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‘Abusive Evangelicalism’ and responses from Spring Harvest

21 June 2013


From the Bishop of Willesden

Sir, - I was sorry to hear of Chris Pitts's experience of Spring Harvest (Letters, 14 June). Let me assure him that Spring Harvest utterly repudiates abusive Christianity, and would not want to be associated with anything that could be de- scribed as a "fascistic, abusing power system". Indeed, I personally have run seminars at the event helping Christians to identify and expose abusive forms of the faith.

He expresses two main concerns. One is that the worship and musical style on offer is not conducive to stillness and reflection. The Big Top is indeed a place where the worship style is modern, led by the best practitioners of Charismatic worship from Anglican and Black Pentecostal traditions. But alongside this there is Encounter Café, where guests can experience relaxed café- style worship; and Presence, precisely a place of silence and meditative worship. We also have Prayer House, open all day for guests to make their own individ-ual pilgrimage in prayer, and a seminar stream on the spiritual disciplines.

His second concern is that Spring Harvest makes no room for stories of pain, poverty, and suffering. Again, I am afraid that this simply isn't true. Our seminar programme this year included sessions on being alongside those coping with self- harm, addictions, recovering from divorce, and ministry to survivors of abuse or domestic violence - all supported by a pastoral team com- posed of people with professional qualifications.

Our main teaching and theme guide included stories from people struggling with faith. Our partnership with Compassion enabled us to hear from people in other parts of the world where poverty is a daily experience.

I am surprised that Mr Pitts found nobody to speak to about his concerns. Not only the Pastoral Team, but the Event Leadership Team, are only too willing to engage with guests (it is something that we make a priority on site). If Mr Pitts has any specific allegations or complaints to make about his experience of Spring Harvest this year, I invite him to contact me directly (020 8451 0189 (office); bishop.willesden@btinternet.com).

Spring Harvest has no wish to be a stumbling-block to people in their journey with God and Jesus Christ.

Chair of Spring Harvest
17 Willesden Lane, London NW6 7YN


From Dr Hazel Butland

Sir, - As I read Mr Chris Pitts's letter concerning his experience of abusive Christianity, my overwhelming feeling was sadness: if only he had spoken to me or to one or two of the speakers at Spring Harvest to whom I talked.

Maybe we were at different sites, or went to different sessions, but I found I was listened to, supported, affirmed, encouraged, and certainly not dismissed when I raised issues surrounding the subject of abuse of power in the Christian community.

The pain of feeling excluded, ignored, dismissed, and disparaged is real. As a church community, we need to recognise it, acknowledge it, and seek to listen with compassion to each other; and then, perhaps, the process of healing and reconciliation can begin.

I am truly sorry that we, as the Christian community at Spring Harvest, let Mr Pitts down.

24 Coppidwell Drive, Aylesbury, Bucks HP21 9QF


From Kathleen Robertson

Sir, - I write in response to Mr Chris Pitts's letter. I am, I suppose, a "cradle Christian", having been an Anglican all my life. A regular worshipper, organist, choir member, secretary of the PCC, et al., I have faithfully served God and the Church of England. Now, at the age of 74, I find that the church that I used to attend has become all that Mr Pitts writes about.

Because I do not fit the mould of Evangelicalism, and have had no blinding Damascus-road experience, or so the leaders imagine, knowing nothing about me as a person, I am left feeling that I am not a "saved Christian". When any deeper questions are put to the leaders, they can say only "We will pray for you."

My faith is strong, but my experience of Evangelicalism leaves me feeling that I no longer wish to be part of organised religion. I no longer attend any church.

My experience of an over-zealous Baptist, now part of the leadership of the church, who came to take home-communion in the sheltered housing in which I live, caused great concern to me, the manager, and residents attending the service. In brief, we were told that this man knew that he was going to heaven, and hoped to see some of us there, if we didn't go to hell!

After several services, all on these lines, a complaint was made to the Archdeacon. That is not the end of it, however, as there is a residential care home opposite, which experienced the same problem. Carers were left to pick up the pieces. This is hardly a good way of dealing with people with dementia and other memory problems.

As at the Court, in which I live, we are all in the age group 70 to 90-plus, and at a time of life when we realise more clearly our mortality. Most of us have lost dearly loved partners. The comfort of believing that they are safe in God's hands has been sadly abused by such an experience.

I know others feel the loss of the ability to join in meaningful worship as much as I do; but there is nothing to be done, as an Evangelical is always right, and the Evangelical way of worshipping God, dumbed down as it is, leaves me cold. Going to church is no longer good for my health - a sad reflection on a life- time of service.

19 McNish Court, Grenville Way, Eaton Socon, St Neots, Cambs PE19 8PE


From Mrs Vivien Moores

Sir, - I can sympathise with Mr Chris Pitts. Sometimes it seems that the aim of Evangelicals is not to make Christians, but to make people who then persuade others to become Christians.

4 Redwing Road, Bury BL8 4ET

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