Intercultural Ecumenism between Black Majority Churches (BMCs) and British Baptists in London

What on earth are Black Majority Churches (BMCs)? The history of BMCs in London is very phenomenal because within a short period of 60 years they have grown from rejection to influence, that is, from Windrush (The famous ship that brought Caribbean migrants in 1948) to Jesus House! Their historical development is rich and diverse in nature, however the generic term; Black Majority Churches is problematic as it does not address the diversity that exists within these Churches. Black Majority Churches are diverse in terms of ecclesiology, theology and missiology. Some of them are Churches while others are Para-Church organisations or agencies. Some of them are independent Pentecostal Churches while others are part of Historic Churches. Some are from Pentecostal, Holiness and Evangelical Tradition while others are Sabbatarians. Some of them are Unitarians while others are Trinitarians. Some of them have embraced Black Liberation Theology while others do preach Prosperity Gospel. Some of them have grown to become Church denominations while others are still independent Churches. Some are Church plants from their denominational Churches back in the Caribbean or Africa while others are Churches that have started here in London. These are examples to illustrate the richness of their diversity.

The genesis of BMC in London can be traced back to 1906 with the founding of Sumner Road Chapel started by Rev Thomas Kwame Brem-Wilson in Peckham, South East London. Rev Brem-Wilson, a business man and school master was born into a wealthy family in Dixcove, Ghana around 1855. He migrated to Britain in 1901 and later founded Sumner Road Chapel known today as Sureway International Christian Ministries now in Herne Hill South East London. However, this is not the first BMC in Britain. That honour goes to a church founded by John Jea in the early nineteenth century. After a fruitful itinerant ministry in North America and Europe, John settled down in Portsmouth, England with his wife, Mary and possibly started a church in their house circa 1805-1815. The 1940s and 1950s saw the influx of Caribbean families into the UK due to the invitation of the British government asking them to come and help rebuild the country after the devastations of the Second World War. Many people from the Caribbean responded to this call but to their surprise and dismay they were rejected by the society and the Church. This rejection with other factors such mission to the UK led to the formation of Caribbean Pentecostal and Holiness Churches in London and the midlands.

The independence of African countries from around 1957 onwards led to African diplomats, students, tourist coming to Britain. When they discovered like the Caribbeans before them that they were rejected by the British Churches and society at large, this led to the founding of African Instituted Churches (AICs) in London. The 1980s and 1990s saw the emergence of African Newer Pentecostal Churches (ANPCs). The 1990s also witnessed the birth of independent Caribbean Pentecostal Churches in London. It is the explosive growth of these African and Caribbean Churches in the 1990s that has drawn the attention of scholars and the media to BMCs.

What relationship exists between British Baptists and BMCs? This is happening through the sharing and use of church buildings. This has been going on since the 1960s and while some of these relationships have the power dynamics of that of a landlord and tenant, we are seeing cases where Baptist churches are good hosts to their neighbour churches. I have seen good examples of this in Greenwich where I lead a Baptist church. For example, our church Woolwich Central Baptist Church is a host to a Caribbean Pentecostal church called Pentecostal City Mission. Pentecostal City Mission uses our church building on a Sunday afternoon after us in the morning. Our church has a good working relationship with Pentecostal City Mission and we have also had joint activities such as watch-night service and Sports day. In addition, I have a good relationship with Pastor Roy, the minister of Pentecostal Mission. Another example in Greenwich is the relationship between East Plumstead Baptist Church and Rivers of Life Church. East Plumstead Baptist Church host Rivers of Life Church in their building on Sunday afternoons. Rev Raphael Amoako-Atta and Bishop Brissett are good friends and respect each other’s ministries. East Plumstead Baptist Church is also a host to another church on a Saturday. This is the Nepalese Fellowship which actually grew out of the church.

