With over 70 people throughout the denomination gathering in Grand Rapids, Mich., to attend the Christian Reformed Church Safe Church Ministry conference in April, director Bonnie Nicholas decided to add an optional last-minute session.
(L-r) Anamarie Joosse, Gary Smeyers, Ary De Moor, and Carel Geleynse at the Safe Church conference.
Photo by Gayla R. Postma
Before the opening plenary, Nancy Boelens of Holland, Mich., shared her story of 20 years of domestic abuse and the lack of support she received in her local Christian Reformed congregation. Boelens’s story was punctuated by poetry and artwork by Irene Fridsma of Grand Rapids, whose work was inspired by her friendship with someone in an abusive relationship.
“The presentation was quite moving and so clearly revealed the important role of the church in these difficult situations,” said Nicholas.
This year’s conference offered plenary sessions and workshop choices and was open to anyone involved in Safe Church Ministries; previously such trainings were offered only for Safe Church Team Leaders or Advocates at regional training events.
Nicholas said the conference invitation was opened up so that all Safe Church Team members could have the motivating experience of meeting with like-minded people with common goals.
“In addition, there are many places with no active Safe Church Teams or no chairperson. So this gave folks from those areas a chance to join us,” said Nicholas.
The fact that many large classes in the denomination do not have a Safe Church Team surprised first-time conference goer Henry Hofstra, who serves on the Classis Lake Erie Safe Church Team as a representative of River Terrace Christian Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich.
“There are several reasons why it is important for a classis to have a Safe Church Team,” said Hofstra. Besides being a hub for resources, training, and support, “The classis Safe Church Team is the body from which an Advisory Panel is drawn should an incident of officebearer misconduct arise in a local church.”
“Our churches are filled with people who have been impacted by abuse; yet the issue remains so hidden,” said Nicholas. “I was hoping that through the conference, people would begin to understand the potential a church has to become an avenue of support and healing to those impacted by abuse.”
Safe Church ministry is a resource for churches in abuse awareness, prevention, and response.