The Church Leader Envisioning A Great Future For NTCG

Bishop Claion Grandison was recently appointed as Administrative Bishop of the New Testament Church of God (NTCG) of England and Wales, presiding over 130 churches. NTCG is one of the Black community’s historic Pentecostal denominations, founded by the Windrush Generation in the UK. Keep The Faith spoke to Bishop Grandison about his life, his faith and his hopes for NTCG.  

KEEP THE FAITH (KTF)How did you feel when you learned you had been chosen to be the seventh Administrative Bishop of the New Testament Church of God UK?

BISHOP CLAION GRANDISON (BCG): It was surreal. I felt humbled that my colleagues — male and female, young and older — had overwhelmingly voted for me to become the next Administrative Bishop of NTCG England and Wales.

KTF: What was your family’s, your mother’s and brother’s reactions upon hearing that you’d been appointed to the role?
BCG: As soon as the results came through, I left the room where the voting had taken place and quickly called my wife, Sonia, before it hit social media. She was quiet but probably relieved it was all over. If she’d had her wish, I wouldn’t be AB, as she quite preferred being in the local church. Both my mum and brother were happy for me. In my home church, in Jamaica, they literally made her a celebrity! She was swelling with pride.

KTF: In your first week in office, you decided to make public, to both your church and the wider Christian community, your vision for your leadership tenure. What were your reasons for doing so, and what kind of response did you get?
BCG: To be honest, I shared bits of my vision on the very day I was elected. I felt it was important for folks to know from the very outset that we were serious and passionate about NTCG and its future. So far, the response has been very encouraging from a wide cross section of people — even from those who aren’t part of our denomination.

KTF: NTCG was started by the Windrush Generation. Now, almost 70 years later, the NTCG is still here, but in a different time, facing different challenges. What in your view are the three key challenges currently facing NTCG, and how will you be seeking to address them?
BCG: Like many other churches, NTCG is faced with a decline in membership due to parishioners who have joined other Christian organisations or completely left the faith. The truth is, you can’t stop people from leaving but you can give them a reason to stay. Like the story of farmer who, instead of building fences to keep his sheep from leaving, decided to dig a well in the centre of his field. As our mission statement asserts: ‘A relevant, relational Church, reimagining God at work in our communities and our nation’, we seek to address this haemorrhaging by creating a fresh approach to ministry at the very centre of what we do.

Our other challenges are around crime and the cost-of-living crisis. We will therefore encourage local pastors to become more involved with community groups that work in partnership with the police to ensure that residents, especially Black people, aren’t treated unfairly. In Croydon, where I still pastor, high-ranking Met officers meet with grassroots charities and church leaders every Friday to discuss, among other things, policing in the community.

As well as continuing to offer meals to our communities, we will also lobby parliament about the gaping chasm between the wealthy and the poor and insist that the poor are not an afterthought.

KTF: You spoke about your vision of seeking to be supporters of justice. Does this signify that NTCG will be getting involved in politics?  If so, will it be with a little or a big ‘P’?  
BCG: I strongly believe in being involved in politics without being political. In other words, we are for the poor and the marginalised, not for a particular party. We will praise politicians who act justly and call out those who are uncaring.

KTF: NTCG is seen as a denomination serving the Black Caribbean community. Is that the case, and what will you be doing to change that view?
BCG: Nothing at all. It would be a travesty if we ever stopped serving the community that has served us over the last 70 years. What we’ve seen over the last few years — and particularly during the pandemic — is that most of the nearly 300 men and women who queue up for lunch outside our church building every week aren’t from the Black Caribbean community. The church is focused on meeting the needs of its community, Black or White.

KTF: Can you share a little bit about your childhood, ie. where you were born, whether you have any siblings, your parents, and the role of faith in your life when growing up?
BCG: I was born in North London to Phillip and Adassa, both Jamaicans. I have one younger brother, Roger, who now resides in Toronto, Canada. My faith has meant everything to me, hence why I’ve been in the church ALL my life. My achievements haven’t been because of a career or a university education; it’s all down to my faith.

KTF: What inspired you to become a Christian?
BCG: As I said, I’ve been ‘in church’ all my life but my ‘come-to-Jesus’ moment was in high school in Jamaica. I had failed most of my exams and was feeling really lost. None of my friends knew I was a Christian and I was happy for things to remain that way. Then members of our school’s Christian fellowship encouraged me to join, and soon they realised Roger and I could sing. The rest, as they say, is history.

KTF: How did you get involved in church leadership?
BCG: It started in youth ministry when I was asked to be the leader for Hope group. I was 14 at the time, leading adults nearly twice my age and managing to gain their respect and loyalty. Later, I was responsible for starting a youth chorale, which took choir singing in a totally different direction.

On coming to the UK, I had many positions within the local church; however the turning point was Men’s ministry under the late Rev John Grey. He saw something others hadn’t and invested in my development. I owe him a great debt of gratitude.

KTF: You have been blessed to serve the Church in various positions, including serving extensively in the Caribbean, working as a youth leader and pastor. What key lessons about young people, leadership and service to others did you learn during this time?
BCG: Ministry overseas was quite interesting. I think I learned self-control and about courage under pressure. I also learned that I was more of a leader than I thought. 

During my final year in the British Virgin Islands, the International Youth Director was kind enough to send all regional youth leaders a book a month on leadership. This was a gamechanger, as I was introduced to a whole library of books by John Maxwell and other notable leadership gurus. I learned that people are your greatest assets; ensure you appreciate them.

KTF: After a leadership stint in the Caribbean, you came to the UK and led Chrisma in Woolwich for 17 years and was at NTCG Croydon for under two years. In both instances, you launched initiatives to develop leadership and serve the community. What inspired you to do this and why is it important for the Church to be seen to serve the community in which it is based?
BCG: One the lessons I learned teaching leadership was that you lead leaders not followers. Followers always look for instructions; leaders look for opportunities. When we started the feeding programme in Woolwich, it was because some homeless guys had broken into the church and stolen all our equipment. The Lord said: “If you open your doors, they won’t need to break in, and when you open your doors, I’ll open My windows over the church” and He did. I remember one of our members sold her house and brought a cheque to me for over £20k. Another member got paid out by her insurance and tithed nearly £6k. These are two of very many stories. 

When we arrived at West Croydon, the Croydon Council had declared bankruptcy, so in anticipation of the pending crisis, we started the Croydon Kitchen and the Holiday Feeding Club, supplying children with healthy meals during the school holidays.

KTF: When you became a Christian as a teenager and in all your years serving in various leadership positions, did you ever envisage that you would preside over a denomination?
BCG: In a word, no. However, as I progressed in ministry, I sensed that the Lord was leading me in that direction. This was all confirmed by many around me but also in dreams I had years later.

KTF: You have been married to Sonia for over 21 years. How does your wife feel about being thrust into the limelight, as she is now head of women’s ministry for NTCG?
BCG: She’s a reluctant convert to the role. She never wanted to marry a pastor, full stop. But God has a sense of humour! To be honest, I couldn’t and wouldn’t do any kind of ministry without my wife.

KTF: How will you be spending Christmas and the New Year?
BCG: I haven’t thought that far ahead! Most likely with Sonia’s parents, as they aren’t very well now.

KTF: What special message of hope do you have for Keep The Faith readers?
BCG:  I was going to say ‘keep the faith and the faith will keep you’ but, in all seriousness, it’s important that we don’t forget and forsake the traditions and tenets of our faith. Like fad diets, much of the new stuff that churches are doing in the name of progress work for a while, and then we go back to being obese again. You can’t go wrong on a healthy diet of fasting, prayer, mediation on the Word and private worship.

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