Interview with the Vicar: Meet Rev. Denis Adide

St Stephen’s Church in Shepherd’s Bush

In the first of our ‘Interview with the Vicar’ series, we meet Reverend Denis Adide – once a curate at Chiswick’s Christ Church W4, now the vicar of St Stephen’s Church in Shepherd’s Bush. Denis discusses what it’s been like to lead during lockdown, his vision for St Stephen’s and the joys and challenges presented by his blackness in the Kensington Deanery. To find out more, visit the St Stephen’s website.

Q: What was it like to step into your first role as vicar at St Stephen’s?

When I arrived at St Stephen’s, there was one person on the team and she didn’t work on Sunday. We had a dedicated team of volunteers who continue to be invaluable, but there were no other staff members. I’d come from Christ Church where we had a well-staffed team with vicars, curates and leaders to a church where it was effectively just me! This took some adjusting.

We had no WiFi connection in the church and the only phone line connected directly to the vicarage. By God’s grace, we managed to secure WiFi just before lockdown hit so we were able to livestream our services from March until in-person services resumed in mid-July. We continue to live-stream our services but welcome a good number of folks to worship in person each Sunday. We’ve now recruited an administrator, a curate, an ordinary and are in the process of recruiting a worship leader too.

Q: Has lockdown changed St Stephen’s?

Absolutely. We went from one main service of 120+ people to two services of approximately 40 people at each. This has presented an opportunity to create a slightly more formal service at 9.30am – I don my robes and you’ll hear traditional worship songs at this one – and a less formal service at 11am – the robes come off and you’ll praise God to the sounds of a guitar accompanying contemporary worship at this one.

Despite lockdown lifting and our ability to come back to church, we have members of the church community who are still shielding. I am a get around door-knocking and am amongst the community always, but I am blessed with a few members of our PCC who have taken this to heart and been regularly checking in on the members of our church family who are shielding.

Q. What is the best bit about being a vicar at St Stephen’s?

The best bit is watching people expand into the humans God wants then to become. Watching church members try something they haven’t tried before, perhaps something that terrifies them or they’d never imagine they could do, and then discover they can do it… it’s phenomenal. One lady was so frightened when she first met me that she couldn’t even speak to me. She is now leading services! To watch her journey from our first meeting to where she is now has been a great privilege.

We’ve just had a long standing church member take the chance to preach for the first time. What an event to witness! He will be one of two first time preachers this year. When God’s people come to understand who they are in His economy and then live out that journey… that’s the best bit for me. Step into God’s spotlight and see what wonders he will work in you.

Q. Describe your congregation for us.

They are a wonderfully diverse bunch. We have a lot of young families as you may expect – we are next door to one of England’s highest performing state primary schools!

Q: What makes the St Stephen’s community special?

A unique element of the church is the school next door; two of my three children attend the school. The church is at the centre of the school community and the school is at the centre of the church. Most of the people who attend church here live within half a mile of the church. If anyone is in need, if anything happens where the church might be needed to step in as a support system, I hear about it!

Dates for the Diary - Autumn – 2020 - St-Stephens

There is a deep sense of belonging and this has intensified across 2020. People look around and realise – this is my church, these are my people, this is my community. It has been a beautiful thing to witness.

Q: It sounds like you have a lot of families and young children at St Stephen’s. Tell us what the children’s provision is like?

Before I started at St Stephen’s there was a children’s half hour once a month. When we changed the provision to weekly and sent out an announcement that children would be broken into different age groups for fellowship and to learn God’s word, we had 80 children at the first service!

We had just shy of 90 children attending every Sunday prior to lockdown. For the younger children, it has been a special opportunity to meet each other prior to starting at St Stephen’s Church of England Primary. They go into reception with church friends which is wonderful. We have a rota of approximately 60 volunteers for children’s church and we are working on how to safely accommodate both our volunteers and our young church members in a Covid-safe way.

Q: What was the biggest lockdown loss?

