Raising awareness about abuse

The New Apostolic Church in the south of Germany has issued a new policy on awareness and respect. Ministers, those in leading functions, and anyone involved in teaching will commit themselves to this code of conduct through their signature. What is behind this?

At the core of this new policy is respect for personal space and, in particular, the prevention of sexual abuse and violence where children and young people are concerned. Preventive measures have been put into place such as providing sound information, guidelines, and training sessions to raise awareness about safe practices in dealing with children and young people. One component of this policy is a code of conduct comprised of ten concise points. It states that everyone who signs this code will do everything in their power to ensure that children and adolescents have a safe and protected environment in the Church.

Respectful interaction is a must

Abuse of minors occurs at all levels of society. Experts confirm that about 25 per cent of girls and about 10 per cent of boys experience sexual abuse before their eighteenth birthday. The Church cannot and must not ignore this. The term “respect” was chosen to describe the form that our personal interactions should take. This denotes attentiveness, consideration, and esteem. We also need to take consideration of ourselves. In other words, we must also protect ourselves from getting into situations that could be misunderstood.

The code of conduct is binding for all active ministers and for all members of the Church who exercise a teaching function in the Church or who come into contact with children and adolescents within the scope of their work for the Church—this also includes choir leaders and orchestral conductors. Ultimately, this code of conduct is a requirement addressed to all members of the Church, it says in a corresponding explanation on the website of the District Church.

The Church’s leadership has taken responsibility for this new policy, which means that the matter represents a top priority. A committee comprised of Apostles, teachers, and a psychologist laid the groundwork for this new policy and presented it to the District Apostle and the other Apostles. The team also developed the individual components and submitted them to the District Apostle.

The signature means commitment

What is the task of this group? Susanne Raible, the spokeswoman for the Church, describes some of the tasks: “A specialist in prevention began by holding a one-day workshop for all lead teachers in our Apostle area, and then went on to conduct another for all the district leaders of the 54 districts. The workshop included visual depictions by a theatre group. Other trainers—who will then go into the districts and train ministers and all those involved with children and the youth—have also been trained, or are in the process of being trained. We will not manage all of this in 2016. These events will run on into the year 2017.”

An important component of this new policy is the code of conduct: “A circular from the District Apostle was the starting signal for its publication on our website,” Raible says. The next step is providing the ministers and teachers for Pre-Sunday School, Sunday School, religious and confirmation instruction, and everyone involved in the pastoral care of the youth—as well as all choir leaders and conductors—with the material. “They will receive the code of conduct on paper and by mail. The material will have been personalized with the person’s name and the name of the congregation, and they will be asked to sign the document.” Once they are signed and returned to the Church offices, they will be scanned and filed in our data system. Whenever anyone is first ordained or appointed a teacher or youth leader—or choir leader—they will be given the code of conduct to sign, which will then be filed in our system.

Not mistrust, only prevention

“The introduction of this code of conduct is not a sign of mistrust against anyone,” says District Apostle Michael Ehrich, who is responsible for the New Apostolic Church Southern Germany. Until now, he says, he has built on the fact, and continues to do so, that it is a concern for all ministers and members to be careful and considerate, and to act in the mind and spirit of the gospel. But, he says, he wants to send a signal and call on everyone to exercise responsibility and actively contribute to the protection and safety of our children and young people.

The code of conduct will also help to build confidence in dealing with children and young people, and it will serve as a reference for one’s own awareness and how to go about this work. “This way, the ministers and those who have functions in the Church will themselves be protected, for example, from overstepping bounds out of ignorance or because the gravity of the issue is a little unclear.”

A certificate of good conduct

At the end of the year, an extended certificate of good conduct is to be introduced. This will initially apply to all active rectors, district leaders, Bishops, Apostles, and the District Apostle. Beyond that, any brother designated for a ministry or any member appointed as a teacher or youth leader will be asked to submit such a certificate of good conduct.

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Peter Johanning
9.07.2016
Structure, Congregational life