A NEW EXHIBITION revealing the Church of England’s links to historic transatlantic slavery opens today (12 January) in Lambeth Palace Library. The exhibition uses items from the Library’s archives which have been studied by the Church Commissioners for England, as part of their research for a new report published on 10 January.

The report follows an interim announcement in June 2022, which reported for the first time that the Church Commissioners’ endowment had historic links to transatlantic chattel slavery. The endowment traces its origins partly to Queen Anne’s Bounty, a fund established in 1704.

The new exhibition, Enslavement: Voices from the Archives, includes early 18th century ledgers from Queen Anne’s Bounty. There is also an anonymous letter written by an enslaved person in 1723 to the ‘Archbishop of London’, the earliest known such advocacy for freedom.

A missionary book from 1808 published specifically for enslaved and former enslaved people will also be on display. This book contained selected sections of the Bible, deliberately edited to remove all references to freedom from slavery.

In 2019 the Church Commissioners decided to conduct research into the source of its endowment fund, to know its past better in order to understand its present and to ensure that the Church Commissioners continues to support the Church of England’s work and mission in the future as best it can. The Church Commissioners worked with forensic accountants to review financial ledgers and other original documents from the archives.

In response to the findings, the Church Commissioners’ Board has committed itself to trying to address some of the past wrongs by investing in a better future. It will seek to do this through committing £100 million of funding, delivered over the next nine years commencing in 2023, to a programme of investment, research and engagement.

A new oversight group will be formed during 2023 with significant membership from communities impacted by historic slavery. This group will work with the Church Commissioners on shaping and delivering the response, listening widely to ensure this work is done sensitively and with accountability.

The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Rev Dr David Walker, Deputy Chair of the Church Commissioners, said: “It is important for the Church Commissioners to understand and be transparent about our past so we can best support the mission and ministry of the Church of England, today and in the future. Discovering that the Church Commissioners’ predecessor fund had links to transatlantic chattel slavery is shaming and we are deeply sorry. We will seek to address past wrongs by investing in a better future, which we plan to do with the response plan announced today, including the £100 million funding commitment we are making. We hope this will create a lasting positive legacy, serving and enabling communities impacted by slavery.

“We recognise this investment comes at a time when there are significant financial challenges for many people and churches, and when the Church has commitments to address other wrongs from our past. We remain fully committed to our work to support the mission and ministry of the Church of England and we believe that this research and our planned response will help us to do so today and into the future.”

The exhibition at Lambeth Palace Library runs from 12 January to 31 March 2023 and can be visited 9:30am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Admission is free.

* Read Church Commissioners’ research into historic links to transatlantic slavery here.

* More information on Lambeth Palace Library here.

* Source: Church of England