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Worst Case Scenarios...and How to Be Prepared

By Renee Ruchotzke



The phone rings. There is an anxious board president on the phone with a crisis on their hands. Perhaps their minister has fallen seriously ill, or there is a member who is regularly disrupting the Sunday worship service, or a registered sex offender has expressed interest in attending the church. Some situations cannot be anticipated or prevented. But there are many situations where having the right policies, procedures and safeguards in place will help a congregation get through a crisis. Here is a checklist for your board to use to determine your congregation's preparedness:

  1. Make Sure Your Staff Members Have Adequate Insurance.
    Having your minister fall ill and not be able to perform their duties would be hard on the congregation. Having your minister not be able to perform their duties—with no financial safety net—would be devastating. Make sure that, along with your health plan, you include group insurance plans that include term life and long-term disability insurance. These are relatively inexpensive add-ons to insurance policies.
  2. Make Sure Your Congregation Has Adequate Insurance.
    Call your insurance agent for an insurance check-up. Many UU congregations use Church Mutual, because they have an understanding of the needs of liberal religious communities. Insurance can help your congregation recover financially after a fire, embezzlement or other harmful event.
  3. Set up Clear Expectations About Behaviors.
    Even if you recite a traditional covenant on Sunday morning (i.e. Love is the Spirit of this church....) you will want to have a behavioral covenant or a covenant of right relations that spells out how members promise to treat one another. In addition to this, you will want a disruptive behavior policy so that you give your leaders the authority to set limits on particularly damaging behaviors, and a process for restoring right relationship if the disruptive person is willing to abide by the limits.
  4. Make Sure Your Congregation Has Well-Communicated "Safer Congregations" Policies.
    The Religious Institute has well-defined "best practices" for congregations to prevent sexual abuse, sexual harassment and professional sexual misconduct. They also provide resources on how to include known sex offenders in your community while still protecting your other members and children. Your congregational commitment to sexual safety should be known to every member.
  5. Establish and Practice Emergency Evacuation Procedures.
    In case of a fire, tornado, live shooter or other immediate emergency, you will want to have your staff, greeters/ushers and teachers know what to do and where to go. It's especially important to practice evacuating once or twice a year so that if—heaven forbid—the real thing happens, everyone knows what to do. Also make sure your leaders are familiar with the post-trauma response resources from the UUA.

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About the Author

Renee Ruchotzke

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke (ruh-HUT-skee) has served as a Congregational Life Consultant in the Central East Region since September of 2010. As program manager for Leadership Development, she is responsible for providing consultation, programming and training material (including webinars and videos) on...

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