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London church tackles crime through knife amnesty

MINISTRY: Spac Nation during a worship session (Photo credit: Victoria Derbyshire/BBC)

A SOUTH London church is tackling knife crime head-on through an altar amnesty.

The Spac Nation Ministries, a “young, dynamic church” in Southwark, have over 1000 members and has caught media attention for its unorthodox approach. Its head pastor Tobi Adegboyega asks members of the congregation to make their way to the front with any weapons they may have in their pockets. Working through a system that is reliant upon trust, the amnesties have proved successful thus far.


Church Minister Connor Callaghan, who himself has served time in prison, told Victoria Derbyshire: "We've had times where people are coming to the altar and dropping their knives and drugs.

"(…) Last week I was praying for a 23-year-old who was recently released from prison and he was crying."

Spac Nation’s style of preaching speaks to a congregation that is predominantly comprised of ex-offenders. This is thought to include former armed robbers, drug dealers, gang members and one man who spent time in prison for attempted murder.

According to the church’s official figures, 55% of those that attend have previously been involved in a life of crime. Tobi, who eschews traditional clergy attire in favour of ripped jeans and casual-wear while preaching, said: "I understand our approach is different from a traditional church. I've got to look like them [the congregation]. I've got to connect with them.

"I've got access and I'm speaking to the worst of the worst - people who have done the most despicable things. And I sit down with them and we talk."

The authorities approve of Spac Nation’s approach. Chief Supt Sean Yates, heads of the Metropolitan Police's knife crime unit, told the BBC he wanted churches "to be seen as safe spaces for young people, places they can go and talk to someone".

The force says it is "committed to targeting knife crime through enforcement and education, but... we need the help of the community to tackle what is a very complex issue".


Critics have spoken out against this church’s methods, with some describing it as a ‘cult’. Others have taken issue with its pastors’ lack of formal training and said members are encouraged to flaunt their wealth, in order to make the church look glamorous to the gang members it wants to attract.

LEADER: Tobi Adegboyega is the church's head pastor (Photo credit: Victoria Derbyshire/BBC)

But Tobi remains undeterred: "I show them what they've always wanted to be, and that they were looking for it in the wrong place."

"If knives and guns take human lives, it is the role of the church to save lives."

The church actively hits the streets, targeting gang members to show them a new lease of life.


Knife crime across the country has risen by a startling 21 per cent in the 12 months to September, according to quarterly figures released by the Office of National Statistics. Stabbings in London are at their highest level in six years, with a 23 per cent rise from the previous year.

Minister Daniel Ogoloma, an ex gang member said: "An elderly person who has never been on the streets of Brixton can't tell a gang leader why they can't carry a knife.

"What the [gang member] needs is to build partnerships with community leaders who have been in that position.

"We don't care who we approach.

"We're coming as peacemakers to offer these people help.

"It is a dangerous thing to do but with a good heart we know all is well."

Tobi attributes the successful reformation of ex-offenders to this alternative support and outreach; which the official, more traditional entities have failed to provide.

Special credit to Noel Phillips

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