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Accusations fly in dispute in conservative parish

20 August 2021

Alamy

St Peter’s, Stapenhill, Burton-on-Trent, in Staffordshire

St Peter’s, Stapenhill, Burton-on-Trent, in Staffordshire

THE options available to the Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Libby Lane, in what is said to be a case of irretrievable pastoral breakdown at St Peter’s, Stapenhill, Burton-on-Trent, may not be adequate to deal with the situation, a report by the Church Society warns.

The Church Society, one of the largest Evangelical patronage trusts, has issued a public rebuttal of a string of allegations against it and senior figures in the conservative Evangelical constituency, including the Bishop of Maidstone, the Rt Revd Rod Thomas.

The allegations — of abuse and bullying — have come from Kate Andreyev, wife of the Revd Michael Andreyev, Vicar of St Peter’s, who continues to hold the freehold despite offering to leave more than three years ago. The Church Society Trust (CST) is patron of the living.

Parishioners wrote a letter to the diocesan bishop in 2017 headed “vote of no confidence”, which referred to “fundamental disagreements with successive youth leaders, bullying of the group leaders, aggressive and volatile behaviour, failure to trust, inability to work with people, and presiding over a decline in all areas of ministry”. The Andreyevs strongly dispute this account of the situation in the parish, and are backed up by parishioners, some of whom have left St Peter’s in protest at the couple’s treatment.

The Church Society report notes: “It appears from reports that several [local clergy] considered Mr Andreyev as . . . having the view, which he shared with them over a number of years, that pastors ought to be unquestioned benevolent dictators.”

In 2018, a former churchwarden, supported by evidence from the congregation, brought a complaint of bullying under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), complaining of “dictatorial” leadership style. The CDM complaint also mentions Kate Andreyev, stating: “as a couple who openly teach and claim to follow the Bible’s teaching on marriage and male headship I believe Michael is responsible for, supports and condones the actions of Kate”.

After attempts at conciliation, the then Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Alastair Redfern, dismissed the complaint, and the former churchwarden — according to the Church Society report — decided not to appeal against the decision, on the understanding that Mr Andreyev would move on.

Mr Andreyev announced his intention to move on in June 2018, telling the congregation that he and his wife “had been on the receiving end of unacceptable behaviour from a small group in church” which had “taken its toll on us and on our health”.

According to the Church Society’s 45-page report, Mr Andreyev “was officially given six months’ leave, with a view to finding another job in that time. . . That six-month leave period continued to be extended. After more than three years on leave, Revd Andreyev remains on full pay and benefits in the vicarage, during which period he has played no active role in St Peter’s or any church.”

The PCC unanimously passed a resolution alleging “irretrievable pastoral breakdown” in November 2019.

Before then, in October 2018, Mrs Andreyev had complained to the Revd Dick Farr, who chairs the Church Society Trust, that Bishop Thomas had allegedly condoned and colluded with bullying, harassment, and abusive behaviour by the parish. Bishop Thomas, as the conservative Evangelical flying bishop, has episcopal oversight of the parish. This, however, does not include disciplinary processes, which reside with the diocesan bishop, now Bishop Lane.

Mrs Andreyev went on to email and to phone prominent Church Society council members, who variously described her communications as “highly agitated”, and “aggressive”. The director of the Church Society and author of the report, the Revd Lee Gatiss, was phoned on 26 June 2019, with accusations that the diocese of Derby was complicit in bullying the couple, and that Bishop Thomas had written something in a safeguarding file which had prevented Mr Andreyev getting another job.

Mr Gatiss says in the report: “I had to say repeatedly that the proper course of action was to have recourse to the duly constituted authorities . . . not to ask me, as the safeguarding officer of a parachurch organisation, to deal with it behind the scenes for her.” In July that year, Mrs Andreyev took to social media to claim that she had “raised an issue of abuse with some in the Church Society/Trust. The responses I received were in themselves abusive and bullying.” She also produced a long post for the Surviving Church blog, in which she states: “The bullying we experienced forced my husband out of his job as a parish minister, and inflicted serious health and stress upon our family.”

Mr Gatiss says that he referred the allegations of bullying made against him to the Derby diocesan safeguarding team, and also to Ely, his own diocese. Others against whom the allegations had been made did the same: all, Mr Gatiss says, received “a clean bill of health”.

The report devotes several pages to Mrs Andreyev’s posts on social media, recorded in 1000 screenshots and posts. She presents herself on Twitter as “Survivor. Raising awareness of abuse in the ReNew/Church Society constituency.”

She wrote on Facebook: “My husband and I have suffered abuse from leaders in the C of E in the conservative evangelical network. Those involved and complicit include Roger Thomas, William Taylor, Dick Farr, Lee Gatiss, Jonathan Fletcher, Paul Darlington, David Banting. I have suffered trauma. Others are aware but cannot be bothered to do right.”

Daily prayer requests on the Church Society Facebook pages, were turned, says the report, into “opportunities to make accusations against CS/CST”. On 30 December 2020, one asking, “Please pray today for those with mental health problems and those who care for them” was retweeted with the addition, “And those who have been made ill as a result of real abuse from those in the JF [Jonathan Fletcher]/Church Society/Iwerne clique.” (Mr Andreyev attended the Iwerne D camps, the report notes.)

The Church Society report also documents and disputes Mrs Andreyev’s claims that recognised authorities such as the Church of England National Safeguarding Team (NST), had pronounced the society to be abusive. One stated that Zena Marshall of the NST “fully accepted that what had happened to us was abuse — psychological, emotional, gaslighting, bullying and mobbing”.

Mrs Andreyev created her own website on 24 February this year, and used it, the report says, to post a range of her allegations and accusations, and to call on the Church Society to respond to 23 accusations. This the report does in detail. In April, the churchwardens of St Peter’s wrote to Mr Gatiss, expressing concerns “that many of the things Kate says are inaccurate or fail to reflect the real situation”. For her part, Mrs Andreyev has suggested that the Church Society account is “baseless”.

The report concludes: “It was always our earnest desire and hope that the situation would be effectively and speedily dealt with by the properly constituted authorities in the Church of England. We believe in Anglican polity and do not seek to undermine it.

“However, we believe there has been a failure of church discipline at the diocesan/ episcopal level here, leading to a prolonged crisis in St Peter’s. This may be in part because one Bishop of Derby retired on 31 August 2018 and was not replaced until 11 February 2019, and because there is only an acting Archdeacon of Derby. . .

“The primary failure here may be with the system of discipline available to the Bishop of Derby, which may be inadequate to deal with the issues surrounding the Andreyevs.”

As Mr Andreyev has the freehold, he is not subject to the Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Measure 2009, and associated capability procedures, the report points out. “If it were found inappropriate to him to continue in the vicarage on full stipend and benefits without needing to actually perform the functions of ministry there, it seems this would require the Bishop to act.”

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the diocese of Derby declined to comment on the contents of the Church Society report, saying: “The diocese of Derby doesn’t comment on confidential clergy matters whether ongoing or resolved.

“The diocese remains in contact with the Revd and Mrs Andreyev, and continues to offer pastoral support to the Revd Andreyev and his family as part of its duty of care.”

Because St Peter’s was a resolution parish, the diocese was working with the Bishop of Maidstone to support the churchwardens and PCC, the spokesperson said. “We have been working together for some time to facilitate again the appropriate provision of dedicated clergy cover for St Peter’s to encourage continuing mission and ministry.”

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