18 October 2017
To all lay and ordained ministers holding the Bishops Licence or Permission to Officiate in the Diocese of Lichfield
You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust …
he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler (Ps 91.1-2, 4).
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We are writing as your bishops about safeguarding in the life and ministry of the Christian Church. The Bible teaches us that God is the One who provides our ultimate safety, and part of our mission as the People of God in a dangerous and hurtful world must be to offer a safe space to all people, and especially to the vulnerable and defenceless.
In what follows, we want to:
- remind you of the theological grounding of our commitment to safeguarding;
- introduce you to those leading our diocesan work in this area;
- introduce a new set of safeguarding policy documents that you will shortly be sent;
- highlight some practical points which need to be prioritised by us all in our ministry.
Given the importance of the subject, we have written at some length, and we would ask that you take the time to read, to reflect on and to take to heart what we have written.
So for Christians vulnerability is not something to be feared or avoided, either in others or in ourselves. It was Christ in all his intrinsic human vulnerability whom God raised gloriously from the dead. We cannot call ourselves Christians if we do not cherish and respect all those put into our care, and if we do not honour vulnerability as a place where God chooses to be. There is no Christianity, and no Christian community, without a willingness to be vulnerable and a commitment to honour and care for that vulnerability in one another (1 Corinthians 12: 12-26).
There are many wonderful examples in this diocese of churches being alongside the vulnerable, caring for those in need, sharing the good news for the poor, as mandated in Luke 4: 18. But sadly, we also know of churches and ministers, including in this diocese, who have not always lived up to the imperative to honour and protect one another. Cases of sexual, emotional, physical and spiritual abuse which are being uncovered in increasing numbers across the country show our failure as an institution to live up to our calling. As we listen to the voices of those who found their vulnerability and trust abused in the very place where they should have been safe and cared for, we uncover ways in which ecclesiastical power has been used to hurt and destroy, or simply not to respond to what was known and seen. As a Church, we have much repenting still to do, many amends still to make for abuses that have occurred in our midst.
It used to be thought that abuse was a problem of a few disturbed or evil individuals infiltrating an institutional structure. However, we now know beyond doubt that unless institutions are vigilant and put in place proper safeguarding arrangements, unhealthy power dynamics will always arise and abusers will find a way to use them as a means of acquiring and grooming victims. We all have a responsibility, as members of the Church, to ensure that we do everything we can to try to ensure that such opportunities for abuse do not arise. To do this we will need to act on the best knowledge and understanding about safeguarding from the secular world as well as from within the Church.
Christians have always known the importance of accountability in community, whether through spiritual direction, sacramental confession, episcopal oversight, corporate prayer and testimony, or in other ways (James 5: 16-20). Now the need is for us all to examine together, and to keep on examining, how well we are responding to the vulnerable in our Church and community, and to put in place and maintain structures to ensure as far as we can the safety and protection of all. This is not a matter of fashionable political correctness but a biblical, traditional and authentically Christian imperative.
We were also delighted to welcome Neil Spiring as our new Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor in March this year. Many of you will already have met him and will know that he has brought to us his valuable experience in social work and has already made a great impact in challenging and improving the way we work. Neil and his team are always available to answer any questions or to give advice on policies, procedures, and individual cases. For ease of reference, we have appended to this letter contact details for Neil and his team.
We want to highlight the growing importance in legislation and practice of our concern for vulnerable adults. While safeguarding has its roots in child protection, it is increasingly becoming apparent that all of us can be vulnerable at different times in our lives, and that some adults have characteristics or face life circumstances that may make them particularly vulnerable over a longer period. We urge you to read the new safeguarding policy documents with care, and to reflect with other leaders in your community on how best to improve your own safeguarding practices, especially in the area of adult vulnerability.
2. Safeguarding training provided by the diocese is mandatory for all in episcopally authorised ministry. Should there be a reason why you are physically unable to undertake such training you must contact Neil or a member of his team, who will refer the final decision to Bishop Michael. There have sadly been cases of Neil and his team encountering rudeness and obstruction when they have given this message in the past, and we want to make clear that this is totally unacceptable.
3. Please read carefully the new safeguarding policy documents that you will shortly receive and implement them as appropriate in your particular setting. Please note that if you do not follow these policies the Diocese will not be able to support you legally, financially or with media help should any incident or accusation occur in a place under your responsibility. You may also be at risk of disciplinary action if you do not follow correct safeguarding procedures .
4. As leaders in the Christian community we are all expected to model, champion and explain the vital importance of safeguarding to our congregations. We know that some churches, PCCs or individuals do not yet fully understand the new safeguarding practices or the practical, ethical and theological reasons for them. It is the particular responsibility of ordained and lay ministers to challenge resistance where we find it and to make clear why safeguarding is important for all.
5. We are from time to time made aware of distressing cases of historical abuse suffered by children and vulnerable adults in our churches, some going back decades, to a time and culture when these issues were not addressed with the same rigour as today. There are people still living with the serious effects of abuse suffered in our churches and we are committed to helping them as best we can to recover and flourish. If you know, or come to hear, of such cases please get in touch immediately with Neil or a member of his team as they have access to resources to be able to help.
We need your help in taking seriously the imperative to safeguard those committed to our care, both in implementing the policies and guidance that will help us to do this, and in joining us in reflecting on how we can continue to improve our knowledge and practice of safeguarding. Most of all, we ask for your prayers as we address the sharp and painful issues which confront us in this area, and we assure you of our prayers as you do the same.
The Rt Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave
Bishop of Lichfield
The Rt Revd Mark Rylands
Bishop of Shrewsbury
The Rt Revd Geoff Annas
Bishop of Stafford
The Rt Revd Clive Gregory
Bishop of Wolverhampton
Diocesan safeguarding contacts
Mr Neil Spiring
Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor
Mrs Kim Hodgkins
Diocesan Adviser for the Safeguarding of Children
Mrs Sue Hathaway
Emergency out-of-hours safeguarding contact: 0845 120 4550
Further contact details, eg, for police and social services can be found on our Safeguarding pages: