Black Lives MAtter: MY EXPERIENCE OF RACISM AND Christian MINISTRY
Like many people, my heart sank when I saw the video footage with the tragic passing of George Floyd in May 2020. This followed Ahmaud Arbery being fatally shot while jogging and the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor by the police whilst she was asleep in her home. Following the deaths of these black people in America, Christian Cooper shared a video of him asking Amy Cooper (no relation) to put her dog on the lead (in an area where this was a requirement) and Amy is heard saying "I'm going to [call the police and] tell them there's an African American man threatening my life."
“That happened in America, this doesn’t happen in the UK” is a statement I have heard and read many times over the past month. But unfortunately, that’s not the case. Black people are more than nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people (Ministry of Justice), BAME people make up 25% of the prison population (increasing to 50% in young offender’s institutions) despite representing just 14% of the population (Ministry of Justice), and black people are twice as likely to die in police custody (IOPC).
This is all in the current context of a global pandemic where black people are disproportionately affected - black people are four times more likely to die from COVID-19, The Office of National Statistics finds.
Racism in Christian ministry
I am a licensed lay worker, and soon to be Evangelist in Training, with Church Army. I am also a black woman. I have been on the receiving end of some ignorant, offensive and downright silly questions and statements over my lifetime, even when working in churches.
The latest ministry statistics show that only 3.9 per cent of the 7,700 stipendiary clergy in the Church of England are from BAME backgrounds (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic - a catch-all term for anyone who isn’t white).
This has represented my experience in churches around the UK where I have attended and also those who I applied for jobs with. Of course, I may not have been the ‘right person for the job’ – but something in me will always wonder whether my colour (or gender – or both…) is the reason I was not successful. And this isn’t just a feeling, and it isn’t just my experience either.
I have been told I am not the “right fit for the team”, “came across as ‘over-confident’”, “just not right for this role”. I was very disappointed to read of Augustine Tanner-Ihm who posted about his rejection for a curacy position on social media, with one of the reasons given being ‘because of the demographic of the parish’. I have never been given the reason was rejected for a job as being because of my gender or ethnicity, but I too have had similar conversations to Augustine when asking for further feedback, especially when I suspected that race was an issue.
Rejection is subtly done, but it’s done and often leaves the candidate with a negative memory of that experience. It’s unfortunate, but I believe we have a fight against institutional racism in the church, as well as in the police.
Chi-Chi Nwanoku MBE, says, ‘Young black people of today don’t need equality, they need equity. What’s the difference? Equality is when you give everyone the same thing, regardless of what they need. Equity is when you give people what they need so that they’re on the same level as everyone else’. Gaslighting is a term usually used to describe one person’s efforts to gain control by undermining another person’s sense of reality. My belief is that the black experience has lacked equity and has been gaslighted.
Racism and my ministry
So, what does that mean for me in my ministry as a disciple of Christ, and more specifically as an evangelist?
When I first found out about Church Army I was struck with the vision: ‘…for everyone everywhere to encounter God's love and be empowered to transform their communities through faith shared in words and action’. I’ve found a Christian organisation where I can reach outside the walls of the church and tell people about Jesus.
I know the Great Commission of Matthew 28 and the authority I have from Jesus to: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you’. But I still have to consider where I go, whether I will be made welcome, and whether I can make a difference to the community there as a black, female evangelist.
I am blessed to have been appointed as Pioneer Evangelist in the Hackney Centre of Mission. Hackney has the most multicultural demographic of any place I have worked. The 2011 Census estimates that around 40% of the population come from black and minority ethnic groups. An estimated 100 languages are spoken.
Ephesians 2:11–16 explains how a new humanity, in light of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, should be. The Passion Translation verses 15-16 puts it beautifully:
‘Ethnic hatred has been dissolved by the crucifixion of his precious body on the cross. The legal code that stood condemning every one of us has now been repealed by his command. His triune essence has made peace between us by starting over - forming one new race of humanity, Jews and non-Jews fused together! Two have now become one, and we live restored to God and reconciled in the body of Christ. Through his crucifixion, hatred died.’
These verses are how I conduct my ministry in the multicultural area of Hackney. It’s also how I hope the church will one day look – where ethnic hatred no longer exists, and we are united, restored, and reconciled to each other through Christ. Like every person who was ever born, we are ALL created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) which is why black lives matter. And why my life matters.
I have learned how to deal with my fear, stress and mental-health problems which have been caused - deliberately or not - by racism. I have been really pleased that several non-black people have contacted me to check how I am doing and to pray with me recently. I hope these comments and messages of support come with a genuine care for long term change and action.
I’m not going to offer resources or recommend how we should combat racism within the church – there’s plenty out there if you look. Instead, I wanted to share with you a little of my experience of being a black woman in Christian ministry and hope that you hear my voice.
3 July 2020
Andrena is Pioneer Evangelist for the Hackney Centre of Mission. The purpose of her role is to focus on reaching unchurched young people 11+. She comes from a Jamaican heritage, is a passionate youth worker, loves cake, and loves watching shows at the theatre.
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