Over the past few years I have had my eyes opened to the harmful behaviour of a closely-linked and highly influential group of senior leaders of the conservative evangelical constituency in the Church of England. I have witnessed a pattern of power abuse, lies and deceit, unkindness, misogyny, manipulation and deliberate misuse of Church of England procedures including safeguarding, both to protect themselves and to attack me and my husband. The senior leaders concerned include a Church of England bishop, the Rev Jonathan Fletcher, past and present leaders of the Iwerne and Titus Trust camps, REFORM, ReNew, Church Society, Proclamation Trust, and the monthly publication Evangelicals Now. I have found that their considerable influence extends beyond the Church of England and into the free church evangelical scene. I have also discovered many others along the way who have been badly treated by these men. I have tried to raise these matters with the leaders concerned on many occasions, but have been ignored, rebuffed and attacked as a result. I have come to believe that the only way to address and change this pattern of unchristian and harmful behaviour on the part of senior leaders is to expose it to the light.
My husband has been a vicar in Derby Diocese in the Church of England for over 15 years. In 2017, a group within our parish orchestrated a campaign of harassment and bullying against us in order to drive my husband out from his post, a scenario which is not in itself uncommon in the Church of England. This group in the church also mistreated others who tried to speak up for us. The abuse went on for well over a year and involved the sort of behaviour that is well documented as bullying and harassment by organisations such as ACAS, the Church of England, and various anti-bullying organisations. The behaviour involved the ongoing spreading of untrue rumours about us; false accusations that were shown to be untrue; ongoing attempts to ostracise and isolate us; shouting at us, shouting us down and ganging up on us in public meetings and elsewhere; harassment of our children and open (untruthful) criticism of us in front of our and other children; mistreatment or isolation of others supportive of us so that some left the church because of this group; deliberate attempts to scupper and boycott gospel work and then blame us; a petition letter sent to the diocese signed by people who had never even met my husband or been to the church here; abusive letters and emails to us; open hostility and nastiness; questions and suggestions to us as to when we were going to leave, but without any reason why; the admission that those involved were trying to get rid of us; misuse of the Clergy Discipline Measure with false accusations, although this complaint against my husband was finally dismissed by the diocese (May 2018). The then Bishop and Archdeacon of Derby and the Bishop of Maidstone, Rod Thomas (also President of Church Society and Bishop to the other ReNew leaders mentioned in this post) colluded with the bullying towards us by dismissing and ignoring it when we raised it with them.
Unknown to us, Bishop Rod Thomas, who gives extended oversight to the church, was involved behind the scenes and was corresponding with the archdeacon about our situation. He was consulting with the Rev Jonathan Fletcher (whose sister attends the church here) about our situation, even after Jonathan had lost PTO for abuse. Rod was in Jonathan’s preaching group throughout this time. Jonathan made a number of bullying interventions in our situation. Rod was also writing to the Church Society leadership about us, misrepresenting the situation and passing on Jonathan Fletcher’s recommendations. Church Society is the patron of the church here and Rod is the President of Church Society.
We tried to raise with Rod Thomas his conduct towards us (Matt 18:15-20) over an extended period but without any acknowledgement from him that he had behaved wrongly. When we asked him, Rod said that we hadn’t done anything wrong or sinful, but quoted Proverbs at us on more than one occasion to say that we had been unwise and that therefore he could not support us. He said this was because Mike had not followed Rod’s suggestion to keep in church leadership those who had been deliberately spreading untrue rumours and engaging in other bullying behaviour. We approached the Rev Simon Austen as someone who might help in the situation, but he felt unable to be involved.
