Statement from the Church-on-Main elders regarding the ministry of John and Anne Smyth at Church-on-Main
The events and media reports over the last 11 days have brought us to the conclusion that we as elders need to make you aware of the further detail regarding the ministry and leadership role played by John and Anne Smyth here at Church-on-Main. Our desire in this statement is not to cause any unnecessary harm to any individual or group, but on the contrary, we have come to the conclusion that us presenting the facts of our history with John and Anne as we see them is now in the best interest of all parties involved.
In 2013, after a time of visiting Sunday services, John and Anne communicated to the Church-on-Main elders that they would like to join the Church. At the time, we, as elders, were aware that while in Zimbabwe there were some people who were unhappy with John’s ministry which took place at the Zambesi Holiday Camps. To follow up on these reports we spoke to two other leading pastors in the city of Cape Town as well as one of our former elders who led a church in Zimbabwe during the years of John’s ministry there. These conversations (along with the fact that at the time it appeared to us that John had a high degree of respect among the Christian community) led us to conclude there was no reason to prevent John and Anne from joining our church and to start a journey of building a trusting relationship with us as elders of the church. We also, at the time, questioned John about the issues raised about his ministry while in Zimbabwe, and John was of the opinion that jealousy towards his ministry was the reason for those bad reports. At this stage, we as elders had no knowledge whatsoever of any allegations of any kind against John regarding the time that he and Anne had lived in the UK.
After a period of being involved in the Church-on-Main community John and Anne were released as leaders in the church for their role of counseling people and holding small discipleship group forums.
For the most part it appeared to us that John and Anne have been loved and respected by those they have ministered to, both in and outside of Church-on-Main while in Cape Town.
On the evening of 6 September 2016, one of our elders received a report that some of our congregants had raised worrying concerns regarding John Smyth. The next morning, 7 September 2016, we as elders met to discuss these reports.
We felt that the issues raised were of a severe enough nature so as to require us, as elders, to speak to these members directly and immediately. This we were able to do the next day, 8 September 2016, when we as elders met individually with these members.
At this time we were also made aware for the first time that there had been a court case in Zimbabwe relating to John’s ministry at Zambesi Holiday camps.
It is worth noting that at all times, including now, we were (and are) aware that many people have not had any uncomfortable moments with John and Anne. Furthermore, that there are a fair amount of people, who are a part of Church-on-Main, who consider their discipleship walk with John and Anne to have been instrumental in their spiritual growth with Christ.
Once we had spoken to the members concerned, we took time to meet, as elders, and discuss what we had been told.
- From what had been told to us, we concluded two things overall:
- That there had been no inappropriate physical contact nor had there been any criminal acts.
- That certain parts of John’s discipleship practice were, however, in our opinion, pastorally unwise. Specifically:
- His practice of meeting young men at a well know Cape Town sports club that began with a game of squash, was followed by a shower in a common shower, then lunch over which we were told John would make generally unsolicited enquiries about the young men’s experience of pornography, masturbation and other sexual matters.
- Offering his advice regarding sexual matters that left the person feeling uncomfortable. Mostly this seems to have occurred on John’s first meeting with the young men we spoke with.
- A heavy-handed style of leadership which was described to us in a way where John became upset with individuals when they failed to meet up to his suggested commitment towards his meetings and forums.
On 9 September 2016 we also spoke via phone with a gentlemen who had attended a Zambesi Holiday camp as a young man in the early 1990s. This man explained to us his bad experiences on that particular camp. On 11 September 2016 the father of this gentlemen emailed us and mentioned that he knew of a case against John, while John was living in the UK.
As a result of these investigations in September 2016 this was the first time we as an eldership team heard of anything at all relating to issues with John’s ministry in the UK.
On the 15th of September 2016 Andrew Thomson spoke with John raising our concerns regarding his pastoral practice. We also took this moment to ask John why he had never told us about the court case in Zimbabwe. We also asked John if there was anything regarding his time in the UK, prior to him coming out to Zimbabwe, that we should be aware of. To these concerns John stated that the case in Zimbabwe had been brought by himself to the Supreme Court in order to clear his name of what he viewed as malicious rumors and unfair accusation swirling at the time. He also led Andrew to believe that there was nothing in his past in the UK that we needed to know about. John and Andrew agreed that John should take time to talk with Anne before responding to the concerns that we had raised with him about his pastoral practice. John and Anne then went on holiday out of the country.
On 9 October 2016 John replied to Andrew by email. John said that he would undertake to work with us, but also defended his practice in a way where we felt he did not understand the concerns we had raised. He also made new accusations of us as leaders, calling into question our ability to deal with confrontational issues and attacking one elder in particular in a serious fashion.
John also stated in his email that he and Anne were, as a result of us raising our concerns with them, in need of taking time out from Church-on-Main meetings. They indicated that they would be hosting their family for a large part of the summer and thus would be extending this break until early 2017, in all likelihood.
Andrew immediately contacted John and subsequently asked numerous times to meet face to face with John. Andrew asked John if he wanted to retract his accusations before bringing them to the attention of the other elders. John declined to meet and did not retract his email.
The elders then took time to discuss what steps should be taken next. We all agreed that our only option was to send a reply email to John. This was proof-read by the whole eldership team and sent to John on 1 November 2016. By now John and Anne had pulled away from most Church-on-Main meetings and forums.
On 3 November 2016 John replied to us by email, thanking us for our lengthy reply. However, his reply did not resolve any of the concerns we had raised. John and Anne also remained persistent in their decision not to meet with us face to face; in particular, John strongly requested that we do not attempt to contact him or Anne until they felt that their sabbatical was over.
