Ben Lindsay and We Need to Talk About Race

Ben Lindsay, We Need to Talk About Race: Understanding the black experience in white majority churches, (London: SPCK, 2019, £9.99).

Ben Lindsay aims to start a conversation: to create opportunities for prayerful self-reflection, enquiry, understanding and actions, large and small, from black and white people, to help dismantle racist structures in the Church and beyond. How well he succeeds is indicated by some of the credits:

“A must read for the UK Church”

Justin Welby

“It is about God’s mission” – “it is geared for action”

Rose Hudson-Wilkin

 “a game-changer for so many churches engaged in the complex world of building a “church for all nations”

Wale Hudson Roberts

In We Need to Talk About Race Ben Lindsay has proclaimed the gospel afresh for his – and our – generation. This is a refreshing and up to date challenge to the UK Church to work on becoming intercultural. He writes as a British Caribbean pastor born in London, raised in white-majority churches and now leading a white-majority church in a racially-diverse area of south-east London. For Lindsay, integration is not about assimilation where people leave their cultures behind  to be accepted into another, but means being included in, and creating and contributing to, church culture so that the culture they worship God in is their own. For me, this book moves beyond black theology to be much more of an intercultural theology.

Starting from his personal experiences, Is it because I’m black? Being Black in the UK (Chapter 1) and Family Feud: Racism in the Church (Chapter 2), Lindsay engages with Why black man dey suffer: The Church and Slavery (Chapter 3) and You don’t see us: Disentangling Christianity from White Supremacy (Chapter 4).

Stories of black women Christians in an Interlude: Don’t touch my hair, lead on to a challenge to Love like this: Racial Solidarity in the Church (Chapter 5) and Kick in the door: Church Leadership (Chapter 6) which presents a deliberate strategy to achieve a racially-diverse leadership through developing black people and relinquishing (white) power. This is illustrated by an interview with Kate Coleman which occupies a second Interlude: Black (wo)man in a white world.

Jesus walks: Social Action (Chapter 7) addresses issues of concern to black communities. and Let’s push things forward: What Next? (Chapter 8) responds to the world around us being in desperate need of displays of racial unity and a multi-coloured picture of hope.

We Need to Talk About Race is all about the UK Church learning to encompass the gifts of all her multicultural members and be better equipped for the Mission of God. It is vibrant intercultural theology with big ideas, and Ben Lindsay invites readers into reflective practice with questions framed for different cultural backgrounds: persons of colour, white church leaders, white church members, and those looking in.

Different reactions are likely from different people coming from different cultures, but for me, as a white church leader in a black-majority church in Inner London, there were three big ideas in We Need to Talk About Race:

  1. Agency – Learning from biblical figures such as Joseph and Esther who had the ear of the majority culture, and worked on behalf of the oppressed and fought against injustice. If we are committed to seeing a diverse Church in which everyone is able to flourish, we will need to exercise responsibility for each other.
  2. White allies – Discipleship and leadership development of persons of different ethnicity was brought to life by Kate Coleman’s experience of men calling her to leadership in a church that did not believe in women in leadership, and of a key white church member validating her ministry by saying he recognized authority, grace and gift in her.
  3. Unmute – Engaging with issues that disproportionately impact black people locally or nationally. Alan Everett showed what this looks like by “opening the doors and turning the lights on” at St Clements, Notting Hill for those impacted by the Grenfell Tower disaster. Is the UK Church willing to do this for racially diverse communities?

London is a multicultural city with many churches that are multicultural in membership and monocultural in leadership and culture. Ben Lindsay has crossed the racial divide himself, and in this book has given the UK Church a gift so we can do likewise, and in so doing demonstrate the good news that the love of God is from all and is for all.

At the time of writing, the first edition of We Need to Talk About Race is available from The Book Depository at £7.59 [accessed 26 August 2019].

Ben Lindsay will be speaking at St. Paul’s Cathedral on Tuesday 29th October 2019 at 6.30 – 8pm with Guvna B,  Rosemarie Mallett, and Chine McDonald. Tickets are available free here

You lovely people did it again – and again!

A great example of partnership in the gospel inspiring Christians to join in with God’s mission through their partners.

Half Barking

Well, folks, you’ve surpassed all expectations. I’m gobsmacked.

