After more than 16 years as the first and only director of the Christian Reformed Church’s Safe Church Ministry, Beth Swagman resigned effective March 31, 2011. Her resignation was accepted last week by the denomination’s Board of Trustees.
Safe Church Ministry, formerly called the Office of Abuse Prevention, established protocols and provides advice when church leaders are alleged to have abused another person. The office also provides education and training on abuse prevention.
Rev. Mark Vermaire, chair of the board, said, “We regret receiving this resignation and are very thankful for the groundbreaking and faithful work Beth has blessed the denomination with.”
Swagman declined to comment on the specific reasons for her resignation. However, the advisory committee that oversees the work of Safe Church Ministry noted in its minutes that work assigned to the ministry cannot be completed because of a lack of budgetary support, which resulted in the resignation of its director.
In particular, the adoption by Synod 2010 of the Victims of Abuse task force report (Agenda for Synod 2010, p. 475) meant additional tasks for the Safe Church Ministry, but no additional funding was provided for the work.
The minutes noted, “A review of the budget shows that . . . the reality is that the overall spendable budget has stayed flat.”
The committee noted in its minutes that there is a desperate need for additional staff, and noted that “if the desire was there, the money could be found. Lack of support from the denomination—dollars being the most tangible—has led to the current untenable situation facing the Safe Church Office.”
Swagman said her time as director of Safe Church Ministry included many high points:
- 600 churches adopting a child safety policy, reducing the risk of abuse for thousands of children.
- a strengthened denominational commitment to justice by helping victims and offenders with compassionate and effective protocols;
- a denomination better educated about abuse dynamics;
- a level of safety in our churches that other denominations envy.
But, Swagman noted, there are still challenges in overcoming denial about abuse, overcoming myths and misconceptions about victims, and partnering with church councils to increase awareness, conduct risk management, and offer pastoral care.
Swagman sees the leadership of the Safe Church regional teams as very hopeful for the future. “This will result in growth in regions of classes where mercy and justice toward victims and offenders will take on a new urgency and a character of restoration,” she said.
Swagman, a member of Roosevelt Park Community Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., does not know what her next role will be. But she expects it will continue to involve issues of mercy and justice, possibly a law practice focusing on issues of aging and abuse of the elderly.
“My service to the Christian Reformed Church has been a greater blessing to me than I was to it. I give thanks to God for the privilege and for all that he has allowed me to do and to be through this service,” she said.
Sandy Johnson, director of denominational ministries, said, “Beth has served as the Director of Safe Church Ministry for 16 years. Her knowledge and expertise for this work has been instrumental in helping the church deal with these difficult issues. She has served the church well and has made a significant impact on the Christian Reformed Church.”
According to Johnson, the administration will work with the Safe Church advisory committee to determine what will come next for the ministry. “We will need to engage an interim director, but no appointment has been made,” she said. Timelines and processes for a director search have to be established.