Sunday, 16 January 2011

Faith Tabernacle Church of God on Ritson Road, Pentecostal Church, Sunday 9.01.11.

For the start of this weeks post I would like open with a quote from last week's sermon to give thanks to The Holy Spirit which inhabits the Faith Tabernacle Church of God on Ritson Road

Thanks to OUR
LORD Praise
can you feel it in here
We are bringin him back
Praise him
Yes Si
Lord is with us
We brought him to this room
I am so glad the Lord is with us today
can you feel him
yes, yes
ye ye ye y y y
y y y yyyyy
No tongues till the end of sermon now
Praise Lord

A cacophony of praise, blessings and hallelujahs surrounded me as I entered the nave of the church. Pulling back a red curtain that preceded the door I expected to interrupt the church's Sunday School (as advertised by the placard outside), instead I was greeted by a group of gyrating geriatric Jamaicans who were dancing and singing mid verse from The Redemption Song book. My late attempt at an early arrival was motivated by the need to formally introduce myself to the church parishioners, such needs were quickly forgotten as I received a welcome barrage from my hosts. Unlike the mannered ritualistic etiquette of previous weeks I was in the company of the highly inclusive, participatory, and overtly friendly world of the Pentecostal Church.

No formal introductions were needed as my appearance announced my presence to the entire congregation. I was the only white male in his late twenties in a congregation made up entirely from first and second generation Caribbean Brits, who were predominantly over the age of 60. In contrast to last week's guilt for masquerading as a Catholic this week I was given a warm welcome as the local outsider. During the service I was asked to stand and introduce myself for which I was given a blessing and after the service the priest told me to bring my friends next time with the message “Pure Spiritual Worship No strings Attached.”

The service was not concerned with specifics of scripture or introducing social responsibilities into the sermon but was entirely devoted to raising the Holy Spirit. The lack of reflection and set ritual did not bother me as I was seduced by the community atmosphere and caught in speculation as to whether the service had any structure or was it a collection of impromptu speeches, singing and prayers about the greatness of God. The priest was only leading the congregation in name, he was assisted if not upstaged by three shouting male seniors in equally loud suits, a three piece band who would burst into song if there was a minute of silence and a chorus of crowned women dressed in their Sunday best.

The absence of routine reflection, ritual readings and a clear figure head made the service far more accessible to a non believer like myself. The Redemption Song book definitely had hymns with more soul and swing than The New English Hymnal. So enraptured by the singing I pathetically nodded my way through the afternoon like a true white man with no rhythm past their neck. The celebratory style of the sermon through communal worship created a more visceral and direct appeal in comparison to the High Anglican and Catholic services. The Pentecostal Church has many denomination but unlike the Anglican and Catholic Churches, it appears to be growing with various new faith groups calling themselves Pentecostal. Wikipedia currently lists 250 million adherents to the Pentecostal Church which must reflect the churches ability to sell/spread The Holy Spirit in comparison to their more traditional spiritual competitors.

The Pentecostal Church is so expansive its chased me across the globe. In a previous life I worked as a volunteer in Ghana and one Sunday I was bullied into going to Church by a local boy from my guest house. The Pentecostal service was held in an empty classroom (it was Sunday), spoken entirely in Twi (an indigenous West African language) and featured far poorer worshippers (yet still impeccably dressed in their Sunday best). Both services had a celebratory atmosphere and cathartic worship which did eclipse the lack of scripture and social comment. In the ill built and hot classroom I could not escape the day to day poverty of northern Ghana but in the picturesque grounds and refined Victorian building I was able to escape into more pleasant spiritual illusions. The two contrasting experiences where shaped by the diversity of the buildings and their settings, the irony being that neither were built for The Pentecostal church.

The Faith Tabernacle Church of God was originally called Hamburg Lutheran Church, explaining its grandiose Victorian architecture but with German styling. Built in 1876 the Church was built for the high number of German immigrants who also received free medical care in the neighbouring German Hospital. The church changed hands after World War 2 when the then current Revd Schononberg (a fervent Nazi) fled to Germany. Credit to the Pentecostalists for keeping such a rare building intact and used for the same purpose over hundred years from when it was built. The church steeple has a particular majesty and local omnipotence which can be viewed from top of Kingsland Road and Mare Street. The Lutherans no doubt would not approve of the high energy spiritual worship of The Pentecostal Church but there is a romantic connection in both churches being foreign in origin and providing a community space in east London for two very different minority immigrant cultures. Lutherans believed in spreading the word of God through translating the Bible into the common language of everyman, arguably the growth of The Pentecostal Church and their all inclusive celebratory services                                               a continuation of same Holy Spirit.

Celebrating Christ in a cathartic song and dance at the end of a long week makes more sense to me than the more ritual dogma of more establish churches. Why should a church not be for Christians, as a football match is for football fans, or illegal parties for ravers, or even Take That Concerts for middle age mothers. The reason a church cannot be a cathartic pursuit is because it claims to be more important and is more politically powerful than your average leisure pursuit. The power of Christian faith always motivates me to be more critical but this rhetoric tires. Criticism does not always create understanding and the congregation have no care for my judgement instead they would remind me of the priests words to come and enjoy

                                      “Pure Spiritual Worship No strings Attached.”


I have taken some rubbish pictures of the incredable architecture of Faith Tabernacle Church but sadly technology is not my forte and therefore you will have to wait till I have (up or down) loaded the pictures onto my near dead lap top.

1 comment:

  1. thank fore this very good information about my church it told me a lot of thing I didn't not even know you really know your history who ever you are.

    your sincerely
    demar Giovanni ryan