Subsequently, in October 2018, I approached the leaders of the Church Society / ReNew constituency, who have worked closely with Rod Thomas. Council members were unclear what to do or who I should talk to, so that we were passed around various leaders – we ended up approaching Rev William Taylor, Rev Jason Ward, Rev Paul Darlington, Rev Dick Farr, Rev Lee Gatiss and Rev Mark Burkill . That led to conversations where some were aggressive and threatening, blamed us for the abuse we had suffered, minimised what we had suffered, berated us for taking up their time, and used scripture to silence us. Their treatment of us was abusive and traumatic. They met with Rod Thomas (although I was making a serious complaint about Rod) and with him decided how to proceed. They suggested having a ‘process’ to deal with the situation and asking people (whom they could influence) to head it up, but ridiculed my suggestion of an independent person.
In Summer 2019, I approached Rev Andrew Towner, who had been made Chair of Church Society Council to raise the issues about the conduct of Rod Thomas and now the other Church Society / ReNew senior leaders mentioned above. I hoped that he might be able to help and that he would be concerned about the behaviour towards us, but over time I realised that he too was complicit with the others. He suggested a process to be headed up by a supposedly independent third party who might recommend that some of the leaders involved should resign. However, I later found that the person recommended was a friend of another Church Society Council member and that she had merely been given a brief to listen to me and then recommend to the leaders involved in a positive way how they might improve, but with no threat of sanction. I felt exhausted by the constant deception from these senior leaders.
Our experiences have shown us that there are serious problems with the senior leadership of the ReNew / Church Society constituency. What has been so devastating for us is not the behaviour of just one leader, but the way in which closely connected leaders have worked together to bully and silence us. There has been extensive mobbing, dishonesty, gaslighting and group think. Those leaders involved need to take responsibility for their own actions, but also the actions of this group, given that they are complicit.
We eventually decided to speak up about what had happened to us and the conduct of the senior leaders involved. I began by speaking up on the Church Society Facebook page (but was silenced) and then the Surviving Church website. Further information on what happened to us is available here http://survivingchurch.org/2019/12/05/conservative-evangelical-bullying-a-case-study/ and here http://survivingchurch.org/2020/12/18/power-games-in-church-life/. Since writing about what happened to us, we have had contact from others who have been treated in a similar way by these leaders, senior Church of England clergy, and those in a senior role in other denominations. We pray that we will be able to serve others who have suffered abuse in Christian organisations.
Since then, in 2020, we put in Subject Access Requests to Church Society and to Rod Thomas and the Bishop of Derby. None of them complied fully with the law and Church Society in particular withheld our personal information for many months. After much correspondence and two letters to Church Society from the Information Commissioners Office, personal data was provided to us. However, it was also unlawfully shared with several people including Rod Thomas, who had asked to ‘check’ it. The ICO caseworker concerned told me that he had never seen an organisation operate in this way. Withholding information that a person is entitled to and then wrongly sharing a person’s information is a recognised way in which organisations and senior people bully individuals.
Despite this, the data that we received from Church Society, Bishop Rod Thomas and Derby Diocese provided us with further evidence of the behaviour of the Church Society leaders towards us and enabled us to find out more about what had happened. Although the leaders in question are very careful as to what they put in writing – we have had numerous instances of asking and question by email and then receiving a telephone call to ‘answer’ it that is later not remembered – and the data is heavily redacted, it still offers an insight into the bullying behaviour towards us.
I would like Church Society (and the individuals involved) to respond to the following points.
1. The power differential involved in the situation is huge. Kate Andreyev is one individual without a leadership position or a large platform. Church Society is a national Christian organisation. Church Society has a large platform, staff, members, support from other powerful Christian leaders and organisations, made up of those who are Christian leaders. It is not right for Church Society or its leaders to portray themselves as those with equal power or indeed the victim or weaker party in this situation.
2. When Michael and Kate were abroad on leave in June 2017, Bishop Rod Thomas attended a PCC meeting at the church, although he had not been invited by Michael as the incumbent. Michael and Kate found out about this by accident. Rod then said that he would carry out a ‘process’, but did not give clear answers or explanations to Michael or Kate’s questions about this. He at no time suggested to the Andreyevs that it was a ‘formal mediation’, although this is how he spoke of it with the Archdeacon of Derby. A lawyer, a diocesan registrar, later examined the documents and stated that Rod Thomas had not conducted a mediation or conciliation, but had written a report and acted as judge.
