place where they discover they are of infinite worth in God’s eyes and recognise the gifts and abilities He has given them in Christ.
You will be hearing more about safeguarding over the next few months. Do take the time to listen, and let’s all of us work out what it means to make St Barnabas and St Michael safe churches which glorify God and draw others to a saving knowledge of Christ.