Apologies, reparations, awareness


By Kathleen Ziffo (From Seeds March 2022)

In November 2019 the URC Global and Intercultural Ministries set up a Task Group to consider the involvement of our churches and individuals in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. They explored its past and current effects and what we might do to counter any perceived white privilege now.

This followed a 2017 Council for World Mission ‘Legacy of Slavery’ Project in which the URC was involved. The URC’s own group is coordinating four ‘hearings’ in those four areas mainly involved in the Transatlantic Slave Trade: the UK, Ghana, Jamaica and the USA.

At our own recent Church Meeting, our minister played a video in which the URC’s Secretary of Global and Intercultural Ministries, Karen Campbell (pictured right), told us about the work and findings so far. Since 2019 investigations and recommendations have taken place in three areas, though progress has been slowed by the Covid Pandemic.


Firstly it was recognised that (despite misgivings by some people that it might not be possible to apologise for something committed by antecedents) there should be Confession and sincere Apology for the movement of over 800,000 people across the Atlantic into slavery (for those who managed to survive the appalling sea crossings). An apology should also be made for our continuing complicity in racial injustice to this day.


It might surprise and horrify you (it did me) that payments made in 1833 to slave owners for the loss of their ’property’ – i.e. slaves – which ‘completely damaged’ their trade amounted at the time to £20 million (valued today at £30 billion). This resulted in repayments of loans made in 1833 continuing until 2015! Slaves, on their eventual release, received no apology, no monetary help to establish their lives, no reparations, or for any of their ancestors and home countries. How could and should we make reparation now?


How can we put things right today, as there is surely ongoing discrimination by many (most?) and a culture of white privilege? Any dispute about this can be ‘put to bed’ as this can be measured – seen – by the fact that such an unequally high proportion of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people in the UK have poorer education and live with fewer jobs and less advancement, poorer pay, worse housing, and worse health (obviously seen in the Covid Pandemic) than their white counterparts. The hurt has always been there for BAME people but they could no longer keep quiet, especially since 2019 and following the global pandemic, George Floyd’s death in May 2020, and the Black Lives Matter campaign. The URC has heard that pain!

There are to be further consultations for churches in our synods, before the group makes recommendations and concrete proposals at General Assembly in July 2022. The Church should be seen as a mirror of what is right, but too often in the past it has been a mirror of society.

Please look out for these discussions and help us make our contributions.