Developing Minority Ethnic Leaders # 57. 07/12/2021
Welcome. This week’s blog is mainly on Anglican policy. If you find it interesting then do forward it to Anglican leaders and policy makers you know.
Developing Minority Ethnic Leaders.
‘We particularly welcome applications from people of UK Minority Ethnic/ Global Majority Heritage’ is the sort of rubric that increasingly appears in Situations Vacant sections of the Church Times and other sites. It stands with longstanding calls from bishops for more minority ethnic vocations, most recently by the Bishop of Bristol. The desire to see more minority ethnic leaders is a sound one, both in terms of extending the range of identities amongst clergy and widening the public’s capacity to identify with those publicly leading the church.
But I believe such in-your-face statements are not the best way forward long-term and that they are putting the emphasis in the wrong place. For too long the Church of England has been emphasising the up-front question of:
How do we find minority ethnic leaders?
and giving insufficient attention to the more basic and more challenging question:
What sort of church do we need to become to produce minority ethnic leaders?
At first sight the difference between the questions may seem slight, but in fact they focus on significantly different emphases and approaches.
Why the focus needs to be on congregations rather than minority ethnic leaders?
* We need to focus on the margins not the centre.
Calls for minority ethnic leaders tend to come from bishops and diocesan offices, not from parishes or parish clergy. That may, of course, be because the average urban incumbent lacks vision, faith and carries a baggage of racist assumptions. But it may rather be because they know that vocations to ordained ministry don’t necessarily spring up that easily, or can be unexpected, or may even need discouraging. The wind of the Spirit blows where he wills, and often in ways that none of us can require.
What is required is not aspirations from the centre, but the patient, local nurturing of the parochial soil that may (or may not) lead vocations to flourish. It is encouraging that after several decades of aspiration we are now seeing more minority ethnic vocations, but is that due to central policies or that over time to parish churches have become more facilitating places for people from ethnic minorities?
* We need to work with relationships not categories.
Inevitably focussing on ethnicity as a major characteristic in an appointment has several distorting consequences. Putting ethnicity front and centre hinders engaging with someone with all their personal characteristics, which admittedly are partly shaped by their culture and experience of racism but also much else beside. It reduces people to a specimen, a category, a subject of generalisations. Again that is partly unavoidable, but it discourages personal, spontaneous, authentic relationships.
Relationship over time in a congregation rightly foregrounds people’s character, gifts, idiosyncrasies – what it is that makes people lovable. If my observation is correct that people from ethnic minorities find life much more uncomfortable when they move out of a parish context into the wider church then that may be because so moving renders them more as a category less as a person.
As a vicar I never, as a principle, wanted to appoint someone to a post simply because they were from an ethnic minority. The result was that a church with all white leadership when I arrived saw by the time I left (thirty-one years later) minority ethnic people in all senior positions, simply by virtue of their capacity.
* We need to highlight mission not ethnicity.
When Paul chose the group to carry the offering of the Gentiles to Jerusalem it is likely that he carefully curated the membership to reflect the fledgling churches’ geographic and ethnic (as reflected in Greek or Latin names) diversity as a visible display to the Jews in Jerusalem (Acts 20:4). But generally his approach seems to have been in Christ ‘there is neither . . nor . .’ (Galatians 3:28). The diversity was the concomitant of his desire to make Christ known to all peoples.
In that mission, responses to the gospel vary. Why has the church grown so fast in South Korea, so slowly in Japan? Here in Britain, on a more modest scale, why are Tamil Hindus becoming Christians more readily than Gujerati Hindus? Throughout the history of mission the spread of the faith has often been unpredictable, at times glorious and exhilarating, and at times frustrating and heart-breaking. To approach this with a form of ‘rights’ mindset that our ministry ought to pan out into some sort of proportionately equal ethnic representation of leaders fails to recognise how God works in ways we can neither predict, demand or control. Since the Spirit blows where he wills, ethnic representation in the church will always be untidy.
* We need to allow for disparities.
Ethnic groups differ from each other – if they didn’t the word ‘ethnic’ would have no meaning. Beyond different visible characteristics, there would be no other forms of distinction. But on all sorts of criteria ethnic groups have different outcomes. Dispute rightly continues about the extent to which those outcomes are the expression of racist attitudes and policies in the overall society and how far generated by the histories, cultures and behavioural patterns of the different ethnic groups. But differences there are, including in the church.
