BROOKSVILLE — Pastor Brian Brijbag had a strict, well-known policy as he ran the youth program at First Baptist Church of Brooksville, a former intern recalls.
"He was very particular about not allowing females in his office alone," said Darrell Jordan, a 23-year-old Spring Hill resident who served as an intern for about a year. "If I was there and a girl walked in, I couldn't leave."
But last July, authorities say, Brijbag had consensual sex with a 17-year-old church member in his office at the Howell Avenue church complex. He was 34 at the time.
On that occasion, Brijbag and the girl were not alone, according to a Brooksville Police investigation. They were engaged in a three-way sexual encounter with an 18-year-old female church member, police Chief George Turner said.
"The witness was also a participant," Turner said.
The 18-year-old was not arrested. It is not illegal in Florida for someone up to age 24 to have consensual sex with someone older than 16.
A married father of three, Brijbag was arrested Tuesday afternoon, accused of unlawful sexual activity with a minor, and booked into the Hernando County Detention Center. His bail was set at $10,000, and he was released about six hours later.
The offense is a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison or a maximum $10,000 fine.
Brijbag allegedly had sex with the 17-year-old on more than one occasion, Turner said. He did not provide more details, saying the investigation is ongoing.
Brijbag did not return a message left on his cell phone Wednesday.
Church officials first learned of the allegations against the youth pastor a couple of weeks ago, worship director Alan Arick said Wednesday. They immediately placed Brijbag on paid leave and informed authorities.
Soon after, Brijbag resigned.
"Any time you have accusations like this it is shocking and it's traumatic to the church," Arick said. "We're very concerned about all sides in this thing."
Brijbag was popular with the church's members and its youth, Arick said, adding that the church had never had issues with him before.
But Brijbag is well-known in Hernando County for more than his church work. He served for nearly eight years as a board member of the Hernando County Fine Arts Council, occupying the chairman seat in 2009 and 2010.
He took an active role in organizing the now-defunct Bandshell Bash, a free monthly concert series in downtown Brooksville that started in 2004.
Brijbag resigned from the council board last week, citing personal reasons, said Myndee Washington, the council's executive director.
A graduate of Springstead High School, Brijbag worked for seven years as pastor of youth and family ministries at Spring Hill Bible Church.
In the summer of 2006, he joined the city of Brooksville as redevelopment coordinator. In 2007, he started an ultimately unsuccessful effort with the nonprofit Jack Kerouac Project of Orlando to make Brooksville the first in a series of "booktowns" in Florida.
That same year, he took the pastor job at First Baptist. He left the city post in October, 2008.
Brijbag started the Fire Xscape youth group at the church. The group in part aimed to get young people to participate in local ministries. Active in the Christian rock music scene, he is also a host and program director for an internationally syndicated radio show, according to his Facebook page.
Known as Pastor Brian, he has not been to the Fire Xscape's Wednesday meetings in the last couple of weeks, said Jordan, the former intern.
Jordan last spoke with Brijbag on Sunday. Brijbag knew then that there was a warrant out for his arrest and planned to turn himself in, Jordan said. He denied the allegations, and worried about the effects on his wife, children and what he considered to be his extended family, the church congregation.
Brijbag knew by the time Fire Xscape met this week, the news of his arrest would be out. "It's more than a job to him," Jordan said. "His ministry is his life."
Brijbag will likely have many supporters, he said.
"I think he's innocent and I think that's a perspective a lot of people will have," Jordan said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or email@example.com.