Unlike in the U.S., Canada only has a few megachurches — large congregations of more than 2,000 weekly attendees.
There are only 32, according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, compared to about 1,800 in the U.S. Almost all of them are evangelical.
Four of them are located in Manitoba: Springs, Calvary Temple and Church of the Rock in Winnipeg, and Southland Community Church in Steinbach.
With about 5,000 weekly attenders, one of the largest in Canada is The Meeting House, an Anabaptist/Mennonite congregation which has its main sanctuary in Oakville, Ont., and 19 satellite locations in the province.
Founded in 1985, The Meeting House is part of the Be In Christ denomination (formerly Brethren in Christ).
From 1998 until this year, it was led by teaching pastor Bruxy Cavey. Cavey, author of the best-selling book The End of Religion, positioned it as the church for people who didn’t like religion.
With his long hair, rumpled and unpolished look while preaching — he wore T-shirts and jeans on stage — Cavey presented himself as an anti-celebrity megachurch pastor.
He also had a winsome and self-deprecating demeanour. "I have the face of Jesus and the body of the Buddha," he was fond of saying about his physical appearance.
As Peter Schuurman, author of The Subversive Evangelical: The Ironic Charisma of an Irreligious Megachurch, a book about Cavey and The Meeting House, put it: Cavey "consciously built his image as a foil of brash, angry, right-wing masculinist evangelical leaders, calling himself a beta male. He championed team leadership and egalitarian gender roles and emphasized the ultimate rule of his board. He was, in hindsight, deconstructing evangelicalism for many urban cultural creatives around Toronto."
Within Mennonite and evangelical church circles, Cavey was well-known and highly admired.
So it hit hard for many when, in early March, he was forced to resign from his church following a third-party investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct.
At an online town hall meeting on March 8, Maggie John, chair of the Board of Overseers, told members the investigator "determined that Bruxy had maintained a sexual relationship with the victim, an adult woman, in violation of The Meeting House policy and the Handbook of Faith and Life of Be in Christ Church of Canada."
The investigator also found that the relationship "constituted an abuse of Bruxy’s power and authority as a member of the clergy and amounted to sexual harassment."
John went on to say that "The Meeting House stands against sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and abuse of power and authority."
The inappropriate relationship between Cavey and the victim began in the context of pastoral counselling, John said, and it took place over a number of years. No one in leadership in the church knew about it until the victim came forward late last year, she added.
In addition to resigning, Cavey’s ministerial credentials were removed by the Be In Christ denomination and his sermons were removed from the church’s website.
The victim, who has preferred to be anonymous, said the relationship began in 2011 when she was 23 and Cavey was 46. "I was in crisis and I trusted him," she said in a statement about how she went to him for counselling.
Since Cavey resigned, two more women have come forward with allegations against him. A fourth allegation has been levelled against Tim Day, who served as senior pastor at The Meeting House for 14 years.
As for how this could have happened, The Meeting House has acknowledged it has a workplace culture problem. Requests for additional information or explanations about that culture have gone unanswered.
Experts on clergy sexual abuse say faith groups that want to avoid a similar problem need to make sure they have solid codes of conduct in place for all leaders, along with comprehensive policies for reporting and dealing with abuse.
At the same time, any hint of hero worship and celebrity must be challenged, they say. Cavey may have projected an anti-celebrity persona, but he still had a lot of informal power due to his popularity — he was put on a pedestal by many, inside the church and beyond it.
Acknowledging the role of patriarchy is also important, with women being included at all decision-making tables.
As for The Meeting House itself, its leaders said they are "thankful" for those who have shared their "stories of hurt and abuse … we’re focused on listening to these stories from those who have carried such pain and felt unheard for too long."
In a message in mid-May to members, the church said "this is not an easy path. We are committed to better understanding our past so we can grieve, repent, be healed, and grow to be better stewards of Jesus’s love in the world … Please continue to pray with us for the healing of victims and that God would continue to work in and through our church."
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John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.