Safe Church Sunday

One of my particular passions at the moment is taking the “business” of being church and translating some of the policies, training courses, and decisions of our various councils and translating them into worship services that give our intergenerational, multicultural faith community and opportunity to engage with how they reflect our faith and help us grow into the love and image of Christ in the world.

Safe Church is often seen as a compliance issue is response to Work Health and Safety and the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse but it’s about so much more than that.

By identifying Safe Church Officers, publicly affirming those who attend Safe Church Awareness Workshops, and offering the whole community the chance to participate in building a sanctuary for all people, this liturgy hopes to shape consistent and authentic thinking about what it means to conduct church in a God-honouring, life-giving, and harm-free manner.

Credit given to the Church of England and Scott Noon’s “Life-lifting devotions for youth workers” for feeding some of this work.

Set up

As space allows, the sanctuary is set up in smaller groups with 6 to 8 chairs clustered around tables. Each table should be set with a brightly coloured piece of cardboard on which the letters SAFE are written vertically beneath one another (the blank side should be face up before the service starts), some felt-tipped markers, a centre-piece (floral, symbolic, or an image related to the “Sheltering God” welcome) and an ordinary plate and glass for a love feast. Posters containing contact details for Safe Church co-ordinators and helplines should be on display.

Sheltering God – welcome

Scripture is full of images of our Sheltering God:
who bears us on wings of love
and makes a home for us beneath the canopy of his wings;
who shelters us in the secret place in times of trouble
and keeps us out of reach of all our enemies;
who offers refuge from the storm
and a shadow from the heat;
who, with open hand, satisfies the desires of every living thing
and gives us our daily bread;
who comforts us as a mother comforts her child – 
nursing us, carrying us on her hip, and bouncing us on her knee.

Today, as we gather together to mark Safe Church Sunday (for the first time), we receive again the invitation to find
– in this time,
and this place,
and these people –
the shelter of God who soothes our souls
and shapes us into a sanctuary
that is God-honouring, life-giving, and free from harm for all people.

We bind our hearts together as we sing:

Gather us in, and hold us forever;
gather us in, and make us your own;
gather us in, all peoples together,
fire of love in our flesh and our bones. 

Signs of welcome

NAME-SHARING: At the table, each person introduces themselves to the group.

THE HELLO SONG – HEATHER PRICE: https://heatherprice.com.au/downloads/01-hello-song

RESPONSIVE PRAYER

Sheltering God, show us the signs of welcome in our worship.

Help us stand together, 
turn toward each other,
sing in harmony,
eat the same bread,
kneel side by side,
wave,
meet another’s eyes,
recognise a voice,
say a name by heart,
speak in unison, 
intercede for each other,
give thanks,
hear the same readings,
hug,
and join in a three-fold amen.

Sheltering God, show us signs of how we welcome one another
and build – together –
a sanctuary for hungry, hurting souls,
a place full of grace and Spirit and truth.
Amen. 

Settling into Scripture

SAFE CHURCH: As the people prepare to listen to the Gospel reading for the day, they are invited to think about what it means to be a safe church by completing the acronym SAFE with appropriate words and/or phrases. The following example can be displayed on a board or projector: 

Caring community
Headed by Jesus Christ
U
Real people with real joys and struggles
Called to be salt and light
Hope for reconciliation

Time should be given for groups to share their responses.

GOSPEL READING (chosen from Sunday’s lectionary – can be adapted)

Jesus was going through the city of Jericho. In Jericho there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a wealthy, very important tax collector. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but he was too short to see above the crowd. He ran ahead to a place where he knew Jesus would come. He climbed a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus. When Jesus came to that place, he looked up and saw Zacchaeus in the tree. He said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down! I must stay at your house today.”

Zacchaeus came down quickly. He was pleased to have Jesus in his house. All the people saw this and began to complain, “Look at the kind of man Jesus stays with. Zacchaeus is a sinner!”

But Zacchaeus said to the Lord, “I will give half of my money to the poor. If I have cheated anyone, I will pay that person back four times more!”

Jesus said, “Salvation has come to this house today. This man truly belongs to the family of Abraham. The Son of Man came to find lost people and save them.”

LUKE 19:1-10 (International Children’s Bible)

REFLECTION: LESSONS FROM THE SYCAMORE TREE

BUILDING A SAFE CHURCH, TOGETHER: The church’s safe church person is introduced and invited to share his/her thoughts on the importance of being a safe church community.

NAME, you have heard the call of Christ upon your life to be the Safe Church Officer of the [Name] Church.
We affirm your passion to protect others as a sign of God’s sheltering love
and we welcome your willingness to serve in this way.

Will you be watchful, yet caring,
trusting, yet ready to question,
and always available to those who may need support?
With the help of God, I will.

Will you deepen your knowledge and refine your skills
to the benefit of this church,
and encourage others to do likewise?
With the help of God, I will.

Will you work closely with your colleagues here
to ensure that all may flourish?
With the help of God, I will.

