It’s a quiet revolution ignored by secular media. While many talk about the decline of Christianity in the UK, this has not been the case for African and Caribbean communities. Behind the doors of previously abandoned bingo halls, shop fronts, and community centres dotted around this country, there are now thriving churches.
God has been at work in African and Caribbean communities living in the UK to build His Church. And what a Church!
Incredible growth in african and caribbean heritage churches
Between 2005 and 2012, church attendance in London has grown 16% – from just over 620,000 to over 720,000. In London today, 48% of all churchgoers are Black. Some of this phenomenal growth is concentrated in the London Borough of Southwark, which is now home to 240 African and Caribbean Heritage Churches with 20,000 congregants.
From Gospel preaching to social action, these churches are having a profound impact in their communities and beyond.
One such church is Trinity Chapel Church. Located at the Discovery Centre in Jenkins Lane in the heart of Barking, the 550-strong congregation started with only six people 26 years ago.
“We were a church plant from Jesus House, North London. We started in 1996 with a small team and some financial support,” Pastor Yemi Odusolu recalls.
“Since then, we’ve also planted between eight and ten churches. Trinity Chapel Church is a vibrant and dynamic church with a mix of different experiences that are attracting people who want to grow in faith.
“Our congregation is made up of people who have come to faith through our ministry as well as Christians from various countries in Africa, some from the Caribbean, who are living in the community.”
iCan Community Church is another thriving African and Caribbean Heritage Church in East London. Headed by Bishop Wayne Malcolm, entrusted by his denomination to promote entrepreneurship and self-employment, the church started in 2015 with more than 50 members. Since then, it has grown to about 450 people who regularly attend the services.
A Heart for Social Action
As well as helping shape the spiritual landscape in the UK, African Heritage Churches and Caribbean Heritage Churches are contributing to socio-political change. They are partnering with local authorities to reduce gang violence in their communities. They’re tackling issues like domestic abuse, offering free counselling, and running food banks in their area.
Many are in communities that face complex social issues. The culture is one of giving and being missional. Many are used to sending finances back to their families in their countries of heritage.
As many churches do not have the financial foundation of the traditional UK churches, they often have to raise their own funds. Giving is in their hearts.
It is essential to make a difference and help change someone else’s life for the better so that God gets the glory. African and Caribbean Heritage churches understand the needs of the poor and the injustices in society and consistently engage in acts of kindness.
Like many other African heritage churches, Trinity Chapel Church is committed to social action through education seminars and community outreach.
“We undertake several programmes designed to support the community. We partnered with the Department of Culture as part of the Love Your Neighbour project – a network of churches in local communities working to support people in need.
“We also run our Open Eyes Programme. It’s a ministry initiative that addresses issues in society outside the main Church meeting. We had sessions that talked about how we can deal with issues like knife crime, drug use, domestic abuse, cancer treatments and Covid vaccines.
“We have strong links with our local hospice – Richard’s Hospice and there are various outreach campaigns throughout the year. These include care packs for the homeless and the shoebox campaign around Christmas.
“There are about 140 people from the church who have put their names down to volunteer in some capacity, and many will put their hand up to participate in these programmes.”
At iCan Community Church, almost half the congregation members are serving in some capacity.
“We’ve always been involved in supporting our community, but this has increased during and after the pandemic,” explains Bishop Wayne.
The church has worked on various programmes, from supporting senior citizens to working with local authorities to prevent youth crime.
They’ve worked one-on-one with people, provided interventions and counselling seminars, raised awareness of domestic violence, and delivered food parcels to the doorstep of people struggling with the cost of living or who were isolated due to COVID. They’ve trained their volunteers in Mental Health First Aid as they cared for those struggling with anxiety and depression.
Their next step is to create a youth academy where young people who have fallen behind on their education because of the pandemic can have an opportunity to catch up.
“We’ve sought out where people were hurting most and developed a ministry around that,” says Bishop Wayne.
“We want to minister to the community without a cost to them, without wanting to get them to church.”
Reasons for Community Outreach
Due to the diverse nature of African culture, many African heritage churches have had to learn and teach this culture into their activities and service. They believe, according to the Bible, that working with compassion brings about discipleship. For these churches, community outreach is part of the great commission expressed in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
When asked why Trinity Chapel Church ministers to the community like this Pastor Yemi’s answer is clear.
