Church, faith and the Windrush generation - 'If I didn't find a church, I would've gone back home'

By ITV News Central Production Specialist Jessica Grizzle

"If I didn’t find the church here, I would have had to go back home".

Words spoken by Gladstone Martin, a 95-year-old who remembers how he felt when he arrived in England from Jamaica over 60 years ago. 

Pentecostal church organisations like Bethel United Church, Apostolic in Handsworth were established in this country by Windrush arrivals, who desired for the churches they were used to, to be established here.

As third generation Windrush, and a life-long member of this church, it has been an astonishing experience interviewing a few of the senior members of this assembly, who’s faith in God has been an integral part of their lives. 

Before the church buildings we see today existed, Bethel United Church began in the front room of 145 Holly Road in Handsworth.

This room was home to two of the early church members, who opened their doors to others so that they could worship together.

Glen Burke, whose parents attended church services in the front room, told me: "Over the period of time they outgrew the limited space in the living room, into the hallway and into the dining room".

Over the coming months, the congregation would outgrow the house on Holly Road, and a permanent address was needed.

Jamaican-born Bishop Sydney Alexander Dunn, was the pastor of this congregation, and nine months after his arrival in England the first service was held at the church on Gibson Road.

At the time he was a young Bishop who brought the Apostolic message he preached back into Jamaica to this country, and out of this first church many others were established.

I have grown up listening to the experiences and stories of my grandparent’s generation.

I’ve heard about their struggles and especially the sacrifices they had to make to build a life in this country.

'The entire nation owes them a great debt of gratitude'

A country where their children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren now call home.

Through the years we found out about the prejudice and racism they experienced, but we also learnt about the strength and courage it would have taken for that community to stay here and continue to build despite the challenges. 

Bishop Dexter Edmund, who is the Presiding Bishop of Bethel United Church, said: "The entire nation owes them a great debt of gratitude.

"They were invited here to rebuild this country after the second world war, they were invited to do jobs that others didn’t want to do.

"They came with the hope that they were going to stay for a short period of time and then go back, but they stayed, had children and here we are 75 years later."