Anglican church shows support for Safe Places initiative
The St. Stephen's Anglican Church is the first congregation in Swift Current to become an official supporter of the Safe Places – Youth Certified initiative in the city.
The church achieved this designation as an institutional supporter of Safe Places after at least 80 per cent of the congregation's leadership completed their Safe Places certification.
The church celebrated this achievement on Nov. 18, when the worship service had a special focus on mental and physical well-being. Rev. Chris Dowdeswell introduced Kelly Schafer, the City of Swift Current's manager of the Safe Places initiative, during the service. She spoke to the congregation after the service during the coffee hour.
“We're very excited to become an institutional supporter of Safe Places,” Rev. Dowdeswell told the Prairie Post afterwards. “It's something we've been working towards for a long time. It's not always easy to get a large group of people to go through a training program that involves a number of steps and so it's a little bit complicated. Also, we have a number of people that are in leadership that are from outside the city and so it's a little bit more complicated when you have to go to two different RCMP detachments to go through the process of becoming Safe Places certified.”
The City of Swift Current launched the Safe Places initiative in early 2016 to reduce the risk of abuse and bullying for children and youth in the community.
The initiative provides an opportunity for those who are leading activities or who come into contact with children to become youth certified through a four-step process. A person is required to complete the Respect in Sport Activity Leader online training, and to do criminal record and vulnerable sector checks at the RCMP detachment.
According to Schafer about 1,600 people in the community have become Safe Places certified since the launch of the initiative in Swift Current.
“I think it's important to have as many people involved in the program as we can,” she said. “It is significant to have churches involved because they see a different group of people within the community ... and the church provides a platform to have discussion on difficult topics that we may otherwise not be able to do.”
Safe Places does not allow any organization to claim that it is Safe Places certified. Only individuals can become certified and receive their cards after completing the four-step process.
Safe Places still wants to provide organizations with an opportunity to show their commitment to the program, and for that reason the Proud to Support Safe Places brand was developed. Organizations that receive this designation can use it to highlight and publicize their support for Safe Places.
“The more people that we can show Safe Place is relevant to, the better,” she said. “We just want to raise awareness about bullying, abuse and harassment within our community, and show that we're doing all that we can to make it a safe place.”
The 80 per cent requirement for certification of staff and leadership will indicate a sufficient level of support and understanding of Safe Places within an organization to allow it to receive the Proud to Support Safe Places designation.
Rev. Dowdeswell noted that 33 individuals, which represent about 95 per cent of the leadership group in St. Stephen's Anglican Church, have already completed the process to receive their Safe Places certification. This group consist of staff, board members (known as the vestry), Sunday school teachers, as well as lay eucharistic visitors who carry out visits to sick parishioners.
“I'm very proud of that,” he said about this certification level. “It's enough to start shifting the culture in a group and that's I think part of the vision of Safe Places in Swift Current to get as many people trained and exposed to the training that we have more and more people just aware of what is bullying, what is harassment, what is abuse.”
Safe Place certification was created for individuals who come into contact with youth, but he felt it has broader relevance and anyone can benefit from the training.
“The skills that you learn are very transferable, not only for youth but to any vulnerable population,” he said. “Abuse, harassment and bullying are universal unfortunately, but the benefit of the training is that it's widely applicable to all of these ministries of the church and so we've gotten all those different groups certified.”
He viewed it as part of the duty of the congregation to show support for the Safe Places initiative in Swift Current.
“It's at the heart of our faith, our Christian faith specifically, that we are called to love God and to love other people,” he said. “All of the the law and the prophets are summed up in that. So everything that's come before is wrapped up in that and those two things are inseparable. To love God includes loving other people. We can't deceive ourselves into thinking we're loving God if we're not loving people.”
He added that there is also a scriptural mandate in the Book of Jeremiah to seek the welfare of the city in which you live.
“God send this prophet to tell his people to seek the welfare of the city in it being blessed you shall be blessed,” he explained. “So I think part of our calling as Christians and part of our calling as a church is to seek the welfare of the city.”
Safe Places Manager Kelly Schafer speaks about the initiative at the St. Stephen's Anglican Church, Nov. 18. Standing next to her is Rev. Chris Dowdeswell.