Since the mandate in 1996 by the General Conference for all annual conferences and local churches to adopt child protection policies, the United Methodist Church has been a leader in ensuring that the children, youth, and vulnerable adults entrusted to us are cared for in safe and loving environments. In 2003, the North Alabama Conference adopted its first Safe Sanctuaries policy, which has continued to evolve to meet the changing needs of the Annual Conference and churches across North Alabama.
That evolution continues this year as members of the Annual Conference will vote on revisions to the Conference policy as proposed by the Conference Safe Sanctuaries Team. "We believe that these changes will offer flexibility for local churches and other ministries of the North Alabama Conference to be effective in their local context while still maintaining the high standards of protection for which the North Alabama Conference is known," says John Fleischauer, Safe Sanctuaries Coordinator for the Annual Conference.
These changes include clarifying key elements of the Conference policy including:
- minimum requirements for background checks
- who is able to serve in staff and volunteer capacities
- how many adults are required to supervise groups of children, youth, and vulnerable adults
The revised policy also distinguishes between the Safe Sanctuaries policy that is applicable to Conference events, such as Encounter and Exit456, and the minimum standards for policies adopted by local churches and extension ministries directly accountable to the Conference.
Fleischauer also notes that the revised policy opens the door for additional resources for local churches and ministries. "We have some exciting initiatives coming in the near future, including an improved structure for connecting churches with trainers and improved guidance for working with vulnerable adults based on the best practices that several of our churches are already using."
Churches which have not adopted a policy or need to revise theirs also have resources available to them, including online and classroom workshops for writing a policy from the beginning. According to Fleischauer, "We believe that adopting a Safe Sanctuaries policy is one of the most effective ways of sharing with communities that our churches love them and care about the safety of their children. It has long been a myth that Safe Sanctuaries requires substantial time and resources when the reality is that a perfectly acceptable policy can often be written in an afternoon. Doing so helps to ensure that not only are the children, youth, and vulnerable adults within our care protected, but also each church and its life-changing work in the community."
The updated Conference Safe Sanctuaries Policy will be printed in the pre-conference book provided to all clergy and lay members of the Annual Conference. Those with questions about the Conference Safe Sanctuaries Program are encouraged to contact John Fleischauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (205) 226-7963. Churches interested in scheduling a training should contact their Safe Sanctuaries Consultant (in the Northwest and Mountain Lakes districts) or their district office in all other districts.