In conclusion, the proliferation and diversity of BMCs in London will continue so long as there is migration (This is becoming difficult in the UK) and London remains a global city. But in addition, God’s creative Spirit will continue to stir the hearts of people to mission and intercultural ecumenism. British Baptists have a part to play in welcoming BMCs into their buildings. While the sharing of church buildings is still a problem in some Baptist churches, others are doing well in taking interest in their tenants!

Some of this material is adapted from my recent book, Partnership in Mission: A Black Majority Church Perspective on Mission and Church Unity available on amazon.co.uk

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Book Reviews on African Christianity in the West

In one of my recent blogs titled, “The Emergence of African Theologians in Britain” I started reflecting on African scholars in Britain who are writing about the phenomenon of African Christianity in Britain. As a continuation of that reflection, I offer these reviews of books written by two of those scholars. The first is Sent Forth: African Missionary Work in the West (2014) published by Orbis Books and written by Dr Harvey Kwiyani and the second is The Holy Spirit in African Christianity: An Empirical Study (2015) published by Paternoster (an imprint of Authentic Media) written by Rev Dr Chigor Chike.

The two books are theological reflections on African Christianity in the West as it is unfolding. Kwiyani’s book focusing more on the context in the United States is a missiological study, while Chike’s book looking at the British context is a study on Pneumatology (Person and Work of the Holy Spirit). Both books demonstrate that African Christianity in the West is now flourishing and needs mature theological discourses. Kwiyani’s book combined current understanding of the Missional Church looking at the works of mission theologians such  as Leslie Newbigin, Andrew Walls and Darrell Guder with works of current African Theologians such as Afe Adogame, Jehu Hanciles and Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu. This unique reflection advances scholarpship on African missionary work in the West. A thesis that Kwiyani worked with throughout the book is the idea of the “Blessed Reflex” which developed with the modern missionary movement   and continued through the Edinburgh missionary conference in 1910 that the younger churches (African , Latin American and Asian Churches) will one day be a blessing to the West. This is the idea of reverse mission that many African pastors in Britain are now working with. Kwiyani, prefering the terms Blessed Reflex, African missionary work in the West and mulicultural missionary movement  instead of reverse mission highlighted some of the challenges that African pastors and missionaries are facing in the West and how they can overcome by working in partnership with the Western Church.

Chike on the other hand surveyed previous works on African Christianity and located a gap. This gap is the lack of study on the theology of African Churches in Britain. Chike’s previous work, African Christianity in Britain: Diaspora, Doctrines and Dialogue (2007) examined what African Christians now living in Britain do believe about God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, and the Bible, however in the current work, he focused on their belief in the Holy Spirit. This Pneumatological study becomes significant in the light of the understanding that African Pentecostal Churches are taking the lead in planting churches in Britain. While Chike’s work examine the belief of African Pentecostal Churches in Britain, the study was not however limited to Pentecostal churches as he examined what African Churches within Historic Churches also believe about the Spirit. The case studies were drawn from the Church of England, Methodist church, Pentecostal church and an African Initiated Church (AIC) making a rich diverse views on the Holy Spirit. Chike identified five factors that affects the African Christian’s view of the Holy Spirit. They are personal and communal experience of the Holy Spirit, the Bible, the African worldview, African Traditional concepts of God and the worldwide Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.

I want to recommend these two books written by friends of mine as a way of understanding the theology of African Christians in the West.

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A Black Majority Church Perspective on Mission and Church Unity

Partnership in Mission Book CoverPartnership in Mission: A Black Majority Church Perspective on Mission and Church Unity is the title of a forth coming book that I have just finish researching. The book documents contemporary history of Black Majority Churches, their mission theology and intercultural ecumenical engagement. Here is the synopsis of the book