“It is our responsibility to align with the word of God,” he says.
“We have a responsibility to be a light in the community. While we need to minister to our members at church, we can’t stop there.
“Matthew 5:15 says we do not light a lamp and put it under a bowl. It’s there to be put on a stand to give light to everyone in the house. That house is the community in which we are placed.”
For Bishop Wayne at iCan Community Church, it’s about God’s love expressed in practical action.
“This is what Christianity means. Jesus said by this all men will know that we are his disciples. Love is our witness. It is our evidence of the resurrection and redemption of Jesus Christ,” says Bishop Wayne.
“We are here to make a difference. To be a re-presentation of Christ. And we do this by supporting our community. The church should assume leadership when it comes to ministry to the poor. Ultimately it is the love of God that compels us to be good to our neighbours.”
Impact on Compassion’s Ministry
That desire to follow God’s word, to be a light in the community, has also crossed oceans to help others in different countries. With more than 114 children sponsored by various congregation members, Trinity Chapel Church is fast becoming a key church supporting Compassion’s work.
“The work of Compassion is very important to us. When we started to look at how we can support others overseas, we found that Compassion had a strong footprint in caring for the poor. They really sought to focus on those in need and I could see that directly when I visited Compassion’s work in Kenya. It was very helpful,” says Pastor Yemi.
“The fact that projects were organised by local churches was also important. And seeing graduates becoming a force for change in the country was another important factor in supporting Compassion.”
iCan Community Church has also sponsored at least 100 children in Ethiopia. The dream is not only to sponsor children but to also undertake mission trips to that country.
“We wanted to work, to do something practical. We ran our first church mission trip with Compassion in 2019. We took 15 people from the congregation. We visited projects, gave presents, and planted 200 trees. There was a lot of joy,” says Bishop Wayne.
“It was life-changing for many of us. And it gave people the experience of the mission field. We’d love particularly younger people to sponsor and support this work.”
iCan Community church hopes to restart the trips in 2024.
Compassion UK believes everyone’s voice should be respected and given an opportunity to be heard.
African and Caribbean Heritage churches want to be involved and have so much capacity in their hearts for missions. We also believe it increases a sponsored child’s self-worth when they realise they are supported by people of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities, some similar to theirs.
A NEW HOPE AND BETTER FUTURE FOR CHILDREN
It is the commitment from Christians in churches like iCan Community Church, Trinity Chapel and many others to partner with our frontline church partners that is bringing hope to children and communities all over the world.
In a small village in Tanzania, a newly launched Compassion project is about to provide opportunities to transform lives.
“During the dry season, we all feel so helpless. We see our children shrivel, and we can manage to do so little to keep them well fed,” says Rose, mother to seven-year-old Naning’oi, who has just started at the new Compassion project.
“I only have two children, and I struggle. There are other women who have more children. They struggle more.”
Naning’oi is Rose’s first child to live past her first birthday. Rose had three children before her, but they all died.
Since the news spread that Compassion’s church partner will support vulnerable children in the village, parents like Rose have eagerly awaited the registration day.
“Richard [the project director] and some volunteers from the church came to our home. They told me they wanted to help Naning’oi get an education, take care of her when she got ill, and even give us food when we needed it. I was happy when I heard that because all I want is for her to get an education,” says Rose.
When the day came for Naning’oi to register, her mother pulled out her clean black traditional garment and helped her get dressed. With her younger sister’s flask filled with milk in her hand, Naning’oi walked ahead of her mother to the centre.
“When I grow up, I want to be a teacher,” says Naning’oi.
To achieve that dream, she must complete seven years of primary school, six years of secondary, and three years in university. Her path to her goal is complex, and no one in her family has been able to achieve it.
But the new Compassion project is fostering new dreams.
“My mother always insists that I should study hard so that I can have a better life. I want to study and build her a house,” says the little girl.
“I am happy I will get help with my school. I will get schoolbooks and uniforms. I am also happy I will be able to get a friend [a sponsor] to help us.”
If you are serving in an African or Caribbean Heritage Church and interested in supporting Compassion, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us:
- Kenny Akinyele – Regional Partnership Manager, African Heritage Churches
- Rona Anderson – Regional Partnership Manager, Caribbean Heritage Churches
We would love to hear from you!