Stewards of Safety: Preventing the Abuse of Children, Adults, and Elders
As a church, we are called to stewardship of creation. Our catechism tells us that recognizing God as our Creator "means that all people are worthy of respect and honor, because all are created in the image of God, and all can respond to the love of God." As stewards of creation, therefore, we are called to prevent or redress behavior that undermines the honor and respect of the people around us, particularly when the people around us are vulnerable and have been entrusted to our care. In this section you will find policies and resources designed to help you become better stewards of the safety of God's people.
The Safety of Children
Children are the holy innocents bought into our midst to be treasured and respected. Outside of the family, the parish community carries the greatest power to express in word and action the truth that, in God's eyes, each child is "beloved and pleasing." When this message is missing, or even worse, when church becomes the setting for a child's physical or emotional boundaries to be violated, the wounds are far reaching and devastating.
For this reason, the diocese has established policies regarding the safety of children and youth, and each faith community has the responsibility to see that both lay and ordained leaders, all staff and anyone who works with children in the church context are trained to recognize, prevent and address child abuse of any sort. The Episcopal Church offers the Safeguarding God's Children resources for such training. Because discussing the topic of child abuse can bring up powerfully upsetting memories and realizations, we ask that people attend their first training in a face-to-face context with appropriate support. Refresher and expansion training may then be completed online.
Please direct any questions about the Safeguarding God's Children program or other aspects of diocesan policy for the protection of children to Missioner Terri Bays.
The Safety of Adults
While our baptismal promise to "respect the dignity of every human being" naturally means providing adults with enough moral space to make their own decisions, there are some areas where the church has a responsibility to intervene, especially concerning behavior by its people or on its property. Such areas include sexual harassment /exploitation and alcohol abuse.
At Diocesan Convention on November 5, 2016, this diocese established a set of guidelines for alcohol use in the church. These guidelines do not prohibit the use of alcohol on church property but instead encourage a mindful approach to providing a safe and welcoming environment for all people, including those who may be in recovery from substance abuse.
Likewise, providing a safe and welcoming environment means taking steps to prevent sexual harassment and exploitation. The diocese created a set of ethical guidelines in 1995 (revised in 2005) that addressed the question of clergy misconduct in this regard. We are currently in the process of reviewing and expanding the scope of those guidelines. The diocese has copies of the training offered by the Episcopal Church in the prevention of both Sexual Harassment and Sexual Exploitation as a part of the Safeguarding series. Please direct any questions about the those programs or other aspects of diocesan policy for the protection of adults to Missioner Terri Bays.
The Safety of Elders
As we age, physical or mental infirmity may leave us increasingly dependent upon the care of others. The church often has an opportunity to witness these dependent relationships, because we see our elders regularly, either at church or as Eucharistic Visitors. If those upon whom an elder depends become abusive or neglectful, the church may find itself in a unique position to notice and to prevent further harm.
It is therefore important that lay and ordained leaders in the church and anyone who works with the elderly on behalf of the church be trained to recognize the signs of elder neglect and abuse. The Episcopal Church recently has created training resources for Recognizing Abuse and Exploitation in Elder Serving Programs as part of its Safeguarding Online series. Anyone who has previously participated in a face-to-face Safeguarding God's Children training is eligible to sign-up for the online training. Please direct any questions about the those programs or other aspects of diocesan policy for the protection of elders to Missioner Terri Bays.
The Safety of our Gathering Places
Don't be Scared—Be Prepared! We are told in II Timothy 1:7 that "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and discipline." In John 14:27 we are encouraged by the words "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." In keeping with these teachings, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Valparaiso would like to offer Parish Safety Training to parishes of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana in the form of regional workshops. The goal of such instruction is two-fold:
to protect every person who enters any church of the diocese; and
to train potential, if not already existing, Parish Safety Teams who will take charge and direct parishioners to safety in the event of an emergency.
This approximately 2-1/2 hour session trains congregants to become better acquainted with their church facilities and to prepare for emergencies both in and outside of the church. Open to everyone in the faith community, this training includes, but is not limited to, preparation for: natural disasters; verbal, physical, external and internal disturbances; missing children/adults ; and active shooter situations. Participants will learn how to properly interact with local law enforcement and fire personnel. Each participant will be given an Emergency Action and Recovery Plan which may be used as a template for each individual church to adapt to its own needs. We want everyone who enters the churches of our diocese to know that we are doing our very best to provide a safe and secure environment in which to worship.
St. Andrew's team is prepared to travel to your deanery for a regional training. Although all would be welcome, prior registration is necessary for the preparation of materials. Those interested should contact Toni Sanchez.
Upcoming Training Events
Running background checks on those to whom we are entrusting our children and our resources is an important part of the stewardship to which God calls us. Each parish has the responsibility to request that the following background checks be processed through the diocesan office (to be billed to the parish):
Oxford Background Checks for all parish employees (approx. $300)—this check should already have been run on all clergy as a part of the call process, but it may not have been run for other employees;
Praesidium high-access / low-access volunteer packages for volunteers working with children—volunteer nursery attendants, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders and chaperones (approx. $20); and
Praesidium high-access package + credit check for volunteers with signatory authority on parish accounts (approx. $30).
We recognize that doing all of these at the same time may be financially burdensome for some parishes. If it is necessary for you to work your way through your volunteer and paid staff in stages, we would recommend that you clearly communicate the way in which you are prioritizing the checks (e.g. alphabetically, high access—low access, time in the parish) so that no one feels that they are being singled out for scrutiny.
Filing a Complaint or Concern
As much as we would all like to imagine our life together in the church as one of thoughtful behavior within a supportive environment that promotes peace and harmony, questionable conduct may occur within any faith community from time to time. Although most concerns can and should be addressed through either preventative action or direct communication with the person whose behavior has raised a concern, some concerns require intervention from someone in a supervisory capacity. In parish life, the priest performs that supervisory role. When the concern is about the behavior of a priest or deacon, the diocese holds responsibility for supervision.