As a Black British Pentecostal Christian, Joe Aldred has never been in doubt about the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us from the inside out. It’s what allows us to be more than conquerors, he says 

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Growing up, the relationship between my Christian Pentecostal faith and the Christian festival of Pentecost often struck me as quite strange.

It was almost never celebrated.

I do not have space here to fully explore why a Pentecostal church would not celebrate Pentecost; it is sufficient to highlight the anomaly.

Holy Spirit power

Coming 50 days after Easter, according to Christian tradition, Pentecost marks the arrival of the Holy Spirit as a gift from God the Father (and, some say, God the Son) to the Church.

Maybe my Pentecostal tradition did not know what to make of such a puzzle. An indivisibly one God, sending a part of ‘himself’ to empower the Church that Jesus had just set up, yet remaining indivisibly one - and having been so before time began!

I am neither at the mercy of the white racist or the white ally

What has never been in doubt, however, is the understanding that the presence of the Holy Spirit brings power, dynamism and transcendence in the face of which principalities and powers do not have the final say (see Acts 1:8). It was patently clear to me that Pentecostals are nobody’s passive victims. They are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37-38).

Back to my roots

Alongside my identity as a Pentecostal Christian is my identity as Black British. I have lived in Britain for 80 per cent of my life. I have a British passport, but I don’t consider ‘British’ my sole ethnic identity.

This is because long before I, dressed in my first made-to-measure suit, bowler hat, new shoes and ‘grip’ (aka suitcase), stepped onto an aeroplane in Jamaica in 1968 to join my family in Britain, my ancestors had made the long, torturous (and, for many, deadly) journey from West Africa to the Caribbean on a transatlantic slave ship.

My parents travelled to England in search of better prospects. My ethnic identity is, therefore, rooted in historic and present realities. I embrace my hybrid identity, along with the socio-cultural, economic and political impediments and opportunities it presents.

Made in God’s image

The Pentecostal Church’s indifference to Pentecost as an event, while fully embracing the essence of humanity living in divine power, is a useful metaphor for flourishing as a religious and ethnic minority in Britain.

Pentecost reminds me that I am made in the image and likeness of God; a reality in body and spirit. This statement of faith is rooted in scripture, in creation and in the incarnation of Jesus. I have found that living in the empowering presence of God is transformative. My history – which contains enslavement, colonialism and racism - does not define me.

Imagine, therefore, my righteous indignation when it is suggested that people like me are merely oppressed victims of the unholy forces of white, racist imperialism. Those oppressions exist, of course, but they must never result in identity, victimhood and grievance politics.

Pentecost reminds me that I am made in the image and likeness of God

This is a moment to pause, draw breath and summon the strength of the God in whose image I am made. To ask: What do I need to do to flourish here, now and into the future? I fear my Black British community are being lulled into fatalism, even nihilism. My destiny is not outside of my control. I am not helpless and hopeless. I am neither at the mercy of the white racist or the white ally.

Flourishing with God

This is not wishful thinking. When Jeremiah wrote to the Jewish exiles in Babylon, he gave them instructions not only to survive in their new, hostile home, but flourish there for generations. Like the Jews then, Black British Christians need to be clear about our identity, settle down, build, plant, increase and pray for the shalom of the place in which they live. Because if it prospers, you also prosper.

In the midst of anomalies, vagaries and even hostilities, life is worked out with God in prayer, and in collaboration with family, colleagues, friends and those I choose as allies. We are inferior to and need permission from no one.

Flourishing in Babylon: Black British agency and self-determination (SCM Press) is available now