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What the future holds for African Pentecostal churches in the UK
With growing numbers across Merseyside (Liverpool) and the UK in general, where will African Pentecostal churches be in the foreseeable future as fewer second generation African migrants go to the churches of their parents? Statistics indicates mainstream churches across the UK including Anglican, Catholic, Methodist and other religions have been losing congregation members in thousands and some of their worship places have been turned to accommodation or even office spaces. Their members may have reduced lately but this is not the same with African Pentecostal churches as new ones are created quickly; some like Christian Gold House Chapel (CGHC) in Kensington (Liverpool) now using a grade 2 building Christ Church, an Anglican denominational church used for more than one century. The new Ghanaian pastor Samuel Sarpong of CGHC had to go to court before evicting squatters for had lived in the church for years after it was abandoned.
Our seminal multimedia oral history project “The History & Growth of African pentecostal churches across Merseyside” has now ended but recording the stories of a wide range of people from second generation young African migrants through pastors, researchers and evangelists was edifying. -African Pentecostal churches in the UK are thriving but the deadly COVID 19 pandemic forced them to adapt to new ways of reaching out to their followers as preventive measures to reduce the spread of the virus stopped large groups of people from congregating. Facebook and youtube live broadcast is a favourite medium most now use to preach. Most of the churches didn’t fail to also publish their bank details online and asked their followers to continue paying their tithes and contributions since the church still has bills to pay even if they mostly don’t attend church services again.
With funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, we gathered a wide range of interesting views with two of the three second generation African migrants (Odile Mukete & Simon Ngwa) questioning the role religion should play in their lives now their parents can no longer force them to attend church. They have temporarily stopped going to church until as Odile Mukete says she finds the “right church”. She thinks prosperity religion is killing African Pentecostalism. Joanna Kwapong on the other hand still has a strong faith in God, attends church frequently and says boldly “religion will never die”. The pastors including Pastor Philip Oyewale, Jude Ezika and Matilda Egbumokei accept African religious faith now faces a large number of survival challenges but can weather the storm in the long run. They all accept some pastors have given a bad name to Pentecostalism because of fake miracles, financial mismanagement and diverting from the preaching’s of the bible
Pentecostalism through academic lenses
Two researchers we interviewed for the project Dr Harvey Kwiyani from Malawi and Dr Richard Burgess a British Pentecostal have both written extensively on African Pentecostalism but also have slightly different views about the future of African Pentecostalism in the UK. Though both accept African Pentecostalism is helping revive religious faith in a country where religion is threatened with dying out as fewer people go to church, they differ in how pastors can stop this from happening to African Pentecostalism. Dr Kwiyani who lectures African religious studies at the Liverpool Hope University believes the onus is on African parents to handle their children with gloved hands and understand they can no longer force them to do anything as was the case in Africa. “The data that we are seeing in our research shows that they are finding it difficult to stay in their parents’ churches. It is common for young people. Once they get out of their parents homes, go to University or move to other cities, they stop going to church altogether. Many young people will complain and say our parents dragged us to church when we were young. We dint want anything to do with church again”. Dr Kwiyan continues “My hope is that they will not leave church and part of that is just helping parents understand that they are not in Africa anymore and they have to learn to do things differently”.
Dr Richard Burgess who lectures religious studies in London Roehampton University accepts some second generation Africans may not be going to church after they leave home but the African churches will not die out anytime soon so long as migration continues from Africa to Britain.
As part of our project, we recorded two debates on the role African religion plays in the lives of Africans abroad, the challenges the church was facing and why most African indigenous religions were dying out in favour of Christianity or Islam. Panellists exchanged strong views on why African indigenous religions were dying with one Pastor Matilda Egbumokei saying they had to die because of some “satanic” practices they supported. Pastor Philip Oyewale of Cottenham Baptist Pentecostal Churches said though preaching the word of God was necessary in all churches, he called on African pastors to give their members more practical help including encouraging them to get into business when possible to survive. Pastor Oyewale is a serial businessman who owns thriving businesses in his home country Nigeria and in the UK.