The Very Rev Rogers Govender, Dean of Manchester and the only Black cathedral dean has challenged the country's cathedrals to reduce black invisibility at all levels within the church.
During the debate, The Dean recounted his own experience in coming to England from South Africa.
“I came to England for my first parish job and was questioned about a lot of things. Then I was asked if I had any questions. I asked ‘are there any people of colour in the congregation’. ‘Yes, we do.’ I asked, ‘Do they have any involvement in leadership?’”
Their answer was revealing. No-one had thought to ask them.
“Black folk had never been asked to be lay ministers, carry the cup, read lessons," Govender said at the debate. "They were invisible. How many are around you in this cathedral today? Look around and see. It is a bit like Jesus and the story of Nathaniel, an Israelite in which there was no guile. Jesus noticed him because he was not invisible to God.”
Talking to Sight later, Govender said that “as soon as I was appointed to the church, I worked with my colleagues to get Black people involved".
"I identified and trained the first Black Reader in the parish. This Reader hadn’t thought she could be involved and was bowled over to be asked. I helped her through the training and licensing involved to become a Reader, a senior lay minister in the Church of England. When asked, people will come forward.”
He added that "increasing numbers are now doing so".
"We have to find ways in which they can be of service. I was pleased to see how inclusive it was at Newcastle Cathedral [which hosted the conference]. There were brown and Black faces in the choir. I am encouraged by that. After the debate, people were saying that they wanted to go back to their dioceses and see how they could be more inclusive. My challenge is to make sure that there are more black faces at the next conference.”
Govender was appointed Dean of Manchester in January, 2006, after spending almost 20 years as a parish priest, initially in South Africa and later in Manchester in England. As dean, he has spearheaded extensive change in the outreach ministry of the cathedral, involving other faith communities and community groups.
“We have a diverse BAME [Black, Asian and minority ethnic] team at Manchester and I help BAME people from around the country to be involved," he said. "I accept that some cathedrals, especially rural ones, may not have many BAME in their congregations, but they need to remember that the cathedral is the mother church of a diocese, and that they have a wider audience. Cathedrals have to encourage BAME involvement. I will be speaking to other deans of cathedrals over the coming months, and encouraging greater diversity, providing support for them as needed.”
“Lack of awareness and diversity is not a UK problem. It is found everywhere. My message is not just for UK cathedrals, but for everyone.”