A VICAR who claims he was the victim of repeated racial stereotyping when applying for posts in the Church of England has called on the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to conduct a statutory investigation into racism within the Church.

The Rev Alwyn Pereira, who is of Indo-Portuguese heritage and was born in Kenya, has lived in the UK since 1973 and is currently the vicar of St Michael the Archangel Aldershot, Hampshire.

In a letter to the EHRC, through the vicar’s solicitors, Leigh Day, the Commission has been asked to conduct a statutory investigation into the Church, under section 20 of the Equality Act 2006.

The EHRC is being asked to investigate direct discrimination, harassment and potential victimisation of ethnic minority applicants seeking appointments within the Church. If it finds that the Church of England has breached the Equality Act 2010, the EHRC can make legally binding recommendations and/or enter into legal agreements with the Church on actions it needs to take.

According to the Church’s most recent ministry statistics (2020), whilst congregations are estimated to be 15 per cent Minority Ethnic, the percentage of Minority Ethnic salaried clergy is only 4.1 per cent and they are far more likely to be in junior roles.

The Rev Pereira previously shared his experiences, which led to former Bishop of Bristol, the Right Rev Mike Hill admitting and being rebuked for racial stereotyping, on BBC Panorama.

In the episode Is the Church Racist? Mr Pereira discussed a letter written in 2016 by the then-bishop to a cleric that read: “Having worked very closely with people from the Indian sub-continent in my past, I think there are cultural differences in the way people like Alwyn communicate, and actually handle issues of truth and clarity.”

Pereira also discovered a 2014 email from Bishop Hill which said that his applications were being rejected because they were “culturally eccentric” and noting that “this might well be interpreted as racist”.

When Pereira finished his training in 2015, it took more than two years for him to obtain a post. During this time, he saw white candidates with less experience successfully placed in roles, including some who had positions specifically created for them. He applied several times to become a vicar in Bristol between 2014 and 2017 but was refused permission to officiate. He had been assistant curate at St Edyth’s Church in Sea Mills between 2010 and 2015, then unemployed for the next three years, before finally becoming a vicar in Aldershot in 2018.

Pereira first complained to the Church about the discrimination in 2017, but no action was taken against Hill until after the case was reported in the media in 2020. After going public in 2020, Pereira was contacted by other ethnic minority clergy who had suffered similar experiences.

Pereira said: “Christianity advances a vision of love, dignity and equality of all races. Sadly, this is marred by the Church of England’s acknowledged problem of institutional racism and the unabated injustices it causes. We are having to seek the assistance of the EHRC to confront this problem in the established Church, in our pursuit of justice, dignity, and true Christian love.”

Roshan Croker, a solicitor at Leigh Day said: “The Rev Pereira experienced direct discrimination while looking for roles in the Diocese of Bristol. Sadly, his experience was not unique and there appears to be a wider, systemic problem in the Church’s on-going failure to implement policies and practices that will counter the racism that the Church recognises within itself.

“It is our hope, and the hope of Mr Pereira, that the EHRC will conduct a statutory investigation of the Church in order to ensure that discrimination he and others have experienced doesn’t continue to go unchecked and measures to protect against discrimination are put in place.”

* Source: Leigh Day