Faithful God, we thank you
that [NAME] has offered him/herself
as a Safe Church Officer in our Congregation. 
Uphold him/her by your love
and enable him/her by your Spirit,
that through his/her ministry
this church may be a place of welcome,
security and compassion,
that all who gather here may do so
in safety and in the knowledge of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Safe Church Officer reads the names of those who have recently completed safe church training.

I offer my gifts through the grace of God and with the support of elders and ministry leaders who have also completed the Safe Church Awareness Workshop. Today we affirm the most recent participants from [NAME OF CHURCH and participants are read out] :

May you always hold before us the example of God’s sheltering love and particular concern with the most vulnerable in our communities so that, together, we may be a sanctuary and a safe-haven for all. 

Let us pray together:

For your sheltering love over us at all times
We praise you, O Lord.
For your blessings on this worshipping community
We praise you, O Lord.
For all who safeguard the well-being of your people here
We pray to you, O Lord.
For the call to build a sanctuary for all that you give to each one of us
We pray to you, O Lord,
For your grace and guidance
We praise you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In groups, people have the opportunity to make their own commitment to building this sanctuary. Flipping over the piece of cardboard on which the word “SAFE” is written, those who would like to trace each others’ hands. During this time a song medley can be sung:

You are my hiding place, There is none like you, A new commandment

The “posters” can be stuck to exterior facing windows of the sanctuary – some displaying the hands and others the SAFE words.

A place at the table

In celebrating and committing to being a sanctuary which we build together, a love feast is shared in groups around the table. The elements will be brought to each table from the central table, with the wine being poured from a large jug and a small loaf broken and placed on each plate. By way of introduction the following is offered:

The night before his suffering and death, Jesus shared a final meal with his friends around the safety of a table in which he could speak some uncomfortable truths and prepare them for what lay head. This time of sharing now is a sharing of food and of sharing in the love we have for each other and for our Lord Jesus Christ who said:

‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’

In that love, we are the body of Christ whose Spirit is with and within us.

On this table in the midst of this community with whom Christ is present we set symbols to remind us of His presence and his promises to us.

A candle is lit.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world;
whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life”.

A loaf is broken and other loaves distributed with the words:

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. The bread that I shall give is myself for the life of the world”.

A cup of wine is poured and distributed to the other table with the words:

Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

So share these symbols with one another, be part of the story of God’s sheltering love, as we hold space for everyone at the table. 

Each group shares the bread and wine together – as they wish.

SHARING OF THE PEACE (after communion)

Jesus said: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.’

So may the peace of the Lord be with you.
And also with you.

Going in peace

NOTICES AND OFFERTORY 
Sheltering God,
as we offer these gifts to Your glory
and in celebration of Your embracing love – 
may You take also the gifts of our awareness,
our compassion,
and our desire to be more and more like You 
and build us into a sanctuary,
a safe-haven,
in which You are honoured
and life is shared and given
and all are kept safe from harm.
Amen.

CLOSING HYMN: Sizohamba naye


Easter 5 letter

To my fellow pilgrims on the path of resurrection life 

Last Saturday, mom and I spent a lovely afternoon at Tambea Kitchen and Garden learning a little more about gardening in Australia – and, more specifically, in Wagga’s difficult climate. (I won’t go into detail about the caramelised pear and ginger cake that we also enjoyed over afternoon tea but it definitely deserves a mention).  One idea that the presenter kept coming back to, however, was the importance of thinking about your entrance – whether you live on a farm, in a cottage, in the suburbs, and even in a flat. Your entrance not only makes a first and lasting impression, but it also tells people something about who you are and lets them know where you want them to go and what door you would like them to enter in by. 

Alongside Janice’s joy-filled induction service and the celebration of Mother’s Day (which becomes a little more awkward each year for many preachers due to our deepening awareness of who might feel left out or even be hurt by their memories), the myriad pictures of bold and creative entrances that we were shown has had me thinking a lot about how we extend God’s welcome to our community: 

~ what do our entrances say about us?
~ how do people know where to go?
~ does our welcome encourage them to enter through the door of our church and the Door of Life?

As we continue to journey with the book of Acts and the stories of the church coming to life in this season of Eastertide, we encounter the apostle Peter freshly returned from Joppa where many had come to profess faith in the resurrected Christ. His greeting by the believers in Jerusalem is not quite what we might expect:

“The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’”  Acts 11:1-2

And so Peter explains: 

~ his vision of God making what he considered impure clean,
~ the timely invitation to Caesarea,
~ and how he witnessed the gift of God’s Spirit to the Gentiles.

THEN the disciples rejoice at how God is opening up the way, expanding the kingdom to include those that they had not judged worthy! 

As Revelation 21:1-6 reminds us today: God is moving into the neighbourhood. Heaven, in Christ, is coming to earth. And the Church exists as a sign of this Truth.

As God makes God’s dwelling place with all people, I wonder how we can offer a cheerful entrance and a warm welcome rather than the unspoken 

“This venue reserves the right
to refuse admission to any person”

which shows on so many faces when the unexpected and “unwanted” show up. 

This week, may we be particularly aware of the opportunities to extend God’s welcome to friend and neighbour and stranger.

Yours in Christ
Yvonne