Pastor's arrest rocks Coral Springs church
BY MIKE CLARY
Sun Sentinel Staff Writer
The Palm Beach Post
November 23, 2009
CORAL SPRINGS — At the bustling Church by the Glades, pastor David Hughes usually preaches the gospel, the good news. But on 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 worshippers at 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.
But Hughes, the senior pastor of the South Baptist congregation, made clear in his remarks Sunday that "a kid cannot give consent. You understand that.
"We are all about forgiving," said Hughes. "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 following his arrest.
Hughes told parishioners he decided to abandon the scheduled topic of his sermon to directly address the news that has rocked the church, which 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."
Added Hughes, "We have nothing to hide in this church."
The Church by the Glades has been in the news twice in the past two years. In 2007 the church stirred controversy with a lecture series called The Bare Naked Truth on Sex, and then promoted the program with a billboard on Interstate 595 that showed two pair of feet hanging off the end of a bed.
In 2008 the church handed out $40,000 to parishioners in what was termed a "reverse offering." Recipients were told to spend the money on others as an act of generosity.
Tom Albright, the executive pastor of the church – also known as Coral Baptist – issued a written statement that contained an apology for the "alleged impropriety and criminal action by a minister on our staff.
"We are deeply sorry for the hurt and harm this has caused to the victim and families involved, as well as to others in our church family and nearby community."
Albright said the church is providing staff and outside counselors to any congregants in need of assistance because of the allegations.
Lewis was hired about two years ago to serve as assistant music and youth minister. He previously lived in Hobbs, New Mexico, said Albright.
Many who came to the large church near the Sawgrass Expressway on Sunday learned of Lewis's arrest from the pulpit. "I cried," said parishioner Rohan Carroll, as he and his 15-year-old daughter Dana walked to their car. "But I thought it took a lot of courage to do what the pastor did – discuss it openly."
Dana Carroll, a sophomore at Ely High School, said she was shocked by Lewis's arrest. "I wouldn't expect it of him, or this church," she said. "But he is just one person."
Lewis was being held Sunday in the Broward County jail on $20,000 bond.
Anyone with additional information is asked to contact Coral Springs police Detective Ken Clark at 954-346-1300.
SNAP Note: Church by the Glades is shown as an SBC-affiliated church.