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We recommend that all Unitarian Universalist institutions—congregations, Districts, Sponsored Organizations, and the UUA itself—adopt the following guidelines when calling ministers, hiring professional religious leaders and staff, and recruiting volunteers whose work will put them in close contact with children and persons in vulnerable circumstances. We further recommend that the governing board of each institution hold its search, nominating, recommending, credentialing, and hiring bodies (hereafter “committees”), including the UUA Ministerial Fellowship Committee and the Religious Educator Credentialing Committee (hereafter “committees”), accountable for installing procedures in accordance with these policies:
- The institution shall only consider persons who have completed an
application or questionnaire that includes a year-by-year educational,
employment, and military service history going back to age 18. This history
should include contact information for the immediate supervisor or other
responsible reference for each position, when that is not possible perhaps,
other persons, who have known the persons during this time may be identified.
For an example of such application see the “Application for Paid or Volunteer
Employment” in the Forms section.
- The institution shall only call, hire, accept for service in a sensitive
volunteer capacity, or credential a person who has signed and/or agreed to abide
- an authorization and release that permits the committee to request and
receive information related to any prior activity involving physical harm to or
sexual abuse or harassment of any person or the threat of any such conduct. This
release shall hold harmless from liability any person or organization that
provides information, and shall hold the institution harmless for treating any
such information received in the best interests of the institution and the UUA
and/or as prescribed by law. For an example of such a release, see “Applicant’s
Statement and Release” in the Forms section.
- a statement disclosing or denying any prior convictions for any crimes, both
felonies or misdemeanors (to the extent permitted by law), and pledging to
notify the institution of any arrest, charge, conviction, or other relevant
information, such as motor vehicle license revocation, in the future. For an
example of such a statement see “Voluntary Disclosure Statement” in the Forms
- a statement disclosing or denying any prior activity involving sexual
misconduct, physical harm to or sexual abuse or harassment of any person on
thebasis of sex, race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, age, or
disability. For an example of such a statement see “Voluntary Disclosure
Statement” in the Forms section.
- a Fair Credit Reporting Act Disclosure. For an example of such a statement
see “Applicant’s Statement and Release” in the Forms section.
- the applicable code of professional ethics:
for ministers, the UUMA Code of Professional Practice;
for religious educators, the LREDA Code of Professional Practices;
for church musicians, the UU Musicians Network Code of Professional Practices (PDF); and
for church administrators, the Association of UU Administrators Code of Ethics
- an authorization and release that permits the committee to request and receive information related to any prior activity involving physical harm to or sexual abuse or harassment of any person or the threat of any such conduct. This release shall hold harmless from liability any person or organization that provides information, and shall hold the institution harmless for treating any such information received in the best interests of the institution and the UUA and/or as prescribed by law. For an example of such a release, see “Applicant’s Statement and Release” in the Forms section.
- Where the position to be filled entails the use of a motor vehicle to drive
individuals affiliated with the institution on field trips or to doctors’
offices, the institution shall only hire or accept for service persons who have
a valid driver’s license and proof of insurance and who pledge to notify the
institution of any license suspension or revocation, conviction for moving
violation, or other restriction on driving.
- The institution shall only credential, hire, or accept for service in a
sensitive volunteer capacity, a person whose employment and educational history
and, in the case of ministers and professional leaders, history of service has
been verified. In addition, all references should be reviewed and contacted.
- The committee shall conduct telephone reference checks, which it may wish to
precede with letters of inquiry, with educational institutions, previous
employers, and other persons that inquire about the individual’s qualifications,
performance and conduct. Where appropriate, the committee shall specifically
inquire about whether the reference has any concerns about the person’s
potential to harm others, and whether the person has had any prior incidence of
inappropriate conduct such as sexual contact with
- Any individual the person was seeing in a professional or congregational
- Any individual under age 18.
- Any individual the person was seeing in a professional or congregational context.
- Special consideration s for ministers: Committees shall initially obtain
from the minister at least three references for each congregation served. Where
a minister has served in multiple interim ministries, and in the case of
positions held more than twenty years earlier, two references per congregation
may suffice. In interviewing these “named” references, the committee is advised
to ask them for additional, “developed” references. Once the minister is one of
no more than eight under consideration, and only with the minister's permission,
the committee is encouraged to contact developed references in congregations the
minister has previously served. Once the minister has consented to be the
committee's candidate, and only with the minister's permission, the committee is
encouraged to contact developed references in the congregation presently served.
The UUA Transitions Director and the District Executive should be
- All transcripts, letters, e-mail messages, and other documents received, and
all notes of conversations conducted as a part of the reference check shall be
retained as part of the person’s personnel record if employed or accepted for
service. This file shall be kept in a secure location, for example a locked file
cabinet accessible only by the board chair and others as authorized by the Board
- No such documents received in connection with persons who are not employed
or accepted for service shall be retained except as mandated by law; those not
so retained shall be destroyed.
- In the case of ministers, such documents shall include the “interpretive
file summary” prepared by the Transitions Office.
