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Creating Safe Ministries

God intends for the church and its ministries to be a safe place for all encounter God and grow into lives of service and fulfillment. We are called to be a holy community.

As the one who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct.(1 Peter 1:15)

This website is designed to help all ministries be safe ministries.

  • create policies
  • awareness of prevention practices
  • report misconduct
  • rebuild a broken trust when sexual misconduct occurs

With God’s help, we will see a day when “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

2017 Advent Pastoral Statement on Sexual Misconduct

Laurie Griffith

Assistant Stated Clerk
Associate Director for Constitutional Interpretation
Office of the General Assembly

Front and center in the last few weeks swirling seemingly everywhere have been stories of abuse primarily perpetrated by men in power against women.  That these stories exist is not news to most women but that these stories are beginning to be shared in public and have potential consequences for the perpetrators is news.  Surprising news.  Historically, stories involving abuse are not acknowledged publicly but rather are accompanied by additional threats and repercussions towards the individuals who broke the silence.  

For all people who have experienced abuse in any form, stories told out loud provide both a means of healing in that there is tangible hope that the abuse will not occur in the future and that the community will work to protect others from further harm as well as the potential for additional trauma in the vivid reminder of the personal pain and ongoing struggles that often are the result of abuse. 

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has stated that “sexual misconduct takes advantage of the vulnerability of persons who are less powerful to act for their own welfare, including children. It is antithetical to the gospel call to work as God’s servant in the struggle to bring wholeness to a broken world. It violates the mandate to protect the vulnerable from harm.”  Sexual misconduct in this statement includes child sexual abuse, sexual abuse that involves force, threat, intimidation, coercion or misuse of office or position, and sexual harassment as a condition of or interfering with employment.

In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) we seek to provide a safe space for individuals to live, work and play carrying out the mission of God in Christ.   In order to provide a safe space, we invite all who hear God’s call to worship with us while at the same time we provide limits around those who will be empowered into leadership.  We do so through practical means such as policies and procedures to reduce the risk of abuse including utilizing background checks, minimizing opportunities for abuse, and teaching about respect and safety.  We do so through faith by following the servant leadership of Christ.

In this time of advent, of waiting in the silence, we are reminded to be gentle with each other and with ourselves as memories arise.   We are reminded to be vigilant in protecting those who are vulnerable in our communities…especially children, youth, women, and older adults.  We are reminded to pay attention to the stories of abuse and to respond to these stories immediately.  And we are reminded that within our faith is the hope and trust that in God’s grace we can and will nurture safe and sacred space so God’s children can thrive and share in the abundant love that Christ showed us.   As we repeat the advent stories this season, may we be the hands and feet that share in the promise of Peace on earth.


Abuse Prevention Hotline

Manager/Judicial Process and Social Witness
800-728-7228, ext. 5432
Send email

“Is your church safe?”








Or write to:
100 Witherspoon Street
Louisville, KY 40202

PC(USA) statements

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) believes that sexual misconduct is never permissible or acceptable.

The documents listed below have been approved by the General Assembly and are intended to help guide the Church in its relationships with each other.

Standards of Ethical Conduct

(Approved by the 210th General Assembly [1998]). Church leaders across the denomination are asking for help amid the complexities and ambiguities of ministry in the contemporary world. While Scripture, the Book of Confessions, and the Book of Order provide guidance, it is sometimes unclear how to make the connections between their general guidance and the particular ethical dilemmas that confront persons in the conduct of life and ministry. The Standards of Ethical Conduct are intended as a bridge between these guiding resources and the specific issues that persons in ministry face on a day-to-day basis. Download

Sexual Misconduct Policy and Its Procedures

(Adopted by the 219th General Assembly [2010], updated October 2013). It is the policy of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) … that all church members, church officers, non­-member employees, and volunteers of congregations, governing bodies, and entities of the church are to maintain the integrity of the ministerial, employment, and professional relationship at all times. Persons who engage in sexual misconduct are in violation of the principles set forth in Scripture, and also of the ministerial, pastoral, employment, and professional relationship. It is never permissible or acceptable for a church member, officer, employee, or volunteer to engage in sexual misconduct. Download

Resolution on Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse Against Educators

(Approved by the 216th General Assembly [2004]). This study examines the balance between allegations of child sexual abuse and due process for the accused. Download

Turn Mourning Into Dancing! A Policy Statement on Healing Domestic Violence and Study Guide

(Approved by the 213th General Assembly [2001]). This policy statement is the result of a development process that included wide consultation and participation throughout the church, drawing upon biblical sources and insights from the Reformed tradition in giving renewed definition to Presbyterian understandings concerning the root causes of domestic violence and the church’s complicity and response to the problem. The term “domestic violence” in this policy statement and its rationale is used as an inclusive term to broadly encompass the abuse found in child/child, parent/child, spouse/spouse, partner/partner, adult child/aging parent relationships, as well as violence that occurs in sibling and dating relationships. Download

Child/Youth/Vulnerable Adult Protection Policy and Its Procedures

(Approved by the 222nd General Assembly [2016]). It is the policy of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and all entities of the General Assembly that all church members, church officers, nonmember employees and/or contractors, and volunteers of congregations, councils and entities of the church are to maintain the strongest sense of integrity, safety, nurturing and care involving all interactions with children, youth and vulnerable adults. This policy applies to all General Assembly entity sponsored activities that involve children, youth, and vulnerable adults. Download

Pornography: Far from the Song of Songs

Responding to overtures from the presbyteries of Elizabeth and Cincinnati, the 196th General Assembly (1984) adopted a resolution on pornography that mandated the Council on Women and the Church (COWAC) and the General Assembly Mission Board (Office of Women) to “persevere in their work in the areas of pornography and obscenity and the education of the church and society to combat the abusive treatment of women.” Download

Reporting Misconduct

Each council, including sessions and presbyteries, must have its own sexual misconduct policy.

