Podcast: Webworm, Arise!
Megachurch culture, corruption, and where the hell we go from here.
I feel so proud to bring you the podcast version of Webworm’s first ever live event, Webworm, Arise!
This is an hour and forty minutes that captures what happened that night, for both those that attended — and those that couldn’t (due to Webworm readers being spread all across this wonderful planet).
This podcast and live event was made available first to paying Webworm subscribers — as they keep the lights on! Consider becoming a paid member if it doesn’t cause you any financial hardship. It goes towards paying writers, lawyers, and giving me the time to do this thing! In return you get a bunch of extra stuff, like today’s “Bad News: ChatGPT Isn’t Going to Take Our Jobs” by guest writer Hayden Donnell.
Earlier this month around 400 Webworm readers packed into Auckland’s St Matthew-in-the-City for a cathartic night that looked to unpack and reflect on the Arise megachurch reporting over the last year. There was a bar (in a church!) where people could drink wine (and chocolate milk), and meet IRL for the first time. And then we had some entertainment and a panel discussion, before the room opened up for questions.
I held it in this particular church because it’s incredibly liberal: It’s the church that helped me deconstruct my own faith decades ago, and it even gave me a grant towards studying journalism back in 2003.
Plus the building looks fucking amazing. I wanted to gather the digital Webworm community together in a space in the real world that was unexpected (considering what this newsletter spent much of the year reporting). Having a choir kick things off with a Queens of the Stone Age cover? Yes please.
You get the idea.
I wanted to gather in the real world because the Webworm community has been such a source of joy for me over the last few years — but this year in particular. It was the year I was bogged down in the chaos of getting Mister Organ finished, and the year Webworm took on Arise.
The Arise series this year — reported by me and Hayden Donnell — made me realise what Webworm could be. Powered by its readers, this tiny newsletter (or “blog” as Arise’s various leaders liked to call it dismissively) could make real change. It could start real conversations, and make megachurch leaders fracture and flee.
Thanks to you — I could afford to get lawyers to look over all my stuff and make it legally watertight. I had the time to go through hundreds of emails and type thousands and thousands of words. Which led to change.
I hope you enjoy this podcast. For me, and a lot in the audience, it felt cathartic.
‘Webworm, Arise!’ Show Notes:
00:00 - 01:10: I introduce things… with a delay.
01:10 - 06:00: The Stimmung Choir performs ‘No One Knows’ by Queens of the Stone Age.
06:00 - 01:11:00: Kiri Allan chairs a panel on Arise and megachurch culture, consisting of Hayden Donnell (Journalist and Webworm regular), Michael Frost (former megachurch staffer and host of the In The Shift podcast) Reverend Frank Richie (who recently published extensive work examining the Arise Church situation from a theological and cultural perspective), the current vicar of St-Matthew’s, Helen Jacobi — and me, David.
01:11:00 - 01:35:44: Q&A between the audience and the panel. During this time, Charlotte Cummings also joins the panel to take questions. Charlotte was the counsellor who led the Pathfinding report into Arise Church — the report leaked to Webworm after various church members attempted to bury it. She is now left with legal costs thanks to the church that hired her.
01:35:44 - 01:39:54: The Stimmung Choir closes with Radiohead’s ‘2 + 2 = 5’
This podcast largely plays out as the live event did, just with a few pauses trimmed out.
A giant thanks to producer Rosabel Tan, sound engineer and recordist Rohan Evans, photographer David St George, designer Toby Morris, St Matthew’s events manager Dmitry Rusakov, Brodie McDonald, Dan Gillett and the Everyday Wine crew, all time legend Matt Crawley, event crew Dawn Sacayan, Emily Zeng and Olivia Birdsall, music director Robin Kelly and the Stimmung Choir, Nippy’s Chocolate milk, and of course Kiri Allan and all the panellists: Frank, Helen, Hayden and Frosty. And most importantly — the audience. You.
Was there stuff I missed? For sure. An hour panel discussion on megachurches only scrapes the surface.
I’d like to note that I cut out two bits from the Q&A, and I wanted to be very upfront about that. Firstly, one audience member raised the fact they’d left an abusive church environment, only to land in another abusive environment with Young Labour. Their question was directed at Kiri Allan, who of course is from the Labour Party.
I left this out as I didn’t get to seek permission that night to use that audio — and because it was about something personal, I didn’t feel comfortable putting it in this podcast which could go far and wide. But I don’t want to ignore the culture within Young Labour that’s been reported on — hence why I raise it here.
I also cut out the first question of the night, which was essentially an audience member saying, “Give me concrete examples of what was so bad about all this.” At the time I found it really confronting, because I was like “I’ve spent my whole year reporting on this horrible shit, and you still want me to prove it to you?”
My reaction was to reel off a string of things that Arise had done (all found in my reporting) but in listing it so abrasively, I cringed somewhat listening back. I worry that for about two minutes I turned other people’s trauma into a laundry list.
I also now know that the guy asking the question had come along with friends and genuinely just didn’t know. And so while his question could easily be interpreted as “Prove it”, it was more a case of “Please make me understand what went wrong as I am new to this and just want to grasp it.” And I don’t think that comes across clearly in the podcast — so I dropped it.
I just wanted to be really clear about why I made those edits for those present on the night.
Again, thanks for being here. As a paying Webworm member you allowed this reporting to happen, which led to this live event taking place. Change happened.
I’d just landed in New Zealand the night before — and then walked into this whirlwind of an evening which I still can’t believe happened.
I hope you enjoy this episode — and please, sound off in the comments below. If you attended Webworm, Arise!, what were your thoughts? What would you like the next live Webworm event to look like? How was the podcast? How are you?
PS — new Webworm t-shirt drop on Monday. The last of 2022.
PPS — thank you to all the people in New Zealand who have gone to see Mister Organ at the movies. I loved meeting some of you on my lil’ NZ Q&A tour! Thanks to you, my weird little documentary has had the biggest opening for a documentary in Aotearoa this year.
That ticket money goes towards paying back our investors — but more importantly, it shows potential platforms (like Netflix) that people want to see this movie. You increase my chances of spreading it further.
If you haven’t seen it yet — use Flicks to find the session closest to you. We’re still playing at about 50 New Zealand cinemas.
Again — the film’s success in NZ over the next few weeks directly influences where else I can get it. This is the test case. Australia — you’re soon. Rest of the world — I am coming up with a streaming plan!
And yeah, from what I can tell Mister Organ has seen Mister Organ at least three times. Talk about the 4D experience.