“THE planted church must become the slave church, coming out to serve,” the Principal of Codrington College, Barbados, the Revd Dr Michael Clarke, has said.
He was one of four key speakers at the USPG Rethinking Mission Conference 2019, held at Liverpool Cathedral at the weekend, which focused on British complicity in the transatlantic slave trade.
“To reimagine mission, we need to reinvent the Church,” Dr Clarke said. Quoting the lyrics of Bob Marley, he said that Christians needed to assist others in their “awakening”: “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds.”
There was a fear in the West, which he likened to a form of enslavement, of Caribbean Christians’ taking ownership of the Church. In the Caribbean, attitudes of superiority based on ethnicity had been indoctrinated through its history of Christian mission.
“Barbados built Liverpool,” he said. The city had been financed by the English-owned slavery plantations in Barbados: more specifically, a plantation and school on the site of the Codrington Estate, where his theological college is based. It was later bequeathed to USPG (then SPG).
In her speech, the Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin, said that, where exploration and colonisation and exploitation had gone, the Church had followed. “The chains we put on others, we, too, are chained by. . . If the Church is serious about mission, it can’t be in words alone — it has to be in action.”
The history of slavery had an impact on families today, she said. People were still suffering from the intergenerational consequences of post-traumatic stress disorder from the disintegration of the black family. “The impact of slavery has damaged not only these people, but the fabric of society. We need to look back to go forward, because what happened historically is still impacting today; and, if we can’t stop and recognise this, we won’t be able to address it.”
The Revd Dr Daniel Justice Eshum said that, to succeed, mission had to “interrogate the prevailing intellectual climate” and be challenged by it; should be rooted in authentic identity; should deploy the right personnel; and should have a clear vision and mandate. “Only by being rooted in the identity of God can we equally affirm others’ identities; we need to have confidence in our own identities.”
In the final session, the Revd Winnie Varghese told the conference to feel both “challenged and disturbed” by the “shameful” history of slavery; to face that shame; and to find the means to help one another. “I believe we can repair and heal the breach, because the Bible shows us how, and it is our job to act.”
The General Secretary of USPG, the Revd Duncan Dormor, agreed. White Christians in Britain needed to reflect more deeply on their heritage, history, and its consequences; to be open to “deeply uncomfortable questions”; and to challenge the legacy of abolitionism. USPG would continue to explore these issues, he said.
To watch all the speakers visit: www.uspg.org.uk/resources/rethinking-mission-conference-2019.