Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Safe Serving: A073 & A074 #GC78

Safeguarding Virtual Elevator Speech:

  • Approve the updates to prevention of misconduct Model Policies in A073, 
  • Approve the updates to the training materials in A074, 
  • Make sure that both the Policies and the Training Materials have input of the people on the ground doing this work, 
  • Make sure that they both deal with social media/technology and establishing gracious methods to minister with our LGBTQ friends and colleagues. 
The FORMA position paper about the legislation can be found here.  And here.

Now for a much more interesting musing about these two pieces of critical legislation...
Spring training for wine.

I am now a certified mixologist.  I didn’t go to bartending school (but I am thinking about it), and I haven’t stood behind a bar yet.  However, I can legally pull beer taps and pour wine publicly in the state of Washington.  Here in the best wine country in the world, having your serving permit is what 'everybody does.'  Getting this MAST permit required about three hours of online coursework and a short online test.  The training materials were a mix of slideshows with cheezy stock photography and 80’s health class videos.   Anyways…several pieces of the training had me in fits of laughter.  Not because the topic was funny (third-party liability) but because of how it was almost exactly the same as the Safeguarding God’s Children training materials.   De ja vu.

I have been a trainer since well before the current Model Policies were adopted, using the previous generation of videotapes from Episcopal and Faith Trust.  I have led the training so many times I can almost repeat the videos word for word.  These alcohol servers’ videos had different names and different faces, but it felt like only the nouns had changed.   I guess I already knew that there is a whole industry that produces workplace safety training materials; and I guess it was silly to assume that someone took the time to write fresh script for each different type of liability.  Yet the dejavu was startling.  I had to quit giggling, and had to rewind so that I too can pour wine.

This 78th General Convention has two pieces legislation that are addressing how we strive to prevent misconduct and harm in our ministries.  The first, A073 is calling for an update to the Model Policies.  The current model polices were adopted in 2003, which in church time is brand new, but in lived time quite old.   Facebook was launched in 2004.  In 2003 less than 45% of teenagers had cell phones, and the texting revolution was just getting started.  Today only 12% of American teenagers report NOT having a mobile phone, and 92% being online daily (with 24% being constantly online).  I do not know many ministers, and certainly no youth or young adult ministers, who can serve without using multiple platforms of tech and communication.  

In my earliest youth ministry years I remember RENTING BRICK SIZE cell phones for a long road trip.  I only knew a few people who had cell phones at that point in the late 90's.  Now I text and message most of the young people I work with, I rely on multiple platforms and like those 24%, I am  almost constantly online.  These new technologies have enabled amazing and rapid communication, but also opened terrible doors for misconduct and abuse.  Revised and updated model policies need to include a specific directive to address technology and social media.  The real challenge here is that the landscape of social media and communication technology is changing and evolving so rapidly that platform specific policies would be less useful than broader guidelines that can evolve with the technology. 

Neighborhood cat just wants to be included.
One of the continuing issues with the Model Policies is that they are deeply focused on age and gender binaries more than they are focused on power and dignity.  In these circumstances power is the beast we are trying to manage, and dignity is the road we are trying to walk.  We are a church that openly welcomes and ordains LGBTQ persons, however our current policies regarding sleeping spaces and restrooms and chaperones seem to assume hetero-sexuality, and certainly assume a male-female gender binary. Where does a transgender teen sleep and shower when the choices are boys side and girls side?   It has been suggested that this an issue for the urban and coastal churches; however I have encountered these issues in every continental time zone. An informal survey suggested that while not everyone is currently dealing with this issue, plenty across the Church are.  Right now I serve in a mostly rural diocese and I encounter complications at every youth event and every camp session where the policies do not meet the lived reality of LGBTQ participants and leaders.  

The second piece of legislation, A074, calls for updating and supplementing of the training materials in the Safeguarding God’s Children/People to match the revised Model Policies.  Which is the logical extension of the previous resolution.  SGC/P is the most widely used training material for meeting our duty to prevent misconduct and harm.  It is the most widely used because the online version is basically free.  There are of course costs for the CPG and the fact is the office that supervises this is not large.  In person training, which I believe to be incredibly important, is certainly more costly in time and resources, yet overall it is inexpensive and approved and official.   

Yet for someone who has the in-person training almost memorized, it is clear that the training materials need the input of people on the ground doing this work, and it needs input from experts who know how people learn, and it needs input from pastoral minds that can communicate this info without scaring the crud out of our volunteers.  That servers permit training I completed certainly wanted me to know how to be a responsible server and understand the consequences, but it didn’t leave me scared to serve. 

We need new Model Policies and Training Materials that have the input of the people who are having to negotiate and safeguard on a daily basis, which is recommended in A073, BUT NOT A074.  High-minded and well-intentioned trainings with guidance that is unenforceable or contrary to human dignity are of no use.  There are hundreds of us in the trenches, striving and proclaiming and we want to preserve and protect.  Many of us have found makeshift ways to negotiate these issues, however sound policy and empowering training is far better than freestyle when it comes to preventing misconduct.  This feedback has its costs, but so to does not updating these policies and materials with relevant expertise!
Birds at our lovely,
but under renovation

Luckily, this work won’t have to happen ex-nihlo. Several dioceses have already made strides to establish model policies that address the issues that are unaddressed in the 2003 legislation.  Nothing in these two resolutions will make headlines, but it is the follow through from these resolutions that can prevent them.   

Approve the updates to policies, approve the updates to the training materials, make sure they have input of the people on the ground doing this work, and make sure they deal with social media/technology and establishing gracious methods to proclaim Good News with our LGBTQ friends and colleagues. 

FORMA advocacy group member.
Safe church trainer.
Local youth worker.
Provincial formation leader.
Diocesan missioner.
Wine server.

Jane Alice Gober
Walla Walla, Washington