Evangelicals in the Church of England need good leaders

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After various leadership resignations, evangelicals in the Church of England, conservative and charismatic, have cause for sober reflection as their churches gear up for the autumn term.

In the past 12 months, the C of E conservative evangelical constituency has been rocked by revelations about three of its leaders. In March Evangelicals Now reported that the Rev Jonathan Juckes had resigned as president (principal) of Oak Hill Theological College in north London.

The paper reported that it had "received confidential information originating from reliable and diverse sources which speak of considerable conflict, with one using highly colourful language relating to warfare".

The college later admitted that "issues to do with Johnny's leadership were raised. It is not the case that everyone who worked with Johnny felt this, but others rightly used the College's routine processes of review to highlight issues they saw with his leadership effectiveness and how he handled particular situations and interactions".

The college affirmed: "These concerns do not include issues of scandal, nor are they of a safeguarding nature."

In June, local papers in Cheshire reported that the Rev Tim Hanson, vicar of Christ Church Wharton, had been banned from ministry for five and a half years for conduct unbecoming. A spokesman for Chester Diocese did not specify the nature of the misconduct but said: "It's important to note that Mr Hanson was not prohibited from ministry for any safeguarding reason."

Hanson was also chairman of an influential network of conservative evangelical churches in the North West Gospel Partnership.

Rochester Diocese was more forthcoming about why it disciplined the Rev Iain Broomfield for his conduct at Christ Church Bromley, a large conservative evangelical church in south-east London.

In November last year, it said: "Following a complaint being made by the Archdeacon of Bromley and Bexley...on 7 November 2022 the Reverend Iain Broomfield accepted a rebuke from the Bishop of Tonbridge and agreed to undertake appropriate training in anger management and the appropriate recognition of professional boundaries after Mr Broomfield had admitted to an incident of uncontrolled anger and a failure to maintain professional boundaries."

Broomfield, who led the scandal-hit Iwerne evangelical camps from 1987 to 2000, has now retired from ministry. The Iwerne summer camps for children from elite English boarding schools closed in 2020 following revelations of abuses by the late John Smyth QC and the Rev Jonathan Fletcher who groomed their victims on the camps. The late Rev David Fletcher, Jonathan's older brother, led the camps in the 1970s and 1980s when Smyth was savagely beating adolescent boys and young men in the garden shed of his Winchester home.

Jonathan Fletcher, former vicar of Emmanuel Wimbledon, a flagship conservative evangelical church in south-west London, was accused in reports by The Telegraph of being a serial church abuser in 2019. He was a hugely influential figure in the C of E conservative evangelical constituency over five decades. 

That constituency faces a lessons learned review commissioned by the C of E into Smyth's abuses. Led by Keith Makin, a former director of social services, this was announced in August 2019 and victims have severely criticised its delay. In June, Makin issued an update: "The police matter I referred to in my last updating statement has been concluded. The review is now able to proceed to the next stages, which will culminate in it being handed to the Archbishops' Council, for subsequent publication.

"Relevant extracts from the draft report will soon be shared with the victims of John Smyth and with people who are named and criticised."

In August The Church Times reported on the delay: "It is already known that many people in the Church of England were aware of Smyth's abuse in the early 1980s. The Iwerne Trust launched an investigation after a young man grew so fearful of the beatings that he tried to take his own life in 1981.

"The confidential report, completed in 1982, was written by a C of E priest, the Revd Mark Ruston, when he was Vicar of Holy Sepulchre with All Saints, Cambridge, with the Revd David Fletcher (who died in 2022). The contents were shared with several Anglican clergy, but the police were not informed."

This year has also seen the resignation of the Rev Mike Pilavachi, founder of the evangelical charismatic Soul Survivor network based in Watford after the Diocese of St Albans and the C of E's National Safeguarding Team launched an investigation into him. This follows widespread media reports initiated by The Telegraph that he engaged in full-bodied massages and lengthy wrestling matches with young men he groomed through Soul Survivor's international network.

In June the Soul Survivor trustees suspended two of the Watford church's leaders, senior pastor Rev Andy Croft, and assistant pastor, Mrs Ali Martin, pending an investigation into their handling of the allegations against Pilavachi.

While leaders and led are bound to be fallible, Anglican evangelicals in the C of E, as it veers further and further away from its biblical moorings, certainly need leaders who have humbly learned the lessons of recent scandals and are aiming to be faithful and Christ-like.

Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Lancashire.