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Synod apologises to Windrush generation for C of E racism

11 February 2020


Jamaicans arriving in Tilbury in 1948 after an invitation from the British Government

Jamaicans arriving in Tilbury in 1948 after an invitation from the British Government

THE Church of England is still “deeply institutionally racist”, the Archbishop of Canterbury told the General Synod on Tuesday.

During a debate on the Empire Windrush legacy (Comment, 13 April 2018Features, 29 June 2018), Archbishop Welby said: “Personally, I am sorry and ashamed. I’m ashamed of our history, and I’m ashamed of our failure. I’m ashamed of our lack of witness to Christ. I’m ashamed at my lack of urgent voice to the Church. . . It is shaming as well as shocking.”

The debate was triggered by a private member’s motion tabled by the Revd Andrew Moughtin-Mumby (Southwark) which called for the Synod to “lament, on behalf of Christ’s Church, the conscious and unconscious racism experienced by countless BAME Anglicans in 1948 and subsequent years”, and to “stamp out all forms of conscious or unconscious racism”.

The motion — subsequently amended to add an apology to the lament, and to commission further research — was carried unanimously.

In his introduction to the debate, Mr Moughtin-Mumby, a priest of British-Jamaican heritage, said that he did not have a personal connection to the Windrush generation; but he was raising the motion as “a matter of simple Christian solidarity with a group of people who have fallen victim to the injustice of discrimination at the hands of our Government and our Church”.

He wished to hear “a much stronger voice from the Church as a whole in speaking truth and justice to our nation”; and he referred to Joy Gardner, who had died after being restrained by immigration officers attempting to forcibly deport her to Jamaica, and to Jimmy Mubenga who died after being restrained on a flight deporting him to Angola.

Being heavy-handedly arrested by the UK Border Agency was “the lived reality of people in my parish”. He said: “These issues touch the soul of our Church and the soul of our nation.”

Mr Moughtin-Mumby also told the story of Doreen Browne, whose parents and siblings had been “literally barred” from entering St Peter’s, Walworth, his own church, in 1961. Although they had found a home in nearby churches, “we know that many cradle Anglicans from the Caribbean did not, and simply left the Church of England: that is a scandal of our own.”

Doreen’s family had suffered “horrible, humiliating racism, which still affects Doreen’s relationship with the Church today. . . I believe it would be the right thing . . . for the Church to apologise for this racism.” Any apology “must lead to urgent change in our Church”. He noted: “When we consistently see that black and minority-ethnic people are under-represented in lay and ordained leadership roles, we must name this as institutional racism.”

The debate took place hours after the take-off of a Home Office-organised flight to Jamaica, carrying 17 people. Several synod speakers referred to this.

In his unscripted remarks, Archbishop Welby described “Hostile Environment” as “an extraordinary phrase, a terrible phrase, but we have to transform it into a hospitable welcome.”

He warned: “I can see the hostile environment coming back when other groups appear who we don't quite like, or we don't know how to deal with, or don't appeal to the voters sufficiently and the Church doesn't speak up for justice.

“I have often wondered how the German church in the 30s managed to ignore what happened to the Jews. I think they just didn't really notice, they just took it that this was normal, and perhaps that is what we've done in the way we have behaved since Windrush, with so many of our fellow British citizens who we treated as something less, something less important.”

Few C of E Bishops have spoken about the Hostile Environment in the House of Lords. In 2018, the Baptist Union, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church, and the United Reformed Church, produced a report calling for an end to it (News, 17 August 2018).

“There is no doubt when we look at our own church that we are still deeply institutionally racist,” the Archbishop continued. “Let's just be clear about that. It was said to the College of Bishops a couple of years ago, and it's true. 

He confessed to having been too “nice” in response.

“I get loads of lists to approve. I get long lists and short lists and lists of panels for interviews. We've just about got past the point in the last two or three years where they are not all male. But they very, very seldom have minority ethnic people on them, either the applications or in lay or clergy posts for senior clergy posts.

“And I've been trying to play nice and I send them back with a more or less polite note that I'm not absolutely sure that this is quite what we want, we cannot go on playing nice, really, can we, I don't think?

“I will bring this back to Synod in due course but I think we need some basic rules like an appointment panel doesn't work if it has no minority ethnic representation or other discriminated against minorities. It just doesn't work. It doesn't work on the CNC, it doesn't work at any level at all in our church. It doesn't work when long lists are simply one colour. It does not work.”

He concluded: “We've damaged the Church, we have damaged the image of God, most of all we have damaged those we have victimised, unconsciously, very often . . . 

“I am personally sorry to those who are here who have been affected and those around the country, those where I could have done better, to CMEAC and others, Turning up the Volume (News, 25 April 2014), and I am ashamed and I will, I hope with all of you, seek to do better.

The Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, led the Synod in a moment of silence and prayer after Mr Moughtin-Mumby and Archbishop Welby’s speeches.

Canon Rosemarie Mallett (Southwark) said that, unlike Mr Moughtin-Mumby, she was a member of the Windrush generation. She and her family continued to face “overt racism, unconscious bias, and sometimes simple racial arrogance.” Echoing a recent address at St Paul’s Cathedral, she remarked: “People of colour are sick of tired of being sick and tired about this situation” (News, 8 November 2019).

“I am not personally looking for an apology, if the apology does’t come with a plan of action to change the situation,” she said. “The Church must admit negligence in not fully responding to major critical issues such as the Windrush scandal.” Change must be led by the Archbishops and the Secretary General, “steering this root and branch approach”.

