The term safe sanctuaries prompts images of background checks of church staff who work with children.
But the Safe Sanctuaries program encompasses other policies and procedures in addition to those security screenings (which are required every two years by the denomination for all adults, paid and volunteer, who have responsibility in church settings for the safety and oversight of children, youths, and vulnerable adults).
On Sept. 11, a training session in all aspects of the program will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the United Methodist Ministry Center, 1501 N.W. 24th, Oklahoma City.
The safety training is free and open to the public, emphasized facilitator Diana Northcutt.
"Background checks are one way you can keep the people in your church safe. Safe Sanctuaries looks at the whole picture," she explained. "I want anyone to attend who is concerned about this for their church."
Each year, every church must document its sexual ethics policy and safety audit in reports to the Conference. Also within the comprehensive perspective of Safe Sanctuaries are:
"Churches say, ‘That will never happen here.’ Well, I could show you some stories" from the program’s resource materials, said Rev. Northcutt.
She acknowledged ministry includes aspects of risk, so she teaches practical steps to manage it. "Keep your church secure without scaring people," she described.
This year, the Oklahoma Conference manual for Safe Sanctuaries was updated and, at the 2010 Annual Conference, the clergy and lay delegates from each church received CD copies of it. Along with sexual ethics policies and procedures, the manual contains a number of recommendations and guidelines from UMPACT, The United Methodist Church’s Property and Casualty Trust.
The manual is the central resource for the Sept. 11 class.
Also in the Saturday session, a train-the-trainer approach is being implemented for the first time. Each district is asked to designate at least one person to attend, to be trained to present the course to churches in that district. With 531 congregations in the Oklahoma Conference, "I just can’t physically be at every church," Northcutt commented.
Reservations for the class are requested by Sept. 8. Although there is not a fee, a lunch count is needed. Contact Ann Browning, firstname.lastname@example.org, 405-530-2199.