Teaching and ruling elders, deacons and certified Christian educators are mandated to report to civil and ecclesiastical authorities when there is reasonable suspicion of child abuse.  (G-4.0302, Book of Order, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.))

All responses to sexual misconduct will follow the procedures set out in the Book of Order, Rules of Discipline of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and any employment policies of the local church.

Examples of reporting can be found below

Listening to someone reveal his or her own experience of abuse is never comfortable. The person has trusted you enough to share this secret: it is critical that in your reaction you affirm the person and be supportive.

The following suggestions can help you respond appropriately.

  • Listen carefully and attentively.
  • Avoid the temptation to assess the truthfulness of the disclosure; that is the job of trained professionals.
  • Assure the person/child the alleged abuse was not his/her fault; he or she did not cause it, no matter what the abuser may have said or done.
  • Reassure the person/child that he or she did the right thing in coming to you.
  • Write down what was told to you so that you can pass accurate information on to those investigating the abuse.

Adapted from Preventing Child Abuse: A Guide for Churches, by Beth Swagman. Grand Rapids, MI: CRC Publications, 1997.

Examples of Reporting Misconduct


Reporting sexual misconduct committed by a teaching elder of the PC(USA) or other worshiping communities

In the PC(USA), ministers are known as teaching elders, but they are not members of a church  they are members of a presbytery and are subject to the jurisdiction of their presbytery.

Each presbytery has its own sexual misconduct policies and procedures; however, all allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct against Presbyterian ministers will follow the procedures set out in the Book of OrderRules of Discipline of the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

When the stated clerk of the presbytery receives a written allegation of offense, the presbytery will appoint a team to conduct an investigation into the allegation. This team has one year to make a decision on behalf of the presbytery whether or not to file charges within the PC(USA) judicial system against the alleged offender. See list of presbyteries

If you have questions about reporting sexual misconduct by a minister or spiritual leader of anther denomination, please contact the Sexual Misconduct Ombudsperson.

Reporting sexual misconduct committed by employees or volunteers

If you are a victim or witness to sexual misconduct by an employee or volunteer who is affiliated with the PC(USA), if the person who engaged in sexual misconduct is not an ordained minister/teaching elder, you should report the misconduct the the employer.

Reporting sexual misconduct committed by members, deacons or ruling elders

If you are a victim or witness to sexual misconduct by a member, deacon or ruling elder of a church affiliated with the PC(USA), you should report the misconduct to the Session of that church.

How to report misconduct if you are a mission co-worker or a family member in the mission field and a witness to sexual misconduct

Call the Abuse Prevention Hotline at 866-607-7233 to make a report.

How to report sexual misconduct if you are a victim of sexual misconduct by a mission co-worker or a family member or anyone else in the mission field

Call the Abuse Prevention Hotline at 866-607-7233 to make a report.

Reporting Procedure for Mission Personnel

Incidents of sexual misconduct that victimizes or is instigated by a mission co-worker or visiting PC(USA) members (which can include harassment, rape, child sexual abuse) are to be reported to the Abuse Prevention Hotline at 866-607-7233.


Mandatory Reporting

“Are you a mandatory reporter for child abuse?  What is the definition of child abuse?  How do I report suspected abuse?  Check out this power point presentation especially designed for those in ordained office.”

Reporting Abuse | 1-866-607-SAFE (7233)

Download a document that explains and gives the steps of the reporting process.

Download “Reporting Abuse”

Create Policies

The Book of Order at G-30106 Administration of Mission provides: “All councils shall adopt and implement a sexual misconduct policy and a child and youth protection policy.” Therefore, all sessions, presbyteries and synods should adopt a sexual misconduct policy as soon as possible.

There is no one way to write a Safe Church/Sexual Misconduct Policy. It might be tempting to use another ministry’s policy but this is not advisable. Every ministry is unique in size, programs and needs. The ministry’s insurance company and a lawyer should review a safe church policy before a council adopts it.

Sources for information on policies

The General Assembly adopted the Sexual Misconduct Policy and its Procedures (2010) and the Child Protection Policy and its Procedures (2016). The Presbyterian Child Advocacy Network, a network of the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA), created “We Won’t Let It Happen Here: Creating a Safe Church.” These resources are a good place to start in drafting a policy for your council.

In addition, most presbyteries have adopted sexual misconduct policies which can be used as resources by sessions. It is also important to check state law on reporting sexual abuse and misconduct. Often state laws on reporting include mandatory reporting obligations. It is advisable to incorporate these mandatory obligations into your council policies.

Finally, insurance companies typically have sample policies which they favor. It is advisable to contact your insurer at the start of the process of creating a policy and when you have a final draft to make sure the insurer is satisfied with the policy. If there is an incident, an insurer will want to know that you have a policy,that your council was trained on the policy and that your council followed that policy.

The Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly work in partnership with the Insurance Board and Praesidium to provide councils with additional information on how to create policies. Councils are welcome to seek information from the Insurance Board at the workbench on its website, which can be found at this link.

The resources on the Insurance Board’s workbench are free. If you are a customer of the Insurance Board, contact your representative for additional information and resources. You can call the helpline at 866-607-7233.

Why create a policy?

By implementing sexual misconduct policies the church has the opportunity to declare and affirm its core values and convictions in relation to the care of the people in the church and those who participate in its mission.

Developing and relying on written policies is one step toward creating safe churches. However, there is no single “right” way to create a policy and there is no one easy guide to follow.

If you are in the process of creating a new sexual misconduct policy or if you are updating your current policy, this information will be helpful to you.

