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Virginia pastor, accused of soliciting minor for sex, steps down

Rev. John Blanchard of the Rock Church was one of 17 men the Chesterfield County Police Special Victims Unit targeted in a two-day sting operation.

A Virginia pastor accused of soliciting a minor for sex has stepped down, according to his church.

Rev. John Blanchard "has voluntarily stepped back as lead pastor and from all his ministerial duties until this present situation is totally resolved," said a statement from Rock Church posted on the home page of their website, which still featured a photo of Blanchard and his wife at the top.

The Virginian-Pilot reported that the statement was released Wednesday morning.

Bishop Anne Gimenez, a co-founder of the Virginia Beach church, will step in as lead pastor, sharing responsibilities with Blanchard's wife, Pastor Robin Blanchard, the statement said.

Blanchard was arrested Oct. 29 on charges of solicitation of prostitution from a minor age 16 or older and using a vehicle to promote prostitution or unlawful sex, according to Chesterfield County Police.

He was one of 17 men the Chesterfield County Police Special Victims Unit targeted in a two-day sting operation. The men thought they were talking to minors and were arranging to meet them, but instead they were talking with detectives.

Blanchard, 51, was released on bond. NBC News has not been able to reach him.

Video of Sunday's service on the church’s Facebook page earlier this week showed Blanchard spoke at the beginning and end of the service. His wife also spoke briefly. Neither addressed the charges, which were announced the next day. The church’s Facebook page was no longer available Thursday.

"Under the guidance of our legal counsel, We cannot make a statement or comment concerning the accusations against Rev. John Blanchard at this time," Rock Church said in their Wednesday statement.

The church thanked members for their support and asked for privacy for the Blanchards, who have two kids.

"As followers of Christ, we must remember that redemption, salvation, grace, mercy and healing are all gifts given to the children of God. Although everyone must address their own convictions and consequences, our assignment as believers is not to condemn, but to be agents of God’s love, healing, justice, and reconciliation," the church's statement said.