By Jessica Brodie
BAMBERG—A retired United Methodist pastor and his wife have been cleared of charges of having child pornography on their computer.
According to the South Carolina Attorney General’s office, Grady Bernard Ponds and his wife, Rhonda Jean, 40, were both charged in July 2010 with one count of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, a felony offense punishable by as many as 10 years imprisonment, for allegedly possessing digital images depicting children engaged in sex acts.
Now, more than six years later, the attorney general’s office has dropped all the charges.
Ponds had been appointed to Mount Carmel UMC in the Orangeburg District when he was charged with the crime in 2010. He was placed on an involuntary leave of absence in 2010 and was involuntarily retired from the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church in 2013.
He now lives in Columbia, where he operates a ministry.
“Definitely, your faith is tested during times such as that, and I feel for us as a family we benefitted from the test,” Ponds told the Advocate. “Me and my wife have come closer together from this, and it has created an unbreakable bond.”
He said that as difficult as the experience was, it taught him some valuable lessons about keeping his family a priority even as he is busy serving the Lord.
“Through the ministry, I was allowing myself to be more about The United Methodist Church and more about the churches I was pastoring and was forgetting about my family, and this (experience) actually helped my family come together as a family unit,” Ponds said.
He said the only regret he has is that three special people in his life—his father, sister and father-in-law—passed away before they were able to get the good news about the cleared charges.
“But I thank my family for being there for me—my mother and brother, my in-laws—and there have been people in the church who have been there for me, too,” Ponds said.