Preparing Your Faith Community for the Unexpected

Recent tragic events are causing many congregations to pay closer attention to the safety of their people and the security of their spaces. We all like to think of our congregation as a safe space that offers sanctuary from the world beyond but churches everywhere have become increasingly vulnerable to unexpected intrusions. The chance of an incident occurring remains exceptionally low but we know that when it does happen it is devastating for victims, their families and their communities. The threat of everything from a tornado, flood or fire to a stranger who enters our space with malicious intent is remote but real and all faith communities are encouraged to engage in an open and transparent process to create internal policies, action plans and training for staff and volunteers before the unthinkable happens.

The following resources have helped our congregations develop plans and procedures for addressing threats and violent incidents:

  • Your local police department. Often, they can do a walk-through of your building and give you guidance.
  • Church Mutual Insurance Company’s ALICE Training Institute Online Tutorial. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. These tactics are broader than a “lockdown only” approach, and have proven effective for minimizing harm.
  • The Justice Technology Information Center’s Safeguarding Houses of Worship App and resources to use “in collaborating with community leaders and first responders.”
  • The Anti-Defamation League’s Protecting Your Jewish Institution is a comprehensive security guide covering not only active shooter situations, but also violent protests, threats, and surveillance by hostile groups.

As CER’s program manager for Safe Congregations, I’m interested in hearing from congregations that have developed strong policies and procedures. I’d like to share what you’ve done with other congregations. And if you’re from a congregation that’s just getting started with this work, I encourage you to begin by viewing this webinar, “Safe from Harm.”

For more resources on how to keep your congregation safe from all types of harm, check out our UUA.org Safe Congregations resources or to reach out to your primary contact. This website is in the process of revision and update, so if you can’t find what you need, just write to the UUA Safe Congregations team and we’ll get you connected.

Patricia Infante
CER Congregational Life Staff, Program Manager for Safe Congregations

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Responding to Violence in Our World

A few weeks ago I took my seat on a Jet Blue flight that would take me from San Diego to JFK in about 5 short hours. I had just left the wonderful Mosaic Makers Conference where we figured out ways to center the experience of the global majority in Unitarian Universalism—and beyond—in a world that is becoming increasingly multicultural. We made some meaningful strides in spite of the difficulties that abound.

Little did I know that my world—our world—was about to change again. While on-line in flight, I received the news of the most recent terrorist attack in New York City, the vibrant city that I live in. A truck speeding down an innocuous bike path deliberately killed eight persons, and injured numerous others—in the name of religion.

My heart, like yours, broke for the innocent persons killed and injured, for their families, on Halloween no less! A fun day. A day when typically, life is celebrated by all ages.

My heart, like yours, breaks as I ask myself, “what can we in Congregational Life do?”

We can pause. We can express our gratitude for the positive efforts being made. We can each do something. And we can celebrate the fact that none of us is alone—we’re a team. From there, we can work with our congregations by supporting their efforts to balance the disparities that abound. We don’t have to do it all but, if we want to be part of the change that we’d like to see, we do have to keep challenging each other, not by being hard on ourselves, but by being real. I shared some of these reflections last Sunday before we paused in silence to acknowledge the tragedy.

After service, I took the train and headed to represent the UUA and the Central East Region at Rev. Audette Fulbright’s Service of Installation. I sat across from a lovely couple. Happy. Carefree. Then, all of a sudden, there was a shift in mood. A shift in tone. Tears. The news: 26 persons were killed and about 24 were injured in another church shooting, this time in Sutherland, a tiny rural town in Texas. I made it to All Souls. Just as the service began I formally shared the horrific news, paused for another moment of silence, before extending warm greetings. My heart like all the hearts gathered, broke. My heart, like yours, breaks.

And yet, I know how important it is for us to allow our grief-filled hearts to invite faith, hope and love to seep in–drop by precious drop. Allow our hearts to guide us in coming together, once again, as often as we must, to claim that we will not let fear dictate the kind of people we are and will be, in spite of the anger, the tears and the fears. Allow us to be the people who know how to respond—yes, once again—by uniting our actions, our hearts and our minds in love. Allow us to remember as we work with the larger world, our congregations, and each other, that we are part of a team, doing the work that we have each been called to do.

