I’m a proponent of breaking some rules. Other rules are rules we should always adhere to.

               At this point in our pastoral relationship, you’re probably not surprised to hear this: I’m a bit of a rule breaker. I enjoy having fun with the rules and I enjoy pushing boundaries a little bit. Not because I’m reckless, mind you. Instead, I see it more like permission granting for bucking trends. I have my standards when it comes to rule breaking. When I decide to break rules, I try to make sure those rules are inconsequential. I don’t want to break rules if doing so might cause harm to others or to myself. Let’s face it, some rules are good rules! For instance, did your parents tell you, don’t run with scissors? That’s a good rule. If you run with scissors and you trip and fall, you could easily become injured. But what about only wearing a black clerical shirt and black dress shoes at all times? I’ve served at places in my life that have required black clerical shirts and black dress shoes, and guess what rule I enjoy breaking? That one! Breaking the second rule doesn’t hurt anyone. Breaking the first rule could cause injury or even death. See what I’m getting at?

               I enjoy playing golf. But when I play golf, I don’t always follow all of the game’s tedious rules. There are over 200 pages in a golf rule book. I don’t know all the rules, and some of them are just plain silly. Did you know that there is supposed to be a penalty stroke added if you ask someone what club they used for a shot? There’s another penalty added if that same question is answered! How silly! When I play golf, I want to have fun. And I want the people I’m playing with to have fun. So when I’m playing a friendly round (I never play competitively any more), you might see me use the proverbial “toe wedge” if my ball is stuck behind a tree. Or maybe I might take a “mulligan” or two if I hit an errant ball. And you know what? If you’re playing golf with me, and you want to use a toe wedge or take a mulligan, I’ll cheer you on for doing so! I won’t make you add a stroke for asking me about my club choice and I won’t add a stroke to my score for answering you. Breaking those rules doesn’t hurt anyone. In fact, breaking those rules make things even more fun!

               Now, it might be ok to break inconsequential rules. But what about some of the more serious rules? You likely are aware that there is a push around the Diocese to ensure that ministers (both volunteers and paid staff) are up to date on required trainings. These rules come from the national Church and these are rules we don’t want to break. While there are a number of trainings that only leadership personnel are required to take, there are others that are mandatory for everyone who ministers directly with people. For example, Deacon Chuck and I need to take trainings about the importance of using a discretionary account appropriately. Laity do not need those trainings because discretionary accounts are only provided to members of the clergy.

               The specific training we wish to see completed by as many parishioners as possible is called Safe Church, Safe Communities. The official policy of the diocese states that anyone who is engaged in ministry with children, youth, and vulnerable adults must complete this training. The training is done entirely online and it must be renewed every three years. This is true for me, and it may be true for you. For individuals who are involved directly in those ministries, this is a rule we simply cannot break. If you are in a ministry position at St. John’s, you may receive a notice from the diocese telling you that your certification has lapsed. If this is the case, I encourage you to respond and to find time to recertify. It doesn’t need to be done all in one sitting. However, it does need to be done. It is required that all actively involved in ministry complete the training, and I encourage everyone to complete it. You may contact the office to participate.

               But why is this a rule we simply cannot break? Because we want to live into our calling by Jesus in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel and to protect “the least of these”. Children are vulnerable. Adults can be vulnerable. The veterans we serve are vulnerable. The people who come to the food pantry are vulnerable. When we go bring communion to someone’s house, we are vulnerable and so are they. Completing Safe Church, Safe Communities ensures all of us have the newest and best information available for ensuring the vulnerable among us are cared for appropriately. At St. John’s, we want to demonstrate that we care and we want to make sure all of us has taken appropriate steps to protect vulnerable people.

               When we talk about vulnerability, it’s important to define it correctly. What does it mean to be vulnerable? Vulnerability is something usually caused by real or perceived differences in power dynamics. Children, for example, are naturally vulnerable in the presence of adults because they depend on adults for all their needs. In stature alone, children are usually quite small compared to the adults in their lives. They are not very far along in their real world experiences or their formal schooling. They don’t know everything they need to know. They don’t have access to financial resources or transportation on their own. This is not to say they are less important than adults, because they certainly are of tremendous importance! But because of factors beyond anyone’s control, they simply must depend on adults to shepherd and guide them.

               The same can be true for the elderly. Some people lose strength and mobility as they age. Some lose control of their cognitive abilities. Some depend on others to monitor their health or their finances. The people who visit our food pantry are vulnerable because most are in need of financial resources. The homeless population in our community are often vulnerable because their homelessness is frequently a result of substance abuse problems or psychological or emotional health difficulties. The people we visit for lay and ordained pastoral care are receiving us into the private safe space of their own homes. Many, many people can be perceived as vulnerable. In fact, it is important for me to recognize as your rector that there is automatically a power dynamic at play making every parishioner vulnerable. Whether we like it or not, there is some power that is automatically given to a person wearing a clerical collar. It is important that we do not abuse power and it is important that power is used for the good of God’s people.

               When we minister in the Church, we do so from a good place in our hearts. When we take trainings as they are required, it can be tedious. It can be time consuming. It can make us wonder why we’re doing it. We do it because we are called to love. And part of loving is making sure we have access to the tools we need so we can do our part to take care of God’s people. Keeping an up-to-date certification in Safe Church, Safe Communities helps us all to raise our awareness of doing our part. Maybe we will learn that our understandings are wrong or outdated. Maybe we will learn that we’ve been doing everything right all along. Maybe we’ll develop tools to help speak us to speak up when we notice someone not following best practices for safety and wellbeing. There are many things we can learn and many ways to show we care.

               If we’re ever playing golf and you want to take out the toe wedge and kick your golf ball onto the fairway, I say go ahead and break that rule. If you want to wear an aloha shirt and shorts to church every single time you come, I say go ahead and do that. But don’t run with scissors. That’s dangerous. And complete your certification with Safe Church, Safe Communities. Compliance is a rule we don’t want to break here at St. John’s. We want to be a beacon to the entire Church that we understand what it means to take our commitment to God’s people seriously. We can break some rules, but completing Safe Church, Safe Communities is one we want to firmly stand behind.  

Which Rules Can be Broken?