This impasse continued through November. Over this time the elders were wrestling with what precisely to do next with the situation. Finally, on 30 November 2016, we reached the conclusion as elders that further progress to resolving our concerns with John and Anne was not immediately possible while they remained unprepared to meet and resolve the concerns we had raised. Given that our concerns remained unresolved and their resistance in meeting with us, we felt that we could no longer endorse John and Anne Smyth as leaders, in any capacity, in Church-on-Main.
We communicated this to John and Anne in an email which we sent to them on 2 December 2016. In it, we made it clear that:
• We were removing them from their roles as leaders at Church-on-Main.
• That we continued to have unresolved issues and concerns about John’s pastoral practice.
• That we would need to meet face to face with them before any further decisions that altered this state of affairs could be made.
John replied to our email on 5 December 2016, reiterating his and Anne’s desire not to meet with us, and once again calling into question our ability as elders to lead the church in a satisfactory manner.
On Monday 30 January 2017 Andrew received a message from John requesting him to urgently meet John at his home in Bergvliet.
At this meeting John revealed to Andrew that he had received an email on the weekend outlining what was going to be aired on Channel 4 in the UK in the coming week. This was the first time any elder at Church-on-Main was made aware of the nature and the gravity of the allegations about John’s ministry in the UK. Present at this meeting was a member of the NGO that John led at the time. John was requesting that Andrew as his pastor would call the UK and vouch for him saying that he was in good standing in the church community. At this point Andrew said this was not possible as John was currently suspended from leadership and that there were unresolved issues between John and the elders of Church-on-Main.
We as elders then met on Tuesday evening 31 January 2016 and agreed that we needed to meet with John. He and Anne were now making themselves available to meet with us. On Wednesday 1 February 2017 Mark Agar and Andrew met with John and Anne. In this meeting we discussed mostly the issues relating to Church-on-Main; these issues remain unresolved. We did also speak about the accusations we were now aware of coming out of the UK. Our council to John was to fly immediately back to the UK and face up to any consequences of any potential misconduct.
In our meeting John did acknowledge that something of a serious nature had taken place in the UK and that he did regret certain occurrences from his past. John also stated that in his opinion many of the allegations from the UK were inaccurate and grossly exaggerated. He told us he had been given counsel not to talk about what had happened in his past and he also disputed that Andrew had previously asked him directly about his past in the UK (in the meeting that took place on 15 September 2016).
On Thursday 2 February 2017 when the news of potential serious misconduct broke in the media, Andrew immediately again, via text message and Whatsapp, encouraged John to fly back to the UK in order to face these allegations and work with the UK police and justice system. On Saturday 4 February 2017 we met as elders and via email again encouraged John to fly back to the UK; we also made it clear that we now have further unresolved issues with his ministry and that they should not attend any Church-on-Main meetings or forums. We have not had any personal contact with John since Wednesday 2 February 2017.
Regarding whether we as elders have a duty to report anything to civil authorities, as yet nothing has come to light that is criminal, as best we can ascertain. Subsequent to our meetings with the Church-on-Main members in September 2016 we have remained in contact with them regarding the issues raised and shared with them that if they feel anything they experienced is of a criminal nature that they should approach the civil authorities to report these incidences.
We have been deeply troubled by the allegations coming from the UK regarding John and our hearts and prayers go out to anyone who has experienced suffering in this regard. If our having had John as a leader of a discipleship group or his role in any form of ministry has led to hurt or risk to anyone, or to bringing the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ into disrepute in any way, for this we apologise.
The COM Elders
6 February 2017
Announcement regarding John Smyth made
5th February 2017
We are so sorry that we find ourselves in this difficult position regarding John and Anne Smyth.
On Wednesday night we announced at the All Leaders forum that they are provisionally, and by mutual agreement, suspended from holding any position of leadership in Church-on-Main until we resolve the matters that we are working through with them.
Presently John and Anne are on a voluntary break from church meetings and as of yesterday we have requested that they continue to not attend any Church-on-Main meetings or forums during the season that we work through this all with them.
Regarding care for them in this season, we have made the following available to them:
Firstly, we have availed ourselves as elders. Secondly, we have offered professional counselling to be set up by us, or for us to approach another senior pastor in the City to meet with them, should they choose.
Starting from Thursday this past week allegations of terrible misconduct by John Smyth in the UK in the past have been released by various media sources in the UK and in South Africa. Our counsel to John was and remains to fly to England to present himself for whatever consequences he could face, if any. And admit, if necessary, to any accusation that holds substance and apologise asking for forgiveness and mercy. Romans 13 v1-7 calls us as believers to be submissive to governing authorities.
We are deeply concerned for the health and well-being of our members. As a fair number of people from Church-on-Main, as well as other churches, have had moments of counselling and group discipleship with John, we are availing ourselves should anyone feel the need to discuss the nature of, or content of their experience of such times. Anything you bring to us will be treated in strict confidence. Similarly if you think there is someone who you would like to prompt us to follow up with in this regard, please feel free to do so.
As our Sunday celebration meeting is attended by many visitors, with all welcome, we have chosen to set up a forum on Wednesday night at 7:30 pm, sharp, to be hosted at “The Mill” in Wynberg. This meeting will be open to members of Church-on-Main only. At this meeting you will be able to ask any questions you may have relating to our position as the elders relating to John and Anne Smyth and we hope to be able to answer them.
If our having had John as a leader of a discipleship group or his role in any form of ministry has lead to hurt or risk to anyone, or to bringing the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ into disrepute in any way for this we apologize.
The COM Elders