By Jessica Brodie
COLUMBIA—One United Methodist church is doing its best to move forward after its pastor was arrested and suspended on charges of criminal sexual misconduct with a child.
Grace UMC, Columbia, now has a newly appointed pastor, the Rev. Susan Ulmer, who retired in June. In a letter to the congregation, Columbia District Superintendent Dr. Cathy Jamieson-Ogg called Ulmer “a passionate preacher, caring and gifted in pastoral care, and a skilled administrator.” She said she is confident Ulmer will bring the church needed spiritual gifts as they navigate the aftermath of their ordeal.
The church’s appointed pastor, the Rev. Walter C. Ballenger III, has been charged with three counts of criminal sexual misconduct with a child in Richland County and with an additional charge in Florence County. Ballenger, an ordained United Methodist pastor in the South Carolina Conference, was suspended from all ministerial duties effective July 14 for the protection of all parties, the conference said. He is suspended with pay, Jamieson-Ogg said; the church is paying his salary, while another source in the conference is paying Ulmer’s salary until further notice.
Jamieson-Ogg said the appointment of Ulmer is a step forward in the church’s healing. In her letter to the congregation, she reminded the church that not only do the bishop and Cabinet stand with them, but also Jesus is with them in the boat, rebuking the wind and calming the waves.
In addition to Ulmer, Jamieson-Ogg said Grace also got a new children’s minister, Kimberly Roberts, who worked at Grace for many years, then worked at Trinity UMC, Blythewood, as director of children’s ministry, where she doubled the number of children involved in vacation Bible school, Troupe 12:2 (a drama/music group) and implemented new programs for Sunday school and other activities. She applied for the job at Grace prior to Ballenger’s arrest, and Jamieson-Ogg called her “a deeply rooted Christian, excellent with children’s music and children’s ministry.” Roberts started at Grace the same Sunday as Ulmer did, Aug. 16.
Jamieson-Ogg said she prays God will continue to bless Grace with hope, faith, love, grace and peace as they move through this difficult time. She also asks all United Methodists to pray for the Ballenger family, the Grace UMC family and all those impacted by these events.