Chets Creek Church, a multi-campus Southern Baptist megachurch in Florida, was “shocked and devastated” to learn that former Southside campus pastor Jeff Bedwell was recently arrested for allegedly grooming and sexually molesting a young girl from the age of 12 until she turned 17.
“Chets Creek was shocked and devastated to learn of the charges made against a former member of its staff," Senior Pastor Spike Hogan said in a statement to The Christian Post Tuesday.
"Jeff Bedwell’s employment with the church was terminated more than two years ago for issues unrelated to the current charges now made against him."
Hogan assured that during his time at the church, the 38-year-old Bedwell was "subjected to the same thorough vetting and background check process that we require of all leaders."
"[T]here was no hint of criminal activity," Hogan continued. "Had we learned of, or had any reason to believe there was wrongdoing, we would have reported it to law enforcement immediately. With his recent arrest, we will cooperate with law enforcement in any way we can as they conduct their investigation."
Local news reports indicate that Bedwell served as a youth pastor at the Southside campus of Chets Creek Church. But Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention, named him as the campus pastor before his firing in a 2018 report.
Chets Creek Church noted that the "church has no plans to comment further at this time" and did not elaborate on Bedwell’s former role. But the church insists that leaders are working to make their church safer.
"The safety of our members and families remains a top priority for us. The trust that they place in Chets Creek is precious and something that we work to earn and maintain every day. To that end, we are also constantly looking for ways to make our church even safer. With God’s help and guidance, we will do just that," Hogan said.
"Right now, our primary focus is to pray for any person who has been harmed and support them in any way they need. Please pray with us as we are once again reminded that we live in a dark world that needs help and hope that only God can bring."
Records from the Duval County jail, where Bedwell is being held on a $500,000 bond, show that he was charged with four counts. Those charges are the transmission of materials harmful to minors, one count of unlawful sexual activity, one count of lewd and lascivious molestation of a minor between the age of 12 and 16 and one count of lewd and lascivious sexual battery on a minor between the age of 12 and 16.
According to an arrest report cited by The Florida Times-Union, Bedwell’s alleged crimes began in 2013 and ended in 2018. The church said his employment was terminated in 2019.
Bedwell reportedly used text messages and Snapchat to become close with the victim when she was 12.
When she turned 13, he is said to have begun grooming her with text messages, photos and sexual conversations during which he allegedly requested inappropriate photos. By the time she was 14, the exchanges allegedly escalated to include videos. The pastor is accused of having two alleged sexual encounters with the girl when she was 14.
Bedwell allegedly continued sexually assaulting the victim at his home and inside his vehicle until she turned 17, according to the arrest report. Bedwell has been at the Duval County jail since July 8. He is expected to answer the charges in court on July 29.
Since Bedwell’s arrest, Chets Creek Church has scrubbed most of their association with him from their website and social media. It was still unclear Tuesday how law enforcement was alerted of Bedwell’s alleged crimes. A request from CP to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office for further details remains pending.