A central tenet of the Christian faith is the inherent value and worth of all persons. Children, youth, older adults, and other vulnerable persons are least able to protect themselves in our society and are particularly vulnerable to abuse and neglect. The United Methodist Church is eager to do all it can to protect the youth, children, older adults, and other vulnerable persons who participate in the life of the Sugar Creek United Methodist Church.
We believe implementing a policy and adopting procedures to protect our children, youth, older adults, and other vulnerable persons recognizes that our Christian faith calls us to offer hospitality, ministry, and protection to all persons of every age. The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church state, “…children must be protected from economic, physical, and sexual exploitation and abuse.” Further, “all persons are individuals of sacred worth, [and] created in the image of God.” (The United Methodist Church)
Tragically, churches have not always been safe places for vulnerable persons. Neglect, sexual abuse, and exploitation occur in churches, both large and small, urban and rural. This problem cuts across all economic, cultural, racial, gender, and ethnic lines. God calls us to make our places of worship safe places, protecting children, youth, older adults, and other vulnerable persons from abuse.
Abuse prevention and ministry protection policies and procedures are essential for congregations, not only for the protection and safety of vulnerable persons, but also for our volunteers and staff working with them. (Melton, 2008, p. 10)
Jesus taught, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Mark 9:37 NRSV) and “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones…it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck, and you were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6 NRSV).
We should not allow possible risks to undermine or stop our ministry. Rather, we must:
The Sugar Creek United Methodist Church, through these policies, is committed to the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual safety of all children, youth, adults, and vulnerable persons the Church is called to minister to.
As a Church, Sugar Creek UMC will:
Date of Enactment
All paid staff (including appointed clergy) and persons with leadership responsibilities who work with children, youth, older adults, and other vulnerable persons at Sugar Creek United Methodist Church will:
The Staff Pastor-Parish Relations Committee (SPPRC) is charged with maintaining job descriptions, employment files, performance evaluations, and for setting compensation for all Sugar Creek UMC volunteers and staff. The work of the SPPRC is to be held in strict confidence by its members.
Youth aged 14-17 and young adults who do not meet the ‘five-year rule’ may serve as staff/volunteers once they have become a Certified Person and serve under the supervision of one or more Approved Adult(s). No one under 18, and no one who does not meet the ‘Five-Year Rule,’ will be given sole responsibility and leadership for any church-sponsored program or event.
Individuals who have been convicted of neglect, physical abuse, or sexual abuse remain God’s children of sacred worth and, therefore, are worthy of forgiveness. However, these persons will not be permitted to participate in any church-sponsored activity or program for children, youth, older adults, or other vulnerable persons.
No individual will be allowed to serve in leadership with vulnerable persons until they have completed the appropriate training and initial background check. Background checks shall be repeated every two years for all persons serving with vulnerable persons.
Prior to working in the children, youth, adult, and family ministries, workers must undergo protection safety training. Comprehensive training on issues of sexual abuse and neglect of vulnerable persons in church settings shall be required for all clergy, paid staff, and volunteers who regularly supervise activities for vulnerable persons. This Safe Gatherings training should be offered at least every two years.
Staff and volunteers for any Church-sponsored event involving vulnerable persons will receive Safe Gatherings training. Such training will include this policy and accompanying procedures, along with site- or event-specific procedures. Before beginning service, each staff member and volunteer will sign a statement attesting they have read, understood, and agreed to abide by this policy and accompanying procedures.
The Staff-Parish Relations Team shall be responsible for providing appropriate training and resources for staff and volunteers. The group (church, team, organization, etc.) hosting each event shall ensure all leaders and volunteers have received the appropriate training or retraining, and orientation.
Sugar Creek UMC volunteer and paid staff (including clergy), will be given the opportunity for Safe Gatherings training, procedures, and child abuse issues on a regular basis. They will submit to a background check at least every three (3) years.
Whenever supervising activities involving vulnerable persons, at least two non-related adults (including at least one Approved Adult) will always be present. For groups larger than ten (10) participants, one additional adult will be present for every five (5) additional participants. (For example, a group of twenty participants will have at least four  adults.)
In the Church Nursery, the ‘Two-Adult’ rule is not required so long as no more than five (5) children are present AND another adult is within close proximity in the event of an emergency. Nursery personnel will be at least eighteen (18) years of age.
Children, youth, and other vulnerable persons will be checked into and out of a church-sponsored activity by their parent/legal guardian or persons authorized by the parent/legal guardian. The check-in process for children, youth, and vulnerable persons shall include the participant’s name, age, their guardian’s contact information, allergies, and medical needs. As long as this information is retained, such information will only need to be supplied once yearly or if any information changes.
