A former youth pastor at Bellingham Baptist Church has been arrested on suspicion of sexually abusing a teenage girl over the course of two years.
Christopher L. Trent, 37, a pastor at the Orleans Street church for the past three years, rubbed his face with his hands and wiped away tears with the collar of a green inmate uniform, as a deputy prosecutor read from a Bellingham detective’s report in court Tuesday afternoon, July 19.
The alleged victim reported she was under the age of 14 when the relationship turned inappropriate.
About two years ago, Trent started driving the girl home from church, said Deputy Prosecutor Christopher Quinn. Sometimes he showed her physical affection by giving a “side hug,” she reported, and over time they started hugging chest to chest. Eventually he told her he wanted to kiss her, that he was falling in love with her, and that he wanted to marry her when she turned 18, according to her report to police.
He texted inappropriate photos over phone apps, and she sent him photos of herself, too, according to the charges. He gave her a purity ring and told her he did not want to ruin her for marriage. Over the next two years, however, she estimated they engaged in sex acts more than 100 times — so often, she lost count. She reported she was sexually abused at the church at 2501 Orleans St., at a satellite church in Ferndale, at the girl’s home, and at the defendant’s home, according to her report.
He told her not to tell anyone, because he would lose his job and family, Quinn said. Police logs show someone reported the relationship on the night of July 11.
Trent, a married father of seven children, was educated at Heartland Baptist Bible College in Oklahoma City, said Deputy Public Defender Jane Boman. He moved here three years ago, and he is no longer employed, she added.
Trent has no prior felony record.
Police booked him into jail Monday on four counts of child rape in the second degree. At his first appearance in court Tuesday, Superior Court Commissioner Martha Gross set bail at $100,000. If he posts bond, he can’t have contact with girls under 18, she ruled.
“This is very concerning behavior,” Gross said. “Mr. Trent has only been in our community for three years. He was then brought here to serve in a position of trust, for his entire congregation, and in particular the vulnerable children that he would be leading.”
Formal written charges are expected to be filed this week.
Josh Carter, the top pastor at Bellingham Baptist, told The Bellingham Herald the church was cooperating with the police investigation. He declined to answer other questions Tuesday afternoon.
Eleven audio recordings of Wednesday night sermons from Trent were scrubbed from the church website sometime in the past two weeks, according to internet archives. The subject of his last recorded sermon on May 11 was Galatians 6:1, a verse that reads: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.”