Although Mennonites are more familiar to most UK Anabaptists than other denominations with historic Anabaptist roots, there are now several Brethren in Christ churches in Britain. Emerging in the late 18th century in Pennsylvania, the BIC churches blend Anabaptist, Weslyan and Pietist emphases. In the UK members of BIC churches are predominantly African.
Two of these churches, in Southend and Forest Gate (East London), are members of the ANC, so we invited them to introduce themselves. But they decided instead to ask Dean Chauke, who leads the West Midlands congregation, to write about his church and give a wider perspective. We hope to build stronger links with Dean and all the BIC churches over the coming years.
West Midlands Brethren in Christ Church is involved in a number of charitable activities. We provide church services to the community. This is done through preaching and teachings of the Christian way of life as well as through general advice giving. This ensures that citizens are encouraged to abide by the expected norms of society and uphold very high moral values, which we believe can only be obtained through a personal relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. Our main base is in Birmingham but we attract membership from the Birmingham metropolitan area, Warwick, Coventry, Derby, Wolverhampton, Dudley, Walsall and Leicester.
As a charity we are actively involved in activities that aim at improving the human condition for young people, men and women in society. We have an active youth department that offers career guidance and promotes ambition among the young. They are also offered entertainment opportunities aligned to the philosophy of the organisation. It is of vital importance that we keep the youth off the street and provide them with alternative lifestyles that will make them better citizens tomorrow.
The women’s group also provides critical social support to members of the church in particular and this support is extended to the community in general. Women meet on a regular basis and discuss contemporary social issues which affect them on a day-to-day basis. They also share tips on how to better raise their children as well as improving family life, covering aspects such as cooking, sewing and other domestic skills.
The church also gets involved in helping out during bereavements, especially for its members of African origin. Our organisation always provides emotional, spiritual as well as financial support to the families during these grieving moments. As a church, we visit the bereaved families during the hard times on a regular basis until all arrangements for the burial have been made. Over and above this, the church takes its time to visit its members when they are sick in hospital to offer them support and wish them well.
Every Sunday we provide light refreshments or meals to anyone attending the services. This facility is open to church members in particular and to the community at large. This means that members of society who are disadvantaged and lack food can access free refreshments every Sunday afternoon.
As an organisation, we have linked with other BIC churches in the UK and we hold regular meetings in alternative venues across England. Over the past three years, we have been able to hold conventions at Easter, in July and a Vigil Service on 31 December each year. We also hold joint baptismal services in November for the Southern Region (London Area BIC congregations; Southend on Sea; Basildon; City East) and the Northern Region (West Midlands, Manchester and Leeds). Through quarterly leadership meetings, we have been able to share best practice, ensure uniform standards of prudence and administration, as well as enabling structured leadership development. The national body is embarking on a deliberate church planting programme, which will ensure that more preaching points are established to reach out to local communities with ease.
Historically the denomination’s theological ethos and polity has been influenced by Anabaptist beliefs. It is that pioneering revelation that has been passed down through the generations and that has made a lasting impact in the relevance of the Gospel in today’s society. The teachings and the standards set have helped us to focus on what makes us different as Christians and how we maintain relevance and presence and how we espouse Christian values in modern day-to-day living. We believe that with the emergence of individual ministries, especially in urban settings, networking, accountability and prudence are key in setting standards of piety, leadership, polity and biblical understanding.
I am hopeful that, as we get more involved with the Anabaptist Network, we will be able to tap into the available support resources and enrol into leadership mentorship schemes that will allow our leadership to progress from lay duties to ordination.