Celebrating Black History through the Preaching Language of the Windrush Generation

Rev Dr Carol Tomlin is a Visiting Fellow in Christian Studies at the University of Leeds and is the senior leader of Restoration Fellowship Ministries.

It is Black History month. I am not necessarily convinced that ‘Black History’ should be assigned to a particular month as history is always with us and ever present. The wealth, systems and resources etc. that we take for granted and enjoy in Britain came about historically as a consequence of our interactions with black people, often inhumane. Some may take issue with the prefix ‘black’ to denote history and that is understandable as it underpins the tapestry of all our histories, individually and collectively, that is social, political and economic, intertwined within the larger narrative of British history. Black history in many ways is an integral part of British history but we celebrate those individuals of African ancestry whose impact has been long lasting, inspiring and often forgotten. It is with this in mind that I celebrate my forebears the Windrush generation who came to Britain from the Caribbean during the Post-war period. I applaud them for their contribution to Christianity and the language of preaching informing their spirituality, which they brought to the shores of the British Isles. I capture my fascination for the language in this piece by drawing on the preface for my forthcoming book: Preach it! Understanding African Caribbean Preaching (SCM Press), due for release in January 2019.

The Royal wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle on Saturday, 19thMay 2018 gave the world audience a glimpse of the preaching of Bishop Michael Curry, the Presiding Episcopal Bishop who ‘stole the show.’ He demonstrated a presentation of preaching that I have observed throughout my life. Although the Bishop is certainly not Pentecostal, his style of preaching on that wonderful day is reminiscent of African Caribbean Pentecostal preaching, the subject of my book.

My passion for African Caribbean preaching began when I was ten, as far as I can recall. I attended and subsequently became a member of the New Testament Church of God, in Leeds. I vividly remember the ‘mothers’ of the church and that one dared not move but had to sit still in ‘big people’ church, especially during the ‘Word.’ Amazingly, I was able to sit unmoved for an hour or more and listen to the most dynamically stylized preaching. I was spellbound by the sermons of Pastor Terence Caine, and others who preached at the district conventions and building programmes (a fundraising event). I can still remember when I was 15 years old, the title and some of the content of a sermon by Pastor Grey entitled: What time is it: (long pause) End time.  In those days much of the preaching along with the songs were eschatological in nature. Oh how times have changed! Thankfully, the style remains the same. To this day I am mesmerized by what I have referred to in my earlier research as ‘black preaching style.’ I believe that God had planted the seed of interest in this art of preaching in my soul and mind.

It is not coincidental that my parents were from the Windrush generation, the Caribbean migrants who settled in Britain during the post-war period. It is not accidental that I was captivated by the sounds, vibrancy and eloquence of my parents and older relatives. Coming from Clarendon, Jamaica they retained in their speech much of the basilect features, the Jamaican language/dialect furthest removed from Standard English. When they communicated with each other, I would at times roll around in peels of laughter at their incredible sense of humour and even when my mother reprimanded me her words sounded almost like poetry.

Back to the African Caribbean Pentecostal preaching which is contextual and reflects the language of the community. I have observed in the twenty first century that the style of preaching among African diasporans from the Pentecostal/Charismatic tradition is similar in diverse geographical locations. I have had the privilege of attending at various points in my life the following types of churches with varied cultural compositions. These include Pentecostal churches with predominantly African Caribbean people, one whose congregants are primarily West African, an evangelical church with an ethnically mixed congregation and a Charismatic type African Episcopal church where the congregants are mainly African American. Much of the material for my book is not only based on extensive in-depth research conducted over 35 years but also my own lived-in experience of preaching for almost two decades. I am an insider, not gazing through the window as a stranger, but my heart and soul are intertwined with discovering more about the preached word of my heritage. I am a minister who co-founded an independent non-denominational church, Restoration Fellowship Ministries, which presently has two branches, one in Birmingham and the other in Leeds.

Part of the journey to this book also took place during my undergraduate days as a student teacher working with Professor Viv Edwards, and subsequent postgraduate and postdoctoral studies. As previously mentioned, God had planted the seed, and it had germinated in my first book Black Language Style in Sacred and Secular Contexts. The seed has further mushroomed in the form of my forthcoming book,Understanding African Caribbean Preaching, which is intended to be of interest to clergy across Christian denominations and to those in the fields of Homiletics, Linguistics, Communication and Anthropology. It should benefit anyone interested in the spoken art of preaching. The hermeneutics of African Caribbean homiletics has paved the way for the plethora of African Pentecostal/Charismatic or new churches and indigenous churches such as those referred to as Fresh Expressions. Indeed, the spiritual landscape of the United Kingdom has been greatly impacted by the history of African Caribbean Pentecostal preaching!

Written by: Rev Dr Carol Tomlin

Image Credit: Tone’o @Flickr

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