“THE reception he gets as a stranger is not unlike the weather on a cold and bleak February day,” a Jamaican man wrote of his reception at a parish church in 1968, in the Church Times. “I have friends to whom it has been suggested that they may be happier if they attended another church — their faces did not fit.”
Half a century later, the experiences of BAME Anglicans — including the extent to which they feel welcomed — are to be the subject of an extensive survey supported by the diocese of Birmingham.
The survey, the Minority Anglican Project, is a collaboration between the diocese and the Edward Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion at the University of Birmingham. It was devised by the director of the centre, Dr Andrew Davies, and the vocations development and intercultural mission enabler and Dean of BAME affairs in the diocese of Birmingham, the Revd Dr Sharon Prentis.
This week, Dr Davies spoke of a “large and increasing minority community in the C of E”.
“We need them to feel welcomed, and to have all the opportunities they want, to lead, minister, and participate fully in Church life, but there are social and political obstacles to this,” he said. “We want to find out where those are, and help churches remove them.”
The research, which will comprise both in-depth interviews and an extensive online survey, has been designed by Dr Sanjee Perera, a cognitive psychologist who grew up in the Anglican Church in Sri Lanka, and has worshipped in the diocese of Liverpool for 20 years.
On Tuesday, she described it as “a really encouraging endeavour which is proactively looking to build practical knowledge” — something that remained a gap in existing research.
“Despite the significant rich fertility of Black theology, and the vibrant insights it has afforded us, little academic attention has been given to the Minority Anglican experience in the Church,” Dr Perera explained. “Black theology and lamentation literature is exiled into the contextual domain: merely an academic exercise rendered immobile to ministerial application.”
And yet the Church was “rich in experience on what works and what doesn’t,” she said. “We hope to learn from Minority Anglican clergy and laity about their aspirations, frustrations, prescriptions, and needs, as much as from everyone else from their experiences, solutions and reflections.”
A small number of in-depth interviews with BAME clergy and lay people in the diocese of Birmingham, designed to assist the diocese’s understanding, will be conducted. In addition, a large-scale online survey will be sent to every diocese in the country. It will be open to every self-identifying Christian over the age of 18.
Responses from BAME people will be compared with a “control” group to explore whether there are different experiences of welcome, inclusion, and belonging.
“Many C of E clergy and laity are intentionally open to ensuring that Minority Anglican congregants are welcomed and included,” she said. She described how, in a predominantly white working-class parish in Liverpool, its congregation had grown to include members of the large refugee diaspora; and how the hymnody had been designed to enable this.
But a failure to welcome and embrace could be “unconscious”, she said; and, sometimes, people could not pinpoint what caused them discomfort. There were “very subtle cultural differences” in how people experienced inclusion, welcome, or exclusion.
“This is a really encouraging endeavour which is proactively looking to build practical knowledge,” she said. “This is not just armchair theology, or even armchair psychology, but the kind of research which we hope will make a real contribution to the Church of England and its ministry.”
The survey is due to be launched online shortly.