by Martin Heggestad
“Have always therefore printed in your remembrance, how great a treasure is committed to your charge. For they are the sheep of Christ, which he bought with his death, and for whom he shed his blood. The Church and Congregation, whom you serve, is his Spouse, and his Body. And if it shall happen the same Church, or any Member thereof, to take any hurt or hindrance by reason of your negligence, ye know the greatness of the fault.” (from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer)
The Vestry identified implementation of the diocesan Safe Church policy as one of our top priorities for 2019 and has been putting much time and energy toward this goal, working together with Suzanne Di Piazza (who has shown exemplary leadership on this issue) and other staff and lay leaders and volunteers.
The full name of the policy is “Safe Church: Creating a Healthy Environment for Children, Youth, and Vulnerable Adults.” Under this policy, all clergy, employees, and lay leaders, along with all volunteers who have contact with kids and with adults who might be limited in their ability to fully look out for themselves, are required to undergo training, with the goal of increasing understanding of how sexual, physical, and/or personal abuse or exploitation occur in church settings, and of promoting sound practices to lessen the likelihood that such harm will occur and to respond effectively to situations where there is any concern that abusive behavior has taken place.
The quotation above from the first edition of our prayer book is a reminder that Anglicans have a long history of taking the safety of those under our care very seriously. One of my first contacts with the Episcopal church was through my friend, longtime St. Clarian Judy Avery. When I first met Judy over twenty years ago, she told me of the work she was doing as a lay member of the diocesan Standing Committee, which at that time was responding to a number of cases that had come to light of abusive behavior by clergy toward adults and children. While it was heart-rending to hear the stories Judy told me, I was impressed that lay people had a far greater role in oversight over clergy than was the case in the denomination I had grown up in, and this became an important factor in my decision ultimately to join the Episcopal church.
All human institutions are fallible, and we know there is much work still to be done to promote safety in our church, but as Episcopalians we have a history in which we can take pride and on which we can continue to build. Please do not hesitate to turn to Vestry members, to Suzanne, or to Rev. Maryjane with any questions about our current Safe Church policy. And remember that it is up to each of us to speak up whenever we have any concerns about the safety of our community.