"You can still tell when its Sunday, well you could up to the arrival of the Covid-19 virus" - Religion, by Catherine Ross at Museumand

White people in local neighbourhoods used to say: "You can tell it’s Sunday because you see more Caribbeans out and about", and they would be dressed in their Sunday Best on their way to Church.  Women with large ornate hats, and men in sharp suits and Brogues, girls sporting colourful ribbons in their hair and boys looking slightly uncomfortable in what Caribbeans called “long trousers” of their tailor-made suits. Family groups carried well-worn Bibles and Hymn Books, or sported Briefcases and handbags in which these precious books were held. Church going for a Caribbean was a family affair and worship was not just reserved for the church building but an essential practice in the home, after all that’s what centuries of missionaries from England had told them.   

So Caribbeans were shocked that the practices inculcated in them back home were not in evidence in the Motherland. The biggest shock that Caribbean Christians had was the fact that when they turned up to worship on Sundays in the 50s they were not welcomed.  These people of faith, faithful and regular worshippers, were told in counties throughout the UK things like, “We don’t mind sending you Missionaries or funds for evangelism or even to keep the church buildings in good repair but we didn’t expect you to come and worship among us here in the UK!” Some were told, “we wouldn’t mind you coming in ones or twos but a whole family or friendship groups of more than that can’t be allowed!”. The funniest thing was that some churches said they would let them worship but they wanted the white ministers in the Caribbean churches to confirm they were suitable to be members of the UK churches! 

Black people did not take this treatment lightly or kindly. Some stayed to the chagrin of Deacons and church ministers who wanted them to go away. Some church congregations walked out when the black worshippers continued to sit in the pews, in a sort of defiant, “We shall not be moved” display.

After the Windrush generation tried a few times to worship in their local churches and were hearing the exclusion experience was happening UK wide, defiant, these resilient people resorted to worshipping in their homes.  Not many Caribbeans had their own homes with space that could accommodate this but those who had created space so up to two groups of people could meet in the front rooms and children have Sunday School in the dining rooms.  With this, Black led churches began to spring up and in time, in 1988 a Council of Black-led Churches was created. 

Although Black-led churches had humble beginnings in Caribbean homes, the numbers of worshippers increased so much that they had to move into other accommodation. They used church halls, school halls and community centres as worship spaces until with dwindling numbers of worshippers in the established churches, the centuries old buildings were put up for sale or rent.  Now the rejected Windrush generation Christians had become the guardians of the places they were once banned from, and their welcoming spirit have members from other groups represented in society.  And yes you can still tell when its Sunday, well you could up to the arrival of the Covid-19 virus. You could tell it was Sunday and not just because you see Caribbeans walking to church but because of the sounds of joyful worship coming from the centuries old church buildings that have served neighbourhoods for years. As Caribbeans say quoting from the Bible, “wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in my name” that’s a place of worship so as the number of worshippers in Black-led churches grow you will hear the singing and praising that characterise a Caribbean church service coming from shopping parades and retail parks in fact wherever they can find a room from which to spread the Gospel. 

Find out more about Catherine RossMuseumand and how we are working together to raise awareness about Black History Month