IN a letter published in The Guardian on 12 June, the Rev Dr Tessa Henry-Robinson, Moderator of the United Reformed Church (URC) General Assembly, responded to a suggestion that it was absurd for her as a Black British woman to deliver the URC’s apology to Black Jamaicans.

The letter comes after Dr Robert Beckford, a theologian and broadcaster, wrote an article published on 4 June, titled ‘Will the Anglican church come clean and pay its debt over slavery? Not from what we have seen so far’. In the article Dr Beckford said: “Jamaicans were perturbed by the existential absurdity of seeing [Revd] Dr Tessa Henry-Robinson, a Black British woman and the current leader of the denomination – herself a descendant of the Caribbean’s enslaved – delivering its apology to Black Jamaicans”.

Explaining why she was the right person to deliver the URC’s slavery apology, Henry-Robinson responded by letter, saying: “Beckford critiques my role as a Black woman delivering the apology, overlooking my extensive background and connection as a Trinbagonian woman of Caribbean descent. Delivering the apology in Jamaica was a profound act of healing, and not just symbolic. My engagement in Jamaica with stakeholders including local leaders, church leaders, Prof Hilary Beckles and the Churches’ Reparations Action Forum underscores the depth of this commitment.

“It is necessary to clarify my identity and role. The suggestion that a white person might have been more suitable to apologise perpetuates a harmful ‘white saviour’ narrative. As the elected moderator, it was my duty and right to deliver this apology, representing not only the church but also my personal, historical connection to the issue.

“This work is not just institutional but personal. I am a descendant of the enslaved, from a region marked by a legacy of resistance and struggle for justice. This history informs my work and teachings in the UK, making me uniquely positioned to deliver the apology. I invite Beckford and the Guardian to engage more deeply with the URC and other communities for a fuller understanding of the complexities involved in this journey towards reconciliation and justice.”

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

In addition to the apology, the Church made a commitment to undertake practical actions to address “the continuing negative impacts of the legacies of transatlantic slavery on black communities in the UK, the Caribbean and Africa”.

In April, members of the URC, including Dr Henry-Robinson, travelled to Jamaica 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.

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, close to the country’s capital, Kingston.

The apology was accepted by the Hon. Olivia Grange, Jamaica’s Minister for Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, who encouraged other UK churches, along with the UK government, to also apologise.

* Read Dr Robert Beckford’s article here.

* Source: United Reformed Church