Former pastor Jeffrey Bedwell, who’s being held in a Jacksonville, Fla., jail on a $500,000 bond, has been accused of grooming and molesting a girl from 2013 to 2018, starting when the victim was 12 and continuing until she was 17.
Bedwell, who was arrested July 8 and is scheduled to appear in court next week, faces charges of unlawful sexual activity, lewd and lascivious molestation of a minor between ages 12 and 16, lewd and lascivious sexual battery on a minor between ages 12 and 16, and transmitting harmful material to a child.
Police initially said Bedwell worked at multiple churches, but the only one that’s been confirmed so far is Chets Creek Church, a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) megachurch with four campuses in the Jacksonville area. According to reports, Bedwell was a youth pastor at the church’s Southside campus from 2013 to 2018, when the abuse allegedly occurred. He was promoted to campus pastor in 2018 but was terminated a year later “for issues unrelated to the current charges now made against him,” says Senior Pastor Spike Hogan.
In a statement, Hogan says the church was “shocked and devastated” by the arrest. He adds that the church will cooperate with the investigation and work to provide support and improve safety.
What Jeffrey Bedwell Is Accused of Doing
The arrest report indicates that Jeffrey Bedwell “became close” to a 12-year-old girl, initially communicating with her through text messages and Snapchat. Eventually, it says, he began grooming her for abuse, engaging in explicit conversations and requesting and sending inappropriate photos and videos.
Bedwell allegedly sexually assaulted the girl twice when she was 14 and continued the abuse for three more years. Authorities say the illegal activities took place in the pastor’s home and vehicle, adding that one time he locked himself and the victim in a closet and touched her inappropriately.
Authorities haven’t revealed how they learned about Bedwell’s alleged acts. They also haven’t ruled out additional crimes and are asking the public to come forward with any tips.
An internet search reveals that Bedwell attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, obtaining a master’s degree in theological studies and counseling.
Neighbors told reporters they were surprised by news of Bedwell’s arrest. An attorney for the girl says, “Unfortunately, these types of cases result in trauma to victims and the community.”
How Chets Creek Church Is Responding
In a statement, Pastor Hogan indicates that Bedwell “was subjected to the same thorough vetting and background-check process that we require of all leaders, and there was no hint of criminal activity.” He adds, “Had we learned of, or had any reason to believe there was wrongdoing, we would have reported it to law enforcement immediately.” Local news reports reveal that Bedwell had no criminal history beyond traffic violations.