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Monday, March 05, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor charged with 11 counts of sexual exploitation of children

Camden SC — Northgate Colonial Baptist Church members say they need their faith now more than ever.

The church is trying to hold itself together while its popular pastor, the Rev. Kevin Ogle, sits in jail in Walton County, Ga., charged with 11 counts of sexual exploitation of children.

"We're a family," said Mike Clifton, head of the church's board of deacons. "We are there for each other. We keep each other lifted up."

The 42-year-old Ogle is accused of sending pornographic messages and pictures of himself over the Internet to a police officer posing as a teenage girl.

Ogle's congregation is praying for their leader and have organized meals for his wife and young children. Members say there hasn't been a time since the case broke Feb. 20 that they lost hope.

"We felt like we could go forward at once, that the Lord was on our side," said Evora Price, a member for nearly 20 years.

The night Ogle was arrested, Price and other members were called to the church for an emergency meeting. "As a congregation, and as Christians, we have to focus on what God wants us to focus on," Clifton said.

Clifton has become "the rock of the church," Margaret Sowell said.

"A lot of them are hurting, and hurting very deeply, and it is just going to take time," Clifton said. Healing "is not going to happen overnight."

Experts say a pastor's missteps of any kind shake a congregation's trust.

It's a kind of "a betrayal of sacred trust," said the Rev. Tony Everett, a professor of pastoral care at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia.

Everett has worked with congregations to heal after such conflict. The most successful churches, he said, ask hard questions and work through the roller coaster of denial, anger, grief and sadness.

The ones that just "want to put it behind them" rarely succeed, he said. Complete healing "may take a generation."

Clifton hopes his church can emerge from the adversity stronger.

"I think an event like this, if it is handled in the right way, will make us more cohesive and stronger than we were before," Clifton said. "I think it shows how weak we can get sometimes if we don't stay part of the group and rely on everybody - and especially God."

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Related story: SBC Sex Abuse