What on earth are Black Majority Churches and are they a homogenous church movement in Britain? These are some of the questions this short book seeks to address. The book argues that Black Majority Churches are certainly part of the British Church landscape and that a history of the Church in Britain would be incomplete without the history and mission of Black Majority Churches. The book also articulates clearly that these churches are diverse in terms of theology, church structure, mission, culture and ethnicity. In this respect, it can be argued that Black Majority Churches (BMC) can also be referred to as Black Multicultural Churches (BMC)!
A further question this book explores is, now that we have so many Black Majority Churches in Britain what is their mission theology? What kind of relationship do they have with Historic Churches such as Church of England, Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed Churches (URC)? The sharing and use of church building is one example of how these two groups of churches are working together in mission. Other examples are through local church networks and mission initiatives such as food banks, winter night shelters and Street Pastors. What are the challenges and opportunities in the sharing of church building between a Church of England and a Black Majority Church? This book gives examples of this shedding more light on the history of ecumenism between these two groups of churches and current practices.

Revd Dr Michael N. Jagessar, writer, theologian and a former moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church has this to say about the book:

This is a timely and much needed contribution to the British ecumenical landscape and Israel Olofinjana is ideally located to be the one to make this contribution. As a member of the African Diaspora in the UK, Olofinjana is aware of the challenges faced by ‘migrant churches’, the growth among what is known as Black Majority Churches (BMC’s), and the dynamic ecumenical intercultural trends on the ground – especially in London. Olofinjana’s contribution will certainly mean that any current and future writing of the history of Church or ecumenism in Britain must reckon with the presence of BMC’s! This volume will certainly help kick-start fruitful conversations on unconventional grassroots ecumenical partnerships, the complexity of the history and intra-diversity of BMC’s, and open up opportunities for Churches to move out of the ‘transit lounge’ of a tired kind of ecumenism. There is much here to build on and take in multiple directions!

The book will be officially out in October but is ready for pre-order on amazon.co.uk

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Emerging African Theologians in Britain

As I continue to reflect on the nature and development of African Christianity in Britain, I began asking myself the question. Now that we have thousands of African Churches in Britain who are the theologians reflecting, critiquing and most importantly writing about African Christianity in Britain? In essence, who are the theologians of the African Church Movement in Britain? This is not an easy task because while we have so many African pastors with some having Masters in Theology and others having Doctoral degrees in Theology, there are very few African pastors and scholars writing. There are several reasons why African pastors are not writing or should I say not writing theological text books, because there are many African pastors writing motivational and inspirational books which appeals more and are targeted at an average believer than theological students. So why are African pastors not writing theological textbooks or books that demonstrate they are reflecting on their church and history?

Firstly, is still the perception that studying theology is either not relevant or could lead to one losing his or her faith. Some have experienced theological institutions and were not pleased at how impractical some of their studies were. Some African pastors who went to study theology at one of the British theological institution mention to me that if they were to preach the way they were taught to preach, then no one from their congregation will return the next Sunday! This sounds very shocking, but what they were alluding to was the fact of being taught by someone with highly qualified theological degree in preaching and hermeneutics but perhaps lacks the pastoral experience. Added to this is the ignorance of the dynamics and context of an African Church. Is this statement justified? On the one hand, we need more African pastors to have theological training so as to be prepared to minister in a post modern British society, but on the other hand we also need theological tutors who have current and relevant pastoral and ministerial experience who will be able to combined head and heart in a theological class room. Having theological instructors whose pastoral experience and ministries were in the 1960s/70s is not good enough! In addition, we need more than just white British theological educators in our theological institution because the face of the church in Britain is now multi-ethnic.

A second reason why I think African pastors are not writing theological text books is the way and nature of academic and traditional publishing system. Academic publishing is obviously based on academic qualifications or being attached to a theological institution or centre. This means if you do not have a chair in a theological institution or at least attached to a college or University, you are likely not going to be considered. For traditional publishing, you have to know people that matters in the world of Christian celebrities or have a good reference from someone inside the publishing house. This is partly why some African pastors and churches have established their own publishing companies to print their inspirational books.

