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Safe Sanctuaries: putting fresh eyes on your local church policy


By Allison Lindsey, Nurture Team Chair
During the 2022 Annual Conference Session, conference members approved the following two items related to Safe Sanctuaries: 

1.     Every local church will revisit and update (as necessary) their Safe Sanctuaries policy by Dec. 31, 2023
2.     Changes to the conference Safe Sanctuaries Policy were made to reflect updated practices
As you know, Safe Sanctuaries is the name commonly given by local United Methodist Annual Conferences and local churches to their individual efforts to make conference, district, and local church programs welcoming and safe for children and youth. The General Conference mandate of 1996 requires all United Methodist congregations, regardless of size, to implement policies and procedures that help protect children, youth and vulnerable adults; protect the adult workers who serve in these ministries; and protect the various assets of the church for making disciples of Jesus Christ. 
It is always important to take a fresh look at our policy and make sure it reflects current practices as well as to find areas of improvement. As part of an agreement in the Boy Scouts of America lawsuit settlement that took place this past year, we have made the commitment that all of our churches will do this by December 31, 2023. 
To help you do this, I want to highlight a few of the key updates we made to the conference Safe Sanctuaries policy at Annual Conference. Some of these updates were made because of requirements from our insurance company and others were changes based on current practices since the policy was written in 2007. The conference policy can serve as a guide to help strengthen your local church policy. The newly adopted conference policy can be found here.

1.     Local churches are strongly encouraged to include best practices for the use of technology/social media for their ministry context. 

2.     Revised language is included for the Two-Adult Rule to now include the Rule of Three. This outlines in writing what we put into practice in our local churches. Provided wording: The two-adult rule is advisable at all times for the supervision of children, as described above. If there are periods of time when the Two Adult Rule cannot be implemented, the implementation of the Rule of Three for children and youth should be implemented. The Rule of Three requires at least three individuals (at least one being an adult employee or volunteer) be present at every function and in each classroom, vehicle, or other enclosed area during all activities involving children, youth, or vulnerable adults. For special circumstances that increase the likelihood of abuse or false allegations of abuse, the Two Adult Rule should be preferred. When the Rule of Three is adopted, other provisions (e.g., six month rule and premises monitor) should be more firmly stated than would otherwise be acceptable under the Two Adult Rule. It is also recommended that the age, capacity, and familial relationships of ministry participants be considered when approving the Rule of Three. Legal difficulties are posed by the competency and credibility of testimony from relatives, very young children, or individuals with other legal incapacities.

3.     Churches are asked to contact their insurance provider to ensure necessary coverage and language are in place for their church. (Your insurance company is a tremendous resource in regards to liability and coverage.)

4.     The South Georgia Conference strongly urges all local churches, Conference agencies and ministries to insist that outside groups using their facilities comply with Safe Sanctuaries policies and procedures and have a written Facility Use Agreement in place for such groups. With the unfolding of the Boy Scout lawsuit and settlement, the need to be more diligent with layers of protection in place for ALL individuals that come to our church for a program or event is evident. 
I truly can’t say thank you enough to our local churches for your continued commitment in your focus around Safe Sanctuaries. Because South Georgia has been so diligent in the area of Safe Sanctuaries since first implementing in 2007, you understand the need to provide a safe and nurturing environment for our children, youth and vulnerable adults as well as ministry volunteers.  
The Nurture Team and the Office of Connectional Ministries continue to be a resource for questions, training and assistance regarding Safe Sanctuaries in your local church. For more information and additional resources, visit the Conference website.

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