Without a doubt the ability to worship. Singing God’s praises with my church family is what I want to do each Sunday. Having that taken away was a hammer blow.

Q: At what stage did you realise Bishop Wood, the first black Bishop in the Church of England, was your predecessor at St Stephen’s?

Before I was properly looking for a role, I had 5 or 6 different people – not connected to each other – message or call me to say, “There is a church in Shepherd’s Bush and I think you’re supposed to be there.” At the time, there was not a vacancy at St Stephen’s. A lot of folks were praying for me to end up here and I’m delighted it worked out that way! I already had a deep affection for Shepherd’s Bush. Many of my friends grew up here, I played football here and I would visit my barber here. About halfway through the appointment process when I was on the road to becoming vicar of St Stephen’s, my friend’s book – Ghost Ship – was published.

The book centres on the black experience in the Church of England and of course Bishop Wood is featured. Ghost Ship is a crucial bit of text when you consider what has happened so far in 2020. If you’re a Christian, this is essential reading. Read it with a friend and have a box of tissues at the ready; it has to be read. 

Ghost Ship: Institutional Racism and the Church of England [9780334059356]

It is through him – Rev. Azariah France-Williams – that I discovered the connection! It is intimidating at times to consider whose footsteps I am walking in. For me, however, I keep it simple: I was called here and I honour the spirit of the Bishop who came before me by simply loving folks in the way God would like me to. I know that I might not be here if it hadn’t been for trailblazers like him so am really grateful. He bashed down the door to make room for folks like me. It’s a beautiful story of deep inner strength and a great gift to both the church and the community.

Q: Tell us about your experience of being a black clergyman.

It’s not been smooth sailing and the experience is varied. On the lighter end there is a funny side to the casual racism I experience: when I’m out front tending the church garden I’m often mistaken for the gardener – which of course I find hilarious! I will also have folks knock on the door of the church asking, “When will the vicar be here?” Sometimes I reply, “Tomorrow!” To which they’ll reply, “What’s his name?” And I reply, “Denis.” They say, “What’s your name?” And I reply, “Denis…” and the penny well and truly drops!

People aren’t expecting the vicar of St Stephen’s to be a young black man with a mohawk! When I am judged by my skin colour and the person initially thinks that I won’t add anything of consequence to their life, they speak to me and discover otherwise very quickly. We are then able to develop a deep connection – quickly. A great positive is having that instant connection with black members of the church and this proves extremely important during difficult events like funerals when it is a great comfort to have someone who represents you, as a black person, taking the service. I am one of a small handful of vicars of colour in the Kensington Area and I’m very proud to be here.

I can see the progression… there was a time when white churchgoers wouldn’t share the peace with churchgoers of colour. In the time between Bishop Wood’s ministry at St Stephen’s and my appointment we can measure how far we’ve come. There is still much to do and the next black vicar at St Stephen’s will be able to reflect on what changed between our tenures. If we can imagine what the world look like if we could end inequality, we give ourselves a target to work towards.

Q: What is your vision for St Stephen’s?

When people think of Shepherd’s Bush, they think Westfield, Shepherd’s Bush Market, QPR – they don’t think ‘Jesus’. We want to change this! We are blessed with a phenomenal location in the middle of the high road where we have several churches dotted around us. We are a prominent, visible symbol of faith and have the opportunity to influence and impact the community around us.

From our lifelong members to our Year 6 graduates from St Stephen’s Primary to our newly wed couples, we want everyone in Shepherd’s Bush to feel they belong here at the church.

The three words that keep coming into my mind when I think of the church’s journey are Belonging, Fun and Encounter. They encompass who we are as a church family and how we are moving within our community. I’d like people to say ‘my church is mine, my church is fun to attend, and I encounter God and his people at my church’. Hopefully that positively affects Shepherd’s Bush.

To get in touch with Rev. Denis Adide, you can contact him on : 0203 3022 050, or visit The Church of St Stephen and St Thomas at 1 Coverdale Road, W12 8JJ.