Mister Organ Chaos & Megachurch Depravity
An update from the Mister Organ road trip, some background on taking Mister Organ international, and some hideous megachurch updates.
I’m writing from Christchurch, New Zealand — almost at the end of the Mister Organ live Q&A tour of Aotearoa.
My film is out in about 50 cinemas in New Zealand — and I’m doing his tour to help get the word out; to encourage New Zealanders to go to the movies.
The film’s success during the next few weeks will help determine if Mister Organ has more of a life in cinemas here, and also on streaming overseas.
I basically have to prove that people want to watch this thing I made. That’s when the likes of Netflix might take notice. Just because I made Dark Tourist with them, or Tickled at HBO, that doesn’t mean my next thing automatically just finds a home! It’s a process — and trust me, I want to find a way to make his film available to all of you ASAP.
And so I rely in New Zealanders getting a ticket. It’s that simple.
So far, the kiwi cinema release is going good. We are the number one film in independant cinemas, and have had the biggest opening for a kiwi documentary this year!
But that momentum has to keep up — so if you’re reading this in New Zealand, please go to one of the 50 cinemas playing it (they’re listed here). Then tell your friends and family! We’re up against a small indie film called Black Panther 2. I don’t want to be the white guy telling you to see Mister Organ over Black Panther 2 — but please see both!
The most fun I’ve had talking about the film was on a TV segment where Jeremy Wells took me to the Purrs & Beans cat cafe to de-stress. You can watch that here — you may need a VPN if you’re not in New Zealand.
There are three reviews of the film I’d like to share, because they really get it: This piece looks at the underlying dread found in New Zealand. This is a deeply personal reaction to the film. And this one makes references to Aleister Crowley that are absolutely on point.
This is a film where some cinema goers are going in disguise because they’re scared.
And yes — Mister Organ appears to have seen Mister Organ:
The best thing about this Q&A tour? Meeting Webworm readers — quite literally the people that allow me to write Webworm.
Another worm (do we like that term of endearment? I sort of love it!) left this plate for me at the Roxy cinema in Wellington:
Yes, it’s a cat plate that’s been emblazoned with a key quote from the film: “You probably would have been quite a nice person to know if you weren’t such a c—t.”
That phrase was uttered to me by one Mister Organ — but I feel versions of it have probably been uttered by various Webworm subjects as well.
I know leaders of Arise church certainly thought it.
The Megachurches Can’t Hide Anymore
Arise church is crumbling.
Their Wellington branch is shutting down — although this hilarious press release couches the move in language that could make dulled-down church members think everything is fine.
Look at this word salad about staff getting the fuck out of there:
“We also want you to know that this is a season of change and transition; and for some staff, it has meant they are considering their future. We have encouraged all staff to seek God; prayerfully considering what He is asking of them in the days ahead.
This has been an open and honest dialogue and we want the staff team to know they are loved and are trusted to follow what they believe God is saying to them.
In light of that, some have made the decision to move on from their roles on staff and we are committed to blessing people as they step into their next season.”
My film Mister Organ is about getting lost in words — and how stories can be weaved to disorientate and stupor.
I thought of this again when it comes to what’s happening to Arise’s Auckland chapter. That has also shut down — with Arise leader Ben Carroll attempting to start a new church (which will basically be Arise Auckland, but with a new name).
He’s written a blog about his planned relaunch (Arise Auckland will now be renamed “Passion”) which is quite extraordinary — pseudo-spiritual masturbation at a level I’m not sure I’ve seen before.
To be clear, Carroll is launching his new church because Arise’s brand is in ruins. But in the 2763 words he uses to explain why he’s launching this “new” church, the only reference to the Arise scandal — literally the reason he’s been forced to do this — are five words found in parentheses:
Yes, the decision did not come without much prayer, discussion, and wisdom from others. (And also some other factors).
And also some other factors.
These leaders live in an alternative reality where truthful reflection is next to impossible. And that leads to problems.
