Potential leaders identified from ‘talent pool’ will be trained and mentored in effort to boost number of non-white bishops, deans and archdeacons
The Church of England is to fast-track black and ethnic minority clergy into senior positions amid accusations of institutional racism.
A “talent pool” of specifically black, Asian and minority ethnic (Bame) potential leaders will be identified in 2016 for training and mentoring with the aim of increasing representation among bishops, deans and archdeacons.
The church selected its first talent pool this year, but fewer than 7% of those chosen were from ethnic minorities. A second round is currently being selected. The church is to devote a third group specifically to Bame clergy.
However, only 2.8% of C of E clergy are from ethnic minorities, which limits the numbers available for fast-tracking. At senior levels, the sole Bame bishop is John Sentamu, the archbishop of York; there is one Bame dean; and three archdeacons. Only 3% of the members of the last synod – the church parliament – were from ethnic minorities; figures are not yet available for the new synod elected in October.
“[Sentamu’s] rise to the top has almost lulled people into a false sense of security; it’s enabled us to take our eye off the ball,” said Stephen Cottrell, the bishop of Chelmsford, who has pushed for greater Bame representation in the church’s leadership. “It’s embarrassing that we are going backwards on this issue rather than forwards.”
Although the church established its Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns more than 30 years ago, it has recently stepped up efforts to improve Bame representation. An initiative called Turning Up the Volume was set up in 2012 with the aim of doubling the number of Bame clergy in senior positions within 10 years.
But the target was “unchallenging”, given the starting point, said James Langstaff, bishop of Rochester, who chairs the group. There was an urgent need to change attitudes and bias, he added.
“[Some within the church] hesitate to use the language of institutional racism. We also speak of conscious or unconscious bias, which is slightly less emotive. But it is, in my view, undeniable that there is racism within the system, because gifted people have not found their way into senior leadership,” said Langstaff.
The issue was raised at the first meeting of the new synod in November – a gathering that was striking for its overwhelming whiteness. Apart from Sentamu and a handful of minority ethnic members, most non-white faces belonged to security guards and catering staff.
Julie Conalty, the vicar of Christ Church in Erith, Kent, whose congregation is 50% black, asked a question from the synod floor about positive action measures to advance women and Bame clergy through the ranks. “I see a lot of goodwill, but not a systematic top-to-bottom drive to deal with what is institutional racism,” she said later.
“What’s really scandalous is that, unlike the debate about women priests and bishops, there is no possible theological reasons why Bame clergy cannot hold leadership positions, so there shouldn’t be any negotiations or debate,” she added. “We should be streets ahead.”
Tim Thornton, bishop of Truro, who chairs the development and appointments group, acknowledged that progress had been slow. “We haven’t got any better at it, and we’ve been talking about it for 30 years,” he said.
The church was failing in many ways to reflect society, he added. “This is part of a bigger picture that is something to do with the fact that we’ve become very introspective, and we’re in danger of carrying on a steady road to decline. Somehow we have to look very closely at what we’re doing right back at the beginning – why is it we are not attracting people? That’s a much deeper problem about, metaphorically speaking, how wide our doors are.”
Many point to a lack of welcome by the C of E to immigrants since the 1950s. Anderson Jeremiah, an ordained Anglican priest at Lancaster University’s department of politics, philosophy and religion, said immigrants from south Asia, the Caribbean and Africa had faced “inhospitality” from the C of E, which had “gently and politely diverted them to churches where they might ‘feel more comfortable’.”
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