3. Church Society President Bishop Rod Thomas repeatedly ignored the Andreyevs’ concerns about bullying towards them in Stapenhill and wrongly told them that he would need to seek legal advice in order to deal with bullying (a lawyer and diocesan registrar later explained to Michael that this is untrue – legal advice is not needed to tackle bullying).
4. Rod Thomas told Church Society in writing that the problems in Stapenhill were with Kate (22 May 2017) and that the situation there was likely ‘pastoral breakdown’ (23 May 2017). He wrote this before being involved in the situation or ever meeting Kate. In this letter Rod Thomas also wrote that he could act as a mediator (22 May 2017), even though he had prejudged the situation. In fact, the term ‘pastoral breakdown’ has a specific meaning in the Church of England and requires a legal process (which has not happened) to take place, so Rod was knowingly misusing the term. This was adopted and other Church Society senior leaders have subsequently also misrepresented the situation, sometimes using the term ‘pastoral breakdown’ or ‘breakdown‘.
5. Unknown to the Andreyevs, Rod Thomas was corresponding with the Archdeacon of Derby and, even before ever speaking with the Andreyevs, was discussing with the Archdeacon and with Church Society that the way forward was probably for Michael Andreyev to move on to another post. It is common for those in senior positions to collude with bullying towards an individual by moving the person on, rather than tackling the bullying. As a result of this, other members of church were bullied out by the group in question.
6. Rod Thomas consulted with Rev Jonathan Fletcher about Michael and Kate’s situation after Jonathan Fletcher had already lost PTO for abusive behaviour. Rod Thomas passed on to Church Society Jonathan Fletcher’s view that the best thing would be for the Andreyevs to move on (23 May 2017). This was a view that Jonathan Fletcher expressed to Michael later on in September 2017. Others have also expressed their concerns about the involvement of Rod Thomas in their diocese, for example https://new-northern-souls.blogspot.com/2020/08/integrity-matters.html.
7. In November 2017, a complaint under the Clergy Discipline Measure with false accusations was made against Michael Andreyev. +Rod Thomas and the then Archdeacon of Derby discussed by email that they wanted to be sure that Michael Andreyev left the parish as vicar, even though Michael had not been found guilty of any wrongdoing. Correspondence reveals that the CDM process was being used to get Michael to leave, even though this is a misuse of the CDM and Rod and the archdeacon should therefore not have been a party to it. Church Society leaders were still discussing the CDM in 2019 and whether it was active, even though it had been dismissed in 2018 and Rod Thomas knew this to be the case. A common form of bullying by senior people in organisations is to treat someone cleared of wrongdoing as if they were in fact guilty.
8. In June 2018, Rod Thomas wrongly directed Derby Diocese to think that Michael and Kate Andreyev had involved their children in the situation at Stapenhill and that this was an issue for the diocesan safeguarding team. What Rod said to Derby Diocese led to untrue statements being made on Michael’s personal reference for over a year, suggesting that Mike and Kate were being dishonest. These accusations were eventually acknowledged to be untrue in August 2019. When Michael and Kate tried to raise the issues of this and Rod’s other behaviour with him from 2018 onwards, he tried to avoid and close down the subject.
9. In emails to one another, Church Society leaders wrote of Michael and Kate Andreyev in a derogatory manner, using expressions such as “Let’s keep praying, especially that the Lord saves them from themselves” and when we responded with necessary questions, “I was hoping things had gone quiet for a positive reason, hey ho”. In emails to one another, Church Society leaders mocked the Andreyevs for suggesting different, independent reviewers, using expressions such as, “We’re now into a game of Top Trumps” and “This is fun!” Kate Andreyev’s attempts to get the issues dealt with in a professional manner appropriate to a Christian organisation were described as pestering. This approach was in spite of the fact that Kate had made the Church Society leaders aware at the outset that she had been made ill by the mistreatment she and Michael had suffered, including that she had lost a considerable amount in weight, was unable to attend church and was on anti-depressants.