While Webworm focussed on Arise a lot this year — there are plenty of other megachurches that are also utterly deranged.
Webworm reported on City Impact and their fall into the conspiratorial rabbit hole (leader Peter Mortlock has since quietly shuffled away and now rants — sometimes incoherently — on his Instagram page), and on Hillsong’s secret meetings.
And this weekend the Herald reported on another kiwi megachurch that’s generated a monster:
Sitting in church and watching people congratulating Alessandro Milgate-Vassalini for leading the day’s worship was too much for one teenage girl.
Instead of joining in and lavishing praise on the prominent Curate Church member the girl, who had been keeping a secret, walked outside and broke down in tears.
Within the week, she finally opened up to her parents - describing how she had spiralled into a life of depression, anxiety and self-harm as a result of Milgate-Vassalini’s actions nearly two years ago.
Judge Thomas Ingram said there were aggravating features of Milgate-Vassalini’s offending, including the vulnerability of the victims and the predatory nature of the offending.
Guess what Curate did when it learnt about this offending? They lawyered up and tried to sweep it under the carpet:
The church also tried to suppress its identity and went as far as seeking its own legal representation - a move it was challenged on in court by the mother of one of the girls.
“The members of our church would be horrified if they knew their tithes were being spent on legal advice for our church because of your criminal actions,” she said.
A megachurch hiring lawyers to try and keep something horrific under wraps. Who could ever imagine such a thing.
This is abhorrent and yet also somehow completely expected. Webworm has hundreds of pages of testimony from former megachurch members, including those who attended Curate, that all paint a picture of a broken culture.
“Like so many others, I have been following your series of articles on megachurches with great interest; this world you have been delving into of exploitation, misuse of power and emotional manipulation is sadly all too familiar to me.
I believe you have merely revealed the tip of the iceberg (which doesn’t seem to be a sinister enough metaphor for the situation) and it has left me marvelling at how pentecostal culture still remains so entrenched in New Zealand culture.
I haven’t attended church now for a number of years, but the last church I was a part of was Curate Church in Tauranga.
They are a member of the “Hillsong Family” which is described as a collection of churches who are “like-spirited” and strongly affiliated to Hillsong. Oh good god.
Similar to what other people have shared in your articles, Curate would have a “Vision Sunday” once a year to raise funds. Members are told not to decide on an amount to give prior to attending the service, but instead be “led by the spirit” to see what number God puts on your heart.
When you arrive at the “Vision Sunday” service you are again reminded of this and then, after a lengthy and very emotionally manipulative worship session, encouraged to open up your banking app and give the amount you feel God is telling you to give. The bank account number is on the screen right underneath the worship lyrics telling you how much God loves you to avoid confusion.
You are encouraged to give beyond what seems feasible or realistic and to trust God to help you provide the payments.
They would frequently give generous gifts to members of the community quite publicly — at one service they called a single mother out of the crowd to gift her $1000.
Seemingly generous, but very disturbing when you consider that this same woman and so many others who are in vulnerable positions are manipulated and exploited to give beyond their financial means and then lavished with gifts and flat whites from the coffee machine in the foyer.
Reminds me of the abuse cycle that you will find in abusive relationships.”
After a year of reporting Arise (thanks to paying Webworm members who help cover the legal bills of such reporting) I’ve come to the conclusion that megachurches cannot function without damaging people.
It’s their purpose. It’s their function. And increasingly they’re being called out for it.
PS: For those Webwormer’s with iPhones who’ve joined the Webworm chat on the app — thank you, it’s been a blast so far.
I’ve loved checking in while stuck at airports or stopped in gas stations on this road trip. The responses when I asked to see the pets of Webworm? They made me yelp.
363 worms responded in a thread I can only call delightful.
I just can’t. Thank you.
The app will be available for Android users soon.
Thanks for reading Webworm and helping create such a positive, warm, supportive environment both in the comments section (the best comments section I’ve ever found on the internet), and in the chat.