Safeguarding Sunday Additional Materials

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The Faith Nurture Forum would like to thank the Church of Scotland's National Safeguarding Committee for their thoughts on how congregations can mark Safeguarding Sunday.

Introduction

Everyone is precious to God. Everyone is loved by God. From this basic tenet of our faith, we in the Church of Scotland seek to ensure a safe church for all. The work of the Safeguarding Service is at the heart of this desire, supported by countless volunteers across all Presbyteries and congregations. Safeguarding Sunday is a time to highlight and celebrate this work, thank our volunteers, and encourage everyone involved in church life to help ensure a safe church for all. Congregations are invited to mark Safeguarding Sunday on 10October 2021, or on another Sunday that suits their liturgical cycle. This resource, and associated links, are offered as a way to plan an entire service around the theme of Safeguarding or to dedicate part of a service to it.

There are various passages of Scripture that could be used to explore the theme of Safeguarding. For 2021, we have offered a reading from the Old Testament, a Psalm and a Gospel passage, which broadly reflects the structure of RCL readings. Each passage could be used by itself, or the three could be woven together to explore the breadth of what Safeguarding means through the lens of Scripture.

Alongside Scripture, prayer, praise, and a reflection on the theological imperative of Safeguarding, this service is an opportunity to broaden everyone's understanding of how Safeguarding works in the Church of Scotland: "safeguarding" is often a word that makes people feel nervous, confused, or worried. This need not be the case! Opening up the subject as a community of faith helps everyone feel included and reassured that the processes in place are there to keep everyone safe.

National Context

What do we mean by Safeguarding in the Church of Scotland? In a narrow sense, it is about protecting children and adults at risk in, or known to, Church congregations. But good safeguarding is so much more than that. Together, we can enable every church and every member to play their part in:

  • Creating and maintaining a safe environment for all so that the dignity of each person is respected
  • Being informed about different forms of harm and abuse and how to respond appropriately
  • Making it clear that any harm or abuse is unacceptable.

The Safeguarding Committee, its sub-committees, and the Safeguarding Service work hard to ensure that the narrow sense of Safeguarding is met across the whole of the Church of Scotland, including CrossReach. Below is a "talking head" video giving a brief introduction to what each component of the national structure does, which could be used in the service:

You may also like to do a quiz with your congregation or have a "Did You Know?" slot, to get them thinking about the subject. Here are some facts you may wish to use:

  • The Church of Scotland Safeguarding Service also provides support to the Boys' Brigade in Scotland, the Girls' Brigade in Scotland and the United Reformed Church (URC) in Scotland
  • Training is provided to everyone who needs it by Presbytery-appointed, volunteer trainers
  • There are over 80 volunteer trainers in the Church of Scotland
  • Each congregation has (at least one) Safeguarding Coordinator, who is supported by a Safeguarding Panel
  • There are over 1,400 congregational Safeguarding Coordinators in the Church of Scotland
  • A congregation's Safeguarding Panel is made up of at least three people, including the Safeguarding Coordinator
  • Safeguarding is a standing agenda item on all Kirk Session and Presbytery meetings
  • A previous criminal conviction does not automatically bar you from working for, or volunteering in, the Church of Scotland
  • All the information and forms that a congregation might need can be found on the Safeguarding Service section of the Church of Scotland website
  • Safeguarding is not just about child protection. It is about ensuring all members of the church (and community) are safe from all forms of harm: physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, financial, and spiritual
  • Spiritual abuse can be committed by those in positions of power within any religion or denomination
  • Spiritual abuse can also be committed by others, e.g. family and friends, through using religious texts, beliefs and practices to exert control and influence
  • 1 in 3 women will experience domestic abuse or sexual violence in their lifetime
  • On 9 March 2018 the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act criminalised "controlling and coercive behaviour"
  • In 2020, 76% of children aged 9-10 in Scotland owned a mobile phone
  • The fastest growing category of child abuse in the UK is "self-generated child sexual abuse" (where a child is encouraged to live stream themselves carrying out sexual acts).

Local Context

Does everyone in your congregation know who your Safeguarding Coordinator(s) is? It might be useful to highlight where your posters are displayed but, even better, introduce the person to the congregation! If your Coordinator is comfortable doing so, perhaps have a Q&A or conversation with them about their role and why they think Safeguarding is important for the church. This is also the congregation's opportunity to acknowledge all the work they do (so much unseen) on their behalf, and to thank them appropriately. Remember to thank your Safeguarding Panel as well.

