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David Spero: Churches

Paul Clarke discovers some of Britain’s most unusual churches at the National Media Museum

Published on May 10th 2011.

David Spero: Churches

AT FIRST glance an exhibition of photographs of boring buildings and warehouses doesn’t seem much fun - until you realise they contain some of Britain’s most unusual churches.

David Spero has spent much of the last decade tracking down small churches based on industrial estates, over betting shops and in dingy backstreets in rundown areas.

The only thing in common is that they are the exact opposite of the ornate high church buildings that tend to garner much of of the public's architectural affection.

There is some irony in the Christ Holiness Assembly International co-existing with an internet cafe, which is a gateway to an electronic Sodom and Gomorrah.

Most of these new churches are based in London but the National Media Museum has commissioned some new images from Leeds and Bradford.  The El- Shaddi International Christian Centre in Bradford is a classic of its kind, based in a grim warehouse.

The other unifying factor is these small churches tend to be from the evangelical wing of Christianity, and standing outside the mainstream forces them into whatever building they can afford. They are churches that are often comfortable with worship involving trances, visions and speaking in tongues.

So rather than being a souped up collection of boring buildings, Spero’s intellectual point is to ask how much of Philip K Dick’s life-long examination of the relationship between religious experience and hallucinations applies to these independent churches.

Wandering around the brightly lit space you are struck by Spero’s technical excellence, but also the juxtaposition between the spiritual and the secular. The Outcomes Assembly in Deptford worship over the more worldly reality of a betting shop. There is some irony in the Christ Holiness Assembly International co-existing with an internet cafe, which is a gateway to an electronic Sodom and Gomorrah.

Others chose the most bizarre of venues for special one-off events like the City Gates Church, who take over central London’s Comedy Store for Sunday services. The Christ Church of the Kingdom of God used their financial muscle to buy the old Finsbury Rainbow, which was once a major venue where Frank Sinatra and Bob Marley played.

From an uninspiring premise, Spero has cast a light onto a hidden world where the emphasis is in true spiritual enlightenment not just pretty buildings.

The beliefs of some of these groups may be unpalatable to a secular Britain, but Spero does raise the interesting question that they might just be more true to the message of a man who never had a church himself.

Churches: David Spero is free and runs until 4 September.


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