At the time of writing, I have just undertaken a day of safeguarding training, together with other members of the Bishop’s senior team. Sometimes people can react to this subject as if it was primarily a bureaucratic or organisational issue. This is, of course, profoundly mistaken. Safeguarding is, for Christians, primarily a theological issue. It flows out of our understanding that every person is made in the image of God, and reflects something of God’s light and grace. Every person is therefore infinitely valued, worthy of protection and care and nurture. Furthermore, our scriptures teach us that those who are most vulnerable, for whatever reason, merit God’s special care and so should be of particular importance to his Church.
The run-up to Christmas is an interesting time to think about these things. God comes to us in the form of a tiny newborn baby, the most vulnerable of creatures. In human terms, one accident, one act of violence, could have finished the whole plan of redemption before it had even begun. Perhaps one of the reasons the Church gives special honour to Mary is because of her role in protecting the Godchild in his most fragile early days. She too is vulnerable, of course, as a young unmarried mother in those days, as are others in the story: Joseph, the husband of a mother of a child not his own; the shepherds leaving their livelihoods behind in the fields; and so on.
In varied historical and geographic contexts, different groups of people re vulnerable, of course. The vulnerable always include the very young and often the very old; often women; always the poor; often immigrants and people born elsewhere; often those whose sexual or gender identity does not fit with the cultural mores of the time. The Church is called to protect and stand alongside whoever might be vulnerable in any particular context, remembering that every person is someone for whom Jesus died. May his Church always reflect his sacrificial love towards those who need it most.