10. After Kate had raised serious concerns in writing with Church Society Council and Trust members (Rev Dick Farr, Rev William Taylor, Rev Lee Gatiss, Rev Mark Burkill and Rev Paul Darlington) about Rod Thomas, these five leaders met privately with Rod Thomas and with him decided what to do to deal with the situation. The leaders attempted to hide this from the Andreyevs. Rod Thomas was misrepresenting the situation.
11. Whilst a party to the derogatory comments and discussion of the Andreyevs, William Taylor dishonestly wrote to the Andreyevs to assure them that they were loved and that they were not being spoken of negatively.
12. Church Society Trust Chair Dick Farr spoke in an aggressive manner to Kate Andreyev on the telephone on two occasions. Although she was raising the matter of abusive behaviour towards her, Dick Farr told her that he wanted to speak with Kate’s husband rather than Kate on the basis that he (Dick) was a complementarian. Although not a witness to any of it, Dick told Kate that the abusive behaviour towards the Andreyevs in Stapenhill had not been at all serious. Although Kate was trying to report abusive behaviour, Dick asked Kate what she and Michael had done to occasion the abusive behaviour towards them. Dick was sarcastic and aggressive (an observation which is supported by the derogatory tone of his emails about the Andreyevs to other Church Society leaders) and on the second conversation, Dick slammed the telephone down.
13. In 2018, Dick Farr and William Taylor suggested a process to deal with the concerns Kate was raising about the conduct of Rod Thomas. They suggested people to oversee the process who were not genuinely independent from them, such as Hugh Palmer, Christopher Ash and William Taylor’s Churchwarden. William Taylor described them as ‘giants of the faith.’ Dick and William refused to consider Kate’s suggestion of Dan and Susie Leafe as those who would be far more independent, or indeed others outside the Church of England. Dick ridiculed Kate for suggesting this.
14. In 2018 when Kate Andreyev approached Church Society to raise serious concerns about the conduct of Rod Thomas, Church Society did not have a complaints procedure or other policies in place, as Andrew Towner acknowledged to the other leaders in email correspondence. This is surprising as Church Society has long been a registered charity. As there were not proper procedures in place, Church Society’s handling of the situation was chaotic, with Kate having to try different people, although the leaders blamed Kate for this chaos. In a recent article on the Anglican Ink website, Andrew Towner gave a misleading statement, saying that Church Society had “full careful robust policies and procedures in place”, omitting to mention that this had not been the case in 2018 and 2019 when Kate and Andreyev had been trying to get serious issues addressed.
15. In Summer 2019, Church Society Council Chair Andrew Towner misled Kate over a proposed process with a third party to address the issues Kate had raised. Andrew told Kate that the issues would be taken seriously and the person involved would have the power to recommend that the Church Society leaders involved should have to resign. In fact, the person involved had not been given this brief or responsibility and was given the role of telling the Church Society leaders in a positive way how they might be able to improve their future practice. Kate tried to ask Andrew questions on the telephone to understand what was being suggested, but Andrew insulted her to the other leaders. In addition, although Kate was told that the person was independent, Church Society correspondence reveals that the person was a “friend” of one of the Council members, but that at the same time Church Society leaders seemed to consider this person independent! One of the Council members suggested that Kate might be mentally unstable, a common attitude of abusive organisations towards victims of bullying. It is striking how, if they believed this to be the case, they were not kinder.
