By Jessica Brodie
COLUMBIA—A United Methodist pastor has had his charges dismissed and his record expunged after spending the last four years fighting to clear his name.
Now, he is hopeful his clean record will help him get reappointed as a pastor.
The Rev. Walter C. Ballenger III was arrested in July 2015 on three counts of criminal sexual misconduct with a child in Richland County and in August 2015 on an additional charge in Florence County. Ballenger, an ordained pastor, was suspended from all ministerial duties for the protection of all parties.
On June 2 of this year, the Clergy Session of the South Carolina Annual Conference voted to change his status to “involuntary retirement,” said the Rev. Ken Nelson, the conference’s director of clergy services. “At each step, the conference has complied with processes and procedures as set forth in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church and will continue to do so in the future.”
On April 19, 2018, in Florence County Circuit Court, Ballenger received a not guilty disposition on one of the charges. This summer, on June 26, the remaining changes were dismissed in a nolle prosequi disposition in Richland County General Session Court. His criminal record was subsequently expunged.
“That season’s over with,” Ballenger said.
Ballenger said the last few years have been difficult, and he knows even though his record is clear, people have long memories.
“You don’t ever get over the stigma of being charged with those kind of charges,” Ballenger said. “It’s life-altering. Things will never be the same again, but I don’t think they’re supposed to be.”
He said regardless of the experience, God has a call on his life, and God’s call will prevail however God sees fit.
“I have a calling, and I served faithfully in the South Carolina United Methodist Church for 22 or 23 years, and just because that situation arose it didn’t stop the calling that I received back in 1993,” Ballenger said. “I still have work to do.”
He said he takes comfort that God knew even when He called him that the day was coming when Ballenger would be arrested.
“But the great thing about the Lord is when he picks you up and says, ‘Follow me,’ it does not stop till he’s finished with you. I’m just going to keep going on and keep doing what I have been called to do, keep taking the next step.
“In the midst of the whirlwind, God still works. And even though I was down and out, I was down, but I was not out.”
Ballenger believes now is the next chapter—it’s not a whole new book.
“The Lord uses everything. We’ll just see what lies ahead. As they say, the best is yet to come.”
Nelson said conference continues to be in prayer for everyone affected by the allegations that led to criminal charges against Ballenger 2015.
“We are committed to providing a safe space where all people may worship and be in mission,” Nelson said.
He noted there is a process by which a pastor who has been involuntarily retired can attempt to gain readmittance if they so desire. That process is detailed in Para. 368 of the 2016 United Methodist Book of Discipline (see below).
Can a pastor be reappointed after involuntary retirement?
The United Methodist Book of Discipline does have a process if a pastor wishes to be readmitted after involuntary retirement.
Readmission After Involuntary Retirement—Clergy members of an annual conference desiring to return to effective relationship after having been placed in involuntary retirement (Para. 357.3) must meet the following conditions:
- Submit a written request for reinstatement to the Board of Ordained Ministry.
- The Board of Ordained Ministry and the cabinet shall review the member’s qualifications and the circumstances relating to his or her retirement.
- Recommendation by the Board of Ordained Ministry, the bishop, cabinet, and a two-thirds vote of the clergy members in full connection of the annual conference that granted the involuntary retirement. A period of at least two years of service as a local pastor shall be required prior to readmission to conference membership.
- Presentation of the certificate of retirement.
- Presentation of satisfactory certificate of good health on the prescribed form from a physician approved by the Board of Ordained Ministry. The Board of Ordained Ministry may require a psychological evaluation. Any pension being received through the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits shall be discontinued upon their return to effective relationship. The pension shall be reinstated upon subsequent retirement.
—2016 UMC Book of Discipline