Open letter to our members concerning Church Society’s response to the recent 31:8 Lessons Learned Review
Church Society exists to be a positive force for good within the Church of England through its primary objectives of publishing, patronage and politics, undertaken in the context of prayer and partnership. We are a fellowship, comprised of our members and associates, united with the aim of ‘contending to reform and renew the Church of England in biblical faith.’
It is our privilege to work with other like-minded Christians to make that happen, but we are painfully aware of recent revelations of abuse from within the conservative evangelical world. These reports have been truly shocking, showing not just how many people have been terribly abused, but also how a climate of fear contributed to the truth being concealed and victims unwilling to come forward. Our first concern has to be to care for all those who have been victims of abuse. They need all the support, love and professional care that is necessary.
All of us are much more aware than previous generations of how human sinfulness relates not just to individuals, but is also found in structures and organisations, through historical injustices, unrepresentative leadership, voices being marginalised and power being exercised in a coercive, manipulative and unchecked way. We should also be at the forefront of working to ensure that such cases of abuses can never happen again within our conservative evangelical circles both by examining our internal structures and leadership but also co-operating with and seeking to reform the Church of England’s safeguarding structures and processes.
Church Society Council understands the pressing need to undertake a sincere and full review of its leadership and governance at every level and to ask the difficult questions of how power and authority is exercised in our organisation. As Christians who follow the One who is ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14), we must be absolutely committed to being transparent and accountable in all our dealings, bringing the truth to light in our particular church culture. That may involve some uncomfortable questioning and soul-searching, but as a Christian organisation we recognise that this is the time to prayerfully ask not just what we are doing, but how we are going about that task. We should never be afraid of corporately repenting of our faults and rectifying them wherever that is possible.
The 31:8 Lessons Learned Report
Church Society Council read the 31:8 report with great sadness and our thoughts and prayers are with all the victims of Jonathan Fletcher’s abuse. We encourage anyone whose voice has not yet been heard to contact the Southwark Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser on 020 7939 9423 (office hours) or 020 3874 6743 (out of hours) and we draw your attention to the list of support networks recommended by 31:8 for anyone who has been affected.
The report makes a number of recommendations not just for Emmanuel Church Wimbledon, but for the wider conservative evangelical constituency. We had not seen the report nor been made aware that it would include such recommendations prior to its publication. Following the publication, we called an extraordinary meeting of the Council on 6th April 2021, at which we took the following initial steps:
1. We accepted the resignation of Robin Weekes, Vicar of Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon from Church Society Council.
2. Vaughan Roberts has since resigned from our Board of Reference. At the meeting we committed to reviewing our existing structures for external accountability to ensure that they are fit for purpose.
3. We asked the Standing Committee to urgently review Church Society’s organisation and constitution, with particular attention to our safeguarding responsibilities, transparency and governance as part of our already existing process of review.
4. We undertook to engage in a review of our relationships with other conservative evangelical organisations to ensure that we are not contributing to or enabling the culture criticised in the report through these partnerships.
Please note that these are merely initial steps. The Council is committed to detailed consideration of all the recommendations in the report as they apply to Church Society and will be taking time to ensure that this work is done carefully and thoroughly.
The statement concerning our initial response to news of Jonathan Fletcher’s abuse is here and has recently been updated with further dates and details.
Church Society Governance
Church Society is a charity and a company, governed by our Articles of Association. The trustees of the charity are the Church Society Council, who are elected by our members at our AGM. Any member of Church Society is welcome to stand for election to the Council. Church Society members are also invited to ask questions at the AGM, or to contact the Council during the year to raise matters of concern. Formal complaints may be made in accordance with the complaints policy, and safeguarding concerns may be made in accordance with the safeguarding policy.
Church Society staff are employed by and accountable to the Council.
Honorary officers of Church Society (our President, Vice Presidents and Treasurer) are elected by members at the AGM.
This year’s AGM is due to be held on Wednesday 1st September. Formal notice of this will be given in due course. Please note that only Church Society Members are eligible to speak and vote at this meeting.
Revd Andrew Towner
Revd Dr Lee Gatiss
on behalf of the Church Society Council and staff.