Back in 2017, we were given the challenge of raising enough money to buy a motorbike to enable our Kenyan colleagues to serve remote communities in the vast, arid region of Marsabit, in the north of that country. You responded brilliantly, and in February 2018 I had the privilege of presenting that bike – a Yamaha 125 – to its new owner outside Marsabit Cathedral while the congregation clapped and cheered. It is now in daily use around Sololo, near the border with Ethiopia.

Your generosity didn’t stop there. By March of this year, we were able to send a second bike to Marsabit, again enabling its user to reach far-flung villages quickly and easily.

Since then, people have continued to give, and more than once I have been surprised with cheques at the end of services. A collection at the service…

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Preparing for Peace in the Midst of Conflict

This is the gospel: “when ethnic conflict makes it impossible to meet together, we’ll make the most of the opportunity by running a new course called Ethnic Conflict and Theological Reflection. Amidst the sound of gunfire, we will gather together in little groups …”

Shade like night at the height of noon

This week, we’ll be celebrating three years in Ethiopia. It seems like good time to reflect on why we are here.

Prospective students from the Anuak, Maban and JumJum communities with their English teacher, Joanna Cox. July 2019.

For three years, we’ve been working to provide excellent theological education to current and prospective church leaders. And we’ve been trying to do this in a multi-ethnic community: each day, we bring students from five different ethnic groups (Nuer, Anuak, Dinka, Maban and JumJum) together to worship, study and have fun together.

Although there are many dimensions to this work, bringing students from these different communities together each day has been the most worthwhile aspect of our time here. We’ve seen some great friendships develop that transcend hostile divisions. During periods of intense hostility and complete segregation, our students often call each other to exchange greetings and chat. We’ve seen Anuak students…

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The Changing Landscape of the Church in Scotland

Missio Africanus held it’s first event in Scotland last Saturday, 11th May. We aimed to discover what the research into new churches in Glasgow by Dr Sheila Akomiah-Conteh might mean for being Church in Scotland.

Glasgow Worship Choir

As we gathered, the conference was opened by ministers from Nigeria, England, Ghana, Malawi, and Rwanda and was led in worship by the inter-denominational / inter-church Glasgow Worship Choir. The inter-cultural nature of this opening foreshadowed what was to follow!

Dr Sheila Akomiah-Conteh

We met in a building that had been Church of Scotland and is now the home of the Church of Pentecost. This was a tangible reminder that the backdrop was secularisation and decline within Western Churches, and yet church growth is happening through Fresh Expressions and New Churches which are generally not known and therefore not counted.

110 new churches were started in the City of Glasgow between 2000 and 2016; on average seven new churches were being planted each year. They are the second largest group of churches in the city, alongside 126 Church of Scotland parishes and 65 Roman Catholic churches. There has been a significant seismic shift in the Christian landscape of the City of Glasgow.

Culturally these churches are diverse: African 51%, Scottish 35%, Asian 9%, and Other 5%. Yet in all cases, most members of the new churches are from the same culture – the new churches are not multicultural.

For many pastors, the Great Commission is the reason for starting a new church. Yet, as Matthew recorded, the mandate is to make disciples of all nations. The Holy Spirit came to all nations on the Day of Pentecost, with no differentiation between African, Middle-Eastern, Asian and European.

One of the key characteristics of the followers of the way that contributed to their being recognised in Antioch as distinctively different was being a multi-cultural team. This is part of what being Christian is all about, and it was very encouraging in Glasgow to hear pastors from different churches recognise their need to learn from each other.

Alongside the growth of new churches which Sheila’s research had found, this response by pastors to God’s call to be multicultural was another sign of hope in The Changing Landscape of the Church in Scotland.

Pregnant with Expectation

Sermon preached at St Jude’s, Mildmay on Sunday 23rd December 2018

The Fourth Sunday in Advent

Del verbo divina
La Virgen preñada
Viene de camino:
Si les dias pousada!

The virgin, pregnant
With the Word of God
Comes down the road:
If only you’ll give her a room!

St John of the Cross

Lord God, as we open our hearts afresh to your Son this Christmas, may we also give room to the mother who carried him into human life. Amen.

In the school nativity, an angelic child announced to the girl Mary that God says, “Will you be the mother of my son?” “Of course I will”, Mary immediately replied. “Of course I will”.

