Walking on Clapham Road, London, the winter morning air is not exactly something worth recommending for anyone, particularly a foreigner. The weather was hovering between five and 10 degrees centigrade. While it might not be something extraordinary for the average Londoner, it is killing for a foreigner.
Ahead of the reporter was a black man clad in a flowing silky white gown briskly walking towards the Clapham North Metro Station. It was not the best attire for the winter morning, but it was a sign of his commitment to Love Christ Generation Church (Cherubim and Seraphim) where he was headed.
Finally arriving there just a few metres from the Clapham North Metro Station, the church oozed affluence with exotic cars parked in front of it. There were two hefty but polite private security personnel directing worshippers into the church.
Perhaps because of the winter cold, most worshippers wore shoes to the church but removed them at the entrance.
The church is made up of the main auditorium and the underground space which houses the rest rooms and the children’s church.
At the entrance, an official squirts a pleasant smelling sanitizer before worshippers are allowed into the auditorium. The church is compact and cozy with between 300 and 400 seats, if the upper row is added.
On entering, there is a feeling of being transported from the streets of London back to the white garment churches in South West Nigeria. The primary language spoken in the church is Yoruba, which is interpreted in English.
There was nothing English in the mode of worship. The pulsating, high tempo praise and worship session; the feverish clapping of hand and swinging of heads front and back and other features of a white garment church were all present. Little wonder the majority of the members are Yoruba.
The choir sang and clapped in Yoruba, while the congregation responded with enthusiasm and energy. The atmosphere easily reminded one of the ways of the white garment churches in Nigeria.
Like the Love of Christ Generation Church, there are so many other churches with Nigerian roots dotting the landscape of London and other parts of the United Kingdom. They include the Kingways International Christian Centre on No. 474 Hoe St, Walthamstow, London E17 9AH, led by Pastor Mathew Ashimolowo. It has about 12,000 members, Believers World of Christ Embassy with other London branches.
It is an irony of faith that while English churches were in the vanguard of the missionary activities in Nigeria in the 19th and 20th centuries, Nigerian churches, particularly those of Pentecostal bent, are taking the game back to the former colonial masters in the 21st Century. The aim is to salvage the United Kingdom, which though was once the bastion of Christianity, now appears to lag behind in the faith business.
Living Faith Church Worldwide, popularly known as Winners Chapel, in the United Kingdom is numbered among the Nigerian churches at the forefront of ‘evangelising Brtitain’. It has its headquarters at Churchill Close, Dartford, with branches in different parts of the United Kingdom. They include Manchester, Birmingham, Middlesex, Surrey, Liverpool, Newcastle, Bristol, Milton Keynes, Leeds, Luton, Shefield, Coventry, Nottingham, Portsmouth, Derby, Swindon and Colchester.
The Redeemed Christian Church of God is said to have the highest number of branches both within the London metropolis and other parts of the United Kingdom. There are other lesser known churches of Nigerian origin all over London.
Also, Nigerian pastors travel regularly to the United Kingdom to evangelise and preach the Christian gospel. One of the most recent crusades by Nigerian pastors was the June 1 Crusade by Pastor T.B. Joshua’s Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN). It held at the 13,600 capacity FlyDSA Arena, Sheffield, which was filled to capacity. Many other Nigerian pastors like Dr David Oyedepo, Pastor Enoch Adeboye , Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, and many others.
As explained by a London-based Nigerian pastor, Chike Marizu, the reason for the current influx of Nigerian churches in the United Kingdom is the apathy to Christianity and religion among English people.
He said: “The United Kingdom, years back, was the arrow head of Christian missionary expeditions to countries and continents that were in the ‘dark’ and needed the light of Christianity to illuminate their world and draw them into the ‘light’. That formed the basis of Christian missionary expedition into Africa. Among the countries evangelised during this era was Nigeria.
“Christianity is believed to have been first preached in Nigeria in the 15th Century through the Capuchin monks from Portugal.
“However, an enduring legacy of Christianity in Nigeria by the British came in 1842 when the Church of England’s first missionary, Rev. Henry Townsend, landed in Badagry.
“Today, about 177 years after the British missionary set foot in Nigeria, there is a sort of reversal of missionary activities. Churches led by non-British, especially Nigerians, dot the landscape of the United Kingdom. The British people are in an era that former Archbishop Canterbury described as the post-Christian era, and that Britain is no longer a Christian country.
“The irony is that while empty seats greet worshippers at traditional British churches, Pentecostal churches of Nigerian origin in London are holding multiple services every Sunday.
“While there has been so much growth by Nigerian churches, the activities of some greedy pastors have placed the churches here under spotlight due to greed and lack transparency in handling finance.
“Some of the waivers churches in the UK used to enjoy have now been removed as a result of the activities of these people who claim to be pastors.”
However, there is a certain kind of similarity between Nigerian worshippers in the United Kingdom and at home in Nigeria.
For a visitor to London wishing to attend any of the many Nigerian churches, all he needs to do is to dress and come to any metro station and wait. He would see different Nigerians, especially women, dressed in their traditional attires and heading to church. It is as if it is forbidden to attend church wearing non-native attires.
Pastor Olawale Martin, a Nigerian pastor also based in the UK, explains: “Look, many Britons have turned their backs on Christianity and, to a large extent, religion in general. Most for us, because of where we are coming from, it is imperative for us to worship God.
“As migrants, there are so many challenges we face. We struggle to earn a living, pay our bills and still spare some money to send home to loved ones. Some do not have papers, so week in and week out, they are under pressure. The only place they have to unburden their hearts and get release is the church.
“I remember few years back when I came to London and I was yet to perfect my papers, I was running from pillar to post. The only place I used to have refuge was at the church. Not that I was getting any help; nobody knew what I was passing through, but the church provided me with a conducive place to unburden my spirit and worship God.
“The church here in the UK, we are like a family and we bond together.”