On Wednesday, we told you about “Operation Undertow,” an online sex sting performed across multiple jurisdictions in Northwest Flordia, busting suspects who thought they were going to have sex with a minor. Investigators were posing as minors online. When the suspects showed up, they were arrested. One of those suspects was a pastor at a church in Pace.
By now, you’ve probably seen the video of suspect after suspect being arrested. One suspect who was arrested is 52-year-old David Hoppenjan, the former reverend at First United Methodist Church of Pace. According to the arrest citation, Hoppenjan believed he was meeting a 14-year-old boy to have oral sex.
A woman who works across the street from the church didn’t want to be shown on camera because of the sensitive subject material but says times have changed since she was growing up.
“We could go outside, run around, do whatever,” the mother said. “We didn’t have electronics to communicate with strangers. It’s definitely scary.”
Hoppenjan also served as an executive pastor in Shalimar for nine years before coming to Pace. Before that, he worked as a youth pastor at the Wetumpka First United Methodist Church near Montgomery.
The Director of Communications for the Alabama West-Florida Conference issued a statement, saying they were saddened to hear of the arrest of Rev. Hoppenjan, that he was no longer a pastor at the church, and they were fully cooperating with authorities.
We asked about how long Hoppenjan had been a pastor at First Methodist but were told no questions would be answered at this time. As for the mother across the street, she said she’ll be having a talk with her children about online safety.
“I think kids don’t have a clue how serious it is,” she said. “They don’t have a clue how much they’re in danger. Especially, you know, my son has a phone. He’s 11.”
Wetumpka First United Methodist declined to comment on why Hoppenjan left their church. There is a nursery at United Methodist of Pace.
Bond was set at $30,000 for Hoppenjan. He’s charged with obscene communication, and traveling to meet after using a computer to lure a child.