In the words of Loralee Boe, “The subject of safety and security in Children’s Ministry is one often overlooked or not emphasized enough. Sometimes this is from a lack of knowledge or from a desire not to offend. As those called to teach children the Gospel, we cannot ignore the environment in which we care for them.” (from “It Worked for Us: Best Practices for Ministry with Children and Families”)
Over the last 6 months I have logged some serious miles sharing the guidelines of what the United Methodist Church calls, “Safe Sanctuary.” What used to be considered a Kid Min thing, the audience has changed and I am speaking to more and more Administrative Councils. That’s a very good thing.
The architect for Safe Sanctuary, Joy Thornburg Melon, an ordained clergy-person as well as an attorney, comments that “Justice and hospitality are essential elements of the covenant between the people and God.” We can truly do both.
Some of the basic goals of any local church to offer a safe haven and sanctuary for children, youth, and vulnerable adults would include:
1. The 2 adult rule, where 2 adult team members are present in a classroom or environment at all times.
2. Use of classrooms/environments with windowed and open doors.
3. Institute a 6 month hospitality rule – this gives the congregation a chance to love on pre-servants before they run head-long into leadership roles. My experience has also shown that anyone new coming into a congregation has some grieving to do, as well, as they say goodbye to their old family of faith and begin to build relationships in a new one.
4. Servant leaders making classroom management decisions should always be adults over the age of 18.
5. Name tags and/or identifiable clothing let others know that “you are safe to approach to get questions answered.”
6. Check-in and release of students are in place and age-appropriate.
7. Appropriate touch boundaries are understood. (When are full-on frontal-body hugs appropriate for church staff and leadership?)
8. Appropriate adult behavior (especially regarding social media, communication, and sharing of information).
9. Adequate ratios of adults to minors and anyone in any sort of leadership role must be at least 5 years older than the oldest minor in the the room (and if under 18, the minor is considered part of the “minor” number in those adequate ratios.)
10. Reporting requirements and expectations (before something happens.)
The adoption of Safe Sanctuary guidelines is just one more tool that the local church provides to better equip the disciples of Christ to serve without fear. And there is nothing like serving our risen Savior without fear.
You can order materials at www.discipleshipresources.org.
Last year I picked up the newest tool for implementing Safe Sanctuary in the local church specific to Ministers, entitled “Safe Sanctuaries for Ministers: Best Practices and Ethical Decisions.” This is a must-read for anyone, not just ministers/clergy persons, who serve on church staff or in covenant leadership roles as laity, as well.