Black people “don’t want to join the CofE”

Image credit: Diocese of London

Explainer by Tim Wyatt

A senior black cleric has warned that the Church of England is putting off ethnic minorities from joining, by its failure to tackle racial justice.

The Archdeacon of Hackney, the Ven Elizabeth Adekunle, said there was growing “anger and frustration” by black people, and in particular black clergy, at discrimination within the selection process for new priests and how jobs were offered.

She was speaking ahead of a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, organised in the wake of the Black Lives Matters protests earlier this year.

Speaking to the BBC on Radio 4’s Today programme, Elizabeth Adekunle said: “There is something about the process by which black clergy become ordained and then the lived experience they have which means they are frustrated and are not treated in the same way as their counterparts.

“There are black clergy who would say they have been discriminated against on the grounds of their race.”

Change, both culturally and institutionally, needed to happen soon to stop black people giving up on the church entirely, she said.

“I think we are already seeing a lack of desire of black people to want to join the church. We’ve already seen small numbers of civil disobedience in society – we’ve seen that in Bristol and in London.

“We will see more of that civil disobedience in our cities if we aren’t willing and able to address the injustices within our society, and that includes the church.”

Following the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, Archbishop Justin Welby said the C of E would need to re-examine its own complex history and iconography, including representations of Jesus as a white man.

The Black Lives Matter movement has sparked a slew of new initiatives within the church, including setting up a new Archbishops’ Racism Action Commission, which will begin work next year to tackle racial injustice. 

In February, the governing body of the C of E, the General Synod, voted to make a formal apology to the Windrush generation for racism and rejection they experienced in Anglican parishes upon their arrival in Britain. During the debate, Justin Welby said the church remained “deeply institutionally racist”.

In the most recent statistics, from 2019, 8 per cent of those starting training as priests came from BAME backgrounds. This is significantly higher than the 4 per cent of current active clergy who identify as ethnic minorities, but less than the 14 per cent of the general population.

There is not much recent research into the ethnicity of worshippers in the Church of England, but a 2007 survey suggested about 5 per cent of adult parish congregations were from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Although this is below the proportion in the wider population, the study argues that this is mostly a product of age: more than half of church attendees are over 65, and in that age cohort there are much fewer ethnic minorities.

STORY LINKS

In June, a black trainee vicar revealed he had been turned down for a curacy post because the parish was “monochrome white working-class” – BBC News 

Another trainee priest of Indian descent, who also struggled to find a curacy, launched a discrimination case against the Diocese of Bristol after he found out his church file said “people like him” had “cultural differences” in how they handled the truth – The Guardian 

A vicar and former director of communications for the C of E criticised the church’s leadership for having almost no ethnic minority senior figures – The Observer 

Can the C of E’s Ghost Ship change course over its institutional racism? Discussion with Azariah France-Williams   – Religion Media Centre 

Institutional racism and the Church of England zoom webinar – Religion Media Centre 

Archbishop Justin Welby has urged his own cathedral in Canterbury to review its monuments and statues and any links with slavery, racism or portrayals of Jesus as white – The Daily Telegraph 

COMMENTATORS

Elizabeth Adekunle, Archdeacon of Hackney

Revd Dr Paul Goodliff, General Secretary of Churches Together in England

Rev Dr David Muir, Co-Chair of the National Church Leaders Forum (NCLF), former Home Office adviser on policing, diversity and community relations; former deputy chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA); now senior lecturer Roehampton University. david.muir@roehampton.ac.uk

Professor Anthony Reddie, Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Culture, Editor ‘Black Theology’ anthony.reddie@regents.ox.ac.uk

Dr Dulcie Dixon McKenzie, Director, Centre for Black Theology, the Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham d.mckenzie@queens.ac.uk

The Revd Azariah France-Williams, priest, author and campaigner  @AzariahAnglican