Our church has a long history of taking seriously our role in protecting children who participate in our Children’s and Youth Ministries. We consider it a joy to welcome children from infancy onward as a part of our church family, and to share with parents the obligation and privilege to instruct boys and girls in Christ.
For many years, New Life has required background checks (Pennsylvania Child Abuse clearance and National Criminal History) for anyone working regularly with children (i.e. twice a month or more–others have been permitted to serve less frequently without background checks, under the supervision of those regular teachers and helpers). We have had careful guidelines for bathroom visits and for pickup and drop-off of children to their classrooms. We’ve had hallway coordinators in place outside the classrooms, and have had a policy that there should always be two adults in the room with children. We’ve thought proactively about removing opportunities for abusers: we’ve installed windows and locks in classroom doors and closed off access to less well-traveled parts of the building. We’ve required volunteers to participate in a Child Abuse Prevention Seminar, to insure that volunteers understand the policies and how they are to be implemented. And we have provided volunteers with information about Pennsylvania’s ChildLine reporting system and encouraged reporting when necessary.
The Elders have directed the staff to implement these kinds of policies, not because we’ve been required to by law nor primarily because of fears of liability, but because it’s the right thing to do, to insure the safety of children–because we know enough about our fallen human nature to know that we cannot be naive. We know that predators target faith communities that have their guard down, who have ministry needs to fill and are eager to extend trust to people. So we have resolutely pledged before the Lord, in dependence on him, that children will not be abused on our watch. And God has been gracious to protect our children and our church.
I am grateful to Nicholas Black for his pioneering work in this area a number of years ago. Erik Larsen also made a helpful contribution, and Rosemarie Green and Jan Timlin have been partners in this good work. Many of you have done your part to abide by policies so as to allow children safely to be included in church life. Thank you, all!
In recent months the state of Pennsylvania has enacted legislation to mandate child protection procedures in schools, children’s sports, scouting, religious organizations, and anywhere else where children are entrusted to the care of adults. This is good legislation, and my prayer is that it will result in a decrease in child sexual abuse in our state. Because of the good work done by New Life leadership in the past, we are in a good place relative to complying with the law. But we do need to change some of our policies, and so we want you to understand these changes, as we seek your support and participation in Children’s and Youth Ministries in the year to come.
First and foremost, the law is clear that now no one may serve in a capacity that puts them in direct contact with children, without having acquired clearances. One is not necessarily excluded from service by having a criminal record; we have discretion as we function as a community of redeemed sinners, to think wisely about how best each of us might serve in the body. However, anyone with a documented history of child abuse will not be permitted to serve in any children’s or youth ministry. And be reassured that private information will be held in very high confidence. These clearances must now be obtained every three years–in the past the requirement was every seven years. Kids under the age of 18 may serve without clearances, but upon reaching the age of 18 will need to obtain them before they may continue. Where in the past we felt the freedom to have a limited “grace period” during which volunteers could begin to serve while their paperwork was in process, now we must have received the required clearances before someone may work with children.
The primary area we will need to make some changes is in our baby and toddler nursery. New Life has long had a practice of every-member participation in nursery duty, and many of you have served twice a year without being required to do background checks. (Doorkeepers and BabyLife coordinators have been required to do the necessary paperwork.) In order to comply with the requirements of the law, we’re now moving to a plan that will require fewer, but more regular, nursery workers, all of whom will be required to complete background checks. We would like still to maintain an expectation that most of us will serve in this way–and so our hope is that most of the church will obtain clearances. Some of us may choose to serve more than quarterly (perhaps every other month or monthly); it would be a great encouragement if some of you would step up in this way. New Life has set up accounts with the various clearance agencies, so volunteers will not have to incur the costs associated with these clearances. However, in order to save New Life the costs involved, if you already have clearances, please give copies to the New Life receptionist as soon as possible. See the enclosure for specific steps to take.
In light of the truths of the passage we studied last Sunday, I want, too, to extend a wider invitation for more of us to consider regular service with children of a variety of ages. In order to excel at ministry to children, we need a wide base of volunteers to play a part in this “mission-critical” endeavor. In the preschool and elementary classes, we are seeking teachers who will commit to teach most every Sunday–or, in some cases, to share a class with another teacher and teach twice a month. Our desire is to work with you to help you succeed as a teacher. Regular helpers who serve once or twice a month–or every week–insure a regularity of staffing that frees the teacher up to teach, and allows the opportunity for genuine relationships to grow between adults and kids. These kinds of relationships in the body are priceless–we believe that truth communicated in the context of relationship is more powerful than things taught apart from such regularity. Trust and love are key to learning. And we will always work with you to cover for you when you are away or sick or otherwise unable to serve as scheduled.
We are asking you to pray about this need, and to communicate soon in regard to your response to the need, so that we can get you a packet that will walk you through the procedure. (Some of you already have at least some clearances in place because of your recent service in KidsLife, in which case we’ll just address any missing pieces.) Rosemarie Green is still in the saddle and would love to hear from you. We’re also planning to have a table set up on Sundays, May 24 and 31, in order to distribute packets and answer questions.
Thank you for understanding the enormous kingdom potential of “ordinary” children’s ministry. Sometimes what seems of little consequence is actually very significant. Join us as we continue to engage this moment for Christ’s kingdom in this place.