JEROME IDAHO - Sunday morning, the Rev. Ron Matheney led the First Presbyterian Church in Jerome as he always does. The choir sang, the congregation prayed and Matheney delivered a sermon on Christian identity, compassion and forgiveness.
The congregation seemed to take the sermon to heart in the wake of charges filed Aug. 28 against Matheney for allegedly beating his now-estranged wife, Darlene.
Matheney was charged with one count of felony domestic battery, one count of felony attempted strangulation and one misdemeanor charge of removing the phone to prevent Darlene from calling the police.
None of this seemed to matter to congregants Sunday. Matheney greeted the parishioners after church and many warmly hugged him in return.
Although his charges have become public, Matheney chose not to directly address them in front of the congregation. He alluded to having had "a bad week," but said nothing more about his legal problems in his sermon.
Instead, Matheney spoke of his time at a rehabilitation clinic. Although the pastor said the lesson wasn't about him, the message hit close to home for the tight-knit church family.
"Because a person has committed a crime -- for the rest of their lives they will never be able to live down their crime," he said. But, he said, even those guilty of their sins are deserving of forgiveness.
None of Matheney's congregation wanted to comment on the charges, but many were eager to talk about their experiences with the church.
"It's a wonderful place. It's a family," congregant Susan Pohanka said after the service.
A lot of that has to do with Matheney, she said. The church, which was struggling before he arrived two years ago, is now thriving with 100 people who attend every week to hear Matheney's lively sermons and soulful singing voice.
"He's built the congregation," Pohanka said.
John Day agrees. "We didn't have the power of God the Spirit until Ron came in," he said.
Day said he was concerned the public might get the wrong idea about the church in light of the allegations. "At this point, we're just going to let things come as they are," Day said.
Matheney, who is free on a $50,000 bond, is accused of waking Darlene in the middle of the night on Aug. 14 and forcing her to have sex, beating her and preventing her from calling police.
Ron maintains Darlene was the aggressor and threw the first punch, although he admits hitting her twice during the fight. He also said she insisted on having sex.
Regardless, when Matheney steps into court on Sept. 21, it appears he will have the support of his church family.
"This is who we are: a loud-mouth preacher with a friendly church family," Matheney said.