Affirmative Reasons for a Session to Adopt a Sexual Misconduct Policy
From presentations by James S. Evinger and Mel Olver: “Planning and Implementing a Church Policy on Sexual Misconduct: Prevention and Intervention,” a workshop sponsored by Committee on Ministry, Presbytery of Genesee Valley in Rochester, N.Y., on October 1, 2005.

Adopting a sexual misconduct policy sets a moral example and functions as a witness of faith.
People expect the church of Jesus Christ to be qualitatively different from society. It is God who inspires and guides us to live as disciples in faith. When a session adopts a sexual misconduct policy, it encourages individuals and groups to aspire to a higher calling.

It sends a message to parents of children and youth: “We care that our church is a safe place.”
Given heightened awareness and sensitivity in our communities about the sexual abuse of children, a church that adopts and implements a misconduct policy is one to which parents will be more inclined to entrust their children for Sunday school, youth groups, children’s choirs, daycare or mission trips.

A policy is wise stewardship — it protects the church concerning legal and insurance liabilities.
Adopting and implementing a misconduct policy demonstrates that a church is taking concrete steps to practice risk management and reduce liability. Constructive measures like background checks and mandatory training help protect a church’s exposure. It is always more cost-effective to practice prevention.

It creates a tool to be used by one who has been victimized.
An effective sexual misconduct policy serves the needs of one who has been harmed. A reporting procedure, both symbolically and practically, helps a victim/survivor. It supports telling the truth, holding the perpetrator accountable and seeking redress. Our faith and the scriptures lead us to act out of compassion and pursue justice, especially for those who are vulnerable. A policy also protects the rights of one falsely accused.

A policy helps a church when previously unknown incidents unexpectedly surface.
If reports or allegations of past misconduct should emerge, a standing policy becomes a helpful reference point and guide for helping a session to respond.

It communicates the character of the church and works to attract or retain a quality pastor.
Having a policy in place communicates that the session values clergy who are competent, mature, responsible and accountable. Such clergy support policies that serve everyone’s spiritual and practical interests and value churches that are intentional about the quality of the life of the congregation and ministry.

A misconduct policy is an opportunity to affirm the faith, values and convictions of the church.
Not to act in the face of a stark but unpleasant reality is to act — it is to acquiesce. And not to decide is to decide — it perpetuates the way things are. A policy is an affirmative statement of what the church is called to do and be. It is an expression of identity. It declares who we are and what we believe and why we believe it. A policy is a way to take a stand and to affirm how the Spirit is leading us.

It lessens the likelihood of sexual misconduct occurring.
A policy helps decrease the possibility of future sexual misconduct. The fact of a policy’s existence helps, but what is more significant is the education that derives from writing and implementing it that builds awareness. And awareness is one effective means of prevention. The act of adopting a policy, if treated as a teachable moment, is an opportunity to change the culture of a congregation for the better.

A policy can engage and educate a congregation about difficult issues we prefer to avoid.
The act of formulating and adopting a sexual misconduct policy is a wonderful opportunity for a church to explore the complex interaction of power, trust, vulnerability, sexuality, gender, relationships, boundaries and the types of harm resulting from sexual misconduct. It is a chance to think through questions of accountability and standards. A policy makes it safe to talk about important and sensitive topics.

A policy acknowledges a sad reality that has occurred in the past and continues in the present.
The church has long ignored, minimized or rationalized acts of sexual misconduct against members, children and staff. A session policy overtly recognizes a problem that affects people’s lives and faith. A policy signals that leadership is prepared to face the reality and its consequences for God’s people.

A policy is a very useful tool to the leadership if a sexual boundary violation is discovered.
It cannot be overstated how difficult and painful it is for the leadership of a church to cope with the stresses of discovering that a sexual boundary violation has occurred within the mission and ministry of the congregation. A policy that is current, comprehensive and being followed is a reference point for making decisions in the midst of conflicting needs and demands. A policy will guide and support the leadership to act in ways that are consistent with our faith. Conversely, having to act and decide without a policy, or one that is outdated, only intensifies the stressors of the moment.

Three Phases to be Addressed in a Session Policy on Sexual Misconduct

Phase I — Training and Education


  • Definitions and terms
  • Incidence and prevalence
  • Code of ethics, values, standards
  • Rationale

Phase II — Prevention of Misconduct and Abuse


  • Background checks
  • References
  • Dissemination

Phase III — Response to an Allegation or a Violation


  • Reporting
  • Sequence of steps

Questions to Consider

  • What are our goals and purposes in each phase?
  • To whom does this phase apply/not apply?
  • What types of situations are we trying to address?  Are there ones we do not address?
  • What are our rationales, and do they reflect our convictions?
  • How do we communicate our rationales and convictions in a policy and procedures document?
  • How would people in certain roles react to our policy and procedures document: a volunteer? member of a youth group?  paid staff?  a victim?  a parent? a person who is accused?  the church’s lawyer?  the church’s insurance carrier?  an elder from the Session?  a Trustee of the church?  the liaison to the church from Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry and from the Trustees?

What should go into a policy?

There are a number of areas that should be covered including but not exclusive of the following:


  • A Scriptural foundation
  • Purpose

Prohibited behavior

  • Definitions
  • Standards of conduct


  • Leadership screening and training
  • Minimizing the risk


  • Who, what, when and where

Response to allegations

Aftercare/ Healing

Other resources for creating policy


Helpful Websites — Creating Policies

Helpful Websites — Abuse Prevention


While it is vitally important to have a policy on sexual misconduct, it is of little use if it sits on a shelf and collects dust. Your council should provide training on the policy to council members and staff, preferably annually, and especially for new council members. This will help raise awareness of the issue in order to aid in  prevention and it will provide information on how to respond if an incident occurs.


