Over 200 people came together in our cathedral church on Sunday 19 November to give thanks for the work of our Parish Safeguarding Officers and all those who serve with them, to pray for the safeguarding of children, young people and vulnerable adults across the churches and chaplaincies of our diocese and to commit ourselves afresh to this ministry which we share. This is the text of  the sermon given at the service.

Thank you for all of your work to ensure a safe environment in our churches. We do recognise the task is complex. But we recognise together that our task is immensely valuable and vital for God’s mission.

Our starting point must be the value of each person before God. That sense of value runs through Psalm 139. The words of the Psalm help us to realise each time we pray them how precious we are to God and how precious each person in creation is to God. To say these words is to open our hearts to understand the love of God and the value of every person.

O Lord you have searched me and known me
You know when I sit down and when I rise up
You discern my thoughts from far away.

And later

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…. your eyes beheld my unformed substance; in your book were written all the days that were formed for me when none of them as yet existed.

It’s impossible to imagine a more intimate expression of God’s knowledge and understanding of each person – a knowledge which extends even before birth, a knowledge which extends through the whole of our lives. It’s impossible to imagine a safer image of intimacy than this resting in the love and knowledge of God. Every person in creation is made in the image of God, to be respected, cherished, loved.

But the psalm teaches us as well, as does the whole story of scripture, that human beings have a capacity for harm and hurt as well as a capacity for good. Abuse in all its various manifestations is a reality in the life of the world and in the life of the church. There are those who misuse power to pray on the vulnerable.

For that reason we have had to relearn as a church the need to be vigilant; the need to be watchful and alert; the need to offer protection as clergy and PSO’s to those who are part of our churches and who may be vulnerable within them. Parish safeguarding officers are at the front line of that watchful vigilance.

The work of a Parish Safeguarding Officer involves many different details: safer recruitment; developing good policies; improving the safeguarding culture; the handling of allegations; helping safe access for all to the vital ministries of the church.

But at the heart of that ministry is the fulfilling of the commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves: to treat anyone who is part of our churches as we would want to be treated ourselves; to offer love and respect as to our own children or grandchildren or sisters and brothers. Our safeguarding culture is founded on a tough but unconditional love.

And as in any demanding ministry, God’s grace will be there for us; God’s love and care will lead us. May God bless you this day and in the coming year in all that you seek to do.