“We must always remember that God’s church is diverse and unified under one Lord, being Jesus: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb ...” (Revelation 7:9).
I never met my maternal grandmother—she died in my mother’s teen years—but I know she was a Caucasian woman. She could have been Scottish, Irish, Jewish, or German, even though she lived in Jamaica.
My childhood friends were Chinese, Korean, British, Italian, and Black!
I share all of this because my Mississauga upbringing in the 1970s probably made it easier to embrace the multicultural picture I would see in the Bible in the mid-1980s after receiving Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Interestingly, the churches my family attended throughout my life were homogeneous in one way or another—they were either all white or all Black (and we attended more of the former than the latter).
Homogeneous Black churches have never attracted me. The first church I called home following my conversion was my ideal reflection of what church should be—a congregation made up of various ethnicities and cultures. In light of this, I recently decided to delve into the existence of homogeneous churches—specifically, Black homogeneous churches. What I discovered was their high value for the members of my people group.
In Canada, Black churches began in earnest when immigrants landed and failed to be received and recognized by existing white congregations. The creation of the Black church followed and served, as Dr. Elaine Brown Spencer wrote in her book The Black Church in Canada, “... to meet the social, physical, and spiritual needs of an immigrant community.”1 Black churches became more visible in the 1950s and 1960s, though their initial advent in Canada could be traced back to the 1700s with ministers such as David George and Richard Preston serving Jesus in Nova Scotia.
During both of these time periods, Blacks faced considerable scrutiny and suspicion in their new home of Canada. Documents were circulated to circumvent the proliferation of Black people on Canadian land, limiting their ability to make a living and enjoy gainful employment.2 Unfortunately, this sentiment existed in Canada’s secular and sacred contexts alike.
Today, Black churches continue with an unapologetic slant toward worshipping God in a form true to their culture and nature. Interestingly enough, Blacks have also leaned toward the Pentecostal experience and doctrine en masse, at one point populating and leading churches that are Pentecostal and charismatic in doctrine in a higher proportion than any other ethnic group. (In the 2001 Canadian Census, of the 69,910 people who were identified as visible minorities in Pentecostal congregations, 47,595 of them were Black.3)
Rev. Lennox John, lead pastor of Faith Alive Ministries in Mississauga, Ont., commented about the differences between the heterogeneous versus homogeneous expressions of church, particularly the homogeneous Black church.
In his opinion, homogeneous churches are acceptable for the cause of ministering to the key people group existing in a given geographic area. However, the presence of other groups in that same geographic area should not cause their marginalization or exclusion if a church wishes to stay true to their Christian mission. Rev. John goes on to say that churches should be prepared for change when the demographics around them change, particularly if they are English-speaking churches. These changes should “not only [be] at the membership level but at the leadership level.”4
From his own experience and observations, Rev. John acknowledges that most Black churches exist “not as a choice but as a necessity”5 where its members are afforded equal opportunity to exercise their God-given gifts, specifically in the area of leading a congregation. “If we were seen and received as equal, we would not have to have people starting Black churches. So it is almost like self-preservation.”6
Personally, Rev. John has never entertained leading a homogeneous Black church for fear of being “defined” and “confined.” “We’d be defeating ourselves because on one hand we are saying the gospel is for everyone, and yet we are saying that in order for me to do this I have to build a camp.”7 Rev. John favours integration because otherwise, “You have no voice outside.”8 That is, Blacks would have no voice beyond the denomination to effect any necessary changes within the denomination when it came to ethnic relations.
He further commented that the heterogeneous church “... speaks to the truth of the Great Commission ... in preaching to every creature, all creatures [have] come together ... because we are believers in Jesus Christ. That speaks more to the power of the gospel, that it transforms and transcends cultural barriers.”
As we observe Black History Month in February as Christian Canadians, I invite you to consider the following:
1) We need to honour one another regardless of our ethnicity.
Romans 12:10 says, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” To truly honour someone is to recognize the image of Christ in them and the gifts they bring to Christ’s body, the church, as well as to the world. Our differences should be exciting opportunities to discover God’s works in our world as we recognize how He has given His gifts so the church may be equipped and so the world may know Him!
2) We need to humble ourselves when we have dishonoured one another because we may have stymied the movement of God.
As I stated earlier, there was a time in Canada when the secular perspective of Blacks was mirrored within sacred contexts. That mindset caused the church to be divided by its diversity as opposed to being unified by it. The sooner the church is able to move toward true contrition in this area, the sooner the land will experience the healing it so desperately needs (2 Chronicles 7:14). Racism is one of the “wicked ways” the church needs to turn from and condemn at every opportunity.
3) We need to help each other to our final destination.
We must always remember that God’s church is diverse and unified under one Lord, being Jesus: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). Even though we are created different, it is for God’s glory that we encourage each other toward the high calling Jesus has for us. If we do this, we can be a part of the picture similar to what we see in Revelation 7:9, described at the beginning of this article. It is a picture on a canvas that is full of colour—the colour of faith!
Duane Henry has been an ordained minister of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada for 21 years and has served in various pastoral positions throughout his 23 years of full-time ministry. He is currently on pastoral staff as the Director of Care at PORTICO Community Church in Mississauga, Ont. Duane, his wife, and two children make their home in Ancaster, Ont.
- Elaine Brown Spencer, The Black Church in Canada: Apostolic Trailblazers of the Past, Present & Future (Toronto, ON: Kaleo Productions, 2020), 12.
- Graham Reynolds, Viola Desmond’s Canada: A History of Blacks and Racial Segregation in the Promised Land (Black Point, NS: Fernwood Publishing, 2016), 115-140.
- Michael Wilkinson, “Canadian Pentecostal Diversity: Incorporating the Many Voices,” Canadian Journal of Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity 2, no. 1 (2011): 73.
- Lennox John, Zoom interview with author, October 26, 2021
Joseph Mensah, Black Canadians: History, Experience, Social Conditions, 2nd ed. (Black Point, NS: Fernwood Publishing, 2010).
This article appeared in the January/February/March 2022 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2022 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photos © istockphoto.com.