Restoring A Shattered Trust

The church has lost the community’s trust and restoring it is the most urgent task if the gospel is to be preached and listened to, 15th Assembly members heard at Box Hill Town Hall on Tuesday. This was the sober message brought by Rev. John Cox, Executive Officer of the National Task Group, which is the body appointed by the Uniting Church to respond to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. “The reality is that trust has been broken with the community at large,” Rev. Cox said in delivering the Task Group’s report to Assembly. “Our social license is at risk… and as a community with the unique character of being shaped by the gospel of Jesus Christ, called to tell the story of Jesus Christ, how do we tell that story if people cannot hear or will not hear, because they cannot trust? “The work we are doing, and the change that it will bring, is one part of our ongoing commitment to be the people God is calling us to be. “As is our practice on every occasion we address these matters in public, I would again like to apologise to children who suffered sexual abuse in our Church’s care and acknowledge the impact that it’s had in their lives. For that we are truly sorry. “Our commitment is that we will seek to make amends and try to ensure that others don’t suffer in the same way they have. Our pledge to survivors is that we will continue to implement the lessons of the Royal Commission, and pursue best practice for care, service and support of children.” Assembly General Secretary Colleen Geyer reiterated the pledge first made by previous UCA President Andrew Dutney that the Uniting Church would “say ‘sorry’ to anyone who was sexually abused when in our care”. “We will not hide from the truth, however painful that may be, and we will seek, with compassion and humility, to address whatever issues and challenges may emerge for us”, that “we must be willing to examine our own motives and behaviour and be open to accept the close scrutiny of others”,” Ms Geyer said, reiterating the Church’s position. Rev. Cox explained that the National Task Group had two main areas of work, the first was to ensure the UCA engaged with the Commission’s work, responded appropriately and adopted the learnings of it. The second was to lead the implementation of those lessons to the Church. Rev. Cox reported that the church had collaborated very well in responding to the Royal Commission. “We really are uniting when it comes to our response to the Royal Commission,” Rev. Cox said. One outcome of responding to the Royal Commission is the UCA’s National Child Safe Policy Framework. The Task Group is consulting with Synods to establish a Safe Church Unit to carry on the work of engaging with the Commission’s findings and recommendations. Another area of ongoing work for the Task Group is establishing a set of Professional Standards for ministry agents, which would flow directly from the Code of Ethics. Rev. Cox also reported that, after extensive work and collaboration, the Uniting Church opted into the National Redress Scheme on the 4th of June 2018.
Assembly President Dr Deidre Palmer ended the session with a prayer of lament and repentance for survivors. Gracious and healing God. As your church, you call us to be a faithful embodiment of your care and love. We lament those times when we have failed to be communities of safety and care. Christ Jesus, challenge and correct us in our failure, and reform our life. We pray for those today, who were sexually abused as children. Those who are living with pain and brokenness, because of the abusive actions of people in our churches and agencies and in other institutions. May they find peace and nurture within relationships and communities of safety and trust. Christ Jesus, you who have known suffering at the hands of others, bring your comfort and Risen Hope to those who have been abused. We pray for the family and friends of those who have not survived - those for whom the impacts of the abuse have shortened their lives. Christ Jesus, comfort these family and friends in their grief. Christ Jesus, crucified and Risen One, We thank you for the many ways that you encounter us - giving us hope in the midst of despair, comfort and strength to live, when we are at or most vulnerable. Christ Jesus, you call us to be your community in the world. We commit ourselves as your Church to being places of safety, free of abuse and exploitation. We commit ourselves as your Church to be communities, where people can flourish in life-giving ways of trust and love. Through Christ we pray. Amen.