Encouraging Diversity when: “Your words say I am welcome but the situation says I am not.”
Encouraging diversity in our churches is a bigger issue than just seeking more BAME (Black and Ethnic Minority) vocations, but that is a key part of diocesan vocations policy alongside encouraging more and younger vocations. In time, this should produce a church which more readily reflects the population it seeks to serve, better fitting it to that task.
A one-day conference aimed primarily at encouraging BAME vocations in the diocese drew 30 participants. The Church of England’s National Minority Ethnic Vocations Officer, Rosemarie Davidson-Gotobed, was the main speaker.
The core problem is the reported experience of many in the Church who do not fit the mould of white, male and middle class: “Your words say I am welcome but the situation says I am not.”
The conference studied survey data showing where people from ethnic minorities are to be found, as worshippers and as leaders in our churches. It then considered how diversity and inclusion might be encouraged. The keynote address was on unconscious bias, followed by a session on encouraging vocations to ministry.
Beyond the confines of vocations officers and advisers and those professionally encouraging vocations in the church, this topic is relevant to everybody in the church. First, because we can all have a role affirming, encouraging and welcoming people into church in the first place, before we concern ourselves with encouraging their vocations.
As Canon Tim Lomax, Director of Mission, puts it: “If we believe we are made in the image and likeness of God than we can also believe that we can show his extravagant hospitality to others. God includes us without missing a beat and is motivated by the conscious bias of loving all of creation. We urgently need to rediscover this spirit of hospitality in both nation and church.”
Rosemarie Davidson-Gotobed, the Church’s National Minority Ethnic Vocations Officer, says:
“The subtlety of bias is often so slight as to be unnoticed by those perpetrating it, which makes it all the more important that we are able to identify our own unconscious bias. This applies to each one of us, but is particularly true for those who act as gatekeepers to formal vocations in the Church. Unknowingly turning away talent hinders the excluder as well as the excluded. Bias must be overcome, and our leadership demonstrably more inclusive, if the Church is to fulfill its mission to be a light to all people.
Here’s the science bit. As we go through life, our brain is continually required to make a tremendous number of decisions. In order to cope, many of these judgments are made unconsciously and instantaneously. This is generally a good thing. Just think how little we would get done if all of our unconscious behaviour required the careful weighing up associated with deliberate decision making. However, the inherent problem is that because these assessments are really assumptions, based on our background, cultural environment and personal experience, they often end up being flawed. Take a look at this video produced by the Royal Society to see what I mean:
As a Church, we preach that all are welcome, but the lack of visible role models can make it difficult for people to feel they truly belong. This video, presented to General Synod two years ago, captures this feeling well:
All of us have a perspective. None of us are immune from it. It doesn’t make you a bad person, but it is something you should reflect on. A good test then to overcome it is to take a step back and ask oneself, would I have thought the same if this person looked or sounded like me?
By asking this question we move towards inclusion. Inclusion is different to diversity. Diversity is the mix, inclusion is how we make it work. Diversity is a given, inclusion is a choice.”