Lastly, is the practical need of writing which many African pastors have adopted. African pastors seem to prefer to write about how to solve your financial problems than to write about the history of African Pentecostal Churches in Britain. This is partly driven by the needs in some of these churches which ranges from immigration issues, visa restrictions, marital problems, financial problems. But it has to be said that while some of these motivational books are written with the practical and urgent needs of people in mind, some of the writings are done by pastors who have their own agenda of preaching Prosperity! The more books you write on success, the more people buy them, the more money you make! African pastors must take the time to reflect on the nature of our churches, its doctrines and practices and write to help educate and disciple its followers.

Having considered few reasons why African pastors are not writing theological text books, it is important to mention the few in Britain that are writing and reflecting on the African Church Movement as it is unfolding. This is not an exhaustive list so please do forgive me if you do not see your name!

Dr Afe Adogame: Afe is possibly one of the best known African scholars not only in Britain but in Europe, North America and Africa. He has written, contributed, edited more books and articles than any African scholar I am aware of in Britain. His bibliography is impressive authoring around 10 books and written countless articles in edited books and academic journals on African Christianity in Diaspora. Afe is lecturer in World Christianity and Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh. For his impressive bibliography follow this link http://www.ed.ac.uk/schools-departments/divinity/staff/search?uun=aadogame&search=&params=&cw_xml=publications.php

Rev Dr Kate Coleman: Kate Coleman is a Baptist minister and theologian who is actively involved in developing strategic leaders. She is a Womanist Theologian who reflects on the issues that affect women in leadership with a particular focus on black women in leadership. She has written a book, 7 Deadly Sins of Women in Leadership , Birmingham, Next Leadership Publishing, 2010, and contributed in academic journals and book chapters. Kate also teaches at various theological institutions one of which is Cliff College. Kate is the director of Next Leadership a cutting egde organisation that is involved in training and equipping leaders.

Rev Dr Chigor Chike: Chigor Chike is an ordained Anglican minister in East London and has written 2 books on African Christianity in Britain: The first being, African Christianity in Britain, Milton Keynes, Author House, 2007. This book surveyed the doctrines and practices of African Christians in Britain. The second is Voices from Slavery: Life and Beliefs of African Slaves in Britain, Milton Keynes, Author House, 2007. This book considers the life of 4 African Christian slaves in Britain drawing on their theological significance.

Rev Joe Kapolyo: Joe Kapolyo is a Baptist minister and scholar whose academic credentials combines Theology and Social Anthropology. Joe has the experience of leading theological institutions both in Africa and Britain. He has also worked with a lot of mission organisations. Joe has written books and has contributed book chapters as well as journal articles. Joe was one of the contributors of the African Bible Commentary and Dictionary of Mission Theology.

Dr Babatunde Adedibu: One of the emerging African missiologist in Britain is Babatunde Adedibu who is one of the pastors of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG). Babatunde as the research and ecumenical officer of RCCG can be regarded as the RCCG Theologian. Babatunde has written 2 books up to date and has contributed both in academic journals and book volumes. His two books are: Storytelling: An Effective Communication Appeal in Preaching, London, Wisdom Summit, 2009 and Coat of Many Colours, London, Wisdom Summit, 2012. Coat of Many Colours documents the history, mission and theology of Black Majority Churches (BMCs). Babatunde is a research fellow at University of Roehampton.

