Church of England concludes probe into former bishop amid Soul Survivor abuse scandal

Mike Pilavachi speaks at Soul Survivor youth conference in 2017.
Mike Pilavachi speaks at Soul Survivor youth conference in 2017. | YouTube/Soul Survivor

The Church of England has investigated a retired bishop accused of not reporting allegations of abuse against a prominent youth ministry founder as two British pastors came forward this week to publicly claim they were also abused as teenagers and their complaints were not taken seriously by ministry leadership. 

On Thursday, a Church of England spokesperson confirmed that it has "concluded" an investigation into concerns surrounding Bishop Graham Cray for "failing to pass on information" related to the Soul Survivor ministry founder Mike Pilavachi. 

The spokesperson told Church Times the investigation was "concluded and under House of Bishops guidance" and "appropriate risk management steps are being taken."

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"We cannot say anymore at this stage," the spokesperson was quoted as saying. 

Cray, who served as the former bishop of Maidstone from 2001 to 2009, also served as chairman of Soul Survivor and served as its director from 2000 until 2020. Cray was also an Archbishops' Missioner and Team Leader of Fresh Expressions from 2009 to 2014. 

Pilavachi, a 66-year-old charismatic former ministry leader, launched the Soul Survivor charity in 1993. The organization held summer festivals attended by tens of thousands of teenagers. Those festivals stopped in 2019 as the charity now focuses on events for all ages from its church in Watford.

Over the years, dozens of former Soul Survivor staff members and alleged victims have come forward with accusations against Pilavachi. Critics have claimed Pilavachi was running "a cult" where young men were persuaded to partake in full-body oil massages and wrestling matches.

The Church of England's disclosure that it concluded its investigation into Cray comes as Rev. Tim Hughes, 46, and his brother, Rev. Pete Hughes, publicly detailed their alleged experiences with what they are calling "psychological and spiritual abuse" in a media interview published this week. 

Tim Hughes is a worship leader, singer-songwriter and senior pastor at Gas Street Church in Birmingham. Pete Hughes is the leader of Kings Cross Church in London. 

The Hughes brothers told The Telegraph that they both endured the wrestling and massages that Pilavachi is accused of encouraging young men to participate in within the Soul Survivor movement. The brothers say they had counseling sessions because of the abuse. 

Both pastors said they confronted Pilavachi and reported the abuse to Soul Survivor's leadership in 2004, including the chairman, who at the time was Cray. However, the brothers allege that "our concerns were not taken seriously." 

“In 2004, we confronted Mike regarding his damaging behaviour and then subsequently brought it to the attention of the chairman of the Soul Survivor Ministries trustees," they stated. “Unfortunately, the process was not received well and our concerns were not taken seriously, leading to breakdowns in relationship and eventually to both of us leaving Soul Survivor soon after. We’ve both been deeply saddened to learn of the stories of abuse that have continued since that time."

The brothers called Pilavachi a "spiritual father figure" who mentored them "from our early teenage years through to us both serving in leadership positions at Soul Survivor."

"However, much like others, we also both experienced what we now know to be psychological and spiritual abuse at the hands of Mike Pilavachi. Whilst under his leadership we also experienced the wrestling and the massages that have been well-documented," they continued in the statement. 

"These events have caused years of pain and confusion. Over the last 20 years, we've both been on journeys of healing from the abuse we experienced, through counseling, prayer ministry and a process of acknowledging the abuse and choosing to forgive."

"Our hope and prayer for others who have experienced abuse at Soul Survivor is that this will be a moment of healing and restoration, as things that have been hidden are being brought into the light," they added. "We also hope that this process will provide an opportunity for the Church to learn from the mistakes made in order for the Church to be a safe environment where everyone can flourish and thrive."

The Church of England has been leading an investigation, in conjunction with the Diocese of St. Albans Safeguarding Team and the National Safeguarding Team, (NST), to look into allegations made against Pilavachi of "inappropriate messages" and "inappropriate" relationships with multiple young people over the course of three decades.  

The investigation was launched after The Telegraph reported allegations spanning several years that Pilavachi had "inappropriate intimate relationships" with young people participating in Soul61, a gap-year project that trains young adults as disciples. 

Among other victims who have come forward with abuse allegations is worship artist Matt Redman, who co-authored the songs "10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)," "The Heart of Worship" and "Our God." 

Redman took to Facebook in July 2023 to state that he also "experienced first-hand the harmful behaviours" during his time at Soul Survivor and testified for the investigation. 

"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. It's not appropriate for me to comment in further detail at this time, and instead I have testified directly to the ongoing investigation," Redman wrote. 

"One very important thing I would like to note though — 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. 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." 

Redman said that over 100 people have "reported being mistreated under Mike's leadership," covering "a whole spectrum of harm — physical, psychological, spiritual, etc."

"I know some are having a tough time believing the various accusations — they can create a very uncomfortable tension for those who have only ever had a meaningful and transformative experience at Soul Survivor," Redman wrote.

"I really understand and sympathize with that. 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." 

Redman contends that the "current moment [is] even more critical to get right."

"No one is expecting perfect leaders. Brokenness is part of our human condition. And we are all advocates for grace and redemption. But accountability is so key in these moments, especially for those who have taken on the role of leadership in the Church," he added. 

In July 2023, Pilavachi stepped down from his leadership role as associate pastor at Soul Survivor after spearheading the ministry for over two decades. He didn't comment directly on the accusations except to say that he seeks "forgiveness from any whom I have hurt during the course of my ministry."

A spokesman for Soul Survivor Watford reportedly told The Telegraph that she commends the Hughes brothers for coming forward with their alleged claims. 

"Tim and Pete have shown real courage in coming forward and sharing their experience," the spokesperson said. 

"Their leadership in being open and honest about the pain they have suffered will no doubt help those who have suffered similar abuses and enable them to speak out about their own stories," the spokesperson continued.  

"We know that all those who have contributed to the NST investigation and Fiona Scolding KC's review have done so at significant emotional cost and we are grateful to each individual who have shared their own experience."

Nicole VanDyke is a reporter for The Christian Post. 

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