Jesus said, "Whoever welcomes [a] child... welcomes me" (Matthew 18:5). Children are our present and our future, our hope, our teachers, our inspiration. They are full participants in the life of the church and in the realm of God.
God calls us to make our churches safe places, protecting children and other vulnerable persons from abuse. God calls us to create communities of faith where children and adults grow safe and strong. Safe Sanctuaries is our response to this church wide challenge.
Safe Sanctuaries for Ministers (Best Practices and Ethical Decisions – 2009 edition) by Joy Thornburg Melton.
Safe Sanctuaries: The Church Responds to Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation of Older Adults by Joy Thornburg Melton and Richard Genzler.
Safe Sanctuaries in a Virtual World by Joy Thornburg Melton and Michelle L. Foster.
As a Christian community of faith and a United Methodist congregation, you should:
Educate the church above the importance of Safe Sanctuaries
Write and implement policy and procedures in all programs and for all events.
Screen paid and volunteer workers.
Train paid and volunteer workers regarding policies and procedures.
Report suspected incidents of child abuse according to Georgia state law; respond appropriately to both victim and the accused as well as to media inquiries if an incident occurs.
Safely store confidential documents.
The General Conference mandate of 1996 requires all United Methodist congregations regardless of size to implement policies and procedures to make sure no harm comes to those under the age of 18 or vulnerable adults while they are in our care and ministry. Every General Conference since 1996 has reaffirmed this commitment.
We promise at every baptism:
With God’s help we will so order our lives after the example of Christ, that this child, surrounded by steadfast love, may be established in the faith, and confirmed and strengthened in the way that leads to life eternal. United Methodist Hymnal, p.44
A congregation's Safe Sanctuaries Policy is one step in fulfilling this promise.
What should churches do to keep participants safe from abuse and workers safe from false allegations of abuse?
Safe Sanctuaries, written by Rev. Joy Thornburg Melton, can guide you through the process. Each church should recruit a team of church leaders, including Nursery, Children’s and Youth staff, age level coordinators, chairpersons from Trustees and Finance committees, educators, attorneys and police persons to write policy and procedures for each church’s governing body to adopt. If a church is not actively engaged in enforcement of their policies and procedures, they run the risk of being found negligent.
The North Georgia Conference has a contractual relationship with PeopleFacts Powered by Trak-1, a national company that provides online training for Safe Sanctuaries and background checks for staff and volunteers.
Local congregations should register with PeopleFacts (with no registration fee to the church) and receive an ID number. There are instructions on running a background check. All records will be housed with PeopleFacts and they will send reminders when re-checks are to be done.
There is online training available that has been created to fill the unique information pertinent to Georgia law and has been provided by Joy Melton, author of all the Safe Sanctuaries resources.
In Georgia, all volunteers and staff members in ministry with children and youth are mandated reporters of child abuse, as are all clergy. Those "having reasonable cause to believe that a child has been abused shall report or cause reports of that abuse to be made."
If you believe a child, youth, or vulnerable adult to be in imminent danger call 911.
You should know your church’s procedures for notifying the appropriate church staff including the Senior Pastor, Church Administrator, Staff Parish Relations Chairperson, and your District Superintendent.
To report child abuse, contact the Department of Family and Children's Services. Call 1-855-GACHILD.
For reporting abuse regarding adults, you may contact Georgia Adult Protective Services at aging.georgia.gov or by calling Georgia’s Aging and Disability Network at 1-866-552-4464.
Many congregations in the North Georgia Conference are seeking to ensure the physical safety of the people on their campus during the week and Sunday services.
Each congregation is in a unique setting so should work toward a safety system that meets its specific needs.
Contacts that can help your congregation:
If your church needs help getting started or updating current policies contact:
Safe Sanctuaries Rep. for NGUMC