Over the last few weeks I have spent considerable time thinking about safety, security and what it means for us to become a safer church. Some of this thinking has arisen from meeting with survivors of abuse.
Their courage in telling their stories and holding us accountable for what they suffered demands that we work as hard as we can as a church to both offer redress to survivors and to prevent abuse.
I have also had the pleasure of presenting Safe Church certificates and seeing churches actively and positively work to be communities where people can be confident that the congregation takes their safety seriously.
As a church we are called to confess our sin and to be open to the need to renew and reform our life.
The current Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the Victorian joint parliamentary report Betrayal of Trust both reveal the many ways we as a church have failed to protect children from abuse.
This abuse calls us to repent of our wrongdoing, our failing and our negligence as a church. Repentance also requires that we change our lives in order to show that we have learnt from our failings and desire to do better in the future.
One way we do this is to implement the Safe Church guidelines.
The Basis of Union (Para 11) makes it clear that a relationship with contemporary society is vital for understanding ourselves and our mission. If we want to engage in ministry and mission in ways that heed what contemporary society is telling us, we need to take seriously the processes, policies and procedures that ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults.
Our willingness to create a culture that fosters safety is both a sign that we are learning from contemporary society and a witness to our desire to provide as safe a space as possible within our communities.
I know that the processes of becoming a Safe Church can seem like an intrusion.
Some of you feel that you are not trusted because you are asked to get a criminal history check or a Working with Children Check or a Working with Vulnerable People Registration. The forms can seem cumbersome and the process inhibiting.
Compared to the risks of not attending to processes of becoming a safer community these are small requirements we need to be willing to surrender to for the sake of valuing the children and vulnerable adults in our midst.
As Christians our safety comes from knowing that underneath us are the everlasting arms of God and that nothing in life or death can separate us from God.
Jesus gathers children into his arms and into the safety of God’s love and God’s reign. Our efforts to become safe communities are grounded in this sense of being held safe in God’s goodness and remind us that the Spirit moves through the community standards we seek to respond to.
The paradox of seeking safety is that it enables us to engage in the risky task of living as disciples of Jesus Christ.
In seeking emotional, spiritual and physical safety for all, but especially the most vulnerable, we nourish communities that enable people to step out in faith, to explore what it means to be a follower of Christ and to be courageous in serving the reign of God.
Rev Sharon Hollis