Toward a Safe Congregation

We all want our congregation to be a place of safety for all of us; a place where we can come and feel secure among our friends and visitors; a place of sanctuary for us in the midst of our busy lives.  We want this especially for our children.   We can no longer operate any type of organization – sadly, not even a church – without a policy which clearly states what is acceptable and what is not.

Unitarian Universalists come from a variety of religious traditions and backgrounds.  Many people claim this is our greatest strength.  But in our eagerness to be accepting and non-judgemental, our greatest strength can also be our greatest danger.  Without a covenant of right relationship, which delineates how we relate to one another, and which should be signed by every member, people can be accepted into our midst who can not or will not make the effort to be in right relationship with our congregation.

This year, our congregation will create its own covenant of right relationship.  It will be a covenant which accepts differences of opinion in loving and respectful ways.  That, along with this safety policy, should ensure that we can all be together in community and that if we disagree we do it in loving and respectful ways.  We recognize that a covenant of right relationship, like a safety policy, is a living document.  Both will need to be amended from time to time, always with the same goal: to be together in community with each other, our staff, and our children in love and respect.

This document came about through the hard work of many people.  Many samples of other congregations’ policies were reviewed.  Much useful information was gathered from the UUA’s Safe Congregations website.  Then our staff, particularly our minister and our director of lifelong learning, worked with us on sections relating to their particular areas of expertise.  Other sections were collaboratively written by members of the Executive Board.   The Executive Board would like to thank everyone who contributed to this policy being put in place; to those congregations whose models we drew upon; to those who brought their training and expertise to what are often hard subjects to address; to all who contributed technical information; and particularly those who stepped up to address an instance of unacceptable behavior before we had this policy.   To all these people, a heartfelt thank-you.

Your Executive Board

EVACUATION OF BUILDING – FIRE

If the fire alarm sounds, remain calm and exit the building as quickly as possible, using the nearest door which is not compromised by smoke or flames.

Please assist handicapped or elderly persons.

Make your way down to the Main Street sidewalk, turn east (left) and proceed to the parking lot of J & K Tire, well away from the church and out of the way of fire equipment.

The children in the Religious Education wing will be escorted out of the building by their teachers, if possible using the south-facing exit (onto the Main Street side of the building) and proceed to the bottom of the driveway onto the Main Street sidewalk.  Turn east (left) and proceed to the parking lot of J & K Tire.  Parents should rejoin their children anywhere along this route.

In the event that the south entrance is compromised by smoke or flames, the Religious Education wing should be evacuated using the Main Street entrance (“front door”) or the Church Street entrance.  Use the north side exit into the courtyard ONLY as a last resort.

EVACUATION OF BUILDING – GAS

If you smell gas, alert others on your way out the nearest door.  DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING.  As one congregant put it, “If you smell gas, don’t touch anything except the door handle, on your way out”.  Proceed to the Main Street sidewalk and follow the same evacuation route as in case of fire.

Expectation of the Right Relations for Adults working with children at the Unitarian Church of Marlborough and Hudson

Adults working with children and youth in the context of the Unitarian Universalist faith have a crucial and privileged role, one that can carry a great deal of power and influence. Whether acting as a youth advisor, chaperone, childcare worker, teacher, minister, registrant at a youth-adult conference, or in any role, adults have a special opportunity to interact with young people in ways that are affirming and inspiring to young people and adults.

Adults can be mentors, role models for, and trusted friends of children and youth. They can be teachers, counselors, and ministers. To help our children grow up to be caring and responsible adults can be a meaningful and joyful experience for the adult and a lifetime benefit to the young person.

While it is important that adults be capable of meaningful friendships with the young people with whom they work, adults must exercise good judgment and mature wisdom in using their influence with children and young adults and refrain from using young people to fulfill their own needs. Young people are in a vulnerable position when dealing with adults and may find it difficult to speak out about inappropriate behavior by adults.

Adult leaders need to possess a special dedication to working with young people in ways that affirm the Unitarian Universalist Association Principles. Good communication skills, self-awareness and understanding of others, sensitivity, problem-solving and decision-making skills, and a positive attitude are important attributes. Additionally, adult leaders or teachers need to be people who:

1           Have a social network (outside of their religious education responsibility) in which to meet one’s own needs for friendship, affirmation, and self-esteem.

2           Are willing and able to seek assistance from religious professionals when they become aware of a situation that requires expert help or intervention.

It is ultimately the responsibility of the entire congregation, not just those in leadership positions, to create and maintain a climate that supports the growth and welfare of children and youth.

