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See it, say it . . . but racial justice in the Church is far from sorted, Synod told

26 February 2024

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, speaks to Lord Boateng, who chairs the Archbishops’ Commission on Racial Justice

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, speaks to Lord Boateng, who chairs the Archbishops’ Commission on Racial Justice

THE General Synod voted to continue the Church of England’s work on racial justice on Sunday afternoon, after a debate in which the progress made was offset against challenges still to be met.

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, opened the debate by saying that the word “woke” had been frequently misused in public discourse. “As the people of God, we should never be afraid or embarrassed to be called an Advent people: always in the business of preparing, and staying alert,” she said.

Bishop Hudson-Wilkin moved a motion to continue the implementation of the recommendations of From Lament to Action — a report from the Archbishops’ Anti-racism Taskforce, published three years ago (News, 22 April 2021).

“Racial justice is everybody’s business because it is about who we are in Christ,” the Archbishop of York said near the start of the debate. The Dean of the Arches, the Rt Worshipful Morag Ellis (ex officio), outlined some of the steps being taken, including better data collection and efforts to encourage a wider pool of applicants for ecclesiastical judges.

All of the 24 speakers in the debate, most of them from global-majority heritage backgrounds, spoke in favour of the motion; but not all presented a positive picture of the work that had been done so far.

Daniel Matovu (Oxford) said that “you white folks have no idea” of the experiences of discrimination, and that no meaningful action had been taken on racial justice. He also criticised the lack of a lead bishop on the issue.

Another lay member, Kenson Li (co-opted) spoke on behalf of fellow ordinands whom he had consulted on questions of racial justice. One had told him that she felt more marginalised after starting her training than she had before. It was vital, he said, that awareness of issues of racial justice be embedded in the discernment and training processes. This point was repeated by Temitope Taiwo (London).

Other speakers focused on positive steps towards greater inclusion. Busola Sodeinde (London) commended the work of the Racial Justice Unit, and the transformation she had seen at her own church, Holy Trinity, Brompton.

The Revd Christian Selvaratnam (York) also referred to an increase in diversity, even in cities like York, which he described as among the least diverse in England. The Revd Sarah Siddique Gill (Blackburn) spoke of “remarkable progress”, though she was shocked to find that she still visited parishes where people were amazed that a woman from Pakistan could be a C of E priest.

A motion for closure was sought, but in a point of order, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, asked the chair to allow every member of ethnic-minority heritage who wanted to speak the opportunity to do so, saying that “the white Archbishop of York” had been given a full five minutes at the start of the debate.

Several more speakers were given a platform after Bishop Snow’s intervention, including the Revd Folli Olokose (Guildford), who echoed the security announcement ubiquitous across the British transport network: “For years we’ve been saying it. . . Now it’s time to sort it.”

In a rapid-fire closing speech, Bishop Hudson-Wilkin ran through all the speakers, thanking them for their contributions. She noted that clerics of global-majority heritage should be able to serve anywhere, not just in urban areas.

“I’m in Kent, which is not known for it’s blackness,” she observed, but the assumption remained that white clergy could serve anywhere whereas Black clergy could work only in more diverse areas.

Representation at all levels of the Church was not yet where it should be, she concluded. She wanted her grandchildren to be able to see images of themselves in the leadership of the Church.

“We’ve made progress, but we can do more,” she said.

The motion to continue work on the recommendations in From Lament to Action was carried 364-0, with two recorded abstentions.

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