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  • Writer's pictureCarol Barron

Historic Abuse and Safeguarding for the Future

Updated: Dec 9, 2022

The MCNZ Conference 2022 held a plenary session on historic abuse and safeguarding for the future. I found the plenary discussion on historic abuse one of the most confronting, challenging and moving parts of this year’s Conference. Talking about sexual harm and abuse is not something that is normally talked about at Conference, in Church, or at home. It is not a comfortable subject.

Earlier this year, the Methodist Church appeared before Royal Commission of Inquiry to account for the historic abuse and neglect that occurred in Methodist care. An unreserved apology was given for the harm done and for the failures of the Church to respond appropriately to the survivors.

Our Church has a process for those that have suffered harm in Methodist care in the hope that they may experience restoration of mana.. Our process is still constantly being reviewed and refined as we continue to learn how best to respond. Our responsibility extends beyond providing an apology and redress - we need to move beyond words to focus on preventing harm and abuse happening again for those in our care.

Rev Tara Tautari - General Secretary

Rev Tara Tautari shared three short stories of people who suffered abuse in with the Church and its care homes and how the Church had failed them. The three stories told of abuse, humiliation, shame, not being believed and the lasting impacts of the abuse on their lives. We heard about how these survivors struggled when they requested the Church take accountability for what happened.

Shirley Rivers

Shirley Rivers shared her experience of being on the Church’s Resolution & Redress Panel, which has two other members who are independent of the Church. The Panel does not meet the applicants, but considers their story which is completed by an independent person to assist the applicant survivor. Shirley spoke of the heartbreak knowing how we failed to keep people safe. Shirley brings the cultural guidance to the panel that is needed as many of the applicants are Māori. The Panel will soon have a Pasifika representative to ensure that the response to Pasifika applicants is also appropriate.

L-R: Dr Emily Colgan, Shirley Rivers, Rev Tara Tautari, Rev Setaita Veikune, & Chris Johnston

Chris Johnston, Wesley College Board General Secretary, also spoke at the Royal Commission and offered an unreserved apology. Chris acknowledged the survivors that gave evidence at the Royal Commission and others that are living with the trauma of the abuse suffered at the College. He also acknowledged that the apology had come far too late for them and their whānau. Chris spoke of the failings that lead to the abuse and the cone of silence culture that stopped the abuse being reported. Chris advised that addressing bullying has been, and continues to be a priority for the school principal and board and he described the changes made to prevent and report abuse.

Chris Johnston sitting & Rev Setaita Veikune standing

Rev Setaita Veikune, shared her experience of providing apologies to survivors on behalf of the Church, when she was President, along with David Bush, the then General Secretary. The apology included an acknowledgement of the hurt and harm that was suffered. Setaita explained it is important to know what helps a person move on as they reconcile the trauma emotionally, physically and spiritually. The church has a pivotal role in putting right the wrongs of the past.

Setaita also shared about her role on the Royal Commission’s Pacific Reference Group. This includes providing a Pacific voice, heart and life in the reports. The survivors’ stories of abuse is about the abuse of power by people in authority in our church, the failure to protect, and the disbelief that lead to survivors being treated even more poorly. Setaita highlighted the need to safeguard for the future, so this can never happen again. We need to consider, if it was my child who was abused, what would I want to see as a safeguard? If that was me that was abused, how would I feel? What would I want to see to protect others in the future? How do we get behavioural change? What is acceptable behaviour and what is not? How do we want the love of God to be experienced by others in this secular society?

Dr Emily Colgan

Dr Emily Colgan, Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Trinity College, offered the trauma-informed resource to the church, “Accompanying survivors of sexual harm.” This resource will provide support to Presbyters and lay people to respond appropriately to those that disclose sexual harm. It also provides the theological foundations that challenge and resist sexual harm. It offers practical ways to ensure the language we use does not negatively impact on sexual harm survivors.

Rev Darryn Hickling

In small groups we discussed what more do we need to do to ensure our sacred spaces offer welcome, safety, and inclusion for all? After the small group discussion, Rev Darryn Hickling led a grounding and breathing exercise.

Vice President TeRito Peyroux-Semi & President Rev Peter Taylor

President Rev Peter Taylor and Vice President TeRito Peyroux-Semi then led a service of lament. The candle of lament was lit and this prayer followed:

God of the vulnerable, God of the oppressed,

God who gathers up the little child and shows them to the world as precious beyond words.

We who gather here today would name the truth of our folded past.

In deep sorrow and shame, we name and own the catastrophic history of sexual abuse and violence experienced by children, youth, and adults in State and Church run institutions for the care and protection of those entrusted to them.

Robyn Allen-Goudge led a quiet chorus of Kyrie eléison - Lord, have mercy - Arohanui tonu e after statements that acknowledged the stories of brokenness and breaches of trust, and commitments to take the next steps in building a culture of safety to make the Church safe for all people.

The blessing was sung in Te Reo and a period of silence and stillness followed.

Conference made decisions reflecting the commitments in the service of lament and affirming that the care and protection of children, young people and vulnerable adults is the responsibility of everyone who participates in the life of the Church. A small working group will be established to draft a safeguarding policy and procedure to prevent and respond to abuse within the Church.

The Covenant Service at the close of Conference 2022 with the Lament candle on the left and Conference candle on the right

Carol Barron, National Coordinator

03 375 0512 | 027 561 9164 |

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