This Sunday (20 November) has been nationally designated as ‘Safeguarding Sunday’. To be honest, I struggle with allocating specific Sundays to particular themes, not least because of the pressure it places on clergy and lay leaders as every Sunday is a ‘something Sunday’. However, the positive aspect is that the naming of a Sunday highlights something which is usually important for every day of the year. This is certainly true of safeguarding.
I wonder what first comes to mind when you hear the word ‘safeguarding’ within the context of our life together as Church? For some people the word ‘safeguarding’ brings to mind policies, training and procedures, yet for many people it is about past failure which continues to be the painful present for survivors and victims of abuse. Sadly there are too many people who have experienced abhorrent abuse within church communities, and too many who have then had the additional experience of being ignored, unheard and unrecognised, which has only exacerbated the experience of being abused and devalued. Sorry and repentance are words which need to be heard and lived.
Yet, at the heart of safeguarding is the love of God who is love and who created each and every one of us and who knows us by name. Safeguarding is about how we aspire to respond to that love whilst also being deeply aware of human brokenness. When Jesus Christ was asked about the greatest commandment, his answer was about the love of God and neighbour:
‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?’ Jesus replied, ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:36-39)
Safeguarding is not a policy or a process but is something we live in our encounters. It is about who we are as communities of people of all ages and backgrounds, desiring to be Christ’s good news in the way we order ourselves and live our relationships. It is about our listening and noticing, our worship, and our creation of spaces into which all people are welcomed. Our desire to live this well is what commits us to doing the training, understanding the policies, and reviewing the procedures.
It is important that we never assume safeguarding is the business of a few individuals who hold particular titles and roles, such as our Parish Safeguarding Officers and our Diocesan Safeguarding Team. While they will always be key and must always be involved when we have any concerns, the living of those safe and welcoming spaces, and those healthy encounters with diverse ‘neighbours’, and the noticing of anything which threatens it, is the responsibility of us all.
So, as we approach this Sunday, Bishop Robert and I not only want to say thank you to our Parish Safeguarding Officers and our fabulous Diocesan Safeguarding Team at College Green, but also to all of you who ensure that safeguarding is not about a special Sunday but is about who we are as the body of Christ and how we grow ever more into the likeness of Christ.
With my thanks and prayers,
Safeguarding Sunday Prayer 2022
Help us to be a church that:
Loves, welcomes, protects.
Listens, learns, serves.
Repents, restores, transforms.
Values, cares, believes.
God of justice and compassion, hear our prayer.
Help us, heal us, guide us, we pray.
In Jesus name. Amen.
To get in touch with the diocesan Safeguarding Team, visit this page of the diocesan website gloucester.anglican.org/safeguarding