Newsletter: April 2016   
New England Region UUA



Massachusetts Bay District

Clara Barton District

The Ministry of Safety:
An Embodiment of Covenant 
by Kim Sweeney
Kim Sweeney
I love rules. I love rules, structure, routine and clarity.  Maybe it stems from my time spent serving in the military, but I imagine my own comfort with rules and structure existed before that, and enabled me to thrive in that military environment. To some degree, knowing the boundaries and expectations has always been quite comforting to me.
Last summer, when I was asked to serve as the lead for Safe Congregations work in New England, I found myself pretty excited. In the most simplistic of views, I thought that safety policies and procedures really just mimicked rules and structure. And in the most simplistic of views, they do! But over these past months, I have come to realize that they are so much more than that. The policies and procedures we put in place allow us to be the best version of ourselves: open and affirming faith communities who hold each other in covenant and love. At the same time, these policies and procedures take the safety of our buildings, our people, and our communities seriously. At their best, our safety policies are an embodiment of our covenant with each other. "We covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person."  Read More

Sexually Safe Best Practice Initiative

In 2014-2015, the Religious Institute developed the Sexually Safer Best Practice Initiative. Watch this short video to learn how your congregation can become a Sexually Safer Best Practice Congregation.


Affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every person does include all people. What it does not include is an expectation that everyone is able to fully participate in the life of a congregation in the same way, especially if it puts others (or their own selves) at risk. Perhaps you've seen this image popular in social media:
Equality and Justice

We don't give the 2 year old the lighter to light the chalice on Sunday morning. We don't give every member of the congregation their own keys to the building with unfettered access. And we don't all have the authority to write checks on behalf of the congregation. Equality does not mean the same. The rules and expectations can be different based on our own capacity, roles, or responsibilities. They don't need to look the same for every one of us to affirm our inherent dignity and worth.

In working with our congregations through safety issues this year, I have found myself busier than anyone might have predicted. Our congregations are working with some very real and present challenges and opportunities on a daily basis. Part of this influx of calls may be a lingering effect of data regarding congregations discovered through a
2010 survey of UU ministers. The survey found:
70% of Congregations do not have a Safe Congregation Committee
33% have no written safety policy
55% who have a policy don't publish it, and an additional 33% don't know if one exists
80% don't provide education for parents on sex abuse prevention
78% don't have policies or procedures on sex offenders
Some of the questions I find myself answering often include:
"How do we respect the inherent worth and dignity of every person, including registered sex offenders?"
"We are a community built on trust. Doesn't requiring background checks on the volunteers who work with our children, youth, and other vulnerable adults indicate that we don't actually trust them? These are people we've known forever!"
Too often I receive these calls when congregations are dealing with these questions in an intense and immediate way. Tensions are high, fear and anxiety abound, and there are not clear policies and practices in place to guide them without the heavy weight of emotions and relationship at play. This is one of those areas where it would be so much easier to be proactive, to do the work of creating the safety policies and procedures needed to assist us in being our best selves, in doing our part to keep our communities as safe as we are able, and to create the structures and expectations our people need be able to do so.
Religious Institute
The Religious Institute has partnered with the Unitarian Universalist Association in offering the Sexually Safer Best Practice InitiativeThis resource provides assessments and sample policies around eighteen areas to help guide congregations in creating a sexual safety policy. If this is something your congregation would like to embark on, please reach out to your New England Regional Staff, Kim Sweeney, who would be happy to coach and support you in the process.

*Note: Safe Congregations work can include building and grounds, emergency planning, crime and violence, trauma response, disruptive persons, children and youth, sexual safety and even more. Please be in touch directly with Kim for more information or assistance in these areas.

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Kim Sweeney is Faith Formation Lead for the New England Region UUA. Kim will co-facilitate several workshops this spring: Congregations at the Turning Point: Choosing Your Future Faithfully, and Embracing Who We Are: Unlocking the Aging Congregation's Gifts. Descriptions and registration information can be found in the left column above. Contact Kim at

Our work is made possible by district dues contributions from congregations, associational grants and individual gifts. We offer workshops, trainings and learning opportunities throughout the New England Region for congregational members, lay leaders and religious professionals. Regional staff services and support are available to UU congregations year-round. Like us on Facebook to get regional news, stories and updates in your newsfeed. Follow us on Twitter @NERUUA.