Church Youth Volunteer Investigated

Pastor cooperates with police inquiry into allegations of sexual abuse.

By John Chambliss
The Ledger

Monday, October 29, 2007

LAKELAND | In his sermon on Sunday, First Baptist Church at the Mall Pastor Jay Dennis spoke about exposing secrets and the need to be open.

Then Dennis told his congregation that Lakeland police are investigating a sexual abuse allegations involving a youth ministry volunteer at the church.

No arrests have been made.

After Dennis informed the congregation, police on Sunday confirmed they opened an investigation about one week ago. A statement from police said the investigation involves accusations of abuse of middle school to high school age students who currently attend the church or attended the church in the past.

The person who made the allegations is now an adult, police said.

Police did not identify the person being investigated or their role at the church.

Church officials identified the suspect as a male volunteer in the student ministry.

Timothy Parcheta, executive director at the church, said the volunteer was asked not to continue working at the church during the investigation. Parcheta said he did not know how many possible victims have come forward with allegations against the man.

Church officials are cooperating with investigators, Parcheta said.

"We hurt as a church during a time like this," Parcheta said. "It affects all of us as a church family."

"No church likes to hear information like this."

Parcheta said Dennis and church officials have known of the investigation for about a week. After rumors spread throughout the congregation, Dennis spoke about the investigation during a sermon.

Dennis responded to The Ledger through e-mail.

"As pastor of First Baptist Church at the Mall, a member of this community, and a parent myself, my prayers go out to anyone who has been affected through this tragedy," Dennis wrote. "As I shared with our church this morning, we are fully cooperating with the LPD and FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) in every way."

One of the largest churches in Polk County, First Baptist Church at the Mall, 1010 E. Memorial Blvd., has more than 8,700 members and sits on 32 acres. The church moved to the 400,000 square-foot old Lakeland Mall location in 1998 after paying $8.6 million for the property.

Anyone with information about the allegations can call police at 834-8980.

[ John Chambliss can be reached at or 863-802-7588. ]

See also:

"Lakeland church volunteer under investigation", FOX 13 Tampa Bay, 10/28/07

Police investigate sexual abuse allegations against volunteer youth minister at FBC-Lakeland, ABC Action News, 10/28/07 (video)

"Lakeland church volunteer accused of sex abuse," Tampa Tribune, 10/30/07 (with video)


SNAP Note:  First Baptist Church Church at the Mall Pastor Jay Dennis is shown as an SBC-affiliated minister.