|

10 months of turmoil

What’s happened, and what’s next for The Meeting House.

On May 31, 2022, ex-Pastor Bruxy Cavey of The Meeting House (TMH) in Oakville, Ontario was charged with sexual assault by Hamilton Police and required to appear in court the end of June. He was released on conditions and a publication ban was put in place. On June 8, TMH board of directors (called “Overseers”) released the news of 38 reports of sexual misconduct or abuse relating to four of their pastors, two of whom were previously charged and convicted, the other two pastors being Bruxy Cavey and the former executive pastor Tim Day.

Here are a few events that led up to the criminal charges:

November 30, 2021: Allegations of sexual misconduct came to the attention of the Overseers, and a third-party investigation into charges of sexual misconduct began while Cavey was put on a leave of absence from his pastoral position.

March 3, 2022: Cavey resigns from TMH.

March 7: Co-pastor Danielle Strickland tweeted that she was resigning “in solidarity with the victim of abuse.” That same evening the Overseers sent out an email to attendees announcing that they had asked Cavey to resign the previous week.

March 8: Cavey uploaded a confession online that admitted “at the core of these allegations there is truth.” The same day a Town Hall (congregational) meeting was hosted by the Overseers to communicate the news from the three-month investigation.

March 9: Danielle Strickland uploaded an Instagram post criticizing the language of the investigation results.

March 19: The church announced that two more women had come forward with charges against Cavey.

Defining the abuse

Over the summer a few articles have been written on the scandal, most notably an article by Morgan Bocknek in The Toronto Star on August 13, which includes an interview with me, given that I wrote a book on Cavey’s charisma and TMH. This horrible news has been deeply disturbing to me, and I’m soberly re-evaluating my research. Did I miss something?

The more important part of the Star article, however, is its interview with the woman behind the charges against Cavey. Given the pseudonym Alanna, this woman describes her years of sexual relations with Cavey, including Cavey’s manipulative and blasphemous justification that “what they were doing wasn’t right, but that God was permitting it.” God will find redemption in it, he told her, even if it was not his will. This is the first public statement with details about what Cavey euphemistically called “an extra-marital affair” in his online confession in early March.

On August 13 the Overseers sent out an email to its membership saying they have completed another investigation and now there are three more incidents of sexual abuse by Cavey (four total), including one involving a minor. In a Town Hall on August 14, they said this new investigation had used the language of the Mennonite Central Committee and they are now defining the original relationship as “sexual abuse by a church leader” instead of their previous term, “abuse of power and authority by a member of the clergy amounting to sexual harassment” from last March. They apologised to the first victim for not defining Cavey’s conduct as sexual abuse in March 2022.

Meeting House Overseers give video update on August 12. Youtube.

A Great Unraveling

The Overseers have been working over-time for over 10 months now, since the charges became public last November. They acted promptly in removing Cavey from office and have made no excuses for him. They pledged transparency and spoke of a desire to “turn on all the lights.” They have worked with counselors, lawyers, a victim advocate and multiple investigators, and offered free counseling to any members of the church who might need it. They update a specific webpage, send out email communications, and have held special congregational Town Hall meetings.

The gravity and complexity of such volunteer board work is taking its toll. The former chair of the Overseers, Maggie Johns, has since stepped down, exhausted by the intensity of these ongoing events. Co-pastor Danielle Strickland resigned back in March, and former executive pastor and Be In Christ (BIC) leader Darryl Winger retired soon after. Numerous staff have left. The Town Hall this August reported that their budget had shrunk to 60-70 percent of its former size and that they had plans to conglomerate their 20 regional sites down into six sites. The rented movie theatre venues are thinning. As fast at TMH grew in the early 2000s, it is shrinking even faster now.

While we know the truth will set you free, it might also first be excruciatingly painful and humbling. This church that soared to the heights of evangelical popularity is now in deep disappointment, disgrace and some differing opinions.

What is especially telling about the future of TMH is that in the August Town Hall meeting they committed themselves to remain true to their Anabaptist tradition and to decentralize the power that had hitherto remained concentrated at the top at the Oakville site. Significantly, there was no mention at all of “the irreligious message of Jesus” – the very vision that had galvanized and expanded the church from the start. Their motto “the church for people not into church” was mysteriously absent. Anything associated with Cavey – his bestselling books, his sermons, his “spiritual but not religious” vision – disappeared in a shroud of disassociation. What brought most people to the church – what many had claimed had “saved” their faith from ruin – is now being shunned.

Can The Meeting House be The Meeting House without its irreverent anti-religious vision and the subculture of hippy revolution that made it so attractive to so many? Can it resist the reflex temptation to anxiously over-administrate itself with new policy and procedure? Can this humiliating experience be turned into a new, fresh vision for ministry?

They may be closer to God’s heart now than a year ago: sober, prayerful, repentant, dependent, waiting. The future of TMH lies as wide open at this point as the future of Bruxy Cavey, who remains unconvicted of any crime. The future for each of the thousands of attendees is equally uncertain. Much is being revealed in the meantime, including the character of the hearts of those who hear the news and offer hasty judgements before the full stories are uncovered.

There has been no news of a trial date.

Further reading

Author

  • Peter Schuurman

    Peter is Executive Director of Global Scholars Canada, a transnational guild of Christian scholars. He preaches, teaches and writes – having written columns, editorials, news and features for CC since 1997. His book The Subversive Evangelical: The Ironic Charisma of an Irreligious Megachurch (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019) is an ethnographic journey into the life of a megachurch and its “irreligious” charismatic leader. He loves stories that cross boundaries while maintaining integrity.

You just read something for free. How can a small Canadian publication offer quality, award-winning content online with no paywall?

Because of the generosity of readers like you.

Be our

Theo

Just think about Vincent van Gogh, who only sold one painting in his lifetime. How did he keep going? Because of the support of his brother, Theo. And now over 900 exceptional Vincent van Gogh paintings are famous worldwide.

You can be our Theo.

As you read this, we’re hard at work on new content. Like Vincent, we’re trying to create something unique. Hope-filled, independent journalism feels just as urgent and just as unlikely as van Gogh’s bold brushstrokes. We need readers like you who believe in this work, and who provide us with the resources to do it. Enable us to pursue stories of renewal:

Similar Posts

One Comment

  1. Peter, you ask this: “This horrible news has been deeply disturbing to me, and I’m soberly re-evaluating my research. Did I miss something?” When a person as alert and astute and perceptive as you are is subject to masterful liars, sometimes one gets fooled. It has happened to me.

    About the MCC wording. . . I think the abuse IS leadership abuse. It doesn’t “amount to sexual abuse,” but IS sexual abuse, too, of course. But without the perks of Führerprincip leadership masquerading under the guise of the mantra called “shepherd leadership,” sexual abuse might not have taken place.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *