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A sprawling multimillion-dollar church organisation is facing a string of misconduct allegations from former members.
Churchgoers who interned as part of a ministry course and volunteered their services claim they felt used, underappreciated, overworked and burned out by the church.
Independent journalist David Farrier, today's guest on the Front Page podcast, has been investigating these issues and reporting the accounts of congregation members on his Webworm blog.
Follow the Front Page podcast here.
"For the last six months, I've been hearing from members of Arise saying: 'Look, this church has a darker side and there are people being spat out on the other side that have really been broken by what's gone on,'" Farrier says.
Farrier says it's important not to confuse this with a tiny church group that meets over the weekends to worship.
He says the church has over 10,000 members, spread over 12 campuses across New Zealand. The members are encouraged to tithe, which entails a donation of 10 per cent of your salary to the church.
"It's a multimillion-dollar business. It isn't a small church service on a Sunday. This is like every Sunday putting on a big show, with LCD screens, a whole music team, lights, cameras and everything. It's big business and they won't want this thing to fall over."
Doing that requires an enormous amount of effort, and at least some of the weight of that responsibility fell on the interns working within the organisation.
The personal stories being shared with Farrier paint a troubling picture of people being pushed to breaking point at the church.
21 Apr, 2022 06:00 PMQuick Read
"They have an internship programme that you pay $2500 to do. Interns get a certificate and a small qualification at the end of it, but they are pushed to the extreme. They're working incredibly long hours, while also tithing 10 per cent of their salaries.
"I spoke to an incredible number of people who were just burned out. Some became suicidal."
Farrier says that responsibilities included personal services for the pastors, such as babysitting, chauffeur driving and gardening.
"It's deeply unusual," says Farrier.
The journalist says that it isn't an accident that so many young people are drawn into this specific church.
"A big part of Arise's success is planting new churches in university towns," he says.
"University students are looking for belonging and they're looking for family, and a church offers that to them. It will draw them in with prizes or really slickly made music and performances.
"And then once you're in, the pressure comes. It's spiritual pressure but also other types of pressure. And suddenly you're tithing 10 per cent of your income as a student. And you're sort of trapped in this system that can be incredibly hard to escape."
After Farrier's earlier reports, Arise church founding pastor John Cameron said in a statement that he was broken and devastated after students of the Ministry School alleged they were overworked and overwhelmed.
Arise Church has said it would conduct an independent review of the culture of the church.
John Cameron and his brother Brent have also resigned from their roles on the Arise Church board, but Farrier notes this doesn't mean their involvement has ended.
"When John Cameron put out a press release saying he is stepping aside I assumed he had resigned, but Arise then put out another statement saying he's merely stepping aside and he's still a member of the Arise family," says Farrier.
"So, amid all of these allegations and investigations still going on, John Cameron is still very much involved."
Farrier says that it has taken long for these experiences to come to light because the people who leave the church often feel isolated.
"They've lost their whole church family. They think they're alone in it. They don't know that this is happening to multiple other people with the business."
Farrier says that he currently has more than 500 pages of email correspondence with people who have been associated with the church, and he is currently working on how best to tell more of their stories.
"What I've written so far is the tip of the iceberg. There's so much there. I just need to figure out how to be able to accurately report it in a way that does justice to the people talking about this stuff."
The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald, available to listen to every weekday from 5am.
You can follow the podcast at nzherald.co.nz, iHeartRadio, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
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