Safe Church Policy Concerning Abuse Prevention
First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
North Ridgeville, Ohio
As a community of Christian faith, First Congregational Church is committed to creating and maintaining programs, facilities and a community in which members, friends, staff and volunteers can worship, learn and work together in an atmosphere free from all forms of discrimination, harassment, exploitation or intimidation. All persons associated with First Congregational Church should be aware that the church is strongly opposed to Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Harassment and that such behavior is prohibited by church policy. It is the intention of the church to take action in an attempt to prevent and correct behavior that is contrary to this policy and, if necessary, to discipline those persons who violate this policy.
Amendments to the Policy
This congregation recognizes that this policy will need to be revised and changed to adapt to new issues and circumstances as they appear. Therefore, this policy may be amended in the following way: A request for an amendment or change in the policy must be submitted to the Response Team, which in turn will submit the request to the remaining members of the Safe Church Committee. The Response Team may also submit a request for an amendment themselves if they find part of the policy is inadequate or needs to be revised. The amendment will then be discussed and brought forth before the congregation for a congregational vote. Once given a majority vote from the congregation, the amendment will then be part of the official policy.
Consistent with our understanding of the priesthood of all believers, all Authorized Ministers, employees, elected and appointed lay leaders, and authorized volunteers are Ministers to the congregation.
It is important that every Minister to the church be adequately prepared and educated for the ministry in which they serve others, and to understand the ways in which their use or misuse of authority may impact others.
It is the policy of First Congregational Church to encourage its Ministers to nurture safety within Ministerial Relationships by being attentive to self-care, education, maintaining appropriate boundaries, and the importance of referring those in need to supportive and helpful resources.
Sexual Exploitation or Sexual Harassment of parishioners or others by anyone engaged in ministry on behalf of First Congregational Church is unethical behavior and will not be tolerated within this congregation.
Requirements for Commencing and Continuing Ministry
- Before beginning their duties, all Ministers will submit a disclosure form similar to the sample attached hereto as Exhibit A. All current and future members serving on a board of the church must complete and submit Exhibit A.
- Before beginning their duties, all Ministers will be personally interviewed to assess the suitability of their character and qualifications for the position they seek.
- The church will conduct a registered sex offender review for each Minister by searching their name on the Department of Justice website at www.nsopr.gov. This registered sex offender review will be repeated on an annual basis for all volunteers and employees, which will be completed by the Clerk.
- Authorized Minsters of the church will attend all boundary workshops required by the Western Reserve Association, or will attend at least one workshop on this topic every three years, whichever is more frequent.
- All Ministers, including Authorized Ministers and lay members, are forbidden from engaging in improper or sexual behavior on church grounds.
Additional Requirements for Child and Youth Ministry
First Congregational Church is committed to providing a safe and healthy environment in which young people can learn about and experience God's love. In order to promote this, we have established the following guidelines in addition to the general requirements for ministry to the church.
- We expect that those who volunteer to work with minors will have been members of First Congregational Church for at least six months or, if not members, regularly and frequently associated with First Congregational Church for at least a year.
- All volunteers who regularly work with children and youth will complete and submit Exhibit C.
- Before beginning their duties, all prospective employees will undergo a background check, including but not necessarily limited to inquiries of references and a criminal history verification by a third party vendor, half of which must be paid for by the employee, and the employee complete and submit Exhibit B. This check must be done once every five years, and the background check must be submitted to the church each time, along with Exhibit B.
- All current employees of First Congregational Church must complete and submit Exhibit B, with follow up checks being performed thereafter on an annual basis.
- All volunteers and employees who regularly work with children and youth will receive orientation regarding safe church policy and procedures.
- It is the policy of this church to provide adequate supervision and safeguards for youth activities. In situations where participants are not readily visible to each other, there will be no fewer than two unrelated adults present with children. Youth over the age of 16 may assist an unrelated adult in supervising children and youth activities; however, such assistance does not alter the requirement that at least two unrelated adults be present.
- Written consent of one parent or guardian of a minor will be required for all activities off the church property, and any overnight activities.
Minister: a person authorized by the church to carry out its ministry. Ministers include elected or appointed leaders of the church, employees, and volunteers, as well as Authorized Ministers.
Authorized Minister: a person who holds ordained ministerial standing or has been commissioned or licensed by an Association of the United Church of Christ or region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). An Authorized Minister is one type of minister within the meaning of this policy.
Ministerial Relationship: the relationship between one who carries out the ministry of the church and the one being served by that ministry.
Sexual Exploitation: sexual activity or contact (not limited to sexual intercourse) in which a Minister engaged in a ministerial relationship with another takes advantage of the vulnerability of the person being served by causing or allowing that person to engage in sexual behavior with the Minister.
Sexual Harassment: repeated or coercive sexual advances toward another person contrary to his or her wishes. It includes behavior directed at another person with the intent of intimidating, humiliating, or embarrassing the other person, or subjecting the person to public discrimination. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:
- Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition or circumstance of instruction, employment, or participation in any church activity.
- Submission to, or rejection of, such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for evaluation in making personnel or church-related decisions affecting an individual; or
- Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's performance or participation in church activities or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or church environment.
Prohibited sexual harassment includes unsolicited and unwelcome contact that has sexual overtones, particularly:
- Written contact, such as sexually suggestive or obscene letters, notes, e-mails, or invitations;
- Verbal contact, such as sexually suggestive or obscene comments, threats, slurs, epithets, jokes about gender-specific traits, sexual propositions;
- Physical contact, such as intentional touching, pinching, brushing against another's body, impeding or blocking movement, assault, coercing sexual intercourse; and
- Visual contact, such as leering or staring at another's body, gesturing, displaying sexually suggestive objects or pictures, cartoons, posters, or magazines.
