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Norfolk churches’ progress on combatting racism

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The issue of how the church should address and combat racism is a pertinent one, especially in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in police custody and the Black Lives Matter movement. There’s momentum and a collective sense that practical action is long overdue. We’ve all had more than enough talk of what should be done – now it’s a case of what should be done and how.

It’s no stretch of the imagination to acknowledge that the church as an organisation within society will both reflect and sometimes perpetuate – for good or bad, human attitudes and behaviour.

If being made in the image of God equates to beauty, then racism is one of the ugly marks we use to mar God’s beauty in us. We have a mandate: ‘A new commandment I give you. Love one another’.  (John 13:34). There is an expectation that as the Body of Christ the Church must be at the vanguard of stamping out racism. How can we live up to our privileged calling to model Christ to the world if many within and outside the church feel distinctively unloved and unaccepted?

Centrally, the Church of England has taken a strong stance. The goal of an Anti-Racism Taskforce set up by Bishops Justin Welby and Stephen Cottrell in October last year is to make bold changes to ensure greater racial equality.

The taskforce is, at present, carrying out preparatory work ahead of the launch of the Archbishops’ Commission to address racism in spring next year. The nine members of the group will make recommendations for immediate action that can be taken by the Church of England to improve its record on racial justice and equality.

It is sincerely hoped that the recommendations of the Commission will be considered and adopted by dioceses – and not the response; ‘it’s not relevant to us because there’s no black or ethnic minority in our church or area’.

What are the churches in the Norfolk area doing? Whilst I cannot speak for all the churches in our county, it’s clear that like many dioceses outside the big Metropolitan areas, there is some way to go.

However, there is much that is encouraging. Strategic change is being led from the top. The Bishop of Norwich, The Rt Reverend Graham Usher, along with the Bishop of Thetford The Rt Revd Alan Winton and the Bishop of Lynn the Rt Reverend Jonathan Meyrick are committed to making the Diocese of Norwich inclusive and welcoming to all. My appointment was borne out of that commitment.

There has been some progress – following the killing of Floyd, the bishops met with BAME clergy concerned to hear our response. In October, the Cathedral hosted the ‘Racism – sharing our experience’ event.

Black History Month was acknowledged and given higher prominence this year on our website and in the fortnightly eNews publication sent to churches and individuals. Included in these were personal stories and contributions from congregation members of BAME heritage.

In addition, the Diocesan Board of Education action plan for 2021 includes strategies to implement equality, diversity, and inclusion in the diocese church schools – which includes recruiting more teachers from BAME backgrounds.

Training and recruitment are also important areas currently under consideration – including how to increase the numbers of individuals from BAME backgrounds into training for ordained and lay ministry, and to recruit more people from the same backgrounds to form part of the Cathedral ministry staff. Some senior Cathedral staff will be undergoing unconscious bias training in the New Year.  In the words of Bishop Graham, the aim is ‘to foster a culture where the sin of racism and exclusion is challenged and called out’.

The diocese vision is ‘Transformed by Christ prayerfully, pastorally and prophetically’. With this there is a priority is to ‘seek to become a safe Church for all and one that embraces diversity and radical Christian inclusion’. All churches have safeguarding information on their website – why not also have a dedicated section to equality, diversity, and inclusion?

Progress will be slow – maybe in order to be effective and create lasting change it needs to be. Some may fear that these current strategies are simply ‘bandwaggoning’, the church not wanting to be seen as ignoring the zeitgeist.

But there are many, both within and without the church, dedicated to tackling and stamping out racism in and from our structures – we’re in it for the long haul. As Christians, how could we not be?

This article originally appeared on Network Norfolk.