Elders and Police checks

The 2002 General Assembly adopted a proposal that police checks be required for all lay workers in positions with pastoral responsibilities.

The operational protocol for this is that police checks are now mandatory for all lay workers in paid positions with pastoral responsibilities. This applies whether the position is part-time or full-time.

Part of the rationale for making the requirement mandatory for all paid positions is linked to the following factors

  • These positions are often advertised widely in the local community and even nationally
  • Some or all of the applicants may not be personally known to the session/parish council or presbytery/UDC which is proposing to employ them.

Police checks do not exempt the parish or presbytery from undertaking a thorough appointment process, including careful reference checks. They do add to the process by which a parish or presbytery can seek to reduce the possibility of employing someone who is unsuitable in terms of working with those who are vulnerable because of age or illness.

Police checks have not yet been made mandatory for volunteers because, generally, volunteers are known to the parish or presbytery which is benefitting from their services. Parishes and presbyteries are reminded that they should check the backgrounds of those who work voluntarily in positions with pastoral responsibilities. If a parish wishes to make it a requirement that, in future, all volunteers have a police check done then that can be arranged through the Assembly Office according to the agreed protocol.

The situation with regard to elders has some other factors as well as those mentioned above in relation to volunteers.

  • Eldership is an elected office
  • The expectation is that a parish would not be electing a person as elder unless they knew that person and his/her background very well.
  • If the person had recently arrived from another parish it would be expected that, at the very least, the parish would have obtained references from previous ministers/sessions/parish councils. The questions would have been asked of those previous ministers and sessions/parish councils as to whether there was any reason they were aware of why it would not be a good idea to elect that person as an elder.

As part of the selection process for eldership there are some questions which can legitimately be asked, because of the pastoral nature of the role.

These include asking the prospective elder whether or not

  • They are willing to abide by Presbyterian polity and doctrine and sign the Formula.
  • They have any criminal convictions, and if so, for what actions.
  • They have ever been disciplined by a church court and if so, for what reasons.
  • They would be willing to have a police check done, if required

If a parish wishes to make it a requirement for all prospective elders to have a police check done then that becomes a policy of that parish. The police check process through the Assembly Office can then be followed.

February 2003