I’ve just been to a day conference on racial reconciliation and the church. The main speaker Owen Hylton, gave the example of a Nigerian believer who joins your church. He wants to meet to pray You tell him “There’s the monthly prayer meeting for 1.5 hours in two weeks time.” He says “I was thinking more of 6 hours this Friday.” He however, confirms to your expectations because he loves the church. Hylton commented “You’ve gained a lovely church member and lost a prayer warrior.” This provoked some discussion about how we should have responded to this hypothetical person.
It also got me thinking a bit more the history of black majority churches in the UK. Part of the story is that when Caribbean believers arrived in the UK, they experienced racism and rejection when they attempted to join existing stories.
However, I’ve mentioned before that others have given what initially sounds like a more positive spin. From that perspective, there were genuine cultural differences. White Christians met at 10:30am on the dot and finished at 11:30am on the dot. Black Christians preferred to arrive as when they felt led and leave as and when they felt led. They wanted more spontaneous, free flowing services. There was a cultural difference that made it not possible for the two to be contained in the same church. So, the Black churches started sometimes with genuine warm support and a sense of fellowship with the indigenous churches. Indeed, sometimes the pastor of a white British church would provide support and conduct weddings, funerals, dedications and baptisms for the fledgling church.
It is perhaps ironic to consider what has happened in much of the white British church. Our services now are often longer than they were 40-50 years ago and less structured. Oh and that English reputation for punctuality has long gone.
I wonder then whether or not the separation was that positive or that unavoidable? Is it possible that in fact, the Windrush generation could have been a breath of fresh air into existing churches? Would many churches that in the end died have in fact thrived and grown, reaching people from all cultures? Could we have avoided the divide and experienced blessing and fruitfulness?
There is of course nothing we can do about the past. However, we may want to think carefully about what lessons we can learn about the disruption of new people to our churches today.