Church of England failing to promote minority ethnic clergy, says bishop

The population of England is growing more diverse, and Christianity is getting much less white, but the Church of England is going backwards when it comes to selecting and promoting minority ethnic clergy, a senior bishop has told the General Synod.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Right Rev Stephen Cottrell, whose diocese extends into east London, told the synod that when he ordained one black and one Asian archdeacon in 2013, he doubled the number of senior ethnic minority clergy “without particularly realising it”.

The archbishop of York, John Sentamu, and the dean of Manchester, Rogers Govender, were then the only senior non-white clergy despite at least 30 years of exhortation. There have been a few highly visible ethnic minority clergy in recent decades – among them Rose Hudson Wilkins, the Speaker’s chaplain, and Michael Nazir-Ali , the former bishop of Rochester, but the proportion had not risen and in recent years has shrunk.

“The figures this year are not massively different [from last year] but when you think it’s going the other way, it’s pretty shocking,” Cottrell said.

“The number is going up slowly but not reflecting the wider community.” the bishop added. The static or backwards-moving Anglican picture contrasts with a great growth in Christianity among the minority ethnic populations of Britain. Between the 2001 and 2011 censuses, the number of black Christians increased by 58% and of Asian Christians by 390%. The number of white Christians decreased by 17%.

Almost all the growth, though, came outside the Church of England. Cottrell said: “Quite simply the leadership and ministry of the Church of England no longer looks like or adequately reflects the diversity and creativity of the communities it serves. This should be a huge concern and directly affect our credibility as a national church and our mission.”

But Cottrell denied that the church was institutionally racist. “I think that to describe the church as institutionally racist is to miss the point. Unconscious bias is a better way of approaching it. That is borderline racist, but there are ways to confront that.”

The future of Christianity in Britain is certainly less white. Minority ethnic churchgoers are on average 18 years younger than white churchgoers and form 10% of the children in the Church of England.

Cottrell said later that the very high visibility of Sentamu, who was born in Uganda, might have served inadvertently to conceal the problem, since Anglicans could look at him and think that there was not a problem if the second-highest ranking prelate in the country was black.

According to figures released to the synod on Friday, there are presently 80 clergy being fast-tracked for promotion as eventual bishops; a quarter of them are women and seven are black or Asian.

The bishop of Sodor and Man, the Right Rev Robert Paterson, who spent two years as chaplain to Sentamu, said: “I think Stephen is quite right in many ways that the racism is an unconscious thing. We don’t realise we’re doing it sometimes. We should think harder about it. You’ve only got to be on a tube in London to realise that Britain is an extremely diverse country now.”

“I have never met a clergyman more loyal to his staff that John Sentamu”, the bishop continued. “The Ugandan tradition of loyalty to the people who work for him – the church would be so much richer if we had more of those positive traditions from other parts of the world.”