Sexual harassment also includes continuing to express sexual interest after being informed directly that the interest is unwelcome and using sexual behavior to control, influence, or affect the career, salary, work, learning, or worship environment of another. It is impermissible to suggest, threaten, or imply that failure to accept a request for a date or sexual intimacy will affect a person's job prospects, church leadership, or comfortable participation in the life of the church. It is forbidden either to imply or actually withhold support for an appointment, promotion, or change of assignment, to suggest that a poor performance report will be given because a person has declined a personal proposition; or to hint that benefits, such as promotions, favorable performance evaluations, favorable assigned duties or shifts, recommendations or reclassifications, will be forthcoming in exchange for sexual favors.
Procedures for Handling Complaints of Sexual Exploitation or Harassment, or Concerns Relating Thereof
A. A subcommittee, consisting of current members on the various church boards, or exceptional members who have once served on the church boards, with no less than four members, two male and two female, will be established each year in preparation for the possibility of hearing complaints under this policy. The Moderator, Vice Moderator, Christian Education Director, and Authorized Ministers are unable to serve on the subcommittee as long as they hold their respective positions. The subcommittee, hereinafter referred to as "The Response Team," will be familiar with the terms of this policy, as well as the established procedures of the church for dealing with a complaint. Training will be provided for the Response Team on an annual basis.
B. Several approaches may be taken in addressing incidents of alleged sexual exploitation or harassment:
- The complainant can attempt to resolve the matter directly with the respondent, the individual accused of sexual exploitation or harassment.
- The complainant can report the incident to a called minister, in an effort to resolve the matter informally.
- If an informal resolution of the complaint does not seem wise, appropriate, possible, or does not succeed, the complainant may request that the Response Team institute formal proceedings which shall include the following steps:
- The Response Team shall advise Christian Education Director (if the matter regards youth) and the Senior Minister of the receipt of all complaints and shall keep them apprised of ongoing steps and actions taken. If either the Senior Minister or Christian Education Director is the subject of the complaint, this notice requirement shall not apply as to that person.
- One male and one female member of the Response Team shall gather statements or other information from the individuals involved in the alleged exploitation or harassment and from others who may have pertinent information, such as qualified professional consultants, and present such information to the entirety of the Response Team for discussion and review.
- The Response Team shall make determinations and take actions appropriate to resolve the matter. These may include:
a. finding that sexual exploitation or harassment has occurred, and that the appropriate body of the church is called upon to take action accordingly; such action may include one or more of the following:
(i) a formal reprimand, with defined expectations for changed behavior;
(ii) a loss of privileges, including a return of keys and placing a restriction on use of the facilities
(ii) recommending psychological or psychiatric assessment, counseling and/or treatment, at the perpetrator's expense
(iii) probationary standing, with the terms of the probation clearly defined;
(iv) dismissal from employment or authorized volunteer position by, affiliation with, or membership in, the church.
b. finding that sexual exploitation or harassment did not occur.
- The Response Team may seek the advice of legal counsel or others to advise it in performing its functions.
C. A written summary of the Response Team proceedings in such cases will be maintained and kept confidential. Documentation will be sealed in an envelope, signed on the seal by a member of the response team, with the current date of the documentation printed on the outside. This will be turned into the church office, which will be sealed in a locked cabinet and will remain there unless the Response Team finds it necessary to break the seal and review the information.
D. The person(s) toward whom the inappropriate behavior is directed need not be the complainant. Moreover, neither consent nor acquiescence will excuse or exonerate inappropriate behavior. At any time the church may initiate or proceed with the formal complaint process.
E. In determining whether alleged conduct constitutes sexual harassment or exploitation, consideration shall be given to the record of the alleged incident(s) as a whole and to the totality of the circumstances, including the context in which the alleged incident(s) occurred.
F. Any person bringing a sexual harassment or exploitation complaint or assisting in investigating such a complaint will not be adversely affected in terms and conditions of employment or church membership or affiliation, or otherwise discriminated against or discharged.
G. If the complainant or respondent is not satisfied with the disposition of the matter by the Response Team, he or she has the right to appeal to the Church Council, which would include the chairperson from each board. If any of the members on the Church council or chairpersons are the subject of the complaint, they will be excused from this responsibility. The subject of any such appeal to the Church Council shall be limited solely to whether the procedures of this policy were followed. The matter will not be reconsidered on the merits and the decision of the Response Team will be the final resolution of the matter. If the Church Council determines that the procedures of this policy were not followed, it will refer the matter back to the Response Committee to complete the processing of the complaint in accordance with these procedures
II. Child Abuse
Apart from any legal requirements, First Congregational Church will make a report to appropriate authorities, including but not limited to the Ohio Department of Children and Family Services, if at any time the church has reasonable cause to believe that a minor may be an abused or neglected child. Any Minister of the church who becomes aware of facts or circumstances that child abuse or neglect has occurred or that there exists a substantial risk that child abuse or neglect may occur in the reasonably foreseeable future shall immediately report the matter to the Senior Minister and Christian Education Director so that the church may take appropriate action in a timely manner. The Ohio Child Abuse Hotline currently is: 855-642-4453.
Apart from any disposition of the matter by the church, all allegations of behavior which call into question the fitness for ministry of any Authorized Minister will promptly be forwarded to the Church & Ministry Committee of the Western Reserve Association of the United Church of Christ.