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DYK - The work is never done

Posted: January 28 2022 at 10:43 AM
Author: Rev. Arlene Christoperson, Ass't to the Bishop/Dir. of Connectional Ministries

Christopherson Arlene

Rev. Arlene Christoperson

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It was a bright spring Sunday morning. As my family arrived for worship, I ran to the church kitchen on an errand. Turning to leave the room, our church custodian appeared in the doorway. I knew him as a gentle person and a good friend of my grandfather. Greeting him, he smiled, stepped forward, and assaulted me. As quickly as he appeared, he was gone. I stood there shaken. As a teenager, I was confused, frightened, uncertain. What just happened. Who do I tell? Who would believe me? Would I be in trouble? The incident would break my grandfather’s heart. I could hardly believe it myself.

My story is not unique. In 2021, 80,000 former Boy Scouts shared their stories of harassment and abuse, spanning 70 years of the program. The stories took place at camps, schools, churches, and community centers. These numbers are jarring, spanning decades of activity, serving as a sobering reminder that our work is never done.

For United Methodists, the work of providing Safe Sanctuaries (our denominational title for this focus) began in earnest in the 1990s. At that time, clergy began participating in mandated ethics and boundary training. By 2000 the annual conference began encouraging background checks for lay volunteers and offering workshops on best practices. At the same time, churches were required to develop Safe Sanctuaries policies. By the 2010s, all churches had policies, and we advanced to using online tools for training and background checks. In 2016 the conference endorsed using the “Safe Gatherings” program to screen and train individual volunteers. Over the years, our congregations and leadership have woven much of the best practices for protecting our children and youth into their routines. For many, the safeguards are now second nature. The two-adult rule (no adult alone with a minor), windows in classroom doors, background checks, and volunteer training are all standard across our churches.

Our work of providing “Safe Sanctuaries” has become part of the landscape, perhaps moving too far into the background. We have entered a decade of renewed awareness. Over the next few years, there will be an increasing emphasis on this work as we experience the deep scars of those now telling their stories. In 2021 all clergy and assigned pastoral leaders of local churches participated in mandated clergy ethics and boundary training. More than 325 pastoral leaders refreshed their roles and responsibilities, as they do every four years. Surveys and tracking practices reveal there are more than 1,300 trained lay and staff volunteers in our local churches. Two hundred fifty-four of our churches are served by clergy trained through Safe Gatherings for volunteer work with children and youth. Additionally, 230 churches utilize Safe Gatherings for laity training and have one or more volunteers trained.

So what did I do on that sunny spring day? I stood in the church kitchen for a long-time playing the event over in my mind, trying to grasp the options and trying to understand what had just happened. From my vantage point, there wasn’t much I could do. Share my experience with someone and risk not being believed or be believed and shatter our tight-knit community? I remained silent, as so many others have before me and after. We are doing better. We talk about abuse. We train, screen, and openly address this evil. However, our work is never done.

The year 2022 dawns as a season to renew and strengthen our efforts to be a place of safety for all those who trust us as we care for them.

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