We might wonder whether Mary knew to what she was giving her consent. For two reasons, I think she did know.

Firstly, prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, Malachi and Zechariah, and Micah had long forecast that the Lord would send a messiah to save God’s people – and Mary would have known this teaching as it was passed on down the generations. Also, what Luke has recorded about her subsequent response demonstrates Mary had received a personal revelation from God and knew the purpose of her pregnancy in God’s overall plan.

Mary was pregnant with expectation and our opening hymn ‘Tell out my soul’ shows this as it’s based on her song in Luke’s gospel about magnifying God .

I’d like to explore what we can learn of God’s overall plan from the prophet Micah and the personal revelation of God to Mary and her cousin Elizabeth.

Micah lived in the southern Jewish kingdom of Judah about 700 years before Jesus was born. His name means ‘Who is like Yahweh?’ We might say, or sing, ‘Who is like our God?’ That was his name. He spoke of the birth of a new king in Bethlehem – the messiah of the Jewish people would gather the people into one nation and establish God’s kingdom. Several prophets had spoken of the servant king who was to come, but Micah is the only one to identify where the messiah would be born.

Bethlehem was a small town but famous for being the City of David, the shepherd boy who God called to be king. Micah announced that God will bring another king out of Bethlehem, “whose family line goes back to ancient times”. Whilst he would rule as David’s successor (Isaiah 9.7) his origin would predate David.

The name Bethlehem means House of Bread, and out of Bethlehem was to come Jesus, who said of himself, “I am the bread of life” (John 6.35). By using the divine name I AM, by which the Lord had identified himself to Moses (Exodus 3.14), Jesus associated himself with God. His family line went back to the beginning of time

Micah said that, with the strength and majesty of God, this king coming out of Bethlehem would reunite Jews who were living in exile outside Israel (Micah 5.3b). Some time later, the good news extended to include the Jewish diaspora around the Mediterranean in the new communities which formed to follow the way of Jesus.

This king would bring peace (Micah 5.5a). Peace. I wonder what we understand by the peace of God, and how we experience it.

I met someone recently who was clearly at peace with the world – and at peace beyond the world in her relationship with God – whilst engaging with issues of justice that constrain God’s people. She spoke of Mary as her inspiration. “Will you be the mother of my son?” “Of course I will!”

Perhaps this might show us that seeking to follow what God asks us to do can bring peace and contentment; even if the task is difficult.

Soon after a baby was conceived in Mary, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth who, at a very old age, was herself six months pregnant with her first child. The angel Gabriel had announced to her husband Zechariah that they would have the son they had long desired and he would be a prophet as mighty as Elijah (Luke 1.17).

We aren’t told whether Mary had sent news in advance to Elizabeth about her own visit from the angel Gabriel, but Luke’s record of the encounter between Elizabeth and Mary contains several revelations about Mary and the child she was carrying. I’ve spotted four:

  1. The baby John moved within Elizabeth (Luke 1.41); he jumped for joy (Luke 1.44). John had not yet been born but this was his first recorded prophetic action, to jump for joy at being in the presence of the Son of God, who at that time would have been very very small inside Mary.
  2. Elizabeth declared Mary as the most blessed of all women (Luke 1.42) and mother of my Lord (Luke 1.43). Mary continues to be known by these two names; some Christians call her the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM); others call her Mother of God (Theotokos) and will be celebrating her response to God today.
  3. Elizabeth affirms Mary’s joy and the faith in God that she demonstrated by believing in the angel’s message (Luke 1.45). Elizabeth herself was carrying a miraculous baby whose birth had been announced by the same angel (Luke 1.5-25), so could confirm her cousin was right to believe what she had heard.
  4. Mary responds with a great song of praise to God (Luke 1.46-55). It’s one of the most famous songs in Christianity. We sing it or say it wherever Christians meet. It is the gospel before the gospel. It’s all about God and all about revolution. The Magnificat is so revolutionary that it’s been banned by governments who felt threatened by Mary’s words about God’s preferential love for the poor. Including a previous British Government! which prohibited it being said or sung during Evening Prayer in India. When British flags were finally lowered at independence, Mahatma Gandhi requested that this song be read. Mary’ song is revolutionary. It is the gospel.

