'We’ve been challenged and we’ve changed'
Interview with Denzil Larbi, associate minister of Selsdon Baptist Church
“Maybe we’re learning to see church as more of a movement,” notes Denzil Larbi. “Don’t get me wrong, I love our buildings and they can be used for many great things. But God is still calling us to be church. Our building has been closed but we’ve seen a lot happen in this time.”
Denzil admits to a sense of frustration when lockdown began in March. He had only joined Selsdon Baptist Church, Croydon, as an associate minister the previous month and was fizzing with ideas: in his first few weeks his community connections had grown, he had developed some small groups and started a 12 week Bible course. At his previous church he had reached local gang members through his interest in rap music.
He hadn’t counted on the disruption the pandemic would bring.
“I came in really excited, I wanted to be out in the community, there was so much I wanted to do,” he says. “So not being able to do that was frustrating. It wasn’t what I’d anticipated.”
Denzil had sensed a clear call to Selsdon, and the church to him. He had previously served at Willesden Green Baptist Church in north London and had come to the end of his NAM (Newly Accredited Minister) period.
It was most likely that he would go into a pastor/teacher role, he says. “That would have been fine, but I feel called as an evangelist, and was looking for a role that was more missional.”
Initially no such role was forthcoming, but then “out of the blue” the opportunity at Selsdon came up. “It had become a more diverse church just over the last two or three years. The church saw the need for someone to come and challenge them and reach out into the community.
“I’m originally from South London and it felt a really good fit. I had a conversation with the church and there was a sense of God’s leading.”
The church voted to call Denzil in November, and he left Willesden in January.
Like every minister, he had to adapt both his actions and his thinking with the onset of the pandemic and its ensuing restrictions. He relaunched the afore-mentioned Bible course online, and saw an uptake in numbers, both through personal connections and a welcoming social media presence. All those on the course have now become Christians, and, not wanting the connection and teaching to end, have created a new home group. His connection with a local school in a deprived part of the community resulted in the school approaching the church to become involved in food distribution. The church has helped the local foodbank, started an online Alpha and like many, seen an increase in numbers to its online services.
Denzil says he has always been challenged and inspired by the early church in the book of Acts. (“There was no building then, but huge growth. What can we learn from that?”)
“God has been challenging and changing us,” he adds. “We’ve not been able to meet physically, but God is still calling us to be church. There has been lots of support and encouragement about God’s people who love each other. We are opening our mindset as a people who love Jesus. We are hoping this will continue.”
This interview appears in the Autumn 2020 edition of Baptists Together magazine