The River Windrush flows for 35 miles through the picturesque Cotswolds before joining the Thames. It gave its name to the one-time German troopship, which brought more than 1,000 immigrants from the Caribbean to London in 1930.
While the original name Windrush meant, ironically, White Fen, the vessel – renamed the Empire Windrush by the British after the war – has come to be known more for the Windrush generation, the Caribbean people who came to work in the UK.
“An estimated 500,000 people followed within 30 years,” said Roy Francis, a former BBC TV Songs of Praise producer, music consultant and author of Windrush and The Black Pentecostal Church in Britain, “and the many Christians among them have laid a huge legacy in church worship and bridging the Black-White divide.”
Roy was speaking at the three-day Christian Resources Exhibition at Sandown Park, Surrey (Oct 12-14), during which large sections of each day were used to highlight the way Black-led churches have influenced worship in the UK.
The sessions included a celebration of the history of British gospel music, a panel discussion on the Caribbean story, chaired by Roy Francis, and a look at how Black-led churches are now taking a leading role in leading Britain back to God through “reverse mission”.
The musical presentation was by the Ken Burton Singers, under their international choral and orchestral conductor, singer, and instrumentalist. The singers – regular contributors to BBC’s Songs of Praise – also took part in the opening ceremony.
“There are a lot of misunderstandings, and CRE National is the ideal place to celebrate what Windrush Christians brought to Britain and the impact their inheritors – African Christians – are now having on the country,” said Roy.
He pointed out that Black-led churches should be seen against the backdrop of the times when Africans were taken as slaves to work on plantations. “Their songs were slave-working songs which became known as spirituals – but they had a dual purpose: they presented an escape plan and marked resistance,” he said. “The two most popular songs were Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and Steal Away. Swing Low, which has been hijacked by English rugby fans, was a coded song telling slaves how to travel undercover and where to find a safe house, in the north or in Canada.”
A group of experts explored diversity and difference in the church at CRE. Host of the seminar, Elaine Bowes of the Pentecostal Credit Union, said: “Our discussions were based essentially on John 17:21 – ‘…that all of them may be one’ – and asked if we are mirroring what Scripture is saying, what Christ is saying. I think the conclusion was “Yes and No”. And we looked then at how the Church can join together in practical ways to build unity. Eating together. Going places in groups. We can do lots of things that build community between different people.
We have to do that to show that Christ is here and that Christ is alive. Groups like Black Lives Matter are only there because the Church isn’t.”
David Shosayna, former regional director of the London Baptist Association and now principal at Paideia, said: “There’s a big difference between Black people being present and their presence being felt, and that difference is around the axis of power. I go to many churches with a multicultural leadership, but seldom do Black people hold the treasury responsibility or any form of administrative control of resources, people, physical or cultural assets of the church. I think sometimes representation of Black or Asian people being present can be an optical illusion around unity.
“Institutions are the aggregated behaviour of individuals. Individuals exist as an institution and they create a culture. Often the institution is a way of blindsiding us from the individuals that sustain a culture. Individuals can’t say ‘I can’t do anything about it’. Yes, you can, because you are the institution!”
He also said that African churches were an invaluable part of the fabric of the churches in the UK. “Many come over to England as students, with the aspiration of returning to Africa, but they get concerned at the spiritual state of the UK and it gives them a passion to bring the nation back to God. They are committed to seeing the nation prosper with an open relationship between White and other Christians.”
He continued: “These three days have been fantastic – there has been such a broad range of subjects discussed, and it has brought much blessing. We see things that we didn’t know the churches needed. The vision for examining the Windrush legacy was brilliant, and I believe it will help many go forward and develop a real close relationship between all communities.”
If the music of the Caribbean delighted visitors, there was a lot of interest in the wide variety of exhibitors from puppets to pews, sound systems to stewardship, and many other areas.
As Steve Goddard, owner of CRE, said:
Visitors arrived with more purpose than I have ever known – to discover fresh, innovative ways to re-build their churches following the pandemic.
As one visitor commented:
I simply cannot believe there is so much happening in the church and so many organisations offering specific help. It has been a wonderful day.
Re-configuring the exhibition on two floors instead of one, to give wider aisles, proved an extremely welcome safety measure.
“We expected fewer visitors because of the impact of the pandemic,” said Steve, “but the numbers, though lower than two years ago, were high enough to encourage dozens of exhibitors to re-book for next year.”
If you would like to know more about the Christian Resources Exhibitions, visit www.creonline.co.uk
Written by: Dave Hall