Methodist Church Court Convicts Florida Pastor of Sexual Misconduct

The 2012 edition of the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. The book includes church policies and laws, including how to adjudicate church trials. (Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS)
The 2012 edition of the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. The book includes church policies and laws, including how to adjudicate church trials. (Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS)

A church court removed a pastor’s credentials in The United Methodist Church late Jan. 12 after he was found guilty of sexual misconduct.

The Rev. Errol Leslie, who formerly served in the Florida Conference and currently served two churches in Connecticut, stood trial Jan. 11-12 in Lakeland, Florida, on accusations he had sexual relations with a laywoman and misused his authority. The woman brought the complaint against Leslie.

Florida Area Bishop Ken Carter Jr. announced the trial in a post on his Facebook page asking for prayer for the proceedings.

The trial comes at a time when multiple pastors have faced complaints for officiating at same-sex unions or being “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy, both chargeable offenses under church law.

Carter specifically noted this case was different. Leslie faced allegations of “heterosexual misconduct,” the bishop said.

Leslie faced charges of immorality, sexual misconduct and disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church, under Paragraph 2702 of the denomination’s Book of Discipline.

The trial court — the equivalent of a church jury — found him guilty on all three counts. Retired Bishop Al Gwinn served as the presiding officer, the equivalent of a judge.

A trial court consists of 13 ordained clergy and two alternates.

By a vote of 9-4, the trial court decided to “terminate conference membership and revoke the Rev. Leslie’s credentials to conference membership.”

The action means he also can no longer serve as a pastor in the New England Conference or other United Methodist conferences. At the time of the trial, he was serving as pastor of Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in East Hartford, Connecticut, and nearby Vernon United Methodist Church. The Wesley Memorial website identified Leslie as married.

Because Leslie is ordained in the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas, The United Methodist Church does not have the authority to strip him of ordination in that denomination.

The Rev. Jay Therrell, senior pastor of Cape Coral First United Methodist Church, was the counsel for the church, a role similar to a prosecutor.

“I think justice has been done,” he told United Methodist News Service.

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SOURCE: UMNS
Heather Hahn

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