By Pastor Steven Brackett, Assistant to the Bishop

We have now completed two months of using Safe Gatherings as our vendor for providing background checks and ongoing training for our goal of protecting the children in our synod.

 Safe Gatherings integrates abuse prevention and boundary awareness training with background checks and reference checks for all staff and volunteers who are working directly with children, youth, and vulnerable adults.

  We have also completed two months of using CongregationU, a sister company of Safe Gatherings, to provide ongoing online training in Clergy Ethics for the rostered ministers (pastors and deacons) in our synod.

As of January 25, 2021, a total of 48 people have signed up for Safe Gatherings background checks and training.  Of these, 37 are rostered ministers and 11 are lay staff or congregational volunteers.  This is a slow start, but that was to be expected with the holidays and the weariness everyone is experiencing with being online so much more due to the pandemic.

To jumpstart the training of our rostered ministers and congregational youth staff, the Synod Office offered to cover the cost of this initial round of Safe Gatherings background checks and training for rostered ministers, and provide a $20.00 scholarship for all youth workers who completed the training.  To encourage more rostered ministers and youth workers to complete the training, we are extending these reimbursements until March 26, 2021.  We are also extending the reimbursement for rostered ministers who complete the CongregationU Clergy Ethics course by that same date.

Once the pandemic is under control, congregations will return to all in-person worship and programming. 

Now would be a good time to review your congregation/parish/ministry site policy on the protection of children (or develop one if you do not have one).  That policy needs to include which volunteers and paid staff (in addition to pastor, deacon, and youth worker) need Safe Gatherings training. 

The policy should also include who pays for the cost of background checks and boundaries training.  The costs for paid staff should be covered by the congregation or ministry site using their continuing education funds or through a line item in the budget.  Volunteers can be asked to pay for their own fees through Safe Gatherings, but at a time when it is more difficult to recruit volunteers, congregations and ministry sites might consider covering these fees.  Safe Gatherings will also add at cost a driving record check for those volunteers who will be driving children for youth events and trips.

May congregations/ministry sites use alternatives to Safe Gatherings to perform background checks and protection of children training or their staff and volunteers?  Certainly.  But it will be difficult to find a more convenient, cost effective and time effective process.

For more information about Safe Gatherings, visit their website at  For more information on CongregationU, including a list of courses offered, go to

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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.




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