Meeting held at Kingsway International Christian Centre Walthamstow London E17
Tuesday 10 May 2011
Pastor Ade Omooba and Bishop Dr Joe Aldred
Bishop Dr Joe Aldred
The National Black Church Leaders Meeting (NBCLM) was called to order by the Chair, and thanks were extended to Kingsway International Christian Church (KICC) as the venue host. The Chair then went on to set the scene for the meeting, stating that the Black Church in Britain is ‘organisation rich’ but lacks a cohesive presence and voice. Given our current context, the main purpose of the meeting was to discuss, and if possible agree, an answer to the question:
Where is the voice of the BlackChurch today in the public square?
It was noted that previous public responses had been co-ordinated jointly through bodies such as the African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance (ACEA), the Black Christian Leaders’ Forum (BCLF) and Churches Together in England’s Minority Ethnic Christian Affairs (MECA). However both ACEA and BCLF had now ceased to exist as effective bodies, and from where MECA is situated it is not best suited to speak alone on behalf of the entire Black Christian community.
The lack of an authentic and unified national voice has given concern to “who” and/or “what” will leaders support as a prophetic and representative voice that can articulate appropriate responses and reflections of the Black Christian Community in Britain. The business of the meeting was therefore to look at the process to achieve consensus on “who” and “what”.
Senior Pastor of KICC Matthew Ashimolowo was unable to join the meeting due to urgent overseas business. In his absence Pastor Yemisi Ashimolowo opened the meeting in prayer and read out a short statement authored by Pastor Matthew to encourage the meeting. The main points focused on:
- The importance of celebrating the achievement and growth of black majority churches over the past 20 (and more) years.
- The need to reflect and deliberate on how we serve our communities and wider society.
- A united body to represent African and Caribbean communities
- Further theological studies on popular issues of ethical and moral concern.
At this point the Chair invited everyone present to introduce themselves and give a sentence on their hopes for the meeting. Many endorsed the coming together and the opportunity to discuss such an important agenda. Others registered concerns around denominationalism and short-termism. There was general consensus of a desire to achieve a process for moving forward together.
Presentation from Dr R David Muir
Dr David outlined the issues of concerns for the black community today, highlighting (as a starting point) the Faith in the City report. The report paid attention to and recognised the community projects and social interventions of African and Caribbean churches in Britain, particularly in the inner cities. David also reminded us of the missionary contributions of the Windrush generation, and that we are still witnessing the outworking of their mission today. Historically, during the 1960s and 1970s our churches experienced marginalisation, but now in the 21st century, data and demographic evidence shows black churches as being at the forefront of Christianity in Britain. Black Christianity has made a huge contribution to British life over the last 60 years and organisations such as Black Boys Can, Street Pastors and The Peace Alliance remain celebrations of transformation in action. However, there are challenges amongst us, one of which is to recognise black communities as being both culturally and theologically diverse – our starting places are not always the same; but we can dialogue and discuss together to find a common voice that can respond to current and breaking issues.
Presentation from Rev’d Ade Omooba
Revd Ade opened with the statement: “Leaders are people who serve and represent the issues that are common to the people, therefore leaders must know the issues affecting the people, and be willing to serve the people”. Ade then led the meeting into identifying key issues of concern to our communities, which included
Equality Act/Civil Partnerships
Freedom to Evangelise
Poverty and Social Justice at home, Africa & Caribbean
Ade encouraged the meeting to consider that as a body of believers acting in unity in accordance with God’s Spirit, our voice and impact can be heard and realised, and as a community we should not delay our attendance at various decision-making tables within local and national governmental structures.
Wider Group Discussion
Following the presentations there was a wide-ranging plenary, further identifying key issues faced by the Black Community in Britain to which the BlackChurch and its leaders must attend. It was suggested that the lengthy list of issues could cohere under 7 key themes:
- Connected National Leaders
- Theological Reflections
- Political Engagement
- Identity & Culture
A point was made to associate headings under recognised government agendas, as being both necessary and progressive, if we are to make useful and serious contributions to the ‘big society agendas.
