10 September 2020
At a recent mid-week service of the Lord’s Supper, one of the set Bible readings was Matthew 18:1-14. In it, Jesus speaks of his care for the “little ones”. Firstly he commends the lowliness of little children. Humbling ourselves like them must be our attitude if we want a share in the kingdom of heaven! (vv1-4).
Verse 5 then dignifies children’s ministry by reminding us that if we welcome a little child in Jesus’ name, then it’s as if we are welcoming Jesus himself. What a privilege – for parents and grandparents, SRE and Christian studies teachers, Kids Church and youth group leaders and friends – to realise that your ministry bringing a young person to Jesus is like having Jesus himself over to visit your home personally!
However, this is accompanied by Jesus’ solemn warning that you would be better off dead than to cause “one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble” (Matt 18:6ff). Abusing, exploiting, or otherwise misleading or mistreating children, or other vulnerable persons, makes you liable for hell.
Sadly, we have seen the results of such failure over successive the Royal Commissions. Following the latest one, religious groups have been urged to further improve their appointment processes.
For Anglicans, the most recent step is adoption from 1 January 2021 of a new Safe Ministry Check for volunteers working with those under 18. This is different from the secular Working With Children Check (a kind of basic police check) already in place. And it’s in addition to the Safe Ministry Training we already do.
The Safe Ministry Check involves completion of a fairly detailed screening form, which addresses known risk factors in the case of adults. There’s a simpler, positive, age-appropriate form for 13-17 y.o. helpers. Volunteers are also asked to make a “Safe Ministry Pledge”. A senior member of pastoral staff will then make an assessment of suitability and identify whether there may be any issues to follow up. Strict confidentiality provisions are in place.
Another area of improvement is that we will also be providing standardised ‘job descriptions’ for each area of ministry involving children. Those involved can expect to receive more information very soon.
Lastly, I am taking this opportunity to ask ministry leaders at St Michael’s to sign the Sydney Anglican Statement of Personal Faith. This highlights the Apostles Creed, and four key matters not covered in our Creeds, but that are sadly contested in our world, namely that:
(a) that God’s word written, the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct;
(b) that there is only one way to be reconciled to God which is through his Son, Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and was raised for our justification;
(c) that we are justified before God by faith only; and
(d) that this faith produces obedience in accordance with God’s word, including sexual faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman, and abstinence in all other circumstances.
These steps are a kind of institutional application of the urging in Matthew 18:7-9, to make sure that we as a body of Christ do not allow any part of the body to lead us into sin, especially in caring for little ones.
Warmly in Christ,