Soul Survivor congregants welcomed suggestions they formally “say goodbye” to Mike Pilavachi despite a Church of England investigation concluding that he “used his spiritual authority to control” and abuse victims.
Rev Canon Mike Pilavachi, the 65-year-old evangelist, founded Soul Survivor Watford church in Hertfordshire as well as its namesake summer youth festivals which ran for almost 30 years until 2019. At their peak, they were attended by 30,000 young people from around the world.
The Telegraph has been uncovering allegations of abuse levelled at Mr Pilavachi since April. His victims spoke out to reveal for the first time that they were encouraged to receive full-body oil massages in their underwear in Mr Pilavachi’s bedroom and vigorous wrestling matches that could last as long as 20 minutes at a time – sometimes in church.
Two weeks ago, a church investigation concluded that Mr Pilavachi, who has been suspended and has resigned from Soul Survivor, had abused victims and that safeguarding concerns relating to his leadership and ministry span 40 years.
However, on Tuesday night, Soul Survivor Watford church held a meeting for members, which was attended by around 200 people, to address the congregations’ concerns and answer questions.
The Telegraph understands that during this meeting, a congregant asked a question “about saying goodbye to Mike”, whose influence was global due to the popularity of the Soul Survivor movement, and that the question prompted applause from some other congregants.
Responding to some congregants’ support for Mr Pilavachi, one of the victims of his alleged abuse said that if they were aware of what had happened “perhaps then they would stop applauding and instead weep for the abuse victims rather than celebrate him and afford him the kind of dignity they have been denied at every stage”.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, they added: “After everything that was disclosed and proven true, how could the congregation at soul survivor suggest a special meeting to thank Mike and the room break out in spontaneous applause?
“This same man cast out and shunned the very people he was abusing. The same trustees ignored and iced out victim after victim. These incidents are the tip of a devastating iceberg of abuse. This is 2023. Victims are reeling. The church is looking to you. Do better Soul Survivor.”
It is understood that the meeting came in the wake of congregants complaining about the lack of communication regarding the various reports and investigations and asked for clarification.
The panel comprised Rev Canon Tim Lomax, representing the Bishop of St Albans, David Mitchell, chairman of Soul Survivor Watford, and Jez Hirst, the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor for the Diocese of St Albans.
It was in the 1990s, when Mr Pilavachi began taking his mission work abroad as the Soul Survivor brand went global, that he is alleged by his victims to have “left a trail of broken, young male adults scattered all around the world”.
Mr Pilavachi was suspended from Soul Survivor in May and he resigned in June. All the while, the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team (NST) and the Diocese of St Albans were conducting an internal investigation, which prompted more than 100 people to come forward with allegations, and which concluded earlier this month.
It found that “he used his spiritual authority to control people and that his coercive and controlling behaviour led to inappropriate relationships, the physical wrestling of youths and massaging of young male interns.”
As a result of the findings, Soul Survivor commissioned an independent review to be led by Fiona Scolding KC, with a full report to be published upon conclusion. It is understood that her report is hoped to be published between January and March 2024, and based on the transcripts of the NST’s interviews, subject to witnesses’ permission, as well as additional interviews.
In a statement, the Soul Survivor Watford trustees said: “We held this meeting to keep the church informed of the latest developments, respond to their questions and concerns and share the information that is currently available about Fiona Scolding KC’s Review.
“While the terms of reference are still to be finalised, we have commissioned a robust, independent investigation that offers transparency to the victims of Mike Pilavachi’s abuse, and will implement the recommendations to ensure nothing like this ever happens again at Soul Survivor Watford.”
They added: “We are committed to helping our church body work through the ramifications of the report findings, prioritising support and compassion for the victims and recognition of the impact of Mike Pilavachi’s abuse.
“While in the Christian faith we believe that God’s forgiveness is available to everyone, this does not mean overlooking the consequences and impact of their actions.
“It would be totally inappropriate, and hurtful for his victims, for Mike Pilavachi to attend Soul Survivor Watford. We made this clear at Tuesday’s meeting.”