A WORSENING shortage of black and minority-ethnic (BAME) people in senior positions in the C of E was the topic of a presentation by the Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns (CMEAC) on Sunday afternoon.
Introducing the presentation, the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Steven Cottrell, took the opportunity to express his displeasure that the debate had been tagged on to the agenda as the last item on the Sunday afternoon.
He was grateful that a procedural motion had been used to bring an end to the previous debate, on the nature and structure of the Church of England, saying that it allowed the Synod to spend more time on this important issue.
He told the Synod that when he appointed three new archdeacons in the diocese of Chelmsford in September 2013, he made national news headlines and received letters and messages of support from across the C of E.
Of the three, one was a black woman (the Ven. Mina Smallman, Archdeacon of Southend), and one was an Asian man (the Ven. John Perumbalath, Archdeacon of Barking). In making the appointments, and without realising it, he had “doubled the number of black and ethnic-minority bishops and archdeacons in the Church of England”.
This was a “shocking statistic” and revealed something that was “very embarrassing and deeply painful”.
In an impassioned speech, he said that “our multicultural society should find its expression in a multicultural Church. What is confounding is that we are still unable to reflect this reality.
“The leadership and ministry of the C of E no longer looks like or adequately reflects the diversity or creativity of the community it serves. This should be a huge concern. It directly affects our credibility as a national Church and our mission.”
He said that the Church “may not be guilty of racism” but it was time to be “clear and honest with ourselves: there is still racism in our Church. It is high time we woke out of our sleep and realise we are guilty of complacency and neglect.”
He said that the situation had got worse over the past 30 years. “The statistics tell us we are going backwards,” he said, “not because we are racists, but because we have just not faced up and taken affirmative action.”
He concluded his speech by saying: “Appointing two able priests, who happen to be black, to senior posts in the Church of England should not be news. While it is, the issues we are talking about this afternoon are unfinished business.”
The Synod was shown a video featuring the perspectives of a number of BAME clergy. After this, some members of the CMEAC panel answered questions from Synod members.
Besides the Bishop of Chelmsford, those answering questions were: Linda Ali, General Synod’s lay member of CMEAC; the Revd Paul Cartwright, General Synod’s clergy member of CMEAC; the Ven. Danny Kajumba, Archdeacon of Reigate and chair of CMEAC; Dr Elizabeth Henry, the Archbishops’ Council’s Adviser on Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns.
Responding to Vasantha Gnanadoss (Southwark), who asked whether it was unrealistic to expect affirmative action from the House of Bishops, Bishop Cottrell said: “No.”
“But”, he said, “you have to change the narrative. We have to recognise our failings in this respect, and recognise that lots of people in our Church are losing confidence in the leadership . . . to make the changes that need to be made. We are not in a good place on this.”
Elliot Swattridge (Youth Council) asked whether “cultural prejudice towards immigration” could prevent people from ethnic minorities putting themselves forward for leadership roles.
The Revd Paul Cartwright (West Yorkshire & the Dales) cited a “horrible” sketch on the television comedy programme Little Britain about the Women’s Institute cooking up different foods from different backgrounds. “That is how people see the Church,” he said. “We have to break that mould and those stereotypes.”
Dr Henry told Canon Steven Saxby (Chelmsford) that the working group Turning Up the Volume had set a challenge [April 2014] to double the number of the C of E’s senior post-holders — Archbishops, bishops, archdeacons, and deans — who were from minority ethnic Anglicans. That would have taken the total to ten.
The Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, the Rt Revd Robert Innes, recalled how he had had to take action to encourage minority members of one church to stand for his PCC, even if that upset an older white churchgoer. He asked for outside help to understand the black community, and asked if CMEAC had the resources it needed to assist other churches.
The Archdeacon of Reigate, the Ven. Daniel Kajumba (Southwark), who chairs CMEAC, said that the committee did not have any resources; so they could not do this job alone. “Everybody must take part,” he said. In 30 years, he had seen regression, not progress, on minority-ethnic issues in the Church of England. The answer to this was affirmative action. “I, too, am C of E,” he said.