Thus, as I argued from the beginning in Blog #1, the terms BAME and its heir UKME/GMH are clumsy and inept. They show no awareness of the differing ethnic configurations found in parishes, and thus whether a ‘UKME/GMH’ appointment may be apposite or inept. Further, what confidence can we have that the appeal for ‘more UKME/GMH clergy’ will produce the clergy we actually need, both in terms of social class or specific ethnicity.
As a thought exercise, it would be a step closer to a more credible understanding of the on-the-ground reality of parishes if job adverts included rubrics such as:
‘this post is for someone with a working-class African-Caribbean background’
‘West Africans are especially encouraged to apply’
‘Being a convert from Hinduism would be particularly helpful’.
It can only be by the steam-rollering of ethnic differences that the Church’s ‘From Lament to Action’ Report frequently uses the 15% (and at times higher) benchmark as the appropriate
level of minority ethnic participation for the church to work towards; presumably because 15% is roughly the proportion of non-white people in England. But this ignores the fact that between half and two-thirds of that 15% are people of other world faith backgrounds who are unlikely to show up soon in Anglican statistics (though we should pray). Further the bulk of the Christian segment identify with pentecostal and ethnic-specific churches, whose separate identities owe something to our racism but much more to worshipping, organisational and cultural preferences. As so often, inequalities of outcome can raise important questions to consider but by no means pre-determine the response that the institutions are to blame.
One significant and potentially controversial point here as regards expecting numbers of minority ethnic clergy to closely map onto minority ethnic populations is the question of what qualities we look for in those who will lead congregations, including education. David Livermore writes: “University level and post-graduate education in particular nurture an ability to critically engage with more complex ways of perceiving the world” (Cultural Intelligence, p 171). This is especially true of Anglican parish ministry which frequently involves engaging with a variety of cultural backgrounds. Since educational levels differ between ethnic groups to what extent ought we to accept that those called to exercise leadership will be disproportionately – in terms of both social class and specific ethnicity – from some groups but not from others. Of course, there can be no hard predictions here and there can be exhilarating exceptions, nonetheless the widespread assumption that both the Church of England and other national institutions ought in their leadership to be closely mirroring the people that they represent may well be, and properly so, a disappointed aspiration.
How do we become churches that produce minority ethnic leaders?
* Do raise the overall level of commitment and expectation.
In other words, simply focussing on ethnic minorities is not the right policy. Ordinands will tend to come (though mercifully not exclusively) from churches where there is overall a strong desire to serve God, and thankfully that emphasis on whole-hearted and whole-life discipleship is growing in the Church of England. The Sewell Report noted, wisely in my opinion, “we think that, with some exceptions, the best and fairest way to address disparities is to make improvements that will benefit everyone, targeting interventions based on need, not ethnicity” (p 53). Just as a rising tide lifts all boats, so stronger and more confident discipleship in the Church of England should be – and already is – generating more minority ethnic ordinands; and, hopefully, also those of white working-class backgrounds.
* Do look out for and nurture potential.
The tide lifts some boats more easily than others! Some people have grown up seeing themselves as leaders. Others need more help and encouragement to have the confidence – and self-discipline – to lead. To that extent ‘colour blind’ policies won’t produce leaders as readily from marginalised backgrounds, by either ethnicity or social class. Rather, more attention needs to be given to encouraging people to take on leadership responsibilities, more care given to nurturing them. White leaders can too easily ‘clone themselves into the future’, both by identifying and identifying with people with similar gifts and capacities to themselves. Developing sharp eyes to see other types of gift, such as forming better and stronger connections with people at an emotional level, or raising the level of responsiveness in worship, may well not come as readily to us. Andy Jolley’s Grove booklet on ‘Growing Leaders from Diverse Cultures’ gives helpful wisdom on the subject.
Diverse leadership springs from a congregational culture that is welcoming to people, both in the initial stages of them first attending church but also in receiving and working with whatever gifts that people bring to serving God. In this respect smaller, local churches can be a more fertile source of vocations than larger congregations where more polished presentation comes to the fore. Certainly, all need ‘safe places’ where people can begin to lead, be less than ideal, and learn from doing.
* Do accept what people can give, not expect what they don’t have.
Leadership needs to be multiple. It is no accident that the church in Antioch in Acts 13:1 both has a group of leaders, and that the group come from a diversity of backgrounds – geographically, socially and ethnically. When I was a vicar I was aware of leaders whose cultural backgrounds gave them a particular capacity in specific respects – of empathy, of instinctive reverence, of inspiration, of cool administrative effectiveness – that benefitted the whole church. In this respect it is limiting to only ordain those with the capacity to carry the load of leading the whole congregation, which will tend to be a certain type of person. We need to foster the gifts that people have, not judge them for the lack of other gifts.
