by | Sep 29, 2023

Mention safeguarding, and chances are, you’ll get eye rolls and yawns from your congregation. But surely as churches, were freedom, justice and love are at the very heart of what we believe, this is the stuff that should have us dancing in the aisles.  

But it rarely does. 

In fact, it’s often side-lined to the ‘children’s team and youth team. Perhaps we’ve taken it for granted that as church, this is inherent and therefore we need not take ‘formal action’. But if the recent revelations from high-profile churches are anything to do by, nothing can be taken for granted.

Churches are unique environments 

Now, I don’t underestimate the additional challenges facing the church. As we seek to support the least, the last and the lost we find ourselves working with people who are particularly vulnerable. There are those at greater risk, those who have already been victims of abuse and those who have been perpetrators.  

We can implement policies and procedures and conduct DBS checks for the organised groups that we run. But what happens when those who have been attending our foodbank, or addiction programmes come to church?

Lines blur quickly in churches 

We want our churches to be open and welcoming to EVERYONE! That’s the whole point! God’s love is a free gift to all. And, as a family, we’re encouraged to open our hearts and our homes, to embrace each other and brothers and sisters in Christ.

But, and there is a but, as the team from thirtyone:eight so rightly say, “with that openness comes responsibility, especially towards safeguarding vulnerable people.” 

Building a culture of safeguarding 

Would the average member of your congregation know what do to if someone disclosed historic abuse to them? Or what if they raised concerns about a volunteer or leader? Would they know how to respond?   

This is too important a task to leave to just a few. Having policies is not enough – we need to build cultures where safeguarding is inherent.  

Safeguarding is about loving each other well. Isn’t that at the heart of what we do as Christians, whether we’re leading social action projects, serving coffee or chatting to our neighbour? 

It starts with open and frank conversations about the importance of safeguarding. It involves making everyone aware of their responsibility, and ensuring they know what to do and who to turn to if they have concerns. 

A safer place for everyone 

For too long, safeguarding has been viewed as a piece of due diligence or a check box on a long list – but it needs to be part of our DNA.  

Cultural change takes time – but it’s worth the investment. If we truly want our churches to be safe and welcoming places for absolutely everyone, safeguarding is the stuff that should get us leaping out of bed with delight every morning.  

Specific guidance  

We’ll be delving into the topic in greater depth in two webinars this October. Join Katy Jackson from thirtyone:eight and Joy Wright from Emerge Advocacy on Thursday 12 October 10.00-11:30am or Thursday 17 October 7.00-8.15pm  

They’ll be sharing really practical advice on:  

  • how to build a culture of safeguarding 
  • managing the blurred line 
  • dealing with disclosures 
  • best practice that doesn’t restrict your activities
  • how to put in place good boundaries
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