The National Safe Church Unit has designated June as National Safe Church month. One of the ways we are responding to this is by launching our Synod’s annual Safe Church Audit for congregations. This is our third audit and provides helpful information for Placements and Safe Church, the wider Synod and presbyteries. It also helps us to respond to the Royal Commission’s annual audit. 

I am currently listening to Michael Lewis’ book ‘The Premonition: A Pandemic Story’ (Allen Lane: 2021) which is a fascinating account of the development of the US government’s pandemic plan in the early part of this century. A few hours into the book I began thinking what it might say to us about being a safe church. One of those take home messages is the importance of good systems. Some of us are better at designing systems than others, but a good system, even just a good list at times, can assist us in ensuring that important information and significant steps are not missed.

The second thing that the book has reminded me of, is that no one strategy is a magic bullet. In the early noughties the team working on pandemic response for the Bush administration developed computer modelling that enabled them to test various scenarios (actually the story is much more complicated than that!) They discovered that no one intervention on its own made a critical difference but a combination of such interventions did make a significant impact (school closures though did make a bigger impact than many of the other interventions – I told you it was fascinating!.)

That reminded me of a presentation by Professor Daryl Higgins from the Australian Catholic University in which he made it clear that when it comes to protecting children from sexual abuse there was no one intervention that churches could make that would be decisive but rather a series of actions and systems that reduced the risk. He summarised these as ‘interrupting grooming,’ that is making it hard for people with unhealthy intentions to build relationships with families.

No one practice will be decisive but a cluster of them will make a difference. Linda Vinall, our Called to Care Training Officer, recently developed a model around the acronym STAR:

  • Screening all Leaders
  • Training – participating in regular safe church training
  • Adapt, adopt and announce policies and posters
  • Respond, reporting – audit and review.

This is a helpful, and I think easy to remember, way of thinking about some key practices to protect our children and be a safe church for all. Although I did think we might add a letter to the acronym – an ‘E’ at the end for eternal vigilance. Reminding us that this work is a task for all of us for all time.


Rev Philip Gardner
EO Placements & Safe Church