However, a consensus emerged that the meeting should focus, at this stage, less on issues and more upon the issue of how to construct a mechanism by which we identify and endorse a representative body, whether existing or new, to represent the Black community on the issues already identified. The Chair then took a steer from the meeting to continue in plenary to discuss ‘How we best go about constructing a prophetic voice that is sound, theological, informed and relevant’.
Several further questions emerged, including:
- What has happened to the previous attempts to unify black Christian voices and how do we know energy will be sustained if we create a new body?
- How do we best consult with national and independent church leaders to find a common voice?
- How do we best work with and through expert organisations on key issues that will both support and empower them to speak out on our behalf?
- Should we work with and through/or repair existing channels as a way forward?
- Does our witness currently represent a church in which Jesus is Lord, and how might we consider the legacy we leave as a community of faith?
- Expressions were divided about whether a new body was needed or whether it was better to make existing (or fledgling ones) cohere in united action and voice
The following is list of comments, concerns, suggestions and reactions to the discussions and conversation (a list was also captured on stage and reflected back on the large screen to the meeting towards the end of the meeting)
- Any representative body or voice should consider and reflect the interests and communities outside London
- Policy expertise is often missing in our deliberations. Our leaders need to be briefed on various public policy positions so as to help formulate responses
- Diversity and inclusion amongst us need to recognise the French and Portuguese speaking churches and communities
- The Restoration, reconciliation and forgiveness of relationships between families, churches and leaders is critical to our progression as a cohesive community
- Recognition of the strategic and operational role; ‘how and why’ together with ‘making it happen’ is important in our long-term planning
- Leaders have authority and influence but all too often have little time and capacity to take on new roles and responsibilities so the need for a full-time co-ordinator’s role to draw work and activity together is a credible proposal.
- There was a feeling by some that good work in the community is often invisible, ignored and not supported beyond the churches
- As a community of leaders we need to acknowledge our limitations, gaps and weaknesses
- We need to create hubs and co-ordinate around the areas of PR, media and communication
- We need to introduce new and young voices into our shared dialogue
- The need to create positive spaces for reflections
- Explore models of working with diverse groups
- Current dynamics in the community often means leaders are reactive, however we should aspire to be more proactive
- Part of the way forward calls for the involvement of critical and academic thinkers, so serious consideration should be given to the creation of a black think-tank which can inform strategic direction and practical outcomes
Following these contributions the Chair called for a time of prayer. Leaders gathered into small groups of 3 and 4 for prayer for divine clarity and direction.
After prayer, it became clear that this meeting would not be able to conclude on the main matter discussed: ‘How we best go about constructing a prophetic voice that is sound, theological, informed and relevant’. The Chair suggested that we move forward by closing this meeting, distribute notes to attendees in a reasonable time frame, and meet again in three months for further discussion and decision.
A great degree of passion and depth of the discussions were evident in this meeting, but it proved to be the beginning of a process that would need the support and encouragement of those in attendance and the wider BlackChurch community. The group that had worked on today’s meeting would further consider the information captured and distilled it for presentation at our next NBCLM.
It was also suggested that the NBCLM should consider convening on an annual or 6-mthly basis for reflection, dialogue, mutual support and Christian fellowship.
Thanks were again given to KICC for a warm welcome as venue hosts. The meeting closed with prayer by Bishop Eric Brown.
Suggestions Going Forward
We propose the following as an expression of the first meeting notes and in keeping with what is possible
1) Name: National Christian Leaders Forum (NCLF)
(NCLF is Representative of Black Christianity in Britain)
2) Steering Group to coordinate the NCLF process towards ‘One Voice’
(Modupe Afolabi, Joe Aldred, Celia Collins, Dionne Gravesande, David Muir, Ade Omooba). The role of the interim steering group is to steer the process rather than the agenda which will be determined by you.
3) Think Tank to develop thinking through research in Theology and Ministry Formation, Politics and Public Policy, Youth and Justice, Media and Public Relations, Mission and Evangelism, Economics and Business
4) National Christian Leaders Forum Meeting (NCLFM) to convene annually
5) Information Hub to house contacts database
Date: Tuesday 20 September 2011
Time 3PM – 6PM
Venue: Bethel Community Centre, Church of God of Prophecy,
197 Ealing Road, Wembley HA0 4LW
(Nearest Tube Station on the Piccadilly line: Alperton; Bus No83)