Photos by Ben Freeman and Jose Otero
Peckham in South London is full of strange little churches. They’re in railway arches, industrial estates, old office blocks and boarded up shops. Peckham has the largest African community in the UK and most of these churches serve them. The churches serve a number of denominations, but most are Evangelist. The Pentecostal church is well-known for the practice of “speaking in tongues” where members of the congregation are said to channel spirits and talk in languages unknown to them. There are estimated to be around 300 such churches in London.
We found an old textile warehouse in Peckham that contains TEN such churches. Pastor Samuel Oluyomi agreed to answer some questions about his church, which opened three months ago. Situated on the third floor of a warehouse behind Peckham High Street, from the outside there’s nothing to indicate that it’s a church. Most of the churches around here could just as easily be sweatshops or an art student’s live/work space until you enter and see the tacky decorations, plastic chairs and framed portraits of Jesus. Actually, that still sounds like an art student’s flat.
Vice: So, can we take your photo?
Pastor Samuel Oluyomi:
We all have a boss. My boss is God. I have spoken with him and he told me not to sit for a photograph.
Oh. Can you tell us about “speaking in tongues” then?
This is when the spirit enters people. They speak prophesies in a strange language which someone must interpret. If no one can understand, the pastor must command the spirit to speak in another language. Normally it is Hebrew.
Does this happen at every service?
Nearly every time, the gift of the Holy Spirit will come upon us. If I am not qualified, Lucifer might enter me, and embarrass me.
Does it hurt?
It depends. In the winter, a door is hard to open so it might have to be forced open.
That’s a metaphor, isn’t it?
Yes. The spirit might use you and drop you. We have to ask the boss if it is a genuine spirit. Good spirits come from God, bad spirits come from the devil. The devil is looking for someone to devour. Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus and then killed himself, because of the guilt. But his spirit may come back. If a man lies down with his daughter and then kills himself because of the guilt, his spirit will have no peace. It may appear through some person.
How do you get the bad spirits out?
I pray with them to rescue them. It’s about rescuing people. Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. The words used in exorcisms are quotations from the Bible. Possession is more common in rural areas. I have been to Manchester and Luton to pray for people who have been attacked by spirits. I prayed for one woman and she vomited safety pins. When I prayed for another woman, a bat flew out of her mouth.
It’s true. The witchcraft situation is getting better but it is rampant. Rampant. We have programmes for children to stop them from drinking and smoking and carrying on. Do you hear that boy outside? When I met him, he could not speak. There was no medical reason, he had been attacked by the enemy. We prayed for him for three or four days, and now as you can hear, God has restored his speech.
You might think that it is strange to have ten churches in one building. But I say this to you: would you think it was strange if there were ten pubs in one building?
BEN FREEMAN & JOSE OTERO