A Tennessee megachurch pastor was discovered half-naked with a married co-worker by stunned worshippers – only to claim that they’d innocently been cooking chili, and had stripped down after accidentally spilling it.
Last November, volunteers at the Venue Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, paid a surprise visit to Pastor Tavner Smith at his house – but discovered the pastor wearing only his boxers, with a married church employee in a towel.
The unnamed woman was married to another worker at Venue Church. Video circulating online is said to show the blonde woman – seen only from the rear – looking cozy with Smith, who divorced his wife last year, at a local restaurant.
Speaking of the chili incident, an unnamed worshipper told the Daily Beast: ‘I don’t think none of us was that dumb. If she dropped chili on her clothes, why are you in your boxers? Was y’all like, throwing chili at each other?’
Rumors of the pastor’s alleged affair had been swirling for months. One former church member told the Daily beast she had given Smith the benefit of the doubt for quite awhile.
Pastor Tavner Smith, pictured, is said to have been caught half-naked with a married co-worker. He was also filmed getting cozy in a restaurant with an unidentified female, said to be the same woman
Smith was filmed leaning in for a kiss with the woman. He divorced his wife Danielle Lancia in 2021
The pastor, who started Venue church in a former Sam’s Club warehouse in 2012, was well-respected and made a good name for himself and his family. Multiple people who spoke to the Daily Beast credited the church with turning their life around.
But he is said to have begun to spend more time with the co-worker in 2020, and surprised worshippers by getting a tattoo, and a piercing.
As the rumors began to circulate, some church members began asking questions. One church member said she spoke to the the pastor and the church employee who was allegedly having an affair with, and they both denied having an affair.
But something still felt off, she said. Then she received a video from another church member. It showed smith and the female employee sitting together for a bit when it appears they go in for a kiss.
‘At that point we were just kind of like, ‘OK that’s the physical evidence,’ the former attendee told the Daily Beast. ‘That was the moment that we were like, ‘That’s what we needed.
Locals say Smith began preaching about relationship issues around the same time his own is said to have fallen apart.
His church is said to be so cult-like – with locals repeatedly pestered to join – that people who avoided it would joke ‘Don’t drink the orange Kool-Aid,’ a reference to the color of its logo.
Smith is pictured with Danielle. No reason for their split was given – but worshippers have long suspected an affair with a female co-worker, who is married to yet another worker at Smith’s Venue Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee
Smith preaches what is known as ‘prosperity gospel,’ where worshippers are encouraged to donate part of their income to the church to get them closer to heaven
Smith founded venue church in a former Sam’s Club warehouse in 2012, with the worship group now in possession of assets worth millions of dollars
Smith called a meeting to address the video, which had circulated online. He refused to answer questions directly and denied any affair took place.
The church, once on Outreach Magazine’s list of fastest-growing churches in the country, by 2020 had campuses in two states and pulled in nearly 2,000 people on a given Sunday.
‘Everyone used to say, ‘Venue is a cult, Venue is a cult,’ and I was like, ‘No, it’s not,’ the volunteer who witnessed the chili incident told The Daily Beast. ‘And now as I look back I’m like, ‘I don’t think I was in a Godly place.’
Rumors began circulating about an alleged affair and in 2021 Smith and his wife filed for divorce. The split was finalized Dec. 22, the same day the Chattanooga Free Press reported that eight Venue employees had quit.
The pastor made his announced on Instagram that he would be taking a ‘sabbatical’ in order to ‘fill up, spend time with God, and get some counseling.’