The United Kingdom branch of the Winner’s Chapel church is currently under probe from the United Kingdom Charity Commission for misapplication of charities and tithes of about £16 million (N4 billion).
The Guardian reports that 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.