Posted: 20 June 2013
At a time when church attendance is thought to be in decline, new research published by the University of Roehampton has revealed that there has been a huge surge in the number of new churches being formed in the London Borough of Southwark. In particular, the area has seen a growth in the number of new Black Majority Churches (nBMCs) – mostly Pentecostal churches where the majority of the congregation are from Caribbean or African communities. It is estimated that over 20,000 congregants gather within Southwark every week to worship in approximately 240 different churches.
The growth in church numbers has highlighted the problem that exists in the area for new church communities; there is a severe lack of suitable premises for worship within Southwark, which can force churches to establish themselves in inappropriate settings. New churches frequently find it impossible to secure premises which fit the local Authority’s definition of a place suitable for worship. They often set themselves up in industrial buildings, without gaining the necessary change of use planning permission, and find themselves at odds with the local planning authority and their neighbours.
The Being Built Together report has proposed a number of recommendations to combat the lack of premises problem, which will be discussed at the report’s launch tonight (Thursday 20 June) in Southwark Cathedral. Among the recommendations is a call for the Greater London Authority to address the issue of premises and planning for faith groups at a regional level. The Authority’s current guidance has been criticised by the report’s author as inadequate.
The report acknowledges that Southwark Council has tried to be flexible in its approach to the faith premises issue and asks that it continue in this vein, but points out that the Council needs to be mindful of the problems that exist in areas where there are already a significant number of nBMCs next to businesses or in residential areas. It also calls upon the nBMCs to build closer ties with their local neighbourhood and show how much good they do in the community. African nBMCs especially, sometimes receive a hostile reception from the communities in which they establish themselves as they are perceived as “not being from around here” despite the fact that, according to the last Census, the London Borough of Southwark has the largest percentage of Africans in the UK.
The report’s author Dr Andrew Rogers said “This report is the culmination of two years’ work by the Being Built Together team. The new Black majority churches are a gift to the church and the city of London. They have much to offer the communities in which they operate and provide a safe haven and social hub for the members of their congregations. But the pressing issue of finding suitable places in which they can worship can put them at loggerheads with planning committees and the local communities in which they are based. The situation in London is not unique, though it is perhaps at its most intense in Southwark. We hope that by highlighting the problems that they face, the borough of Southwark and on a regional scale, the GLA , the new Black-majority churches, and the church as a whole will take on board our report’s recommendations to work towards finding innovative and lasting solutions to address these issues. ”
Fran Beckett, CEO of Transform Southwark, one of the University’s strategic partners in the Being Built Together project, said “There has been a rapid growth in the number of new Black-majority churches in the borough of Southwark over the last couple of decades. With that, the issues of finding suitable places for worship and the attendant problems of securing planning permissions for “change of use” on property has become more acute. We charged the researchers from the University of Roehampton to find out how widespread the problems were and to identify ways in which the problems could be eased. We’d like to thank Dr Rogers and his team for their work. We will now look at the report’s finding and see how we, as one church body can all work together alongside our Council partners to alleviate the problems that the new Black-majority churches have experienced.”
Pastor Lincoln Serwanga, from Liberty Christian Fellowship in Camberwell, is a member of the panel at the report launch. He welcomed the report’s recommendations: “The Being Built Together project has enabled all the various churches to come together and have a meaningful conversation about how we can exist and worship, both together and side by side. We all – new churches and old - need to learn from each other and acknowledge our mutual strengths and weaknesses. The report should help us to develop plans for working together to build God’s church in a lasting and harmonious way.”
The full Being Built Together report can be found here.
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