Bishop Joe Aldred retires - perspectives on his impact and legacy
CTE's Principal Officer for Pentecostal, Charismatic and Multi-cultural Relations, Bishop Joe Aldred, retires on 31 October.
Many colleagues who have worked with Bishop Joe over the years have sent in memories and messages about the impact he has had on the ecumenical journey during his time at CTBI and CTE. Here is just a small selection...
Current CTE General Secretary, Rev Dr Paul Goodliff:
After over 18 years of service in CTBI and then CTE, our friend and colleague, Bishop Dr. Joe Aldred is retiring at the end of October. He thought he would continue until March 2022, and we would have been delighted had he done so, but for our own rather selfish reasons, I fear— we just do not want to say ‘goodbye.” In our hearts, though, we understand that now is the time, and his decision is characteristically wise, and so reluctantly we do say ‘farewell’ to Joe as he retires, and glad in the knowledge that he will continue to contribute to the life of the churches in various ways.
Joe has made an outstanding contribution to the life of CTE as one of the leading black ecumenists in Britain and Ireland. He joined the staff of CTBI in August 2002, when the Centre for Black and White Partnership, of which he was the Director, closed in 2002. CTBI took over their ecumenical work with black and ethnic minority churches and he became Secretary of MECA (the committee for minority and ethnic Christian affairs), a move instigated by Dr David Goodbourn, its General Secretary.
As its part-time officer working in that area he transferred to CTE three years later, under Bill Snelson’s leadership, when, at that time, it was recognised that the majority of its work was centred in England. It was not until 2013 that his title became Pentecostal and Multi-Racial Relationships, and he became a full-time member of CTE staff.
The role he undertook with CTBI made a huge contribution to the work it continues to lead in the pursuit of racial justice. Following his move to CTE fifteen years ago, many of the Pentecostal members churches have joined under his oversight of that tradition, and the newer charismatic tradition, which we refer to as the New Churches, have also found in Joe the staff member who has drawn them deeper into the life of CTE. The Pentecostal and Charismatic Forum has been his project, as have specific responses to the black communities such as early work on the problem of knife crime (Who is my Neighbour, 2002); advising Government on child abuse and witchcraft in some of the churches of the African diaspora; the Windrush celebrations in Westminster Abbey in 2018; and the recognition of the contribution of black servicemen in the First World War in the form of the exhibition, “They Also Served”. Quietly but effectively building relationships in the Pentecostal constituency has not only created opportunities for dialogue that would simply not have happened without him but has also empowered them to take their rightful and equal place around the ecumenical table.
He has drawn upon his academic strengths in writing, most notably editing the recent Pentecostals and Charismatics in Britain. An Anthology (SCM Press, 2019) – merely the latest of eight books he has authored – and enabling a generation of younger black theologians to pursue their studies and make their own contribution in the academy. He has served as the black Christian representative on General Synod, preached widely, from local congregations to Oxford college chapels, and continued to support his own church, the Church of God of Prophecy, where he is a bishop, and in which he started his ministry as pastor. His passion has been to empower black Christians and churches to play their part in the life of the nation and its churches – you might say it has been a message that has encouraged them to take their rightful place with commitment and pride, looking forward and not backwards. That message has been at the heart of the progress made by Pentecostal churches in taking their seat as equals at the ecumenical table.
Of course, Jamaica will always have a large part of his heart, and he always reminds us of the needs of those that do not benefit from living in a rich country like England. His commitment to social justice, and racial justice in particular, runs through all that he has offered to the ecumenical movement. He is a go-to man for advice if you are a Government minister, or the Archbishop of Canterbury – and especially if you are the CTE General Secretary or Chair of Trustees! We shall miss his contribution to our life enormously, and are encouraged by the fact that his work in BBC radio broadcasting, supporting the Windrush project and continuing his writing, among many other things, will continue long after he has left the CTE staff. But retirement will bring the space for his children and beloved grandchildren, and especially Novelette, whose support and love has enabled so much. He might even find time to watch the West Indies play some cricket — in the fond hope that they beat England.
We all know of his work and achievements, but colleagues, current and former, will also recognise the character of Joe. He has been a friend as well as a colleague, generous in his support, unafraid in his challenge (although always gently offered) and wise in his counsel. We will miss his contribution to the work, but much more, we’ll miss having Joe on the team.
CTE General Secretary 2008-2018, Dr David Cornick:
Joe Aldred is an exceptional man. He has spent his working life defying logic – I still don’t quite understand how he can fit at least twice as much work into a day as normal mortals! However, to work alongside him for the ten years that I was General Secretary of CTE, 2008-18, was a rare privilege.
I first met Joe when I attended a meeting he was involved with at the Centre for Black and White Christian Partnership, of which he was the Director from 1996-2002. His reputation as a theologian, thinker and leader was considerable, and it had gone from strength to strength by the time that I arrived in Tavistock Square in 2008. Here was a man who was an acknowledged expert on the black-led churches and on black theology, a man who moved easily amongst Radio 2 DJs, government ministers, diplomats and church leaders. Here was a writer and entrepreneur who had done more than anyone to bring the writings of black British Christians to a wide audience. I was a little in awe, but also very excited at the prospect of being Joe’s colleague.
