by Rev. Kevin Nollette, Associate EP
One of my avocations is participation in prison ministry. At first I resisted the invitation to participate in ministry to the incarcerated; now my life would seem incomplete without the opportunity of sharing the life of faith with incarcerated brothers. If you are interested in ministry to those who are incarcerated I’d be delighted to connect you with a ministry in your area.
Anyway, as a result of my work with those in prison I am required to annually attend training offered by the Department of Corrections. Last Saturday I spent a large portion of the day reviewing the boundary and misconduct prevention training all volunteers and employees of the Department of Corrections must complete and renew annually. The Department of Corrections does not care whether we have been to the training 20 times or this is the first time - we all MUST take, and renew the training annually.
When I worked as a volunteer firefighter we were required to take similar training. As far back as the 1970’s when I was working in education and social services we took and annually retook this type of training.
The church has actually been behind the curve in this important area of protecting those who are vulnerable in our midst. The reasons vary: denial, the unseemliness of the issue, the perceptions that we are “nice” people, that we know one another, or that we are like “family.” Sadly, most instances of boundary violations and abuse take place between people who know one another, and especially in close groups and families.
The church’s historic complacence has resulted in countless broken lives, hearts and deeply injured souls. It is especially egregious that the place that should be the center of the good news, a source of healing and restoration should have become for some a place of utter desolation. So we find ourselves redoubling our efforts in the church to assure that the church will not be the source of any more sorrow and heartache.
We require that of our clergy to attend misconduct prevention training at least once every three years. We require that churches and every entity of the church have misconduct prevention plans and policies. We offer training opportunities for Ruling Elders, Deacons, and church volunteers in this area. Through our insurance carrier we can assist churches in obtaining background checks of church employees and volunteers.
Still, background checks, training, and policies are of no use if they are simply done in a pro-forma way. We really need to understand that it is the responsibility of all of us to prevent the abuse and exploitation of children and any vulnerable person. We desperately need to grasp that we are one another’s keeper, watching lest another fall. Protecting one another with the guard of actually following the training, policies and tools available to us.
The Department of Corrections emphasizes that, “If you see it, You own it.” That is to say we all are responsible, even if we only suspect there is a problem, or only a risk of a problem developing. That when we see others in vulnerable situations we owe it to them as well as those we serve to speak up and act.
Frankly, if secular institutions are so concerned, how can we as the church fail to be still more diligent?
In the coming week there is another opportunity to participate in Misconduct Prevention Training. If you are a pastor who has not been to training within the last three years this is a good opportunity to renew your training. If you are an Ruling Elder, Deacon, or volunteer in the church here is an opportunity for you too to be trained. Click here for information.
Beyond training, let us act so that all will find the church to be a refuge and place of peace.
by Rev. Kevin Nollette, Associate EP