'People don't want to believe something so awful'
Pastor's arrest leaves King of Kings' church community reeling
September 15, 2010 - In "King of Kings Pastor ready for an exciting new journey," published in The Lake Orion Review March 1, 2006, William Bendert said he spent 14 years at Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Marysville, near Port Huron, before coming to King of Kings on Orion Township.
|Bendert, 2006 (click for larger version)|
"I just felt that God said it was time to move on and do something new," Bendert said when he arrived, noting King of Kings was his fourth congregation since graduating from seminary in 1984. His first Sunday at King of Kings was Jan. 15, 2006.
On Sept. 9 he left the congregation at King of Kings reeling in shock and disbelief when he was arrested by FBI agents on charges he attempted to solicit a minor child for sex, allegedly propositioning agents he believed were mothers with young daughters, whom they were making available for sex.
On Tuesday, a federal magistrate cited concerns Bendert, 51, could be a danger to children and himself, and ordered he remain in jail until trial on charges that he used the Internet to offer sex mentoring to underage females.
Members of the congregation he left behind were having a hard time dealing with the news.
"He baptized my grandkids," said King of Kings member Ellen Harrington, who, up until she heard reports last week, never suspected anything amiss and "couldn't say enough good things about" the pastor. "He baptized my husband. Just two weeks ago he baptized my son-in-law."
Harrington said she'd have formerly describe Bendert as upbeat and very active, noting he was always doing somthing good, like organizing and helping facilitate three large food drives for Hatian eathquake victims last year.
"People from every walk of life make bad choices, but this choice could bring down the whole church," Harrington said. "He's someone we're supposed to look up to because of what he stands for. But after what he's done to our church – and to his family – we're really going to have to band together as a church family to get through this."
Those left in the wake to lead the church through a storm it didn't see coming expressed the same.
"We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the arrest of our pastor, the Rev. William Bendert," read a statement issued to The Lake Orion Review and other media outlets. "The reports…are very upsetting, but there is no suggestion that William Bendert was inappropriate with children here at King of Kings."
The statement also said the church is cooperating fully with law enforcement authorities investigating the matter.
"King of Kings does not tolerate improper sexual conduct on the part of any staff member, including the pastor," the statement continued. "Our congregation seeks to be a safe, secure place for all people, especially for children. We pray that no child has ever been victimized by William Bendert."
Bendert's call to King of Kings marked the end of a long period the church was without a call pastor.
Pastor Luther Wright was diagnosed with cancer in 2002 and passed away in 2004. The church had a series of interim pastors until Bendert arrived in 2006.
"But a pastor doesn't make a church," she said. "The people do. I love the congregation, I love the church."
Mindie Wolvin, an Orion Township resident who also belongs to the church, agreed.
"I feel that you have to center you faith on God and not a leader of a church," she said. "I am just really saddened by it and just hope against hope that somehow they have it all wrong. It is so very sad and awful."
Wolvin said she and her husband Kenny found support—and perhaps a bit of solace—in both the church and its members since their 15-year-old son passed away in March 2007.
"King of Kings is a good church with good people," she said. "When we lost Jacob they rallied around us, including Pastor Bill."
"This is kind of like a nightmare you wake up from and then realize it's not a nightmare at all, it's real,"
As friends and family hear the news, she said, shock and disbelief are the common initial reaction.
It is sending a shock wave through those who knew him. Most people don't want to believe something so awful about someone they know."
Lake Orion Review Editor