|

The walking wounded

Meeting House attendees respond to news of Pastor abuse.

“This church had a profound and positive impact on me for decades,” a former Meeting House member reflected. “I’m trying to figure out what to do with the revelations about what was going on behind the scenes. Flashes of Bruxy’s teaching will come back to me at various times and I’ll remember how positively it impacted me back then, but then I’ll feel conflicted about what to do with that.”

Last November, just a few weeks before ex-pastor Bruxy Cavey was put on a leave of absence from his position at The Meeting House (TMH) megachurch because of allegations of sexual abuse, he was on The Kingdoms Podcast talking about faith deconstruction. He explained that faith deconstruction can be both sad and good. Sad for the disappointment, but good because people now recognize an institution has become “hollowed-out and hypocritical” and Jesus has been pushed out of the centre. The exclamation “I’m done with this!” may be a hunger for the gospel, for a fresh start with Jesus, like pressing the reset button.

Now his own church, without his leadership, is revealing Cavey’s own misuse of institutional and spiritual power, and thousands of Meeting House attendees are coming to terms with the devastating news of their scandalized church (see companion article, “10 Months of Turmoil”). How are they managing?

Some people who I knew were faithful attenders 10 years ago did not want to talk to me. Maybe there’s a sense of disgrace, or perhaps the feelings are still too raw. Others had moved on to other churches before the news broke. One of these former attendees said the changeover of their regional pastor was the prompt to go, and that they sought local churches “with more stable leadership and better youth programming.”

We can’t assume that those who have stuck with The Meeting House over the last 10 months share the same perspective on what the problems are and how to address them. In a Town Hall meeting on August 14 a woman from the audience said she represented a group of long-time members. She read off a carefully crafted letter with a long list of concerns, including the contention that organizational management advice rather than biblical values is driving the board’s actions. Social media is proliferating hatred and division, she added, while the Overseers (the church board) are offering “partial information that comes across as politically evasive and not answers at all.” She called for more lament, financial transparency, and more heart-to-heart conversation in a spirit of love and not fear. A few clapped in response, and I’ve heard personally from others who support this statement.

(Photo credit: Facebook)

God’s Pace and Gut-Punched

Now Boards are volunteers with weighty responsibility, and they best proceed with caution with allegations of abuse. Interim Senior Pastor Karmyn Bokma responded to the concerns by saying that leadership receives this feedback graciously. The church needs to resist taking sides or planting itself in any one spot other than Jesus, she continued, and that means giving space to honour the victim’s wounds and allow the community to heal properly. Interim Senior Director Matt Miles warned that there is a temptation to rush past suffering instead of moving forward at God’s pace, where the full story can be uncovered and proper learning, lament and repentance can take place.

So far the process has been exceedingly difficult. TMH has lost all its senior leadership, as well as three Overseers and some regional pastors. One deeply concerned middle-aged male attendee wrote to me: “TMH might turn in on itself. It’s not uncommon once the charismatic glue is gone. I hope that doesn’t happen . . . but there are just too many issues to juggle, too many voices chiming in, and with all the uncertainty the anxiety rises and relationships are stretched to the breaking point.”

The Meeting House fashioned itself to minister to people who struggled with spiritual questions, while also drawing in many Christians who were bruised by their previous congregations. The anti-religion messaging at TMH with the promise of freedom from legalistic rules and rituals and a focus on Jesus and relationship was a welcome balm to them.

“I was a complete burnout,” said Joanne (not her real name), a recent Oakville site attendee with a graduate degree, having expended herself at a local church. “I carry evangelical wounds.” Joanne reveled in the “the pure luxury of anonymity” that TMH offered in the midst of her exhaustion. While she enjoyed Cavey, it was the recent addition of teaching co-pastor Danielle Strickland that drew her.

Joanne said she felt betrayed and sad at these “most disgusting workings behind church doors.” She offered a list of other male pastor abusers from recent headlines. Yet the #MeToo movement “has been welcome in some ways” as “male leadership is being held to account” and “God is bringing a lot of stink to the surface,” she added. “We’re all the walking wounded now. Unsure. In need. Again, evangelical gut-punched.”

Another highly educated attendee, “Hans,” drifted away from TMH during covid, but has stayed close to his friends, mostly fellow attendees. He says there is a mix of reactions among them – some assessing this as a local failure and not part of their faith, while others see it as evidence of the failure of Christianity itself and thus the end of their faith. For Hans himself, it’s evidence of something he always ironically felt deep inside as he attended the church: that megachurches themselves are the problem.

Meeting House Town Hall meeting online August 14. Pastor Bokma speaking.

Rise and Fall

“Diego” is a 40-something white collar worker in Hamilton who was intensely involved in TMH. “My wife and I are doing a lot of personal processing,” he reports. They switched to another church just before the scandal broke, having an intuition that something wasn’t quite right. He was listening to the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast from Christianity Today, and while he always knew the personality of Mars Hill was a foil for TMH (Mars Hill was hierarchical, masculine, black-and-white, while TMH was about asking questions and peace-making) he is now surprised how similar the megachurches were in both structure and direction: focused on big venues, exponential growth, and a centralized franchise experience at every regional site.

The way Diego wrote suggested he was making a conscious effort not to be cynical. He believes the Overseers have been responding “bravely in a very difficult situation.” They showed they are listening by shifting to a more precise definition of clergy sexual abuse after the second investigation. He is dismayed by all the pain he sees around him. “I’d be sad if the wider church doesn’t learn anything from the particular sins and failings of TMH. I admire the Meeting House for now facing these sins and failings as a community and I hope they will be able to survive and grow.”

These are just a few stories, but it is the collective momentum of thousands of these stories that will determine the future of TMH.

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

Leave a Reply

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