SAFEGUARDING IN ST JOHN’S AND CLAYTON BROOK
As an ordained minister I have just been to the first of two training sessions for safeguarding in the church. This training is renewed/refreshed every three years. So I thought it would be worthwhile writing a short piece about safeguarding for us all in our church-family.
I could name at least half a dozen clergymen from my own circles who have been caught up in abuse scandals. One or two are close friends, others I know less well. One or two have been abusers, others have been abused; one or two have been wrongly accused. Such things are deeply damaging and tragic. That they happen within the compass of God’s family makes it so much worse. After one discussion about these events a friend commented to me, ‘I think that that was the saddest meeting of my life.’
What, then, about safeguarding here in our own context? Let me say a word about policies and procedures and then also about the gospel and culture.
POLICIES AND PROCEDURES
All the details about our policies and practices can be found on the homepage of our website under a tab labelled ‘safeguarding’. We subscribe fully to the Church of England’s campaign to promote a safer church. We have a parish safeguarding officer—currently David Barlow, but handing over to Carol Wright from the autumn—and a safeguarding team. Safeguarding is an agenda item for every PCC meeting. We have two children’s champions—Stuart Cross and Caroline Venables—and Peter Grieve is adults’ champion. Volunteers are checked via the DBS (disclosure and barring service) and trained according to diocesan and national guidelines.
What is most important is that this responsibility is shared by us all. The thought of anyone coming to harm in or through our church is abhorrent, and we want everyone to be aware and to be caring for all. If you ever have any concern, even if you think it 99% likely that there is nothing amiss, you must talk to someone. You can talk to one of the clergy, children’s leaders, the parish safeguarding officer or a church warden. If your concern is about one of the clergy or another leader, you must still speak to someone. It is vital that we hold one another accountable for our Christian living.
Negatively, I want us to be a church where people know that they would never get away with doing harm to someone. Positively, I want us to be a church where everyone feels safe, comfortable, loved and accepted.
THE GOSPEL AND CULTURE
We can have the best policies and procedures in place and quite possibly that would be sufficient to ensure that everyone is indeed kept safe. But more than that we want a heart and a church culture where this could never happen because our heart is the heart of the gospel and reflects the heart of Jesus.
Jesus is famous for his love for children. He loved them simply for who they were, but also because they so often provided a role model for faith and for membership of the kingdom of God. He once said this:
‘If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung round their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!’ (Matthew 18:6-7)
That is what Jesus thinks of abuse. It must be one of the strongest statements he ever made. And when he says ‘these little ones’, he does mean little children—literally—but there is an added reference to those who may seem ‘little’ in the kingdom of God. In other words, to cause anyone to stumble and fall away is a truly dreadful offence. Notice how realistic Jesus is. ‘Such things must come’, he says. While this age endures, there will be abusers, there will be cruelty, there will be tragedies. But let it not be us who causes or allows them to happen.
Jesus died on the cross because ‘God so loved the world.’ That means that everyone, without exception or distinction, matters to God, and is valued by God to the extent that he gave what was more precious to him than anything else in order to save them. Not everyone will be saved. But everyone is loved and valued by God. Therefore, if we are a gospel church, everyone should be valued and loved by us.
So, in ‘promoting a safer church’, let it not be for us a box-ticking exercise, or even simply a case of diligently putting good procedures in place. Let it be a gospel issue, whereby all ‘these little ones’ are loved and cared for by us because they are loved by Jesus.
Your brother in Christ