In whatever context we are in, whether worship, service or benevolence, we need to let it be known that this is a place of safety for everyone. That our church is going to be a place in which everyone has the opportunity to be safe, which means that no one will be allowed to participate in actions that harm others, whether a church leader, a church member, a guest, a police officer or anyone else. All are to follow the same rules of safety.
In that, the church needs to adopt a set of simple rules that will allow the most basic level of safety and respect to others. Anawim—our church of the homeless and the mentally ill— and their programs have adopted five simple rules that everyone can remember and respect, especially in a church setting. Our rules are these:
No violence or intimidation
This includes not only the acting out of harm, but the verbal or non-verbal threat of harm.
No illegal drugs or alcohol on the premises
This allows those who are inebriated to participate in services, as long as they abide by the other rules. But the church is not to be a place in which one becomes inebriated.
No stealing or borrowing other’s possessions without permission
No sexual harassment
This allows all members of the community to feel safe from unwelcome sexual advances, whether verbal or non verbal.
This is out of respect of the Owner of the property as well as the community that manages it. This is not a rule against low brow language, but rather using God’s name in a demeaning way.
No harm to neighbors
As a church, our goal is to “love our neighbors” both in our church and outside of it. We need to ask those who come to respect those who live around our church. If for no other reason, it is so that the ministry might continue, because neighbors can cause difficulties for ministries to the poor.
If the rules are simple, then they can be remembered. Also, the rules should make sense to people that they would be imposed in any of God’s sanctuaries, not special to that facility.
In Anawim, we asked the community we were serving, the homeless, to help us establish consequences for these actions that are fair and preventative. For instance, some who does an act of violence is asked to leave for a week. One who acts in an intimidating way (arguing in someone's face, for instance) is asked to go on their own to cool down or to leave for the day so they can cool down.
Finally, to build a context of safety in the building, there must be trust built between the leaders of every service and those who are participating in it. This means that the leaders should attempt to get to know all the regulars of the service, so that if the rules need be enforced, there is a relationship on which one can build such enforcement. If there is a place of communication and trust between the leadership and the participants, when conflict does occur, then the leadership will know immediately and will be called upon to help deal with it. If no trust is built, then the leadership will be the last place where those involved in or observing conflict will go to, because they fear how the leadership will deal with conflict.
It helps to build trust if some of the leaders are among the community that the church is serving. There needs to be a break down between the served and the servers. This communicates that the church looks at ability to give people work, not at race, social class or other superficial standards.
We need to remember that trust isn't built in a day. To create a ministry that is trusted by the community it is serving takes a long time of faithfulness and respect given to the community. Be patient with those who might mistrust your motives.
To be continued...