Africans and Caribbeans 'alienated' by Westminster Abbey slavery service, say evangelicals

By staff writers
March 30, 2007

Christian leaders have said the Church of England has a lesson to learn from a Westminster Abbey Abolition service which alienated a number of the people it intended to represent.

Katei Kirby, Chief Executive of the African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance and Joel Edwards, General Director of the Evangelical Alliance, who were included in the service, said that it missed the opportunity to deeply reflect the sentiments of the African and Caribbean communities.

Toyin Agbetu, 39, a campaigner for African-British human rights organisation Ligali, shouted “this is an insult to us,” as worshippers – including the Queen and Prime Minister – read a section of liturgy confessing their sins.

The Revs Kirby and Edwards said that although they disagreed with the form of protest, they thought the lack of a formal state apology meant many of the worshippers, black and white, would have identified with the sentiments expressed.

Rev Kirby said: “A significant number of Africans and Caribbeans who attended the service share the view that it was an important and appropriate event to have, but feel quite strongly that there was insufficient opportunity for inclusion and due recognition of the impact of the slave trade on our history and heritage.”

She added that the pain of the legacy of slavery is still very real in many African and Caribbean communities, and more needs to be done by all Christians and all political parties to hear and heal that pain.

“The language used throughout the liturgy could – and in my view should – have been part of that process, but sadly in some places, it was not, and gave rise to the feelings of alienation and misrepresentation that were voiced by the protester in the service,” she said.

“I hope that valuable lessons will be learnt for the future.”

Rev Edwards said the event could have found a way to more effectively harmonise the liturgy with the pain felt today by those who are still waiting for an act of apology from the state.

“The Church of England needs to learn how to be the Church for England,” he said. “There should have been some space to depart from the script and speak the unscripted language of the heart.

“The protest was a master-stroke of opportunism, but, as we experienced a beautifully choreographed act of worship, it was an important reminder that pain cannot be choreographed,” he said.

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