Bishop Cottrell gave an example of affirmative action in his diocese: a priest from the deanery of Newham, the most multicultural place in Europe, which was producing only white ordinands, asked to take over theological education in the deanery in place of Bishop Cottrell.
In two years, he had delivered 19 people to be licensed as evangelists, 18 of whom were black or Asian.
Canon Christopher Sugden (Oxford) said that being multicultural was about demonstrating the reality that Jesus overcame divisions between races.
Linda Ali (York) pointed him to the 17-per-cent decline in the white parts of the Church, combined with increases in every other ethnic category. She said that people like her needed others to assist them to get into the establishment of the Church, working against the opposition of long-standing cliques.
The Revd Dr Rosemarie Mallett (Southwark) asked the members of the Synod whether they thought she was reflected around the chamber. The Synod needed to change the way it looked, as it didn’t attract people.
In response to Martin Sewell (Rochester), Mr Cartwright said that, yes, there were barriers to young people with busy lives, but there were other barriers that applied only to minority groups, too, such as unconscious bias in interviews.
Canon Addy Lazz-Onyenobi (Manchester) asked why people from Nigeria and elsewhere in the Anglican Communion often left the Anglican Church in favour of black-led churches when they arrived in the UK.
Archdeacon Kajumba said that young Anglicans from Africa and Asia who came to Britain did not feel welcomed in Church of England churches. Therefore, many of them went to Pentecostal churches, where they felt “affirmed, accepted, welcomed, and nurtured”.
He had dissuaded both his children from becoming Anglican priests, as they would never reach the top inside the Church. He said that the younger generation of ethnic minorities would not stick at it for 30 years as he had done. “Unless we wake up quickly, we are going to lose them.”
Dr Elizabeth Henry said that there was a lack of data on what the ethnic landscape was in the dioceses. That was the first thing to do to try and bring about any change in this area. “CMEAC is willing to . . . advise and support and aid those efforts.”
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said he was “too long in the tooth” on this issue. “I don’t have the passion of the Bishop of Chelmsford, but I am glad that we were separated at birth. I used to speak on this issue with the same passion.”
He quoted Stephen Lawrence’s mother, and said that the C of E should ensure that it was not institutionally racist.
Recalling how he himself had first been elected to the Synod, he said that candidates standing in the forthcoming elections could persuade their supporters to give their first preference vote to BAME candidates. “Members of Synod, are you willing in your dioceses to say ‘I am standing, but give your vote to X? If you can’t, then there won’t be change.”
Dr Henry thanked the Archbishop for raising the issue of institutional racism. “I think that most people in here will say that we don’t do that: it doesn’t happen in our Church. But clearly it does happen in our Church.”
She said that some people hid behind the institutional-racism definition and said that “if it is institutional, it isn’t in the people.” But she said that racism was “both institutional and personal”.
As she travelled the country, she saw the pain caused by racism. “One of the things that doesn’t happen is that we just do not challenge it. . . Where racism exists in our Church, whether institutional or personal, and/or where unconscious bias occurs, we should be challenging it and should be calling it. Do we have the nerve and the strength to challenge it wherever we see it?”
Anne Martin (Guildford) asked what parishes without a racial mix could do. She lived in “a beautiful village a few miles from London with no ethnic representation apart from two Muslim families and a Chinese lady”.
Bishop Cottrell said that the give-away in her question was the words “apart from”. “In every community there is an ‘apart from’, whether it is large or small,” he said. “This is about the Kingdom of God. We are less the Church that God calls us to be when we are not the Church that represents all God’s people.”
The Revd Christopher Hobbs (London) asked whether people like him — “ethnic people with white skins” — counted in the diversity mix. He wondered whether there was “an unconscious bias that we might not recognise” when it came to white immigrants.
Archdeacon Kajumba said that CMEAC was “concerned about all those who are the stranger; all those who are the other, on the edge of society. We don’t discriminate. There are lots of people in this category, and we do support them.”
The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd David Walker, who had been chairing the item, said that, as it was a presentation, “we don’t end with a vote. But I hope we end with a determination to go back to our dioceses and our parishes and be the people God wants us to be.”