The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts urges all its churches to write and adopt a “Safe Church Policy.” In addition, Massachusetts state law M.G.L. Chapter 119: Section 51A requires that clergy and paid church employees report to the Department of Social Services instances where there is reasonable cause to believe that a child under the age of eighteen years is suffering physical or emotional injury resulting from abuse. The vestry of Christ Church Waltham has tried to balance diocesan urgency and a mandate from the Commonwealth with a desire to “live the gospel” and represent the congregation and its needs.
The vestry heard many opinions including thoughts suggesting that just because a policy is designed to do something; it does not guarantee it will be successful. It was argued that rules aren’t like some magical wand of protection. At best, rules may give people incentive to do something or a reason to behave a certain way, but they can’t stop people’s inappropriate behavior. Other opinions said that any safe environment is built on trust and that we build trust through countless interactions and experiences with each other.
We pray that at Christ Church we nurture an environment where we can all interact and build trust in each other. In this vein of trust, Christ Church Safe Church Policy was written to document the activities, safeguards, and procedures in place to help provide everyone the opportunity to worship in our sanctuary. We acknowledge that this policy is not a substitute for trust and should never burden our thinking about ways that we can build trust in each other every day.
Section 1: Safe Church Committee
A Safe Church Committee will be established to help ensure we are consistent in communicating our Safe Church policy. The Committee will consist of clergy (i.e., Rector/Priest-in-Charge) and the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee will be responsible for ensuring a screening process has occurred for paid employees including CORI. [See Section 3: CORI verification] The Committee will keep on file a list of those parishioners / employees who have completed Safe Church training, and a copy of the certificate of attendance for each person.
Section 2: Awareness and Training
The Diocese offers a Safe Church training program throughout the year at various parishes in Massachusetts. The training includes two four-hour components: an adult misconduct prevention workshop and a child abuse prevention workshop. The training may be completed in an online module.
Safe Church Training attendance is required for the following persons: all clergy, paid employees of the church (i.e., secretaries, organists, and anyone considered an employee for IRS purposes), anyone who regularly supervises or volunteers to assist with children or youth activities (i.e., youth group advisors, Godly Play storytellers, youth choir leaders, etc.), anyone who provides pastoral care to parishioners in a private setting on behalf of the parish. (i.e., pastoral care visitations)
Section 3: CORI verification
CORI is defined as Criminal Offender Record Information. Christ Church will obtain all available criminal offender record information from the Massachusetts Department of Criminal Justice Information Systems (DCJIS) of any current or prospective employee of the church or volunteer to Godly Play and Youth Ministry.
Section 4: Godly Play and Youth Ministry
Only people who are members or have regularly attended Christ Church for 6 months or more may work as volunteers with children or youth of the parish. Parents of children attending the Godly Play Sunday School may volunteer as their children start the program. Godly Play Sunday School classes should have at least two adults present during class. Whenever possible, two adults should be present where parish children or youth are participating in Church activities. Doors are to be left open at all times in rooms or spaces where children or youth meet. Anyone, especially parents of children or youth, is welcome to observe all meetings of children or youth at any time. No convicted child sex offender is allowed to be involved with children or youth. No one accused of child abuse or neglect should be involved with children while the accusations are still pending.
Section 5: Discrimination and Harassment
Christ Church is a sanctuary providing an environment which is free from discrimination and harassment. Discrimination is defined as treating someone differently on account of personal characteristics such as age, citizenship, disability, marital status, political association, race or ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Harassment is conduct that interferes with an individual’s quality of life by creating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating, or offensive environment. Sexual harassment consists of sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Other examples of harassment include those based on race and sexual orientation.
Section 6: Reporting
If abuse, neglect, discrimination or harassment is disclosed or suspected in good faith, volunteers and staff must make this known directly, in person, to the clergy (i.e., Rector / Priest in Charge.)