16. Church Society Director Lee Gatiss wrote to other organisations, one of them Derby Diocese, describing as “pestering” Kate Andreyev’s attempts to raise serious concerns about the abusive treatment she had suffered. In fact, Kate had only spoken once with Lee on the telephone and up to twice with other Council members. When Kate eventually began to write about what had happened publicly, Lee asked on his Facebook page if anyone knew a libel lawyer. Lee dishonestly wrote to other Church Society leaders and to Derby Diocese that Kate was making “hidden” comments to him on the Church Society Facebook page and that he found this threatening, although in fact only the page administrators Lee Gatiss and Ros Clarke were able to “hide” comments, as was acknowledged by Ros later on. Lee Gatiss gave Derby Diocese the impression that he was being harassed by Kate Andreyev when this was not the case. It is also dishonest for the Director of a national organisation to misrepresent an individual’s legitimate criticisms of that organisation as an attempt to intimidate him personally. It is worth noting that a number of respected ordained ministers have been blocked from the Church Society website and from Lee Gatiss’s social media for pointing out inconvenient truths. There are other clear examples of Lee Gatiss responding very personally to reasonable criticism of the actions of Church Society from other ministers, or exaggerating the severity of opposition or hostility to him.
17. William Taylor (co-opted on to Church Society Council during the period when Kate Andreyev approached the organisation for help) later dishonestly involved Rev Charlie Skrine (6th December 2019 onwards) to approach London Diocese in order to deal with Kate. Charlie Skrine misrepresented Kate and the nature of the situation, e.g. in this email of 1st February 2020, to London Diocese , misusing the safeguarding process in order to do this. Having set things up with London Diocese and established with the senior staff how they would deal with the situation, all without Kate’s knowledge, Charlie Skrine approached Kate twice, on 1st February 2020 and 16th March 2020. Charlie later claimed (May 2020) to be acting for safeguarding reasons, but this cannot be true as he had first consulted with William Taylor, the subject of the concerns, on 6th December 2019, before contacting London Diocese. It is a basic aspect of safeguarding procedure when reporting allegations to safeguarding to not go and consult with the person the allegations are about and Charlie Skrine, having a particular role with safeguarding at St. Helen’s Bishopsgate, would have known this.
18. Various Church Society leaders have dishonestly used the term ‘allegations’ to describe the issues raised by Kate, even when they are aware that what Kate has raised is a matter of fact. This includes Andrew Towner, Lee Gatiss and William Taylor (via Charlie Skrine).
19. In 2019, Church Society President Rod Thomas’s Pastoral Adviser, Rev David Banting, contacted a couple offering pastoral support to Michael and Kate Andreyev. David misrepresented the situation in Stapenhill and told the couple that Derby Diocese would be taking action within the next few months to remove Michael as Vicar. (David also said this to one of those in the group who had bullied the Andreyevs out of church.) David asked the husband of the couple concerned not to mention this conversation to the Andreyevs, but rather to manipulate them to a certain course of action. The couple refused to go along with this because they realised that it lacked integrity. David Banting claimed to be trying to help. However, a couple of weeks before, unknown to the Andreyevs, David Banting was writing letters against Michael Andreyev to the acting Bishop of Derby, again misrepresenting the situation. When Kate and Michael flagged up David Banting’s behaviour, pointing out that it was harassment, Rod Thomas refused to take action on his Pastoral Adviser’s behaviour. When Michael and Kate pointed out that pastoral support should be independent from the influence of Rod Thomas and his staff (a point flagged up by the GP wife of the couple offering support, Rod wrote to say that he had not promised not to contact the couple in question in the future.
20. Following the publication of an article describing how various Church Society leaders had treated Kate, there were email discussions between Church Society leaders about consulting lawyers and taking legal action against Kate. The Church Society leaders were looking to engage someone supportive of them rather than someone independent. There was also email discussion with Andrew Towner about having some sort of investigation in order to then take action against Kate.
