[Anglican Communion News Service] The bishop of Matabeleland in the Church of the Province of Central Africa, the Rt. Rev. Cleophas Lunga, stressed the importance of churches having good safeguarding policies and procedures in place during a Nov. 22 press conference at the launch of the Anglican Communion Safe Church Commission’s “Safe Church: How to Start Guide.”
Lunga, who is a member of the Anglican Communion Safe Church Commission, said, “Approaching Safe Church from a theological point of view, the Christian peace and reconciliation theological discourse is fundamental in the understanding of our roles and responsibilities as leaders and bishops. But also, as provinces we have a responsibility as leaders to care for the faithful and policies and procedures of the Safe Church are good for all of us they protect everyone.”
He also said, “While there are procedures and measures, this will come as some form of a deterrent. Delays in putting in place processes and policies may prolong and complicate interventions which prolongs the pain of the victim and diminishes the survivors hope of ever experiencing justice.”
The Anglican Communion Safe Church Commission was created at the request of the Anglican Consultative Council at its 16th plenary meeting (ACC-16), held in Lusaka, Zambia, in 2016. The establishment of the commission was a development of the work of the Safe Church Network, an officially authorized international voluntary group of lawyers, campaigners and clergy who worked to bring about change in the way the Churches of the Anglican Communion undertake safeguarding.
At the 17th plenary meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC-17) held in Hong Kong in 2019, the council approved new “Guidelines to enhance the safety of all persons – especially children, young people and vulnerable adults – within the provinces of the Anglican Communion.” Since then, the commission has acted as an advisory body to help member churches to effectively implement the guidelines through the development of resources, training and liaison with provincial representatives.
The new “How To Start” guide was created in response to requests from church leaders for help in how to begin creating and establishing policies and procedures in their regions. It provides key definitions and suggested ways of beginning to implement Safe Church work. It recognizes that the actual systems, processes and practices that member churches and dioceses develop will vary according to their contexts, and recognizes that implementing Safe Church policies and practices will take time. It provides a framework to enable provincial and diocesan Safe Church and leadership teams to begin the work.
“We hope that every parish picks it up,” said Garth Blake, chair of the Safe Church Commission. He continued, “That’s what we would like to see. Not just people thinking, ‘Oh this is another risk I have to manage,’ but to have within the parish advocates who protect children and the vulnerable. This is integral to everything that we do in church, and we would want to say that it is central to the mission of the church.”
“The guide provides a rationale about why we do safe church work and thinking about how our safe church work is integral to how we do church together,” explained Kim Barker, a member of the Safe Church Commission, based in South Africa. “We highlight opening up honest conversations about abuse within the church, within various groupings in the church, gathering a representative team to support the bishop in doing safe church work.
“A team that can grapple with the guidelines and other resources and begin to develop a process for when complaints about abuse are raised which is absolutely essential and a process that is relevant will be followed and embraced in your particular context,” she said.
The Anglican Communion’s director of gender justice, Mandy Marshall, said, “The center of our work is thinking about survivors and the survivor-centered approach, hearing the pains and cries of survivors of abuse whether inside or outside the church and making sure that when they do come to church that they are listened to and taken seriously and that they are signposted to the appropriate professional services that are available.”