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Mike Pilavachi preaches during a Soul Survivor rally.- PHOTO

By Douglas LeBlanc
May 24, 2023

For most of the years since his ordination as a priest in 2012, the Rev. Canon Mike Pilavachi was known for his exotic shirts, advocacy of charismatic worship, and attracting up to 30,000 participants to the youth rallies of his Soul Survivor ministry.

In 2020, he was among 32 people receiving Lambeth Awards from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Pilavachi’s citation praised his “outstanding contribution to evangelism and discipleship amongst young people in the United Kingdom.”

Earlier in the year, he had been appointed to the Order of the British Empire in the New Year’s Honours List, also “for services to young people.”

In his preaching, the 65-year-old bachelor encouraged his young audiences to resist the lure of premarital sex, which he sometimes compared to fighting the persistent impulse to eat a chocolate cake.

But away from the speaking platform, according to multiple people who have spoken with the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team and with The Telegraph, Pilavachi found overly hands-on ways of interacting with young male interns. They have mentioned involuntary wrestling sessions lasting about 20 minutes, followed by full-body massages with oils and dim lighting, and of being straddled by Pilavachi during these rituals.

Further, reports have said, his interest in young men was so clear to some leaders of Soul Survivor that they urged him to form friendships more suited to his age.

Gabriella Swerling of The Telegraph wrote on May 1 of “young, athletic, attractive men, usually around 18 to 21, from broken homes or with traumatic childhoods who were preyed upon and made to feel ‘special’ by their celibate vicar who they say led them to believe he held the key to their careers, happiness and futures.”

Pilavchi had “stepped back from ministry” when the accusations first arose in late April, but was formally suspended by Soul Survivor pending further investigation on May 20.

When it first announced accusations, the safeguarding team stressed that they were not recent and that Pilavachi was not subject to criminal charges.

Soul Survivor later said it removed such “non-recent” language because it learned from the investigating team “that allegations about recent matters have come to light. Whilst it does not appear these recent allegations include physical contact, they are no less significant because of that.”

Most church statements in response to Pilavachi’s case have been brief, saying that the investigation does not permit more than expressing grief at these developments and concern for anyone who was mistreated.

“I am deeply conscious of the impact that reports concerning Soul Survivor and Mike Pilavachi continue to have on many people,” Archbishop Justin Welby said on May 16. “The investigation, which is being led by safeguarding professionals from the National Safeguarding Team and the Diocese of St. Albans, is independent from Soul Survivor and has my full support. The investigation is prioritizing the wellbeing of everyone concerned, and I am confident they are treating all who are involved in the investigation and everything that has been shared with the utmost care and sensitivity. Access to counselling is available and support is being offered to all concerned.”

He added: “I cannot comment any further at this stage while the investigation is ongoing, but I know how profoundly painful this is. I would like to assure anyone who has been affected by this situation of my ongoing prayers. For some that will be from their direct involvement, for others this is bringing to the surface past experiences from their own lives. Please continue to support and pray for one another, as we remind each other of the love of Christ which never fails.”

The Rev. Andy Croft, who was one of Pilavachi’s interns and was ordained one year after him, became Soul Survivor’s interim leader during Pilavachi’s break. He was coauthor on several of Pilavachi’s many books. Croft is the son of Bishop Steven Croft of the Diocese of Oxford.

“We want you to know that we are especially aware of how much those who have come forward have been affected and of how much they are suffering, as are all who are directly involved in this investigation. I want to say, on behalf of the leadership of the church, how much this grieves us,” Croft read aloud from a statement on April 30.

“I also want to acknowledge that for our church family, this is painful. The trustees and the staff of the church have been cooperating fully and completely with this investigation and will continue to do so. We strongly encourage you that, if you know anything that you think might be relevant, to share it with the national safeguarding team.

“We cannot comment on an ongoing investigation, though we can say that more recent allegations have come to light. We want to underline our commitment to excellence in our present safeguarding practice and culture. We’ll continue to do all that we can to meet the high standards that we are aiming for, and to ensure that Soul Survivor is a safe place for all.”


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