Parish Safeguarding Officers are innkeepers

By Justine Allain Chapman, Christmas 2019

In this season we gather around the Christmas story, a story full of safeguarding nightmares - with the many vulnerable adults, babies and children, the violence and the fear.

I do love the way in which small children take on being the innkeeper in a nativity play with such confidence. It is not just the dressing gown and the tea towel that warm my heart, but the way which when Mary and Joseph knock on the door they so enjoy shouting, ‘No - you can’t come in - there isn’t any room’. And I’ve been at quite a few nativity plays where an adult has had to intervene to remind the small innkeeper that this time they have to say ‘yes’, and let them in. 

I’ve been thinking that the innkeeper can provide something of an inspiration to those of us involved in safeguarding. It is the innkeeper who in Bethlehem sees the awful situation where there are far too many people and not enough rooms to accommodate them. Now I know that the biblical passage doesn’t actually have a stable in it, but if we go with the tradition we find that the innkeeper provides shelter to a couple of vulnerable adults. In the emergency situation he provides and make space. He finds a place for a birth to take place in as much safety and privacy as it is possible. He plays an important but small part of the journey of a traveller and doesn’t know where they’ve come from or what happens next.

Isn’t that what PSOs do? We notice when pressure is building up, when there is an emergency and we act, we provide protection, shelter, the space for something that’s been growing inside to come to birth, because until it does there can be no healing or growth. And we are a person who is part of the story of someone’s life, though we may not know very much about what happens to them after our involvement. 

The innkeeper doesn’t act alone - he has staff to call on, suppliers and permissions to run a business and we too have partners and people to be accountable to. We are not alone, but we stand at the door like an innkeeper, with the power to notice what’s going on and say ‘No, there’s no room for this’, or to say ‘Yes, I can do my bit to help in this situation’. 

So I offer you the role of innkeeper in the story of Christmas and I suggest you look at your cards and see if you can find him and give him a special place on your mantelpiece.  As you do so continue to make the doors of the church open to everyone, to those needing safety. Continue to be alert to their needs and create the space for something new to be born within you all - hope, a thirst for justice, healing, light and compassion, brought about by the grace of God and the love of God’s people. 

A slightly longer version (864 words) of this sermon can be read here.