Making Our Churches the Ultimate Safe Spaces

The Rev. Canon Laura Bowman

A Jubilate Deo Interview with the Rev. Canon Laura Bowman, Canon for Safe Churches


Laura, tell us a bit about your background and how it fits with your role as the new Canon for Safe Churches.

This role, as the Canon for Safe Churches, is an answer to prayer for me, a fulfillment of my calling. I grew up in Pennsylvania and when I was 21, I enlisted in the Pennsylvania State Police. I served for 20 years and retired in 2002, about nine months after 9/11. At the time I retired, I was a sergeant supervising a criminal investigation and forensics unit around the city of Philadelphia. At that point, my husband and I moved to North Myrtle Beach, where we bought a condo on the beach. We had a couple of good years enjoying our retirement, and then he started to develop some health issues. He had previously been very healthy, but all of a sudden, all kinds of things went wrong with him. It was subsequently determined that those were due to his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. In 2014, he died from those illnesses.

After his death, I got re-affiliated with the church, and became active at Grace Parish, North Myrtle Beach.  It was there I went through the discernment process, and I graduated from Trinity School for Ministry (now Trinity Anglican Seminary) with my MDiv in 2020. After my ordination as a Transitional Deacon, I became acquainted with Church of the Holy Cross on Sullivan’s Island and with then-rector, Chris Warner. I served with him through my time as a transitional deacon until I was ordained a priest. Then, he left (to become Bishop of Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic), but I have remained and continue to serve there today.

Last year, in 2023, Bishop Chip Edgar contacted me, and we talked about the urgent need for a safe church program and how this needed to be brought to the forefront. At the end of our discussion, he asked me to serve as his Canon for Safe Churches, to oversee the training of our people, and also to receive and review complaints, and to oversee investigations. With my experience and training in law enforcement and organizational leadership, I was happy to step into that role. I think it’s so important that we have one point person, whether it be me or someone else, so everybody knows, “This is who I call.”


You’ve recently released a new Manual for the Protection of Children and Youth. Why did we need a new manual?

The last diocesan policy on Protection of Children and Youth was approved in 2005. And obviously, there have been a lot of changes since then. This new manual spells out standardized ways of taking care of the children in our care, whether it’s for a camp, a day school, Sunday school, or whatever. It delineates what conduct is good and what should be avoided. How would you recognize if something is going on? What kind of behavior indicates grooming of children?  If it were easy to identify a criminal of any kind or a pedophile in particular, it would be easy to lock them all up. But there is a certain element of society who, if this their interest, are willing to take their time to groom children, to try to gain their trust and pull them into a closer relationship. And whether it’s small children, vulnerable teens, young adults, or even vulnerable adults, we all need to be looking out for one another. We need to be aware of what kind of conduct we should be on the lookout for. That’s the information we are providing in this new manual.


How was the manual developed?


About two years ago a committee was formed with our Diocesan Chancellor, Assistant Chancellor, the Bishop, our Canon to the Ordinary, and two other priests. They brought me in later. The committee  worked for two full years reviewing the old diocesan policy, and then pulling in resources from other denominations and from other dioceses within the ACNA to get their best practices, discussing what this might look like in our diocese, and then looking critically at what we should be doing going forward. We had our insurance carrier look at our policy, and they made additional suggestions. Then we sent it out to all the clergy in the diocese and said, “Hey, take a look at this 60-page book and tell us what you think. Do you see issues?” After we’d done all that, the final revisions were made to this new policy. We’re pretty confident that what we’ve developed is our best work. There may be additional revisions forthcoming down the road. But for right now, we believe we have something strong to work with.


What subjects does it cover?

There is a 5-Step Protection Process which covers Screening, Training, Interacting, Monitoring, and Responding/Reporting. Each church is to identify a Congregation Coordinator who will oversee the implementation of various aspects of the manual and will work with the Rector/Vicar and with me as questions arise.


When will the manual be available for use?

The manual was completed and approved in May 2024 and is now publicly available on the diocesan website. We are issuing two hard copies to each church, one for the clergy-person-in-charge and one for the Congregation Coordinator.  But the content of the manual is applicable to anyone in our churches who volunteers or is a paid staff member who interacts with children.


How will people be trained?

Praesidium is the company providing our online training. The content is essentially the same as what we had from Safeguarding God’s Children. It is paid for by the diocese. When you become employed or become a volunteer worker within one of our churches, the Congregation Coordinator can sign you up to receive the training.

You can complete the training in your own home on your computer. There are about four half-hour videos (depending upon your assigned duties), and each ends with a multiple-choice quiz. Praesidium maintains a record of the videos each trainee completes. We require update training every other year. But after you pass the initial training, the update training is comprised of one video – a refresher – which summarizes all of the previous work.


What if you see something that seems a bit “off” in your parish or sets off red flags. Who do you call?

The simplest response would be to simply report it to your supervisor, but if for some reason you don’t feel comfortable doing that, you could report it to your priest, or a lay supervisor, or to me.

We don’t want anybody to ever say, “I’m not going to report this because I don’t know how to report it or who I would even report it to.” That’s why we have a Canon for Safe Churches. If you don’t feel safe reporting it to someone in your church, feel free to contact me. If it’s not something I should be involved with, I will be happy to pass it along to whoever should be involved. The important thing is if you see something that concerns you, or that’s suspicious, let somebody know. Because you know what? If you report it to your supervisor or to your priest, and if they don’t know what to do with it, they will call me.


Suppose you make a report, but the person you report to says, “Oh, that’s nothing, just let it go,” but you’re still uncomfortable. Can we call you?

Absolutely. Not everybody is from the same generation or culture. Not everybody views things the same way. Not everybody has had the same training or life experience. If we receive a complaint and then we look at everything and it turns out there is no real cause for concern, then so be it.  The important thing is we don’t want to create or allow any dead ends. We want to know if there are concerns.

Our churches have to be the ultimate safe spaces, and we are going to do everything we can to make that so.


Interview by Joy Hunter, ADOSC Director of Communications, June 2024