'Safe Gatherings' will help prevent abuse of the vulnerable

'Safe Gatherings' will help prevent abuse of the vulnerable

Photo by Anna Earl on Unsplash.com @annaelizaearl

ALCOA, Tenn. (Aug. 28, 2019) -- In Holston Conference, background checks are required for clergy, children and youth workers, and some disaster-relief volunteers.

Holston Conference has opened an account with a company to streamline the screening as well as education of church staff and volunteers. The purpose is to prevent the abuse of children, youth, and vulnerable adults in church settings.

Safe Gatherings” is an online program that costs $45 per applicant. Many Holston church leaders received an introductory email from the company in mid-August.

For $45, each applicant receives:

> Processing of two electronic references
> National county of resident 7-year background check
> Multi-county of resident 7-year background check
> National and state of resident Sex Offender Registry check
> Applicant tracking for church administrators
> 90-minute online abuse prevention and boundary awareness training


Upon successful completion of the Safe Gatherings application, background, and reference checks, each applicant will receive documentation of approval valid for three years, and will have continued access to the online training and program for one year.

“I think it’s important for us to vet the people we’re putting in charge of children, youth, and vulnerable adults,” said the Rev. Terry Goodman, director of clergy services. “We will slowly integrate this program into the conference.”

Holston joins about 13 other United Methodist annual conferences that have accounts with Safe Gatherings, Goodman said. About five Holston congregations are already using Safe Gatherings, including First Broad Street, First Cleveland, Wheeler, and Rock Springs (Kingsport).

Safe Gatherings will save money on the current $109-$149 fee per person for the required background checks on clergy, Goodman said.

Safe Gatherings will not save money for children and youth workers, who are currently spending about $20 per person for background checks through Trak-1, said Laura McLean, associate director of connectional ministries for youth and young adults.

However, Safe Gatherings offers online training; certificates providing proof of screening and education; and a system network that helps churches and administrators keep up with multiple workers.

The “Safe Sanctuaries” program, which all Holston Conference churches are required to implement and follow, requires background checks for all staff and volunteers working with children and youth, McLean said.

Many churches are taking a fresh look at their Safe Sanctuaries training and policies, after all Holston clergy were required to complete sexual ethics training this spring, McLean said.

Charge conference paperwork is also inspiring local-church staff to revisit their Safe Sanctuaries policies, McLean said.

Safe Sanctuaries training may be scheduled by emailing McLean at LauraMcLean@holston.org or Rev. Susan Groseclose at susangroseclose@holston.org or by calling the Holston Conference connectional ministries office at 865.690.4080.

Visit the Safe Gatherings website at SafeGatherings.com or call 888.241.8258.


Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.