Header Photo: Maud Slats
This article is a continuation of the feature “Dismantling Anti-Black Racism: An Interview with Black Anglicans of Canada, Diocese of Rupert’s Land Chapter” published in RLN’s September Issue.
Interview conducted by: Jude Claude and Misha Pensato
Black Anglican Experiences
Given the many instances of anti-blackness experienced by Black Anglicans in the Anglican Church of Canada, the question arises, why stay in the Anglican Church? Members of the Black Anglicans of Canada, Diocese of Rupert’s Land Chapter have diverse backgrounds and experiences, and varying responses to this question. Manswell, James, and Akinwale all express a rootedness in the Anglican church, and experiences of belongingness in the Anglican church in their countries of origin. This is in contrast to experiences of ostracization upon immigrating to Canada and becoming members of the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC). Below are a few accounts given that speak to these experiences.
“In the Anglican Church in Trinidad, for many years we had only white priests–from England and from Ireland–even though our congregations were made up of Black people. Only in the fifties did we start to have Black priests. There was racism in Trinidad: before the fifties, to work in the bank you needed to be white or to look white, but at school or at work, we were all black. It was only when I came here to Canada that I really began to experience and recognize racism. I was christened in the Anglican church. I was confirmed in the Anglican church. I was married in the Anglican church. I came to Canada as an Anglican, I was not looking for a new church denomination. That is why I’m still here. I do have questions, and sometimes I get frustrated with the Anglican church, but I have not had any real reason to leave it.”
Dr. June James:
“My mother was Roman Catholic and my father was Anglican. I went to church with my grandmother. I was her first girl grandchild and she taught me to pray. During the Tridium, on Good Friday we would go in the morning, then again in the afternoon to another where we did the stations of cross. I also went to Bishop Anstey, an Anglican High School in Trinidad. We had daily prayers in the gym, and once a week in the chapel which was bigger than some of the churches in this city. We were all Anglican, mainly Black, some were other People of Color, Chinese or Caucasian. My first communion was celebrated held in that chapel. The family moved to Woodbrook in Trinidad and attended All Saints, whose Minister was the priest for our school. When I arrived in Winnipeg, I lived in the Women’s Residence at U of M so naturally I went to St. John’s Chapel. I also attended St. Margaret’s Anglican Church during summer before starting medical school. In one Winnipeg church community, I was told by a white male member making a comment about how there were ‘too many of those people’ (my friends) attending events at the church. I thought: ‘I am Anglican. I can’t move to another church. Why don’t you leave?’”
Rev. Wilson Akinwale:
“I was born and baptised in the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). My father was an archdeacon and folks often refered to him as a ‘Quintessential Archdeacon.’ He was such a very venerable man indeed! Obviously, I miss him for not being here with us anymore to see the blessing he has been, sharing this story of his good work, through which I am called to be a blessing to others regardless of who they are: their sexual orientation, colour of their skin, culture, language, or identity. He supported women as priests when many thought that women should not be ordained, and he was discriminated against for his positions on women’s ordination and for not being from a central area.
I grew up in the Nigerian Anglican community and followed my father to various churches, especially into the deep end of rural communities in Western Nigeria. People from my hometown of Abeokuta are known for their Anglicanism. The first Anglican Church in Nigeria was established there after the abolition of slavery. I have the gene of Anglicanism. When I was exploring my call to ordination, my father told me ‘If God has called you to do this, follow that path and do it passionately. If God has called you, be faithful to Him.’ I can still remember way back in the day as a young lad growing up in the Church how my beloved father would passionately explain the importance of being a good neighbour. Often times he used the parable of the Good Samaritan, which even today evokes then whole essence my daily living and calling. Anytime I thanked him for helping others he would say, ‘my son go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).
Remembering this often brings tears to my eyes. For me to have such a man as a father who was a blessing, so selfless in service to humanity, not just for personal gratification, but for the sake of who God is as a mirror in every one of us. That is the reason for me being an Anglican. It is a story I have to share and tell anyone who cares to listen. That is why I am here. There is so much Black Anglican history—people whose legacies should be shared. I want to honour them and their memories. And I believe, posterity is waiting to show forth everyone who shows compassion to those who are willing to be a blessing to those with minority voices.”
Experiences of Black Anglican Immigrants in the ACC
Manswell, Akinwale, and James recognize the Anglican church as their own and are assured in their identities as Anglicans. They also recognize that many Black individuals in the ACC end up leaving. In addition to overt instances of anti-blackness experienced in the church, members of the group speak to the disorientation Black Anglican immigrants feel when first encountering the ACC.
Manswell notes that immigrants from Caribbean Anglican communities often find the styles of worship in Canadian Anglican communities somewhat lifeless. She says that “Trinidadian choirs are made up of people of all ages, some of them robed, some of them not. We have choirs that sing and clap, no big organs, but piano and our hymns have rhythm. Our preaching is different too. We refer to the bible more frequently and some priests do not use notes. And visitors are welcomed.” Manswell is careful to note that her home church in Winnipeg, All Saints, has a great choir, but that limited styles of worship may exclude immigrant communities.
Akinwale says similar dynamics are at play for Nigerian immigrants to Canada. He notes that, “Over 8 million Nigerians are Anglicans. When they come to Canada, the Anglican church here does not meet their expectations. It is very different. When they come here and see the way things are, they say ‘no.’ They often don’t know how white people will feel if they say ‘We want to do it this way.’” Akinwale suggests that to counter this marginalisation, church leadership should invite newcomers to be a part of the worship team. “Support them, so that they will be a part of the community. Get them involved. The moment we do that we will begin to see new things,” he says.
The Work to Be Done: Directions Forward
Discussing how to dismantle anti-black racism in the ACC, Rev. Edmund Laldin says, “It’s not necessarily clear what we’re working towards.” For Laldin, having clarity on this would require a large scale analysis of the ACC’s policies. Laldin says the national Black Anglicans group is trying to hire someone who could do precisely that: “That would help determine what our goals will be. There needs to be evidence and foundations to work with. And there has to be a conversation at general Synod.”
Laldin does note some specific actions which can be taken. For instance, he thinks there should be an apology from the national church for histories of systemic racism, and specific acknowledgment of anti-black racism. He stresses the importance of naming the particularity of anti-blackness, alongside other forms of discrimination.
Akinwale anticipates new developments in the Black Anglicans of Canada network. “We have a platform now,” he say, “We have a community and a structure. We have to extend our reach.” Akinwale has himself now been appointed Outreach and Partnership Coordinator for Black Anglicans of Canada, and he is eager to be engaged in the work of welcoming more people into the community.
Recently, Black Anglicans of Canada also received a grant from the ACC’s national office to recruit a consultant whose task is to put together a conference or series of events for the Black Anglican community. Akinwale says that the group is hoping to receive more grants to support their work in the future.
Manswell and James express that they would like more support from the diocese. Both say that they would like to see more Black people participating at all levels of church governance. Akinwale emphasizes this point: “If we want an inclusive church, we have to not just talk, but walk the talk. That’s what Christ did.”