The leader of a Florida megachurch who resigned last week after confessing to an unspecified "moral failing" was a self-proclaimed sinner who said he ditched sex, drugs and rock '-n' roll for a pious life behind the pulpit, according to parishioners.
Bob Coy, 58, the former head of Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, was never shy about his raunchy, rowdy misadventures in Las Vegas, where he once partied hard, battled addictions and later found Jesus, parishioners said.
"He's always said from the pulpit: 'Don't follow me. I'm just a person like you,'" said Mitch Guertler, a parishioner for 17 years who lives in the Fort Lauderdale area.
"You could relate to his struggles, to his past," Guertler said. "He's human. He's made a bad decision — or a few."
When reached for comment Tuesday, church spokesman Mike Miller declined to elaborate on Coy’s resignation and said the pastor was not granting interviews. Coy did not immediately respond to an email request for comment Tuesday afternoon.
In sermons recalled by parishioners and published interviews, the magnetic pastor spoke candidly about his misspent youth and destructive appetites.
The Royal Oak, Mich., native says he started abusing cocaine while working in the music industry in Detroit and later worked at a Sin City casino with a glitzy nude-girl show, according to a December 2000 profile in The Miami Herald.
But in the early 1980s, Coy says he began attending services and later joined the staff at the Calvary Chapel in Las Vegas, an affiliate of the Calvary Chapel evangelical movement. He has said that's when he cleaned up his act, the Herald reported.
"I'm not the same cocaine-addicted alcoholic womanizer I used to be," Coy told the Herald in 2000. "I'm a pastor."
Coy's long road to redemption is well known to his congregation.
"He got saved and accepted Christ," said Kevin McCloskey, a parishioner for 18 years who lives in the Fort Lauderdale area.
Coy moved to south Florida in 1985 with his wife, Diane, to found a branch of the Calvary Chapel network. The Fort Lauderdale church, among the fastest-growing churches in America, now boasts about 20,000 members and more than $135 million in assets, Reuters reported.
But after nearly 30 years on the pulpit, Coy has stepped down under unclear circumstances.
Thousands of church staff and members attended a Sunday meeting where Coy's resignation was announced, according to the Sun-Sentinel newspaper of Fort Lauderdale. He lives in Coral Springs, Fla., with his wife and two teenage children, the newspaper reported.
Scores of Facebook users left messages on the church's official Facebook page saying they were praying for Coy and his family.
McCloskey said he is confident the church can move forward. It has a wide reach, with 10 campuses across the state — and a devoted congregation active in several social programs.
And yet Coy, with his toothy grin and boyish enthusiasm, has long been a major draw. The faithful have flocked to the pews for years to get a dose of his indelible brand of biblical bonhomie.
"Pastor Bob is a pretty charismatic guy," McCloskey said. "He can sit there and be very, very serious — and a minute later, he's lightened up the mood."
McCloskey said Coy is widely beloved for high-spirited sermons that liberally mix quotidian observations with scriptural teachings — and the occasional salacious anecdote.
"He used life experiences in his teachings," McCloskey said. "And he got plenty of life experience in Vegas."
First published April 8 2014, 3:39 PM