One-on-one interactions with children and youth will be in an area that is easily visible and/or accessible by other persons. The pastor, parent/guardian, or another Approved Adult should be aware of any such interactions. If the ‘two-adult’ rule cannot be observed, an approved and designated roamer will regularly check on groups with only one adult.
For overnight events at the church, two or more Approved Adults must be present. This arrangement must include at least one male and one female if the group is of mixed gender.
Note: Not all church volunteers may have received Safe Gatherings training, nor is training required for persons serving in a ministry designed for non-vulnerable persons. Therefore, when individuals under the age of 18 are accompanied by an adult to an event not designed specifically for children or youth, their safety and supervision is the responsibility of the adult who brought the child or youth.
At no time will a child, youth, or vulnerable adult participant be left unsupervised during an event. Activities with children, youth, and other vulnerable persons should be publicly accessible. Meaning anyone has the right to visit and observe the children, youth, and other vulnerable persons’ activity, classroom, or church-sponsored program at any time with the express intent to ensure the ‘Two-Adult’ rule is being followed. Exceptions to this right may be issued at the discretion of church leadership.
All classrooms and offices will remain visible from the hallway via window or open door. Windows will be kept free from decoration which may impede view into the room.
Whenever Sugar Creek UMC transports children, youth, older adults, or other vulnerable persons away from the church campus:
The use of electronic communication may be useful tools in supporting ministries with children, youth, older adults, and other vulnerable persons. However, such communication should be as open and public as possible. Volunteer or staff persons shall never initiate a private connection (friending, following, etc.) on social media.
Should a time arise when a group leader enters into a private digital connection with a child or youth (either initiated by the child or youth, or the group leader), the child or youth’s guardian shall also be included in the private connection and/or another non-related group leader.
If an adult leader receives a private message from a child, youth, or vulnerable person that seems to be questionable, the adult leader should immediately end the conversation in the virtual space and offer opportunities to have the conversation in the physical space and in compliance with the earlier guidelines for one-on-one conversations. The ministry supervisor and/or parent/guardian should be made aware of the incident immediately.
Note: If an in-person meeting is not possible, those involved will determine the most reasonable alternative in compliance with the earlier guidelines for one-on-one conversations.
Adult leaders should post photos on social network sites only with prior written permission granted by a parent/guardian. When posted, PHOTOS MUST NOT BE TAGGED with names, ages, or location indicators. All photos must be appropriate and in keeping with the spirit of the ministry event. The Sugar Creek UMC Media Director will maintain and curate a secure members-only section of the church website for posting event photos and videos.
All in-person protection policies apply to online platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Messenger, and so on. (For example, two unrelated adults who meet the ‘Five-Year’ rule should be present in the virtual room.) An official church account set up and maintained by the Sugar Creek Media Director should be used for all online activities. Leadership will not use personal accounts.
Communication about online meetings should be shared with parents/guardians at the same time as with children, youth, older adults, and other vulnerable persons. Adult leaders and participants should use their real names as usernames while in the virtual space. Attendance and all communications shall be documented and retained for at least two (2) years.
Leaders contacting children or youth by phone shall speak with the child’s or youth’s guardians before or after the phone call. Such phone calls should be documented including time, date, and reason of contact and will be retained for at least two (2) years.
Groups using the church facilities shall either follow Sugar Creek UMC’s Safe Gatherings policy or their own safety policy which has been approved by Sugar Creek UMC prior to the event(s).
Whenever another church or organization is using the Sugar Creek UMC facilities, the leadership of those organization(s) are responsible for screening, approval, and safety training of their event leadership.
During a hotel stay, adults and youth shall not share a room. Youth will be housed with their same gender. Effort will be made to ensure all participants are housed on the same floor in the same area of each other. Adults should be of the same gender as the students they are chaperoning.
Cabin settings are those in which multiple people sleep in the same room. Cabins will remain gender assigned, women should not enter male cabins and men should not enter female cabins at any time.
Private changing and showering spaces will always be provided.
Gay, Lesbian, Pansexual, and Bisexual youth will be housed with their same gender. Being housed alone can be detrimental to youth emotionally, especially those part of a community that is twice as likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. (Brenner) Therefore, housing persons alone should be used only in consultation with the youth and their parents or guardians.
The safety and comfort of transgender persons shall be considered prior to an overnight event. A conversation with the transgender person and their parents or guardians will be held prior to the event to decide the most appropriate housing for the individual.
Mission trips may be local, state-wide, national, or international, and each provides a different set of challenges in maintaining participant and chaperone safety.
Unlike previous provisions, for non-local missions trips ALL leadership from Sugar Creek UMC shall be an Approved Adult. Further, all adult participants shall fully understand the risks of travel.
