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Assessing Risk

Screen for the level of risk inherent in the ministry position. Remember, it’s the position, not the person, being assessed.

List all the ministry activities and positions

Each parish or organization should make a list of all positions associated with the church or organization, whether short-term, long-term, formally or informally established, paid or volunteer, involving laity or the ordained, taking place on Sunday or during the week, on church premises or off-site. (Appendix A, List of Ministry Positions)

List all the duties and responsibilities for each activity or position

List all the tasks, duties and responsibilities for each ministry position. (Appendix B, Ministry Position Template and Appendix C, Sample Ministry Descriptions) These preliminary lists will be used to assess the risks of each ministry activity and to establish proper screening standards.

Assess risk for potential harm

Assess the level of power, authority and control of those who minister, the level of vulnerability of those being ministered to, and the risk that harm could be committed by sexual harassment, exploitation, assault, emotional, verbal, physical, spiritual or financial abuse. Determine the risk level and assign a low, medium or high rating.

Appendix D, Risk Assessment Checklist, provides a more thorough worksheet to help assess the level of risk of a position. If you use the worksheet, keep it as documentation of the decision-making process for assessing risk. A ministry can shift from medium to high risk depending on the specific setting, activity and leadership arrangement of a particular event. The highest risk activity within a given ministry will determine its risk rating.

Low-risk ministries

Ministry duties and responsibilities that don’t permit a person to be alone with a child or vulnerable adult, or don’t permit access to financial resources or confidential information. These ministries don’t require a significant level of authority or trust.

Examples: arranger of coffee fellowship, audio-visual controller, bulletin folder, flower arranger, greeter, reader, some committee and group members.

Medium-risk ministries

Ministry duties and responsibilities that permit few chances for a person to be alone with a child or vulnerable adult or permit some access to moderate amounts of financial resources or confidential information. People in these ministries are in a position of authority or trust.

Examples: adult Bible study leader, advisory board member, chairperson, lay eucharistic administrator, team collection counter, team nursing home visitor.

High-risk ministries

Ministry duties and responsibilities that permit opportunities for a person to be alone with a child or vulnerable adult or permit access to significant amounts of financial resources or sensitive and confidential information. These ministries are positions of authority or positions that allow a person to establish long-term relationships of trust.

The following are always ranked high risk: all clergy, including honorary assistants; churchwardens; organists and music directors; parish employees; and those involved in residential or off-site ministries with children or vulnerable adults.

Examples: camp leader, Christian education coordinator, church musician, counselor, home visitor, parish nurse, server instructor, Sunday school teacher, youth leader.

Reduce the risk for potential harm

Whenever possible, the risk associated with any ministry should be lessened or eliminated. Consider changing the size of a group being ministered to, the number of leaders required, the location and visibility of the ministry, the level of supervision or the degree of authority associated with the position. It’s much easier, and ultimately safer, to reduce the risks associated with any ministry than to apply a higher level of screening.

Finalize ministry descriptions

The parish or organization will provide a ministry description for all medium- and high-risk ministries. The ministry descriptions will include the title, length of term, responsibilities, skills required, qualifications needed, limits of the position, reporting relationship, benefits and opportunities and screening requirements.

See: Appendix B, Ministry Description Template, Appendix C, Sample Ministry Descriptions

Definition of “vulnerable”

The term “vulnerable person” includes not only people typically recognized as vulnerable, such as children, youth, some of the elderly, hospital patients, and the mentally and physically disabled, but also otherwise healthy adults who become vulnerable because of personal circumstances. Such circumstances might include, but are not limited to, those grieving the death of a loved one, experiencing job loss or career difficulties, facing illness in themselves or others, and facing other uncertainties. It’s important to recognize that all people are vulnerable to varying degrees at different stages in their lives.

Individuals holding multiple positions

Individuals who hold more than one position within a parish or organization should be screened in a manner consistent with the position that holds the highest level of risk and has the most stringent screening requirements.

Elected positions

There are a number of elected positions in most parishes and organizations. These positions are subject to the same screening procedures as all other positions. It should be made clear to both the elected individual and to the parish at large that the individual will have to meet the requirements of the screening process before serving in the elected position. When possible, screening requirements should be addressed with nominees before they’re elected to avoid potential confusion or embarrassment.

Changing relationships

From time to time, relationships between parishioners and their families may move from ministry to friendship. In many cases this should be celebrated, since an important role of the church is building communities of friendship that reveal Christ’s love. Unfortunately, sexual offenders also try to form relationships that serve their own purposes and harm the most vulnerable. It’s important to tell the incumbent and to be sensitive to responsible boundaries in any relationship of trust.

Screening standards for parish employees

Many of our church employees are given authority by virtue of their position. They often perform their work or ministry with little supervision, in places where they could have access to children and vulnerable adults. Normally, all paid positions in the church will be ranked as high-risk ministries, and the screening standards of this risk level should be applied to them. Exceptions to this norm should be documented and kept with the ministry description for the position.

Screening standards for ordained ministry

Ordained ministry takes place in a variety of contexts, some of which are unsupervised and demanding, and where there’s a highly visible public role in the faith and secular community. The ordained person must work with the needy and vulnerable of society in such a way that the trust and pastoral integrity of the relationship are never compromised. The Diocese must make every effort to make sure those who are called to ordained ministry are able to cope with this responsibility and trust. Ordained ministry is ranked as a high-risk ministry, and the screening standards of this risk level are applied to it.

Ordained persons may also have to participate in additional screening activities, such as a psychosexual assessment and a psychosexual education workshop at the beginning of ministry. When the ordained minister is serving as an honorary assistant, the parish is responsible for making sure screening standards have been met.

Help & resources

For the full list of resources available to help you implement the Responsible Ministry: Screening in Faith program, see Forms and Resources.