London Church Forced Off Its Property

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LONDON - If you live in London, and you want to build the largest Mosque in Western Europe, that's great. But if you want to build the largest church, forget about it.

London's Kingsway International Christian Church, the largest church in Europe, no longer has a permanent home. Nor is there much prospect of it finding one in London.

This congregation of as many as 10,000 was forced off its property to make room for the 2012 London Olympics. And now it must hold six Sunday services jammed into a 1000-seat former theatre in East London.

"I'm probably one of the few pastors around the world who has to preach five times every Sunday," Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo.

When Kingsway had its old building taken from it for the London Games, it not only was forbidden to re-build nearby, where most of its church members live. But the London Development agency offered this predominantly black church land on the far outskirts of London, in a white suburb, where local officials didn't want a large black church and turned down Kingsway's planning request.

"We were left high and dry, to face the wrath of the community," Ashimolowo said. "When you have a church of our magnitude with 90 percent ethnic minorities from about 46 nations, the first thing that comes to the mind of the neighborhood is, 'Oh my God, this large church is coming to our neighborhood.'"

So for now, Kingsway has nowhere to move. Feeling more than just abandoned by the city, Pastor Ashimolowo contends government officials' treatment of the church amounts to racial discrimination and religious persecution.

"When the largest church has its property taken from it and made to operate from a small building, that is a form of persecution," Ashimolowo said.

"KICC is the largest church in Western Europe, and I think that ought to have been celebrated," Ashimolowo said. "Rather, I believe that we were victims of the fact that it was a Christian church that has succeeded. The megachurch growth of the large church is so unknown to them. In fact, they call KICC "the American style church led by a Nigerian pastor," he added.

Alan Craig, a Christian city councilman running for London mayor, calls it "a perfect illustration" of the City of London's "prejudice against Christianity."

"It's just appalling the way they've been treated," he said. "KICC are left swinging in the wind. They have no permanent home, as we stand here today."

So while London city government has literally told the largest church in the city to take a hike, it's still pushing the construction of the largest mosque in Europe.

Not far from Kingsway's former church property is land that has been set aside for a huge mosque complex for as many as 70,000 Muslims. The City of London wants it to be an integral part of the 2012 London Olympic site. This despite the fact that the so-called mega mosque is widely controversial, because it is being built by a secretive group called Tablighi Jamaat, which some have tied to terror.

"Mayor Livingstone is actively courting the Muslim vote. That's what he's doing. I also think our secular authorities are actively writing Christianity out of the script," Craig said.

Craig is referring to London's controversial Mayor Ken Livingstone, who backs the mega mosque project. Livingstone, sometimes known as Red Ken, has defended Palestinian suicide bombers, and his re-election campaign has the backing of many of Britain's Muslim leaders.

It's not surprising, then, that a leading Islamic cleric in Britain recently called on Muslims to support Ken Livingstone's re-election campaign.

In a video from Councilman Craig's campaign Web site, he tried to confront the Tablighis, in what was supposed to be a public open house to improve the image of the mega mosque project. Except that the Tablighi leaders refused to answer Craig's questions.

"I wanted to ask them about terrorism, I wanted to ask them about their separatism, I wanted to ask them about their ideology. I have 20 or 30 questions I want to ask them, but they wouldn't answer any of them. They said, no no, another day," Craig said.

"If they have this new mosque here it will do no good whatsoever for social cohesion, for community reasons in the area, because Tablighi Jamaat preaches separatism," he added.

As the mosque project goes forward, the London Development Authority has said it's doing all it can to find a home for Kingsway. But the church seems less than convinced.

"Here is the United Kingdom, which sent missionaries around the world. Suddenly, now, they tore down the largest church building, to permit, just next door, the largest mosque in Europe," Ashimolowo said.

"We're facing a clash of kingdoms in the realm of the spirit. Light will have to prevail, some way, over darkness," he said.

*Original broadcast April 25, 2008.

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