Correction. It has been pointed out that I should have included the suffragan bishop of Bradwell, Dr John Perumbalath of Chelmsford diocese, in my list of BAME bishops. Thank you to those who pointed this out, I am happy to correct this error.
One of my jobs recently has been to go through all the diocesan websites. I was looking for information on suffragan bishops, particularly contact information. The information can be found here. Certainly what I found, or didn’t find, was very revealing, both about the national Church of England and the local dioceses. I will look at just two issues, race and power.
Going through all the pages for the suffragan bishops, showed them to be very white. Going through every diocese, there were only three suffragan bishops of colour. Now, I admit that I am judging by their appearance and it is possible that someone identifies themselves differently, but pictures can speak volumes. The recent twitter row caused by the front page of the 3 July 2020 edition of the Church Times showing a large collection of all white bishops shows the problem.
The full archive edition can be accessed here.
Now that archbishop Sentamu has retired, the fact is that there is nobody of Diocesan level or above who is a person of colour. With only three bishops at the next level down, there is a significant problem with race in the Church of England.
The three bishops are the bishop of Woolwich (Southwark diocese), Dr Karowei Dorgu, the bishop of Loughborough (Leicester diocese) Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani and the bishop of Dover (Canterbury diocese) Rose Hudson-Wilkin. Even at the level of Cathedral deans there is an under representation, only the dean of Manchester, Rogers Govender, is a person of colour.
There are many clergy who are people of colour and who are more than qualified for senior roles and this lack of representation needs to be urgently addressed. There is one diocesan vacancy at the moment, in Chelmsford, and others will occur so the opportunities to promote excellent BAME candidates will arise.
In his recent book Ghost Ship: Institutional Racism and the Church of England Azariah France-Williams argues that it is not enough to recruit [promote] more ‘black or brown’ people, the church must change the system itself. This needs the people in power to change.
Knowledge is power. Whoever controls knowledge has power over those who do not have that knowledge. The Church of England nationally is very good at not being transparent, the recent safeguarding issues over the secretive core groups shows how far the church has to go to reach the standard of openness of secular practice.
Some of the diocesan websites are clear, informative and easy to use. However, it is clear that some dioceses view access to information as something that needs to be carefully controlled. Just looking for something straightforward like how to contact a suffragan bishop gave me a whole range of sites, from those that gave email address, phone number, mobile number, correspondence address, twitter handle, facebook account, YouTube channel, blog and Instagram account to those websites where you would never know they even had bishops!
If you cannot get hold of a bishop then you cannot hold them to account for their actions or lack of action. You cannot enter into a dialogue with someone who hides behind a website contact form or a secretary’s email.
The most easily accessible was the bishop of Ramsbury, Dr Andrew Rumsey, in Salisbury diocese for an impressive array of social media accounts, his own YouTube channel, a blog as well as email and phone numbers. Clear websites, with easy to find information, include Canterbury, Gloucester, Lichfield, Rochester and Norwich, everything I wanted was accessible in one click from the drop-down menus on the opening page. Well designed and confident.
Unfortunately things were not nearly so good in other places. Visiting the websites of Blackburn, St Albans and Sheffield, you could validly wonder if they even have bishops. Sheffield had an unlabelled icon of a church and outbuilding which led to the page about the diocese and this had a menu which linked to bishops and even then, only the link to the diocesan bishop worked. St Albans really needs to work on their menus. Whereas in Blackburn, I eventually managed to find a link in a drop-down menu that was ‘Meet the bishop’s leadership team’, and I know enough about church codes to realise that there might be a bishop in there somewhere. Finally I could see who they were, but could only email their secretary.
Derby and Truro seemed to have lost their suffragans entirely. I had to use search engines to hunt for them. The bishop of St Germans was consecrated weeks ago and announced a long time before that, so there has been a long time to get him at least an email address. And what about the vanishing bishop of Repton?
What does it say about power relationships in the Winchester diocese that the suffragan bishop information is a page linked from the page of the Diocesan bishop? Suggests a visible hierarchy at least.
Then there is what websites say or conveniently do not say about things like marital status.
Taken as a whole, the availability of information is very patchy. In my own diocese, trying to get a map of where the new deanery boundaries were proved highly contentious. A view of ‘everyone who needs to know already knows’ seemed to prevail. Yet some diocesan websites have all that information and more readily available for anyone to view. In the modern world transparency and accountability are good things which help to prevent the abuse and misuse of power and aid in getting greater diversity.