Friday, June 25, 2010

Asians Feel Neglected In Some Churches

Asian Christians 'feel neglected by Church'
By Dil Neiyyar, BBC Asian Network

Mainstream churches in England are failing Asian Christian worshippers, according to the South Asian Forum.

The organisation was formed in March 2010 in order to better represent the views and needs of Asian Christians and to campaign on their behalf.

It claims many of Britain's estimated 75,000 Asian Christians do not feel welcome in the big churches.

Jagdish Singh from Wolverhampton is one of those who unsuccessfully tried to join his local church.

"They were all staring at me," he told BBC Asian Network. "They seemed to be wondering: 'Where has this coloured man come from?'

"Afterwards, nobody spoke to me except for the vicar. He was standing at the door, shook my hand and asked me who I was but nobody in the congregation spoke to me.

"I went there for a few weeks but felt that I didn't belong there.

"I can speak English perfectly and I went to an English school but, although I had become a Christian, I didn't feel a part of them. To me they didn't look as if they wanted me there."

'Divided faith'

The South Asian Forum says Asian Christians are setting up more of their own churches in response to this feeling of rejection - a trend mirroring the growth and breakaway of the Afro-Caribbean community.

Ram Gidoomal, chairman of the South Asian Forum, said: "Asian Christians want to join mainstream churches but if they are not welcome they will then form their own fellowship.

"[It will be like] a phenomenon which happened with the Afro-Caribbean community when they came to the country in the 1940s and 1950s with Windrush.

"They found they weren't welcome and they then set up their own thriving churches.

"It is sad and it is a pity that those who are meant to be united by one faith appear then to be divided, that really is a tragedy."

The Asian Calvary Church in Wolverhampton is typical of the sort of Asian churches that have sprung up in response to the difficulties with mainstream churches.

Its meetings were held in cramped living rooms when it started up and now more than 50 people regularly attend a fortnightly service at a redbrick community church, which worshippers hire.

Most of the Asian Calvary Church's service is in Punjabi, along with many of the hymns sung to music played on traditional Indian instruments like the dhol and harmonium.

National conference

Harjeet Singh, a taxi driver from Wolverhampton, is one of the worshippers.

"To the mainstream churches, I would say they should support us so that Asian Christians will have more freedom to worship," he said.

Robin Thomson, of Asian worshipper support group South Asian Concern, said: "There are no official figures for the number of Asian Christian churches in Britain.

"But what we do know is that there are definitely 90 Tamil churches or groups here, so I would say there are at least 200 Asian Christian churches."

Ahead of a national conference of Asian Christians from across Britain in Derbyshire this weekend, the Church of England acknowledges the problem and says it must improve relations with them.

Simon Pothen, Canon Precentor at Chelmsford Cathedral, said: "I think that [being made to feel] welcome is a problem for the Church generally.

"I think probably being Asian and coming to an all-white church heightens the problems of being welcomed."