Yesterday saw the conclusion and presentation of the final report of the research project, Being Built Together (BBT) at London’s Southwark Cathedral, Garry Weston Library. This was a research work that started in 2011 to look into the history, ecclesiology and practices of New Black Majority Churches (NBMC) in the borough of Southwark. The term New is added to Black Majority Churches (BMCs) to differentiate indepedent Pentecostal BMCs from those BMCs that are part of Historic Churches such as Anglican, Baptist, Catholic and URC. The research was funded and supported by its partners Churches Together in South London (CTSL), Southwark for Jesus (SFJ) and the University of Roehampton. The principal investigator was Dr Andrew Rogers, lecturer in Practical Theology at the University of Roehampton assisted by Rosemarie Davidson-Gotobed (Research Assistant), Sherry Kolawole (Volunteer Research Assistant), Alan Sharp (Research Assistant), Pastor Yomi O Peters (Research Assistant), Rev Dr Daniel Eshun (Associate Investigator), Diane Thomas Bowen (Research Assistant), and Misha Burgess (Research Assistant).
Dr Joe Aldred, secretary of Minority Ethnic Christian Affairs (MECA) chaired the meeting. Other panelists were Bishop Donnett Thomas, chair of Churches Together in South London and Senior Pastor of Power of the Living Word International Ministries, Pastor Lincoln Serwanga, Senior Pastor of Liberty Christian Fellowship, Rt Rev Dr Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of Woolwich and Simon Bevan, Director of Planning Southwark Council. The gathering was graced with eminent scholars, theologians, mission practitioners, pastors from various church traditions, representatives from mission agencies and interested members of the public. Dr Rogers presented the 137 page document in a precise and concise manner drawing on the significance of the research. One of the intriguing investigations of the research is the number of NBMC in the Borough of Southwark. Being Built Together were able to count about 252 NBMC in the Borough, suspecting that this may represent the greatest concentration of African Christianity in the world, outside Africa! (BBT Report, June 2013, p. 15). The presentation also highligted, regarding the demography of Southwark that it is the African capital of the UK! The research work was more of a qualitative analysis than quantitative as out of the 240+ NBMC, BBT team were able to conduct interviews and questionnaires with 36 of them. The BBT team also interviewed 28 informed observers who were able to assist with their knowledge of the situation in Southwark. The report is a mix of statistical analysis and informed observer/pastor testimony. The research considered six major areas of NBMC, they are, demographics, SE15 have the highest concentration of churches, Ecclesiology, recognising the diversity in church traditions that exist among NBMCs, Ethnicity and Culture, NBMCs are mostly African Churches, Community Engagement, BBT notes that community as used by these churches are associational as well as the local community, Ecumencical Matters, many of these churches are not affiliated to ecumenical bodies or agencies such as Churches Together in England or the local network Southwark for Jesus. “The emphasis on relational forms of engagement is critical for NBMCs and thus for the wider church in Southwark, although the need to avoid paternalistic modes of partnership by the wider church was raised” (p. 16). Lastly, Premises and Planning, this is the longest section of the report as it is one of aims of the research to investigate how the issues of planning affects these churches and how these churches view and respond to planning by Southwark Council. Premises and Planning has four main sections namely, Southwark Council, NBMCs, the wider church and Southwark neighbourhoods. Out of all these sections, the neighbours comments about NBMCs is the most interesting. Some of them reveal that some of these churches are not welcomed in borough, while others challenges the church on anti-social behaviours such as parking, noise and lack of tidiness.
The reports concludes with three bilbical passages: Ephesians 2 which is where the name of the project was taken from (TNIV version). Churches should seek for unity because God has built us together as one! The second scripture is the commandment to love God and our neighbours (Luke 10: 25-37). Lastly, Jeremiah 29 admonishes us to seek and pray for the peace of the city because it is in the peace of the city that we will prosper! The report has sixteen recommendations in total.