WETUMPKA – News that a former pastor with a Wetumpka connection has been charged in a Florida child sex sting has shocked this close-knit community.
David Donald Hoppenjan, 52, was among 22 men recently arrested in a sting dubbed “Operation Undertow” according to the Pensacola Police Department. At the time of his arrest, Hoppenjan was a pastor at First United Methodist Church in Pace, Fla. He is no longer a United Methodist pastor, according to the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church.
According to media reports, Hoppenjan is a former youth minister at First United Methodist Church in Wetumpka. The district would not comment of any of Hoppenjan’s previous positions or the years that he served.
“I was shocked, you could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard about it,” said District Attorney Randall Houston, who attends First United Methodist Church in Wetumpka. “I remember I was sad when he left us, because he did such a good job. But it didn’t surprise me when he left and went on to bigger things, because he was such a good communicator.”
First United Methodist Church in Wetumpka is referring all questions about the matter to the district.
“As a church, we take any allegation of clergy misconduct very seriously,” the district said in a statement. “The United Methodist Church requires clergy to live by the highest ethical and moral standards. Conduct that violates these standards is a very serious matter and is not tolerated.
“The Alabama-West Florida Conference was saddened to learn of the arrest of Rev. David Hoppenjan, former pastor at Pace First United Methodist Church. Rev. Hoppenjan is no longer a United Methodist pastor. The conference will fully cooperate with authorities in this matter.
“The safety of all children in our communities is a priority. Our focus right now is on offering pastoral care and support to the congregation and the community. This is a painful and difficult situation for members of the congregation that he served, and we keep all of those affected in our prayers.”
Hoppenjan allegedly traveled to two locations with the intention of having sexual relations with a 14-year-old boy, according to the Pensacola News Journal.
The website of the First United Methodist church in Pace has removed Hoppenjan from its staff listings.
In a cached version of the pastor's biography on the church's website dated Aug. 4, however, Hoppenjan described himself as a "second career pastor."
"I received my call to ministry in my mid-30s. At that time, we moved from Wetumpka, Alabama, to Wilmore, Kentucky, where I graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary in May 2006. I have served as Executive Pastor at Shalimar UMC since January of 2006," he noted.
"Recently, I returned from Panajachel, Guatemala, where I worked with the ministry of Porch de'Salomon. This trip reinforced my heart for missions and outreach and my desire to support the work of missions from outside our back door to all around the world. While in Shalimar, I was involved in YMCA, Covenant Hospice, Children in Crisis, Habitat for Humanity, as well as local schools as a parent, a volunteer, and a church member helping out in any way possible," he said.
He is the father of two adult sons along with his wife, Jennie, the post read.
"Jennie and I enjoy taking time traveling to visit with family in Alabama and Wisconsin, trying out new restaurants and figuring out what it's like no longer having children with demanding schedules," he added.
The turn of events is “disturbing” to Jaime Lyles of Wetumpka. The Lyles family does not attend First United Methodist Church in Wetumpka.
“Our children are in college now, but they had friends at First Methodist during that time,” she said, “I mean if you can’t trust the preacher or the youth group director, who can you trust?”