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By M. Babajide-Alabi
Many people had asked me in recent past what I think about the growth of Nigerian churches in the United Kingdom. To be honest I had not given this a thought before, but I know majority of the people I encounter on this subject seemed agitated or sort of discomfort by what they refer to as “black churches”.
Everyday in the UK one brand new Nigerian church springs up. I am delighted by this growth. Not for anything outrageous though, but they give me and many Nigerians the alternative to a traditional white church. These new churches offer me and many other Nigerians the opportunity to “feel at home” on Sunday while I sing songs that I grew up with and also dance to the talking drum during the offering or thanksgiving sessions. They also allow me the luxury of listening to “powerful” songs booming through the speakers without any threat from neighbours.
I am not alone in this thinking. Like many Nigerian Christians visiting UK or staying for a while, the first desire is to find a church where they can mix and mingle with their fellow country men and women. Our instinct abroad is more liberal, relationship-wise, than at home, making it easy for us to so “flow” with each other, not minding the language or ethnicity.
“Church relationship” has not always been easy as this in the UK. Arriving in the ancient city of Edinburgh on a cold Saturday morning in 2003 I remember looking forward to worshiping in any church the following day as there was no Redeemed Christian Church of God, the Winners Chapel or any other Nigerian church in the city then. I could not contain my excitement as I and my family joined the congregants for worship at the only black church on Leith Street.
It was not a Nigerian church, but no doubt, it felt like one. The Praise and Worship session was done in different African songs it’s lots of vigorous dance steps. The warm welcome we received “kept us” till later in the year when the RCCG commenced Sunday services at the Odeon Centre, Wester Hailes. Soon the Odeon Centre became the rallying point for Nigerians living in the city – to worship and also socialise. It did not take long though before other black churches sprang up in Edinburgh built around the model of the RCCG.
It should be noted, however, that these churches not only satisfy the social needs of the diasporans, but also help to a greater extent in re-igniting the fire of Christianity in a nation that was once reputed to be its flag bearer. The gains of these new generation black churches cannot be denied as you see them in every corner of the cities of UK and are now an integral part of the history of Christianity in the country.
You can therefore imagine my excitement as I sat in the audience in Manchester City on Friday under the ministration of the General Overseer, RCCG Worldwide, Pastor Enoch Adeboye. This was not my first attendance at the Festival of Life in the UK, but at every visit I cannot but marvel at the influence the RCCG has gained in the country.
As Daddy GO came on the stage, I looked at the excited faces of people around me. They were all full of expectations. The FOL always produce a serene sort of atmosphere where individuals throw aside the garbs of pretence or pride that is usually associated with Diasporans.
One worrying fact for me every time I attend FOL is that these events are mainly populated by blacks. The Manchester meeting was no exception. There were a few white people in the audience but at an event that has become worldwide a first time attendee may be left wondering why the composition of the audience was lopsided. The largest concentration of white or light coloured people in the hall were the hired security, audio-visual and the technical staff.
I am aware that the seeming lack of interest of the white population in these black churches is of great concern to church leaders in the UK. One tends to wonder if the brand of Christianity that is preached in these churches sound different from what an average white person would be interested in. Or is it the “modus operandi” of the services?
One thing that is clear is Christianity is waning fast in popularity among the “native” population. In the UK as obtained in other developed countries of the world, there are new gods that people serve religiously. They are drugs, homosexualism, sodomy, money, alcohol etc. These ‘gods” have replaced the love of God in their hearts and therefore no thought for the religion of their forefathers.
Events such as FOL are organised to help the country find its way back to God. The crowd ., come in with one expectation or the other. Many had come to Manchester for the first time to see and hear the famed “Daddy GO” who the Prime Minister David Cameron had sought out for prayers at the April 2015 London’s Festival of Life, just before the May 2015 General Elections.
To an average Christian in the UK, Pastor Adeboye is no stranger as he is reputed to pastor the fastest growing denomination in the country. In every city, from Scotland to Wales, England to Northern Ireland there is at least a parish of the church. The total number of parishes of RCCG in the UK is put at over seven hundred. No other church has such network of parishes.
When David Cameron sought the “audience” of the FOL, London “attendees”, he fully realised the “power” that could be bestowed upon him in such gathering. Although the visit was meant to be low keyed, there was no doubt that it was a campaign strategy by Tory party campaign team, considering the number of potential ethnic minority voters that Cameron could appeal to. And judging by the audiences’ claps of “approval” many did include Cameron’s re-election among their prayer requests for the night.
The RCCG, is the “door opener” for thousands of other ethnic-minority controlled churches that spring up daily in UK cities. However, the iconic church buildings are gradually becoming “extinct” in the country as some have been pulled down while the surviving ones are now homes to pubs, clubs and exhibition centres. On the other hand, the emerging black churches are finding productive uses for abandoned warehouses. These churches are different from the types that the likes of Camerons grew up to know and recognise. The big churches with slate roofs, large spires, pews and pulpits are all gone. With the advent of the black churches Cameron had a rethink as he told Daddy GO, “you’ve proved that church is people, church is a family, and it doesn’t matter what the roof is made of, because with your energy, your devotion, your love of Jesus Christ, you raise that roof every time.”
While these “black churches are growing, the challenge right now is how to get the indigenous people to become part of them. Without success in this area, it will continue to be a congregation of Nigerians or Africans with nostalgia for how they worship back at home.
Published in Sunday Vanguard July 19th 2015. CLICK HERE