Written by Daniel Hazard
'Safe sanctuary' goal of proposed change
Clergy who participate in the UCC's search-and-call placement process likely will be required to consent to mandatory criminal background checks, if a proposal is approved by Local Church Ministries' board of directors at its Oct. 20-23 meeting.
"We have a moral obligation to provide a safe sanctuary in our churches," says the Rev. Richard Sparrow of the UCC's parish life and leadership ministry in Cleveland.
Already a requirement in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a mandatory criminal check will provide the UCC with an across-the-board process for verifying information that is already supposed to be self-disclosed as part of individuals' employment profiles, says Sparrow, who notes that it's only a matter of time before such a process will be required by most insurance companies.
"It is good that we move on this for the right reasons rather than being compelled to do it later," he says. "There should be nothing coming back from our background checks that isn't already available from self-disclosure."
Donald C. Clark, Jr., a Chicago attorney who serves as the UCC's nationwide special counsel, says, "It is an additional step in our continuing effort to make sure that our ministry settings and churches are safe places for all."
The proposal calls for every individual who is seeking placement through the UCC's search-and-call process to cover the cost of the background check, estimated at about $150. It is the expected that the "calling body" — the eventual employer — will reimburse the cost borne by the individual.
"[Individuals] can still update their profile at any time, but it's when they activate their profile to be circulated that the background check will be required," Sparrow explains.
Sparrow says it makes more sense for individuals, rather than ministry settings, to initiate the background check since it's customary for clergy to candidate for different positions at the same time. If individual churches or Conferences initiated the process for each candidate, there would be unnecessary duplications and costs.
The background checks will be conducted by Oxford Document Management, a contracted company that will contact all local, state and federal jurisdictions where a candidate has resided or worked (including sex offender registry reviews) to check on prior convictions or pending charges.
Clark realizes that some might say that other companies can provide background checks for less money, but "offerings from other vendors are not this comprehensive or are limited to searching the records of a single state."
Learn more about the search-and-call process at ucc.org/ministers.