Where in your congregation is safeguarding most important? Where do you engage with the most vulnerable in your community? Some examples might include: toddler groups, youth club, BB/GB, dementia support, groups for those with Additional Support Needs (ASN), etc. Highlight their work and ministry.

One of the biggest concerns people face is what to do if they see harm occurring, suspect harm may be occurring, or if someone tells them about harm. This is a good time to remind everyone of the key message that:

  • If you have any concerns, speak to the Safeguarding Coordinator
  • If you are worried that someone is at immediate risk: call the police, then get in touch with Safeguarding Coordinator.

Safeguarding Sunday Pledge

This may feel appropriate in your context, either for the whole congregation or for the Kirk Session.

  • We will work together to ensure a safe church for all
  • We will pray for our Safeguarding Coordinator(s) and all those working with children and vulnerable adults
  • We will respect the processes and boundaries that are in place to protect everyone
  • We will support people in our church who have been hurt or abused.

Genesis 1:26-31

We are all made in the image of God.

The opening chapter of the Bible is amongst the most familiar to us. It is the time when God creates order out of chaos, bringing forth life of every kind. Whether listeners understand this description of creation literally or metaphorically, there is deep truth to be found here: God is eternal, always present, and God created the world as "good" or "very good". Moreover, in the pericope offered here, we are told repeatedly that human beings are made in the image of God. Verse 26 has God saying, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness". Then again in verse 27 we are told, "God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them". Whilst it is good Hebrew poetry to have parallels and repetition, we should not skip over these words as pleasingly aesthetic only. Instead, take time to ponder why we are told four times that human beings are made in the image/likeness of God. Is this Scripture setting out at the very start of its arc the inherent dignity at the heart of every single person? Very probably, as it is the part we forget most often, particularly when we do not like someone or they are different from us in some way we find unpalatable. Yet, in the first page of our Bibles, is the insistence that we hold the imago Deo, the image of God. Human beings matter. They matter to God and so they should matter to us. Indeed, how we treat other people is a microcosm of how we treat God. Would we want to treat God with the best possible care? Then so, too, with every single human being. Would we want to ensure God did not come to harm? Then we should take the same care with every single human being.

Psalm 121

God as the "safe-guarder".

In this Psalm God is one who "keeps" us: the Lord is our keeper. The same Hebrew root is repeated over and over again, just as the word ‘keep' is in the NRSV translation. The Hebrew gives a sense of protection and oversight, a little bit like a protective guard rather than an imprisoner. And this makes sense in the context of the psalm: God is there to keep us safe, guarding us against harm of any kind. In this way, the Psalmist suggests that God is the safeguarder par excellence, never ceasing to watch over us.

Matthew 25:31-46

Serving the naked, hungry, imprisoned, etc, is serving Christ.

Throughout Scripture, God has a preference for the poor, oppressed, vulnerable and outcast from society. These words from Jesus demonstrate that continued partiality in stark, eschatological terms. But in the amongst the talk of sheep, goats and eternal fire, we must not lose sight of what Jesus is really telling us; namely, that when we offer help or support to the most vulnerable, we encounter Christ. We are called to see in each person, particularly the most vulnerable, not just the image of God from Genesis 1, but Christ Himself.

Foundational to Safeguarding is our knowledge that the more vulnerable someone is, the more likely they are to be abused. When people are hungry, thirsty or naked, they are vulnerable: ripe for exploitation. Jesus is explicitly praising those who gave food, water and clothing, but there is an implicit statement that no further harm was caused. And whilst Jesus offered specific scenarios of need and response, we need to use our holy imaginations to realise the principle extends beyond these six examples. As such, in the church, when we seek to help, support, encourage, teach and nurture the vulnerable in our midst, our first goal has to be ‘do no (further) harm'. The process of safely recruiting volunteers and staff, training them to be aware of vulnerabilities and harms, and ensuring they know how to act to keep someone safe, are all key to keeping everyone safe.

Another aspect of this passage that could be considered are "those in prison". What does it mean to visit someone in prison, today (noting conditions were very different in 1st century Palestine to 21st century Scotland)? Largely, it means humanising them. It is about accepting, and demonstrating, that even prisoners are made in the image of God and are entitled to faith, worship and some form of community. The Safeguarding Service operates in a similar vein when it comes to people who have come out of prison (or who have convictions of any kind), seeking to ensure safe participation in the life and worship of a church. We are a faith of forgiveness, redemption and transformation, and so we seek to strike a balance of risk between second chances and the safety of others. This is done through assessing roles alongside convictions and references for those who wish to undertake regulated work, or providing covenants of responsibility for sexual offenders who wish to worship in a church.

