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‘Shock’ on C of E taskforce at refusal of funding for diocesan racial-justice officers

09 July 2021

YouTube/Church of England

The co-chair of the Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce, the Revd Sonia Barron, addresses the Synod on Friday afternoon

The co-chair of the Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce, the Revd Sonia Barron, addresses the Synod on Friday afternoon

THE members of the Anti-Racism Taskforce have expressed dismay at the Archbishops’ Council’s refusal to fund full-time racial-justice officers in each diocese.

Among the recommendations of the taskforce’s report, From Lament to Action, published in April, was that, by the autumn, full-time racial-justice officers be in every diocese (where they are not already in place) — centrally funded for five years — to work in individual churches and wider communities (News, 23 April).

The Questions document provided for General Synod members before the start of their online meeting, last Friday, included a question from Debra Walker, a lay representative of Liverpool diocese, to the president of the Archbishops’ Council, which asked what progress had been made to release funding for the appointment of racial-justice officers in the dioceses.

In the document, a reply from the Archbishop of York, wrote: “The Archbishops’ Council has concluded that it cannot support this recommendation in this formulation at this time, given the need to reduce costs in diocesan and national administration.

“The Council understands the rationale for this recommendation and will do more work on how best to support racial justice across the country through a network of officers who would be suited to different contexts. The Council will look at whether and how this might be supported in a different way as part of looking at funding priorities for the next triennium.”

At the start of a presentation to update the Synod on the creation of the Racial Justice Commission (see separate story), last Friday, one of the co-chairs of the taskforce, the Revd Sonia Barron, said: “I’m deeply shocked and disappointed by this decision and know that the other members of the taskforce will share these sentiments. As a taskforce, we remain hopeful that the Council, together with the Church Commissioners and House of Bishops, may still reconsider that decision, rightly prioritise, and fund the work of racial justice. As I have previously commented to Archbishops’ Council directly, ‘If not now, when?’”

During Questions at the Synod last Friday, Archbishop Cottrell was pressed on the matter by members. “Money is being put into this work, but, at the moment, this particular recommendation is not being supported in the way that it was proposed,” he said. “I do not underestimate the disappointment this has caused, but I continue to make that personal commitment for us to be a more diverse Church and to put racial justice at the centre of our agenda.”

The other co-chair of the taskforce, the Vicar of St Nicholas’s, Durham, the Revd Arun Arora, said last Friday that it was “something of a shock and disappointment to learn that . . . there are no plans to implement one of our key proposals”.

The Archbishops’ Council’s decision, he said, had “worrying echoes of the decision taken by General Synod in 1986 not to act upon recommendations made by the Faith in the City report on areas of Racial Justice, which included references to financial cost.

“My concern is that, 35 years later, the context may be different, but the same excuses for failing to act are being given. Ultimately, this boils down to a matter of priorities, which is inevitably reflected in decisions over resources. The failure to resource this work and these recommendations will inevitably lead to conclusions as to how much or little this matters to decision makers in the Church.”

In an article for the Church Times this week, the members of the taskforce write that they had offered to discuss “funding solutions” with the Council, but were “reassured that it was not part of our remit to find the money”.

They continue: “Yes, of course we need priests in our parishes and funding for curacies. But setting up a false dichotomy between funding for clergy and funding for justice is the kind of zero-sum game that we rightly reject in other areas [such as international aid spending], and which we should reject here, too.”

A statement defending the decision was issued jointly on Monday by Archbishop Cottrell, joint-president of the Archbishops’ Council; the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, deputy chair of the Church Commissioners; and John Spence, chair of the Archbishops’ Council’s finance committee.

“We recognise and support the aspiration behind this recommendation to enable all our dioceses, whatever their local context, to be able to work on the issue of racial justice within the Church and in wider society,” they said.

They drew attention to the Racial Justice Commission, which “will engage in dialogue with dioceses to better understand the needs, desires and commitments of local contexts. This will enable the aspiration behind the Racial Justice Officer recommendation to be delivered successfully in ways that reflect local needs and differences.”

The statement went on to say that the Archbishops’ Council had agreed to 34 of the 39 of the taskforce’s recommendations, including the creation of a Racial Justice Unit within the Council.

Read the article by the members of the Anti-Racism Taskforce

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