Many will know that the 31:8 Lessons Learned Review into allegations made against Jonathan Fletcher and the culture of Emmanuel Church Wimbledon was recently finally published, based on 98 contributions, of whom 27 were victims. Our hearts and prayers go out first for them: many have understandably suffered prolonged mental anguish and trauma of many kinds as a result of his abuse and they deserve our respect for their bravery in coming forward.
Some of us here at church have personal experience of Jonathan’s ministry and will be reeling at the severity and scale of his mistreatment of so many people for so long, some with memories of his bullying. Irrespective of how God has used Jonathan’s ministry, I again want to publicly and without qualification condemn his abusive and sinful behaviour – it falls far below the compassionate care his victims were entitled by God to expect from him. I also want to recognise the need for all of us in pastoral ministry to repent of all patterns of ministry that are less than servant-hearted and gentle like our Lord Jesus. Perhaps I could offer some brief observations under four headings
1. Jonathan has sinned grievously
As there are children present I’ll not describe his behaviours in detail; they included a pattern of coercive and controlling leadership with a shocking catalogue of intrusive and manipulative relationships with younger men involving physical forfeits for failures with sexual overtones. He declined to contribute to the review. While he’s publicly apologised for some of his behaviour, his repentance is woefully inadequate, because he claims the activities were consensual when it’s obvious there was a huge power imbalance in his relationships in which he was the dominant character.
There remain significant concerns about the safeguarding risk surrounding Jonathan’s mentoring and I would encourage church members who know him to remain distanced from him and allow others to be the support he needs. If you would like to talk about these issues, please speak to me or any of the pastors.
2. Emmanuel Church need our prayers
While many of the findings have been in the public domain for some time, the Emmanuel Church family will be reeling from the scale of critique of their church culture in the report, though it does recognise the great progress made in recent years under the new Vicar, Robin Weekes. You may have heard Robin acknowledge on Channel 4 news that the church had inadvertently colluded in the abuse by its lack of effective accountability. So let us be much in compassionate prayer for the survivors and bewildered church members and leadership at Emmanuel, and those who’ve left the church, as they process and respond to the findings.
3. Our Evangelical constituency needs to reflect repentantly upon our ministry cultures
I have little appetite for accusing other churches or leaders of their failings when I know I need to keep looking in the mirror of God’s Word myself; while striving to provide clear and gospel-motivated leadership, I want to keep working together at learning to listen better and be more gentle like Jesus in all my interactions.
4. Here at Dundonald we must continue to reform our ministry patterns under Scripture
Most of the recommendations in the review are in place here at Dundonald as we’ve been investing in building team structures and real accountability at every level for some while- though I’ve arranged to revisit our processes to ensure they’re effective; in a paper prepared last year for our Co-Mission Pastors, available at the bottom of each page of our website, I’ve suggested 5 Biblical principles for Servant-hearted Leadership:
(a) Pastors must serve – not exploit;
(b) Pastors must be gentle – not dominating;
(c) Pastors must apply God’s word – not their own opinions;
(d) Pastors must be respected – not protected;
(e) Pastors must be assessed – not unaccountable.
Here at Dundonald we remain committed to installing these principles in all our ministries. Our statements on spiritual abuse, safeguarding policy and complaints procedure are all available at the bottom of each page of our website; this is the right time to emphasise that if you do have any concerns about our church, please feel free and don’t be afraid to raise them – either online through our complaints procedure or with the appropriate Senior Elder (Pete Watson at the 9; John Marland at the 10.45; Julian Plescia at the 4 or Mark Chambers at the 6:30) or with Gen Johnston if you prefer – or if it’s a safeguarding matter please contact our Safeguarding Co-ordinator Kris Dryden whose details are available on our website – and your voice will be heard and taken seriously; we would rather know early if we are getting things wrong than discover when things are worse; and if these matters have brought up painful issues in your life which you’d like to talk or pray about, please do let me or any of the pastors here know and we will endeavour to steer you toward the help you need; let us be much in prayer for victims and survivors of pastoral abuse, for Emmanuel, for churches across the land, and for our church, as we serve the one who said, ‘even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve’ (Mk.10) and, ‘Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart’ (Mat.9).