NZ mega church accused of mistreatment towards interns and volunteers

Source: 1News

One of New Zealand’s biggest mega-churches is launching an independent external review after accusations of mistreatment towards interns and volunteers.

1News has spoken to several who describe feeling used by ARISE Church, eventually leaving “burned out”.

“Mentally, and physically, you’re pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion,” one former volunteer said, who had been with the church for more than a decade.

They said when they raised issues, they were shut down and shut out.

“I remember seeing someone leaving - they were an intern at the time, working at the ARISE conference, and they pushed themselves to their absolute breaking point, literally, where they had to be carried out because they collapsed and had to go to the hospital.

“It emotionally takes a toll on you as well. You sort of push to your breaking point because you’re giving so much of yourself."

Another former churchgoer had serious criticism of ARISE Church's “internship” programme, which was run through its Ministry School.

“[There were] ridiculous hours, trying to work extra jobs to make up for no pay, putting off or dropping out of university to do this internship,” they said.

ARISE church is led by pastor John Cameron, who addressed stories of negative experiences circulating, saying on the church's website he was “deeply sorry for any hurt caused”.

“There are people hurting because of the actions and culture of performance that was part of ARISE.”

ARISE is known for its slick multimedia performances, music, band, and sermons.

Its latest Annual Return to Charities Services revealed the church had 2529 volunteers.

It's based in Wellington, but is expanding across the country.

“There needs to be a whole culture change from the top down. There needs to be accountability and transparency – which I don’t think there’s a lot of at the moment," a former volunteer said.

1News approached ARISE Church, asking for an interview with pastor John Cameron. That was declined, instead the ARISE board chairperson Graeme Kirkwood, sent a written statement saying the governing board was “deeply saddened by the width and depth of statements made by former volunteers and interns”.

He said it was taking the matter “seriously.”

“We apologise unreservedly for the pain and suffering some staff members and volunteers have encountered at ARISE Church in the past, as it has pursued its calling and its goals,” he said.

“As a Board we hold a duty of care to ensure that all complaints are dealt with robustly – with due process and through fair and impartial channels. In December 2021, the Arise Board approached a New Zealand law firm to conduct an independent HR review, including the Executive and Board practices for dealing with complaints - the review is due to start after Easter.”

He said the board asked media to “privacy and welfare of Arise Church members, volunteers, and staff while this independent review is taking place”.

They would not comment further until the review was completed, he said.

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