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Partners in Education urges safe church training

Partner’s in Education have promoted developing Safe Church Guidelines since 2004. 

Gale Peterson
Gale Peterson, a Partner in Education since 1999, works with two other Partners in Education, Lorna Kropp and Don Schmidt to proficed education ministries resources.

At that time, only five Pacific Northwest Conference UCC churches had such documents in place.  Today, many more have developed Safe Church or Safe Conduct Guidelines, along with PNC’s two Outdoor Ministry Camp and Conference Centers.

“There is no more critical issue than managing risk connected to children, who most often cannot make judgments for themselves.  They rely entirely on Christian education leaders, teachers and pastors,” said Gale Peterson, a partner in education.

It is important to train staff and volunteers who regularly work with children, and to have a program of selection, screening, training, monitoring and reporting.

Awareness, guidelines and supervision will protect children, deter predators and protect a church’s reputation.

Peterson calls for church staff and volunteers to be aware because it’s not easy to spot a predator.

“They don’t just look like scary people.  The reality is much scarier,” she said.  “Skilled predators lurk among the trustworthy and often under a cloak of good behavior, so they are not easily distinguishable.”

She challenges members, staff and volunteers to learn how to spot a sexual predator, to become aware of their own direct experience or the direct experience of peers and other volunteers. 

Our PNC churches aspire to be inclusive communities in which all can work and worship together in a trusting, nurturing place, free from harassment or exploitation of any kind,” Gale said.  “We strive to provide a safe environment for all, especially the children and youth who are entrusted to our care, as well as vulnerable adults and the elderly.” 

Congregations develop policies to reduce the possibility of child sexual or physical abuse, or any type of misconduct or harassment involving minors or adults where there is an imbalance of power. 

“This imbalance of power can occur between a child or youth, and an adult, between two adults, or between two children and/or youth,” she said. 

The purpose of having guidelines is to create a pro-active, supportive and nurturing policy that protects children and supports staff, as opposed to one based upon compliance and reaction.

Partners in Education recommends several steps to develop Safe Church/Conduct Guidelines.

First, it is important to gain the support of the church council and pastor or pastors.

Second, a task force can develop the guidelines for paid staff and volunteers who regularly work with children and youth.  The task force needs to develop a statement of purpose, definitions, processes for selection of staff and volunteers, screening and training.  They need to monitor, report incidents, have a response team to respond to incidents and have forms for families, staff and volunteers, and forms to report an incident.

Third, there needs to be an education process for the congregation.

Fourth, there should be a congregational vote to adopt the proposed guidelines.

Fifth is to implement the guidelines by conducting background checks of staff and primary volunteers, to train staff and volunteers on risk management and to make modifications to the church building.

Gale listed several resources to assist in developing Safe Church/Conduct Guidelines.

The national UCC Insurance Board has a “Safe Conduct Workbench” at, including a free “Self Assessment Tool,” its “Safety Solutions” quarterly newsletter, “The Steward.”  Past issues cover safe conduct and high-risk scenarios. The  Insurance Board also has a 2005 publication, “Making Our Churches Safe for All.”

There are also interactive webinars on a variety of topics.

The Connecticut UCC Conference’s “Internet Safety Guidelines” are also available.

• As a member of the UCC insurance program, each church has access to do criminal background checks for a reduced fee at Criminal Background Checks through Praesidium Inc.

• A free online interactive video training program, ARMATUS®, through Praesidium is available for training staff and volunteers on best practices in preventing abuse.

Cathy Green, United Church of Christ Insurance Board president and CEO said, “Not only does it teach how to keep children safe, but it also teaches churches how to protect themselves from false allegations of abuse.”

Once staff and volunteers are registered by a church’s safe church administrator, they can do the training at home at their own pace. Completion is monitored by the church’s safe church administrator.

• United Methodist Church resources include Safe Sanctuaries: Reducing the Risk of Child Abuse in the Church and Safe Sanctuaries for Youth  by Joy Thornburg Melton, a 2004 publication available through Discipleship Resources.

For information, call 425-823-8737 for Peterson, 509-448-2291 for Kropp and 425-591-7729 for Schmidt, visit or email

Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © April-May 2012





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