URC apologises for historic links to transatlantic slavery

Tue 12 Jul 2022 by Donna Birrell

The United Reformed Church (URC) has made a confession and apology for its historic links to transatlantic slavery and its continuing complicity in the legacies of the trade today.

At its recent General Assembly in Swanwick, the Church passed two resolutions on the subject and also 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”.

The General Assembly recognised that although the URC did not exist at the time of slavery, it was formed in a society that benefited from the profits of transatlantic slavery and still continues to do so, and the fact that some of its forebears were slave traders and apologists of the slave trade.

General Assembly Moderator Rev Fiona Bennett, with Rev Adrian Bulley, Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship), gave the apology: “We, the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church, mindful of our own history and that of our antecedent bodies, wish to confess and apologise for our role in transatlantic slavery, and the scars which continue to blight our society, our Church, and the lives of black people in our midst and around the globe today. 

“This action is firmly rooted in the gospel call to repentance and gives life to the commitment in our Basis of Union to be ‘formed in obedience to the call to repent of what has been amiss in the past and to be reconciled.’ 

“As a conciliar Church, we have listened to one another as we received the report of Mission Committee on the ongoing legacies of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. 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. 

“We have heard God in Christ speaking to us at what we believe to be a Kairos moment. In a spirit of humility and vulnerability, we are urged on by a movement of God’s Spirit, calling us for a journey of words and actions towards a future built on equity, justice, and love.”

The resolutions were brought to Assembly by Karen Campbell, Secretary for Global and Intercultural Ministries, and Sarah Lane Cawte, Convenor of Mission Committee, together with Professor David Reynolds, Convenor of the Legacies of Slavery Task Group, following work by the Legacies of Slavery Task Group.

Campbell said: “The hurt of slavery is still real for millions of people. You may not see the wounds bleeding, but they are still not healed. I was born in Britain, but I stand before you as someone who belongs nowhere. I’m cut off from my history, with no way of knowing something as basic as my true family name, and this is a legacy of transatlantic slavery. 

“As Christians, we follow Jesus and where does Jesus lead if not to abundant life for all people equally? If one part of Christ’s body hurts, all parts hurt. There are parts of our body that have been hurting for centuries.”

Lane Cawte added: “This is a significant moment for the URC. Sometimes we have to do things that are difficult and that are hard for some to understand because these are the right and just things to do. We hope this marks a point in our history from which we can move forward together, committed to healing divisions in our church, in our communities, and in those countries most affected by the evils of the transatlantic slave trade.” 

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Post expires on September 18th, 2022