God was at work in these two women. Elizabeth pregnant at last after hope had gone, and Mary pregnant far sooner than she had expected. They shared a dream, the ancient dream of Israel, that one day the Lord would do what he had promised to their ancestor Abraham: that all nations would be blessed through his family. But for that to be happen, the powers that kept the world in slavery had to be toppled.

But also, God confirmed to Mary through Elizabeth and John that what she thought had happened in her encounter with Gabriel, had indeed happened. When God speaks through multiple people, the Word of God is very clear and affirming. That is a reason why we need each other, so we can help each other hear clearly what God is saying.

Mother and Child
Angolan Mother & Child woodcarving

Three months later John was born, and six months further on Jesus was born in Bethlehem. In their mothers, the two cousins had spiritual teachers who were in tune with God and his mission to love the people of the world, and with the purpose of the lives of their two sons in God’s plan.

The sons were called by God and their mothers were called to be their teachers: to feed them spiritual milk from God, as well as feeding them with their own milk.

This beautiful carving from Angola shows mother and baby. Complete reliance of a baby for food on a human mother contributed to forming them into complete reliance for spiritual food on God who had given them life.

Over time the two boys grew up and came to recognise for themselves what God was calling them to be and to do. They both become agents of God’s long-promised revolution, the victory over the powers of evil. Much of Mary’s song is echoed by Jesus’s teaching as he warns the rich not to trust in their wealth, and promises God’s kingdom to the poor.

This is the kingdom that we are part of. God’s great plan of salvation to reunite all people with Himself through Jesus the messiah of the Jews and the anointed one of God, the Christ. We are called into this relationship of love. Perhaps we already know that, perhaps we have known that for many years, perhaps we are just discovering that God is calling us into a new relationship with Him, or perhaps we are wondering what Christmas is really all about.

Wherever we start from, we’re all invited to #FollowTheStar on a spiritual journey through the 12 Days of Christmas. The Church of England has produced an excellent booklet of reflections. There is one for each day from Christmas Eve throughout the 12 days ending with the Feast of the Epiphany on 6th January. Each one includes a picture, a short Bible passage, a simple prayer and a challenge to reflect or act differently. Together, they form a journey that will help us take the joy and wonder of Christmas into the year ahead.

God of grace,
Wherever we are in the world this Christmas,
Let our hearts and minds draw close to you,
Renew each of us by your loving Holy Spirit and the breath of life,
Restore each of us to be whole again by your coming Saviour and reborn,
Reveal amidst worldly difficulty your true hope for the world in your coming King,
Let us love one another bravely especially all who have no voice or place in this world,
Let us welcome in Mary’s experience of a miracle into our hearts, and welcome in miracles into our lives today,
Be with us God wherever we are in our hearts with you this Christmas, and guide us with a hope as abundant as a radiant galaxy.
Amen.

Sarah Strang

Ethnicity, Conflict and the Church: Reflections from a Frontline

Shade like night at the height of noon

‘“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. . . . The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow” (Isa 35:1–2, 7). It seems like somewhat of a bizarre strategy, to save the world through planting gardens in the wasteland and growing fruit on the frontlines, but that is exactly the type of work that our God is up to in our world.’1

2018 was the most challenging year so far. Of all the challenges, the toughest came from the political situation in Gambella. In September, several young political activists were killed in Gambella town. This led to a series of revenge attacks and to various vigilante road-blocks throughout the region.

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Review of Roots and Wings: Equipping and Empowering Young Diaspora Africans for Life and Mission By Rev Israel Olofinjana

israelolofinjana

Roots and Wings is a new book written by one of my friends and colleague, Dr Harvey Kwiyani. The book explores issues related to how to effectively engage in discipleship and mission second generation African migrants. These are children born in Britain of African parents.  As a pastor of a Black Multicultural Church (BMC) in London with half of the congregation being second generation Africans, this book excites me and is of paramount interest to me.  As an African Theologian researching in the areas of Diaspora Missiology, I am aware that essays, journal articles and book chapters have been written on the subject. An example of the latter is Caleb Nyanni’s chapter contribution in African Voices: Towards African British Theologies (2017). His contribution, based on his ongoing PhD research, investigated the pneumatology of second generation Africans within the Church of Pentecost. I am equally aware of a current doctoral student…

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