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Soul Survivor suspends two pastors over handling of Pilavachi allegations

08 June 2023

Church suspends its senior pastor, the Revd Andy Croft, and assistant pastor, Ali Martin

Soul Survivor

The Revd Andy Croft

The Revd Andy Croft

SOUL SURVIVOR has suspended its senior pastor, the Revd Andy Croft, and its assistant pastor, Ali Martin, the church announced on Thursday.

A statement on its website said: “After receiving new information from the National Safeguarding Team (NST) investigation into Mike Pilavachi, the non-staff trustees of Soul Survivor Watford have decided to suspend two members of staff under HR processes: Senior Pastor, Andy Croft and Assistant Pastor, Ali Martin. The information submitted to the investigation relates to concerns over the handling of allegations that were raised before the NST investigation began.

“While the investigation continues, the trustees have asked Revd Jon Stevens (Executive Pastor) to take on the interim leadership of Soul Survivor Watford, with senior support from Revd Canon Tim Lomax (Bishop’s Visitor).

“We are thankful to all those who have proactively shared their concerns with the NST and recognise that each of them has shown great courage in sharing their experiences.”

Both Mr Croft and Mrs Martin have known Canon Pilavachi since they were teenagers. Mr Croft was one of Canon 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. Andy Croft co-wrote a book with Canon Pilavachi, Everyday Supernatural (News, 2 September 2016), and was a member of the Archbishops’ Evangelism Task Group.

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.

Last month, when publishing allegations concerning Canon Pilavachi, The Daily Telegraph reported that all of those with whom it had spoken said that “senior figures at Soul Survivor knew of the allegations of psychological abuse, bullying, wrestling, and massages at the time”.

 

The Revd Jon Stevens, an NSM ordained in 2020, is described on the Soul Survivor website as having been “part of the church family for 25 years and working for us since 2015 . . . Jon helps shape our structures, pastoral teams and our administration.” It is understood that he was also an intern with Canon Pilavachi. 

Canon Lomax is a residentiary canon at St Albans Cathedral, and director of mission in the diocese of St Albans. Canon Pilavachi was appointed an Honorary Canon of St Albans Cathedral in 2016. In recent years, the cathedral has had an arrangement with Soul Survivor by which a priest serving at the church also serves as a part-time assistant curate at the cathedral. Mr Stevens has done so.

Soul Survivor Watford was planted in 1993 from St Andrew’s, Chorleywood, by Canon Pilavachi who was the church’s youth worker (News, 9 June). It began with 11 people meeting in a living room, including the current chair of trustees, David Mitchell, and Ken and Jeannie Morgan, who already had a charitable trust, the K & J Morgan Trust. The work of Soul Survivor was brought under this trust, and Soul Survivor moved to become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation in 2020.

A café, Dregs, was established, and church services were held first in a school hall and then a warehouse. A leadership programme for young people, Body Builders — which later became the Soul 61 gap year — was also established.

While links to the Church of England were maintained through St Andrew’s and its Vicar, the Rt Revd David Pytches, it was not until 2014 that Soul Survivor became a Bishop’s Mission Order. Before this, the priest of the parish in which Soul Survivor is located, St Peter’s, Watford, the Revd Christopher Cottee, provided another connection to the wider Church, including presiding at holy communion. Canon Pilavachi was ordained in 2012, and Mr Croft a year later.

The Soul Survivor website states that the church has “recently appointed two external trustees — Lindsay Nash and Des Scott — to provide additional and independent support during the ongoing safeguarding investigation”, noting that most trustees were “members of our church family”. The Rt Revd Graham Cray, a former Bishop of Maidstone and Archbishops’ missioner and team leader of Fresh Expressions, was a member of the Soul Survivor board from 2012 until 2020, chairing it during that period.

In recent years, Soul Survivor Watford has planted churches, including Oak Church, Stevenage (under a Bishop’s Mission Order since 2020), and Hub Church, Hitchin. A website, Soul Survivor Family of Churches, states that the church is “only at the beginning of our church planting journey but our heart is to either plant churches or bring renewal to churches which would otherwise close.” The Soul Survivor website states that its events are “currently paused”.

This week, The Sunday Times published a report by a former Soul Survivor communications officer, saying that he had reported safeguarding concerns about Canon Pilavachi, the founder of Soul Survivor, to a senior member of staff in 2004 (News, 8 June). Another longstanding member of the congregation told the newspaper that, in 2006, he had contacted a senior cleric in the diocese of St Albans to report his concerns about Canon Pilavachi’s behaviour.

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