A JAMAICAN government minister has accepted the United Reformed Church’s apology for its role in the transatlantic slave trade. The Hon Olivia Grange, Jamaica’s Minister for Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, encouraged other UK churches, along with the UK government, to also apologise.

Members of the United Reformed Church (URC) travelled to Jamaica earlier this month as part of an ecumenical pilgrimage to learn about the legacies of slavery. Themed around repairing relationships, the trip focused on spiritual reconciliation, as well as meetings with partner churches, the country’s prime minister and other prominent politicians.

Those on the trip included the Rev Dr Tessa Henry-Robinson, URC General Assembly Moderator, Karen Campbell, Secretary for Global and Intercultural Ministries, and Tom Hackett, Southern Synod’s Children’s and Youth Development Officer.

The apology was delivered by Dr Henry-Robinson during an ecumenical service themed ‘Reparation, A Journey Towards Repentance, Repair and Reconciliation’ at Webster Memorial Church in the parish of St Andrew, an area of around the country’s capital, Kingston. It was accepted by the Rev Gary Harriott, Moderator of The United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (UCJCI), a partner of the URC through the Council for World Mission.

Ms Grange encouraged the other churches that sent representatives to Jamaica to witness the historic apology to “signal to your government that the Christian thing to do is to admit culpability by way of an apology and to engage with us to determine the various forms that reparations may take”.

“It is not enough that the enslavers and their descendants should regret the suffering that slavery inflicted on our ancestors”, Ms Grange continued. “When you have done something wrong, you must take responsibility for it, apologise and try to set things right.” The URC’s apology was accompanied by a pledge from the UCJCI to give parcels of land it had received from those who profited from slavery to the most vulnerable.

During the service, Dr Henry-Robinson said that the apology is rooted in the Gospel that calls on sinners to repent of what has been done in the past and to be reconciled.

The apology read: “We, the General Assembly of The United Reformed Church, mindful of our own history and that of our antecedent bodies, apologise for our role in transatlantic slavery and the scars that continue to blight our society, our church, and the lives of black people in our midst and around the globe today. “We have heard the pain of sisters and brothers who have been hurt and are still being hurt by these legacies, including the continuing scourge of racism.”

The in-person apology comes after the URC made a confession and apology for the role of its antecedents in transatlantic slavery and its continuing complicity in the legacies of the trade at its 2022 General Assembly.

In accepting the apology, the Rev Harriott said that the scars of the “barbaric” history of slavery continue to haunt the descendants of the enslaved, noting that much of Jamaica’s policies and economic state are shaped by the legacies of slavery.

“I stand in a posture of thanksgiving to God to receive the apology of our sisters and brothers from the United Reformed Church for the complicity of their forefathers and ‘foremothers’ in the enslavement of other human beings”, the Rev Harriott said.

“We stand grateful because this ecumenical service of worship represents a sign of resurrection, a sign of hope”, he said, adding that he rejoices the church has found the courage to acknowledge its wrongdoings.

“It is our prayer that those who have been dehumanised over centuries and those who continue to experience the impact of enslavement will be equally courageous, inspired by the spirit of God, to share in the journey demanding justice and affirming peace. This is resurrection, this is hope.” He also invited other members of faith, as well as governments, to offer reparation.

The Rev Dr Tessa Henry-Robinson said: “This pilgrimage to Jamaica has been profoundly eye-opening and represents a significant step towards healing and reconciliation. I am deeply moved by the gracious acceptance of the United Reformed Church’s apology by Jamaica’s Minister for Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, which underscores the transformative power of acknowledging historical wrongs and expressing genuine remorse.

“Journeying with our hosts, the Churches Reparation Action Forum, in the way we have been, has made it clear that such acknowledgements are crucial for forging right relationships and paving a way forward. Reflecting on our experiences and the warm reception from the Jamaican community, I strongly advocate that other churches also acknowledge their roles in the trafficking and enslavement of Africans. It is only with acknowledgement and apology that we can begin to work towards helping to repair the breach and move towards achieving true reconciliation and unity.”

Karen Campbell, the URC’s Secretary for Global and Intercultural Ministries, said: “This pilgrimage has been truly meaningful. It has included great joy and deep lament. We have been welcomed by a people whose lives and land are scarred by a history of brutal enslavement and colonialism, a people who have received us warmly even while knowing that Britain took the lead in that history, and that the Church was hugely complicit in those endeavours.

“If we were in any doubt, in Jamaica, we see why the URC’s engagement with the legacies of transatlantic slavery matters. Our apology matters – to help bring about healing of relationships; and our commitment to acts of repairing justice is essential to contribute to healing the societal scars.

“Our hosts have described us as ‘trailblazers’, thanking us for our courage in confronting our history and seeking a new way forward – and praying that other UK churches might do the same.We pray so too – because lament and healing are needed on both sides of the Atlantic; on both sides of our horrific shared history.”

* Read the URC’s confession and apology for the role of its antecedents in transatlantic slavery, and its continuing complicity in the legacies of the trade today here.

* Source: The United Reformed Church