I quickly found that Joe took that reputation very lightly. Here was a man who cared passionately about ecumenism’s ability to break down barriers, to bring black and white, Pentecostal and ‘historic Christianity’ (whatever that might mean) together so that together we might grow in Christ and be more effective in the mission we all share. Here was a warm, kind, funny, articulate friend, a man of wisdom and laughter. It proved a delight to work with Joe for a decade.
One of my tasks was appraisal, and it was on those occasions that Joe introduced me to the joys of Caribbean food in a well-known restaurant chain in Birmingham. Appraisal generally meant trying to persuade Joe to do less in case he made himself ill! The achievements were remarkable – the lingering legacy of knife crime, reports on child abuse and witchcraft, the creation of a Pentecostal Presidency for CTE, ‘They Also Served’, Modern Day Slavery, the Windrush service in Westminster Abbey in 2018.
But behind the scenes was the perpetual building of bridges, bringing black and white leaders together, challenging pre-conceptions about Pentecostal and ‘liberal’, seizing every opportunity to make the church in England more inclusive and aware. It worked because everyone trusted and admired Joe. From the councils of small black-led networks, to the tables in Lambeth Palace around which the Presidents gathered, Joe was respected not just for what he knows (which is formidable) but for who he is, and his transparent commitment to the gospel.
CTE Pentecostal President & Chair of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) UK Pastor Agu Irukwu:
This tribute is a wonderful opportunity to say thank you to Bishop Joe Aldred; to thank him for his service to the kingdom of God in his role as Principal Officer for Pentecostal and Multicultural Relations in Churches Together in England. It is also an opportunity to thank him for his work in the larger body of Christ.
I have been privileged to work closely with him as CTE Pentecostal President and have found invaluable his dedication, huge capacity for work, his unflappable nature, his strategic mind, his passion and his desire to see the injustices of racial discrimination addressed. His scholarly mind and insight into the contemporary issues that we have faced will be solely missed.
Notwithstanding his retirement, I hope that we may continue to benefit from his wealth of knowledge and experience. I pray for God’s grace upon him as he embarks on this next phase of his life’s journey.
CTE President, HE Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster:
It's hard to think of the ecumenical world without Joe, but those of us who shared that space with him all join in giving thanks to God for his ministry, and wish him a long, happy, richly deserved retirement.
It gives me great pleasure to offer these words of goodwill and gratitude to you as you prepare to retire from your role in the CTE after 18 years of dedicated service.
In particular, your perspective, as the Principal Officer for Pentecostal, Charismatic & Multi-cultural Relations, has been invaluable and inspired so many people, within and beyond the Catholic community.
I do hope that you will have a long and very happy retirement. With my prayers and best wishes.
CTE President The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury:
Bishop Joe’s contribution to the life of the church in England has been outstanding over many years – as a preacher, pastor and bishop; as a community leader and advocate; and as an agent for Christian unity he has made a difference everywhere he goes. In 2019, in the wake of both the celebrations surrounding the 2018 anniversary of the arrival of SS Windrush and the scandals that accompanied it, I was pleased to award him the Langton Award for Community Service: a small token of appreciation for all that he has done and continues to do. The award citation noted that
'His ministry has promoted community cohesion, challenged implicit and explicit racism and developed wider understanding of the importance and contribution of the African-Caribbean community in the UK. His contribution has been outstanding.'
Thank you, Joe, for your ministry to date in the service of Christ. May he continue to bless and inspire you in retirement.
Moderator of The Council of African and Caribbean Churches UK, Archbishop Fidelia N Onyuku-Opukiri:
I have known Joe Aldred since the very late 1990s/early 2000s if my memory will allow me... He is a black man that worked with great self-confidence, yet very cautious in all his moves. He has done a lot to coordinate the Black and Ethnic Minority Churches of the CTE who are now the Pentecostal Churches of CTE. We appreciate him for all the highlighted programmes he took us through, his books and all he did to enhance our status. He is now a great man of experience. We will be very sad to lose him. But we thank God that he is only retiring from this group for more relaxed duties. Good for him and his family, but we will sincerely miss him very dearly.
Thank you so much Joe, for all you have achieved. We are wishing you very happy years with perfect health ahead for you and your family. In Jesus' mighty name. Amen.
Former Director of the Evangelical Alliance, writer and broadcaster, Rev Dr Joel Edwards CBE:
Bishop Joe Aldred has been a monumental figure on the UK Christian landscape - and beyond. He has been a champion for Black Affairs and wider ecumenical relationships, combining creativity, organisational acumen, theological reflection, and public commentary from a Christian perspective.
Over the years I have been immensely encouraged by our private conversations and inspired by his public ministry. Having recovered from the news of his resignation from CTE I am now looking forward to his future contributions as a senior ambassador for Christ and common sense.
More than ever, I want to be like Joe when I grow up!
Photos of the Westminster Abbey Windrush service: © Dean & Chapter of Westminster
Photo from Songs of Praise: © BBC Songs of Praise