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Archbishops’ challenge to consider the lessons of the slave trade’s legacies

 

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York are asking people to take time this coming weekend to reflect on the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade and use the anniversary of the Act for its abolition as a springboard for taking action to tackle the impact of the trade’s legacies today, including examples of human trafficking and oppression across the globe.

The Archbishops’ call for the commemoration of the Bicentenary of the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade to be an agent for change in society comes as they prepare to lead hundreds of people, including foreign dignitaries and leaders of other Churches, through London on Saturday (24th March) for a Walk of Witness to mark the landmark anniversary. The event follows the apology given by the Church of England for its role in the slave trade, which the General Synod debated in February 2006.

Stressing the importance of using the Bicentenary to begin a process of healing, Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, writes in the foreword to the walk’s programme: “Some have said they see no need for the apology made last year by the General Synod for the role the Church played in the slave trade. But when we acknowledge historic injustices inflicted in the name of the Church, this is a vital part of our life as members of the body of Christ, a body that exists through time as well as across geographical and ethnic boundaries. This important anniversary, when we recall both the shameful history of the slave trade and its modern legacies, presents us with an opportunity to open up that past to the healing power of Christ.”

In his introductory text, Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, writes: “For me, Faith is the spiritual engine of change. Thank God that old dualism between the personal and social gospel is breaking down. We need to rediscover a new faith-based movement for social and economic justice, which has hope, rather than anger, at its core.

“I believe that movement is the Church and it is my hope that as we commemorate the achievements of the abolitionists over the coming months we might also re-dedicate ourselves to being that change which we want to see in the world.”

The first leg of the Walk of Witness begins at 12.15pm at Whitehall Place, London. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York will be joined by the Archbishop of the West Indies, the Most Revd Drexel Gomez, and the Archbishop of West Africa, the Most Revd Dr Justice Akrofi, alongside representatives of foreign governments including the Republic of Ghana; the Republic of The Gambia; the United Republic of Tanzania; the Democratic Republic of Congo; the Republic of Cuba; and the Netherlands. The Lord Mayor of Westminster and the Leader of Lambeth Council will also be present.

The walk includes the culmination of the March of the Abolitionists - a group of walkers who have worn yokes and chains during a 250-mile journey beginning in Hull. When the walkers reach Victoria Tower Gardens, the Archbishop of the West Indies will release them from their chains.

Having crossed the Thames, the Archbishops will pause by the river on the south Embankment and lead prayers while holding a wreath marked with ‘2704’, the number of ships which departed from London’s docks destined to carry slaves during the Transatlantic slave trade. Two young people will then take the wreath down a jetty into a boat, which will then move away from the riverbank and pause for a commemorative silence before continuing down river towards the docks. The wreath will later be taken to Westminster Abbey for the national service to mark the Bicentenary, taking place on Tuesday (27th March).

The other start point for walkers marking the anniversary will be William Wilberforce’s church, Holy Trinity Clapham, where a short service will take place at 1pm before walkers set off for Kennington Park led by Bishops from the Diocese of Southwark. These walkers will join those starting from Whitehall when the two groups meet at the park for an open-air Act of Worship at 2.30pm.

The Act of Worship will be preceded by a medley of songs sung by Nu4rm - a gospel and jazz group comprising of ten singers and a five-piece band – and the choir of St Martin-in-the-Fields Girls’ School. As walkers from both start points gather in front of the stage, the fifteen-minute drama ‘Amazing Grace’ will be performed by students from Harris sports college, Rugby. Following this, Abigail Kelly will sing the Aria ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’ from Handel's Messiah.

As part of the service, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York will each offer a reflection on the themes of the Walk, while the gathered crowd will sign postcards as part of a campaign organised by Anti-Slavery International calling for measures to better understand the Transatlantic Slave Trade, redress its legacies, and end modern day slavery. The walkers will be invited to place their signed Declarations into buckets which will be presented to the Archbishop of the West Indies and the Archbishop of West Africa before being delivered to Anti-Slavery International. This will be followed by a silence of one minute.

A dedicated website, www.makingourmark.org.uk, contains full details of the routes, answers to frequently asked questions and the opportunity for people to sign up to join the walk.