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Church still going strong

THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE: Churchgoers in the 1960s

WHEN CARIBBEAN people began emigrating to this country en masse from the 1950s onwards, noone could have envisaged that they would establish a black Pentecostal church movement with such widespread impact.

Black-led churches served as a spiritual home for Caribbeans and provided comfort and support as they adapted to life in the UK.

Now, they are part and parcel of the country’s religious landscape. The story of how black churches developed here is a familiar one.

When the Windrush Generation arrived, many came from a religious background. Some attended traditional churches with predominantly white congregations, and were often told not to come back.

Undaunted by the prejudice, black Christians started their own churches.

Some migrants came here as Pentecostals, intent on sharing the gospel with fellow migrants and a wider community.

“When the Windrush Generation started their churches they were answering the needs of their time,” says church leader, broadcaster and Ecumenist Bishop Joe Aldred.

“I think there’s an assumption that what served them well are the values that will serve us well today. Not necessarily so. This generation needs to ask, ‘what are the needs of our generation and how can we meet them?’”

Today’s ministers, greatly influenced by those who founded the black Pentecostal church decades ago, have changed up their leadership style to serve the needs of present-day Christians.

Pastor Peter Nembhard is one of them. Saved while in prison over 30 years ago, Nembhard is a senior pastor at ARC (A Radical Church) in Forest Gate, east London.


CONNECTING WITH MILLENNIALS: Pastor Peter Nembhard

He oversees a fast-growing collective of ARC churches, with congregations based in Essex, London and Birmingham.

Recently he welcomed more than 40 new members at a service, with most of them being millennials.

Nembhard has good memories of growing up in Built On The Rock church in Bethnal Green, east London, which was part of Bibleway Church fellowship, founded by the late Bishop Leon White.

He recalls: “When I got saved and started going to the church I thought the members were old. I was 18, but they were very engaged in the church. They’d invite you to their homes for dinner. It was like a community and it had a very strong Jamaican culture, in terms of the music.

“When I came into the church the leader, Bishop McFarlane, and the elders gave me discipline, which was good for me as a young man, and they recognised my gifting.”

Nembhard founded the ARC 20 years ago. But in the past three years, it has attracted hundreds of millennials. He has adopted some of the leadership style he experienced at his former church.

“At the ARC we’ve created a nurturing atmosphere. When I grew up in church, people were told how to think and what to think. You weren’t encouraged to have an opinion.

“I have found with today’s young people, they have opinions. They think a lot, have access to information via Google, and ask a lot of questions.

“Leaders of today’s church must be able to hear and listen to different opinions. [It] has to be more empowering and inspiring.”

Meanwhile, Bishop Jonathan Jackson is a minister within the New Testament Church of God and leads The Rock in Birmingham, which attracts 350-500 people every Sunday, and is especially popular with youths.


THINKING OF THE FUTURE: Bishop Jonathan Jackson's church is popular with young people

The son of a minister, Bishop Jackson was 26 when he started pastoring, and 33 when he became leader of The Rock. He has great admiration for the Windrush Generation.

He says: “They were faithful to a fault with their families, their churches, their work. They had dignity and showed respect to themselves. And the most profound lesson I learnt from them is that they got on with things regardless.”

FUTURE
When Bishop Jackson became leader of The Rock in 2002, it had many Windrush Generation members.

However, as the years passed by, and they began to pass on, he recognised the need to train up younger leaders.

He says: “I operated on the principle that we needed younger pastors, because they think about the future – older pastors reflect on the past.”

Jackson is a pastor who is proud of the heritage of his denomination, but also one not afraid of progress.

“Modernity is not the enemy of the historical life of the church. There’s always been a modern drive within the church, and if you think about it as an enemy, you fail.”

The Rock also runs a number of social projects including an after-school club, food bank and youth outreach scheme.

Jackson explains: “We are aiming to fulfil our mandate, which is to be a multi-generational church, where whatever a person’s age or situation they come from, they are part of our church and are active.”

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