Safe Gatherings Policy


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: 

  • Acknowledge the risks and develop a practical plan to address these issues; 
  • Take steps to prevent harm to our vulnerable persons; and
  • Continue to answer the Gospel’s imperative to be in ministry with children, youth, adults, and other vulnerable persons, thus making a difference in their lives. (Melton, 2008, p. 10) 

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:

  • Follow reasonable safety measures when selecting and recruiting workers;
  • Implement appropriate operational procedures in all areas of ministry, programming and care;
  • Train all paid staff and church volunteers in our procedures and policies.

Table of Contents

  1. Definitions
  2. Volunteer/Staff Selection Policies
    1. Leadership Qualification
    2. Youth in Leadership
    3. Convicted Persons
  3. Training
    1. Qualifications
    2. Screening
  4. Ministry Supervision Guidelines 
    1. Event Supervision 
    2. Physical Space Requirements
    3. Transportation
    4. Social Media & Other Forms of Communication
    5. Outside Organizations using Church Property
  5. Overnight Events
    1. Hotel Settings
    2. Cabin Settings
    3. Mission Trip Settings
  6. Reporting Suspected Incidents 
    1. Mandated Reporting
    2. Procedure for Reporting Suspected Abuse
    3. Requested Information
    4. Reporting Church Policy Violations
    5. After-care
  7. Media Inquiries 
  8. Congressional Covenants and Adoption 

Date of Enactment


1. Definitions

  • Approved Adult(s) shall mean persons who have undergone appropriate Safe Gatherings screening, processing, and training by Sugar Creek United Methodist Church.
  • Bullying is a form of emotional abuse. It involves intentional, repeated, hurtful acts, words, or other behavior on the part of one or more other individuals. Among children or youth, bullying may be physical (hitting, or damaging possessions), verbal (name-calling or taunting), emotional (threatening or stalking), or social (spreading rumors or the imposition of isolation). In adults, bullying manifests itself primarily through ongoing harassment and psychological intimidation that happens when one is ridiculed, insulted, degraded, threatened, or slandered. 
  • Certified Person is any person who has completed and passed a Safe Gatherings training at least once every two (2) years.
  • Children are any persons “under the age of 18 years, unless legally emancipated by reason of marriage or entry into a branch of the United States armed services.” (325 ILCS 5/3) For the purposes of this policy and accompanying procedures, teens typically labeled “youth” are included in the term “children” as defined by the State of Illinois.
  • Church shall, for the purposes of this document, be used to mean the Sugar Creek United Methodist Church located at 1022 New City Road, Chatham IL 62629. The Sugar Creek United Methodist Church is a local congregation of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of The United Methodist Church.
  • Designated Roamer shall mean an Approved Adult of at least twenty-five (25) years of age who has undergone Safe Gatherings training.
  • Emotional Abuse is when a person exposes another person to spoken and/or unspoken violence or emotional cruelty. Emotional abuse sends a message to the other person that he or she is worthless, bad, unloved, and/or undeserving of love and care. Youth exposed to emotional abuse may have experienced being deprived of parental affection, being locked in closets or other confining spaces, being incessantly told they are bad, or being forced to abuse alcohol, illegal drugs, or others. This type of abuse is difficult to prove and is devastating to the victim. (Melton, p.61)
  • Event is defined as a Sugar Creek United Methodist Church sponsored activity or ministry that involves a gathering of children, youth, adults, and other vulnerable persons.
  • The ‘Five-Year Rule’ refers to the requirement that persons in a leadership role of an event should be at least five (5) years older than the oldest event participant.
  • Neglect is failure to provide the proper or necessary nourishment, or medically indicated treatment, or other care necessary for well-being. This includes adequate food, clothing, and shelter; or a child who is abandoned by his or her parents or another person responsible for the child’s welfare without a proper plan of care. (325 ILCS 5/3)
  • Participant(s) are children and adults (including vulnerable persons) who are registered, enrolled, attending, or otherwise participating in a church sponsored event or activity.
  • Physical Abuse is any deliberate act that inflicts bodily harm to a person
  • Regular Attendee is anyone who has attended the Sugar Creek United Methodist Church for at least six (6) consecutive months. 
  • Ritual Abuse is abuse in which physical, sexual, or psychological violations of a person are inflicted regularly, intentionally, and in a stylized way by those responsible for the person’s welfare. The abuser may appeal to some higher authority or power to justify the abuse. (Melton, p. 30)
  • Sexual Abuse is abuse in which sexual contact between a child and an adult (or other older and more powerful youth) occurs. Examples may include fondling, intercourse, incest, and the exploitation of and exposure to child pornography or prostitution. (Melton, p. 30)
  • Social Media includes various forms of electronic communication (such as websites for social networking) through which users share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos or pictures).
  • Staff includes any paid employee of the Church and any paid employee of any group, committee, team, or agency of the Church who has been charged with the care and supervision of participants at an event.
  • Supervision is the ability for a person to oversee a group of children, youth, adults, and other vulnerable persons – giving direction, setting boundaries, disciplining appropriately, maintaining safety, and being a responsible leader in all situations.
  • The ‘Two-Adult Rule’ shall mean every event, area, and room with children, youth, and/or vulnerable participants shall have at least two non-related adults in leadership, so long as at least one adult is an Approved Adult.
  • UMC is the abbreviation for The United Methodist Church.
  • Volunteer is any non-staff worker who has been charged with the care and supervision of participants at a church-sponsored event.
  • Vulnerable Persons shall mean anyone who may be unable to protect themselves from abuse, harm, or exploitation by reason of illness, age, mental or physical disability, or other type of impairment. This term encoupases children, youth, and older adults.

