The Broader Picture: Deliverance on the day-trip
Journalist and novelist Andrew Martin is the author of the 'Jim Stringer' series of novels based around railways. He has written for the Independent on Sunday, the Evening Standard, the Sunday Times and the New Statesman among others.
Sunday 04 July 1993
They're members of the Cherubim and Seraphim Holy Temple Church of Christ, and they're making their annual pilgrimage to Margate. Now, it's easy to be suspicious of a church that in the past frequented Brighton and Southend, and has settled on Margate because of the softness of the sands, but the visit has a two-fold religious significance. Members of the church believe that beaches are spiritually significant - Jesus having preached on the shores of Galilee - and they favour full-immersion sea baptisms.
Last Sunday, three coaches departed, and within half an hour they were filled with the joyful sound of gospel singing, stuck in a traffic jam on the A2. At the front of the first coach sat the leader of the church - a harassed-looking man known as either the Prophet Alabi or The Reverend SB Alabi. He founded the church on coming to Britain from Nigeria in 1985.
The Cherubim and Seraphim Holy Temple Church of Christ is one of dozens of churches in Britain under the umbrella of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church, which has its headquarters in Nigeria and was founded there in 1916 by St Moses Orimolade Tunlase. The Reverend Alabi explained the robes by referring me to the Book of Revelation, Chapter 7. Here is mention of 'people of all nations . . . kindreds and tongues', wearing robes, which made them 'white in the blood of the lamb'. The robes are worn with coloured sashes denoting the different 'bands' into which the church is divided.
The Reverend Alabi's church meets in a hall in Islington, and has been a great success - it now has a congregation of more than 200. According to the Reverend, the reason for this is simple. 'Only God can revive us; without knowledge of God we can't make it.' He paused thoughtfully before adding: 'And we have music.'
The arrival at Margate beach was dramatic. Sunbathers all around moved towards the Prophet and his flock; children even stopped bouncing on the Bouncy Castle. A small shrine was created of candles, water bottles (which would later be blessed) and a crucifix. Then two hours of prayers, singing, dancing and lesson-reading got underway - all conducted in either English or the Nigerian language Yoruba, and with the big wheel turning in the background.
Comments from dazed onlookers were overwhelmingly approving, but a sunbathing vicar from Battersea took a coolly professional attitude: 'What's this then? Baptisms? Better watch out - sea's full of condoms.'
After the service, Reverend Alabi asked those who required baptising to follow him, and he walked towards the sea. Fully berobed, he and two assistants waded out to waist height, and an orderly queue formed in front of them in the water. The baptisms were accompanied by much whooping and giggling, although the three baptisers looked rather intimidating as one tolled a bell and another balefully shouted 'Next]'. Particularly nervous church-entrants received an encouraging smattering of applause after each of the three duckings (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost). One young woman, half stumbling, half frolicking back to the shore, shouted 'Man, that water is so salty]' The vicar from Battersea looked on. 'It's very un-Church of England,' he mused, water lapping at his shoulders.
The baptisms were followed by a beach lunch of orangeade, dried fish and rice, during which the Reverend Alabi expressed mixed feelings about Britain. On the one hand, he thinks too many people 'get courage here by going to the pub'. On the other hand, he admires this country for having sent missionaries to Africa ('They did a great job.').
After lunch, the plates were cleared away and, with the sun still high in the sky, and long before the Reverend Alabi's trousers could dry, it was back on the bus and home.
TV reviewBroadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair
Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere
TVThe Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 2 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
- 5 UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
Poldark, series 1 finale, review: How a costume drama became a Sunday night swoon-fest
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 3, review: Sansa and manhood-lopping torturer Ramsay Bolton - really?
The day I starred in Only Fools and Horses
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove