Dr. David Muir Reflects On Caribbean Pentecostal Churches in Britain 70 Years After Windrush

The tragic news stories in April, of children of the Windrush generation losing their jobs and livelihoods, and being carted off to detention centres as they await deportation back to the Caribbean, shouldn’t overshadow the achievements of the Caribbean community in Britain as we commemorate the 70th Anniversary of this pioneering generation. Rather, it should cause us to reflect upon the resilience, struggles and sacrifices of those, mainly young pioneers, who came to Britain with ‘open hearts and hope in their eyes’ to build a better life for themselves and their families.

The arrival of the Empire Windrush is ‘a watershed in the Black history of Britain’ and ‘the symbolic beginning of the modern phase in the relationship between Britain and the West Indies’, according to Olusoga2.

In the 70 years since the Empire Windrush docked in Tilbury with the first wave of Caribbean immigrants, the Black Church has become the most cohesive and coherent section of Black communities in the UK.

And the Caribbean Christian community has played a significant role in this story.

The growth of African and Caribbean churches is a sign of hope and renewal worthy of emulation. Black Christianity, according to Ian Bradley, may well prove to be ‘a key agent in the re-evangelisation of Christian Britain’3. For those who were cold-shouldered when they arrived, and labelled as ‘sects’ by sociologists, this is a massive shift in perception and status.

Caribbean Christians are represented in all the mainstream churches in the UK, and Caribbean Pentecostal church organisations, like the New Testament Church of God (NTCG), New Testament Assembly (NTA), Church of God of Prophecy (COGOP) and Ruach are now recognised as important ecumenical partners and players on the national religious landscape.

However, we must not forget the remonstrations from the 11 Labour MPs who, on the very day the ship arrived (22 June 1948), wrote to Prime Minister Atlee complaining about the ‘discord and unhappiness’ this wave of Caribbean immigrants would cause.

Even though two-thirds of the passengers were ex-servicemen, who had fought for Britain during the Second World War, these MPs stated that the country ‘may become an open reception centre for immigrants not selected in respect of health, education, training, character, customs’.

The Labour MPs displayed the prejudice and fear that would set the tone for the discrimination and struggles the Caribbean community would subsequently face.

Arguing that British society is ‘blessed by the absence of a colour racial problem’, they felt that an ‘influx of coloured people domiciled here is likely to impair the harmony, strength and cohesion of our public and social life, and to cause discord and unhappiness among all concerned’.4

Despite this early negative atmosphere, today there are a number of leading Caribbean Pentecostal churches in the UK, as well as leaders in public life.

However, the growth and development of Caribbean Pentecostal churches were not without struggles – personal and institutional.

The perspectives of pioneers, like Pastor Io Smith, and Caribbean theologians, such as Professor Robert Beckford and Bishop Dr Joe Aldred, give us a critical insight into the experience of this community’s encounter with British society. Aldred suggests that Caribbean Christians have had to endure ‘a low level of acceptance and understanding and, conversely, a high level of rejection and misunderstanding from the host Christian and secular society’.5

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SOURCE: Keep the Faith