Towards a Safer Church for All
Written by the Safeguarding Team
Please note that this article mentions issues of abuse and may be distressing for readers.
‘Safeguarding’… You may have heard of the term spoken of in recent months in Zion Bishan. What is it? Safeguarding is the process of protecting vulnerable persons, regardless of age from neglect or abuse (e.g. physical, emotional, sexual etc).
Our Zion Bishan safeguarding team comprises Danny Chua, Deaconess Deborah Yang and Ee-Ling Shankar. The team was formed in 2018 to review our church’s handling of allegations/incidents of abuse, and to better equip our church family to create a safer culture, both as a preventive safeguard against abuse, and to care well for anyone who has suffered abuse.
As you read this, perhaps you may be wondering… Abuse? Does this really happen here? In churches – really? Or in Zion Bishan?
Sadly, yes. Abuse happens in religious communities, in churches, and in Christian families as well. In the last ten years, there have been local cases of a student care volunteer molesting a 10-year-old boy in a church toilet, and a former assistant pastor sexually abusing a 15-year-old girl.
Our pastors and the safeguarding team also have had to confront cases of allegations or instances of abuse in the past.
In saying all this, we hope to debunk the myth that religious communities or churches are pristine and untouched where shocking sins of abuse are concerned. Brothers and sisters, the first and possibly biggest step towards a safer church culture requires us to have open minds and eyes, so we acknowledge the risk of abuse and the fact that it could happen anywhere, even in our own backyard. After all, for the light of Christ to shine in the darkness, we must first confront that darkness.
Creating this awareness was therefore one of our first big goals in training our church family. In the past two weeks, we were greatly encouraged to have our leaders and peer supporters of the 3pm and 5pm congregations undergo our very first safeguarding equipping sessions.
Apart from debunking the myth that churches are free from abuse, we also explored our Biblical basis for safeguarding. Safeguarding matters because we must prioritise the wellbeing of each person, preciously made in God’s image (Gen 1:26-27), who walks through Zion Bishan’s doors so they can have a conducive and safe place to know Jesus. In doing so, we also embody a critical message in our witness for Jesus, that our just and holy God hates wrongdoing and will punish evil.
In terms of practical training, we also discussed the various forms of abuse so our leaders can learn how to recognise signs or instances of abuse. The team also shared on preventive measures against abuse, as well as some brief steps of response and resources for help should any allegation or disclosure of abuse be made to any of our leaders.
Here are some thoughts from various participants on the sessions:
Titus Seah (Leader of AG17, 5pm): Training was sobering but much needed. Being aware of this facet of risk and brokenness within the church is an important step in equipping our Body to grow in maturity and love.
Tay Lihui, (Children’s Ministry Apprentice, 3pm): It was a heavy topic for all of us, but the participants in my group appreciated this conversation. A few mentioned that they would feel ill-equipped when a real case happens but were reassured to know that they don’t have to handle it alone.
Elder Roland Low (Congregational Shepherd, 3pm): I’m relieved that we are bringing this out into the open for discussion. Church is a community of sinners (from pastors to the little children) walking towards Christlikeness. We must be watchful & also watch out for one another that we don’t fall into the sin of abusing another fellow believer.
Dn Peter Wang (Leader of AG75, 3pm): The issue of abuse brings out the worse facets of humanity and the rawest effects of sin. It’s one that I certainly would ideally never like to talk about. Yet, it is a very present reality and danger that we as a church are far from immune from. God help us as we seek to protect and safeguard the vulnerable amongst us.
Rachelle Tham (Peer Supporter, 5pm): My key takeaways from the training is that perpetrators mostly do not look like what we think they do, and (regrettably) can often be people within our midst. Hence it’s important for every church member to be cognisant of both preventive and detective safeguarding principles and measures so we can all worship and study God’s word in a safe environment.
Brothers and sisters, as God’s family, we are altogether responsible for the care, protection and safety of the young and vulnerable in our church family. How can you play a role in this? Here are some small steps that we can all take together:
- Get equipped and resourced on these issues, and find out more about our safeguarding ministry here: www.zionbishan.org.sg/ministry/safeguarding/.
- Play an active role in your AGs and congregations by being a part of the #getdeep and #getreal culture to share life and struggles with one another so you can be that trusted friend for someone who is encountering abuse and needs to bring that into the light, so they can be listened to and supported.
Please feel free to contact the safeguarding team if you have any further questions or comments, or if at any point in time you are concerned for the safety of someone in our church family who may be at risk of/is being abused: Danny Chua (firstname.lastname@example.org) / Dns Deborah Yang (email@example.com) / Ee-Ling Shankar (firstname.lastname@example.org).