Preacher faces scrutiny from Charities Commission over church’s finances

Winners' Chapel International


bishop David Oyedepo

bishop David Oyedepo

Thousands hear sermons by Nigerian bishop David Oyedepo as UK Winners' branch receives £16m in tithes from followers Packed into a disused school in Dartford, Kent, a thousand worshippers threw their arms in the air at the prospect of hearing the gospel according to Nigeria's richest preacher.

The congregation at the Winners' Chapel International, one of the fastest growing pentecostal churches in Britain, roared and sang as a warm-up act hollered "shout Allelujah!" through an echoing amplifier.

Backstage Bishop David Oyedepo, a 58-year old man in a crisp light cream suit with a beaming smile and a personal fortune estimated by Forbes at over £90m, approached the main hall encircled by his entourage to give his first sermon of a marathon of services dubbed the 2013 European Winners' Convention, which ends on Saturday.

More than 5,000 pentecostalists are expected to absorb Oyedepo's prosperity gospel and it is a congregation that is proving ever more generous towards the Lagos-based preacher. Oyedepo's UK branch has received more than £16m in tithes between 2008 and 2011. Over £1m of that money has been returned to his Nigerian operation. As the worshippers arrived – mostly Nigerians and west Africans living in Britain – they were given credit card forms to make donations, inscribed with a verse from Corinthians: "God loveth a cheerful giver."

But the booming British operation of Oyedepo, who flies on private jets and runs a 50,000-seat mega church in Lagos, is being looked at by the Charity Commission. The regulator is examining an allegation that charitable funds have been misapplied and concerns about the reputational management of the charity and conflicts of interest.

The inquiries "regarding the charity's management and policies" are ongoing, a spokeswoman for the regulator said. "We have considered documents and information shared by the trustees and our case is continuing."

It is not clear which aspect of the church's management the regulator is looking into. The charity behind the church, World Mission Agency, has £8.5m in assets and large sums are paid back to Nigeria. In 2011, £663,532 was "donated by the congregation … for onward transmission to the world headquarters in Nigeria", accounts show. The previous year the payment to the Living Faith Church amounted to £324,683. In 2009 £149,000 was sent "for charitable activities in Africa".

Other payments from the cash donated each week by churchgoers include £192,000 in 2009 and 2010 as "welfare assistance" for unspecified "certain members of the church".

Named charitable donations are smaller and include £10,500 to Great Ormond Street Children's hospital, £9,000 to Christian Aid for the Haiti earthquake appeal and £2,500 to charities in Lewisham.

Meanwhile, Oyedepo's movement thrives in line with a trend of booming Pentecostalism in the capital driven in part by immigration from Africa.

Around 450 new Pentecostal churches have opened in London in the past eight years and close to a quarter of a million people attend regularly – up 50% since 2005, according to research by church consultant Peter Brierley.

Ahead of the appearance of the Nigerian bishop – affectionately known as "Papa" – the main worship hall resounded to praise for the Lord, women shook tambourines, while in side chapels smart-suited men spoke in tongues. Worshippers are bussed in to the 8am and 6pm services from 15 different locations across Essex, Kent, and London.

Max Blaise, 36, an unemployed man living near Heathrow, said he was taking inspiration from God to help him start a business.

"Abraham had a company," he said. "Even Adam, because God created the garden of Eden and told him to manage it. So in a sense it was a business for him to manage."


Daniel Onyekhchi, a 35-year-old businessman from Abuja in Nigeria, cautioned against seeing the Winners' Chapel as a uniquely Nigerian phenomenon. "It is a church for everyone," he said.

Joel Edwards, a senior figure in the British evangelical movement and director of the Micah Challenge which is running Exposed, a global anti-corruption campaign directed at churches, business and government, applauded the generosity of congregations such as that of the Winners' Chapel. But he challenged all church leaders to be more transparent.

"All of us have a growing concern about any kind of mercenary response that puts cash at the centre of Christian faith," he said.

"I challenge any movement, including Winners, to be open and account for its money wherever it goes because it comes originally from hard-working faithful people."

Winners' Chapel declined to comment.

Source: Guardian News and Media Limited

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