Exploring Safe Spaces with Waterford Mennonite Church

Anna Groff's Q&A with Katie Misz, family life minister, and Ron Weirich, lay minister for family life ministry, at Waterford Mennonite Church, Goshen, Indiana.

1. What do you think are the most effective or important parts of your Safe Spaces policy? 
Katie: I like that our policy addresses the misconception of stranger danger. It’s not about locking doors; it is about protecting us from ourselves.

Ron: We have so many people involved with children and vulnerable adults, so a lot of people are aware of the policy or at least parts of it. But, in general, having a policy helps everyone at Waterford know that this is important and is being “Jesus-like.”

Katie: We did a Child Safety Sunday back in November of 2017, based on what Salford Mennonite Church did in 2016. The Sunday also kicked off our implementation of Circle of Grace. Four people from our church wrote their personal stories of abuse, and parts of the stories were read during the service. Some stayed anonymous, and others did not. That part of the service was so powerful. It made the fact that our church has survivors and victims among us very, very real. It also affirmed that they are a part of us and have an important voice.

Ron: We also used parts of Circle of Grace in the service, like the meditation, for example. Adults got to see what goes on in the Children’s Wing. It was neat to get the whole church aware of the curriculum.

2. What have you learned that you would pass on to other churches?
Katie: I feel thankful that I came into a church with a policy that people take seriously. Ron and Vicki Weirich brought a lot of leadership, too, as lay leaders. Yes, there will still be some pushback and some people who don’t want to follow it all the time. It is a really different way of doing ministry. It’s a recent cultural shift, and not everyone is there yet. I’m only thirty-one, but even when I was younger, we didn’t take these kinds of precautions. So it’s a new thing for a lot of people. My advice would be keep at it. It gets better as people get used to it.

Ron: I maintain that our policy is “in process.” We can learn as we go and made changes or additions. And no one has to reinvent the wheel. There are a lot of policies on the Dove’s Nest website that people can uses for their own contexts.

Katie: Also, don’t do it alone! There was a team of people that worked on our policy. This increases buy-in and ownership too. We are also finding a way to separate the child protection tasks, for example having background checks included in office work, someone else to head up the annual volunteer trainings, someone else do reference checks, etc.

3. What are the biggest challenges?
Ron: Maintaining documentation and up-to-date records of background checks and who has received trainings is challenging, especially since we’re a transient population. We are also looking into online resources for annual trainings. 

Katie: It remains at the forefront of our minds that all of our trainings ought to be done out of love and not out of fear. I also wonder how to introduce new topics in the annual trainings so that they feels fresh and relevant. Another challenge is trying to be even more aware of survivors and their needs among us. Trainings are really hard for many survivors, for example. 

4. What has
been the most rewarding or surprising?
Boundaries are freeing, especially for me as a pastor. I also like the analogy of a playground and a fence. Researchers found in a study that if there is a playground surrounded by a fence, children will play on the playground as well as in the grass all the way up to the border of the fence. However, if there is no fence, children will most likely stay on the play structures and will hardly go into the grass. With a fence in place, the children have more freedom to play than without a fence. There are little benefits, too, that one might not expect. For example, following the two-adult rule, teachers have found that having another adult to help makes it more fun to teach and is quite helpful in lesson planning and classroom management.