Mission means…taking safeguarding seriously

BY MARK BERRY, COMMUNITY MISSION MOBILISER

Safeguarding (definition): means protecting people's health, wellbeing and human rights, and enabling them to live free from harm, abuse and neglect. It's fundamental to high-quality health and social care. [1]

The word “safeguarding” has the power to send an involuntary shudder of fear rippling through any organisation. We have all watched horrific stories unfold on our television screens and seen agencies and individuals reeling from the impact of revealed abuse. In the last few decades we have become increasingly aware that abuse of vulnerable people happens far too often in places where they should be the most safe, in the places set up to care for them. Today, we are expected to take safeguarding extremely seriously; indeed the law demands it.

However, the law is not the reason why we make safeguarding a priority. We believe that it is central to the mission of the church and of Church Mission Society. Our safeguarding policy begins: Church Mission Society firmly believes that it is our calling and duty to love and care for the vulnerable and the marginalised, and to protect all from abuse. This is central to our mission and the mission of the whole CMS community.

God’s love for the vulnerable and our calling to be good news to all people shape everything we do, including our ever-increasing focus on safeguarding. Indeed, last year an audit by an independent expert on behalf of our insurance company reported that not only did we have a clean bill of health when it comes to safeguarding, but that she had not come across another organisation that saw it so holistically and comprehensively.

The CMS community episcopal visitor Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry, wrote in the introduction to The Gospel, Sexual Abuse and the Church: “Safeguarding from abuse and responding well to it need to be grounded in the fundamental themes of Christian theology and thereby woven into the church’s regular ministry of preaching and teaching.” [2] The focus on safeguarding should enable the church to be:

  • a repenting and learning church that recognises past and present failures and the harm they have caused, and seeks forgiveness from those we have failed and from God.
  • a church where those who have been hurt by abuse find compassion, and people ready to travel patiently alongside them.
  • a church where those who commit abuse are called to face human justice, hear God’s word of judgement and repent and believe the good news.
  • a church where all people are welcomed into open and secure communities that make known Christ’s reconciling peace.

Bishop Christopher understands well that the church has a particular calling to be a peacemaker and to work always for reconciliation, forgiveness, hospitality and justice for the most vulnerable. This same belief shapes both the mission of CMS and our attitude towards safeguarding. This calling is central to mission of God. In Psalm 82, the psalmist instructs the people of Israel:

“Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

Jesus was clear that we, his disciples, share this responsibility to care for the vulnerable. In Matthew 18 he tells his followers that it would be better for a person to have a millstone tied around their neck and to be cast into the sea than to cause damage to a child. Jesus’ own actions – his love and care for those who were broken, wounded and abused as well as those pushed out of society and denied a voice (be they young, disabled, impoverished, etc) – should be enough for us to realise that this should be a priority for us too.

Too often people see safeguarding as something merely required of us by the law, even a nuisance or a threat to our work. Jesus went out of his way to embrace and share life with the vulnerable and the marginalised. He loved them and he called us to do likewise. This is, and always has been, our calling.

[1] Care Quality Commission, Safeguarding People

[2] The Faith and Order Commission, The Gospel, Sexual Abuse and the Church, Church House Publishing: London, 2016, Preface.

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