The goals of training are to ensure that staff and volunteers understand the nature of child abuse/sexual misconduct and how to respond if it becomes apparent that this behavior has occurred. Training is also useful in reviewing and modifying the church policy, as volunteers who have had experience working with the policy share their experience.

(We Won’t Let It Happen Here, page 27).

Awareness is the key to the prevention of sexual misconduct. When awareness is raised, persons are often able to spot and stop inappropriate conduct before it harms others.

Develop a training program

Annual training sessions are one way to raise the awareness of both staff and volunteers. Components should include: review of the ministry’s sexual misconduct policy, recognizing the signs and symptoms of abuse, maintaining healthy boundaries, appropriate use of technology and reporting of suspected abuse. Someone who is familiar with sexual misconduct prevention practices should lead the training sessions. If there is no one in your ministry with this expertise, then contact your presbytery.

The training should be biblically based, using Scripture to remind participants of God’s call for justice and compassion. Relevant passages include (but are not limited to) Exodus 22:21-23, Micah 6:8, Psalm 77:1-2, Amos 5:24 and Matthew 19:14.

Be aware of prevention techniques

There are several guidelines that will enhance the atmosphere of prevention. Some of these are:

  • Require teachers/leaders to work in pairs.
  • Know and maintain appropriate personal boundaries.
  • Have written policies and procedures in place.
  • Use both background and reference checks for staff and volunteers.
  • Physical plant (such as windows in doors, bathroom policies, communication between child care and parents)
  • Consider healthy body education

Find additional resources

SafeConduct™ Workbench provides tools to help you develop and participate in your ministry’s abuse prevention program. Learn more

Rebuild Trust 

How can healing come?

“Will I ever be able to find healing?” a victim asked toward the end of the session. Her tone of voice seemed to indicate she saw no hope.

Healing and restoring trust take lots of hard work. It takes a community of support — parents, partners, children, church leaders, siblings and congregations.

Healing requires personal contact: listening to stories, responding to and standing alongside the abused. We must remember that the local congregation and also the Church are secondary victims when clergy abuse.

There can be no healing without justice-making. From Faith Trust Institute come the “Elements of Justice-Making” (Clergy Misconduct: Sexual Abuse in the Ministerial Relationship). Learn more at the Faith Trust Institute

1. Truth-telling
Give voice to the reality of the abuse.

2. Acknowledging the violation
Hear the truth, name the abuse and condemn it as wrong.

3. Compasssion
Listen to and empathize with the victim.

 4. Protecting the vulnerable
Take steps to prevent further abuse to the victim and others.

5. Accountability
The abuser is confronted and negative consequences are imposed; this step makes repentance possible.

6. Restitution
Make symbolic restitution of what was lost; give a tangible means to acknowledge the wrongfulness of the abuse and the harm done and to bring about healing (e.g., payment for therapy).

7. Vindication
To aid the process of setting the victim free from the pain caused by the abuse

Perfect justice is achieved when all seven of the elements are met. It is rare for the church to achieve perfect justice in the face of injustice. Any institution, including the church, can only do the best it knows. And that best may be approximate justice.

Healing is not an end. It is a process. Healing works on many levels and takes many forms. Healing has many voices and no single “answer.” Healing is painful, but it is more painful to turn away from the healing. My journey has been mine alone. No one else has felt the same pain or process that I have — though we “group” with others for comfort. We gather strength in knowing that we are not alone. In fact, we are never alone. My “journey” has taken me down a very special and unique path of healing and my spiritual life has grown and developed along the way. — A survivor

“When those who are directly abused and those who are secondary victims can meet in fellowship and honest dialogue, the circle of support widens for all those whose lives have been impacted. Then all can be transformed from victims to survivors to thrivers and trust can be rebuilt.” —ICI final report, p. 107

“In the face of harm perpetrated by a representative of the church, it is incumbent upon the church to do its best to do the works of justice and mercy, that is, to approximate them. Approximate justice is a realistic expectation to have of the church. It is the best means we have to heal the wounds deeply. Victims deserve more, but should at least receive approximate justice.” —Is Nothing Sacred? by Marie M. Fortune, p. 119.

Caring for the Congregation

“When Mentor Becomes Molester,” By Alexa Smith, Presbyterians Today, October 2000.

While congregations are caring for those who have been affected by clergy sexual misconduct, they need to remember they are also victims.

“Congregations need to deal with their own feelings of betrayal and anger, hurt, loss of trust and the relationship of what the minister did to their own faith,” says Peg True, co-chair of the National Capital Presbytery’s response team. “They need to talk about the misconduct — not about who did what to whom, but what this did to them as a congregation — instead of trying to bury it and make it a secret. And the temptation is to move to forgiveness too quickly, and not take the time to work through the implications of what happened.”

It is not easy to deal with this problem. But that is exactly what needs to be done, while confidentiality is respected in regard to the victims — including the members of the victim’s family and of the pastor’s family — and the pastor.

True recommends that the congregation:

  • Honor the need for confidentiality, so victims do not feel the pressure to go public unless they want to
  • Not blame the victim or victims
  • Try to understand, both intellectually and emotionally, what happened in their church so that they may understand why the victim filed a complaint
  • In case of clergy sexual misconduct, purchase insurance to cover the costs of short-term counseling for those who have been injured

Marie Fortune of the Faith Trust Institute in Seattle, Washington, (an organization that has taken the lead in addressing preventing and recovering from clergy sexual misconduct), says congregations simply need to talk about the possibility of misconduct before it ever occurs. “They need to put policies and procedures into place,” she says. Strong emotions can be managed better when there are clear guidelines to follow.