With the aforementioned in mind, the following statement is the Code of Ethics for adults working with children and youth in the Unitarian Church of Marlborough and Hudson.

Code of Ethics for Leaders of Children and Youth

Adults and older youth in leadership roles are in a position of stewardship and play a key role in fostering the spiritual development of individuals and the community. It is, therefore, especially important that those in leadership positions be well qualified to provide the special nurture, care, and support that will enable children and youth to develop a positive sense of self and a spirit of independence and responsibility. The relationship between young people and their leaders must be one of mutual respect if the positive potential of their relationship is to be realized.

There are no more important areas of growth than those of self-worth and the development of a healthy identity as a sexual being. Adults play a key role in assisting children and youth in these areas of growth.

Wisdom dictates that children, youth, and adults suffer damaging effects when leaders become sexually involved with young persons in their care; therefore, leaders will refrain from engaging in sexual, seductive, or erotic behavior with children and youth. Neither shall they sexually harass or engage in behavior with children and youth which constitutes verbal, emotional, or physical abuse.

Adopted by the Unitarian Universalist Association, 1986

Policy Regarding Disruptive Behavior

The Unitarian Church of Marlborough and Hudson (hereinafter referred to as “the Church”) strives to be a place of safety and integrity for each person’s mind, body, and spirit.  We are a supportive and nurturing faith community, honoring and respecting the rich diversity of those gathered here.  Recognizing that warmth, beauty, kindness and passion will shape us as a congregation of goodwill, generosity, and presence, we covenant to affirm and promote:

  • Honesty and authenticity in our relationships;

  • Words that are supporting and caring, not belittling and demeaning;

  • A welcoming and non-judgmental attitude;

  • Respect for each person’s boundaries of mind, body, and spirit;

  • Restraining from displays of temper;

  • Honoring the gifts and blessings of thought and deed.

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 the belief that our congregation must maintain a secure atmosphere where such openness can exist.  When any person’s physical and/or emotional well-being 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 members.

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 s/he has witnessed or experienced disruptive behavior or who has had a disruptive behavior incident reported to them MUST IMMEDIATELY report it to one of the following:

  • The minister(s);

  • The President of the Executive Board.

S/he may also report it to one of the following:

  • Any member of the Executive Board;

  • Any paid member of the Church staff;

  • Any member of the Safe Congregation Team.

If required by law, ordinance, or similar regulation, the senior minister or his/her designee will immediately report the incident to the proper authorities.

Since it is serious business to file a formal complaint against a fellow member, doing so should never be taken lightly.  Every attempt should be made to resolve disruptive situations by addressing them directly, with compassion and concern, before resorting to the use of this policy.

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 and to the President of the Board.

While the Church can not 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.

IMMEDIATE RESPONSE

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 be safely resumed.  The police department may be called if further assistance is required.  Any time any of these actions is taken, the minister(s), the President and the Vice-President of the congregation must be notified.  They, in turn, will then consult with at least one member of the Safe Congregation Team to determine what steps must be taken before the offending person or persons may be allowed to return to the activities involved.  A letter detailing these steps will be sent to the offending party or parties.

MORE DELIBERATE RESPONSE

For ongoing situations and those not requiring an immediate response, the process begins with a written, signed explanation of the disruptive behavior and its impact, from the person or people who witnessed it, to the minister(s).  The Senior Minister will determine whether s/he wishes to handle the situation privately, or request the Safe Congregation team to intervene to further investigate the matter.  When appropriate and whenever possible, the Senior Minister will inform the person that a complaint has been filed and is being investigated.

The Minister and the team will respond to situations as they arise, using their own judgment, without defining acceptable behavior in advance.

  • People and situations will be dealt with individually.

  • Stereotypes or stereotyping will be avoided.

  • The Minister or the team will collect any additional information required to obtain a complete picture of the situation and research any applicable laws.

  • When the Safe Congregations Team finds such information essential to performing its task, the Executive Board shall authorize funds to pay the costs of a risk assessment and/or a professional background check, to provide such facts as the correct identity of the person in question and records of past criminal activity involving threats, harassment, or actual harm to other persons or property.

The following questions must be considered by the Minister or the Safe Congregation Team:

  • Dangerous: Is the individual the source of a threat or perceived threat to persons or property, including him/herself?

  • Disruptive: How much interference with church functions is occurring?

  • Offensive: How likely is it that prospective or existing members will be driven away?

The following questions may be considered by the Minister or the team:

  • Causes: Why is this disruption occurring?  Is it a conflict between the individual and others in the congregation?  Is it due to a professionally diagnosed condition of mental illness?

