What are black majority churches?
The history of black majority churches in London is phenomenal because within a short period of 60 years they have grown from rejection to influence.
Black majority churches growth began in earnest with the arrival of the Empire Windrush, the famous ship that brought Caribbean migrants in 1948.
This trend has continued into the present with churches such as the Jesus House, a growing multicultural, evangelical ministry that is the largest congregation in The Redeemed Christian Church of God, the fastest growing denomination in the United Kingdom.
Their historical development is rich and diverse in nature; however, the generic term, black majority churches, is problematic because 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 parachurch organizations 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 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 examples illustrate the richness of their diversity.
The genesis of black majority churches in London can be traced back to 1906 with the founding of Sumner Road Chapel, started by Thomas Kwame Brem-Wilson in Peckham in southeast London.
Brem-Wilson, a businessman and schoolmaster, 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 in southeast London.
However, this is not the first black majority church in Britain. That honor goes to a church founded by a former slave named John Jea in the early 19th century.
After a fruitful itinerant ministry in North America and Europe, Jea settled down in Portsmouth, England, with his wife, Mary, and possibly started a church in their house, around 1805-15.
The 1940s and 1950s saw the influx of Caribbean families into the U.K. due to the invitation of the British government asking them to come and help rebuild the country after the devastations of the World War II.
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 as mission to the U.K., led to the formation of Caribbean Pentecostal and Holiness Churches in London and the midlands.
The independence of African countries from around 1957 onward led to African diplomats, students and tourists coming to Britain.
When they discovered, like the Caribbeans before them, that they were rejected by the British churches and society at large, they founded the African Instituted Churches in London.
The 1980s and 1990s saw the emergence of African Newer Pentecostal Churches. The ’90s also witnessed the birth of independent Caribbean Pentecostal Churches in London.
It is the explosive growth of these African and Caribbean churches that has drawn the attention of scholars and the media to black majority churches.
What relationship exists between British Baptists and black majority churches?
The connections are happening through the sharing and use of church buildings.
This has been going on since the 1960s. 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 neighbor churches.
I have witnessed good examples of this in Greenwich, in southeast London, where I lead a Baptist church.
For example, our congregation, 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 congregation has a good working relationship with Pentecostal City Mission, and we have also had joint activities such as a watch-night service and Sports Day.
In addition, I have a good relationship with Pastor Roy, the minister of Pentecostal City Mission.
Another example in Greenwich is the relationship between East Plumstead Baptist Church and Rivers of Life Church.
East Plumstead Baptist Church hosts Rivers of Life Church in their building on Sunday afternoons.
Raphael Amoako-Atta, the Baptist pastor, and Bishop Brissett, the Rivers of Life minister, are good friends and respect each other’s ministries.
East Plumstead Baptist Church is also a host to another church on a Saturday – the Nepalese Fellowship, which actually grew out of the church.
The proliferation and diversity of black majority churches in London will continue so long as there is migration, which is becoming difficult in the U.K., and as long as London remains a global city.
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 black majority churches 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.
Israel Oluwole Olofinjana is the pastor of Woolwich Central Baptist Church in London. He is Nigerian, coming from a Pentecostal background, and is the author of several books. His writings can also be found on his blog.
Editor’s note: This article is an adapted excerpt from Olofinjana’s newly released book, “Partnership in Mission: A Black Majority Church Perspective on Mission and Church Unity,” which is available here.
Israel Oluwole Olofinjana, a Yoruba Nigerian coming from a Pentecostal background, is the founding director of Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World, author and editor of several books, and an ordained and accredited Baptist minister. He is the pastor of Woolwich Central Baptist Church, a multi-ethnic, multicultural inner city church in south east London. Israel is an Honorary Research Fellow at Queens Foundation in Birmingham, UK.