Healing Services

A healing service should be a safe place for those who have been the victims of abuse. An atmosphere of affirmation and trust is essential and care should be taken to insure that the setting is both comfortable and private. This experience can be a time to pause, reflect and care for each other. The participants will be at different junctures on their journey toward healing — some may feel that their journey is nearing completion; some may feel that they are just beginning; and others will be somewhere in between. It is a good idea to ask the participants for input regarding the elements of the service.

Get Helpful Resources 

Help for Creating Policies

Surely Heed their Cry. A Presbyterian guide to child abuse prevention and healing. This comprehensive guide contains information on abuse identification, abuse prevention, and educational material. PC(USA) Church Store Item # 25793010 • $5.00

Preventing Sexual Abuse in Congregations. By Karen A. McClintock. The Alban Institute, Herndon, Va., 2004.

Safe Sanctuaries for Youth – Reducing the Risk of Abuse in Youth Ministries. By Joy Thornburg Melton, Discipleship Resources, Nashville, Tenn. Available from Cokesbury.

Preventing Child Sexual Abuse within Youth-serving Organizations: Getting Started on Policies and Procedures
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed this resource to assist youth-serving organizations as they begin to adopt prevention strategies for child sexual abuse.

We Won’t Let It Happen Here: Creating a Safe Church. Created by the Presbyterian Child Advocacy Network, a network of the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA). Download here

Help for raising awareness

Is Nothing Sacred? A timely case study, designed for congregations for preventing and finding effective solutions for sexual abuse against congregants by clergy, by the Rev. Marie M. Fortune (Cleveland: The United Church Press, 1999).

A Sacred Trust: Boundary Issues for Clergy and Spiritual Teachers. A program of four training videos that increase awareness of the need for healthy boundaries in the clergy-congregant or student-teacher relationship. Available through the Faith Trust Institute.

Annotated Bibliography of Clergy Sexual Abuse. The phenomenon of sexual abuse as committed by persons in fiduciary relationships is widespread among helping professions. Those who perpetrate these violations are not confined to any nation. This bibliography is oriented to several specific contexts in which this phenomenon occurs. By James S. Evinger. Available through the Faith Trust Institute.

Help for rebuilding trust

Take and Make Holy — Honoring the Sacred in the Healing Journey of Abuse Survivors. By Marie West Zinnerman. Liturgy Training Publications, Chicago, IL 1995.

Forgiveness and Abuse: Jewish and Christian Reflections. Edited by Marie Fortune and Joretta Marshall. The Haworth Press, Inc. 2002 (pp. 71-85).

FutureChurch — A Liturgy of Lament for the Broken Body of Christ. This liturgy was developed in response to a survivor of clergy sexual abuse who asked FutureChurch to sponsor a healing service for victims. The liturgy was used in a service that was held in Cleveland on October 14, 2002, and involved 22 co-participants from northeastern Ohio. The liturgy includes music and prayer written by a Cleveland survivor of sexual abuse who is also a musician. The complete liturgy is provided in PDF format for download. It includes a detailed planning guide, diagrams of stations that were set up in the worship space, a participants’ booklet, the message that was preached and original music composed specifically for this service.


Some of these definitions come from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Order and others can be found in “Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Sexual Misconduct Policy and Its Procedures” (adopted by the 219th General Assembly (2010), updated October 2013) (hereafter the “Policy”).

Accused — the person against whom a claim of sexual misconduct is made.

Accuser — the person claiming knowledge of sexual misconduct by a person covered by the Policy. The accuser may or may not be the victim of alleged sexual misconduct. A person such as a family member, friend or colleague may be the accuser.

Certified Christian Educators — persons certified and called to service in the ministry of education in congregations or councils. They shall have skills and training in biblical interpretation, Reformed theology, worship and sacraments, human development, faith development, religious educational theory and practice, and the polity, programs and mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Child Sexual Abuse — includes, but is not limited to, any contact or interaction between a child and an adult when the child is being used for the sexual stimulation of the adult person or of a third person. The behavior may or may not involve touching. Sexual behavior between a child and an adult is always considered forced whether or not consented to by the child. In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the sexual abuse definition of a child is anyone under age eighteen.

Church — spelled with the first letter capitalized, refers to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); when spelled with the first letter lowercase, refers to local churches. The word congregation is used loosely for members and participants.

Civil Authorities — are the governmental bodies, whether city, county, state, or federal, that are given the responsibility to investigate, criminally prosecute, and/or bring civil charges against individuals accused of sexual crimes or offenses against adults and children.

Clerk — Each council shall elect a clerk who shall record the transactions of the council, keep its rolls of membership and attendance, maintain any required registers, preserve its records, and furnish extracts from them when required by another council of the church. Such extracts, verified by the clerk, shall be evidence in any council of the church. The clerk of the session shall be a ruling elder elected by the session for such term as it may determine. The clerk of a presbytery, a synod, and the General Assembly shall be called stated clerk, shall be elected by the council for a definite term as it may determine, and must be a ruling elder or teaching elder.

Council — a representative body composed of ruling elders and teaching elders; sessions, presbyteries, synods and the General Assembly. A council may establish entities such as day care centers, conference centers, camps or homes for the aged. A council may have both church members and nonmembers as employees.

Deacon — The ministry of deacon as set forth in Scripture is one of compassion, witness and service, sharing in the redeeming love of Jesus Christ for the poor, the hungry, the sick, the lost, the friendless, the oppressed, those burdened by unjust policies or structures or anyone in distress. Persons of spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly and sisterly love, sincere compassion, and sound judgment should be chosen for this ministry.

Employee — comprehensive term used to cover individuals who are hired or called to work for the Church for salary or wages.

Entity — term used to refer to any program or office managed by a board, committee, council or other body whose membership is elected by a council.

Inquiry — term used in the Rules of Discipline (Book of Order) to determine whether charges should be filed based upon allegations of an offense received by a council (see Book of Order, D-10.0101, D-10.0102 and D-10.0103).