  • History: What is the frequency and degree of disruption caused in the past?

  • Probability of Change: How likely is it that the problem behavior will diminish in the future?

The Minister or team will respond on a case-by-case basis.  Mediation by a neutral party is also a possibility.  The following levels of response are options that the Minister or the team can implement:

  • Level One: No action.  It may be determined that the complaint is not warranted, and the Minister will explain and discuss this with the person who filed the complaint.

  • Level Two: Warning.  The Minister or a member of the team shall meet with the offending individual to communicate the concern and expectations for future behavior.

  • Level Three: Suspension.  The offending individual is excluded from the Church and/or specific activities for a limited period of time, with the reasons and the conditions of return made clear in writing.

  • Level Four: Expulsion.  The team recommends that the offending individual should be expelled from membership and/or attendance at UCMH.  If expulsion is approved by a two-thirds (2/3) majority vote of the Executive Board, the Minister will write a letter to the individual explaining the reasons, the individual’s rights and possible recourse.  Such letter shall also be signed by the President of the Executive Board, or his/her designee.

Any action taken under Level Three may be appealed, in writing, to the Executive Board within thirty (30) days of the letter of notification.  An ad hoc appeal committee shall be formed by the Executive Board in the event that the action taken under Level Three is appealed.  The appeal committee shall be composed of the Senior Minister, one member of the Executive Board, and two members selected by the Safe Congregation Team who are not members of the team and are not members of the Executive Board, and a fifth member chosen by the removed person.  If the removed individual does not have a member to propose, the fifth member would by selected by the other four members.  The majority decision of the appeal committee shall be final and not subject to further appeal.

The removal of an individual from membership in the Church will be announced in the Church’s newsletter Tidings with the statement: In accordance with the Disruptive Behavior Policy, a member has been removed from membership.  Any church member who wishes to know the identity of the removed member may ask the Minister or any member of the Executive Board.

POSSIBLE REINSTATEMENT OF REMOVED INDIVIDUAL

A reinstatement request may be made no sooner than one year following the removal.

Any request for reinstatement must be made by the member who was removed from the membership.  The request must contain information concerning the rationale for the reinstatement:

1) a statement of understanding of the reasons for which s/he was removed from membership and

2) an explanation in detail how circumstances and conditions have changed such that reinstatement would be justified.  The request shall go to the Executive Board.  The Board will review the request and respond within sixty (60) days as to whether or not to reinstate the removed member.  The decision of the Board shall be final and not subject to further appeal.  In the event that a reinstatement request is not granted, any subsequent reinstatement requests may be made no sooner than one year following the member being informed of a negative decision on the previous request.

DOCUMENTATION

All documentation developed in the course of the investigating and resolving allegations of disruptive behavior will be kept confidential.  The Minister will be responsible for determining access to such documentation and for ensuring its security.

Personal Belongings

Please be aware of your personal belongings when you are in the building.  Personal belongings includes cell phones, beepers, tablets, laptops, medication, articles of clothing, cash and credit cards and all other forms of identification.  If you are attending a program or worship service, keep these things with you, or at the very least where you can see them at all times.  Better yet, if you don’t need these things for the time you will be in the church or attending the activity, don’t even bring them inside.  Particularly, do not bring large amounts of cash into the church or to the activity.

As we stated in the foreword to this policy, we strive to be welcoming and to create a safe space of beloved community.  On Sunday mornings the three main doors to the building are unlocked, for our own use and the use of our visitors.  There is a lost and found basket in the Church Street hallway, right outside the door to the sanctuary, where found items can be placed and lost items searched for.  But it is much easier, and safer, to simply keep your possessions with you at all times, or, as stated above, leave them locked in your car.

RISKS AND HAZARDS

No firearms shall be permitted on the premises at any time for any reason, except those carried by law enforcement personnel.

If anyone brings a firearm onto the premises, s/he will be asked to leave immediately.  If s/he refuses to leave, the Hudson Police Department shall be called via 911 by someone who is authorized to speak for the church*.  If the president of the Executive Board is present s/he must be informed IMMEDIATELY.  If the minister is present s/he must also be informed IMMEDIATELY.  If either the president of the Congregation or the minister is not present, they must be notified of the incident as soon as possible.

Once the individual has been removed, the president of the Executive Board will notify the members of the Safe Congregations team.  In consultation with the minister the safe congregations team will investigate the incident and make a recommendation to the Executive Board regarding the consequences (banning the individual from the church or revoking the individual’s membership, for example).

* Those authorized to speak for the church are the minister; any member of the church staff; any member of the Executive Board; and any member of the Safe Congregations Team.

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