Paying Homage to a Great People

Keep The Faith editor, Marcia Dixon MBE, shares why a recent apology by African church leaders – for harbouring negative views towards Caribbean church leadership – is a step in the right direction

Last month I attended a dinner organised by The London Project, an organisation committed to bringing together church leaders to dialogue, build relationships, and look at ways to share the Gospel with London – one of the most diverse and famous cities in the world.

If you’re wondering why I was at that meeting, it’s because, whilst I am not a church leader per se, I have been sharing gospel values from my various media platforms for several years.

It was a lovely meeting, held at a Greek restaurant in Islington, with church leaders like Rev Les Isaac, Bishop John Francis, Bishop Claion Grandison, Pastor Nims Obunge, Pastor David Daniels, and many others in attendance. Many leaders I know.

Everyone enjoyed a lovely meal, good conversation and fellowship, and I remember thinking how unusual it is for church leaders to chill out with each other, just talking and eating. They are usually so busy preaching, teaching and attending events, they forget to take time out to meet and chill with church leaders from other denominations.

I was sat next to Pastor Kofi Banful – a man I have known about for 30 years but have never had a proper conversation with. For the first time in my life, I did and was glad I could. And that’s the thing about being on the church scene, when we see people at church meetings, it’s often like ships passing in the night: we acknowledge each other, but have little time to engage in anything more meaningful.

Well… An extraordinary thing happened at this meeting. Whilst we were eating and enjoying each other’s company, Pastor Celia Apeagyei-Collins called the 50+ people to attention.

She then proceeded to publicly apologise to the Caribbean Christian community on behalf of African church leaders for the negative views and attitudes they had held towards them. Her thoughts were echoed by Pastor Agu Irukwu, Senior Pastor of Jesus House, who joined her via mobile phone (to concur with all the sentiments being shared).

To say I was shocked is an understatement.

It was the first time I had ever heard anyone from the African Christian community here in Britain, publicly apologise for harbouring patronising and condescending attitudes towards the Caribbean church community – and it was good to hear.

Caribbean Christians who came to the UK between 1948–1973, otherwise known as the Windrush Generation, laid the foundation for what is known as the Black Pentecostal Church. This period saw the start of church denominations – like Church of God in Christ UK, the New Testament Church of God, the New Testament Assembly, the First Born Church of the Living God, and others – so it was good to hear African church leaders publicly acknowledge the pioneering work Caribbeans had carried out, building the Black Pentecostal Church movement here in Britain.

Caribbeans church leaders took the flak; dealt with – and overcame – the challenges of racism; and overcame the obstacles they encountered, as they sought to establish congregations; buy churches to house their congregations; and hold worship services on their own premises.

The foundations laid by church leaders of the Windrush Generation meant that when West Africans started arriving en masse in the UK from the mid 80s onwards, they had a much easier time establishing their churches. Some, like Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo, even visited Caribbean churches to get ideas and inspiration. He was a regular visitor to the New Testament Church of God in Mile End, east London, when it was led by the late Rev Dr Joel Edwards.

I wonder how many other African church leaders visited Caribbean churches when they arrived here during the late 80s and 90s to learn from them?

It’s important to state that African and Caribbean church leaders have worked together ever since they’ve been here in the UK, and people from these communities have attended each other’s churches. In fact, some Caribbean churches are experiencing a surge of African Millennials and Gen Z joining their congregations, and vice versa.

Let’s pray that the public apology marks a sea change in how Africans and Caribbeans view and relate to each other. We are brothers and sisters both historically and spiritually; and we are co-workers in God’s kingdom.

This public acknowledgement of the foundation laid by the Windrush Generation is long overview, but now both sets of churches need to build together and reach their communities and the wider world with the Gospel of Christ.

Visit https://thelondonproject.co.uk/

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