Mandated Reporter — includes a person under the PC(USA) constitution who is mandated to report to the civil authorities any reasonably held belief that there will be future harm and is also described by some states’ laws as a person who is required to report any and all suspected incidents of child abuse, including child sexual abuse that come to their attention. State laws vary from defining “all persons having knowledge” as mandated reporters to specifying very limited lists of professions whose members are required to report.

Member — There are three categories of member in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.):

Baptized Member — a person who has received the Sacrament of Baptism, whether in this congregation or elsewhere, and who has been enrolled as a baptized member by the session but who has not made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Such baptized members receive the pastoral care and instruction of the church, and may participate in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

Active Member — a person who has made a profession of faith in Christ, has been baptized, has been received into membership of the church, has voluntarily submitted to the government of this church, and participates in the church’s work and worship. In addition, active members participate in the governance of the church and may be elected to ordered ministry (see G-2.0102). Active members shall regularly, after prayerful consideration, recommit themselves to the disciplines and responsibilities of membership outlined in G-1.0304. The session shall have responsibility for preparing those who would become active members of the congregation.

Affiliate Member — a member of another congregation of this denomination or of another denomination or Christian body, who has temporarily moved from the community where the congregation of membership is situated, has presented a certificate of good standing from the appropriate council or governing body of that congregation, and has been received by the session as an affiliate member. An affiliate member may participate in the life of the congregation in the same manner as an active member except that an affiliate member may not vote in congregational meetings or be elected to ordered ministry or other office in the congregation.

Misuse of Technology — use of technology that results in sexually harassing or abusing another person, including texting or emailing suggestive messages and images to persons with whom one has a ministerial relationship. It is never appropriate to view pornography on church property. When this includes a person under the age of eighteen, it is considered child abuse. There is never an expectation of personal privacy when using technological equipment owned by a church or church entity or within the context of ministry.

Persons Coveredby the Policy include church members, church officers, teaching elders, and non-members who are employees or volunteers of the General Assembly of the PC(USA). All other councils or entities of the General Assembly which are governed by the Book of Order are required to create a sexual misconduct policy (Book of Order G-3.0106).

Rape — sexual contact by force, threat or intimidation.

Ruling Elders — As there were in Old Testament times elders for the government of the people, so the New Testament church provided persons with particular gifts to share in discernment of God’s Spirit and governance of God’s people. Accordingly, congregations should elect persons of wisdom and maturity of faith, having demonstrated skills in leadership and being compassionate in spirit. Ruling elders are so named not because they “lord it over” the congregation (Matthew 20:25), but because they are chosen by the congregation to discern and measure its fidelity to the Word of God, and to strengthen and nurture its faith and life. Ruling elders, together with teaching elders, exercise leadership, government, spiritual discernment and discipline and have responsibilities for the life of a congregation as well as the whole church, including ecumenical relationships. When elected by the congregation, they shall serve faithfully as members of the session. When elected as commissioners to higher councils, ruling elders participate and vote with the same authority as teaching elders, and they are eligible for any office.

Ruling Elder Commissioned to Pastoral Service — When the presbytery, in consultation with the session or other responsible committee, determines that its strategy for mission requires it, the presbytery may authorize a ruling elder to be commissioned to limited pastoral service as assigned by the presbytery. A ruling elder so designated may be commissioned to serve in a validated ministry of the presbytery. Presbytery, in its commission, may authorize the ruling elder to moderate the session of the congregation to which he or she is commissioned, to administer the Sacraments, and to officiate at marriages where permitted by state law. This commission shall also specify the term of service, which shall not exceed three years but shall be renewable. The presbytery shall review the commission at least annually (Book of Order G-2.1001).

Secular law — the body of municipal, state and federal laws, often referred to collectively as civil and criminal law. Prohibited behavior addressed by the Policy may result in criminal and/or civil charges filed under secular law.

Sexual Abuse — as defined in the Book of Order: “Sexual abuse of another person is any offense involving sexual conduct in relation to (1) any person under the age of eighteen years or anyone over the age of eighteen years without the mental capacity to consent; or (2) any person when the conduct includes force, threat, coercion, intimidation, or misuse of ordered ministry or position” (Book of Order, D-10.0401c).

Sexual Conduct — offensive, obsessive or suggestive language or behavior, unacceptable visual contact, unwelcome touching or fondling that is injurious to the physical or emotional health of another.

Sexual Harassment — unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

  1. Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment, or their continued status in an institution.
  2. Submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such an individual.
  3. Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance by creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.
  4. An individual is subjected to unwelcome sexual jokes, unwelcome or inappropriate touching or display of sexual visuals that insult, degrade and/or sexually exploit men, women or children.

Sexual Malfeasance
—is defined by the broken trust resulting from sexual activities within a professional ministerial relationship that results in misuse of office or position arising from the professional ministerial relationship.

Sexual Misconduct — a comprehensive term, defined in the Policy, that includes:

  1. Child Sexual Abuse (defined herein).
  2. Sexual Abuse (defined herein).
  3. Sexual harassment (defined herein).
  4. Rape (defined herein).
  5. Sexual conduct (defined herein).
  6. Sexual malfeasance (defined herein).
  7. Misuse of Technology (defined herein).

Teaching Elders
— Teaching elders (also called ministers of the Word and Sacrament) shall in all things be committed to teaching the faith and equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12). They may serve in a variety of ministries, as authorized by the presbytery. When they serve as preachers and teachers of the Word, they shall preach and teach the faith of the church, so that the people are shaped by the pattern of the gospel and strengthened for witness and service. When they serve at font and table, they shall interpret the mysteries of grace and lift the people’s vision toward the hope of God’s new creation. When they serve as pastors, they shall support the people in the disciplines of the faith amid the struggles of daily life. When they serve as presbyters, they shall participate in the responsibilities of governance, seeking always to discern the mind of Christ and to build up Christ’s body through devotion, debate, and decision.