Sermon ideas

A sermon should seek to serve congregational context as well as Scripture and any given theme. Depending on what you are preaching on before/after – or the other contexts of your communities – will help shape how you approach this sermon. There is also a question of how many passages you read in church and, of them, how many you preach upon. A couple of broad themes emerge, within the context of Safeguarding.

The first is the nature of God. God is the one who creates the earth and human beings. God is the never-sleeping safeguarder who holds us when we fall. But God is also, in Christ, found in the most vulnerable people in society. How does how we think about God shape how we worship and serve, and thereby take care of each other?

The second is how we are called to work in the world. The Matthew reading speaks most directly to this point, but the "why" is underwritten by the divine image in all. What happens if we do not think everything through before we seek to serve others? What are our moral, as well as legal, responsibilities to those around us?

There might also be something about risk and second chances in these readings … where do we draw lines to protect people? Should we do this and, if so, how? Is our vision and ability to deliver true justice as full and complete as will be known in the full kingdom of God?

As you come to prepare your sermon, be aware! This is an important topic, but it is also a sensitive one. Given what we know about the various types of harm people can face, it is likely that there are victim/survivors in your congregation. As such, it is important to think through how those on the receiving end of harm will hear what you say. Moreover, all of us are vulnerable adults from time to time (e.g. in the dentist chair!) and many of us will become more so as we get older. Holding that pastoral angle in tension with the Scripture passages and the safeguarding theme will be key to helping people hear a positive message and have trust in the church for the future.

Prayers

Call to worship

Our help comes from the Lord
The same God who made heaven and earth

The Lord who rules the waves is ever-present
God does not rest from caring for us

As we join with all creation
In singing praises to God our creator

Let us welcome one another
For we all bear the image of God.

If you have a tradition of welcoming each other at the start of the service, or of sharing the peace, this could be a good time to do it. If you have no such tradition, this might still be a good start to the service.

Prayer of adoration and confession

Ever-creating, ever-transforming God,
from the tops of the hills to the depths of the oceans,
Your presence is known throughout the earth –
stretching to the deepest reaches of space,
yet closer than the breath in our lungs:
we rejoice in the blessings You bestow upon us.

You are the guide at our left hand,
the shade on our right,
so that, whenever we walk in dark valleys,
whenever we fear the future or are troubled by the past,
You are steadfast in Your care for us:
holding us in the palm of Your hand.

You made each of us in Your image,
crafting us from mud and stardust;
yet we can neglect this divine spark in ourselves,
in others: Lord, have mercy.

You do not rest from loving the world,
infusing each moment of life with grace;
yet we can become complacent in caring for others,
for ourselves: Christ, have mercy.

Your concern has always been for the poorest and the outcast,
urging us always towards true justice and deep peace;
yet we can worry only about our own interests,
our own desires: Lord, have mercy.

Merciful God,
You know our weaknesses and struggles,
and You do not hold them against us;
as we seek Your forgiveness for our lack of care,
we ask that You would continue to transform our hearts and souls,
so we might see with Your eyes and loves with Your heart,
seeking always to protect the most vulnerable in the building of Your kingdom,
for we do so following in the steps of Christ Jesus,
our teacher, Saviour and Lord, AMEN.

Reflective prayer of thanksgiving and intercession

In this prayer we are asking our worshippers to reflect silently on their own experiences of being "safeguarded" as well as considering our community and world as a whole. The length of silence is up to you, depending on your circumstances and what your congregation is used to.

You may wish to include some background music throughout the prayer or end each period of silence with a short song/chant, such as Taizé's "Ubi caritas" (CH4 801).

Ever-loving God,
Jesus was the personification of compassion,
for He saw and understood each person He met:
as we pray for ourselves and those around us,
help us to become more compassionate,
better able to respond in love to each person we meet.

