General Synod Debate on “Windrush” – proposed amendment to para a) adding in words “and apologises for”.
Speech by the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, Bishop of Leicester.
I was born in South East Asia, and I have lived in different parts of the world, as well as visiting large numbers of countries all around the world. And I’ve worshipped in grand Cathedrals, under mango trees, as well as in tin shacks. I count it a great privilege to have travelled widely.
And I can say with real confidence, that every church I have entered, without exception, has greeted me with great kindness, great generosity and real warmth. As often as not, I have been given a seat of honour and I have been asked to ‘bring greetings’ or to preach – and all this long before I was ordained. Indeed, at the age of 21, I visited Mozambique and in the space of one weekend, attended a wedding where I was seated at the top table beside the bride and groom, who I had never met before. And then the following day, I attended a funeral, again for someone I had never met, and I was asked to preach.
All this, because I am white, Western and male.
And yet my experience of living in different countries also means that I know something of what it feels like to enter a new culture and be all at sea. I’ve been through the classic transition curve, where the initial fascination with the new culture fades and is replaced by bewilderment – unable to speak the language fluently, unable to read the subtle signs of social etiquette and not knowing how to complete even the most basic of everyday tasks. I remember well how uncomfortable that made me feel, and how long a process it was to learn the cultural norms.
And yet, I experienced this bewilderment in a context where most people were willing to give me the benefit of the doubt and to forgive my cultural faux pas. I may have felt some discomfort, but it was never more than that.
So, I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like for those who arrived on the Windrush. All at sea culturally, they turned to the one place they thought they would be welcomed and offered hospitality, only to find themselves quietly shunned, or worse still, told to their faces that they were not welcome. The contrast with my experience could not be more extreme.
So, to those who say, how can we apologise for the actions of a previous generation – I say, this is not just about previous generations – the impact continues today – I’ve heard it first hand from African Caribbean people in Leicester; and the contrast still exists today – the unconscious bias within many of our churches, compared with the hospitality of others around the world.
So I want to apologise personally, as well as on behalf of the institution, because I know that I have not always received others in the way they have received me.
And to those who say, the Church of England seems to be apologising for everything at the moment – I say, yes, we’re starting to learn a new language, and we’re taking our first steps into a new culture defined by humility. Finally, we are facing up to our failings as individuals and as an institution, and there is no other route to healing and new beginnings.
There are, as one writer has put it, several languages of apology. Firstly, expressing regret – something which usually involves making excuses and sounds as if you are sorry you were found out. That’s most definitely not what this amendment is about.
Secondly, accepting responsibility – as I’ve said, this amendment is not simply about previous generations, though we must acknowledge what an appalling stain this is on our church’s history. But this is about accepting our part in failing to address racism and unconscious bias today.
Recently, a group of BAME Christians got together for a retreat at Launde Abbey. There, on the beautiful hills of Leicestershire, they sat down and wept, and lamented – not for the experiences of their parents and grandparents, though that may have been in their minds, but rather they shared stories of the racism and unconscious bias they are still experiencing in our church today.
So the third language of apology is about genuine repentance. Not only requesting forgiveness of our BAME brothers and sisters, but also putting in place concrete, practical actions to change things.
In Leicester, in 2017, we received SDF money which allowed us to employ a BAME Mission and Ministry Enabler – Lusa Nsenga Ngoy – he’s here today. His first task was to research our current position. In a city where more than 50% of the population is BAME, we realised to our horror that we had just two BAME stipendiary clergy and only a handful of BAME lay ministers in the whole city.
Today, following Lusa’s appointment, and the appointment of Guli Francis-Dehqani as Bishop of Loughborough, our current position is that, of those currently exploring their vocation with our DDO, 40% are BAME. I hope this is evidence that we are doing something to make this apology real and meaningful. Though I do need to add, that many of those exploring their vocation, are still very unsure whether the Church of England is really the place for them. After all their parents and grandparents experienced, it’s really no surprise that they remain deeply suspicious about whether the leadership of the church really wants them.
Synod, I am only asking for the insertion of three words. But I believe they are hugely powerful words. Please support the amendment, and please commit yourself to taking action to show this apology is more than words.