The Archbishop of Canterbury has said the Church of England is “still deeply institutionally racist”.
In an off-the-cuff address to the General Synod, the Rt Rev Justin Welby said he was almost lost for words when faced with stories of racism in the Church of England towards the “Windrush generation” – the half-million Caribbean immigrants encouraged to move to Britain to fill post-war shortages in the labour force.
“Personally, I am sorry and ashamed of our history and failure and my lack of urgent voice. It’s shocking and profoundly shaming,” he said.
Ripping up his prepared speech, Welby called for radical and decisive action in the Church, such as ensuring fair representation on decision-making bodies. He said a “hostile environment” should be transformed into “hospitable welcome”.
He was responding to a synod motion apologising for racism in the Church since the arrival of the Windrush generation 72 years ago and calling for it to be stamped out.
It was tabled by the Rev Andrew Moughtin-Mumby, from Walworth, in the Southwark Diocese of south London, and passed unanimously on the day when 17 people convicted of serious criminal offences were deported to Jamaica, amid protest and legal challenge.
The Church of England has been accused repeatedly of institutional racism. The lack of inclusion led to the setting up of the Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns; the appointment of a national minority ethnic officer to drive up the numbers of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) candidates for ordination; a training programme on unconscious bias which has been rolled out throughout the Church of England; and a project to attract more BAME worshippers in Leicester. Dioceses throughout the country have diversity committees, reviewing progress.
Welby targeted the church appointments processes in his comments. He said the list of appointments he saw very seldom had minority ethnic applicants for either lay or senior clergy posts. He vowed to bring a proposal to synod for basic rules such as stating that an appointments panel simply did not work without representation for minorities and people discriminated against.
While nearly 15 per cent of the UK is from black and ethnic minority groups, only 3.9 per cent of clergy and 7.9 per cent of trainee clergy identify as BAME.
There are 42 diocesan bishops and more than 70 suffragan bishops – “assistant” bishops, who either help to run a diocese, or run a sub-region. The Church of England has one BAME bishop in the House of Bishops, the Archbishop of York John Sentamu who is due to retire in June 2020, and five suffragans: Bishop of Woolwich Karowei Dorgu; Bishop of Dover Rose Hudson-Wilkins; Bishop of Loughborough Guli Francis-Dehqani; Bishop of Europe David Hamid; and Bishop of Bradwell, John Perumbalath.
The archbishop’s intervention caused enough surprise to warrant widespread headlines. But within the Church, campaigners share a degree of weariness with high intentions not leading to change.
The Rev Dr David Isiorho, a priest in Cornwall who has been writing and speaking about institutional racism in the church for 30 years, said the archbishop had a difficult job ahead of him to change the system of appointments, which are decided by closed groups and individuals who are not accountable. For BAME candidates, he said, there was a glass ceiling, just as there had been for women. But if the archbishop was serious, he should “go for it” and be fully supported. Isiorho is going to send the archbishop a copy of his book, Mission, Anguish and Defiance, which outlines difficulties of career progression for BAME clergy.
Historically, exclusion from mainstream churches led to the setting up of black churches – not a label that African and African Caribbean Christians sought when they first arrived in Britain. Further information and context here
The Rev David Isiorho, priest-in-charge of the parishes of Charlestown, Par and Tywardreath in Cornwall, who recently presented a paper on black clergy to a British Sociological Association conference. He is also a member of the editorial board of Black Theology: An International Journal.
The Rt Rev Dr Joe Aldred, principal officer for pentecostal and charismatic relations, Churches Together in England.
Robert Beckford, professor of theology at the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Education, Birmingham.