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Is immigration a threat or a gift? Martin Camroux reflects on his years as a minister in a changing city
My 14 years ministering in London have given me a particular perspective on the immigration debate. When I arrived in Sutton in 1999, it was to a largely white church in what seemed a typical Surrey inner suburb. In fact, social change was already altering its nature. By the time I left, last year, my daughters’ school was one-third Asian and you never went downtown without seeing women in hijabs. Trinity Church changed with the culture, coming to include more than 20 nationalities, the majority of children in the Junior Church were black. This is a London where only 45% of the population are now white British. It really is no longer a British city – it is a world city.
It was a huge learning experience. The England I grew up in was almost entirely white. At school we had one Maltese boy who was looked upon as exotically different. In my church in Birkenhead, we had a Ghanaian family – but as the wife went to Cheltenham Ladies College they may not have been entirely typical. In Sutton, for the first time, I found myself in a multicultural area. I learned that a Nigerian is not a Ghanaian; a Yoruba is not a Hausa, a Fanti not an Ashanti. You take your shoes off when you visit a Korean home. Africans often like new homes blessed, and African brides cannot be guaranteed to be on time at weddings. I’ve appreciated the spirituality which some other cultures have in much greater abundance than we do – the way, for example, many appreciate being prayed with when you visit.
I’ve had quite a lot of dealings too with the UK border agency, especially when they refused to allow the pastor of our Korean language congregation and his family to stay in the country, despite the fact that his children had done all their secondary education in the country and had university places lined up. I’ve come to love shittock (a hugely hot Ghanaian chilli sauce) on my food. Its multicultural variety for me is what makes London such a wonderful place in which to live…
This is an extract from the March 2014 edition of Reform.