MOST NATIONALITIES ARE more religious than the English. So you’d expect the sounds and sights of religious observance to become more common in London when many people move here from abroad, as they have in recent decades.
Districts like Peckham, Woolwich and Tottenham now have substantial numbers of West African residents. Their churches occupy a range of buildings from the humblest industrial and shop units to former bingo halls and cinemas. On Sundays and many nights of the week you can hear live music and the impassioned shouting of their pastors from within as you pass by.
Catholic churches have had their congregations boosted by Poles and other East Europeans. My nearest Catholic church is (I think) St Saviour’s in Lewisham High Street, and it always looks full up during Mass. People of Bangladeshi and Pakistani descent make up a sizeable chunk of the under-20s in Newham and Tower Hamlets. The proposed West Ham mosque is unlikely to have any problems in the long run filling its hoped-for capacity of 9,500.
Most of these changes involve the repurposing of existing premises or else building new ones. In a cool climate, belief is usually expressed indoors and the impact of increased religiousness on the auditory scenes of street life has not been very great so far. Christian proselytisers are still the most numerous in public, with some adopting modern idioms like this rapper who I recorded recently in Seven Sisters Road:
An example of the more traditional style of singing hymns in the street was used by this man and his companions in Wood Green:
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His language is Spanish with a Latin American accent. After the recording was done I spoke to him briefly, and he was very friendly, shaking my hand and asking me had I found Jesus? I had to answer truthfully and say no, I hadn’t, and wished him all the best, heading off before he could get going in full salvation mode. Both of us have found our own ways of dealing with the impersonal fact of the city.