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Former volunteer at South Carolina church pleads guilty to inappropriately touching children


Editor’s Note: In support of the sixth strategic action of Vision 2025 adopted by messengers to the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting, Baptist Press will continue to report every instance of sexual abuse related to Southern Baptist churches, entities, institutions or leaders of which we are made aware.

YORK, S.C. (BP) – A former volunteer for the children’s program at Central Baptist Church has pled guilty in York County criminal court to inappropriately touching a minor while at the church, according to The Herald newspaper of Rock Hill.

Ira James Summerlin, 77, of York, pleaded guilty on Sept. 6 to third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor, according to prosecutors. Summerlin was sentenced to eight months in prison. He also received 30 months’ probation upon his release and must register as a convicted sex offender.

After church leaders were made aware of the incident in January 2021 involving Summerlin, they immediately notified the York Police Department and surrendered all evidence in full cooperation with the local authorities, pastor William Cofield said in a statement released at the time.

“The perpetrator was not an employee of the church, but rather a volunteer who had passed numerous criminal background checks as required by church policy,” Cofield said. “Central Baptist Church is sickened and appalled by the actions of Mr. Summerlin,” he said. “He no longer has any access to minors through this church, as he is no longer affiliated with this church or allowed on the property.”

The incident allegedly involved the fondling of a child over the clothes and was recorded by some children at the church who were not victims, Cofield told The Courier. Summerlin, a longtime member of Central Baptist, had served as a deacon, church treasurer and children’s worker, Cofield said.

If you are/have been a victim of sexual abuse or suspect sexual abuse by a pastor, staff member or member of a Southern Baptist church or entity, please reach out for help at 202-864-5578 or [email protected]. All calls are confidential.

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  • Baptist Courier Staff

    Reported by the staff of the Baptist Courier (www.baptistcourier.com), newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.

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