From the Pulpit to Prison

January 24, 2008

VAN BUREN COUNTY (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - A former pastor in Van Buren County will serve time after admitting to a sexual assault.

Pastor James Hatfield used to minister at The Center of Life Church in Paw Paw. It was while he was a pastor there that authorities say he started abusing a girl that was in his care, abuse that began when the girl was in middle school, and continued through high school.

Pastor James Hatfield

Hatfield later pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault, and Tuesday he was sentenced to at least a year and nine months in prison.

Newschannel 3 spoke to Pastor Ron Packer of First Christian Church in Paw Paw, who's also the Chaplain for the Van Buren Co. Sheriff's office. While Packer has no connection to Hatfield or his church, he understands how the case has had an impact on the community.

The Center of Life Church in Paw Paw

"The unfortunate part of this particular crime is it's not just about him, it's about the ripple effect in a pond that makes a big difference to a lot of people, and could even destroy lives," said Packer.

Packer says Hatfield's crime had an effect on his former congregation, which moved to a new location in Paw Paw, even changing its name to Christ Centered Church.

And now that there has been a conviction, Packer says he hopes the community can feel some closure.

"I know some of the people, but most of them that I know are all pretty strong," he said. "This isn't something that will make them waiver."

Packer says that since the allegations about Hatfield came out and then his arrest, Hatfield's congregation at Christ Centered Church has grown much closer, through their faith.


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