An image of Rev Christian Weaver, an old Black man sat in front of a window
Rev Christian Weaver continues to work for the local Windrush community at the Pilgrim Church Image: Krishita Kandoi

“I like religion driven by action. If you say that you’re good, then I need to see your goodness.”

Rev Canon Christian Weaver, 84, stands by these words in everything he pursues. As someone who was a police officer, passionate artist, and currently, the spiritual leader of the congregation at the Pilgrim Church in The Meadows in Nottingham, his faith and dedication to social action have always gone hand in hand. 

Throughout his life, he has stood up against injustice, including taking on racists in his own life, helping others to tackle discrimination at work, and holding a number of civic roles.

All of his skills and knowledge became critically important in 2017 when he helped lead local campaigns to secure justice for victims of the Windrush scandal.

Born in the Caribbean Island of Antigua, he came to the UK in the 1960s, as the Windrush Generation was beginning to settle down after they arrived on June 22 1948.

As the nation approaches Windrush 75, the first annual commemoration of that journey, Rev Weaver believes the Windrush generation is still widely misunderstood.

“You only have to look at the pictures documenting their arrival to see that they were educated, well-dressed and intelligent people who were invited by the British government to work for the nation. They were not here to live off of the state,” he says. 

Rev Weaver has witnessed the lives of the first generation of people before and after they migrated. “Back home, people welcomed the news as they were led to believe that they were very much a part of this country. They thought that the time had finally come to claim a space for themselves here,” he says. 

‘The Windrush generation is still misunderstood by MANY people’

But there were also people like himself who came to the country to pursue interests of their own such as studying art at the Leicester College of Art as he did. But once they arrived they noticed that there was a stark difference between what they thought life here would be like and what it really was. 

“We landed here having heard about the stately homes and beautiful streets of England. But soon we found out we were not allowed to rent or stay in these places or even access social centres. There were boards that said ‘No Irish, no dogs, no Blacks’,” he says.

“A lot of people thought that these ‘dark-skinned strangers’ were here to steal their jobs, resulting in hostility. They were unaware that these people were trained and educated,” he adds. 

But he emphasises that there were compassionate families who made space and took in those who were left homeless.

And the UK offered the Windrush generation opportunities for training, careers and a good life which prompted them to stay on despite certain unpleasant experiences.

“I try not to hold on to bad memories. But a few instances never left my mind. Once I saw a West Indian man make a purchase at a shop and one of the staff waved a revolver at him discreetly,” Rev Weaver says. 

Another instance is when Weaver was trying to help an old white woman. “She was stumbling from a bus when I reached out to hold her. She responded saying, ‘Get your black hand off me!”

But he never lost faith in people, he insists. “When I had a misunderstanding with a particularly hostile neighbour, several white friends and neighbours wrote letters to me expressing their support. There was also a white policeman who threatened to frog-march him to the police station if he troubled us again,” he adds. 

Rev Weaver has always been a fighter, unafraid of standing up for his rights and this attitude laid the framework for a life of social action driven by faith and compassion.

This sense of social responsibility led him to a master’s degree in sociology and a professional qualification in social work, making him the first black person in Nottingham to hold such a degree. 

It led to other official roles, although even then it did not protect him from intolerance.

“While I was working as a magistrate, I once found that my car had dog excrement thrown over it. Later I put up a board stating that this family will not tolerate racist actions. By the end of the day it was national news,” he says.

He is thankful for his experiences as a police officer and a magistrate as he believes they equipped him with the skills needed to offer legal and official guidance to people from his community after the Windrush scandal threatened their lives here. 

The Windrush scandal surfaced in 2017 after several people were wrongly detained and deported as a result of flaws in the immigration system which left them with no legal documents supporting their rights to stay in the country. 

Victims of the scandal included people in Nottingham and he is still working with people to help them access the Windrush Compensation Scheme.

For Rev Weaver, his faith went hand in hand with his service-oriented side. He led the congregation in Nottingham alongside his late wife, Daisy Weaver who is described as the ‘mother of the Pilgrim Church’. She also arrived here after her parents moved to the UK as part of the Windrush Generation.

“The church made the Windrush generation stronger and united people from all the Caribbean islands, regardless of the divisions existing between islands back home,” he says. 

“The Black church as we know it today came out of a situation where we were barred from going to the existing churches and that brought us together as a community trying to build a congregation.”

“From having meetings in Old Market Square, in the homes of members and in rented halls, we were finally able to purchase the building where the church now stands,” he adds. 

They have also made the conscious decision to retain the plaques that were on the walls while converting it into a church in order to respect the history of those who built and inhabited the space before them. 

Weaver’s expertise as an artist is reflected in the paintings that adorn the walls of the Pilgrim Church. In addition to the glass paintings and biblical scenes depicted in the works, his art also portrays black people from the Bible who have been historically underrepresented, bringing them to the forefront. 

He was honoured with an MBE in June 1990 and a CBE in 2002 in recognition of his contributions to the community. He continues to reach out to people and keep the community together. 

If we don’t love people, we don’t understand what life is about

“I make sure to call older people who used to come to the church and are no longer able to. Having actual conversations with them keeps that line open and they will feel like they are talking to a real person,” he says. 

His compassion and love for people shines through in his dedication to work for this community and for him, that is what life comes down to. “If we don’t love people, we don’t understand what life is about,” he adds. 

Currently, he is putting together a memoir which will curate all his experiences and stories of the Windrush generation while also paying homage to his mother who raised him. 

“The Windrush generation went through some really difficult situations in their lives which they should not have gone through. What we can do now to honour their work is by telling their stories honestly and understanding their realities,” he adds.