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Two resign from Church Society as it reviews its links in wake of Fletcher review

09 April 2021

The Revd Jonathan Fletcher

The Revd Jonathan Fletcher

TWO clerics who worked closely with the Revd Jonathan Fletcher have resigned from posts that they held with the conservative Evangelical group the Church Society.

A lessons-learnt review of the activities of Mr Fletcher, a former Minister of Emmanuel Proprietary Chapel, Ridgway, in Wimbledon, was published last month by the Christian safeguarding charity Thirtyone:eight (News, 26 March).

It said that a culture of fear in the church, and in the wider conservative Evangelical constituency, had prevented the reporting of safeguarding concerns, and that the “unhealthy culture” in the church and its networks would not be addressed until leaders who had established and maintained that culture considered their positions and stepped down.

The Church Society was among the conservative Evangelical groups named in the review as being subject to Mr Fletcher’s influence. Others included Irwene camps, the Proclamation Trust, and ReNew.

In an open letter to Church Society members published on its blog on Wednesday, the director, the Revd Dr Lee Gatiss, and the chairman, the Revd Andrew Towner, write that, during an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday, the Council accepted the resignations of the Vicar of Emmanuel, Wimbledon, the Revd Robin Weekes, from its Council, and of the Rector of St Ebbe’s, Oxford, the Revd Vaughan Roberts, from its Board of Reference. Mr Roberts is the director of the Proclamation Trust.

“At the meeting we committed to reviewing our existing structures for external accountability to ensure that they are fit for purpose,” the letter says.

It continues: “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.

“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.”

The letter goes on to say 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 Proclamation Trust has published a statement on its website responding to the publication of the Thirtyone:eight review. Its signatories include Mr Weekes and Mr Roberts.

It says: “Jonathan Fletcher played a significant role in the foundation of the Proclamation Trust and was a trustee from 1986 until he resigned in 2000. That such things could have been perpetrated in our constituency, and especially by someone so influential in our history, is profoundly shameful. We are deeply sorry and our hearts go out to all the victims. We recognise the need for deep contrition, sober reflection and appropriate repentance.”

The statement says that the Trust “will give very serious attention” to the review’s recommendations, although it does not say that any staff or trustees will resign.

It goes on to say that the review “raises vital issues related to the use and abuse of power in Christian ministry, the accountability of leaders and the importance of nurturing healthy cultures in our churches and wider circles”. The curriculum of the Cornhill Training Course, which the Trust runs, includes teaching “about the use and abuse of power in Christian ministry”, it says.

It concludes: “We must learn from the sins and failings of the past, face up to our blind spots and do all we can to ensure that such abuses do not happen again.”

ReNew published a statement from its trustees and planning team on its website on 26 March. It says: “We are profoundly grieved by the abuse suffered by those affected by Jonathan Fletcher, and we pray for them, their friends and their families. We also recognise that this Review raises wider issues relating to the culture of a broader network of which we are a part.

“We see repentance as central to the Christian life, and so we commit to reflecting humbly and prayerfully on each of the specific recommendations made in the Review, to listening widely to other voices, and to talking openly about the lessons we can learn.”

The statement does not announce any resignations from its board of trustees or planning team.

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