Are Anglican Evangelicals caught in Fletcher’s financial web?

1
1573

Pressing moral questions face the Anglican evangelical agencies and churches that received donations from the FC Charitable Trust during the financial year to April 2020, even though the Rev Jonathan Fletcher is no longer a trustee.

It was during that financial year, in June 2019, that The Daily Telegraph reported that the Church of England Diocese of Southwark, which covers the part of south-west London where Fletcher was living in retirement, had removed his Permission to Officiate in early 2017. This was because of disclosures about his abusive clerical misconduct. 

Fletcher was an FC trustee when he signed off the latest accounts in October last year, which were then filed at the Charity Commission in January this year. The FC Trust made donations totalling nearly £62,000 in 2019/2020.

There is a particular issue arising from the FC’s financial relationship with Oak Hill, a CofE theological college in north London serving the conservative evangelical constituency. It received an FC donation of £2000 in both 2018/2019 and 2019/2020. Before the appointment of the Rev Jonathan Juckes as Oak Hill president in August 2017, Fletcher could not be described as a supporter of the college. The FC accounts for the years to April 2017 and 2018 show no donation for Oak Hill. 

But the 2016/2017 accounts show a standing order amounting to £2,400 to the Titus Trust, which ran  the Iwerne holiday camps for pupils from the ‘top 30’ English boarding schools. Fletcher had been a leader on the camps from the 1960s until 2017. It was at the Iwerne camps that the savage serial abuser John Smyth groomed his victims in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Fletcher’s desire was to get ordinands who had been to Iwerne to go to the (at least foundationally) ‘evangelical’ theological colleges in Oxford and Cambridge, Wycliffe Hall and Ridley Hall. There such ordinands could get involved in student work, particularly amongst Oxbridge students who had been to Iwerne schools such as Eton and Winchester. The Iwerne leadership’s aim was to recruit such students to come on the camps in their university vacations and, in the cases of those deemed useful to the ‘camp work’, to become junior leaders and then CofE ordinands or teachers at the Iwerne schools.

Mr Juckes attended the Iwerne camps in the 1980s. Whilst an ordinand at Ridley Hall in the middle of that decade, he co-ordinated the Iwerne work in Cambridge. In the early 1990s, he worked for the Proclamation Trust, a training organisation for preachers led by the former Rector of St Helen’s Bishopsgate in the City of London, Prebendary Dick Lucas. Mr Lucas has acknowledged that Fletcher was instrumental in getting the PT’s preaching conferences started through his network of conservative evangelical contacts.

It would therefore seem that Fletcher’s change of heart towards Oak Hill came about after a CofE minister who had been on the Iwerne camps and had worked for the PT became head of the college. Before that, Oak Hill, not being in Oxbridge and not usually the theological college of choice for Iwerne ordinands, was inferior in Fletcher’s eyes.  The timing of the two donations in 2018/2019 and 2019/2020, made after the Bishop of Southwark removed Fletcher’s PTO, also suggests that he may have been trying unsuccessfully to buy Mr Juckes’s personal approval.

But the question for the Oak Hill trustees and council would seem to be this: do they think the college ought to be in a financial relationship with the FC Trust, given the snobbish cronyism and possible affirmation-seeking apparent in Fletcher’s motivation for the two donations? 

There is also a question for the global orthodox Anglican movement, GAFCON, arising from its financial relationship with the FC Trust. During the last financial year it received £5000.

In September 2018, at a GAFCON event at Emmanuel Wimbledon, the CofE proprietary chapel in south-west London where Fletcher had been vicar from 1982 to 2012, he interviewed Andy Lines, the then newly appointed GAFCON missionary bishop to Europe. Fletcher undertook this public engagement in Southwark Diocese despite having had his PTO removed. It then emerged in 2019 that Andy Lines had been among Fletcher’s victims. 

It is of course impossible for Christian charities, or indeed any charity, to vet the moral probity of every individual who gives them money. But, given these particular circumstances, should GAFCON remain in a financial relationship with FC, a charity so personally associated with Fletcher, even though he is no longer a trustee? 

As for the donations to other organisations in the latest accounts, some seem rather bizarre. Crosslinks, the evangelical mission agency formerly led by Andy Lines, was given £3. The CofE conservative evangelical organisation, Church Society, whose president  is the ‘flying’ Bishop of Maidstone, Rod Thomas, a former member of Fletcher’s preachers’ group in Wimbledon, received £10. What Fletcher’s motivation was for these token donations to organisations linked with his former proteges can only be a matter for speculation.

But the various evangelical agencies and churches that have received FC money since the exposure of Fletcher’s alleged abuses, now being investigated by London’s Metropolitan Police, would seem to be facing similar moral questions to those confronting Oak Hill and GAFCON.

Julian Mann is an evangelical journalist based in the UK and author of Christians in the Community of the Dome https://www.amazon.co.uk/Christians-Community-Dome-Julian-Mann/dp/1783972106