Providing Safe Spaces and Reporting Misconduct

Providing Safe Spaces 

The Southeastern Synod takes seriously its commitment to helping our congregations and ministries provide safe places for worship, learning and fellowship.  To that end, we provide resources to congregations/ministries to assist them in creating safe and healthy ministry environments. 

Because each congregation/ministry is responsible for creating safe faith communities, and because our congregations/ministries differ from one another in terms of size, programmatic offerings, and the buildings they occupy, the Southeastern Synod does not provide a specific policy for congregations/ministries to use.  Instead, we strongly encourage that every congregation/ministry develop their own policies and practices.  Below are some important recommendations which should be considered:

  1. While the primary goal of creating "safe ministry" policies is the protection of youth, young adults, and vulnerable populations, such policies also serve to minimize the risk for staff and volunteers who spend their time ministering to others in the congregation.  This goal should also be kept in mind as policies and practices are developed.  Such policies should also include provisions for reporting and responding to allegations of abuse, misconduct, and sexual harassment.
  2. Consider requiring observation of the two-adult rule and/or open-door policy when serving children, youth and vulnerable populations.
  3. Consider requiring that all pastoral care conversations that involve a rostered minister and a parishioner occur when a third person is present on the premises, or in a public place where confidentiality can be maintained.  
  4. If office and classroom doors are solid wood or metal, consider putting windows in such doors so that actions are never isolated.
  5. Consider completing national background checks (including sexual offender registries) on all staff and on volunteers that work with children, youth, young adults and vulnerable populations and on congregational officers.  
  6. While rostered ministers are to complete boundary training at least once every three years, consider training for other staff and volunteers who are responsible for ministry with youth, young adults and vulnerable populations. 

Many insurance companies require or strongly encourage background checks and observance of certain practices designed to keep ministry environments safe.  Insurance policies should be consulted regularly by congregations/ministries to stay current on requirements and recommended practices.  Church Mutual provides free resources to assist congregations/ministries with creating safe spaces for ministry.

The Southeastern Synod works with Safe Gatherings, an online abuse prevention and boundary awareness program that screens and educates staff and volunteers to help prevent abuse of children, youth, and vulnerable adults in group settings. When employees and volunteers are trained to identify potential abusers, recognize the signs of abuse, and know how to handle reporting, they are better equipped to prevent abuse. 

Through this relationship, all Southeastern Synod congregations/ministries have been set-up with Safe Gatherings accounts.  Congregations simply need to activate them in order to begin using their tools for policy development, online training, background checks and screening.  Go here to learn more, then click on "Get Started".  Questions?  Contact Pastor Michael Jannett.  Congregations may choose to use other resources for developing a comprehensive strategy for providing safe ministry environments.  The key is to take action and be proactive in preventing behavior that can be harmful to those entrusted to the care of the church.

Click here to complete Safe Gatherings requirements to volunteer in Southeastern Synod Youth and Young Adult Ministries.

Additional resources:

ELCA Guidance on Sexual Misconduct Prevention; Ms. Barbara Keller serves as the ELCA Consultant for Prevention of Sexual Misconduct.  She can be reached at, 773-380-2568, or 610-308-3428

Safe Connections: What Parishioners Can Do to Understand and Prevent Clergy Sexual Abuse

Sample Congregation Children and Youth Protection Policy

ELCA Screening of Volunteers & Screening/Hiring of Employees

ELCA Background Checks

Church Law & Tax - Risk Reduction for Children & Youth

Reducing the Risk - Newly Revised - Extensive training resource for reducing the risk in congregations

Safe Sanctuaries: Reducing the Risk of Child Abuse in the Church by Joy Thornburg Melton

Reporting Misconduct

If you believe that you have been abused or are the victim of misconduct by a rostered minister (pastor or deacon) in the ELCA Southeastern Synod, please know that this church takes your concern seriously and wants to be notified of such allegations.  All reports are confidential in nature.  To report abuse or misconduct, contact Bishop Kevin Strickland at or 404-589-1977, X221 or Pastor Jill Henning at or 404-589-1977, X222.

Additional information on reporting misconduct is available on the ELCA website here

If you or someone you know has been the victim of abuse or sexual misconduct by anyone other than a rostered minister in a congregation/ministry (such as a volunteer or another staff member), or you suspect that this might be the case, please know that this church takes your concern seriously and wants to be notified of such allegations.  Reports should be made to the pastor and/or the Council President of the congregation/ministry in which the alleged behavior occurred.  Though investigation and responses to such allegations are the responsibility of the congregation, synod staff may also be contacted for assistance in the reporting process.