LONDON (UNITED KINGDOM)
The Roys Report [Chicago IL]
July 13, 2023
By Josh Shepherd
Grammy Award-winning worship leader Matt Redman has disclosed that he “experienced first-hand” the “harmful behaviours” of Soul Survivor co-founder Mike Pilavachi, who resigned Tuesday from a church near London amid allegations of decades-long abuse.
In a 500-word Facebook post, Redman, known for such worship songs as “Blessed Be Your Name” and “The Heart of Worship,” stated that “over a hundred people have reported being mistreated” by longtime Anglican youth pastor Pilavachi. He added that the allegations against Pilavachi “cover a whole spectrum of harm – physical, psychological, spiritual.”
“I feel particularly strongly on this issue as I myself experienced first-hand the harmful behaviours that have been described,” wrote Redman. “I have spent years trying to fully heal from my time at Soul Survivor – and, painfully, I now know this to be the case for a lot of other people too.”
In recent months, public allegations have surfaced that Pilavachi abused young men in his care for decades, bullying them, giving them full-body massages, and pressuring them to engage in extended wrestling matches.
Redman had previously publicly expressed support for survivors of Pilavachi’s alleged abuse. But this was the first time Redman divulged that he was a survivor too. In most recent post, Redman said that after seeing Pilavachi’s resignation statement and “replies to that on social media,” he felt now was a good time to say more.
On Tuesday, Pilavachi, who had served for years as associate pastor of Soul Survivor Watford, an Anglican church in a northwest suburb of London, announced his resignation. He was suspended in May, amid revelations that ministry leaders in the U.K. knew about allegations concerning Pilavachi for nearly two decades but did nothing.
A local media outlet reported Pilavachi’s statement via Facebook, which has since been deleted. “I have taken this step because the church needs to heal and I have realised that my continued presence will hinder that process,” stated Pilavachi. “I seek forgiveness from any whom I have hurt during the course of my ministry.”
Pilavachi and Redman, then age 19, co-founded the Soul Survivor youth festival, which ran until 2019. The festival attracted over 30,000 people each summer and helped launch Redman, his protege Tim Hughes, and other worship leaders.
In his recent post, Redman said he sympathized with those “who have only ever had a meaningful and transformative experience at Soul Survivor” and said he understands the “very uncomfortable tension” felt by many.
Redman stated: “But there are victims here – and the number of people who have come forward to the safeguarding investigation is now a loud and clear alarm-bell that cannot be ignored.”
Abuse investigation of church at ‘critical’ moment
In April, the National Safeguarding Team (NST) of the Church of England (CoE) began an investigation into Pilavachi and his ministry based at Soul Survivor Watford, which is affiliated with the St. Albans Diocese.
On Tuesday, church trustees stated they are “seeking a just, truthful and transparent outcome to the investigation for all those who have bravely stepped forward to share their concerns and experiences.”
The statement from the church’s board of trustees, including chairman David Mitchell, added: “We are committed to a robust and wide-ranging review of the culture, leadership and governance of Soul Survivor Watford with external, independent support.”
However, in his statement, Redman, who served as worship leader at Soul Survivor Watford from 1994 to 2002, noted the past “failure” of leaders at the church in responding to alleged abuse.
“A good number of those who have spoken to the investigation, including my wife Beth and myself, had come forward previously at the time of being mistreated – but were ignored, patronised or gaslit by those in leadership,” stated Redman. “Historically there has been a failure of care in this area by those in authority at Soul Survivor – which makes this current moment even more critical to get right.”
UK media outlet Premier Christianity recently reported that questions have persisted about the “efficacy, and even morality” of the work of the CoE’s National Safeguarding Team. One archbishop and influential NST leader, John Sentamu, was suspended from active ministry due to allegations of impropriety.
The report notes the “high profile” of Pilavachi and that “the tentacles of Soul Survivor reach so deeply into the culture” of many CoE congregations. Subsequently, abuse survivors and advocates have questioned the internal NST investigation and stated that “anything less than a fully independent inquiry could be compromised.”
Justin Humphreys of the leading U.K. safeguarding charity, thirtyone:eight, previously told The Roys Report (TRR) that he’s heard from dozens of people claiming to have been impacted by Pilavachi’s abuse either “directly and indirectly.” (Thirtone:eight is not investigating Pilavachi, but is offering its support and advice to victims who contact the organization.)
On Tuesday, officials with the CoE issued a statement that noted their investigation is “being run by the diocese of St Albans and the National Safeguarding Team, independently of Soul Survivor.” The statement added: “We will continue to listen to and offer support to those who come forward.”
In his social post, Redman said that he is “grateful” for NST investigators and disclosed that he has “testified directly to the ongoing investigation.”
The worship leader noted that any “gifted leader” even with a “fruitful” ministry still must answer for “mistreatment” of people. “Accountability is so key in these moments – especially for those who have taken on the role of leadership in the Church.”
Redman concluded: “Beth and I send our deepest love and support to all the survivors who have so bravely come forward. ‘Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.’ (Hebrews 10:23).”
This article has been updated to include a statement from the Church of England NST.