Time for church to own up to past and present racism, say clergy

Patrick Sawer
Anglican priests say its time to face up to institutional racism in the Church of England - Corbis Documentary

The Church of England is facing calls from its own priests to examine whether it is institutionally racist, as it admitted it had failed the Windrush generation.

A number of clerics have said it may be time for the Anglican church to launch an independent investigation into its treatment of black and minority ethnic (BAME) parishioners and clergy to make sure it is doing enough to tackle both conscious and unconscious prejudice.

Father Andrew Moughtin-Mumby, who has submitted a motion to next month’s General Synod calling on the church to “stamp out all forms of conscious or unconscious racism” said it may be time for such an inquiry.

He said: “There is a feeling the church may need to appoint someone from outside to examine whether it is institutionally racist.

“Too many BAME people still come up to me now and say of their parish churches ‘they are happy for us to cook their food but don't want to see us sitting on the parish council or in positions of influence.”

Father Moughtin-Mumby, the Rector of St Peter’s in Walworth, south London, added:

“We need to admit that the church is in some ways institutionally racist because we have not managed to create a space in which everyone can flourish.”

The Synod will discuss what Father Moughtin-Mumby calls the deep failings of the church in welcoming the Windrush generation in the years after they first arrived in Britain from the Caribbean in the late 1940s and 50s.

Activists, campaigners and trade unionists gathered outside Parliament in 2018 to call for restoring legal protections of the Windrush generation removed in the 2014 Immigration Act, an end to deportations and amnesty for those who came to the UK as minors Credit: Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Images

Though many were devout churchgoers several found themselves turned away by their local parish churches.

The Synod will hear the story of the mother of Doreen Browne, a member of Father Moughtin-Mumby’s congregation, who was barred from entering St Peter’s in Walworth when she arrived in the area in 1961, “due to the plain fact of the colour of her skin”.

Mrs Browne said that although her mother was warmly welcomed at another CoE church nearby, she never forgot the humiliation and rejection she suffered.

“She was fuming. I never used to take communion. I didn’t feel comfortable taking communion because they refused my mum,” said Mrs Browne, adding that her mother felt it would have been “pointless” to complain about her treatment at the time, as the person handling the complaint would in all likelihood have been as similarly prejudiced as the priest who barred her.

Father Moughtin-Mumby’s Synod motion calls on the CoE to “lament the conscious and unconscious racism experienced by countless BAME Anglicans in 1948 and subsequent years when seeking to find a spiritual home in their local parish churches.”

It will also call on the Anglican church to “increase the participation and representation of lay and ordained BAME Anglicans throughout Church life.”

The Synod is also expected to condemn the recent “hostile” treatment and in some cases deportation of members of the Windrush generation simply for not having the right documentation, even though many had been here since they were children.

The proportion of people training to become C of E priests from a BAME background doubled to 8% between 2016 and 2018, However, the retirement of the most senior BAME figure in the church, John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, will leave just three ethnic minority bishops out of a total of about 120.