Life Events

To properly administer a Life Event such as a christening/baptism, wedding, or funeral, you need to collect data, and from a pastoral perspective it makes sense to use said data to build and maintain a relationship after the service. You will want to invite a recently-christened child and their family back to church, to support them on their spiritual journey. You might like to contact a wedded couple on their anniversary or offer marriage counselling. For those whose loved ones have had a funeral at the church, you may wish to send cards, offer bereavement support, and of course remember them in prayer.


So, once GDPR is enshrined into law, will you still be able to do all of this? The short answer is: yes! If you are using information which was willingly given by the individual, and you are using it for a purpose within that original remit, then this is covered under ‘legitimate interest’.


Legitimate interest is one of the six ‘lawful bases’ the GDPR allows for processing data, and in this context means that you can use data in any way that the individual might reasonably expect as part of their relationship with the church, so long as there is no more than a minimal risk to their privacy and, of course, the individual has not objected to you doing so. What you can’t do is use their data in a way which is not connected; for example, sending them fundraising requests or sharing their data outside the church body. When their relationship with the church deepens and grows, then the scope of legitimate interest will grow with it.


The same guidelines apply to sharing data with third parties, for example Funeral Directors. If the family member brings the Funeral Director’s information to you themselves, then you can share relevant information with them under the remit of providing the funeral service. Otherwise, you may need to seek consent.


In terms of gathering and storing data, GDPR requires that you document your processes, i.e. have a written Privacy Policy outlining what data is being collected, how and where they are being stored, and who will have access. You should also state how long you intend to keep the information. This Privacy Policy should be made available to the family at the first instance. It should also tell them who to contact if they have any data protection-related concerns, and how they may do so.


A particular fear of some churches is that they will no longer be able to encourage people to pray for someone by name. Once again, it’s all about context. Praying with the home church family is one thing; sending identifying details to a different church or prayer line is quite another. If in doubt, simply let the family know that you would like to widen the prayer circle, and give them the opportunity to decline.


A Life Event is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the fellowship and joy to be found in church life, and to welcome those who may not otherwise find themselves walking through the church doors. By carefully considering your approach to data protection, you can take advantage of these opportunities while ensuring safety and security for everyone involved.

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