At a time when large numbers of people are drifting away from formal religion, the “traveller church” movement ‘Light & Life’ is bucking the trend. Its members have given up drinking alcohol, lying and fortune-telling and many have even abandoned their traditional Catholic faith.
This Pentecostal movement, which is Gypsy-led, has grown rapidly over the past 30 years with up to 40% of British Gypsies belonging to it. There’s no way to prove that claim, but most Gypsies and travellers will agree that there is a surge in people joining.
About 6,000 Gypsies and travellers attended its UK convention with 700 caravans parked around a big-top tent at the agricultural showground in the Welsh county of Carmarthenshire.
A mission of French Gypsies visited the north-east of England in the early 1980s. Called Vie et Lumière (Light & Life) on the continent, the movement first took hold among Gypsy survivors of the Holocaust. The impact of these early meetings meant people were ringing each other, saying “there are French people and they’ve brought new religion”.
Light & Life regards fortune-telling as sinful because the Bible urges us to have nothing to do with sorcery and witchcraft. One Gypsy traveller said:
“I see a great shift among Gypsies today; we’ve gone from being professional liars to honesty. We don’t want to live that life anymore because the Holy Spirit’s inside us. We want to go 100% legal. That’s what happens when you’re born again”.
The National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups concedes there has been a problem with alcoholism among Gypsy communities and that the new-found faith captures people who are troubled; however, it also points out that not all Gypsies are liars.
The worship in Light & Life is led by Gypsy pastors, all men, who preach passionately, calling on those present for change. This often involves leaving the Catholic or Anglican church that many Gypsies and travellers are born into.
Billy Welch is organiser of the famous Appleby Horse Fair in Cumbria; one of the most important events in the Gypsy and traveller calendar. He says: “Gypsy and travelling people have a very strong faith. Every one of them believes in God through Jesus Christ”. Billy’s father was one of the first to convert and join Light & Life, in which he says “the Bible is explained the way it was written – not the way some man-made religion wants you to understand. Now I’m a Christian.”
Light & Life provides a sense of identity and belonging for many who join it, which is something institutional churches need to recognise and emulate.
Light & Life believe Britain – as a nation – is going against the principles of God in a big way. So they hope to see a revival in which all Britons will be saved.” Right now even the Salvation Army is seeing growth from Eastern European Roma people joining. The Church of England has several Gypsy-led congregations starting up. The gospel seems to be having a profound effect on this often marginalised community.
Source: Alex Strangwayes-Booth, BBC News, 20 Nov 2016