Churches learn new laws for Safe Sanctuaries

Hundreds of church leaders came out to district meetings across the EPA Conference Saturday morning, Oct. 25, 2014, to learn about new laws and policies intended to make their places of worship and ministry safer for children and vulnerable adults. Several districts reported more than 100 in attendance from nearly two-thirds of their churches.

Every congregation was urged to send representatives to learn about new state laws and procedures as part of the conference’s ongoing Safe Sanctuaries initiative. Each gathering received about 3 hours of in-depth orientation, including PowerPoint slides and answers to questions. Their trainers had spent months preparing, studying new legislation and meeting together as a team with the conference’s newly reconstituted Safe Sanctuaries Committee.

From abuse and injury, to exploitation and neglect, to reducing risk and screening workers, to supervision requirements and cyber-safety in the church, the Safe Sanctuaries Committee wants to ensure that all churches know they must modify policies and practices to comply with changes in Pennsylvania law.

Some new laws take effect in December

The state assembly and governor’s office have broadened child abuse prevention legislation this year, reported the Rev. James H. Wilkin, Safe Sanctuaries Committee chairman. Some bills passed and signed into law this year will take effect in December, while others may be enacted in early 2015.

“A resolution to amend our conference policy to bring it into conformance with the new laws will be on next year’s Annual Conference agenda,” said Wilkin, the pastor of Holmesburg and St. Philip’s UM churches in Philadelphia. However, churches will be need to meet the requirements of new laws sooner, as they go into effect.

The new laws broaden the definition of who is a “mandated reporter” to include anyone who supervises children or youth, including clergy, teachers, day care workers, school administrators or other child care staff and volunteers. The mandated reporter is required to make reports of suspected abuse promptly and to receive additional training on recognizing and reporting child abuse. There are stronger legal penalties for anyone who willfully fails to make such a report.

Churches must update their Safe Sanctuaries policies

All churches must update their Safe Sanctuaries policies to reflect these changes in the law. When the Safe Sanctuaries team receives final word on future legal changes, they will be posted on the Conference website in the Resources section.

Safe Sanctuaries resources mentioned at the trainings, and the PowerPoint slides that were used, are now available at  But a facilitated orientation by a prepared trainer is still highly recommended. Some churches that did not send participants may have more training opportunities, including at Tools for Ministry next March 7.

In the Southeast District John Lafferty (, a Safe Sanctuaries expert, is offering to do training for groups from several churches.

By John Coleman,
EPA Conference Communications Director
Photos by Sabrina Daluisio (Southeast District) and John Coleman (Central District)