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ioannis athanasiou webThe United Reformed Church is committed to creating a safe environment for all and has in place a robust safeguarding policy to ensure everyone is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve regardless of their circumstances. Ioannis Athanasiou, the URC’s new Safeguarding Officer, talks about the collective effort required in ensuring the wellbeing of children and vulnerable adults.

There is such a wide spectrum of human conditions and circumstances to consider in the process of ensuring adequate and appropriate safeguarding measures, yet it is a significant aspect of serving people, churches and local communities.

In the media, children are often referred to in relation to safeguarding, but safety matters for adults too, especially those who are vulnerable. Here at the URC we have established systems for protecting adults as well as children and young people.

The measures for supporting vulnerable adults can be found in the Safeguarding Adults at Risk document. Not only does this guidance look at how to prevent harm and what to do if you think someone might be at risk, it also looks at ways to empower those in need so that they can maintain independence, wellbeing and choice.

In December 2017, the Charity Commission issued a regulatory alert to charities across the country following a number of serious incidents. The commission’s updated strategy makes clear that safeguarding should be a key governance priority for all charities, not just those working with groups traditionally considered at risk.

It reminds us of the importance of setting an organisational culture that prioritises a safe and trusted environment – one that is safe for those affected to report incidents and concerns with the assurance that they will be handled sensitively and properly.

Jesus welcomed children and helped vulnerable adults during his ministry, and so does the URC. It requires courage to be vulnerable. We want anyone who comes into contact with our churches to experience a safe and trusted environment.

As said in Romans 15:1-2: ‘We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves; each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up.’

I see this ‘we’ as the collective effort of all of us to safeguard our brothers and sisters from abuse, harm or neglect.

 

Benjamin Zephaniah news bannerReform magazine's Charissa King caught up with the celebrated poet and activist Benjamin Zephaniah at his Brunel University office in Uxbridge.

It’s 2011, and a group of students are in heated debate. ‘Benjamin Zephaniah’s at this university,’ says one. ‘You’re telling lies!’ says another: ‘Zephaniah’s a rebel – he wouldn’t be in a place like this!’ ‘No it’s true! I’ve seen him!’

Meanwhile, the man being discussed is listening in to the argument, from his office window overhead.

To be fair to those students, Zephaniah took an unusual route to professorship. Kicked out of school aged 13, dyslexic and unable to properly read or write, he got into trouble with the police and was incarcerated before deciding to leave for London, to focus on writing and performing dub poetry.

Zephaniah went on to achieve international fame and rejected an OBE offered by Tony Blair’s government in 2003, in protest against Britain’s role in the slave trade and the Iraq war. 

Your first poetry performance was initiated by your mum, in church, when you were 10 years old. What was church like for you at the time?

The first church I knew was 55 Bevington Road, Aston. It was in someone’s front room. A Pentecostal church we used to call Triumphant Church of God. In those days, I knew many black churches but none of them had a building, they were all in different rooms. Every year we’d have a convention, where the churches get together, in either a hall or a community centre. I can remember all the songs, tambourines… The thing I remember most of all, is the speaking in tongues. Me and my brother used to mock them a bit: ‘Does God talk like that?!’ We could mimic them.

It wasn’t just about the worship, it was about community and coming together. Once they stopped doing the church bit, it was talk about ‘back home’ and ‘How’s so and so doing?’ and ‘How’re your children doing?’

Some of the preachers were so charismatic, so convincing. If you didn’t believe a word they were talking about before, when you see them… I mean, they’re working up a sweat! I’m convinced it’s where a lot of my poetry comes from – the techniques they use, that’s what I use in my poetry. There were some real characters. You’d say: ‘Wait till this man comes to preach! When he preaches, he’s got so much style.’

Read more of this article, published in the February edition of ReformYou can also subscribe here.

Man Image Rosie Reflection webIn Smirnoff’s recent ‘We Are Open’ campaign, a TV advert says, ‘labels are for bottles not people’. This got church related community worker (CRCW) Rosie Buxton – who works for the Swansea region of churches in Wales – thinking about the labels attached to people, intentionally or not …

CRCW ministry is about people, not projects. As Helen Stephenson says in her reflection, ‘Church related community work is not about projects it’s about people’, but unfortunately, we like to put labels on people and situations.

Labels are the first way people are defined. Vulnerable, disadvantaged, troubled, challenging, disabled, celebrity, addict, Christian, Muslim, lonely, financially inactive, refugee, asylum seeker to name but a few. We get so caught up in labels, we forget the human being behind them.

Read more: CRCW ministry: changing the world one person at a time