Some people have strange ideas about training sessions! Image via Wikipedia
I recently started a thread on Facebook's UK Methodists about Safeguarding in the Methodist Church. This link should take you there although I'm not sure it will last for very long!
I started the thread because I received a letter inviting me to a training session about safeguarding. The letter included the following paragraph:
'Participating in this training is a requirement of the Methodist Church in order to fulfil the demands of the government's safeguarding legislation, so it is essential that every local preacher and worship leader attends this training session; failure to undergo the training could result in your local preacher status being withdrawn.'
What concerns me is the tone of this statement and when I asked a fellow preacher about it he explained the local preachers' meeting had to accept this approach because it had been approved by Conference.
Just to clear the decks, I have no problem with safeguarding training. I know how important it is and understand why it is important preachers are aware of the issue. What I am asking is whether the approach of threatening people is the best approach to safeguarding? After all safeguarding targets various forms of bullying and enforcing it, using a method that at best appears to be bullying seems to me to be somewhat counter-productive.
The thread is interesting and various explanations have been offered for the threat but it seems to boil down to there being a few recalcitrant preachers who, in the best Methodist tradition, would not be dragged by wild horses into a training session. Why these people would be any more inclined to take part when forced to do so is a mute point.
But I am intrigued by the idea that training is somehow enhanced by the presence of a group of people full of resentment because they have been strong-armed into the room against their better judgement. I confess whilst I would have been reluctant to go and sit through yet another session on safeguarding, I would have gone and made the best of it. Being threatened has not made it any easier for me to be there, now I feel like digging my heels in.
Obviously, many people who have written on the thread, will leap up and tell me that I am being silly, endangering the church and undermining the Kingdom of God. So, let's slow down, everyone take a deep breath and think about this.
Is there any way to do this without the threats? I presume it is desirable to do so.
I think there are two potentially fruitful directions to be explored. The first one is the obvious question: why is it compulsory? The answer seems to be to protect the institution (which includes preachers themselves). It is apparently, something required in primary government legislation. So, what exactly is required under the legislation? I suspect it will be a fair amount of information that needs to be passed on. Need it be in the form of the Methodist Church's 'Creating Safer Spaces' course? I suspect not. The thread includes some information about its content and some of it is sharing stories and experiences. This is a good thing to do but is it strictly necessary to adhere to the letter of the law? I suspect not.
So, my suggesion is, why not a 20 - 30 minute session that can be fitted into a Local Preacher's meeting? (Similar sessions could be offered as appropriate to pastoral visitors and others who must do the training.) This session should fulfil two roles. First, it would enable all those present to meet the letter of the law. It would also be a taster session for the 'Creating Safer Spaces' course. Those who missed this taster session could sign up for the full course as an alternative and those who attend the taster would presumably attend the full course dependent upon the quality of their taster experience.
Doubtless, there will be some who might still refuse to go to either. The Super would need to diplomatically discuss the matter with them, explain the conference decision and ensure they are in possession of the facts.
Now before my, so far, faithful readers, leap onto their hobby horses, let me deal with the question of the residual awkward squad. What I am doing here is sowing the seeds of a marketing strategy. Any trainer will tell you, it is fundamental to your trade to know your customers. No trainee is going to respond positively to a trainer who does not respect them. How about some research into the people who turn down this training? Is there really no way they can receive the information they need in a format they find congenial?
One issue that emerges strongly, reading the thread is how poorly the course has been explained, certainly in my circuit. Before we consider alternatives to the course, how about asking about how it is marketed? Why should a 75 year old preacher of 50 years standing, who actual has dealt with abuse in the past, who knows more than the trainer in some respects, attend this training course? Note I'm not saying this person shouldn't, I'm saying they need to be given a reason.
It worries me that Methodism seems to assume there will be an awkward squad, who will need to forced into compliance instead of listening to what they're saying and learning from them. I'm not an expert but I suspect child abuse is such an intractable issue because so often adults fail to listen to children and vulnerable adults. Listening is at the centre of our core discipline of prayer. And that means listening to everyone, especially those we see as enemies.
This is not an option. Indeed I respectfully suggest to anyone who is paid to deliver Creating Safer Spaces, listening to and learning from the awkward squad is a part of your job. It may well be difficult or costly but failure to do so will ultimately mean some people will not hear your message. It means leaving the comfort of your training rooms and visiting people in their churches and homes. You won't need to listen to everyone, just enough to design courses and other means of communication, people will respond to positively and without being threatened.
Remember, if you have to resort to threats you have lost the argument.