While our congregation strives to be an inclusive community, affirming our differences in beliefs, opinions, and life experiences, we also recognize that a church community is vulnerable to the ills that affect society, including injurious behavior. In recent years, the issue of making our congregations safer has become more prominent. First Parish has addressed this need by implementing policies and procedures designed to help make First Parish a Safe Congregation and we have established a Safe Congregation Response Team (SCRT), tasked with the oversight and implementation of these policies and procedures, as well as the handling of any reported problems, issues, and complaints of noncompliance with the Safe Congregation Policy. These may include safety concerns related to the: physical site, operation of the religious education program, transportation and supervision of children off-site, and interactions among our members, friends, and staff. The SCRT accepts the submission of concerns in a variety of ways, including letters, emails, and telephone calls.
Safe Congregation Response Team Procedures
The members and friends of First Parish in Bedford, hereinafter called the church, are a caring, intergenerational community who strive to create an environment that is welcoming and safe, promotes spiritual growth and supports us as we move toward human wholeness. Congregational safety is the responsibility of the entire church community. We all have rights and responsibilities, including self-respect and the respect and support of others, even those we do not necessarily agree with.
We believe that harassment and abuse are not the fault of the victim. We also recognize that anyone who has been harassed or abused needs support, empowerment, and a structure that provides an effective, safe and prompt response to his or her complaint.
We recognize that a church community is vulnerable to the ills that affect society, including injurious behavior. No policy or set of policies will guarantee safety. By adopting a Safe Congregation Policy, and creating a Safe Congregation Response Team (SCRT), we set a behavioral standard for staff, members, friends and visitors to our building and activities.
While openness to a wide variety of individuals is one of the prime values held by our congregation and expressed in our denomination’s purposes and principles, we affirm that our congregation must maintain a secure atmosphere where such openness can exist. When any person’s physical and/or emotional well-being or freedom to safely express his or her beliefs or opinions is threatened, the source of this threat must be addressed firmly and promptly, even if this ultimately requires the expulsion of the offending person or persons.
Disruptive behavior of an individual within the church building may lead to concerns about one or more of the following:
- Perceived threats to the safety of any adult or child;
- Disruption of church activities;
- Diminished appeal of the church to its potential and existing membership.
Therefore, the following shall be the policy of the church with regard to disruptive behavior by an individual or individuals.
Reporting Disruptive Behavior
Any person who believes that they have witnessed or experienced disruptive behavior or who has had a disruptive behavior incident reported to them should report it to any of the following:
- The minister(s);
- Any member of the Board;
- Any paid member of the church staff;
- Any member of the Safe Congregation Response Team.
- Should there be any complaints, concerns, or perceived violations of the Safe Congregation Policy by any member of the First Parish Community, the list below provides the options available for contacting the SCRT.
While the SCRT can accept anonymous concerns, it will be difficult to resolve such issues. It is recommended that contact information be provided to ensure proper investigation and resolution of the complaint or concern.
The SCRT will hold in confidence all problems, issues, complaints, and outcomes unless it is deemed necessary and important that the larger First Parish community should be informed.
- A sealed envelope addressed to the SCRT may be placed in the First Parish in Bedford office safe. (There is a slot beneath the counter in the front office.) The envelope will be passed onto the SCRT chair by the office staff.
- A sealed envelope addressed to the SCRT may be placed in the SCRT mailbox. Members of the SCRT will check the mailbox on a weekly basis.
- E-mail may be sent to the SCRT chair at SCRT@uubedford.org.
- A letter addressed to the SCRT as Confidential may be mailed to the First Parish in Bedford, 75 Great Road, Bedford, MA 01730. The envelope will be passed onto the SCRT chair by the office staff.
- A telephone message may be left at the church office at 781-275-7994. If you call after business hours, you may leave a voicemail, which will be returned by the SCRT.
If required by law, ordinance or similar regulation, the senior minister or a designated member of the church staff will immediately report the incident to the proper authorities.
The church will not retaliate against anyone who brings forward a complaint. All church leaders and staff are required to immediately report any knowledge of disruptive behavior, harassment, abuse or misconduct to the minister(s) or the Board.
While the church cannot guarantee absolute confidentiality, the church will make every reasonable effort to maintain confidentiality by disclosing the identity of the individuals involved only on a “need-to-know” basis and as necessary to investigate and resolve the complaint.
The minister(s) and/or the leader of the group involved will undertake an immediate response to such behavior. This may include asking the offending person or persons to leave, or suspending the meeting or activity until such time as it can safely be resumed. The police department may be called if further assistance is required. Any time any of these actions is taken, the minister(s) and the President of the congregation must be notified.
More Deliberate Response
Both situations requiring or not requiring an immediate response will be referred to the Safe Congregation Response Team by the group leader involved in the initial incident, the victim, perpetrator or any third party having knowledge of the incident. The Safe Congregation Response Team will respond in terms of its own judgment, observing the following.
- The Safe Congregation Response Team will respond to problems as they arise.
- Persons identified as disruptive will be dealt with as individuals; stereotypes will be avoided.
The Safe Congregation Response Team will collect and retain documentation of all necessary information. To aid in evaluating the problem, the following points will be considered:
- DANGEROUS—is the individual the source of a threat or perceived threat to persons or property?
- DISRUPTIVE—how much interference with church functions is occurring?
- OFFENSIVE—how likely is it that prospective or existing members will be driven away by the disruptive behavior?
To determine the necessary response, the following points will be considered:
- CAUSES—why is the disruption occurring? Is it a conflict between the individual and others in the church? Is it due to a professionally diagnosed condition or mental illness?
- HISTORY—what is the frequency and degree of disruption in the past?
- PROBABILITY OF CHANGE—how likely is it that the problem behavior will diminish in the future?
The Safe Congregation Response Team will decide on the necessary response on a case-by- case basis. However, the following levels of response will be followed:
LEVEL ONE—The Safe Congregation Response Team will meet with the person or persons and other related parties to implement a conflict management process. The team will communicate their concern about the disruptive behavior. If the behavior cannot be resolved, it would proceed to level two and the full Board will intervene. Additionally, the behavior will be referred directly to the Board:
1.1. If the individual has been in significant resolutions before, then the team will infer that repeated visits have not worked.
1.2. If the issue affects the larger congregation.
LEVEL TWO—It may be determined that the offending individual(s) actions need to be referred to the full Parish Board. If after the normal process of conflict management, implemented by the Safe Congregation Response Team, does not resolve the situation and the disruptive behavior continues, the full Parish Board will become involved. It may be determined that the offending individual(s) needs to be excluded from the church and/or specific church activities for a limited period of time, with the reasons for such action and the conditions of return made clear in a written notification, with one copy going to the offending individual and one copy maintained in the congregational archives.
The First Parish in Bedford strives to be an inclusive community, affirming our differences in beliefs, opinions, and life experiences. However, concern for the safety and well-being of the congregation as a whole must be given priority over the privileges and inclusion of the individual. To the degree the disruptive behavior compromises the health of this congregation, our actions as people of faith must reflect this emphasis on security.