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UK News

Black ordinand speaks of hurt at rejection from curacy at white majority parish

by Cara Bentley

Augustine Tanner-Ihm has explained how he feels after receiving a rejection letter from a church he applied to be a curate in. 

Last week, Premier reported on the email Tanner-Ihm, a 29-year-old black American man, got from a church, which read: "the demographic of the parish is monochrome white working class, where you might feel uncomfortable."

Curacy in the Church of England is a post taken up after ordination, often supporting the vicar pastorally and getting preaching experience before they may become a vicar themselves.

Tanner-Ihm, originally from Chicago but studying at Cramner Hall Theological College in Durham, told Premier: "First and foremost, I love the church. I think the church is God's vessel for transformation in the world, it is the bride of Christ and therefore I love the church.

"But I think assuming about my experience as a black man being uncomfortable was at best trying to be pastoral and at worst just quite naïve - I'm trying to be incredibly gracious with that."

The Church of England church's second reason for not giving him the post was because they felt the incumbent vicar was not experienced enough to train him, which he described as "legitimate" and "happens all the time."

However, he said that their self-stated primary reason - that he would feel uncomfortable - was particular upsetting. 

"The thing that quite hurt for me was: my UK experience has been mostly white working-class communities! I am from an adoptive family so my mother and father are white, my three brothers are white and most of my life has been in white working-class communities in Liverpool, East London, Dorset and the northeast of England. 

"It's been exciting and I've been absolutely loving it without a doubt so I was just surprised that it was an assumption made without any conversation."

Rt Revd Chris Goldsmith, the Church of England's Director of Ministry, responded last week, saying: "We take very seriously any allegation that a curacy post may have been denied to someone primarily on the grounds of their ethnic heritage.  

"We urgently want to seek clarity from the diocese which sent him the letter as to why it contains statements that are plainly unacceptable."

"We recognise that the Church of England has a lot more work to do to become a place where our leadership is representative of the rich heritages of all the people of England."
The local church in question had more correspondence with Tanner-Ihm at the time, which (in his own words), he summarised as saying: "'We're really sorry that you felt that way, how you interpret that email but know that we've had unconscious bias training and we champion any black and ethnic minority person in ordination and we definitely will fight for any discrimination that comes across our path. But we wish you well and we pray for your future' - It was a very nice email but I don't think it really did what I wanted it to do necessarily."

Tanner-Ihm is now seeking opportunities outside the church as well, due to the uncertainty of coronavirus. 
He said since sharing his story he has found lots of Asian and black clergy who have shared their stories with him and have offered support, which he has "appreciated very much". 

Speaking about how white Christians can respond to racism, he referenced the moment Jesus weeps with Mary and Martha at the death of their brother Lazarus, who he knows he is about to rise from the dead: "Weep with your brown and black brothers and sisters, who struggle and experience these things."

He added that Christians can gently rebuke brothers and sisters if they hear jokes or racist comments, as they would with other statements that don't treat people like the image of God.

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