SOMERSET, Pa. – Jimmy and Clara Hinton don’t want others to miss what they didn’t see for years: their father and husband, a respected pastor for years in his rural community, was keeping his flock in the dark while he molested young children.
Today, the elders at Somerset Church of Christ have moved intentionally to protect children. Empty classrooms are locked. Adults working with children operate in teams of two or more. On Sundays, monitors conduct random building sweeps and each Sunday School room has a walkie-talkie in case of an emergency.
Protecting Children Top Priority
Church policy also protects children from potentially unwanted physical touch like a hug. “None of us can walk up to a kid, pull a kid in and initiate that physical contact,” says Pastor Jimmy, who has served as the pastor at Church of Christ since his father left in 2009.
He thinks that’s important because abusers often groom children to become used to them initiating.
If a registered sex offender wants to come to church, the elders will alert the congregation and provide a separate service to avoid contact with children.
Elder Bob Martin acknowledges that while controversial, the policy puts the safety of children first. “When someone is aware of that in their congregation and fails to notify them,” he said, “I think they have to answer to God for that and I don’t want to stand before Him and explain why I did not protect one of his children.”