21. Correspondence reveals that Church Society leaders have engaged in trying to get Derby Diocese to take action to remove Michael and Kate Andreyev. This would remove the Andreyevs and their two young teenage daughters from their home and means of financial support. Correspondence also shows Church Society leaders saying that their concern is the evangelical succession of the parish of Stapenhill (rather than doing what is right as Christians). Instead of acknowledging that the behaviour of Church Society leaders needed to be properly addressed, Lee Gatiss wrote to the other Church Society leaders that the answer was for the Andreyevs to move on.
22. In conversation with Kate Andreyev in 2018, Rev Paul Darlington used Scripture to tell Kate to go away and suffer, rather than raising her serious concerns about mistreatment by Rod Thomas and having those concerns addressed. Correspondence supports this, although Paul Darlington disputes the Bible passage concerned (1 Peter 2 rather than Philippians 2). Paul trivialised the issues that Kate was raising by impressing upon her that she was interrupting the evening meal, having first agreed to speak with her.
23. In 2020, Church Society unlawfully withheld Michael and Kate Andreyev’s personal data for over six months. Church Society claimed to have taken appropriate advice and complied with the law. The Information Commissioner’s Office had to write to Church Society twice to tell them to comply with the law on data. When the Andreyevs’ personal data was eventually provided to them in a dropbox, Church Society also unlawfully shared the Andreyevs’ personal data with various Church Society leaders, including Rod Thomas, about whom Kate had raised serious concerns. Kate asked if her personal data had been shared with others, but Church Society did not answer this question. The personal data eventually provided also revealed to the Andreyevs that Rod Thomas had himself unlawfully withheld the Andreyevs’ personal data, following their Subject Access Request to him.
24. In the February 2021 letter to its members, Church Society misled its members in using the term ’serious allegations’ when much of the behaviour of its leaders is a matter of recorded fact e.g. via the links in this article. Church Society also misrepresented the situation in the February 2021 letter by omitting to mention that Kate had spent a considerable amount of time trying to raise matters privately with Church Society (2018-2019). When asked to comment in an Anglican Ink article on 8 December 2020, Church Society Chair Andrew Towner had said that Church Society could not comment on individual cases, yet in the February 2021 letter to members, Church Society is commenting misleadingly on an individual case.
25. The recent Church Society letter to its members says that Church Society’s goal is “that the truth shall be made known”, but this is not supported by Church Society and its President Rod Thomas withholding and excessively redacting Kate and Michael’s data. The personal data that has been provided to the Andreyevs is still redacted such that it protects senior leaders of CS who have behaved wrongly, as can be seen in documents linked throughout this blog post. Therefore, if Church Society is interested in making the truth known, it and its President Rod Thomas should comply fully with Michael and Kate’s SAR and release to them the data un-redacted, save for names of third parties unconnected with CS who are not or have not been on the Council, or Trust, or Directors or Officers.
26. The February letter from Church Society to its members was signed by the Church Society Council Chair, Andrew Towner, and the Associate Director, Ros Clarke. Yet Andrew Towner was himself involved in the bullying and dishonesty towards Kate Andreyev. Both Andrew Towner and Ros Clarke were aware that Church Society had withheld and then wrongly shared Kate Andreyev’s personal data, the data having been shared with them both. Yet both put their name to a letter which spoke of “allegations”, as if both were personally unaware that what Kate Andreyev had been saying was true, when the opposite was in fact the case. Likewise, Andrew Towner wrote privately to Kate about the proposed review and invited her to ask to ask questions about it – questions that were not then answered. It is clearly inappropriate for a Church Society leader who has been involved in the bullying behaviour to then be the Church Society leader to write to members and Kate as if he had not been involved. When Kate raised this with the Church Society Council members, she then received an email response from another trustee, Rebecca Hunt. Yet Rebecca Hunt had been responsible for responding to Kate’s Subject Access Request to Church Society and was the trustee responsible for the decision to unlawfully withhold and then inappropriately share Kate Andreyev’s personal data.