SPOTLIGHT: On Francophone Community in Britain
Dr Michel Sacramento
NCLF: Where are Francophone in Britain from in Africa and the Caribbean?
MS: They come from Martinique, Guadeloupe, the Reunion Island, and from each of the former French colonies of Africa. Congolese and Angolese, Ivoirians, Togolese, Cameroonians, Algerians, and Senegalese are the largest of these French-speaking communities living in the UK. In spite of the English language barrier and absence of colonial ties with the British, a significant percentage of these Afro-Caribbean Francophone individuals did not hesitate to make the leap, often in a quest for a cultural alternative to the French. However, they do hold on to their French heritage, practice French as well as their own native languages, and enjoy the prestige of the cross-cultural experience.
Picture: Group of ministers who attended a seminar organised by Pastorale Francophone UK for its members on the topic of Christian Leadership and the Administration of the Church.
NCLF: What religious beliefs have they brought?
MS: Their cosmology and cosmogony are quite specifically foreign to British Christianity. They believe culturally in the existence and malefic activities of demons just as much as they have faith in Jesus-Christ as Saviour. In particular, the Congolese communities of all Christian confessions, but also most of the other Afro-Caribbean communities, do believe and fear the harmful influence of spirits in every areas of life. So they turn to the “spiritual father” for the prayer of deliverance. The status of a pastor is much more akin to Old Testament priest or prophet, who is often perceived as “Man of God” rather than pastor, or evangelist. Sunday services last typically up to three hours, or more, in order to allow the necessary time for God to address the believers. With regards to tithing, the Afro-Caribbean Francophone stance is much more akin to the French Catholic tradition, given that they hardly abide by the 10% rule, which their English evangelical counter-parts still endeavour to observe. Immigration issues in the 1990s and 2000s have seen the Francophone churches thrive as they stood in to cater for the much-needed spiritual support for their members. So, all-night prayer sessions and deliverance are systematically offered, especially during times of national tragedies, as well for all the ills of their lives. However, one ought not to generalise anything. For instance, the Congolese and Angolese churches emphasise on the worship in the vernacular, whereas the Ivoirian and Togolese ones on the preaching in French exclusively.
NCLF: What is the approximate size of the Christian community in terms of numbers and churches in the UK?
MS: This is simply hard to estimate with any degree of accuracy. Suffice it to say that by the year 2008 there were little more than 250 Francophone Afro-Caribbean free churches established in the UK since the early 1990s, with congregation sizes ranging from a dozen attendants to a number of larger churches boasting over a thousand strong members. The majority of these churches are based in London, but most sizable cities in the UK have at least one Francophone Free Church. However, the Francophone Christians do move freely from Francophone-led churches to Francophone branches of Anglophone churches, or into Anglophone churches outright. Since, some of these free churches have closed down while many others have opened. Several Francophone churches are struggling even to gain a status of registered charity. The attendance is constantly changing along the social evolvement of the membership. The clergy of these free churches is either self-proclaimed, often without formal ministerial training, or part-time ministers as they seek to make ends meet. They typically do not adhere to any main stream denomination, so they lack the formal structural church organisation. Overall, the Afro-Caribbean Francophone church-goers may be estimated to some 10.000, possibly as much as 15.000 nationwide.
NCLF: What religious or secular organisations are there in UK serving the Francophone?
MS: The Evangelical Alliance is the main UK organisation that these communities recognise, and which they would readily adhere to. The Assemblies of God UK is less a denomination they bring themselves under. Rather, they hold it as a normative model, in their quest for a French-speaking Afro-Caribbean church. A special mention should be made of Christian Concern, the legal organisation of solicitors that specialises in defending the freedom of expression of Christianity and Christian causes, has been of a great benefit to the French-speaking Afro-Caribbean communities, at least in terms of advises. The recent success enjoyed by the delegates of the International Organisation of la Francophonie during the London 2012 Olympic Games, led by Mr Abdou Diouf, former President of Senegal, shows the strong ties that still hold sway among the French-speaking Africans living in UK. However, despite a significant number of projects sponsoring advertised by the organisation, purporting to support communication and broadcasting for the promotion of the French language abroad, very little is actually granted, here in the UK.
NCLF: What cultural traditions have they brought? Clothes, food, etc?
MS: They express reverence to God in exactly the same way they express joy in traditional events, using whistle, and worship in secular dancing style. Hymns and contemporary songs are often translations from the vernacular, or English, but a couple of translations into English have been successful somewhat. In the same vain, worship songs are increasingly sung phonetically, so that the melody, rather than the text, is the flavour that is carried through. They worship in French and English alternatively, on the fly and without a predetermined plan. The Congolese worship includes just as much songs in Lingala. The visitor is expected to follow along! Sunday service dressing matters much so much more to the Congolese than it does to the others. Designer bags and shoes are a must among the Congolese in particular, who usually love to indulge in public fashion display called “la sape”. The church is also a melting pot where different culinary styles are mixed together, and professional catering has become a small industry in its own right. Solidarity among nationals and between Afro-Caribbean Francophone is genuinely observed, especially in occasions of social events (ordination, graduation, marriage, bereavement, etc.), or for state events, the Francophone communities of all African nationalities congregate spontaneously, and discuss on the issues arising, or take to intercede fervently for the welfare of the country concerned.
NCLF: How well are they integrating in UK, with whites and other blacks
MS: In a broader sense, the Afro-Caribbean Francophone communities see no real incentives to mingling with the white British. They do socialise with the Black British, less so with the white British. So they remain on the fringes of the British society, and come often too short to autochthon language fluency. They hardly engage in evangelising the indigenous populations, nor the non-black immigrants. Francophone Afro-Caribbean Christian communities are definitely demarcated from one another by nationalities more often than not. The Afro-Caribbean Francophone communities are increasingly more visible through the space made available to them in the broadcasting industry and the media. Remarkably, several Afro-Caribbean magazines – printed or electronic – are now publishing in French, radio and TV channels are running Christian programs in French/English and even in Lingala, an area where the French secular society has not yet ventured in.
NCLF: What is the future for Francophone in UK, in your view?
MS: Because of the perceived pragmatism of the British immigration policies that favour the high qualification and experience of the candidate to migration, it should continue to appeal to the Francophone Afro-Caribbean as is “the American dream” to the migrant to the USA. Medical doctors, Finance experts, bankers, IT consultants, etc. are the types of jobs the Francophone Afro-Caribbean migrants are filling among the latest migrants. These Francophone Afro-Caribbean migrants in turn do express their appreciation for being foremost valued for the quality of their job, by vociferously questioning the traditional ties between the ex-colonies and France, the so-called Françafrique. The second-generation Christian Francophone is not strictly Afro-Caribbean Francophone as the parents, which does not make him/her exactly a British Anglophone either. It seems to me that, in order to survive and thrive, Afro-Caribbean Francophone Christianity ought to positively interact with the indigenous British, and engage in evangelising and educating thus the autochthons communities about the riches of Afro-Caribbean Francophone Christianity. The future of the Afro-Caribbean Francophone communities looks rather promising, as far as their benefiting from the British experience is concerned. The perverse effect of this, however, is that it is likely to accelerate the decline indeed of the Francophone in the UK and worldwide.
Dr Michel Sacramento, Pastor & Theologian
Président of Pastorale Francophone UK
Member of the National Church Leaders’ Forum
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Website. pastorale: http://pastoralefrancophoneuk.org/fr/