Despite abuse problems, The Meeting House church isn't doing enough to help victims
A victim's advocate says the church is now "vetting the referrals" instead of sending them directly to her
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Story time: In 2007, around the time I wrote I Sold My Soul on eBay, I was asked by a handful of publishers if I would provide blurbs for books written by “hip” Christian pastors who were trying to reach people who didn’t necessarily love church.
Would I support those efforts today? Probably not. But at the time, I appreciated what some of those pastors were doing, trying to wrest Christianity away from the more fundamentalist and political preachers, making it more loving and less hateful. One of those books was written by Bruxy Cavey, who became Ontario’s “most influential pastor” in due time.
Cavey was the founder of The Meeting House, which billed itself as “a church for people who aren’t into church”—which is the theological equivalent of girls saying they’re not like other girls—and was affiliated with the Be In Christ Church of Canada, an anabaptist denomination. It appealed to a lot of people tired of traditional churches, including young people, and rapidly became one of the largest vessels in Ontario for spreading Christianity.
In 2021, all that came crashing down.
After allegations of abuse, Cavey went on a leave of absence. The following March, Cavey confessed to an “adulterous relationship.” That phrasing actually sanitized the much more serious allegations of sexual abuse by a woman “under his pastoral counsel” (according to Christianity Today). The victim responded in a statement, “This for me was *NOT* an extra marital relationship or affair, it was a devastating twisting of pastoral care into sexual abuse.”
Cavey quickly resigned from the church, and The Meeting House hired a “victim advocate,” Melodie Bissell, to handle any additional allegations. (More on her in a bit.)
The situation got much worse in the months to follow.
Cavey was soon charged with sexual assault by local law enforcement. Police added that “there may be multiple victims.”
By August of 2022, the church said it had “substantiated” two claims of sexual abuse and another case of sexual misconduct against Cavey. In one case, they admitted, "the alleged victim was underage.”
As things stand right now, Cavey is on the verge of going to trial. (He maintains his innocence and denies the criminal charges.) Additional charges of sexual assault were filed against him as recently as last month. Bissell said there were ultimately 38 allegations of sexual misconduct against Cavey and three other pastors he worked with in the time she spent with the church. The incidents included many that occurred long before she stepped into that role, meaning it was only when she was in that position that some alleged victims came forward with their stories.
Not that any of this has stopped Cavey from going on a redemption tour anyway.
“Hello friends, welcome to my therapy,” he wrote for the site named The Ghost of 1820. “My name is Bruxy . . . and I’m a mess. But I am also discovering that suffering, especially from self-inflicted wounds, can be a good teacher, and I am learning so much.”
(In case you’re wondering, yes, he will gladly accept donations to his new ministry.)
Throughout this entire ordeal, the church itself has written this off as the behavior of a few bad eggs. They’re gone now, so members should stay! They were bad! We’re still good! We even hired an independent contractor to handle any other potential allegations! We even created a system to maintain accountability!
Well. About that.
Melodie Bissell, the woman who was hired as an advocate for victims, is no longer working with the church. The reason she left last year, she now tells the CBC, is because the church’s new policies are actually making it harder for victims to come forward.
Specifically, if victims want to report possible allegations of abuse, the church makes them go through someone else first—someone connected to their denomination—before certain complaints are forwarded along to Bissell.
"I raised the concern that I felt it wasn't independent and they were vetting the referrals," Bissell told CBC Hamilton.
To that end, a victim’s advocacy page the church set up on its website has since been taken down, replaced by a different page that says all complaints will be directed to their “independent complaint intake partner, Linda Lambert.”
Nowhere on that page does it mention that Lambert is a “pastoral counsellor” affiliated with the Be In Christ church.
[The Meeting House interim senior director Matt] Miles said the church hasn't received any referrals or submissions since switching from having a victim's advocate to the complaint intake partner in April 2023.
Bissell said while there were fewer complaints compared to when she started, she was receiving complaints up until the end of her time in the victim's advocate role.
If that timeline is accurate, that means victims were contacting Bissell… up until the time she left and got replaced by someone in-house, at which point the pipeline was effectively closed.
If someone works up the courage to report a potential sexual abuse allegation by church leaders, they need to have assurance that their claims will be taken seriously. That’s almost never going to happen if those claims have to first go through a church-sponsored filter.
The lack of complaints may be good news for the church, but it doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t reasons to complain. It could mean victims no longer feel safe telling someone what a church leader did to them. If those concerns don’t rise to criminal behavior, then reporting those actions through the church’s website may be the only option they have to stop it from happening in the future.
The concern from Bissell makes sense. Why go to HR if the department exists to safeguard the church and not the people potentially harmed by the church? As one (actual) victim’s advocate told the CBC, there’s no reason to assume that person is acting in the victim’s best interests. When The Walrus reported on the church last year, many current and former members “pointed to a culture of denial and gaslighting that enabled misconduct and that swept long-standing problems, even criminal ones, under the rug.”
It’s a clear sign that the problem at The Meeting House wasn’t limited to its leader or some of its pastors. The entire church is the problem. That also means the people who still attend that church, and who grant it legitimacy, and who give it money are making it clear that they don’t give a damn about abuse victims either.