Dr Harvey Kwiyani: Harvey is another emerging African missiologist in Britain who has experience of the Missional Church Conversation in North America and Britain. This experience is reflected in his new book: Sent Forth: African Missionary Work in the West, New York, Orbis Books, 2014. This book which builds on earlier scholarship brings us up to the date with the African missionary movement in the West. The strength of the book lies in the fact that it attempts to view in holistic terms the missionary work of Africans in the West and the Missional Church Conversation as it is unfolding. Harvey is the brain behind Missio Africanus an initiative designed to help the missionary work of Africans in Britain. This is done through the Missio Africanus conference and journal (work in progress). He teaches missions, leadership, and African studies at Birmingham Christian College and at Church Mission Society (CMS) in Oxford. He is also research fellow at the Cuddesdon Study Centre at Ripon College, Cuddesdon

Israel Olofinjana: Lastly, I have to include my name as I have done a fair amount of writing and reflection on African Christianity, history and mission in Africa and Britain. I have written 3 books: Reverse in Ministry and Missions: Africans in the Dark Continent of Europe, Milton Keynes, Author House, 2010, 20 Pentecostal Pioneers in Nigeria, Bloomington, IN, Xlibiris, 2013 and Turning the Tables on Mission: Stories of Christians from the Global South in Britain, London, Instant Apostle/Lion Hudson Publishers. I have also contributed book chapters in academic text books:

Olofinjana, I.O, 2014, Nigerian Pentecostals: Towards Consumerism or Prosperity? In A. Adogame ed. 2014. The Public Face of African New Religious Movements in Diaspora, Surrey, Ashgate Publishing Limited, pp. 233-254.
This chapter explores prosperity Gospel as articulated by Nigerian Pentecostals in Britain comparring the development of prosperity Gospel in the United States, Africa and Britain.

Olofinjana, I.O, 2014, The Significance of Multicultural Churches in Britain: A Case Study of Crofton Park Baptist Church. In R.D. Smith, W. Ackah and A.G. Reddie eds. 2014. Churches, Blackness and Contested Multiculturalism, New York, Palgrave macmillan, pp. 75-86.

Olofinjana, I.O, 2014, Biography of the Revd Dr Mojola Agbebi. In G. Richards, 2014. Text and Story: Prophets for Their Time and Ours, Oxford, Centre for Baptist History and Heritage Oxford, pp. 18-20.
This contribution explores the life and legacy of the African nationalist and Baptist theologian, Dr Mojola Agbebi.

In addition, I am also one of the directors of Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World, an initiative established to train and equip missionaries from the Majority World.

In conclusion, while I have only focused in this article on African pastors and scholars writing in Britain, it is worth mentioning that there are others not African who have reflected and written about African Christianity and Churches in Britain. Some of them are: Dr Anthony Reddie, leading Black Theologian in Britain,  Dr Robert Beckford, leading Black Theologian in Britain, Dr Joe Aldred, Pentecostal and Multicultural Relations, CTE, Mark Sturge, author of Look what the Lord has done and Dr Richard Burgess, lecturer in Ministerial Theology University of Roehampton.

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What is Advent all about?

As we begin to count down towards Christmas and majority are feeling jolly including myself, it is important to reflect on the season when Jesus was born. This is traditionally known as advent coming from the latin word adventus which was translated from the Greek word Parousia. Parousia describes the coming of Jesus but it also means presence and signifies the presence of God with us. The New Testament writers, while they did not use the word advent because they were primarily writing in Greek and not Latin, talks about the parousia of Jesus in two stages.

The first stage was his birth and the ushering in of God’s kingdom on earth. The second is when he will come again and begin the end. I want to focus in this article on the first coming of Jesus. The various New Testament writers describes this coming in different language. Matthew tells us he was born of a virgin interpreting and applying Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 7:14. Matthew went further to tell us how significant Jesus birth was by the visit of the Magi who in some tradition are regarded as Kings. They brought gifts to Jesus all of which are very symbolic in terms of his ministry and mission as the Messiah. While Matthew was weaving the birth narratives explaining it in relation to the Old Testament, Luke on the other hand, appears to be describing the coming of Jesus in terms of political history. Luke was the one that mentioned that there was a census that led to Jesus family going back to their home town of Bethlehem. In addition, he mentioned the political powers that be in those days grounding the birth of Jesus in historical context. Luke however had more than a historical Jesus in mind as he mentioned that this Messiah was actually born in a horse’s stable, the lowest of low places and an unlikely place for a King to be born. This contrast Jesus with the Ceasars of the day or the Herods who were Kings ruling from a vast palace.

