St Helen’s Bishopsgate and the Jonathan Fletcher/John Smyth scandals: An internal review and response

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The Churchwardens of St Helen’s Bishopsgate have written to the church family with an update on a number of ongoing safeguarding reviews, and with an important message from the Rector, William Taylor. The wardens have also responded to public allegations, raising questions about what was known at St Helen’s regarding the abuse carried out by Jonathan Fletcher and John Smyth. The wardens encourage reading the whole letter, in addition to this short summary.

Following the recent 31:8 report on Jonathan Fletcher, and the shocking and distressing abuse it describes, St Helen’s church family has embarked on a collective process of reflection, as the recommendations encourage all churches to do. This will be focused on the following three areas:

  1. An externally led review of the leadership and culture of St Helen’s small groups, conducted by an independent professional.
  2. A professional external review of safeguarding policies, practices and approach, for which Christian Safeguarding Services have been engaged.
  3. Detailed internal consideration of the 31:8 report recommendations, informed in part by the findings of 1 and 2 above.

The wardens have shared the conclusions of an independent legal investigation which include that William Taylor had no knowledge of Jonathan Fletcher’s abuse before February 2019. At this point, William acted both to prevent Jonathan Fletcher engaging in ministry, in order to prevent further abuse or harm to victims, and to help victims come forward to receive help.

With regard to John Smyth, after relentless social media speculation and pressure from a few on William and his family, the wardens report that William was one of Smyth’s victims. The wardens include the following personal statement from William:

“I became a Christian in December 1979, aged 18. I first remember meeting John Smyth in July 1981, as a young Christian aged 20. I was deceived by John Smyth and first beaten in Smyth’s shed in late August 1981. I recall being beaten twice more, the last in early December 1981. After that, I never went again. On 12 February 1982, I reported the beatings to the minister of the church I was attending at the time.

“My heart goes out to all those beaten by Smyth in this country and in Africa. In the last few years, I have become aware that others suffered far worse experiences than me and have endured long lasting effects. I am grateful that Smyth’s abuse is being thoroughly investigated and I have participated willingly in the Church of England review undertaken by Keith Makin.”

“Like many abused by John Smyth I have always wanted to keep his abuse of me private, though not secret. It is my hope that, having been forced to make my personal experience public, none of those abused by Smyth will have to face the same treatment I have faced online, which has had a significant effect on me and my family. I thank God for those who counselled and cared for me in 1982, and that God has blessed me with a loving family, close friends, and thirty years of pastoral ministry immersed in God’s living and active word.”

The St Helen’s Bishopsgate wardens say the following:

“We want St Helen’s to be a loving and safe church, where people can hear of Jesus and grow in their love for Him free from harm in a kind and caring church family. We encourage all of us to pray that would be the case and to engage in the various reviews we are conducting.”

“It would have been William’s choice to keep his experience private, but he has decided (and, with sadness, we agree) that it should be shared now. 40 years on, and due to relentless and inappropriate pressure, largely via social media, William and his family have been wrongly deprived of their right to privacy in relation to the abuse he suffered, and to which privacy all victims should be entitled.”

“Please continue to hold William and Janet in your prayers at this time. They are much loved by us all and we know that our church family share our thankfulness to God for them, and for their unstinting service here at St Helen’s and beyond.”

“In all of this, we are conscious of the pain and suffering caused to those abused by Jonathan Fletcher, John Smyth and others, and our prayers continue to be for all those affected by it.”

It may be that you are a survivor of abuse and you want to talk to someone outside St Helen’s about your experience or about any issues that this letter has raised for you. If so, we would encourage you to contact the Diocesan Safeguarding Team (safeguarding@london.anglican.org or 020 7932 1224) or Safe Spaces (safespaces@victimsupport.org.uk or 0300 303 1056).

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