Pastor relinquishes duties after arrest

By Tita Parham | July 15, 2010 {1197}

The Rev. Kenneth W. Kleckner III relinquished his duties as senior pastor at Ocala West United Methodist Church after his arrest July 9 on one count of soliciting a minor for sex via the Internet and five counts of transmitting harmful material to a minor.

Detectives with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department arrested Kleckner at the church after a two-month investigation into an alleged online relationship between Kleckner and an assumed underage female, who was a detective in the department’s sexual offender squad.

Kleckner was released from the Marion County Jail after posting $55,000 bail. His arraignment is scheduled for August, at which time he will be allowed to enter a plea.

Kleckner stepped away from his pastoral duties at the direction of the Rev. Annette Pendergrass, superintendent of the North Central District; Florida Conference Bishop Timothy Whitaker; and leaders at Ocala West United Methodist Church. At the present time, Kleckner will continue to receive his salary as the appointed pastor of the church, but will not serve in any capacity.

Pendergrass expressed “shock and sadness” over the charges brought against Kleckner. His arrest, she said, “came as a great surprise and disappointment.”

“We never want to see this happen, with a lay person or a clergy (person),” she said. “We take it very, very seriously.”

No formal complaint by the church has yet been filed against Kleckner. If he is found guilty or confesses to the charges brought against him, proceedings will be initiated to remove him as a pastor in The United Methodist Church, Pendergrass said, adding the church does not tolerate the kind of behavior for which Kleckner has been accused. 

Pendergrass preached at the Ocala church’s three worship services July 11 and invited the congregation to “reflect on the resources of faith in dealing with storms, crises and life’s most trying times and difficulties.”

While acknowledging the pain and loss members were feeling, Pendergrass called on the congregation to focus on the mission and ministry of the church.

Following the services, Pendergrass spoke to nearly 500 members and held a brief question and answer session.

The Rev. Keith Hopper, assistant pastor at Ocala West United Methodist Church, has assumed pastoral responsibilities at the church.

Pendergrass asks for prayers for members at Ocala West United Methodist Church, the community in which the church serves, and Kleckner and his family.

Kleckner was ordained an elder in full connection in 1993. He was appointed to Ocala West United Methodist Church in 2006. He is married and has four children.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011, tparham@flumc.org, Orlando
 
*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.


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