Gosh I love you, Worms. The comments under last week’s Satanic Panic piece were illuminating and mind-blowing. A bunch of readers had direct experiences with the satanic panic, that showed how prevalent that shit got in society. And still is. Thanks to all who shared their stories.
It’s been a while since we talked about Arise megachurch, so I figured it was time for an update. I’ve recorded this newsletter as a podcast as well, for those that like to listen instead of read.
Last week, New Zealand media reported the Arise’s Auckland campus would be shutting down: “Controversial mega-church Arise shuts doors in Auckland, starts anew” reported Newshub’s Caitlin Rawling.
In short, long term Arise pastors Ben and Anna Carroll are quitting Arise. No, they’re not retiring. They’re taking the same terrible ideas, and the same congregation, and slapping a new brand on it.
It’s what these churches do when they face controversy.
Ben Carroll is the one who got on stage months ago and “honoured” John Cameron, the disgraced former leader of Arise.
It was crickets from Arise itself, and only after multiple media reports did the church decide to update its website with a press release that Arise Auckland was goneburgers.
As for John and Gillian Cameron? They’re selling their house and leaving for Australia, where they will be welcomed with open arms by a cookie-cutter Australian megachurch. They all protect each other.
With Arise’s Auckland campus dead, the other Arise churches around New Zealand limp on.
The Wellington campus is effectively temporarily shut, and while Ray and Emma Moore are still pastors, their congregation — what’s left of it — are all meeting at the Arise Centre with those from the Hutt Valley Campus until at least February. Clearly with so many people leaving, they can’t fill the Michael Fowler Centre anymore.
Their social media paints a portrait of happy families, but inside the leadership and board is split. Split between adoration and worship of John, or those that are attempting to put their faith in other leaders.
Things certainly didn’t work out so well for Charlotte Cummings, the counsellor engaged by Arise to lead the independent review.
She’s been left sitting with tens of thousands of dollars in legal bills, thanks to legal action taken against her by various members of Arise. Webworm understands Cummings has also had to deal with a barrage of hate mail from John Cameron’s supporters — including Arise staff.
In the midst of all this, I became curious what Arise leaders, and the board, thought of me during this entire process. Since I started writing about them in April of last year.
I am not a mindreader, so I decided to do the next best thing: I made a Privacy Act request, asking for all Arise emails, texts and electronic correspondence mentioning “Webworm” or “David Farrier.”
It’s a good little trick you can with any organisation, business or government agency in New Zealand.
And so I asked Arise to hand over what they had on me, internally.
Let’s take a look.
Arise & Me: Not a Love Story
I’d first heard about Arise church mistreating interns and staff about halfway through 2021, so I’d started to do some gentle sniffing around, looking for leads.
Apparently Arise leadership had gotten wind of this, and so this email was penned on October 28, 2021.
As with all the internal correspondence you’re about to see, who it’s sent to is redacted, as is who sent it. It’s fair to say that most of these emails are probably between Arise staff using “@arisechurch.com” email addresses.
The next day, Arise had done some detective work, AKA “Googling”. They’d read my pieces about City Impact becoming increasingly deranged and conspiratorial-minded and decided “This guy just doesn’t like anything Christian.”
Because they’d seen Dark Tourist, they seem sort of confused about what I might be working on: TV show? Documentary? Article? Podcast?
The same day, a flurry of other emails were sent between staff. What staff? No idea. All names are redacted for privacy purposes.
They appear to have decided I was behind a series of Reddit posts (I wasn’t). They also say that they “need to begin pro-active messaging around what we are doing.”
This is all happening about five months before my first report into Arise:
What did they replace their weekly email with? No idea. What followed was all redacted.
I could speculate what it said, like Arise speculated I was behind Reddit posts and hate “anything Christian” — but I don’t really do speculation. I’ll leave speculation to this megachurch.
The communications then jump to April 4 — when my first piece was published. There’s a volley of texts, the first one starting with a merry “Hey guys!”
Then the emails are exchanged, mainly with concern over who’s reading Webworm:
“in 9 hours its already had 44 comments an 102 likes.”
“you are the 2nd person to bring that to my attention. I appreciate you raising it.”
“what do you think of it and why didn’t the church respond to to Farriers questions and tell its side of the story including the good things it does?”
“I don’t know why. I don’t think if they had that Farrier would have changed what he had written.”
