DETAILS have emerged of the allegations against the Revd Jonathan Fletcher, who was Minister of Emmanuel Ridgway Proprietary Chapel, in Wimbledon, from 1982 to 2012, and an influential figure among Evangelicals in the Church of England.
The allegations involve physical beatings, reminiscent of the beatings administered by John Smyth (News, 13 April 2017; 1 March). Mr Fletcher has admitted that the beatings took place, but on Friday described them as “light-hearted forfeits” in a “system of mutual encouragement”.
Southwark diocese said last week (News, 28 June) that it had removed Mr Fletcher’s Permission to Officiate (PTO) in 2017, after an independent safeguarding assessment had concluded that, while there was “no criminal case to answer”, nor any evidence that he posed “a significant sexual or physical risk to children . . . there was a risk of him behaving towards vulnerable adults who may be seeking his spiritual guidance in a manner which may be harmful”.
At a meeting of the Evangelical Ministry Assembly at Westminster Chapel, London, on Thursday, organised by the Proclamation Trust, a statement was read out by the safeguarding officer and women’s worker at Emmanuel, Sarah Hall.
It said: “Starting in late September 2018, concrete allegations have been made about conduct involving Jonathan and other men. I am not going to say how many disclosures, let alone who made them.
“In late 2018, a small number of allegations were made of the practice of physical discipline in the context of discipling relationships. One example of this involved men hitting each other on their naked backsides with a trainer for failing to meet personal targets.
“This took place over a period of time; it happened infrequently; the number of hits was small; and we do not believe any physical injuries were sustained, though it has been described as very painful. I am sorry to be specific but I don’t want you to speculate as to what sort of behaviour I include in ‘physical discipline’.”
The statement continued: “Further disclosures since March 2019 have largely related to a different practice of one-to-one massage, ranging from partially clothed massage to massage where both men are said to have been fully naked throughout and to have taken turns to massage each other. Again, this conduct seems to have become a regular part of the relationship between Jonathan and certain men over a period of time.”
Andrew Wales QC then explained why the allegations had been taken seriously. He said: “In 2017, Southwark diocese commissioned an independent safeguarding assessment of Mr Fletcher, which “concluded that, whilst there was no evidence of any significant sexual or physical risk to children, there was a risk of Jonathan behaving towards vulnerable adults seeking his spiritual guidance in a manner which may be harmful. The diocese made formal contact with Jonathan to explain this.”
Mr Wales went on to cite other factors which supported “taking the allegations seriously”. They included: “The number of disclosures received”; “their consistent nature, where, for the most part, each person was unaware of what anyone else had disclosed”; and “the identity of those making disclosures, whose testimonies we consider reliable”.
A final factor cited by Mr Wales was that “Jonathan has recently acknowledged involvement in activities of the sort described. He did so only this week to [the Revd] William Taylor [Rector of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate]; and he’s done so to other senior leaders as well.”
Mr Wales went on to say that “all these factors, taken together, led Emmanuel to take the allegations very seriously, even though — and I stress this — nothing criminal or to do with children has been alleged.”
The Rector of St Ebbe’s, Oxford, the Revd Vaughan Roberts, who is director of the Proclamation Trust, said of Mr Fletcher: “Sadly, it seems that he has not yet accepted the seriousness of the situation, despite the efforts of a number of senior Evangelical leaders, who have sought to engage with him, both face to face and in writing.”
After the Church Times contacted him on Friday, Mr Fletcher declined to comment directly, but released a statement via the Bishop of Maidstone, the Rt Revd Rod Thomas. Bishop Thomas stated: “The fact that I am forwarding this to you does not represent any agreement by me to its contents, any endorsement of it, nor any acceptance that it adequately describes the conduct engaged in. I remain deeply distressed and concerned both about the seriousness of the issues and the effects on victims.”
In his statement, however, Mr Fletcher maintained that the punishments, administered in a long-standing prayer group, were “light-hearted forfeits” if members failed to hit targets of “healthy and holy living”.
“These included going without chocolate, cold baths and school-type gym shoe punishments,” Mr Fletcher writes. “Although at the time we definitely did not think we were doing anything wrong, I’ve seen since that it could have caused much harm both to individuals and to the reputation of conservative evangelicalism for which I am profoundly sorry.”
He acknowledges that he enjoys and benefits from massage, and regularly hires professionals to do it. “However, if I can avoid the cost by finding a male friend to administer, and in return receive, massage, I do.
“These sessions categorically do not have erotic or sexual overtones and I have never coerced or intended to coerce anyone into an arrangement. If any have felt pressurised by me to do this, I apologise.”
He accepts that it was “unwise” to involve anyone to whom he was ministering, and apologises “if any have felt pressurised by me to do this”.
He ends by confirming that he no longer engages in public ministry.
Emmanuel Church has set up a website for “those who need support because of the activities of Jonathan Fletcher”: walkingwith.uk.
The Revd Jonathan Fletcher’s statement in full:
“As part of a long-standing prayer group, I have in the past been involved in a system of mutual encouragement whereby we set ourselves targets in healthy and holy living and then imposed what I thought of as light-hearted forfeits if we failed.
“These included going without chocolate, cold baths and school-type gym shoe punishments. Although at the time we definitely did not think we were doing anything wrong, I’ve seen since that it could have caused much harm both to individuals and to the reputation of conservative evangelicalism for which I am profoundly sorry. Needless to say, this activity has now stopped.
“In addition, a number of people are reporting that I have had naked massages with them. I enjoy massage and benefit from it. To that end I regularly have it professionally administered. However, if I can avoid the cost by finding a male friend to administer, and in return receive, massage, I do.
“These sessions categorically do not have erotic or sexual overtones and I have never coerced or intended to coerce anyone into an arrangement. If any have felt pressurised by me to do this, I apologise.
“Again, I realise that in the position I have held in the past as an incumbent, it was unwise of me to involve anyone to whom I was also ministering and I apologise for doing so.
“I confirm that I no longer engage in public ministry.”