Growing up in the country church as a child in the 1950’s, I felt surrounded by God’s love. Our pastor consistently preached on that theme. The people of the congregation showed me God’s love by their presence and their behavior towards me. You make the assumption that your experience is shared by everyone else.
I was naïve about people not cherishing children the way God intended. It was and still is incomprehensible to me that children were and are abused in their homes. I have been saddened by revelations that churches, camps and youth organizations have been guilty of abusing and mistreating children, youth and adults from vulnerable populations.
When new families visit churches, often they will visit Sunday School rooms and nurseries before the sanctuary. They want to make sure facilities are bright, clean and welcoming. Parents want reassurance that the individuals providing care and guidance for children, youth and vulnerable adults are qualified to care for them.
“Let the children come to me and do not stop them: for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Matthew 19:14). Scripture and our United Methodist tradition inform us in our belief that God values all of human life: perhaps children most of all.
The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church states, “... children must be protected from economic, physical, emotional and sexual exploitation and abuse” (¶ 162.C, “The 2012 Book of Discipline”). The “Book of Resolutions” encourages all conferences to become involved in the prevention of the physical and sexual abuse of children (#3084.B. 2012 “Book of Resolutions,” p. 241). The 2012 “Book of Discipline” names child abuse, sexual abuse, sexual misconduct and sexual harassment as chargeable offenses for clergy and lay members (¶2702, 2012 “Book of Discipline”). The Great Plains Annual Conference is one of the leaders in the United Methodist denomination regarding protection of the vulnerable.
The Great Plains Annual Conference is determined to minimize the risk of abuse to participants in activities of the Great Plains Conference, its districts and programming agencies. At the 2014 Great Plains Annual Conference, members passed the Safe Gatherings Policy for the Protection of Children, Youth and Adults from Vulnerable Populations.
Safe Gatherings training consists of an on-line training program with ten modules covering topics such as Biblical Responsibility, Power, Vulnerability and Ministerial Conduct, Abuse and Its Consequences, Responding to and Reporting Abuse, Recognizing and Honoring Boundaries, Safe Practices in Children and Youth Ministry Settings and Safe Practices in Special Needs and Elderly Ministry. Following the on-line training, applicants review scenarios and take a quiz which they must pass with a minimum score of 85 percent. Applicants list a clergy and a lay reference that has known them a minimum of two years. At least four background checks are performed on each applicant.
In the Congregation Pledge 2 of the “Baptismal Covenant for Children and Others Unable to Answer for Themselves" found in the United Methodist Hymnal, the Pastor addresses the congregation with these words:
“Members of the household of faith, I commend to your love and care this child, Whom we this day recognize as a member of the family of God. Will you endeavor so to live that this child may grow in the knowledge and love of God, through our Savior Jesus Christ?”
And the people respond:
“With God’s help, we will so order our lives after the example of Christ, that this child, surrounded by steadfast love, may be established in the faith, and confirmed and strengthened in the way that leads to life eternal.”
May we each live up to these promises as the most vulnerable are welcomed in to the family of faith in our churches.
Thank you if you are one of the 16,000 individuals of the Great Plains Conference certified to work with children, youth and adult members of vulnerable populations. Thank you for your time and service, your care and concern. If you have not taken that step, please take the time today to become Safe Gatherings certified.