Courage needed on racial justice journey

Published: 26th November 2020

Churches across the diocese were challenged to step out in “courage and determination” on a “faith journey for racial justice” at this year’s Selwyn Lecture.

Richard Reddie, Director of Justice and Inclusion for Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, addressed around 200 people online after the annual lecture was unable to take place as normal at Lichfield Cathedral due to the current pandemic.

As he welcomed Richard, the Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave, acknowledged: “We face a major task in reaching the aspiration we have set ourselves in our diocesan vision statement to reflect the richness and variety of the communities we serve.”

In a lecture entitled The Race For Justice In A Time Of Black Lives Matter, Richard spoke about the need to engage with racial justice as a crucial expression of Jesus’ love in action. He described the George Floyd killing as a ‘kairos’ moment for the church. “We must ensure the issue of justice remains on the agenda until there is real justice in church as well as in wider society,” he added.

Richard said the church in the west had often focused on racial justice issues abroad, such as in South African and Rwanda, but not been as quick to tackle injustice on its own doorstep, as highlighted through the ongoing impact of the treatment of many Windrush immigrants who were turned away from mainstream churches when they arrived in the UK.

In the second of his two 45-minute talks, Richard talked about how churches need to “breathe, grieve and believe” and make space for talking, repentance, education and training.

A safe space for congregations to have honest conversations and listen to its black and Asian members was central, as well as the need for leadership and other church structures to be representative. A creative look at liturgy, songs and other elements of church activity would also be helpful, Richard outlined. He also talked about the challenges faced by ‘monocultural’ congregations, whether white or black, and the relevance of issues such as immigration and identifying the unmet needs of local communities.

One practical way to act was for churches to celebrate Racial Justice Sunday in the second week of February each year, Richard suggested.

Concluding, Richard pointed to the inspiration of young people in the courageous and creative ways they have mobilised around Black Lives Matter and the climate emergency.

“We have chosen to sidestep this issue of racial justice for decades. It would be naïve to think we will solve this quickly. But I do believe we need to put our own house in order, so we can help society to likewise,” he said.

“This is a time of courage and determination and a time for the church to apply both as it steps out onto the faith journey for racial justice.”

Bishop Michael thanked Richard for setting out “a powerful vision of racial justice for us” that emphasised the need for “taking practical steps to put the record straight.”

“This is not for black and minority ethnic Christians to sort out – it is for us to sort out as the Body of Christ together,” Bishop Michael said.

A Racial Justice and Inclusion Task Group will launch in the diocese early in the New Year to begin to look at the systemic changes needed. Bishop Michael has also appointed a new honorary Canon Theologian at Lichfield Cathedral to support the diocese to focus on ‘full participation and justice’. The Revd Dr Sharon Prentis was collated last weekend and will also begin her role early in 2021.

Dr Reddie's lectures can be watched below, and read in transcripts of part 1 and part 2.

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