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Christian school volunteer arrested on sexual abuse charges

Editor’s Note: In support of the sixth strategic action of Vision 2025 adopted by messengers to the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting, Baptist Press will continue to report every instance of sexual abuse related to Southern Baptist churches, entities, institutions or leaders of which we are made aware.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP) – A school volunteer in Missouri was arrested earlier this month on sex-related charges. Jennifer Cecil was a volunteer at a local Christian school and a member of Concord Baptist Church in Jefferson City. The school, Lighthouse Preparatory Academy, is not affiliated with Concord Baptist Church.

Cecil was charged with first-degree sexual abuse, sexual contact with a student, second-degree statutory rape and second-degree statutory sodomy, according to local media reports. She has pleaded not guilty to all charges and posted $15,000 bond.

Concord Baptist released a statement after learning of the alleged abuse. One of the church’s pastors received a report of Cecil’s alleged “inappropriate affection to a minor during an event not affiliated with CBC.”

A church representative contacted a local abuse hotline number as well as the Jefferson County Police Department.

“We are currently cooperating with authorities to gather and provide information to assist with the investigation,” the church’s statement said. “Additionally, we have engaged Guidepost Solutions, a global investigations, compliance and monitoring company with specific expertise in faith-based investigations to assist us in conducting an independent third-party internal review to better understand our ability to prevent and respond to similar incidents. As these efforts are better defined and the criminal investigation continues, we will update the congregation.”

Jon Nelson, Missouri pastor and chairman of the Missouri Baptist Convention’s Sexual Abuse Response Team, said in a statement that Concord Baptist reported the incident “in a way that was both measured and survivor centered.”

“Since the inception of Missouri’s Sexual Abuse Response Team, we have endeavored to help Missouri Baptists improve our ability to protect and care for survivors, prevent sexual abuse in affiliated churches and institutions, and properly respond to those we are blessed to minister to and alongside,” Nelson said. “Although we have been reminded that sexual abuse is widespread and permeates every aspect of our society, we are shocked when the statistics strike close to home. Now we have tools to properly respond as well as discourage this horrendous crime and sin.”

Nelson added that the team is encouraged to see the beginnings of a “culture change” spurring churches to respond to instances of abuse with “decisive action.”

“Our prayer is that every church, including yours, becomes a safe place for the hurting survivors of sexual abuse and their families,” the team’s statement said. “… We pray other churches – if a similar situation arises – react as this pastoral staff have.”

The church urges anyone with information about the case to contact the Cole County Sheriff’s Department or the Missouri Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-392-3738.

Investigators say a family came forward reporting their teenage son had been in a sexual relationship with Cecil, KOMU News reported.

Court documents said the incidents took place “two to three times a week, on a weekly basis,” between December 2022 and July 2023 at Cecil’s home.

If you are/have been a victim of sexual abuse or suspect sexual abuse by a pastor, staff member or member of a Southern Baptist church or entity, please reach out for help at 202-864-5578 or [email protected]. All calls are confidential.