Churches in the Missouri Conference now have a way to certify people who work with youth and vulnerable adults through a new online process developed by the Missouri Conference Safe Sanctuaries staff.
“We believe this will ultimately keep our churches more safe,” said Nancy Cady, Safe Sanctuaries coordinator.
There has been an online process for Conference Safe Sanctuaries Certification for several years, but local churches were left to develop their own process for local certification. By offering the online process to local churches, they will now have access to online training and background checks.
Churches can no longer use the Conference certification process to fulfill local church certification needs. A church may choose to use the new online local church certification process. If they choose not to, they can continue to use their own local church certification with live training, but they cannot use the Conference certification in lieu of local church certification.
Anyone who is working with children or youth should be certified. All local churches are required to designate a Local Church Associate for Safe Sanctuaries in order to initiate the process of Conference and local church certification.
The new online process offers guarantees of confidentiality, to both the applicant and to the people providing references. By guaranteeing the privacy of a reference, people are expected to be more forthright about any misgivings they may have about an applicant.
Sex offenders are not the only people who are denied certification. Other crimes, such as substance abuse or stealing, could also cause an applicant to be denied.
Sometimes people may need to be denied certification even if they don’t have a criminal history. For Conference Certification, people need to be able to supervise a large group of youth, maintaining control and discipline.
“It may be recommended that an individual’s gifts aren’t suited for that type of role,” Cady said.
Local church needs may be different regarding supervision, and the same person may be certified by the local church.
The development cost of the online process was paid for in part by a grant from the Missouri United Methodist Foundation. Local churches do not have to pay an additional fee to use the new Safe Sanctuaries process. The individual fee for certification is $30. This fee helps cover the cost of the background checks. It would be cost-prohibitive for one church to implement it own online process.
“Our online certification process is possible because we have all of our churches working together on the same process,” Cady said.
Having a cloud-based (software and data on remote servers) system has allowed the Conference to open the process up to local churches.
In the near future, individuals will no longer be able to self-initiate the certification process. Certification must be started through the local church. The local church can apply for an individual to be Safe Sanctuaries certified for their local church, for Conference activities, or for both. If someone is certified for their local church, and the local church later needs to have the person participate in a Conference activity, the church can apply to have that individual Conference certified, and none of the original training completed or information submitted will have to be repeated. There will not be an additional fee to add Conference certification as long as it is within the four year certification period.
“It’s difficult to describe what a huge benefit it is for us to move away from paper files,” Cady said. “We’ve been processing more than 2,000 volunteers a year.”
Churches without children still need to have a Local Church Associate, and are encouraged to have Safe Sanctuaries certified people within their congregation.
“If someone shows up at a church one Sunday morning with children, the church needs to be ready to minister to them,” said Christa Daro, Safe Sanctuaries assistant.
Visitors recognize the importance of keeping their children safe, and need reassurance that the church shares that concern.
“In today’s society, our need to protect our children is increasing, not decreasing,” Cady said. “We don’t hear people saying this isn’t necessary, or isn’t important.”
Stephanie Shields is the Local Church Associate for Safe Sanctuaries at First UMC in Maryville, one of the pilot churches that has been doing online certification through the new system this year. About 30 people from her church have already been certified through the system.
“The program is fabulous,” she said. “It’s been great to be able to check-in on people and see where they are in the process.”
One thing to be wary of is making sure people are fully committed before you start the process, Shields said. She has several people who she has paid to get certified who started the process, but have not yet completed all the steps for certification.
Susan McCollegan finds the training to be more thorough than live presentations, because she has time to re-read sections and move through it at her own pace. As the Local Church Associate for Missouri UMC in Columbia, she has found the new process to be easy to use.
“I do this from home, when I have had a question I just click the help button, and have always received a quick and thorough response,” she said.
The Conference conducted district trainings in October, February and March and at Annual Conference Session. A final training was held on July 14 at Community UMC in Columbia that was attended by 150 people. In early September the process was being opened up to clergy and Local Church Associates so they could begin registering for the new online process.
A workshop for Local Church Associates and local church certification authorities will be conducted in Columbia on September 29.
“We’ll be going over technical aspects for the Local Church Associates, and will be working with the certification authorities to provide them information and resources for better discernment of people’s gifts and strengths. This provides information that helps the church put people in places to serve that match their gifts,” said Director of Connectional Ministries Sherry Habben. “Having an improved discernment process helps know a person’s gifts, skills and issues, and allows for churches to discern before putting someone up for certification the best place for that person to serve, and not having to deny certification to someone after they have gone through the process.”
For more information on Safe Sanctuaries, go to www.moumethodist. org/safesanctuaries.