By Jessica Brodie
COLUMBIA—A United Methodist pastor has been arrested on charges of criminal sexual misconduct with a child.
The Rev. Walter C. Ballenger III, former pastor of Grace United Methodist Church, Columbia, has been charged with two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a child.
The Columbia Police Department said Ballenger is accused of touching children in a sexual manner. He was taken into custody July 13.
Ballenger did not return the Advocate’s calls for comment.
Those arrested and charged are presumed innocent until or unless proven guilty in a court of law.
Ballenger, an ordained United Methodist pastor in the South Carolina Conference, has been suspended from all ministerial duties effective July 14, according to the conference website, umcsc.org.
The suspension “is for the protection of all parties,” the website statement says.
The conference is urging all to be in prayer for victims of abuse, for the people of Grace UMC and for the leadership of the South Carolina Conference.
“The South Carolina Conference will cooperate fully with civil and legal authorities as the legal process unfolds,” the statement reads in part. “The United Methodist Church views ordination and membership in an annual conference as a sacred trust and holds clergy to high standards of behavior. The safety of all children is a priority for The United Methodist Church. The conference is providing guidance and resources to assist the church and those impacted in this difficult time.”
District Superintendent the Rev. Cathy Jamieson-Ogg said prayers are with both the church family and the pastor’s family.
“Grace UMC is a strong church with dedicated and wise leaders,” she said. “The church is moving forward, and the conference is offering appropriate resources and guidance to navigate this difficult time.”
Grace will soon get an interim pastor to provide pastoral leadership and care for the membership. As of the Advocate’s press time, that pastor was not yet known. Jamieson-Ogg preached July 19 at both services. She also facilitated a meeting immediately after each service with the adults of the congregation. She was accompanied by the Rev. Diane Moseley, a member of the South Carolina Response Team, which provides support and help in times of church crisis.
Columbia police said they received information about the alleged crimes on June 27, and the case is being investigated by the Special Victims Unit.