Over the past 2 years, Peckham-based photographer Sophie Green, and I were invited in to observe this community.
As more families settle from countries like Nigeria, they bring their faith and practices with them. Neighborhoods in South London have become the epicenter of this revival; the Southwark area now has African churches, the highest concentration outside the continent. With a strong faith in divine healing and the power of prayer, these Aladura or white garment churches have their origins in a movement in Ijebu-Ode in Ogun State in , when a Pentecostal approach emerged out of Anglican traditions.
They splintered into different denominations as founders established churches across the country and set upon missions through the countryside and in neighboring Ghana. The services feel steeped in Nigerian customs. Unlike the shorter Anglican services consisting of a few hymns and readings, in a white garment church, the service usually begins at 10 a.
At one church, Nigerian meat pies were handed out in the final hour as worshippers sung Yoruba spiritual songs, as if to give them a boost of energy for the final act. What people going through a hard time really need, says Newman, is to be uplifted through song. Some families even travel from outside London to feel part of this community.
At the end of one service, the Celestial Church of Christ serves fried rice, jollof rice, and beef stews to those dedicated enough to stay to the end. But white garment churches are coming under increasing pressure. Oluwakemi House, a church tucked in a cul-de-sac just off Old Kent Road, is surrounded by cranes stretching high, to build new apartment blocks. With them will come new neighbors. Because black majority churches tend to use unconventional spaces for services, some share their buildings with other organizations. The Beneficial Veracious Christ Church , for instance, doubles up as a daycare center.
The Holy Pentecostal Church Oke Anu in the now trendy Copeland Park in Peckham is now sandwiched in between the Bussey Building—a multi-level nightclub and cultural space—and a bar-cum-record store. It was just one example of the challenges these congregations face amid an influx of white newcomers into historically immigrant neighborhoods. Western influences are increasing pressures on the inside too. Reviewed March 14, Reviewed August 30, All photos 5.
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