Tampa pastor admits addiction, takes voluntary leave

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Tampa pastor admits addiction, takes voluntary leave

Dec. 19, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
tparham@flumc.org  Orlando {0777}

An e-Review Feature
By Erik J. Alsgaard**

TAMPA — A Tampa pastor is taking a voluntary leave of absence following his admission that he is addicted to online adult pornography.

The Rev. Brian James, 45, senior pastor at St. James United Methodist Church, announced during worship services Dec. 16 that he was stepping down as pastor of the church, effective immediately. James had served the growing congregation since 2000.

The 1,400-member congregation was hushed during each of the three worship services as James made his announcement.

“I did this,” he said. “I did this. This pastor did not fall or stumble or trip. This pastor was not pushed. This pastor stepped knowingly into this behavior and has given Satan his victory for too many days.”

James’ addiction came to light Dec. 10 when pornography was found in one of the copiers at the church office. The copies were traced back to the pastor’s computer.

Local church leadership was immediately notified. They then contacted James. At that point, according to James’ statement, “when confronted with the reality of its discovery I admitted my guilt."

"There is no honor in confessing what has already come to light," he said, "but I want to walk in a God-honoring way from that point on.”

James, and his wife, Dustin, met with the Rev. Dr. Bert Blomquist, superintendent of the South Central District, the next day. Members of the church’s staff parish relations committee then met with the Jameses and Blomquist Dec. 12. Blomquist had already been in conversation with Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker to discern the facts and best course of action. The church council met about the issue the next day.

“Obviously, this is not acceptable behavior for a pastor,” Blomquist said in a statement read during the church’s worship services the day James made his announcement. “These actions are very serious and prohibit anyone from functioning as a pastor in any of our churches. They raise serious questions. Brian needs to take time to work on this problem in therapy. Therefore, he will be stepping out of the ministry and taking an immediate and voluntary leave of absence from his responsibilities at St. James.”

Blomquist made it clear that, to date, no criminal charges had been filed against James. The church hired a computer company to search the pastor’s computer to make sure no children or youth were involved. That investigation is ongoing.

Once James satisfies the Florida Conference Board of Ordained Ministry that he has recovered from his addiction, he would be available for appointment by the bishop, Blomquist said. St. James’ staff parish relations committee and church council have also arranged for James and his family to receive three months’ salary and housing to begin their leave of absence.

“We are trying in every way to see that the family and the church are helped in these circumstances,” church leaders said.

James told the congregation, which has taken as its motto, “Imperfect people … following Jesus … into the world,” that he needed to get well.

“I need to discover the source of this area of my life that I have not surrendered to my God, who promises healing and hope to all who come to Him weary and heavy laden,” James said. “I am already pursuing a course of treatment that will last for as long as necessary, and I will be in recovery for the rest of my days.

“I have no plans beyond laying all things down before my Lord and waiting upon Him. If it is ministry that He hands back to me someday then I will hold onto it in a more healthy way than I have in days past.”

At the 9:30 service, members reacted swiftly after James finished his statement. With a few shouts of “We love you,” members stood and applauded. During the worship time that followed, church members were invited to write messages on note cards and drop them in a basket at the front of the sanctuary. Several churchgoers greeted James and his wife, offering hugs and quiet words.

Whitaker has appointed the Rev. Riley Short, a retired elder in the Florida Conference, to St. James from Dec. 30 to June 30. It is anticipated the church will receive a new pastor July 1 as part of the normal appointment process.

Blomquist concluded his comments to the congregation with a request for two things. “First,” he said, “stay in love with God. Second, reach out and comfort another person. Now is not the time to go home and be alone. Be the community of the church; be the body of Christ.”

In the midst of trying circumstances, grief, shock and anger, the congregation at St. James was just that, a fact that did not go unnoticed. An editorial in the Tampa Tribune Dec. 18 praised the congregation and leadership of the Florida Conference for their swift response and compassion for James.

“In choosing to neither cast James out nor soft-pedal this violation of Methodist beliefs, the church took an appropriate and dignified stand,” it said. “It has set a good example for institutions that find themselves in such embarrassing and challenging situations. The Methodist church and the congregation … can hold their heads high. They have given (the Rev. Brian) James an opportunity to deal with his troubles and rejoin a church that practices what it preaches.”

The editorial can be found at http://www2.tbo.com/content/2007/dec/18/na-compassion-and-candor-at-st-james.


This article relates to Ordained Ministry.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is director of communications for the Florida Conference.

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