Today I want to introduce you to a dear friend who is one of my favorite ministers, David Duncan. I met David while growing up and came to know him better in my time as an undergrad. I have found him to be thoughtful, courageous, and often willing to say what everyone else knows but is afraid to articulate. David contacted me almost immediately after the first post in this series went live to share information about what his congregation, Memorial Church of Christ in Houston, does to protect their kids from abuse. He has graciously shared his heart and some practical tools for this important conversation.
Christianity seems to be in a precarious position among many in the United States. Just a few decades ago it seemed that some form of pseudo-Christian culture would dominate schools, neighborhoods and thought in most sections of the country for as long as anyone could imagine. For those of us living in America’s largest cities, it is obvious that a great number of people would like Christian ideals to be moved to the nether regions or even entirely disintegrate.
In such an environment we should not be surprised when those hurt by church people go to the police or even the media. Although I am embarrassed each time a sexual or physical abuse case makes its way on to the evening news, I know it is a good thing that it is being reported. Christians, of all people, should care for children and all of society’s most vulnerable. We should also be the first to admit our sins.
As far as I know, the congregation I work in has never had an incident of any type of abuse of anyone in any type of church setting or relationship. We are also committed to doing all we can to make sure our children and adults will always be safe in our care. Like many congregations, we have instituted several safety procedures to protect our children and adults. We believe that is better to be proactive rather than reactive.
First, every person that works with our children or youth submit to a background check. Every class teacher, assistant, nursery worker, trip sponsor, bus driver, minister, and even puppeteer is screened before allowed to volunteer for any activity with youth 18 years old or younger.
Second, every person working with youth or children undergoes a two-hour safety training course before being permitted to volunteer. The training and background checks are also mandatory for every elder and minister, regardless of ministry assignments.
As may be expected, implementing the program received some resistance. Wonderful volunteers that had been giving their time for years were a little surprised that they would be asked to undergo the same scrutiny as new people to the program. While understandable, there were some reasons that they were asked to participate.
First, we did not want anyone think favoritism was being shown to any particular person. Second, if there was a current or past problem, we need to be made aware of the situation. Third, background checks and safety training actually protects the volunteers. If they were ever accused of a horrible action, they would be able to show their past willingness to be properly instructed and screened.
The material we use to train our volunteers is popular among churches. We used the Reducing the Risk curriculum promoted by Church Law and Tax and Christianity Today. The video series costs $69.95. We also use some of our own information for our particular setting.
A two hour presentation made by workers serving our children and youth was initially made to the majority of our volunteers and offered at four separate times. A test over the videos was completed by each participant. Because we add volunteers on a fairly regular basis, all of the information has been recorded and is required viewing for all future volunteers.
We cannot make up for mistakes that might have happened in the past. We can, however, do everything we know possible today to ensure the children, youth and adults in our care for the future are dealt with properly. God has given us great responsibility and we plan to use it in a way that honors Him.