First Parish had developed and adopted a set of “Safer Congregation Policies” to help keep First Parish a safe place for all of our parishioners, and particularly for the children in our community. The central element is our Safer Congregations Committee (“SCC”), whose role it is to make thoughtful decisions about the participation of an individual in First Parish activities when there is a substantive reason to consider whether that individual might pose a threat to others.
The Safer Congregations Committee
1. Purpose. The purpose of the Safer Congregations Committee (“SCC”) is to make thoughtful decisions about the participation of an individual in First Parish activities when there is a substantive reason to consider whether that individual might pose a threat to others.
2. Composition. The SCC will include the Minister, the Director of Religious Education, a member of the Parish Committee, and four members at large from the congregation. The Parish Committee will appoint the lay members, preferentially including individuals with backgrounds in counseling, therapy, criminal justice, and/or restorative justice. Lay members’ terms will be one or two years, at the discretion of the Parish Committee, and may be renewed any number of times at the discretion of the Parish Committee.
3. Meetings. The SCC will meet at least once a year to review the responsibilities of the SCC, to build relationships among its members, and to ascertain whether each member is willing to continue serving on the SCC. The SCC will also review all current Limited Access Agreements and consider whether they need updating.
The SCC will also meet as soon as possible after it is activated by the Parish Committee’s Executive Committee. It will meet and otherwise communicate as often as needed until a situation has been resolved.
The Parish Committee member of the SCC will be responsible for scheduling meetings. The Minister will be responsible for ensuring proper communication with the Executive Committee and Parish Committee, and for ensuring that the First Parish office keeps appropriate records in a secure location.
4. Quorum. A majority of the SCC members will constitute a quorum. If the SCC is having difficulties achieving quorum, the Executive Committee may nominate new members, effective immediately.
If a member of the SCC has a conflict of interest with regard to to a particular case, the member should recuse themselves from that case. The Executive Committee may appoint a substitute SCC member for that case.
5. SCC Responsibilities. Once activated, the SCC will collect and review available and relevant information. When appropriate, this review will include talking with affected parties.
The SCC will evaluate whether an individual will be allowed to participate in First Parish activities and whether any restrictions will be placed on their participation. Relevant factors may include the individual’s history with First Parish, the nature, timing, and circumstances of the incident or incidents, whether the incident is isolated or part of a larger pattern, which activities the individual wishes to participate in, the presence of a support system (such as family, treatment providers, and legal supervision), and the individual’s history with and commitment to Unitarian Universalism.
The SCC may choose to exclude an individual from any or all First Parish activities, to welcome them without reservation, or to specify conditions of participation that are detailed in a limited access agreement. In making such decisions, the SCC shall keep in mind both the physical safety of the First Parish community and the spiritual values of redemption, healing, and second chances.
6. Confidentiality and Discretion. Rumors and innuendo can do great harm both to individuals and to communities. The SCC will therefore exercise a high level of discretion during its research and deliberations. SCC members may speak with anyone they consider relevant to a situation, and they will ask those individuals to maintain similar discretion.
Only the Executive Committee may decide to release detailed information to the full congregation, if it concludes that the safety of the community requires such disclosure.
7. Limited Access Agreements. A limited access agreement places conditions on how an individual may participate in First Parish activities. (See the sample agreement in the appendix.) Each limited access agreement will be signed by the individual, the Minister, and the Director of Religious Education. Conditions may include, but are not limited to:
(A) Limitations on which activities the individual may participate in
(B) Limitations on whom the person may interact with on the First Parish property
(C) Prohibitions on interactions with First Parish children or youth
(D) Limitations on access to locations within the building or on times of access to the building
(E) Requiring a chaperone under certain circumstances or at all times
(F) A ban on taking photos or using a cellphone within the building
(G) Identifying the individual to the First Parish community or some members of the First Parish community
8. Annual Reviews. The SCC will review all active limited access agreements annually and determine whether they should be continued, modified, or archived. Limited access agreements may also be reviewed and revised at other times, at the discretion of the SCC.
9. Reporting Requirements.
(A) The SCC will maintain active and frequent communication with the Executive Committee while it is reviewing an individual or incident.
(B) If a SCC review is initiated, the Parish Committee will be informed at its next business meeting at the latest.
(C) The SCC will submit a written annual report to the congregation at each Annual Meeting. This report will include how many individuals were reviewed in the previous year and how many limited access agreements are currently in effect.
Approved by the Parish Committee, November 14, 2017