Bishop Dunn is gone. So, what now? by Pastor Marcia Clarke PhD

Bishop Sidney Dunn, founder of Bethel United Church of Jesus Christ Apostolic (BUCJC), said: “The church was never lost” – it had found him. [1] And the Black British community is all the better for it.

Born in St Mary, Jamaica, on October 12, 1921, Dunn became a Christian as a teenager. He entered pastoral work aged 19 and was ordained as Bishop, aged 30. As part of the Windrush Generation, Dunn arrived in England in 1954. At its peak, the denomination he started in Handsworth, Birmingham, in 1955 had 42 congregations throughout the UK, as well as church plants in the US, Canada, Africa and the West Indies. His ministry impacted hundreds of thousands of lives.

Under Bishop Dunn’s leadership, BUCJC built the only Black-owned conference centre in the UK: Bethel Convention Centre in West Bromwich, West Midlands. On July 23, 2017 Bishop Dunn passed the baton. So, what now? Not only for the Black Church in general, but particularly for the men and women who subscribe to a Pentecostal formative narrative?

Although there are differences in our ‘Oneness’ and ‘Trinitarian’ Pentecostal theology, we should be careful to avoid the equal and opposite temptations of minimising and/or overemphasising these differences. The general perception of adherents and those outside of the movement is that we are basically the same.[2]

We need leaders

Bishop Dunn was consecrated as Bishop at the age of 30. He used his title and influence to impact the lives of thousands around the world. As Christian leaders – whether in the Church or in secular society – we need to evaluate our calling: why are we doing what we do? For prestige, power and money? To have a sense of success, due to failures in other areas of our lives? We need to candidly evaluate our current reality.

Joshua was told by Moses and by Yahweh not to be afraid, to be courageous. Why? Because there was something to be afraid of! There were times when Bishop Dunn and the men and women of the Windrush Generation were afraid and wanted to buckle. It was a time not only to speak out against injustice and poverty, but also to build, encourage and put systems in place that would have a lasting political, social and economic effect. Bishop Dunn came to the country when he was 33 years old, with £14 in his pocket. The Lord called him home aged 95. Do the maths! Your vision may not be fulfilled in the next five years – it may take a lifetime. But leave something behind.

We need to harness our economic power

Under Bishop Dunn’s leadership, the 2,500-seater Bethel Conference Centre was purchased – the only centre of its kind owned by a BME group outside of London. The cumulative value of real estate, based on my denomination alone, runs into tens of millions. Add to that other Black-majority denominations and independent churches. There is economic power to be harnessed to influence the future of Black people in this country, particularly the vulnerable: the elderly and the youth.

We need the Holy Spirit

On the day of Pentecost, the manifestation of Holy Spirit changed lives. Peter, who only days before had been cowering in the shadows, was now bold, articulate and powerful. Families and communities were later transformed. Scriptures attest that the prophet was not the one followed by the community, rather the prophetic word was given, discerned and complied with if found to be true.[3] Discernment is something that we relied on the church mothers for. For the most part, they had enough Holy Ghost to know when something was truth or error. The Holy Ghost was more than just a physical expression of ethereal knowledge; these women prayed, read enough Bible, listened to enough substantial preaching, and lived righteously to know when something just wasn’t ‘right’. Things are not yet right in our community. We need to cry out again, not just for tongues but for discernment, power and boldness to move our community on to its next developmental stage.

At the passing of another great leader, who came to England in obscurity and was ushered into eternity in the view of millions (due to coverage by the BBC and ITV), now more than ever the Black British community needs a prophetic voice around which to rally, and leaders with integrity and vision to lead the charge.

Marcia Clarke PhD

Affiliate Assistant Professor of Practical Theology

Fuller Theological Seminary

[1] https://www.premier.org.uk/News/UK/Thousands-set-to-pay-tribute-to-Bishop-Sidney-Dunn [accessed 8/27/2018]

[2] http://arts.leeds.ac.uk/crp/files/2013/02/howard1987.pdf [accessed 8/28/2017]

[3] Deuteronomy 18: 20-22; Matthew 7: 16-20

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