Yours, HOPE

Rev. Hope Johnson, CER Congregational Life Staff

If you need assistance with talking about these issues with your congregation, please refer to the UUA’s pages on Trauma Response:

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Vigils for Orlando Victims Held Across the Region

By now, we all know the story of Orlando – it is the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history, the deadliest incident of violence against LGBTQ people in the history of the U.S., and the deadliest terrorist attack in the U.S. since 9/11 in 2001.

It is overwhelming in so many ways.  And so many members of our Unitarian Universalist congregations were directly and indirectly impacted by this horrific event.  There is now and will be grieving and trauma counseling work needed for years to come.

Our Central East congregations responded immediately and meaningfully, providing sacred space for deep grief work along with tender vigils of solidarity and memorial rituals that help people come to an emotional and spiritual understanding of how this event has impacted all of us.

And the work of our congregations is also enabling people to stand up for the creation of Beloved Community and organize in new ways to prevent future gun violence.

There are stories of congregational action from throughout our Central East region.

Some of these stories been told in newspapers, television stories and websites. And we have links to some of these stories listed below. These are now our collective stories.

And some of these stories are only known among the members of the congregations who participated.  But they will be remembered for generations in those churches.

All of these stories are important.  All of these stories are now part of our lives as we work to shape the future of our world, creating the Beloved Community, here in the Central East and far beyond.

 

Rev. Joan Van Becelaere, Regional Lead

 

From Oneonta, NY:

From Buffalo, NY:

Plattsburgh, NY

Binghamton, NY

Canton, NY

Sterling, VA:

Northumberland, PA:

State College, PA:

Columbus, OH

Youngstown, OH

Cherry Hill, NJ

Newark, DE

West Hartford, CT

 

If your congregation needs assistance in helping those who are trying to work through their grief over this trauma, please see the UUA website for resources.

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You Can Be a Sexually Safer Best Practice Congregation!

sexuallysafterThe news is full of stories about sexual abuse in spaces we have always regarded as “safe.” You may have noticed that diverse community organizations such as churches, schools, and scouting are paying greater attention to the safety and well-being of everyone in their community. Are you feeling confused or overwhelmed by changing requirements for background checks, fingerprinting, youth safety, or the ever changing social media landscape? And while you know how important safety is, have you struggled with where to begin? Have you ever said, “wouldn’t it be great if someone laid out an easy to follow, comprehensive program that every congregation could work on at their own pace, completely online to ensure that they are reducing risk and providing a safe space for all ages?”

Well, have I’ve got great news for you!

The UUA, in partnership with the Religious Institute (religiousinstitute.org), is encouraging congregations to complete the requirements to receive a Sexually Safer Congregation Seal designation. Sexually safer congregations have policies and practices to help assure that the congregation will be free from sexual abuse, sexually harassment, and professional sexual misconduct.

The seal is awarded to congregations who complete a self-assessment followed by a commitment to have in place 14 out of 18 different “policies, procedures, practices and guidelines” that, together, help ensure that you are doing all you can to create a safe and welcoming community. (Note that lay-led congregations or those with few than 101 members have require fewer criteria to complete the program).

Upon completion, your congregation will receive official recognition from the Religious Institute and the UUA and you can proudly display a “seal” that tells members, friends and prospective members that you take safety, particularly sexual safety, seriously and that ongoing board and leadership commitment is a priority.

Where do you begin? All the information, instructions and resources are located here: http://www.uua.org/safe/creating-sexually-healthy-congregations. The Religious Institute has put together a nifty video for your viewing pleasure and I recommend that you start there. Your next step is to complete the assessment and see what you are already doing well and what areas need more attention. The Central East staff is available to help you sort through and prioritize the best practices that you need to work towards. I’m the regional specialist on Safer Congregation and, in partnership with your Primary Contact, we are happy to answer questions about the program or help you discern a couple of next steps. Isn’t the safety of your congregation worth it?

Patricia Infante
Congregational Life Staff
[email protected]

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