A comprehensive congregational safety plan should include policies of what to do when someone associated with the congregation or wishing to attend the congregation has proven themselves untrustworthy. This can be either by observed and/or substantially reported behavior, or by being criminally accused or convicted of wrongdoing.
In cases such as this, a congregation may determine that limited participation by the individual can be conducted in a safe way that could benefit both the individual and the congregation. In these cases, the UUA recommends that congregations create formal and accountable boundaries with a Limited Access Agreement.
What is a Limited Access Agreement?
A Limited Access Agreement (LAA) is a document that sets boundaries on the behavior of a member in the congregation, and outlines what they can, and cannot do. It is often used for people who are on the sex offender registry, those who have behaved inappropriately within the congregation, or have other legal issues that lead to the restrictions on their behavior in the congregation. When you are dealing with someone who may need a Limited Access Agreement, please reach out to your Region's representative to the Safe Congregations Team.
If the Concern Is about Staff or Ministers
If you are considering an LAA to address the behavior of a religious professional or other staff member in your congregation, please be in touch with either the UUA’s Office of Ethics and Safety and/or your Region’s Safe Congregation team member so that we can offer additional coaching, processes, and procedures for these instances.
Why Use a Limited Access Agreement?
Sometimes we learn that a member or newcomer has a history of inappropriate behavior—either through their direct revelation of the information, from media reports, or through public registries of those convicted of sexual offenses. The best way forward, when we learn of these, is to couple compassion with caution. None of us is only the worst thing we have done, and as communities of faith we are called to figure out how to include people well into our congregations.
When needed, the LAA is designed to spell out the parameters for participation, and it provides both protection for the congregation members and the individual with whom the LAA is created. When the individual follows the conditions of the LAA, they are far less likely to engage in or get accused of inappropriate behavior. The LAA therefore benefits both the congregation and the individual.
What Should a Limited Access Agreement Include?
The agreements should include the person’s behavior both in-person engagement (such as access to the buildings and property), as well as presence in virtual space. For the latter, they should be specifically advised as to how they will participate (or not) in live-streamed services, email, and/or social media vehicles of the congregation.
When crafting a LAA, consider these questions for discernment about how to balance individual and community needs and priorities:
- How can we minister to this person and allow them to participate in this community of faith? (Sometimes the answer is, "we can’t," but we need to do the discernment to know that is true.)
- How can we keep our community as safe as possible? (If the past behavior involves children or elders, any agreement should prohibit contact with those age groups.)
- What is your congregation’s experience with similar offenses before? What will you need to do to provide protection and welcome in the context of what has come before?
In some congregations, you may not have adequate staffing or volunteer capacity to enter into, support, review, and follow up with the provisions of a Limited Access Agreement. In such cases, you will need to decide if these responsibilities can be carried out by others in the congregation, or whether you will need to tell the person that you are not able to allow their participation in the congregation because of the lack of the personnel to carry this out. We hope that you will seek, though, to involve individuals as much as appropriate so that they are not denied access to our religious communities.
Drafting a Limited Access Agreement
The suggestions and examples included on the next page are drafts and guidelines for you to look at, but you will need to consider the particularities of your situation: what do you need to do to make your congregation more safe. Please, again, be in touch with your Region’s Safe Congregation Team member for assistance in creating a LAA.
The next page includes some sample Limited Access Agreements to get you started.