Victim — is a person claiming to have been harmed and/or abused by a person covered under the Policy.

Volunteer — the term used for those who provide services for the General Assembly and other councils and entities of the Church. Volunteers include persons elected or appointed to serve on boards, committees or other groups. For purposes of the Policy, volunteers are treated the same as employees.

These definitions will be updated as needed.

Developing Emergency Plans: Acts of Violence on Church Property

All churches should engage in emergency planning so that when an incident occurs, staff and church leaders follow safe procedures. Potential emergencies can arise from acts of God (hurricanes, snow storms), accidents (electrical fire, flooding), and acts of man (violence, infectious disease). While creating a plan can seem overwhelming, breaking down an emergency plan by potential emergency and discussing possible responses can make the task less onerous.

This information piece includes suggestions to create emergency plans for potential acts of violence on church property. While much of this information is for congregations, there is also information for mid-councils who use churches and other locations for their meetings.

Who Should Work on the Plan?

Your session should form a committee that will report the final draft plan to your session for approval. The committee should include session members (such as past and present members of the property committee), members of the church staff, and any members of the congregation who might have experience in emergency management, insurance, and law enforcement.

Mid councils should consider emergency planning for their offices using similar resource people who work for or serve the presbytery.  Such a plan might contemplate general emergency planning for off-site meetings, such as when meetings of a presbytery are held at a local church.

Sources of Guidance

All councils can start by contacting their insurer. Presumably your local agent has visited your property and knows about potential risks on the property and in the local area. Ask the agent and the insurer about guidance and resources to help you create an emergency plan.

In addition, contact local law enforcement and ask them to help you think through risks in your building. Local police will know your neighborhood and its risks. Invite law enforcement to meet in your buildings and ask for opinions on high risk areas, locks on doors, security in general, and any other guidance the police can suggest.

Also, inquire if anyone in your congregation or presbytery works for a firm that provides security services or products to companies or consumers or are responsible for security at their workplace. They may be able to provide information for your project.

There are also some good resources to consult online. Start with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s publication “Guide for Developing High-Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Houses of Worship.” You can find it here.

You can also find resources at the Church Law and Tax website, including risk management resources, here.

Preparing a Plan

Plans will vary from church-to-church and council-to-council based upon size, number of buildings, budgets, and other factors. There are some commons elements to consider in creating a plan.

Examine your property — the first step is to examine your property and go through a checklist of questions, such as:

  • Do all doors have secure locks?
  • Are there alarms on some or all of the doors and are they active and functioning properly?
  • If there are no door alarms, should you have alarms on certain doors to alert staff when they are opened?
  • Are exits marked and are exit signs and doors properly lit?
  • Do all first floor windows have locks and/or bars?
  • Where are the remote sections of buildings which can be used to get access away from public and church office view?
  • Where are the church’s vulnerable spots?
  • Do you have security cameras and what can they see?
  • Which buildings and portions of buildings are used on any given day of the week?
  • Where have we had issues in the past with breaches of security, break-ins, and uninvited guests?

Assess Where Incidents May Occur

Some days of the week will present more challenges than other days. On Sunday mornings activities will likely take place in the sanctuary, Christian education areas, and nursery. On Sunday afternoon there may be Bible study and other classes as well as youth group activities. Planning for emergencies on Sunday may be different than planning for the rest of the week at an active church.

During the week staff will be in the church office. In some churches staff offices may be outside the main church office. It will be harder to secure staff when their offices are spread around your property. Meanwhile you may be hosting a daycare or church school in a separate building. During the day there may be a variety of meetings in rooms all over your property including church committees, church groups, exercise classes, Bible study, Alcoholics Anonymous and other groups related to various addictions, Brownies, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Indian Guides, and the list goes on and on.

Give some thought to how you need to secure various locations on your property on certain days of the week. Churches often are welcoming spaces with doors open to anyone who wishes to enter. Places of sanctuary. However, such openness comes at a cost. A committee considering an emergency plan should assess whether to reduce accessibility and limit ingress and egress to certain areas where visitors can quickly and easily be identified. Another issue is whether to have all guests sign in and out so that staff can control who is in the church building(s) at any given time.

Assess Who Can Help

Make lists of members of your congregation or council who may be of assistance in a crisis. Then ask those folks if they are willing to assist in the event of a crisis. These are also folks you might want on your planning team:

  1. Doctors, nurses, and EMTs.
  2. Members of law enforcement.
  3. Members of the media or person who are communicators in their regular jobs.
  4. Employees of a security company or locksmiths.

Communications by Staff — I Am Worried About A Problem

Employees should be trained that if they hear or see something that they perceive is a problem, they should say something. Sometimes church staffers become complacent because they feel an issue is none of their business or because the business of a church is to help people, not report them to law enforcement. Remember that churches are places where people go to get help when they face tough economic circumstances (poverty, job loss), difficult personal issues (separation, divorce, loss of custody of children), and personal loss (death of a family member or friend). Even though churches seek to offer solace and compassion to people facing serious personal challenges, some people may take desperate actions toward churches or have mental health issues that distort their view of a church and its staff and members.

Make sure your staff knows that they can and should report to their supervisor and the pastoral staff anything that makes them uncomfortable. If neither is available and the issue is serious, staffers should be told to contact local law enforcement for guidance.

Communications — Internal and External

Communications during a crisis is important and should be included in your plan. Also think about internal communications versus external communications. Internal communications looks at how to communicate with staff and volunteers in your building during a crisis. Do you have a public address system heard throughout your property? If so, you should consider a code that would warn folks of a situation that involves a shooter on property or risk of violence. If you do not have a public address system, do all staffers have walkie talkies or cell phones with that capacity? Will you send a warning text? In short, how will you notify staff and volunteers to seek shelter and go to a safe place inside or outside your buildings.

