Arrest stuns Coral Springs congregation

A youth pastor at a large church, arrested and charged with molesting a teenage girl, was the subject of Sunday's sermon.




November 23, 2009

At the bustling Church by the Glades in Coral Springs, pastor David Hughes usually preaches the gospel, the good news. But Sunday, the news was bad.

``There is brokenness, anger and a lot of hurt. This is an ugly story,'' Hughes told a sanctuary packed with several hundred worshipers for the 11:15 a.m. service.

The story broke Saturday when Coral Springs police arrested one of the church's youth pastors, Russell Dion Lewis, 28, and charged him with custodial battery and 10 counts of lewd and lascivious molestation.

Police said Lewis molested a 14-year-old girl and tried to rape her. Investigators added that the contact between Lewis and the girl, even if it was consensual, was illegal because of the girl's age.

Lewis was held Sunday in the Broward County jail on $20,000 bond.

Hughes, the senior pastor of the Southern Baptist congregation, made clear in his remarks Sunday that ``a kid cannot give consent. You understand that.

``We are all about forgiving,'' Hughes said. ``But when it comes to our children, we're pretty hard-nosed around here.''

Lewis, who lives two miles from the church, was fired Saturday after his arrest. Hughes told parishioners he decided to abandon the sermon he had planned and instead would directly address the news that had rocked the church at 400 Lakeview Dr., near Atlantic Boulevard and the Sawgrass Expressway. The church ministers to about 5,000 people each weekend through seven services.

``We are having a little family talk,'' said Hughes, 47. ``It has been a weird 72 hours. As your pastor, I'm sorry. This should be a safe place.''

The church has been in the news twice in the past two years. In 2007 it stirred controversy with a lecture series called ``The Bare Naked Truth on Sex,'' and then promoted the program with a billboard along Interstate 595 that showed two pairs of feet hanging off a bed.

In 2008 the church handed out $40,000 to parishioners in what was termed a ``reverse offering.'' Recipients were told to spend it on others as an act of generosity.

Lewis was hired about two years ago to serve as assistant music and youth minister. He previously lived in Hobbs, N.M., executive pastor Tom Albright said.