It’s all changing again, isn’t it? Every week, we clammer to TV’s, phones, and zoomed out laptops to hopefully hear a positive answer to one question; will we be able to go back to church as normal next week? As restrictions ease, it’s exciting! The thought of meeting face-to-face without restriction seems so appetising. These times have really shown us the blessing of what it means to be God’s people as the ability to gather has been somewhat removed.
As churches joyfully move back to business-as-usual operation, it’s worth spending some time thinking through how we will continue to keep our churches safe.
As churches joyfully move back to business-as-usual operation, it’s worth spending some time thinking through how we, as both clergy and parishioners, will continue to keep our churches safe. It is worth remembering, though, that safety isn’t only about diseases and those who may be immunocompromised.
It’s a sad fact that in the past, safe ministry, or the safe treatment of vulnerable people, has often been forgotten by churches. The commands to care for the poor, weak, and vulnerable have often come lower in the priority list than the pragmatics. It’s not because churches didn’t see safe ministry as important, but the urgency of doing something about it was often lost amongst the demands of everything else we were doing. It was the thing we felt we could always do later.
But caring for the vulnerable is something our God wants us to do now. In Galatians 2:10, as he takes the gospel to the Gentiles, Paul’s goal is to continue to care for the the financially vulnerable. In Ezekiel 34, God is outraged at his under-shepherds for not caring or looking after those who had been put under them, the socially and spiritually vulnerable. And, in Luke 10, the parable of the good Samaritan, as Jesus teaches us to love our neighbour as he does, we see a great example of loving the physically, emotionally, and mentally vulnerable. Greatest of all, Jesus himself became vulnerable by taking on human flesh—facing hatred and persecution, and dying on a cross so we could have new life. We follow a saviour who cares for the vulnerable.
Jesus himself became vulnerable so we could have new life. We follow a saviour who cares for the vulnerable.
Knowing that this is something God cares about should drive us to do something about it.
A Matter of Culture
Changes like this usually don’t happen very easily, but it will help if we stop seeing safe ministry as a set of tick boxes, and more as a culture goal for our church. Culture isn’t something that we can make appear out of nowhere, but it’s one of the biggest factors for safety when it comes to the protection of vulnerable people in our churches. There are many small things we can do to work towards this culture.
It might seem too simple, but the question we want to be asking as we return to face-to-face church is: “How am I going to safeguard vulnerable people with this decision I have to make?” This question could have profound impacts on the decisions you make. It might affect how you talk to your church about the return. It might influence decisions about who to appoint to which rolls in your post-COVID church. It’s worth taking that extra 5 minutes to think through how your decision will safeguard vulnerable people. While it might not mean dramatic changes to current plans, when all aspects of your return are viewed through the lens of safeguarding vulnerable people, you’ll be creating the culture of safety your church needs.
Giving time, energy, and money towards training helps your whole church to see that it’s something you take seriously.
In the past, one of the ways that we’ve all tried to establish a culture of safety is through training. Giving time, energy, and money towards training helps your whole church to see that it’s something you take seriously. What’s your church’s training plan as you return from COVID? Is there a way that you can have everyone who is a formal member of your church do some kind of training online? Culture is something that everyone in your church has a hand in, and giving everyone insight into the importance of safe ministry will help to develop that culture by putting safe ministry on the minds of everyone in your church.
Finally, screening your volunteers and leaders helps as well. When you get your volunteers to provide referees, a working with children check, and a personal disclosure statement, you are showing them that you take safety seriously. It also shows that your church is ready to make tough decisions about people who aren’t appropriate to care for others. As a clergy member, do you see your church taking these things seriously? Do you take them seriously yourself?
As we all know, this return to face-to-face meetings is no time to be careless. There’s a world of opportunity waiting to be seized as we meet together again. So take the time to think through what this means for those who are vulnerable. Let’s continue to care for them, just as Paul was determined to do in Galatians 2:10.