When we think of Youth and Children’s Ministries in our churches most of us have visions of children sitting on mats hearing bible stories, making crafts illustrating Noah’s Ark, singing “Jesus Loves Me”, youth playing games in the church basement, eating pizza and reading the bible together to figure out what God is doing with their lives.

Unfortunately for too many people, memories of childhood and church are darker and more painful.

For too long, because of misplaced trust, lax screening and lack of attention to policies to keep children safe, churches have attracted predators who viewed the church as an easy provider of victims for sexual abuse.  This is an ugly truth all churches have had to come to terms with.

Ten years ago the Northeastern Iowa Synod determined that our churches and ministries were not going to be a haven for child predators.

In 2005, under the leadership of Assistant to the Bishop Darrel Gerrietts, we accepted the invitation of our Episcopalian neighbors to participate in “Safeguarding God’s Children”, a training program developed by the Church Insurance Corp for the Episcopalian Church to help protect children and adults from sexual misconduct in congregations, dioceses, and other church institutions.  From 2005-2006 the training was made available in all of the conferences of the synod and  726 rostered and other congregation leaders received training to make their churches safe for children and youth.

NE Iowa Synod members recognized the value of this program right away and so in 2007 a resolution was passed at the Synod Assembly encouraging all rostered persons serving under call, under contract and on leave from call to attend a licensed Safeguarding God’s Children Training” event and that a certificate of such training be kept in the files of all rostered leaders.

In the beginning it was Pastor Darrel Gerrietts who did all the training; now we have several people certified to do training.  The push to have all of our rostered leaders trained has been largely successful and now it is just a matter of getting those new to the synod trained.  To date over 1600 people in our synod have been trained.

Needless to say this training is not just for clergy and rostered leaders.  At the very least Youth leaders, chaperones, Confirmation leaders, Sunday School Superintendents should receive the training but many churches often have ALL of their teachers and anyone who works with youth or children take the training.  It is also be helpful to have council members and all paid staff trained as well.


This training makes sure everyone in our congregations is aware and engaged to insure the safety of our children. The safety of our children is everyone’s responsibility.

The training not only serves to prevent sexual abuse and misconduct it keeps leaders from getting themselves in situations that set them up for false accusations which can sometimes occur due to disturbed individuals and times of conflict when leaders can be vulnerable.

It will never be perfect but the Northeastern Iowa Synod has been a leader in this area to make the church a much safer place than it used to be.

“Now we make sure we honor the process and all the people involved”
says NE Iowa Synod Bishop Steven Ullestad.

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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.