Luke also tells us that some classless group of people came to visit Jesus. These were the shepherds, the commoners in those days. The choir of angels appear to have organised and did the first Carol Service for them in order that they might go and see Jesus!

While Matthew and Luke explains Jesus first coming in terms of his birth. Mark and John appears to skip this birth narratives. Mark started his Gospel with an introduction of Jesus as the Son of God and the ministry of John the Baptist bearing witness to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. John following similar path, however departed by examining the origins of Jesus before he was born as a child. This beginning of Jesus, John asserts is the beginning of God (see John 1:2). While John would have been aware of Jesus birth stories, he did not preoccupy himself with that as he wanted to demonstrate that Jesus was eternal before his birth. He also appears to clarify perhaps some confusion around who was the Messiah, Jesus or John the Baptist by explaining that John came to bear witness to Jesus.

The climax of John’s understanding of  Jesus coming was his description of Jesus becoming human and living with us and like one of us (John 1:14). This is usually regarded as the incarnation, that is, God becoming human. I want to suggest that the church  continues the first advent or coming of Jesus as we have been charged to continue the mission of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20). Infact, it is continuing this mission that will lead to the second stage of Jesus coming. The big question is how do the church continue to make Jesus human to our neighbours, work colleagues, friends and families so that they can at least touch his humanity and feel that he is real? For this to happen, we as Christians must first of all be human and real to people. We can not afford to adopt some form of heavenly language that does not touch on real life situations that faces people or live a life style that says something different from what we preach.

People out there are looking for real people so lets keep it real this Christmas so that Jesus can once again become human!

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Churches interrogate black over-representation in British prisons (Press Release)

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Pentecostals pay tribute to international leader Dr Myles Munroe (Press Release)

The death of Dr Myles Munroe in a tragic plane crash in Bahamas last Sunday 9 November 2014 has led to an outpouring of grief among the Pentecostal and Charismatic Christian community in Britain and round the world.  All nine people on board the Lear 36 Executive Jet died in the crash, including Dr Munroe, his wife Ruth, their daughter Charisa and members of his Bahamas Faith Ministries International leadership team.  Munroe was an internationally renowned bestselling author, lecturer, teacher, life coach, government consultant, and leadership mentor. He was a frequent visitor to the UK.

Paying tribute, Dr Eric Brown, Churches Together in England Pentecostal President says, ‘It was my distinct privilege to invite Dr Munroe as keynote speaker to several of our Pastors and Key Leaders’ Conferences and on every occasion he spoke professionally and prophetically into the lives of our leaders.  Indeed he was a frequent keynote speaker to many of the Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches in this country.  He was a gifted communicator, effective motivator, a man of faith and great courage and full of the Holy Spirit.  He was a giant of our time and his unique place in the history of the Christian Church is secured.’

President of CiC International and Free Churches Moderator Dr Hugh Osgood recalls hosting Dr Munroe in London: ‘I know that many British church leaders have been deeply impacted by the warmth and encouragement he brought with him every time he visited the UK. Myles and his ministry will be greatly missed.’

 

And Dr Joel Edwards, International Director of Micah Challenge says: ‘Dr Myles touched so many lives on so many issues across so many communities.  As comfortable with Prime Ministers as he was the people, he walked with Kings without losing the common touch.  The world mourns the loss of a man who revealed the mind and heart of God.’

Dr Munroe’s ministry transcended race, culture, denominational and national boundaries with a message aimed at empowering others to discover their God-given purpose. In his own words, ‘The greatest Tragedy in life is not death, but a life without purpose.’

May he and all who died rest in peace.

Ends.

Contact

Dr Eric Brown: 07956 157003

Dr Joe Aldred: 07775 632288

Faith Ministries International: https://www.bfmmm.com

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