Safe Church

By Rev Philip Gardner

Posted in Safe Church

It is that time of year when people review the last year. Best books of 2020, best films and best albums and so on. Of course 2020 is going to be a year reviewed like few others. It will be interesting to read the reflections of Church leaders.

One of the consistent discussion points is likely to be the significant learning that has taken place in on-line worship and meeting. Leaders in churches of all sizes and types had to pivot quickly in response to the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. (‘Pivot’ now that was a popular word in 2020!) I have been astounded by the skills and creativity of many of my colleagues. As well, the genuine care shared by many congregations for their neighbourhoods.

It didn’t take long for those with oversight for Safe Church matters in the Church to begin reflecting on the potential pitfalls of on-line worship and meeting. Concerns were raised about showing children in their homes in ways that were identifiable, of potential abusers having greater access to people through Zoom gatherings and concerns about bullying and inappropriate conversations on-line.

Some of these concerns are perennial ones in whatever the environment, and thoughtfulness and planning will reduce, if not eliminate, those concerns. I’ve learned the hard way that ten minutes of planning and review can save hours of tidying up afterward, and even long-term damage to others. Engaging with the processes in the Called to Care program of the Synod of South Australia is a good place to start. If you haven’t participated in this course or it has been a long time you might like to check on upcoming courses in the New Year or contact Linda Vinall, Training and Development Officer: calledtocare@sa.uca.org.au

There are also unique issues related to the on-line environment. The capacity of an on-line community to witness and participate in bullying and shaming increases the stress and anxiety considerably. The ability of someone to hide their identity or adopt a different persona on-line is also a particular danger. At a Safe as Churches? Conference a few years ago I heard a very helpful presentation from the eSafety Commissioner (who knew we had one)! The eSafety Commission has significant powers to protect members of the public. For example, if a social media platform refuses to take down a shaming post they have powers to enforce its removal. I was reminded of how helpful the commission is by Rev John Cox, Director of the National Safe Church Unit last week when he alerted us to a new report on on-line safety for young people with intellectual disabilities. Their website which has other useful resources can be found at https://www.esafety.gov.au.

I would also recommend that you have a look at the resource produced by the Intergen Team of Mission Resourcing. This is a helpful starting place. https://intergenteam.ucasa.org.au/safety-practices-for-online-youth-ministry/

I trust that you have a joyful Christmas and a safe and creative New Year.

Rev Philip Gardner


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