Immigrants strengthen Christianity in the UK

By Thomas Seymat

While Islam takes the spotlight, Christianity is on the rise with immigrants. Photo credit: bixentro/Flickr

Christianity, not Islam, is the main religion of immigrants in the United Kingdom.

Immigrants do not only bring new customs, foods or languages to the country they settle in, they also bring along their belief systems and religious world-views. As a matter of fact, the migratory flux of the last few decades has “profoundly altered the faith map of the UK”, according to a report entitled ‘Faith, Migration, Integration and Social Cohesion’ published in January 2010 by left-of-the-centre think tank Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

In recent years, Islam has been propelled under the spotlight and typecast as both the religion most migrants bring to the UK and a potential threat to national security in the wake of the 9/11 and 7/7 terror attacks. Wary that what is seen as Islamic values may contradict principles of democracy in the UK, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, said in an interview with the BBC in January 2010 that priority should be given to immigrants respectful of said values. Coincidentally, such immigrants, according to the Archbishop, are more likely to come from countries that are traditionally Christian.

Lord Carey has also advocated for restricting the number of immigrants. If not, he predicted “deep trouble”, “social unrest” and the rise of far-right movements. The Archbishop, who also admits fearing the UK becoming less and less of a Christian country, is not the only one having this type of discourse. Islam is indeed the target that immigration critics are the most vocal about.

The comeback of Christianity

A service in a Bapist Church. Photo credit: Thomas Seymat

In reality, things are actually different. There are over 2.4 million Muslims in the UK, British nationals and foreign-born combined. In addition, “migration has caused an increase in the proportions of the population affiliated to non-Christian faiths,” according to the IPPR report. Yet, the same report assesses that out of the 4.5 million of the UK’s foreign-born residents who claim a religious affiliation, 1.1 million of them, so approximately 25%, are Muslim. However, more than half of the immigrant population are actually Christian.

Among them, Catholics from EU countries such as Poland (600,000 Poles now live in the UK), Slovakia and Lithuania and African Pentecostals are the fastest-growing denominations. “In Lewisham, there are 65 Pentecostal churches serving the Nigerian community, and others serving the Congolese, Ghanian and Ivorian communities,” says the report. It adds, “perhaps the most significant change has been the growth of Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity within migrant populations, particularly those from Africa and Latin America.”

This trend of increasing Christian migrants has not gone unnoticed by religious observers. Dr Joe Aldred, secretary of the Minority Ethnic Christian Affairs section of the Churches Together in England (CTE) tweeted on @joealdred : “At national Church Planting Consultation. Didn’t know so much going on planting new churches. Christianity making a come back in Britain?”

Role of churches for immigrants

Churches also care for the more destitute of immigrants. It is still true today with, for instance, the St Mary Magdalene Centre for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in the Islington borough of London. There are even ecumenical efforts on the topic, such as the London Churches Refugee Fund, launched by a score of different Christian churches in London.

Immigration also revives entire religious communities that had fallen apart because of time and secularisation. Some religious groups are now trying to reach out to the white working-class in the area and invite them to attend religious services. In a recent report in the Guardian newspaper, Tade Agbesanwa, pastor of a Black-majority church in London’s East End said “this church is for everybody.” An opportunity perhaps for immigrant groups to welcome the community around them into their faith, as they were welcomed into British society.

This project was organised by the European Youth Press and made possible thanks to funding received through the Council of Europe’s European Youth Foundation. For more information visit the European Youth Press Orange magazine website.