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Implement race proposals or lose trust, says C of E’s first female archdeacon of colour

30 April 2021

The report is dedicated to the memory of her daughters who were murdered last year


The Ven. Wilhelmina (Mina) Smallman, a former Archdeacon of Southend

The Ven. Wilhelmina (Mina) Smallman, a former Archdeacon of Southend

THE first female archdeacon of colour in the Church of England, the Ven. Wilhelmina (Mina) Smallman, has said that the Archbishops’ Taskforce’s report on racism in the Church “reads really well”. If, however, the Church failed to put its recommendations into practice, she said, “I can’t see that any person of colour will trust that anything will ever change.”

The report, From Lament to Action, was published on Thursday of last week — Stephen Lawrence Day — by the Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce (News, Leader Comment, 23 April). It brings together 47 previously ignored “actions” from reports published over more than three decades.

In their response to the report, the Archbishops of York and Canterbury acknowledge that churchgoers of colour had been “bullied, overlooked, undermined and excluded from the life of the Church, from the family of God”.

The report was dedicated to the memory of Mrs Smallman’s two daughters, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, who were murdered last summer (News, 19 June 2020). Their funeral was conducted by the only black bishop in the House of Bishops: the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin.

At the time, Mrs Smallman criticised the way in which the Metropolitan Police responded to her daughters’ disappearances and murders, suggesting that officers behaved as they did because the women were black. Mrs Smallman reported that the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, then her diocesan bishop in Chelmsford and now the Archbishop of York, phoned her on behalf of the Revd Arun Arora, co-chair of the taskforce, to ask whether she would allow the report to be dedicated to her daughters.

The Met Police announced on Wednesday that two of its officers — PC Deniz Jaffer, 47, and PC Jamie Lewis, 32 — had been charged with misconduct in public office, after it received allegations last year that “non-official and inappropriate photographs had been taken by police at the crime scene” (News, 3 July 2020). The officers are due to appear for their first hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 27 May.

Mrs Smallman, who retired as Archdeacon of Southend in 2016, welcomed the recommendation that shortlists for senior posts should include at least one ethnic- minority cleric; but she cautioned that this was not enough if hostile attitudes went unchallenged. “It’s not a good thing to throw yourself at [the issue of under-representation] and not really ensure these people are protected. Because there are often people waiting in the wings willing you to fall,” she said.

She described such people as “gatekeepers” — parishioners or training incumbents — in strategic positions who determine whether someone should be welcomed into a parish, ordained, or appointed to a title post.

Mrs Smallman said that she believed that some clergy would be resistant to the report’s recommended changes, and that they could be young or old. “If you imagine that it’s only the older clergy who are the problem, you would be wrong. It has something to do with the fact that the stereotypical understanding of clergy is male and white and middle-class,” she said.

People who were white working-class and felt a calling to be ordained had been held back, like people of colour, she said. She identified a new confidence in recent years among clergy of colour in writing about their experiences of racism.

Mrs Smallman praised the two Archbishops for their commitment to tackling racism. Archbishop Cottrell “is passionate about this cause”, she said. And she was excited by the “very clear language” used by the Archbishop of Canterbury in addressing the issue. Mrs Smallman, whose father came from Nigeria, and whose grandmother came from Benin, said, too, that she was “thrilled” that Archbishop Welby had offered to return two Benin bronzes presented to his predecessor, Robert Runcie, in 1982 (News, 16 April).

Mrs Smallman chaired the Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns in the diocese of Chelmsford from 2013 to 2016, and worked with Dr Elizabeth Henry, then national adviser of the committee who resigned last year in frustration at the lack of progress made (Features, 3 July 2020). Mrs Smallman pioneered unconscious-bias training in Chelmsford diocese, first convincing Bishop Cottrell of the need for it. It has since been adopted by other dioceses.

Europe response. The Diocese in Europe Racial Justice Working Group responded to the taskforce report on Thursday of last week: “Unless every diocese makes the same stringent commitment to implementation and action, and every Archdeaconry Synod and Chaplaincy follows suit, the work of the Archbishops’ Task Force will be in vain and the ghosts of Stephen Lawrence, Nicole Smallman, Bibaa Henry, George Floyd and Daunte Wright will haunt us for generations to come.”

Read comment on the anti-racism report here

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