Not for many years have immigrants and missionaries been so pivotal to European Christianity. In England, for instance, the conversion in the seventh century was largely the work of Mediterranean missionaries.
Though most were Italian, at least one was a north African, the Abbot Hadrian, who did so much to establish Canterbury's tradition of learning. At York in 627, the Italian bishop Paulinus baptized the region's most powerful pagan king.
For the historically inclined, these precedents came forcefully to mind in 2005, with the inauguration of the new Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, a Ugandan. The ceremony featured African dancers, "dressed with colorful red, white and black feathered head plumages and leopard skin print skirts and T-shirts." They were accompanied by drums, and at one memorable moment, the incoming archbishop himself personally took over the role of chief drummer. In his sermon, he recalled the words of a previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, speaking in 1960:
He was speaking of the stupendous missionary century that saw the wonderful spread of Christian faith in Africa and Asia, by missionaries from these islands, and compared it to the spiritual decay in England. He longed for the day in England when the Church would learn the faith afresh from Christians of Africa and Asia. He ended his address by saying, "I should love to think of a black Archbishop of York holding a mission here, and telling a future generation of the scandal and the glory of the Church." Well, here I am.1
Others from the global South play a visible role in contemporary European churches. By far the most successful example today is the Kiev-based church founded by Nigerian Sunday Adelaja, the Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God for all Nations. Sunday Adelaja was one of many bright African and Asian students brought to the Soviet Union to receive an education and ideally to become a future advocate of pro-Soviet views. Within a couple of years, the Soviet Union itself dissolved, and in 1994 Adelaja founded a Pentecostal congregation in the new Ukrainian republic.
From seven founding members, the church soon claimed 30,000 adherents, overwhelmingly white, and some very powerful indeed. One celebrated adherent is Leonid Chernovetsky, a multimillionaire banker and politician, who in 2006 became mayor of Kiev. The new church spread widely:
Over twenty services are held every Sunday in various auditoriums of Kiev, Ukraine. Over fifty daughter churches function in the Kiev region. More than a hundred daughter and satellite churches exist in the cities and villages of Ukraine. Over two hundred churches in the countries of the former Soviet Union, the USA, Germany, UAE, Israel, and Holland have been founded. . . . The church's Christian television and radio programs reach approximately eight million people.
Within the Ukraine, the church's main dilemma was in finding facilities large enough to accommodate its numbers, but fortunately the old
Soviet Union had built many grand auditoria for union functions and sports gatherings. Wry observers suggest that perhaps at last Christians can understand the historic role of communism, in that somebody had to build facilities large enough to cope with Pentecostal congregations. Pastor Sunday's Embassy bases its success largely on its promise of healing, and its website offers testimonies from Russians and Ukrainians who report being healed from all manner of complaints, including AIDS and cancer. Boris, a police lieutenant, reports being raised from the dead.2
Sunday Adelaja is only one of many successful Third-World evangelists now operating in Europe, though he stands out in his ability to attract white Europeans. While he was setting up shop in Kiev, another Nigerian named Matthew Ashimolowo was founding a church in London. After beginning in 1992 with only 300 members, his Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC) now seats 5,000 worshipers at its main facility, the Miracle Centre, as well as several satellite churches. The KICC is claimed as the largest new church to be created in Britain since 1861, and the Miracle Centre's auditorium offers double the capacity of Westminster Abbey or St. Paul's Cathedral. The pastor uses cable television and radio to speak to a wider audience in the United Kingdom, and beyond, in Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Malawi, Uganda, Sierra Leone, and the Anglophone Caribbean. His programs also reach much of Europe. He attributes his success to bringing the lessons of the flourishing Nigerian revival "into a very—shall I say—atheistic Europe." Though he has suffered scandals arising from personal enrichment and the diversion of church moneys, the church he planted continues to thrive. He has had little success in reaching out to the white population because his message seems so foreign, so ethnic. Summarizing one image of Christianity in Britain today, he complains that "the trouble is we are seen as a Black thing and not a God thing."3
Such spectacular success stories may be untypical, but they indicate the powerful boost being supplied by global South communities. Since the 1950s, a significant number of Europe's migrants were Christian, commonly representing the very successful new churches exploding in those regions. The new Christian growth fell into two closely overlapping categories, namely, the churches established on European soil by and for the new immigrants themselves, and deliberate missionary activity directed from the global South.
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