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Church of England given a timetable to halt racism

22 April 2021

From September, every senior vacancy is to have at least one minority-ethnic candidate

WITHIN months, racial-justice officers are to be appointed to every diocese of the Church of England, and a racial-justice directorate is to be created, to combat institutional racism and lack of diversity within the Church from the ground up — if the urgent recommendations of the Archbishops’ Anti-racism Taskforce are implemented.

In addition, from September, every senior vacancy — bishop, dean, archdeacon, and residentiary canon, as well as senior lay posts in the National Church Institutions (NCIs) — is to have at least one appointable, minority-ethnic candidate on the shortlist, or “provide valid, publishable reasons” for failure to do so.

“Repentance requires more than apology,” declares the taskforce’s first report, From Lament to Action, published yesterday, which has been designated Stephen Lawrence Day. “Decades of inaction carry consequences, and this inaction must be owned by the whole Church. A failure to act now will be seen as another indication, potentially a last straw for many, that the Church is not serious about racial sin.”

The nine-member taskforce was chaired jointly by the director of ordinands and vocations for the diocese of Lincoln, the Revd Sonia Barron, and the Vicar of St Nicholas’s, Durham, the Revd Arun Arora.

While acknowledging that some dioceses are already undertaking racial-justice work, the taskforce says of the proposed directorate: “Having explored many different models of operational accountability and learnt from the Church of England’s past experience, we believe this will ensure a senior voice at the heart of the Church, specifically to challenge racial sin and take action along the lines of those recommended by the taskforce” and the Archbishops’ Racial Justice Commission.

The taskforce also recommends that, by 2030, UK minority-ethnic and global-majority-heritage (UKME/GMH) people should constitute at least 15 per cent of the membership of all governance structures in the C of E. A plan to set this in motion should be implemented within weeks, it says.

Since the appointment of Dr Michael Nazir-Ali to the see of Rochester in 1994, and the subsequent appointment of Dr Sentamu to the see of Birmingham in 2002 before his translation to York, only two ethnic-minority diocesan bishops have served the C of E at any one time, the report points out. When Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani becomes the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Church will “be back where it was 27 years ago”.

While progress has been made in the diversity of suffragans in recent years, including the recent appointment of the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the report says that the overwhelming lack of diversity and inclusivity in the Church has not been addressed in the 40 years since the issue of racism and inequality was first raised.

The report is dedicated to Nicole Smallman and her half-sister Bibaa Henry, who were found murdered in Fryent Country Park, Wembley, in London, last June (News, 19 June 2020) — the daughters of a former Archdeacon of Southend, the Ven. Wilhelmina (Mina) Smallman, who retired last year (News, 3 July 2020). The taskforce was created by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York around that time, partly in response to widespread anti-racism protests prompted by the death of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, during a police arrest in the United States (News, 5 June 2020).

Since then, members have met remotely every two weeks or more to review 25 reports relating to racial justice which have been received by the General Synod since the publication of Faith in the City in 1985. By February, it had identified 161 recommendations, most of which, it reported, “had not been acted upon or followed through” (News, 5 March).

The taskforce describes the typical outcome of the Church’s good intentions: “Reports and debates took place with regularity over the next twenty years. But now, motions were no longer defeated. Instead, they were noted or accepted, but the accompanying recommendations or action plans were left largely unattended.”

Most recently, a Synod motion on the legacy of the Windrush generation resolved “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” (News, 14 February 2020). Archbishop Welby apologised publicly at the time, describing the Church as still “deeply institutionally racist”.

From its research, the taskforce has identified five priority areas for action on racism in the Church: participation (including appointments), education, training and mentoring, young people, and structures and governance.

The report makes 47 recommendations under these headings. Key recommendations are to:

  • appoint a maximum of ten UKME/GMH people (five clergy; five laity) as governing members of the General Synod in the next quinquennium (2021 to 2026);
  • introduce UKME/GMH participant observers to the House of Bishops for three years from the autumn (as women were before legislation on women bishops was introduced);
  • implement immediately mandatory diversity-monitoring forms, and gather and report all racial diversity annually to inform recruitment processes;
  • ensure that 30 per cent of nominees to the next intake of the Strategic Leadership Development Programme are from UKME/GMH backgrounds (bishops must nominate at least one candidate);
  • shortlist at least one UKME/GMH candidate for senior clerical posts, senior NCI appointments, and senior leadership teams, by September;
  • ensure that, by the autumn, all BAP advisers have undertaken a new mandatory three-stage learning programme covering unconscious bias, intercultural awareness, and anti-racism (by July 2022 for all other staff);
  • develop, by February 2022, a mandatory anti-racism learning programme (online and in-person) to be rolled out to all staff and clergy in every diocese from April 2022, and to all Readers and church officers by September 2023, over a two-year period with a triennial refresher. This should be available to all volunteers;
  • introduce by the end of the year (Covid-dependent) regular diocesan networking days to encourage diversity within congregations;
  • replace by the summer the Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns (CMEAC) “with a body which acts as a standing committee of the Archbishops’ Council, whose chair is co-opted on to the Council by the Archbishops”;
  • appoint full-time racial-justice officers in every diocese by the autumn (where they are not already in place) — centrally funded for five years — to work in individual churches and wider communities;
  • appoint a racial-justice directorate by the summer, incorporating a director-level post, a senior post, and an administration post, as part of the national church institutions (for five years) “to ensure delivery, monitoring, and accountability for the actions” of the report; and
  • create a plan to increase representation and participation of UKME/GMH people to at least 15 per cent at all levels of C of E governance by 2030.

Besides setting specific dates for the implementation of its recommendations, as above, the taskforce lists who is to be responsible for its implementation and monitoring.

It acknowledges both the work that is already being done and that its call to action “comes at a time when the Church faces enormous challenges in response to Covid-19 and acute financial pressures”. It states, none the less, “that failure to implement these recommendations will lead to the inescapable conclusion that the Church does not consider this a priority, and is content to continue a record of benign neglect — a record which past failures to act have come to represent.

“We urge the Archbishops and the whole Church of which we are a part to act now to address the causes and consequences of racial sin in our Church, and to seize the missional opportunities offered in our report to both the benefit of the body of Christ and the mission of God.”

The membership and aims of the taskforce are separate from that of the Archbishops’ Commission to which it reports. The Commission, to be formed imminently, will review racism in broader church contexts over a longer period. In its report, the taskforce recommends that this should involve workstreams on theology; slavery (including monuments); history and memory; culture and liturgy; complaints handling; participation; and patronage.

The report says: “Racial sin disfigures God’s image in each one of us. Racial sin dehumanises people by taking away their fundamental God-given human dignity. Wherever racial sin flourishes systematically, either in society or in our church, we must challenge it together. We must repent of racial sin, turn away from racism and be reconciled, so that we may all experience the love of God. . .

“Addressing systemic and institutional racism and racial sin in the church is not a theological addendum. It is a missional imperative of the Church of England.”

Read reaction from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and a list of the key recommendations

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