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Guidance for Elders

The Church can be a place of safety where there is warmth, love and acceptance - and where there are trusted adults. Safeguarding children, and indeed all who attend our churches, is therefore a privilege and a responsibility that we all share.

Sadly, abuse of children and vulnerable adults isn’t something that only happens in the wider world. Statistically most are abused by people that are known to them. We all therefore have an important role in the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults - to ensure that our Churches are the safe places that we are all entitled to and deserve.

Elders’ responsibilities

Elders and Ministers are trustees of the church and are therefore under the regulatory control of the Charity Commission, who state that the trustees have the ‘primary responsibility’, for safeguarding children and vulnerable adults in their church, which includes a duty of care to their charity, a legal duty to act prudently and to ensure that legislation policy and procedures are complied with.

They set out that the duty is to protect vulnerable people from abuse and to prevent abuse from happening in the first place, stating that ‘all charities should aim to proactively safeguard and promote the welfare of their beneficiaries so that the need for action to protect from harm is reduced’. They state that they may consider any failure to do so as misconduct or mismanagement, or both, in the administration of the charity (even if your church is not registered as a charity, it still has “charitable status” as defined by the Charity Commission).

Trustees also have duties to manage risk and to protect the reputation and assets of the charity. The Charity Commission state that ‘it is vital that trustees assess the risks that arise from the charity’s activities and operations involving children and vulnerable people and develop and put in place appropriate safeguarding policies and procedures to protect them. They must also undertake on-going monitoring to ensure that these safeguards are being effectively implemented in practice. This is critically important because on occasion charities may be targeted by people who abuse their position and privileges to gain access to vulnerable people or their records for inappropriate or illegal purposes’.

Having proper safeguards in place for the protection of children and vulnerable adults can be done, they state, by for example:

  • Having appropriate policies in place explaining how your charity protects from harm
  • Putting in place processes that give clear step by step guidance if abuse is identified
  • Carrying out appropriate level of DBS checks
  • Having policies and procedures to help prevent abuse happening in the first place such as adult workers not having one to one access to young people.
  • Awareness raising – safeguarding training they state is mandatory for all those who work directly with children, young people and families and/or carers. They also state that there should be a requirement for trustees, staff and volunteers to learn about safeguarding.
  • Reporting concerns.
  • Having a complaints procedure that is open and well publicised in which adults and children can voice concerns about unacceptable and/or abusive behaviour towards children or adults at risk.
  • Responding appropriately and rapidly to issues of abuse and exploitation and preventing harm and abuse with a rigorous recruitment and interview processes.

The insurance position

Insurers require Trustees to follow legal, Government, Charity Commission and internal guidelines, and to take reasonable precautions in respect of child protection. Most insurance companies have ‘exclusion’ clauses which state that if loss occurs “arising from any act or omission which the trustee or officer knew to be a breach of trust or breach of duty or which was committed by the trustee or officer in reckless disregard of whether it was a breach of trust or breach of duty or not” then Elders could be individually, personally, liable if there were to be a successful claim, if it is found that they have not fulfilled their safeguarding responsibilities.

Safer Selection of Elders

The office of the elder is a calling of God and a ministry of the Church and elders are ordained (prayerfully set apart to this public office in the church). Elders share with the Minister of the Word and Sacraments in the pastoral care and spiritual leadership of the local church. They also represent the local congregation in the wider councils of the church at synod, General Assembly and ecumenically. As such, the United Reformed Church is required to have a process for those called to be elders comparable to the practice of safer recruitment for other roles within its life whilst acknowledging the need to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit by both the candidate and the church meeting. This paper sets out this process.

It is very strongly recommended that the step by step process below is followed by church meetings as the safest way to elect Elders:

  • A nomination process shall be agreed by Church Meeting at least two weeks before the church meeting during which the election will take place shall take place. Names of those nominated should be given in written form to the Minister and/or Church Secretary
  • Those nominated should:
    • be a church member for at least one year before being nominated
    • be given copies of the leaflet They’ve asked me to be an Elder which details the promises and functions of the elders meeting (see
    • have a conversation with the minister/interim moderator plus a serving Elder including the responsibilities of an Elder with specific regard to: the role within the local church including commitment of promises; functions as laid out in the Basis of Union; an overview of safeguarding procedures; responsibilities of trusteeship where the Elder is going to be a trustee; where elders are unable to be a trustee because they are disqualified a risk assessment by the Synod Safeguarding Officer (SSO) should be completed; a Self-Declaration form be completed. d) agree for their names to go forward to Church Meeting
  • Election shall normally by secret ballot. Only church members are eligible to vote;
  • Upon election, the newly elected elder shall
    • undertake a suitable induction training programme. This shall normally include shadowing an established elder. Induction may include elders training. The synod can support churches to deliver this training. Online elders training material can also be found at:
    • be given a copy of
      • URC Guidelines for the Conduct and Behaviour of Elders
      • the church’s safeguarding policy with knowledge of how to report concerns.
    • apply for a relevant DBS/PVG (where appropriate) through the normal channels. Where timing between election and ordination and/or induction does not allow a DBS self-declaration form should be completed;
    • safeguarding training is attended within six months of ordination and or induction.

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