There have been disputes and misinformation as regards when Christianity first came to Africa. Modern history will make you believe that it came with colonization and therefore only about two centuries old. However, a closer study of some biblical texts such as the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) suggests that it must have arrived almost two thousand years ago. The question however is not just about age but also how indigenous it is to the continent and whether one can justify the present day indigenisation of this religion.
The award winning “Things Fall Apart” by the legendary Chinua Achebe suggests a lot of reasons why this faith was easily embraced by the locals. The early missionaries were mostly from the Church Mission Society, The Roman Catholic Church and the Methodist. Despite the alien methods of worship which often involved looking very sombre, singing hymns, and silent worship, the locals adhered to the rules for some time. I remember an occasion in my childhood during a Catholic mass when the congregation felt they wanted to clap to accompany a song only to be vehemently stopped by the presiding priest.
Then suddenly something happened and it seems the birds broke out of their cage. I am not sure I know the exact history of how it all started but people started challenging the status quo. A style of worship closer to people’s heart began to emerge both in the traditional churches and in the new style African churches. People started to integrate certain aspects of their culture into their faith.
The prominent additions include clapping, free-style dancing, improvised singing, merrymaking, the increased wearing of traditional attire and of course the temperamental preaching. One I find particularly interesting is the decision in some places to use their food produce and animals from their farms for offering instead of the usual cash.
The most interesting part of this story is that Africans have felt the need to take this “newly found” way of worship with them wherever they go. The result is that you can now find this African style churches in every big European city. Two weeks ago I was walking down a street here in Norwich when I heard a group worshiping in an unmistakably African style and felt I had to go and discover them. Obviously I wasn’t mistaken. It was a 100% black African congregation. Everything was as I expected. After joining in the jovial singing I felt much uplifted even though I had been to church (a traditional one) that day and only happened to be there by chance.
The questions that keep pondering my mind are these: Is this a completely new religion? Is it OK that many Africans-only churches are beginning to emerge here in Europe? What brings Africans to these churches? Is it to worship or to find a sense of belonging?