Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Who Is Welcome In Your Congregation?

As some of my loyal readers know, I regularly assist congregations on policies and procedures to assure that children and youth are safe from sexual abuse and harassment -- both within in the congregation and at home. I am the author of a book for congregations "A Time to Heal" that addresses keeping children safe and how to potentially minister to a person with a history of sex offenses.

Today's San Diego Union includes a story of a church in California that has consulted with me about how to respond to a person on the sex offender registry list who seeks to attend their church. As a result of coming forward to the church, explaining his status, and asking for their support and an accountable structure, and the ensuing furor by some members and some parents, the man has lost his job and his home.

The story is a warning for all congregations. They did not have a safe congregations policy, they did not have procedures in place for dealing with an accused or convicted sexual offender, their congregants had not been educated about the realities of sexual abuse prevention, and so now they are in a crisis situation about what to do. They are far from alone. Almost all of the congregations who contact me for assistance around these issues have not addressed them until a KNOWN sex offender is in their midst.

Notice the word "KNOWN." Because the probability is that every congregation has members who are sexually attracted to children. The sex offender who is known to us, who is on a limited access agreement that denies him or her any contact with children but welcomes them to adult worship and education, is NOT a risk to the young people in our congregation. It is the person we don't know, the person who is sitting next to us in church or working with our children, who IS. And that's why policies for screening all volunteers who work with children, doing backround checks for all staff and employees, having a two adult in the classroom rule, providing annual sexual abuse prevention lessons to children and parents, and SO ON are so important.

Does your congregation have a written policy? What's your experience been with these issues? I hope you'll share your experience.

And if you'd like a copy of "A Time to Heal", call our publisher at 419-872-7448.

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