The State of Illinois Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act defines Mandated Reporters as “any person who came to know [an individual] through an official capacity or position of trust, including but not limited to health care professionals, educational personnel, recreational supervisors, members of the clergy, and volunteers or support personnel in any setting where [persons] may be subject to abuse or neglect.” to report observed or suspected abuse to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS; 325 ILCS 5). Therefore, staff and vounteers in the Church who work with children, youth, older adults, and vulnerable persons are legally recognized as mandated reporters and are expected to report suspected incidents of abuse and/or neglect.
It is enough to have “reasonable cause” to suspect abuse. DCFS and not the Church will determine if the information given by the reporter meets the legal requirements to initiate an investigation.
Sugar Creek UMC Approved Adults shall be trained to recognize and report the signs of suspected abuse and/or neglect.
If a child is believed to be in immediate danger, contact 911 first. When a volunteer or staff person suspects abuse and/or neglect, whether committed by a Church volunteer or staff person, or by someone in the person’s life, they are required to report that suspicion FIRST to DCFS and THEN to any of the the following:
The person who originally suspected the abuse and/or neglect is the one who contacts DCFS.
The mandated reporter may choose to call the DCFS 24 hour hotline at 800-252-2873 or submit an online report at dcfs.illinois.gov.
The guardian(s) of the suspected victim should not be notified of a case of abuse or neglect submitted to DCFS. It is the sole responsibility of DCFS to follow their own guidelines in making notification.
Within 48 hours following a report to DCFS, mandated reporters are required to complete the CANTS 5 (Child Abuse and Negect Tracking System) form available on the dcfs.illinois.gov website and email it to DCFS. The CANTS 5 form, which is for non-medical persons, certifies that a mandated reporter has made a good faith report of abuse or neglect. The full directions for submission is available on the form. (State of Illinois)
DCFS requests the following information:
If this information is not readily available, the reporter should not delay a report to the hotline. The 24-hour Child Abuse Hotline is 800-252-2873, or at dcfs.illinois.gov.
If you witness a violation of this policy, please report it to the person in charge of the event and/or the Directing Pastor. Contact information is found at the Sugar Creek UMC website (www.sugarcreek.org).
Honest and good faith complaints are welcomed. The Church will not retaliate against any person who brings forward a complaint. Prompt and appropriate investigation and corrective action will be taken.
Following any report of incident within a Church event, the person in charge of the event shall work with Church staff and/or the Directing Pastor to provide ongoing support and care for all involved.
Should a staff member or volunteer of any Church event be contacted for comment on any alleged abuse and/or neglect, or any violation of this policy involving the Sugar Creek United Methodist Church by any person (with the exclusion of DCFS and law enforcement), that person should direct the inquiry to the Directing Pastor or the District Superintendent’s office. NO OTHER PERSON IS AUTHORIZED TO SPEAK ON BEHALF OF THE CHURCH OR AN ONGOING INVESTIGATION.
Sugar Creek United Methodist Church’s purpose for establishing this Child, Youth, Older Adult, and Vulnerable Persons Protection Policy and accompanying procedures is to demonstrate our total and unwavering commitment to the physical wellbeing, emotional safety, and spiritual growth of all persons.
We adopt this policy in accordance with the statement we as a congregation make at each baptism—that we will “nurture children and youth in the Christian faith and life and include them now in our care.” With this policy, we renew our baptismal pledge to “live according to the example of Jesus Christ” and surround children, youth, older adults, and other vulnerable persons with a “community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust of God, and may grow in the way that leads to life eternal.” (BOW, p.96).
As a Christian community of faith and a United Methodist congregation, we are committed to conduct the ministry of the gospel in ways that assure the safety and spiritual growth of all persons. By this policy and its accompanying procedures, we implement prudent operational procedures in all programs and events.
This Safe Gatherings Policy was approved by vote of the Sugar Creek United Methodist Church Leadership Team on the 18th day of April, 2023 and was hereby effective at that point. This document will be made available on all Church websites and upon request by contacting the Church office.
This policy supersedes any previous policies used by Sugar Creek United Methodist Church.
(BOW) United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Book of Worship. United Methodist Publishing House, 2009, p. 96.
Brenner, Brad. “Understanding Anxiety and Depression for LGBTQ People.” Adaa.org, 2019, adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/ understanding-anxiety-and-depression-lgbtq. Accessed 16 Jan. 2023.
ILCS. “325 ILCS 5/ Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act.” Www.ilga.gov, www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=1460&ChapterID=32#top. Accessed 16 Jan. 2023.
Melton, Joy T. Safe Sanctuaries: Reducing the Risk of Abuse in the Church for Children and Youth. Discipleship Resources, 2008.
State of Illinois. “Child Protection – Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect.” Illinois.gov, 2019, www2.illinois.gov/dcfs/safekids/reporting/Pages/index.aspx.
United Methodist Church. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 2016. The United Methodist Publishing House, 2016.