Safer Congregations Committee

Part of Board Committees

By Safe Congregations Team

Pavement with a smiley face spray painted in yellow with the words Stay Safe stenciled underneath

The Safer Congregations Committee is responsible for the overall oversight of the safety ministry and is accountable to the Board. With the Board, the Committee formulates the mission and vision of the safety ministry. It assesses the risks facing the congregation, establishes policies and procedures for the safety ministry, and works with the Board on safety and security policies and procedures for the congregation. The Committee may reach out to and consult with members and community partners for assistance in creating certain policies and procedures for the congregation.

This committee should offer a report at each annual meeting of the congregation. Links to policies should appear at least annually in the congregation newsletter, should be used as appropriate in training/orientation for leaders and teachers, and be included in new member packets.

The Safer Congregations Committee falls under the congregational governing body (the Board). Its members are selected or approved by the Board. Other members should include:

  • the religious educator or person responsible for ministry with children,
  • a member of the Board,
  • lay leaders with experience or expertise in law, emergency management, and,
  • someone who brings awareness and sensitivity to the particular needs of the elderly, persons with disabilities, and persons from historically (and currently) marginalized groups.

In smaller congregations, the Board and the Committee may be one and the same. In these instances, it becomes important to ensure that resource people outside the congregation are consulted for input on areas the committee members can't address themselves.

Safer Congregations Response Team

The role of a Safer Congregation Response Team is to offer confidential support, advice, and counsel with concern for the safety of all parties involved in any situations involving allegations of abuse. It is beneficial to form this team proactively, often during the policy creation stage, allowing them to be prepared in the event of abuse allegations within the congregation. The Safer Congregation Response Team has the following responsibilities:

  • Know about community resources for child abuse, treatment for sex offenders, and support groups for survivors.
  • Know about state laws regarding reporting.
  • Be a resource for people to share their concerns.
  • Evaluate applications for religious education teachers and youth group leaders as requested by the minister or professional religious educator.
  • Facilitate annual training for religious education staff and teachers on issues, policies, and procedures relevant to sexual/physical abuse.
  • Work with relevant committees to ensure that the sexual abuse prevention education sections of the Our Whole Lives curricula are offered at each age level.
  • Develop a process for timely and appropriate handling of allegations of possible abuse, and receive allegations of possible abuse.
  • If persons in the congregation need limits placed on their activities, such as members on probation for disruptive behavior or people who've been convicted of sex offenses and released, the team helps develop and enforce a Limited Access Agreement

All activities of the Team will be conducted in a confidential fashion and may only be disclosed when necessary and appropriate as determined by the Team. Records of incidents addressed and decisions made will be documented and treated as confidential information.

A Response Team is generally composed of

  • the minister, remembering that their role is primarily pastoral in nature,
  • the religious educator,
  • the president of the board and
  • three members of the congregation preferably with experience in abuse response or prevention.

Lay-led or smaller congregations may put together a three-person team. Gender balance should be given consideration in appointments. Some congregations have developed a panel of six to eight members of the congregation who can be called upon as needed to form a response team. Although some congregations form such a response team only after there has been an allegation, this is unlikely to provide the wisdom and continuity that is required.

We refer you to Becoming a Safer Congregation: A UU Guide to effective Safety Policies and Practices for how to get this work started.