If clergy misconduct is disclosed or suspected in good faith, volunteers and staff must make this known directly, in person, to a Christ Church Warden. The Warden must then make this known directly to the Bishop. In the event of an allegation of clergy misconduct, child abuse or neglect the situation will be taken seriously. No person who in good faith reports abuse or neglect is subject to any liability for doing so. (How to recognize clergy misconduct, elder abuse, child abuse and neglect and other misuses of power is taught in the Safe Church training offered by the Diocese.)
Instances of suspected child abuse or neglect will be reported to the Massachusetts Department of Social Services. To report possible child abuse or neglect in Massachusetts, you must first file an oral report by calling the Child-at-Risk Hotline at 1-800-792-5200 to notify the appropriate area office of the Department of Social Services (DSS).
Instances of suspected elder abuse should be reported to the Priest in Charge or a member of the Safe Church Committee.
Section 7: Adult Ministries
We are grateful and recognize the importance of lay people who deliver pastoral care to people who are unable to get to church. One way to measure our pastoral care ministries is to make a record of such visitations. To help document this activity a pastoral care book will be kept at the Church Office. All pastoral care visitations should be recorded in this book following the visit.
Section 8: CORI Policies & Procedures
The following practices and procedures will generally be followed regarding CORI checks:
- CORI checks will only be conducted as authorized by DCJIS. All volunteer applicants will be notified that a CORI check will be conducted and be asked to complete and sign CORI Request Form (see appendix 1). If requested, the applicant will be provided with a copy of the CORI policy.
- An informed review of a criminal record requires adequate training. Accordingly, all personnel authorized to review CORI in the decision-making process will be thoroughly familiar with the educational materials made available by DCJIS.
- Unless otherwise provided by law, a criminal record will not automatically disqualify an applicant. Rather, determinations of suitability based on CORI checks will be made consistent with Section 4 of the Christ Church Waltham Safe Church Policy.
- If a criminal record is received from DCJIS, the authorized individual will closely compare the record provided by DCJIS with the information on the CORI request form and any other identifying information provided by the applicant, to ensure the record relates to the applicant.
- If the Christ Church Episcopal Waltham is inclined to make an adverse decision based on the results of the CORI check, the applicant will be notified immediately. The applicant shall be provided with a copy of the criminal record and the organization’s CORI policy, advised of the part(s) of the record that make the individual unsuitable for the position, and given an opportunity to dispute the accuracy and relevance of the CORI record.
- Applicants challenging the accuracy of the policy shall be provided a copy of DCJIS’s Information Concerning the Process in Correcting a Criminal Record. If the CORI record provided does not exactly match the identification information provided by the applicant, Christ Church Episcopal Waltham will make a determination based on a comparison of the CORI record and documents provided by the applicant. Christ Church Episcopal Waltham may contact DCJIS and request a detailed search consistent with CCJIS policy.
- If the Christ Church Episcopal Waltham reasonably believes the record belongs to the applicant and is accurate, based on the information as provided in section 4 of this policy, then the determination of suitability for the position will be made.
- Christ Church Episcopal Waltham will notify the applicant of the decision and the basis of the decision in a timely manner.
A safe church is a church where people trust each other. Most of us attended churches where there was no safe church policy. Some may wonder and it is important to note that there is no specific incident prompting the adoption of a safe church policy here at Christ Church.
Then why do we have one? The answer is because we have been asked by the Diocese to have one, State law requires reporting by all paid employees, and some members of the church think we should have one. While this policy is not perfect it attempts to put on paper the things that we do, responsibilities that we acknowledge and steps we will follow to provide transparency around our ministry.
We want our members to feel they can gather in the name of Christ in a safe and mutually respectful environment and we aspire to live by the teachings of Jesus that tells us everyone is welcome at His table. We pray this policy supports our ministry and in no way stops us from doing what Jesus would want us to do.
This policy will be reviewed each year, and it is subject to amendment by the Vestry at any time.