Make the church a Safe Place
The Uniting Church in Australia believes that all people are made in the image of God and as such we accept every individual regardless of race, age, creed or gender.
As a Christian community we believe that God reaches out to us in love and acceptance and that our relationships with each other should express love and respect and not be abused.
As a community of faith we are committed to providing a place in society where human beings can explore what it means to be made in the image of God.
As an expression of this commitment, the Uniting Church in Australia recognises its responsibility to provide worshipping and pastoral communities that are free from abuse and that provide safe environments for all people to explore and express their faith in the Gospel.
Children are not the only ones in need of special care and protection in our local congregations.
A church — where people of many different life situations come together in worship and fellowship — can be a unique place in our society. Some people may only approach a church when they feel at their most vulnerable.
In 2007, Synod resolved that volunteers who work with children in church-run programs (including SRE in schools) are required to undertake training in child protection and appropriate behaviour as it is crucial to understanding the legislative obligations and possible risks associated with working with children and young people.
It is also strongly recommended that other leaders (for example, ministers, youth, children and family workers) and those with pastoral support and oversight roles in a congregation (for example elders and members of church council) should attend.
Since 2007, the Board of Education (now Uniting Mission and Education) has been addressing the recognised need to provide training in child protection and appropriate behaviour to volunteers working with children in church run programs.
Child protection workshops have been conducted across the Synod and have assisted many people in ministry to understand child protection requirements, to know where to turn in difficult situations and how to proactively seek to provide safe and welcome spaces for children to encounter God, to develop relationships as part of a community and to grow in faith.
Now Uniting Mission and Education is rolling out an updated version of this training — Safe Church Awareness Workshops — which align with the National Council of Churches Australia’s (NCCA) Safe Church Training Agreement (SCTA) standards.
The workshops acknowledge a more holistic approach to safety and protection awareness-raising in the church. They cover topics essential for child protection and extend people’s understanding of who can be vulnerable beyond children and young people.
Conversations are opened to consider how to include and care for people in congregations who might be less physically able, intellectually disabled, mentally ill, or emotionally struggling. Inevitably, that leads to questions about how to care for each other in ministry: anybody can be vulnerable, depending on their circumstances at a given time.
The workshops include exploration of safe church foundations (duty of care, transparency and accountability); child and vulnerable person protection; understanding and responding to abuse; protective behaviours; safe leadership; and safe programs and environments.
Safe Church training consists of an introductory Safe Church Awareness Workshop (six hours) and a shorter refresher workshop (three hours) every three years.
In late 2010 the Synod of New South Wales and the ACT became an endorsed training partner of the National Council of Churches in Australia’s Safe Church Training Agreement (SCTA).
That means the Safe Church Awareness Workshops meet the national standard for Safe Church Training and are recognised across member denominations.
The option is also available for individuals from the Uniting Church to attend another denomination’s SCTA-endorsed safe church workshop.
The common agreement is about committing to safe church practices as a whole church, not just one’s own denomination.
Resources for congregations
As part of participating in a Safe Church Awareness Workshop, each participant is given for later reference a Safe Church awareness manual containing the information discussed in the workshop.
Useful templates for congregations — such as the code of conduct, permission forms, driver declarations, and volunteer declarations — are available on the Children’s Ministry “Safety and Protection” webpage.
For more information about safe churches, see the NCCA webpage.
Download a copy of the brochure about safe church awareness workshops.
For more information, contact Emma Parr, SRE and Child (Vulnerable Persons) Protection Coordinator.