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Emmanuel Church Wimbledon Bill Boaden CCL.jpg
Emmanuel Church Wimbledon Bill Boaden CCL.jpg
UK News

London church explains how it missed signs of abuse but says culture has changed

by Cara Bentley

The former church of Jonathan Fletcher has apologised for its role in the delay of allegations coming to light, admitting a culture change has been needed. 

A lessons learnt review has been published, detailing what Jonathan Fletcher, 78, did wrong while he was vicar of Emmanuel Church Wimbledon. It also explains how the church culture, influenced by public school Christian camps and a fear of impressive preachers, hindered people speaking out about their experiences. Safeguarding charity Thirtyone:eight have also given recommendations for the wider conservative evangelical network. 

Emmanuel church's leadership team has released a response statement expressing their sadness and plans going forward, saying they are "devastated by the hurt caused" and "profoundly sorry". 

 

Fletcher stopped being the vicar in 2012, with incumbent Rev Robin Weekes becoming vicar in 2013. Weekes was curate while Fletcher was vicar between 1999-2003, then a mission partner and member until 2012. 

Speaking to Premier, Rev Robin Weekes said: "I look back with great sadness in lots of ways because I realised that I was totally unaware of the beatings and the massages and the sexual behaviour. But I was aware of some of the bullying and the domineering and, looking back, I wish I had done something and I didn't - and I'm very sorry about that. 

"At the same time, I think a number of other people on the staff would have seen the same things, and other people in the church family would have seen the same things, and therefore, I think we - all of us - need to take ownership of that, and realise that we should have acted sooner than we did."

In the leaders' statement, they say warning signs were missed: "whilst certain specific and secretive abusive behaviours were not known by the leadership team, or by the vast majority of Emmanuel church, we did see other things that should have troubled us and prompted us to act."

They continue: "Emmanuel was too willing to embrace a worldly definition of what many believe ‘strong’ leadership should look like."

They apologise specifically for the fact that: "Some knew that Jonathan Fletcher sometimes: took saunas with young men after sport; belittled colleagues in staff meetings; humiliated individuals such as naming and shaming them from the front when they arrived late for church; made demeaning comments about people from different backgrounds; showed favouritism; and created a culture of fear."

The church has since introduced a plurality of elders (meaning the vicar is not unaccountable), 'robust' safeguarding and an attitude change which is more welcoming to people from a variety of backgrounds, according to Weekes. 

Weekes added: "I think we're a much more reflective church...so I feel there's a really different culture here and I hope one that is much more Christ-like and Christ-honouring."

 

 

Another review has also been written by the external members of Independent Advisory Group - who assisted Thirtyone:eight's review - which is made up of some of the safeguarding charity's staff and four external members who also ascribe to conservative evangelical theology (including an anonymous victim representative, Sarah Smart, Graham Shearer and Dan Leafe). Those four members alone wrote the statement. 

This group say the review is only the start of a process of "soul-searching and repentance for all" and that "we agree with the report that there is a clear need for corporate and individual repentance for this failure within our constituency, and that repentance will involve those with the most influence and power relinquishing it so that real and lasting change can take place."

The IAG members ask for answers as to why Fletcher was still accepted at several Christian events between 2017-19 in the wider conservative evangelical network, despite elements of his abuse being known by then by some. 

The group argue that anyone who is part of a church that claims to uphold the Gospel should eradicate the culture of fear that the Thirtyone:eight report describes:

"That anyone should feel afraid of speaking to a Christian safeguarding organisation about abuse because they are frightened of repercussions in a world that bears the name ‘evangelical’ should surely be a matter for corporate shame. Nothing more contrary to the gospel can be imagined."

Emmanuel Church Wimbledon say they are now prioritising supporting victims and will  respond to further revelations swiftly. 

Therapeutic support is also being funded by Thirtyone:Eight, with people being allowed anonymity from the church if they wish. 

A small group of men and women has been created at the church to implement the recommendations and to keep the leadership accountable, something the current vicar said Christians should pray for. No one in the group had any senior leadership role under Jonathan Fletcher. 

Rev Robin Weekes told Premier how he would like people to pray: 

"Please pray for us to respond appropriately to the review...pray for the victims who are still in the church family, there are some, obviously I can't go into details but it would be good to pray for them. 

"Pray for our unity, we've enjoyed an enormous amount of unity over the last few years and we're looking to the Lord to protect that as we process this review and implement the changes."

Listen to Robin's full interview with Premier's Tola Mbakwe here:

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