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Senior pastor of Soul Survivor under pressure as Pilavachi damage spreads

14 September 2023

Letter to review participants says Andy Croft failed to act on safeguarding allegations

Soul Survivor

The Revd Andy Croft presides at holy communion at the last Soul Survivor festival, 2019

The Revd Andy Croft presides at holy communion at the last Soul Survivor festival, 2019

THE senior pastor of Soul Survivor, Watford, the Revd Andy Croft, failed to act on three separate occasions concerning safeguarding allegations, according to a letter sent to those who contributed to the Church of England’s recent investigation into the Revd Mike Pilavachi (News, 6 April).

The letter — the contents of which were shared on the Premier website on Wednesday evening — was sent by Zena Marshall, deputy director of casework for the Church’s National Safeguarding Team. It said that allegations concerning Mr Croft were “found to be substantiated” by its internal investigation. “Premier understands that one of the allegations relates to the massaging of a former intern by Pilavachi that was disclosed to Rev Andy Croft in 2016,” the article said.

In a statement sent to Premier, Mr Croft said: “I am very sorry that my actions have contributed in any way to the pain others are experiencing.

“The last seven months have been extremely difficult for all those involved as they have come to terms with the damage caused by Mike Pilavachi’s abuse over many years and I want to pay my own tribute to the courage of those who have come forward. I also have to acknowledge that I have been deeply affected personally by Mike’s behaviour.

“I cannot comment further at this point because of ongoing processes but will at some point, I hope, be able to make a much fuller statement.”

Both Mr Croft and Ali Martin, Soul Survivor’s associate pastor, were suspended by the trustees of Soul Survivor, Watford, in June. A statement at the time said that new information had been received by NST which related to “concerns over the handling of allegations that were raised before the NST investigation began” (News, 9 June).

Mrs Martin was reinstated last week, as safeguarding concerns had not been substantiated, the church said.

The NST’s safeguarding investigation of Mr Pilavachi, which began in April, concluded that concerns were “substantiated”: he had exhibited “coercive and controlling behaviour” that led to inappropriate relationships, the physical wrestling of youths, and the massaging of young male interns (News, 8 September).

Both Mr Croft and Mrs Martin first met Mr Pilavachi as teenagers. Mr Croft was one of Mr Pilavachi’s interns, and returned to Soul Survivor to work after gaining a theology degree at Cambridge University. He is the son of the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, and is married to Beth Croft, a worship leader at Soul Survivor. Ordained a year after Mr Pilavachi, in 2013, he was a member of the Archbishops’ Evangelism Task Group.

The two men were friends as well as partners in ministry, and often shared a stage, with a dynamic characterised by banter and jokes. They wrote a book together, Everyday Supernatural (News, 2 September 2016), and during the Covid-19 pandemic produced a twice-weekly podcast, Take Heart. They frequently appeared in short films on Soul Survivor’s YouTube channel, and, in 2018, Late Night with Andy and Mike, a chat show on the Christian television channel TBN UK.

Mrs Martin has worked for Soul Survivor since 1998, having attended the first festival in 1993 as a teenager, and then taken part in a leadership and discipleship programme, Body Builders. She is currently training for ordination.

Mr Pilavachi launched the Soul Survivor festival and Soul Survivor, Watford, in 1993, having served for six years as a youth leader at St Andrew’s, Chorleywood, the home of New Wine (News, 8 June).

On Wednesday, a new statement was issued online by New Wine.

“We are deeply troubled and disheartened by the recent developments surrounding the safeguarding investigation of Mike Pilavachi,” it said. “The details that have come to light over the past six months have been shocking and deeply disappointing.”

The statement confirmed that Mr Pilavachi had served as a leader in the youth ministry of New Wine from 1989 until he founded Soul Survivor in 1993. “Both organisations have always operated as separate entities,” it said. “Mike has made various appearances as a visiting speaker at New Wine, which has been our continued connection since 1993.”

New Wine was launched at St Andrew’s, Chorleywood, in 1989. The Vicar at the time was the Rt Revd David Pytches, who had returned from South America after 18 years, including a period as Bishop of Chile, Bolivia and Peru, in 1977. A film marking the 30th anniversary of New Wine described how he and his wife had experienced “signs and wonders” in Chile, and had “a revelation of how the power of the Spirit could impact their homeland and they longed to see God move in the UK.”

The visit of the American evangelist John Wimber in 1981 had a dramatic impact on St Andrew’s, and in 1989 the first New Wine gathering at Shepton Mallet took place with the aim “to inspire and minister in the power of the Spirit”.

Mr Pilavachi ran the youthwork at this first New Wine festival. He reflected on this in a chapter in the book — Greater Things (SPCK, 2019) — published to mark the 30th anniversary. Around 300 young people had met in a former abattoir on the Shepton Mallet site.

The success of the youth work at the festival inspired the creation of Soul Survivor. Mr Pilavachi continued to lead the youth work at New Wine for a number of years.

A church, Soul Survivor, Watford, was launched at the same time, as a plant from St Andrew’s. It began with 11 people meeting in a living room, including the current chair of trustees, David Mitchell, and Ken and Jeannie Morgan, worshippers at St Andrew’s who already had a charitable trust, the K & J Morgan Trust. Bishop Pytches continued to serve as a mentor to Mr Pilavachi.

It was at St Andrew’s that Mr Pilavachi first met Matt Redman, a member of the youth group who went on to serve as a worship leader at Soul Survivor. In July, Mr Redman said that he had experienced “harmful behaviours” from Mr Pilavachi (News, 14 July).

While the New Wine festival still takes place annually, New Wine has grown into a network of thousands of churches of many denominations across 14 countries, with a mission to “equip the local Church to release confident, Spirit-filled followers of Jesus”. Many of the largest churches in the Church of England belong to the network.

On Wednesday, David Gate, a former worship leader at Soul Survivor who spoke to The Sunday Times about his experience of Mr Pilavachi’s “toxic behaviour”, wrote on X (formerly Twitter) that New Wine’s statement was “disingenuous as Soul Survivor ran the worship for the youth and Club One until at least 2000. My first abusive encounter with Mike was 1997 at New Wine.”

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