The first piece I did was mostly about the mistreatment of volunteers — which is where we see Arise’s attitude of “but wait, what about those other people?” first, well, arise:
“Just a note to say that I read David Farrier’s piece and I was disappointed in its quality. It felt like a hit-piece whose newsworthiness was only the recent airing of Disney’s documentary on Hillsong. I wonder if he is doing similar pieces on other denominations or charities that also rely strongly on volunteers?”
They go on and on — almost all of it redacted. If I didn’t know better I’d think I’d done a privacy request on a spy agency, not a church:
Why so much censorship? Well, according to Arise’s privacy officer — who only ever signed off as “Brad” — anything censored fell under two pieces of the Privacy Act: sections s53(b)(i) and s53(d). That means anything blacked out is supposedly information involving “the unwarranted disclosure of the affairs of another individual”, or any “legally privileged emails”.
I know this is bullshit and they’ve painted with a much wider brush, because some of the stuff redacted is already public.
While most of the material I received was censored, the general feeling during April this year was that if Arise just put their head down and ignored things, it would all just blow over.
“The overwhelming majority of people outside of ARISE are not reading David Farrier’s blog (many have never heard of him), have never heard of ARISE (and don’t care), and are not glued to social media.
The overwhelming majority of people inside ARISE are also not reading his blog and know nothing about this article. They love ARISE and wouldn’t believe this negativity even if they did hear it because they trust you. So before I go further I hope we can land at the place where we accept that yes, some people have read this, a few at the church will have questions, but these represent a very small percentage of people and certainty nothing to worry about.”
“I do not believe that most people who know ARISE believe David Farrier. Nor do I think his blog is read by millions.”
“Nor do I think his blog is read by millions.” Sweet burn. Ouch.
There are lots of emails that make me grimace. This one, two days after my first article, is telling: It’s not about creating change in order to protect people — it’s about creating change to avoid accusations:
“Taking the list of points David Farrier raises and going through them to make sure we are improving ARISE. Making sure that in the future we are not creating an ideal environment for accusation.”
As I published more stories, there were more emails.
Hundreds of pages of emails.
Most of them are redacted. The messaging that isn’t redacted is mostly flat-out denial:
“The blog post you refer to doesn’t reflect ARISE Church today.”
“We have a blogger who hates churches.”
“Firstly I suggest we don’t approach this with any thought as to David Farrier’s blog or the posts. He has an agenda.”
In a series of texts happening around the same time, there’s an insinuation I am paying people to tell me stories:
Perhaps, at an institution obsessed with money, this should come as no surprise. To be clear: I never pay anyone to tell me their stories.
The texts are also interesting in that they’re peppered with jokes and “haha” tapbacks. Considering the accusations being discussed, this is troubling. And telling.
By April 11, we get some background to that hodgepodge nightmare of an email I received from John Cameron about my original allegations. You know the one — the one in different fonts, colours and sizes. The only time John ever responded to me.
At one point, there’s an argument over whether to whisper Arise as “Arise” or scream it like “ARISE”:
“lets not always put Arise in capitals for this. Makes it look like Farrier would want it to.”
More pages of blacked out text. Pages and pages.
Then a moment of more unedited content — someone worried that this story might, God forbid, be spreading. They seem annoyed at Arise’s stance of ignoring me. At this point Arise had given comment to student magazine Critic — and they posit that perhaps ignoring me is not the best idea:
“I see now the student media is running stories on ARISE Church now, read by the very group you get to fill many seats in your services.
The Church had answered student media questions but at the same time not provided a response to David Farrier. Why not?
Do you want this story to go on One News next? I don’t.”
Other emails go back to Arise’s general line of talking about me like I’m some kind of feral animal.
“Be careful of feeding the beast.”
Overall, church staff agree to ignore any concerns, and keep preaching (to members, who will tithe that day):
After the preaching, some prayed — for me. “Was hard” one said of the task, noting their reason for biting down and just doing it: “Pray for your enemies and all that.”
Along the way, little glimmers of logic appear. Like this person, who while not exactly a “fan”, was bold enough to suggest that perhaps Arise’s treatment of people was not all that great.
“I read David Farrier’s article and it broke my heart. I am no fan of David’s journalism generally — he has a very anti-faith agenda and so large parts of the article I took with a large grain of salt. Reading the personal experience of previous interns, however, was devastating.”