The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, moved his amendment, to add “and apologises for”, to the motion’s reference to lamenting the racism experienced by BAME people seeking a welcome from the Church. This was accepted overwhelmingly.

He was aware of those who said that the Church “seems to be apologising for everything at the moment,” but explained: “We’re taking our first steps into a new culture defined by humility.”

Apology was also about genuine repentance, he said. He had reacted with horror at the lack of BAME clergy in Leicester — just two stipendiary priests in 2017; but this was beginning to change. At present, 40 per cent of those exploring a vocation were BAME. He urged the Synod: “Please commit yourself to taking action to show this apology is more than words.”

Two further amendments, moved by the Revd Brunel James (Leeds) were accepted. One asks the Archbishops’ Council to commission research to assess the impact of its racism towards the Windrush generation “in terms of church members lost, churches declining into closure, and vocations to ordained and licensed lay ministries missed”.

The other requests that the Archbishops’ Council “appoint an independent person external to the Church to assess the current situation as regards race and ethnicity in the Church”, in order to “achieve reconciliation and authentic belonging”.

In his speech, Mr James noted the historical roots of racism in “notions of biological racial inferiority . . . used to justify the exploitation of dark-skinned people within the British Empire.”

BAME Synod members said in their speeches that racism remained a current, not historical, problem. The Revd Dr Jason Roach (London) recalled one worshipper who had spoken to of being relieved that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s child had light skin. Annika Matthews (CEYC) spoke of how often she was asked: “Where are you from?”

The Dean of Manchester, the Very Revd Rogers Govender, recalled having to reprimand two senior members of his Chapter “involved in a very overt act of racism . . . they had fiddled the figures in favour of a white candidate for church warden as opposed to a black candidate.” The phrase “We do not want them,” had been used repeatedly during this period of time at the cathedral. When seeking advice about applying to a vacant See, he had been advised by a “very liberal” recently retired Bishop that his appointment was unlikely given that the diocese had few BAME people.

Referring to the morning’s deportations, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said that another 25 people had had their deportation stayed as a result of a court ruling. The Chancellor, Sajid Javid, said that those deported were not members of the Windrush generation but offenders who posed a risk to the public.

David Lammy, the Labour MP, a former member of the Archbishops’ Council, tweeted: “The Government is deporting people who arrived in the UK as young as two, often for one-time drug offences. The lessons from Windrush have not been learned. Lives are being ruined because we don’t remember our history.”

During a debate in the Commons on Monday, Mr Lammy said: “We are almost now two years on [from the Windrush scandal], and people watching see the way this Government holds in such disrespect the contribution of West Indian, Caribbean, and black people in this country. When will black lives matter once again?”

A leaked copy of the review into the Windrush scandal by Wendy Williams, HM Inspector of Constabulary, suggests that it will recommend that the Government stop the deportation of foreign-born offenders who came to the UK as children, The Guardian reported.

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, told the Synod that the deportations sent “the clear statement that you do not belong. And our silence in that is a symptom of what we also believe.”

Addressing the Archbishop of Canterbury while speaking about her recent appointment, she said: “It never occurred to me . . . that when Canterbury said ‘yes’ to me they were just ticking a box. . . but it is interesting that it has been said: ‘Oh, she ticks the box.’ I know that none of my fellow white female clergy that would have been said that they were ticking the box.”

She concluded: “If we are going to go forward, we are going to be a better Church when we embrace the gifts and the abilities that we all bring to the table. . . If it is excellence and vision that you are looking for, then minority-ethnic people will always be at the table.”

Doreen Browne was present in the gallery. Mr Moughtin-Mumby told her, from the podium: “I, for one, am deeply, deeply sorry for the racism your family experienced at the hands of one of my predecessors.”

Synod voted unanimously, 295-0, to approve the motion.

The motion in full:

‘That this Synod, commemorating in 2018 the martyrdom of the Revd Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., noting with joy the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush liner in the United Kingdom in June 1948 bringing nearly 500 Commonwealth citizens, mainly from the Caribbean, to mainland UK; and the eventual arrival of approximately half a million people from the West Indies, who were called to Britain as British subjects to help rebuild the post-war United Kingdom:

(a) lament, on behalf of Christ's Church, and apologises for, the conscious and unconscious racism experienced by countless Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) Anglicans in 1948 and subsequent years, when seeking to find a spiritual home in their local Church of England parish churches, the memory of which is still painful to committed Anglicans who, in spite of this racism from clergy and others, have remained faithful to the Church of England and their Anglican heritage; request the Archbishops’ Council to commission research to assess the impact of this on the Church of England in terms of church members lost, churches declining into closure, and vocations to ordained and licensed lay ministries missed, and to report back to this Synod and the wider Church.

(b) express gratitude to God for the indispensable contribution to the mission, ministry, prayer and worship of Christ's Church in this nation made by people of BAME descent in the Church of England;

(c) acknowledge and give joyful thanks for the wider contribution of the 'Windrush generation' and their descendants to UK life and culture in every field of human activity, including service across the Armed Forces and other services during and after the Second World War; and

(d) resolve to continue, with great effort and urgency, to stamp out all forms of conscious or unconscious racism, and to commit the Church of England to increase the participation and representation of lay and ordained BAME Anglicans throughout Church life; to the greater glory of the God in whose image every human being is made; and request the Archbishop’s Council to appoint an independent person external to the Church to assess the current situation as regards race and ethnicity in the Church, in order to present a report to this Synod with recommendations for actions to achieve reconciliation and authentic belonging so that we can move towards truly being a Church for all people.

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