- The committee may arrange with an outside agency to conduct sex offender and
criminal background checks and other checks as recommended, depending on the
position for which the person is being considered and its specific
responsibilities. Such arrangements may require the use of additional disclosure
and authorization forms required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
- The committee shall conduct telephone reference checks, which it may wish to precede with letters of inquiry, with educational institutions, previous employers, and other persons that inquire about the individual’s qualifications, performance and conduct. Where appropriate, the committee shall specifically inquire about whether the reference has any concerns about the person’s potential to harm others, and whether the person has had any prior incidence of inappropriate conduct such as sexual contact with
- In all cases, the reference and background checks are to be conducted by the
committee responsible for making the recommendation to call, to hire, or to
accept the service of the volunteer. In most cases, to avoid needless inquiry
and unnecessary expense, the background check should only be conducted on the
committee’s finalist. Once the recommendation is made, the results of the
reference and background checks are to be delivered to the board chair for
retention or destruction.
- We recommend that each outgoing board chair pass on to his/her successor the
means of access to material concerning persons currently on the church staff or
in its membership.
- We recommend that all congregations compose a church staff covenant, and
that all ministers, religious educators, and church staff be required to abide
by the covenant as a condition of service.
- We recommend that the UUA conduct all appropriate criminal conviction
reviews on its current staff if it has not already done so.
- We recommend that all professional staff—i.e. ministers, religious educators, administrators, and music directors—and all members of the congregational boards of trustees submit themselves to criminal conviction reviews in order to model, as leaders, the conduct they expect of new ordained and lay leaders.
We recommend the following agencies from which to obtain
The following agencies provide extensive information on their services on line, including the ability to order services online:
- Oxford Document Management Company, Inc.
655 West Highway 10
Anoka, MN 55303-1623
Note: The UUA has contracted with this agency to conduct background checks at a reduced cost.
- Church Mutual Insurance Company’s Screen Now program, with services provided
3000 Schuster Lane
P.O. Box 357
Merrill, Wisconsin 54452
- CORI check—Criminal Offender Record Information (Massachusetts only)
III. Interpretation and Evaluation
- A committee in receipt of information about a person that is cause for
concern should consider the information in the context of the person’s candor
with the committee, previous steps taken by the person and others to address the
issue, and steps taken to address whatever consequences it may have had for
others and to prevent future problems. Lack of candor or honesty on an
application form—e.g., a denial of any criminal convictions when a background
check reveals otherwise—should usually result in rejection of the person or
termination of the employee unless the individual is able to provide a very
persuasive and adequate explanation for the discrepancy.
- When a person has a criminal conviction history, the impact of such a
conviction history may vary depending on the unique circumstances presented in
each case. For instance, the hiring authority must consider the nature of the
crimes committed and their relationship to the job in question. The hiring
authority must also evaluate whether the person could perform acceptably in
spite of the conviction or whether the person can adhere to certain clear agreed
upon limits or boundaries to their activities within the church community. Thus,
the hiring authority should consider a person’s efforts at rehabilitation, work
record, and the remoteness in time of the conviction. These factors may provide
facts to support a decision to hire a person despite his/her conviction
- We recommend that the UUA allocate funds for and require the following staff
to obtain advanced training in personnel evaluation in order to assist
committees in interpreting and evaluating the information they obtain:
- Transitions Director and Religious Education Credentialing Director, MPL
- Lay Leadership Development Director and Young Adult and Campus Ministry Director, CS
- Youth Office Director, LFD
- Field staff and District Services Director, DS
- We recommend that every committee schedule a session facilitated by a person with advanced training in personnel evaluation in which the essential and recommended questions (see Appendix B) are a topic for discussion. See the Creating Safe Congregations Workbook II, to be issued soon.
IV. When the News is Bad
There will be occasions—may they be rare!—when the results of the criminal conviction check rule the person out of consideration. The temptation at this point may be to tell a “white lie,” so as to avoid the difficult conversation that must take place. Don’t succumb! As theologian Langdon Gilkey was fond of saying, “Religion is where we deal with the negativities.” In dealing with the negativities sensitively, even tenderly, while no less firmly, we affirm ourselves and our faith communities as both compassionate and responsible. Living, as we must, in the world as we find it, sometimes the best we can hope for is an environment in which misbehavior is named, consequences exacted, rehabilitation encouraged, and recovery respected, and in which covenants are authentic compounds of realism, respect, and redemption.
V. UUA Background Check Packages
We recommend that the UUA negotiate with a provider a variety of “UUA background check packages” for the various congregational positions, and that it maintain online links to the recommended agencies on UUA.org. The intent is to make the background check relatively easy to carry out and reasonable in price to help congregations ensure they are taking appropriate steps to protect children, youth, and vulnerable adults in their congregation and ensure the healthy functioning of the congregation at large. It is important to remember that these recommendations are not intended to serve as the maximum level of screening or review for potential employees or volunteers. Each organization must take responsibility for determining appropriate screening and hiring practices according to their unique circumstances in support of their UU mission. Once a hiring decision is made it is also important that appropriate policies be adopted to minimize the potential for harm and that appropriate supervision and oversight of all operations and individuals in ongoing.