When volunteers at Venue Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, arrived at their pastor’s house last November, they were hoping to raise his spirits with a surprise visit. Instead they got a shock: Pastor Tavner Smith was alone with a female church employee—she in a towel, he in his boxers.
The charismatic 41-year-old hurriedly explained that the two of them had been making chili and hot dogs and gotten food on their clothes, according to one volunteer who was present. But, as the volunteer put it, “I don’t think none of us was that dumb.”
“If she dropped chili on her clothes, why are you in your boxers?” she recalled thinking. “Was y’all like, throwing chili at each other?”
For the volunteer, the scene confirmed something she had long suspected—that Smith, then married with three children, was secretly carrying on an affair with the employee, who was married to another church staffer. Smith has denied any affair took place, but rumors about it have nonetheless led to something out of a daytime soap opera, involving two divorces, one secretly recorded video, and the departure of nearly all the church’s full-time staff.
And former staffers, members, and volunteers told The Daily Beast they are still struggling to come to terms with the maelstrom that left one of the country’s fastest-growing mega churches in shambles.