The South Florida Sun Sentinel reports…
“When Bob Coy arrived in South Florida nearly 30 years ago to found a Calvary Chapel ministry, he seemed an unlikely man of God.
Yet from his first days in front of worshippers meeting in a Pompano Beach funeral home, the admitted onetime cocaine abuser and womanizer from Las Vegas showed a talent for mixing Bible lessons with real life that gave rise to a mega-church with tens of thousands of followers.
“He just kept your attention the whole time,” said 20-year parishioner Beverly Shrove, 62. “There was just something about him that made you keep coming back.”
But in the wake Coy’s surprise resignation for what church officials have termed “a moral failing in his life,” some wonder if one of the largest churches in Florida can survive the loss of its charismatic leader.
“It crossed my mind because Bob Coy was the pull to the church; I loved seeing him,” said Janice Smothers, 54, of West Palm Beach. “I could just cry. But this is a lesson. We worship Jesus Christ, not Bob Coy. I don’t think people will leave.”
David Medina, 55, a photographer who from his home in San Juan, Puerto Rico, tuned in to the televised broadcast of Coy’s sermon every Sunday, called Coy “an iconical figure within the church” who will be hard to replace.
“My 19-year-old daughter was crying when she heard the news,” Medina said.
Mike Miller, a church spokesman, said Monday that while Coy’s Active Word ministry of radio, television and digital media has been suspended, the roster of backup pastors is capable of filling in.
To replace Coy at Calvary Chapel’s scheduled Easter service April 20 at Florida Atlantic University’s stadium, the church has recruited Franklin Graham, the evangelist son of famous preacher Billy Graham, Miller said.
John N. Vaughan, director of the Megachurch Research Center in Missouri, called news of Coy’s resignation “really, really unfortunate.” But Vaughan said he had “no doubt” that the church would survive.
“Churches don’t get that big because of some hotshot in the pulpit. They get that big because they’re meeting people’s needs,” Vaughan said. And Calvary Chapel, he said, has a reputation for doing just that, with a “mission-oriented” approach in reaching “people whose lives are going in the wrong direction.”
“There are lots of stories in that church, of people whose lives have been dramatically changed. There are raving fans in that church,” Vaughan said. Whatever Calvary Chapel’s fate, Coy’s tenure with the ministry is sealed. He submitted his resignation letter on Thursday, Miller said. The news was delivered Sunday via the church website and to an estimated 7,500 people who turned out for a special afternoon meeting at the church.
Coy, 58, was not there. Pastors read a letter from Coy at that meeting in which he said he was sorry for his transgressions and expressed confidence the church would continue to flourish.
Miller declined to elaborate on Coy’s “moral failing.”
Coy could not be reached Monday for comment. He, his wife Diane and their two teenage children live in Coral Springs.
“Pastor Bob will be focusing his full attention on his personal relationship with God and with his family,” the church said in a statement.
From the pulpit and in published interviews, Coy spoke openly about his troubled past. Born in Michigan, he began using cocaine while in the music business in Detroit, he said, and continued using after losing his job and moving to Las Vegas. There, he got a job at the Jolly Trolley, a casino with an all-girl revue.
With the “cocaine use and the alcohol abuse and the womanizing, I was pretty serious about sin at the time,” he said in a 1995 interview.
Eventually, Coy said, his brother urged him to seek help for his self-destructive behavior.
Coy became a born-again Christian in 1981, he said in one interview, while attending services at Calvary Chapel in Las Vegas. Founded by Southern California pastor Chuck Smith, Calvary Chapel now has 850 churches in North America, with another 200 churches across the world.
In a Sun Sentinel interview published January 2002, Coy said, “If I were not a minister, I wouldn’t know Christ. I was into sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. I’d either be dead, jailed or institutionalized.”
Coy arrived in South Florida with his wife Diane in a U-Haul truck in 1985, charged with opening a mission here. He said he worked as a shoe salesman while his wife worked as a waitress in those early days.
But by the early 1990s, his Pompano Beach congregation numbered about 4,000 and five other Calvary Chapels had opened in South Florida.
In 1996, the growing church closed on a 75-acre site at 2101 W. Cypress Creek Road, and 10 years later received $103 million in donation pledges for a new round of expansion.
With 20,000 worshipers each weekend, Calvary Chapel now ranks among the largest churches in the U.S., with a sprawling main campus and six affiliated churches in Boynton Beach, Boca Raton, West Boca, Plantation, Hollywood and the Keys.
While he was revered by many of his congregants, Coy had no formal religious training, and repeatedly said in interviews that he was the messenger, not the message.
“Throughout his history here, [Coy] taught us to follow the message,” said Miller. “Man will always fail you, but the Gospel will not. That is never more true than it is today.”
In April 2003, when the pastor of a Cooper City church resigned over an extramarital affair, Coy applauded the decision.
“You disqualify yourself when something like this happens,” he told The Miami Herald. “Planet Earth is not a playground, it’s a war zone, especially for the Christian. When a fellow Christian falls, it affects us all.”
Flashback – 2010 video