The complaints relate to the ‘style of leadership’ of former lead pastor Jeff Wright.
The board of a controversial ‘megachurch’ in Ballymena is carrying out a review of staff complaints about former lead pastor Jeff Wright.
That’s according to an email from the board of Green Pastures Church to its members.
Mr Wright resigned from his position earlier this month, while eight ‘executive team’ members have also resigned from Green Pastures in recent weeks.
In the email, sent to church members on May 5, the board said they recognised the church has been through an “extremely challenging time” recently and wanted to “acknowledge the hurt felt by many people”.
When the Belfast Telegraph visited the church for the usual Sunday service at 12pm, we were told it was not happening and no one was available to speak to us about the situation. Outside, some others showed up for the service, apparently not having been informed it wasn’t going ahead. They were tight-lipped when asked about the recent revelations.
Last weekend, Pastor Wright is understood to have informed parishioners that he was to stand down. Green Pastures is registered as a charity and last week the Charity Commission confirmed it has opened an investigation after a “concern” was raised.
In the email to church members, the board said: “The board has been facilitating a formal review into staff complaints of alleged behaviours by Ps Jeff Wright which have purportedly had a detrimental and significant impact on the mental and spiritual well-being of those staff. This review is being carried out by Trusted HR Limited who are an independent firm with expertise in this area and who have no connection either to the church or the board. The board await the outcome of this review.
“At this stage the board do not believe that the complaints give rise to moral or financial failures on the part of Ps Jeff Wright. Rather we understand that they mostly centre around issues relating to the style of leadership adopted by Ps Jeff Wright.
“The board has communicated with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland in respect of the complaints received and the process that has been instigated. The Charity Commission has advised that the board has acted in accordance with the principles of good governance and has endorsed the actions taken to date.”
During this review, the board said it advised Pastor Wright he would be suspended from his lead pastor role, but he went against their wishes and continued to attend the church and hold meetings with staff and church members. This resulted in “further complaints being made by staff members” to the board.
“The board’s hope of dealing with staff complaints via the review process was met with a lengthy letter received from solicitors acting for Ps Jeff Wright. Up until this point the board had not instructed solicitors in this matter but felt that it had now no option but to respond through representative legal counsel,” the email revealed.
Following the resignation of the executive team, the board said they were told that Pastor Wright had informed church members that church property was to be sold and contracts would soon be signed.
“The board was not aware of the full details of any agreement regarding the sale of land and was therefore obligated to ensure that any arrangements in respect of the sale of church property were in the best interests of the church,” the email continued. “The board therefore notified the Charity Commission of the position and sought legal advice to ensure that the interests of the Church were protected.”
Green Pastures is linked to coachbuilder Wrightbus, where Jeff Wright was once a director. Green Pastures was established in 2007 at a site next to the Wrightbus factory near Galgorm, before moving to a huge, 97-acre plot on the outskirts of Ballymena. The site was once valued at £75m, but was sold to the church for a reported £4m.
When Wrightbus went into administration back in 2019, it came to light that the church had been given £15m by the firm over a period of six years.
Wrightbus was later sold to English industrialist Jo Bamford and Pastor Wright told his congregation at the time that the sale of the company was like the “long, slow, torturous and painful death of a loved one”. He also admitted that there was a “sense of relief” that Wrightbus had “finally been handed over”. During the period of Wrightbus going into administration, Mr Wright said that death threats had been issued against members of his family.
The Charity Commission said it “is continuing to work with the charity and can confirm that a concern about the charity, Green Pastures, The People’s Church, has been opened. No further comment will be provided while the investigation is ongoing.”
Green Pastures was asked to comment, but did not respond.
Pastor Wright was not available for comment.