On Saturday 25 November, Christ Faith Tabernacle (CFT) in Woolwich hosted the National Church Leaders Forum’s third Cities and Communities roadshow. The first two roadshows were held in Bristol and Manchester. The meeting was chaired by Dionne Gravesande of NCLF and it was attended by over 100 church and community leaders. There were also officials from the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police Independent Advisory Group present. The Senior Pastor of CFT, Apostle Williams, opened the meeting with prayer, followed with an endorsement of the work of NCLF and the importance of providing opportunities where people can come together to share their concerns and discuss key issues affecting local communities.
Apostle Williams stated that it was imperative that the church understood the social, political and spiritual challenges facing our communities and work together to solve them. His challenge to all present was that we should all pray, but “prayer without participation” was ineffective.
The roadshows come out of the Manifesto (Black Church Political Mobilisation: a manifesto for action) that NCLF produced in 2015 in preparation for the General Election. This was an important document: it was the first time that African and Caribbean churches in the UK produced a political manifesto. The Manifesto was endorsed by the government and the other main political parties. At the launch of the Manifesto, the Justice Secretary (Chris Grayling MP) gave a commitment to work with NCLF to implement the Manifesto’s recommendations.
During the meeting, Pastor Ade Omooba and Dr R. David Muir (Co-Chairs of NCLF) spoke about the urgent need to take stock of national and international issues that affect our church communities, issues such as Brexit, human trafficking, terrorism, poverty, youth crime and the disproportionate number of black people in prison in the UK.
Attention was drawn to the recommendations in the Manifesto dealing with prisons and the call for a “national dialogue” between the government and churches to come up with practical strategies to reduce the “disproportionate representation of Black people in prison and work to reduce it.”
A very important moment was reached in the meeting when Sephton Henry from Gangline shared his testimony of being a former drug addict and gang member until his conversation in prison. He said that young people are becoming desensitised to violence, but the church needs to hear “real stories” and offer more support to young people.
The implications of Brexit, mental and physical health, and economic empowerment in the community were featured in the meeting. Sola Oladipo from Food For Purpose and Elaine Bowes from the Pentecostal Credit Union (PCU) addressed questions of physical health and finance in an informed and inspired manner. The PCU was set up to help Pentecostal churches and Elaine wants the church to do much more teaching and training around financial literacy. The group took to heart Sola’s advice that it’s no good over eating, or eating the wrong types of food and then pray for healing when things go wrong with our bodies!
Those who attended the meeting heard clearly the message about Christians being “salt and light” in their communities – they must participate in social and political action for the common good; they also heard the message of Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles: we have to actively seek the welfare, peace and prosperity of our communities “because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer. 29:7).