And all the United Methodists in the house groaned.
Safe Sanctuaries is the plan of the United Methodist Church to ensure that all who attend, participate or visit one of their churches are free from the risk of harm. And while I would like to believe that the last remaining bastion of safety in the world is the building that houses our churches, clearly the news of abuse and misuse of holy authority reveals that is not the case. The United Methodist response grew out of the revelations of the problems in the Catholic church, which ultimately revealed the fly in our own ointment. The Catholic church was not the only church with a problem, and not the only church with superiors trying to cover it up. While there are lots of ins and outs of the policy, the bottom line is that those that work for or volunteer regularly at a church should not ever be alone with a child, youth or vulnerable person. Which in church work means you should probably never be alone.
Please hear me say this – I think creating a safe place is a necessity. I want to be a person that establishes and maintains a safe place for children, youth and vulnerable adults! I don’t particularly want to be the person that establishes polices about it. And I really don’t want to be the one that teaches others about it. But because of a position that I held in the past, I had the privilege of doing both; creating policy and spreading the word. Now it’s not that I don’t like teaching, it’s that I have limited ability to control myself when well meaning people of the church say that this type of thing has no place in the church. Or worse, we don’t need to be this mindful of caring for others. Some of the excuses are mind blowing: “we don’t need this because we ain’t got no children,” “we can’t do this because we ain’t got enough people,” or my favorite “we ain’t doing this cause everyone in our church is related.” All well past my limits.
Because the reality is, if we are creative in ways of caring for others, we extended the life of the church further into the world. And now I have the opportunity to implement these policies as a Sunday school teacher of sixth graders. If I happen to be the only adult taking them somewhere, we make it a game to text parents where we are. If I have one child come early or one child left late, we stand in an open place and talk, or throw a football, or even have another random adult or youth join us. There are ways to implement the safety for all. And I am aware that I take it too extremes: I ask that they communicate with me electronically through their parents (although they have my number for emergencies, and their parents are aware of that). I also will not post any image showing their faces on a social media site, but do share all the images taken with their parents using Cloud based sharing.
Too much harm has been done, so much danger lurks out there, let’s regain the thin place, the holy place of church actually being a Sanctuary.