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Religious diversity: rethinking religion
Religious diversity: rethinking religion

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2.4 Pentecostal Christianity in London

Today, Pentecostal churches may account for half of London’s Christian worshippers (Fesenmyer, 2016). Pentecostals emphasize the immediacy, power and present-day reality of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is recorded in the Acts of Apostles in the New Testament of the Bible and describes a great wind and tongues of fire descending during a gathering of Jesus’ followers, several weeks after his death and resurrection. The apostles began to speak in languages unknown to themselves, but recognised by listeners in the crowd (Acts 2: 1-13). On this occasion, Peter preached that those who repented and committed their lives towards the teachings of Jesus would receive the ‘gifts’ of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2: 38).

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Figure 10 Faith healing at Elim Pentecostal Church, Kensington Temple, London. Photo: TravelStockCollection - Homer Sykes/Alamy

Contemporary Pentecostals typically demonstrate these gifts by:

  • testifying to the power of their faith
  • describing how God works miracles in their lives
  • speaking in tongues
  • practicing spiritual healing
  • prophecy.

There is a wide variety of Pentecostal groups and denominations.

Jesus House

Jesus House is the main London centre of the Nigerian-headquartered Redeemed Christian Chuch of God. Founded in 1994 and located in an easily accessible part of north London Jesus House worships in a functional building that does not stand out from the commercial premises of the area. Despite its relatively recent origins, by 2014 Jesus House already had over 3,000 Sunday worshippers (Gledhill, 2014).

Activity 7

For your next activity, you will be watching a Google 360 video about Jesus House introduced by Ayobami Olunloyo. Remember that Google 360 videos are best viewed in Chrome, Edge or Firefox browsers. In these browsers, you can change the camera angle to pan around the scene and explore the building more fully by clicking on the video and moving your mouse.

As you watch, consider what is different about this space compared to the space at St Paul’s? And what aspects are similar?

Google 360 video about Jesus House [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Write down one similarity and one difference between Jesus House and St Paul’s in the box below then reveal the discussion to read more.

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Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Discussion

Jesus House does not look like a church in the same sense as most Church of England buildings. It looks like a conference centre. However, it is regularly filled with an enthusiastic congregation. The music is modern and most of the faces of the congregation are African in origin. Olunloyo, the narrator, emphasises the church’s plans for expansion and regular gifts to a variety of charitable causes. Here it is how the congregation worships, rather than the setting of worship, that is its essential element.

Olunloyo also emphasises that the church attempts to make worship easy to attend. It is located at the centre of a major transportation hub, meaning many can attend Jesus House in person. But Jesus House also emphasises a variety of internet-based communication and modern social media. The church seeks to be engaged with the wider culture of its largely black congregation. In particular, it seeks to appeal to younger people.

St Paul’s Cathedral was built with the purpose of impressing God’s greatness on those that see it. The current St Paul’s was built to host events of national significance. It emphasises dignity rather than youth engagement. As Ison notes, St Paul’s has a relatively small number of regular worshippers, especially considering its vast size.

However, many visitors pass through the doors and Ison believes that many of these stay and use the space for prayer or quiet contemplation. St Paul’s is expensive to maintain and the Cathedral charges visitors to help maintain the building. But as Ison noted in the video, it is a priority of St Paul’s to be a place where people from any background can have ‘an experience of God’. It is the setting rather than the sermons that create this experience.

St Paul’s and Jesus House are both Christian churches. Yet it is clear that they serve very different purposes and tend to attract different followers.

Pentecostals make up a third of London’s active Christians. However as we saw with Jesus House, their buildings are inconspicuous compared to those of the longer-established denominations. Smaller and recently formed Pentecostal churches often meet for worship in any space they can find. New churches can be found even in residential settings and in spaces on industrial estates. Sometimes these new churches find themselves at odds with planning regulations.

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Figure 11 The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Higher Ground Assembly, Croydon, London. Photo: © Kate Pugh

Historically this parallel’s the experience of Nonconformist churches, such as the Methodists and Unitarians, in the nineteenth century. They also initially had to improvise spaces for worship. Eventually, these denominations were able to gather enough resources to build permanent churches.

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Figure 12 The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, Finsbury Park, London. Photo: © Ewan Munro

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) is a Brazilian Pentecostal church. It has acquired the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park as a house of worship. This building was erected in the 1930s as a cinema and, in the 1970s the Rainbow Theatre hosted rock concerts. Contrary to many assumptions about inevitable secularisation, churches remain relevant and even continue to use or negotiate more secular public spaces in some contexts.

Recognition and understanding of diversity within as well as between major religious traditions is an essential part of the academic study of religion. Understanding the beliefs and practices of a new congregation can help local communities and policymakers more constructively dialogue with unfamiliar churches establishing themselves in their areas.

A good example of the importance of this dialogue is can be demonstrated by some research conducted at the University of Roehampton on what they describe as ‘new Black Majority Churches’ in the London Borough of Southwark. Their report highlights continuing tension as these groups try to establish new churches in the area, but also encourages developing good practice in communication with local business and council planners, so that all local communities can benefit (Being Built Together, 2013).