* Do shape church life to be more congruent with minority ethnic cultures.
Despite my strictures on the use of the UKME/GMH label, nonetheless I think there are very broad cultural characteristics that most ethnic minorities have in common over against the English majority. (East Asian cultures may be the strongest exception). ‘Expressiveness’ would be one such characteristic – see my Grove booklet on ‘Worship in a Multi-Ethnic Society’, p10. Other characteristics would be: more authoritarian leadership, greater emphasis on the explicitly supernatural, or the subtle and profound differences encountered in honour/shame cultures. (I am aware that this is a highly compressed listing of broad-brushed and by no means consistent differences, which need working through in detail in future blogs.)
Church leaders need to have these variations constantly at the back of their minds. It is as they are unostentatiously threaded into the worship and ethos of our congregations than an environment is created where minority ethnic people can first be at home, and then begin to emerge as leaders.
Implementing the above ‘Do’s’ is not necessarily a quick process. To become the sort of congregation from which minority ethnic leaders can naturally emerge will take time. That overall we have given so little attention to training clergy to nurture such congregations mean we are well behind where we ought to be in terms of seeing substantial numbers of minority ethnic clergy developing.
However, it is a poor substitute if we simply seek to develop short-cuts. So, following the above four ‘Do’s’ here are two ‘Don’ts’ that the church ought to avoid.
* Don’t set quotas.
As regards society, the Sewell report (p 54) noted that this is not a wise policy. We have seen that the breadth of the differences between individuals from minority ethnic backgrounds – cultural, social, educational - is sufficiently vast to make umbrella terms too weak to be a secure basis for appropriate appointments. It has long been argued, for example, by the conservative black American economist Thomas Sowell, that preferential policies don’t benefit entire ethnic groups, but most often a small, comparatively privileged segment within that group.
When compounded by the very wide diversity of multi-ethnic localities and parishes the consequence is that when pairing a ‘BAME’ minister with a ‘BAME’ parish the likelihood of an appropriate match is not very much greater than appointing an ‘English’ minister.
* Don’t ‘red line’ appointments.
I can think of churches which have sought to balance having one white churchwarden with having one black churchwarden. For reasons given above I think this creates an artificiality about the process which is not helpful. If you end up with two white or with two black churchwardens, so be it – as long as they are the best people for what ought to be a demanding form of lay leadership and ministry. Once an appointment is ethnically ‘red-lined (assuming that is not particularly pertinent for them doing the job) then inevitably there is a question mark against the appointee’s suitability. Did they really get the post just because of their greater abilities, or did their ethnicity swing the decision in their favour?
Often such appointments are made in the interests of the institution (see Blog # 24 on ‘Filling Vacancies’) and its need to put on a good show to impress others outside, or critics within. We need to recognise that poorly grounded appointments can go wrong, especially to the detriment of the person appointed.
Developing leaders from a much wider range of both ethnic and social contexts will enrich the Church of England. But it is by no means an initiative without serious pitfalls. For too long we have worked with the assumption of a normative and homogenous white and formally well-educated church, and have too largely avoided the hard work of preparing ourselves for close engagement with the very wide diversity of England as it is. As the tide of England’s diversity has slowly risen, and then turned into a flood, over the past years, the responsive policy of explicitly aiming for more minority ethnic appointments runs the risk of being a short-term expedient uncertainly built on sand.
Corrections on the Windrush Scandal.
Last week’s criticisms of the response were probably too harsh. I am grateful to the Rev Dr Joe Aldred for the following information:
Latest situation includes:
• 42% of those who have applied for compensation have received a final offer, while 29% of compensation claims have received a payment.
• The 5% figure some news outlets have used is based on the number of payments made against old estimates on the number of people eligible for compensation [which estimated there were around 15,000 people eligible], which we have since revised [to 4,000-6,000] following analysis and insight from extensive outreach and engagement with people affected.
• Since the changes we made to the Scheme in December, the amount of compensation paid has risen from less than £3 million to over £31.6 million, with a further £5.6 million having been offered.
• There is no cap on the amount of compensation we will pay out and we will ensure that members of the Windrush generation receive every penny of compensation that they are entitled to
• Over 13,800 people have been issued with documentation confirming their status or British citizenship.
Had the committee been minded to access UpToDate stats, they are readily available: Windrush Compensation Scheme factsheet - October 2021 - Home Office in the media.