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Ghost Ship: Institutional racism and the Church of England, by A. D. A. France-Williams

28 August 2020

This critique has many lenses and layers, says Arlington Trotman

WRITING Ghost Ship, A. D. A. France-Williams (interview and extract, Features, 10 July) could not have predicted the deeply distressing killing in May of an African American, George Floyd, while in the custody of the Minneapolis police, let alone the subsequent global outpouring — from unprecedented numbers of white people, among others — of demands for the demise of racism.

Ghost Ship is not angry, but unbelievably courageous and timely. It proffers the key question: will the captains who face an impending tragedy take steps to rescue their sinking ship — the Church of England — before all is lost?

The author — a young, black, and devoted C of E priest, married, with a young family, and of Nevisian heritage (St Kitts and Nevis is one of the smallest countries in the Western hemisphere) — writes powerfully as he maps the route to survival. With an insider’s knowledge, and with compassion and wisdom, he candidly delivers a compelling vision as he laments the persistent state of affairs which threatens his Church’s future.

This monograph introduces the reader — by way of a tale by Ade the Griot, about a kingdom for all — to the Church’s pivotal socio-economic, moral, and religious part in embedding and maintaining a central pillar of contemporary racism: the lie that white is superior and black is inferior. Ghost Ship recounts the Church’s complicity, as a beneficiary, in the transatlantic enslavement of black people and subsequent colonial plantation culture. It avoids old arguments for more black and brown clergy, and ultimately concedes: “a lie remains a lie, however it is dressed up.”

The movement of Ghost Ship embraces, challenges, and enlightens the reader, unapologetically. Its portrayal of the “true Church” excites, but raises unavoidable questions, too: should the Church of England be “free from cultural chains”, and can it ever comprise “everyone from everywhere, impacting everybody”?

Ghost Ship potentially provokes resistance, but the reader welcomes the multi-layered lenses through which it offers inspiration: family, poetry (e.g., C. S. Lewis’s character Aslan, the lion legend, in the Chronicles of Narnia), humour, the social sciences, biblical hermeneutic (e.g., Samson and Delilah), anecdote, and popular culture (e.g. the film Trading Places).

Dedicated to the memory of 230 people who drowned when the ferry MV Christena sank between Nevis and St Kitts on Emancipation Day in 1970, Ghost Ship depicts the urgency of the danger, as reflected in the author’s use of the unpublished poet BraveSlave:

Their journeys unfinished,
Lost where they lie,
One hundred souls slumber,
The sea breeze mingles their cries.

Personification, allegory, and symbolism are among the means by which the “whiteness elephant” is compelled to see and dismantle its discordant structures; and the author’s humility and devotion render this work utterly feasible. The realism of Ghost Ship should ensure that it avoids the fate that previous attempts have suffered. It demands reception as a platform on which to work for lasting change, for “colour and spice”, an exceptionally worthy and justifiable red alert.

It should be standard reading in the General Synod of the Church of England, churches generally, and in the training of church leaders, as well as in other educational institutions, and for churchgoers and all who seek a better future.


The Revd Arlington W. Trotman is a former secretary of the Churches’ Commission for Racial Justice, and a former Moderator of the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe.


Ghost Ship: Institutional racism and the Church of England
A. D. A. France-Williams
SCM Press £19.99
Church Times Bookshop special price £15.99


Listen to A. D. A France-Williams read from Ghost Ship on the Church Times Podcast

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