2. Volunteer/Staff Selection Policies 

2.1 Leadership Qualifications 

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: 

  • Be at least 21 years old (exceptions apply for approved youth helpers);
  • Be a regular attendee at Sugar Creek United Methodist Church (Paid staff are exempt from this rule);
  • Submit a signed application (to be created, updated, and overseen by the Sugar Creek UMC Staff Pastor-Parish Relations Committee [SPPRC]);
  • Submit to a criminal background check at least every two year when having leadership responsibilities for children, youth, older adults, or other vulnerable persons;
  • Be interviewed for qualifications in performing the duties and responsibilities of the job position. Interviews will be conducted by the SPPRC and/or chair of the designated church ministry (program) the applicant is applying for. Church policies and guidelines will be discussed during the interview; 
  • Become a Certified Person by attend a Safe Gatherings training session at least once every two (2) years; and
  • When working with children and youth, be at least five (5) years older than the oldest participant they will be supervising.

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.

2.2 Youth in Leadership

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. 

2.3 Convicted Persons

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. 

3. Training 

3.1 Qualification

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. 

3.2 Screening

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. 

4. Ministry Supervision Guidelines 

4.1 Event Supervision

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 [4] 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. 

4.2 Physical Space Requirements

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. 

4.3 Transportation

Whenever Sugar Creek UMC transports children, youth, older adults, or other vulnerable persons away from the church campus:

  • All drivers shall be appropriately screened and submit to a background check; 
  • Must be a minimum of twenty-five (25) years of age;
  • No youth should drive themselves (without the permission of their parent or guardian) or others to or from church events;
  • The ‘Two-Adult’ rule will be followed in every vehicle with the exception of caravanning to a church event;
  • Drivers of church vehicles should be approved and covered by the church’s insurance company; and
  • Drivers should go through the same approval process as paid/volunteer staff.

4.4 Social media & other forms of communication

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. 

In line with the Church’s Privacy Policy, leadership should be made aware of individuals who have opted-out of being photographed. (Sugar Creek UMC Privacy Policy)

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. 

4.5 Outside Organizations using Church Property

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.

5. Overnight Events

5.1 Hotel Settings

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.

5.2 Cabin Settings

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. 

5.3 Mission Trip Settings

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.

  • At least two (2) Approved Adults will accompany youth at all times;
  • Leaders should be twenty-five (25) years of age or older;
  • A listing of all participants (including ages, medical information, contact information, and names and numbers of parents or guardians) shall accompany all leaders at all times

6. Reporting Suspected Incidents

6.1: Mandated Reporting

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. 

6.2: Procedure for Reporting Suspected Abuse

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 Directing Pastor;
  • The Chairperson of the Staff-Parish Relations Committee;
  • The Director of Children and Youth Ministries; or,
  • The Central District Superintendent of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference.

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 

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 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)

6.3 Requested Information

DCFS requests the following information:

  • Your information, including your contact information and your relationship to the subject(s);
  • Name(s), approximate birth date(s), approximate age(s), race(s), gender(s), etc. for the subject(s);
  • Address(es) for the subject(s) and alleged perpetrator(s), including current location;
  • Information about sibling(s) or other family members, if available; and
  • Specific information about the abusive incident or the circumstances contributing to risk of harm—for example, when the incident occurred, the extent of the injuries, how the child reported the incident, and any other pertinent 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

6.4 Reporting Church Policy Violations

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 (

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.

6.5: After Care

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.

7. Media Inquiries

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.

8. Congregational Covenant and Adoption 

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. 

  1. Training: We will conduct training on this policy and its procedures at least every two (2) years to assure that those involved in activities with children, youth, older adults, and vulnerable persons are aware of these procedures and standards and will abide by them. 
  2. Screening: All adults and minors above the age of fourteen (14)  who have a direct involvement with activities covered by this policy and its procedures will be screened in accordance with the Sugar Creek UMC policy. All persons who are subject to this policy will be rescreened at least every three (3) years. Any person who was screened but, for whatever reason, has been absent from the Sugar Creek UMC community for more than one (1) year and thereafter returns, will be rescreened. 
  3. Supervision: All activities covered by this policy and its procedures will be supervised by the appropriate number of approved adults. 

Date of Enactment

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.”, 2019, understanding-anxiety-and-depression-lgbtq. Accessed 16 Jan. 2023.

ILCS. “325 ILCS 5/  Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act.”, 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.”, 2019,

Sugar Creek United Methodist Church. “Privacy Policy» Sugar Creek UMC.” Sugar Creek UMC, 15 Mar. 2022,

United Methodist Church. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 2016. The United Methodist Publishing House, 2016.