External communications means having contact information for a variety of third parties who you may need to call for assistance or information. That list should include local law enforcement, nearby hospitals, and other emergency services. When a crisis occurs you should have several people prepared to call 911 and report a problem so that if people get separated or one person is injured or killed you do not rely upon that one person to call for help.

Finally, you should consider point persons if an event occurs and the media contacts your church. Keep that group small. Channel all inquiries about the event to that small team. Include members of that team on your list of who to contact in an emergency.

Evacuation or Shelter In Place

Security experts advise that in a case of an active shooter your plan should direct people to get out of the building if possible, but if not, to shelter in a safe place and be still. A factor to consider in your plan is evacuation routes (including alternate routes if primary routes are blocked) and where staff can shelter safely in place during a crisis. Emergency responders and law enforcement can help you select the best evacuation routes. It is useful to post those routes so that in an emergency people can look quickly at a diagram and know where to go. Security experts advise that there are some areas where people should not shelter with an active shooter in a building:  near windows; in doorways, hallways, stairways, and elevators. (information provided by Securitas Security)

Your plan should include diagrams of your property and buildings including names of rooms. It should identify church offices with names of staffers. If there is a daycare or school it should indicate which rooms they occupy. It would be useful to include in the plan a church calendar, which should be updated regularly, so emergency personnel can quickly determine what meetings, events, and activities are happening on your property.

Once Law Enforcement Arrives

Remember that when law enforcement arrives, officers will be looking for the person who is causing a problem or is an armed aggressor so that they can neutralize the threat. Train staff and volunteers that when officers arrive they should keep their hands visible and empty and they should identify themselves to the officers. Then they should share any information they have about the crisis. What happened? Where did it happen? Describe the person causing the problem. And so forth. Next law enforcement will seek to rescue victims and provide medical assistance to anyone who is injured. Finally, if there is an active shooter or criminal in your building, it is a crime scene and law enforcement wants to preserve and secure it. (information provided by Securitas Security).

Threats of Violence

Whether or not you have a plan in place, you should report threats of violence from any source to law enforcement. No matter what you think of the credibility of the threat or its source, law enforcement can help you assess credibility and assist in a response.

Of course, actual incidents of violence, damage, burglaries, arsons, graffiti, and other property crimes should be reported to police. These may not be isolated incidents in your neighborhood and reports may help police identify and catch those responsible.

Failure to report and respond to past incidents may create liability for your church. For example, if someone repeatedly enters your buildings and makes threats or behaves in an unusual manner and no one reports the disruptive behavior to law enforcement, if that person returns and harms someone, it could be argued that your church was on notice of this dangerous person and failed to act. The injured party may bring a lawsuit on the grounds of negligence and argue that the actions of the person who caused the injury was foreseeable and preventable.

Training and Sharing

Having a plan is useful, but without training it is merely a document that likely will not be adequately implemented when an emergency unfolds. So, share your plan with all church/council staff and allow them to ask questions. Then train the staff on how to respond in case of an emergency. Hold an annual discussion at a staff meeting to remind staff of the plan and to make sure all staff members know the plan of action. Just as you might hold an annual fire drill to know how to exit safely in a fire emergency, consider a similar drill for an emergency involving potential violence on your property.

For possible incidents in the sanctuary, train your greeters and ushers on the plan and recommended responses.

If you have any weekday operations in your buildings, such as a daycare or church school, share your plan with the leaders and staff of those operations. Discuss with them what to do in case of an emergency and where to go to be safe. Include someone from those operations on your planning committee that creates the emergency plan.

When you share the plan with your session or presbytery for approval, discuss it thoroughly so that your leaders know how to respond in an emergency. Bring out the plan once a year to discuss at a meeting.

Make your congregation or council aware of the plan and where to find it.

Mid councils often meet in churches under their jurisdictions. Have the plan available for such meetings. When your congregation gets a request to use your church, include in your planning process time to discuss your emergency plan, including the plan for active shooters.

Mid councils that use churches and other buildings should build into their planning process time to discuss what to do in case of an emergency. Not only an active shooter situation, but also weather (hurricane, tornado) and other emergencies. While working with a church, school or other location to plan a meeting, ask for a copy of their emergency plans and discuss them with someone who can share information about the plan and the building. Take time to locate safe places in each building and emergency routes and exits.

Finally, congregations should make local law enforcement contacts aware of their emergency plan and ask if that agency wants a copy.

Where to Locate the Emergency Plan

Maintain the emergency plan in two formats:  electronic and hard copy. All staff members who have computers should have access to both formats and those who do not should have access to a hard copy near their work area. In that way, when an emergency occurs, all staff members can quickly find the plan and use it.

Give copies of the plan to key staff to keep at home, such as the pastors or an executive presbyter. In the event someone contacts them at home in an emergency they can refer to the plan and provide instructions. This may prove useful if a pastor or executive presbyter is off-site when an event occurs.

Multiple hard copies of the plan, including diagrams, should be kept in various locations on your church property. In that way if and when law enforcement comes during an emergency you can give the officers a copy of the plan and diagrams so they can quickly assess the property and where staff, volunteers, and others might be found.

Sample Dependent Care Policies

Dependent Care Reimbursement Policy for Commissioners and Advisory Delegates to the 222nd General Assembly (2016). This is the dependent care reimbursement policy for the 222nd General Assembly.


Dependent Care Expenses while Traveling. This is the dependent care reimbursement policy of the Presbyterian Mission Agency contained in its Guidelines for Reimbursement of Expenses and applies to employees and elected persons.