We remember a time when we were scared by the actions of someone else,
and pray for every victim and survivor of abuse, bullying and coercion… [silence]

We think of the women and girls in our lives, who we know and love,
and pray for the too-many who face domestic violence or sexual assault… [silence]

We remember how our mistake had an impact on another person,
and pray for ex-offenders who desperately want to make a new life for themselves… [silence]

We call to mind those who love us deeply,
all who nurtured and cared for us at different times in our lives,
holding them in our hearts with thanksgiving… [silence]

We call to mind those who have taught us well,
particularly those who encouraged us in faith and wisdom,
holding them in our hearts with thanksgiving… [silence]

We call to mind those who tenderly challenge us,
who hold us to account and call us to work for justice,
holding them in our hearts with thanksgiving… [silence]

As we give thanks for our personal journeys of safety and growth,
we pause to acknowledge with gratitude the many people we do not know
who work hard to ensure a safe church for all… [silence]

We give thanks for the professionalism of our Safeguarding Service,
the dedication of the many trainers and coordinators across the church,
and all who give their time to improve the lives of the most vulnerable… [silence]

And we give thanks for the people in our own congregation
who work hard on our behalf, to keep us all safe: [you may wish to include names of Coordinator(s) and Panel members here]

[silence]

We live in a world which is not perfect, holy God,
but one which You created, and saw was ‘very good',
and so there is much on our hearts and minds…
we humbly ask You to hear all our prayers this day,
whatever they may be,
hear them and hold them tenderly,
for we offer them in the power of the Holy Spirit and the name of Christ, AMEN.

Prayer of supplication – could be used after making the pledge above

Grant us, Lord God, a vision of Your world as Your love would have it:
a world where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor;
a world where the riches of creation are shared, and everyone can enjoy them;
a world where different races and cultures live in harmony and mutual respect;
a world where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love.
Give us the inspiration and courage to build it, through Jesus Christ our Lord, AMEN.

-- author unknown, although often attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero

Dismissal and blessing

As you take the next steps in the journey of life,
may you remember the image of God within you,
may you know the protection of God beside you,
and may you see the person of Christ in all whom you meet;
and may the blessing of our Holy God– Creator, Christ and Spirit –
rest upon you, all whom you love, and all whom you struggle to love,
this day and always, AMEN.

Musical suggestions

Our online music resource is on the Church of Scotland website; you can listen to samples of every song in the Church Hymnary 4th edition (CH4) and download a selection of recordings for use in worship. You will also find playlists for this week and liturgical seasons and themes on the Weekly Worship and Inspire Me tabs.

You can find further musical suggestions for this week in a range of styles on the Songs for Sunday blog from Trinity College Glasgow.

  • CH4 81 – "I to the hills will lift mine eyes" – a well-loved setting of Psalm 121
  • CH4 174 – "God of great and God of small" – a song worshipping God who is the God of all things, all extremities, and all parts in between
  • CH4 198 – "Let us build a house where love can dwell" – a sung affirmation of ensuring church is a safe space where all are welcomed
  • CH4 253 – "Inspired by love and anger" – a powerful song, which calls for justice for each and every person: can we see safeguarding as seeds and fruit of justice?
  • CH4 259 – "Beauty for brokenness" – this hymn echoes the words of Matthew 25, broadening it out to encompass even more aspects of poverty and injustice in our world
  • CH4 265 – "Pray for a world where every child" – this could almost be an anthem for safeguarding, praying for an end to abuse of every kind
  • CH4 286 – "Tell out my soul" – whilst this hymn is found in the ‘Advent' section of the hymnal, the words of the Mary's Magnificat are timeless in their call for justice and peace
  • CH4 361 – "Forgiveness is your gift" – the Church believes in forgiveness, redemption and transformation, and so we work hard to welcome everyone to worship whilst keeping everyone safe
  • CH4 721 – "We lay our broken world" – this intercessory hymn offers all the pain and hurt in the world to God
  • CH4 724 – "Christ's is the world in which we move" – this is another hymn that echoes the words and the sentiment of Matthew 25
  • CH4 801 – "Ubi caritas" – short song/chant from the TaizĂ© Community which tells us that "where there is charity and love, God is there". This could be sung repeatedly as a time of reflection after the sermon or as part of the prayers of thanksgiving and intercession
  • SGP 2 – "A new commandment that I give to you" – the love of others is at the heart of ensuring everyone is safe
  • SGP 16 – "Blessing and honour, wisdom and wealth" – a hymn of the perfect power of God in Jesus, which ends by reminding us we are made in God's image and called to Christ's ministry

You are free to download, project, print and circulate multiple copies of any of this material for use in worship services, bible studies, parish magazines, etc., but reproduction for commercial purposes is not permitted.

Please note that the views expressed in these materials are those of the individual writer and not necessarily the official view of the Church of Scotland, which can be laid down only by the General Assembly.