I write more. I write about rape allegations being swept under the carpet at Arise. It’s greeted with a “Hey mate.”
A crisis meeting is called. Names are sent around to attend. All redacted.
There’s frustration amongst leadership who’ve been told not to read Webworm. It makes it hard for them to answer questions from the congregation they’re meant to be leading.
“It’s very difficult to not go and read David Farrier’s blog post because we are interfacing with our people who are reading it.”
There is talk about whether to respond to me or not. The Arise board is heavily involved now, and it appears everyone is a bit sick of all my questions. I did email them a lot.
“There is a unity and resolve in this team that David Farrier cannot comprehend and clearly misunderstands.”
Their main technique appears to be “keeping ahead of the narrative”:
“From Farrier’s communications current staff are leaking information, this means that we need external statements like the above ready to go as soon as decisions are communicated internally, to get ahead of the narrative online.”
“I am sure he will twist this but it is time to communicate through our own channels.”
When a minister from another church suggests there could be real problems at Arise, and to perhaps engage with Webworm, they agree to disagree:
“I personally don’t think we will be giving the story oxygen by addressing things — i would like to think we can close some of it down — David Farrier will continue to give it all the oxygen it needs, especially if he has us all on the back foot.
I would like to think that we would be seen to be a united front and will not have a fellow minister dragged through the mud of the media like that.”
“[We] will not have a fellow minister dragged through the mud of the media like that.” One giant circle jerk.
Image is everything. It’s all Arise cares about. Because image = more tithed cash. Oh yeah, someone thinks I am rich at this point:
I am not worth $16 million. Not even $15,938,317, which was the total income Arise received, according to its most recent annual financial statement.
By April 26, Arise staff, leaders, and the Board appear to make a blanket agreement to never engage with me again:
“Further to my last email, I confirm we will not be engaging with DF directly, except to reinforce the independence process that is underway. (what we have said before).”
For them, this stance is badge of honour.
“David Farrier is accusing the board of ignoring him and I don’t mind that accusation.”
They take to updating their website with press releases only during the New Zealand evening — the media dead-zone in Aotearoa. They know they won’t get pickup.
In amongst more redacted texts — pages and pages — truths I will never know:
By May, as my pieces continued, and I didn’t “get wrecked”, the church starts expressing concern for their own staff. While it’s also navel-gazing and missing the real victims, at least they’re considering their staff’s feelings, I guess?
“Every campus pastor right now is struggling – trying to explain what they themselves don’t know. Having emotionally taxing conversations every day.”
Pages and pages. On and on. There appears to be a witch-hunt for those leaking to me:
Catch the niece! Burn her at the stake!
There is also an ongoing discussion about what is best for the future of the church. They all seem very confused about how to make change, adamant my reporting can’t be factored into anything.
They’re living in a dream world.
“While some have been hurt — there MUST be context within this on who we are as a church. A church that deeply loves God and people. The mistakes made are NOT a reflection of who we are – but they are mistakes, and we need to have a process of healing, some repentance, and change. But, NOT dictated by, or reacting to Farrier through fear (or anyone else).”
“Not subject to the public vote or opinion outside of Arise (media pressure or David Farrier) – stuff him!”
“Stuff him” is quite harsh language in Christian circles.
There is a lot of chat about what is going in the Pathfinding report — yes, we’ve jumped months in advance — but it’s mostly pages and pages of black. There is a moment where someone gets very angry I am mentioned by name in the report — a report that would not exist without Webworm:
For an independent review, it’s a bit weird seeing someone from Arise screaming “REMOVE THIS”.
We jump forward in time, again. Redactions, redactions.
Page and pages.
On August 16, I publish the Pathfinding report that had been leaked to me by a number of sources.
It’s panic stations.
And then just a lot of this:
Line after line.
Pages and pages of black.
On and on.
And perhaps that void of nothing in these redacted emails is a fitting reflection of what Arise really is.
Except when it comes to mentioning victims. Because victims are always mentioned in an offhanded kind of way.
A joke. Couched between lolz and emojis. Always minimised, forever worthless in the eyes of the church.
You can share this Webworm using this link: www.webworm.co/p/farriercangetwrecked.
The Webworm, Arise! live event set to take place on November 3 sold out in two days! If you missed out, I will be recording it in podcast form for paying Webworm supporters. This is a thankyou for the support you give me and Webworm — you keep the lights on.