UK church group issues apology for slavery

Pledges parcels of land to the most vulnerable

The following article is republished from The Jamaica Observer and was written on April 15, 2024 by Tamoy Ashman. 

Meadowbrook Prep School dancers perform at Sunday’s ecumenical service at Webster Memorial Church in St Andrew where The United Reformed Church in the United Kingdom issued an official apology to Jamaica, the Caribbean, and Africa for its role in the transatlantic slave trade. (Photo: Naphtali Junior)

The United Reformed Church in the United Kingdom on Sunday issued a solemn apology to Jamaica, the Caribbean, and Africa for its role in the transatlantic slave trade, regarded by many as the greatest crime against humanity.

The apology was accompanied by a pledge from The United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands to give parcels of land it had received from those who profited from slavery to the most vulnerable.

During an ecumenical service held under the theme: ‘Reparation, A Journey Towards Repentance, Repair and Reconciliation’ at Webster Memorial Church in St Andrew, the UK church group acknowledged the harrowing legacy of slavery — that subjected millions of men, women and children to backbreaking labour, violence, and dehumanisation — and expressed regret for the actions of their ancestors.

The apology was read by Reverend Tessa Robinson, moderator of The United Reformed Church UK and accepted by Rev Gary Harriott, moderator of The United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

Robinson said that the apology is rooted in the gospel that calls on sinners to repent of what has been done in the past and to be reconciled.

“We, the general assembly of The United Reformed Church, mindful of our own history and that of our antecedent bodies, apologise for our role in transatlantic slavery and the scars that continue to blight our society, our church, and the lives of black people in our midsts and around the globe today. We have heard the pain of sisters and brothers who have been hurt and are still being hurt by these legacies, including the continuing scourge of racism,” the apology read.

The United Reformed Church comprises various denominations across England, Scotland, and Wales who benefited financially from the slavery through donations.

In its apology the church acknowledged its “share in and benefit from our nation’s participation and that of some of our own antecedent bodies in transatlantic slavery”.

“We recognise our failure to honour the efforts of our abolitionist forebears by permitting the legacies of transatlantic slavery to continue shaping our word. We offer our apology to God and to our sisters and brothers in Africa, the Caribbean, and their descendants for all that has created and still perpetuates such deep hurt which originated from the horror of slavery. We repent of the hurt we have caused, our reluctance to face up to the sins of the past, and our silence in the face of racism and injustice today,” the apology continued.

It further made a commitment to find constructive ways to move from saying ‘I’m sorry’ into concrete actions of repairing justice.

Reverend Harriott, in accepting the apology, said that the scars of the “barbaric” history of slavery continue to haunt the descendants of the enslaved, noting that much of our policies and economic state are shaped by the legacies of slavery.

“I stand in a posture of thanksgiving to God to receive the apology of our sisters and brothers from The United Reformed Church UK for the complicity of their forefathers and ‘foremothers’ in the enslavement of other human beings,” said Harriott.

“We stand grateful because this ecumenical service of worship represents a sign of resurrection, a sign of hope,” he said, adding that he rejoices that the church has found the courage to acknowledge its wrongdoings.

“It is our prayer that those who have been dehumanised over centuries and those who continue to experience the impact of enslavement will be equally courageous, inspired by the spirit of God, to share in the journey demanding justice and affirming peace. This is resurrection, this is hope,” he said.

Harriott reiterated The United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands’ pledge to give parcels of land to the most vulnerable, adding that “landlessness has significantly hindered formerly enslaved people in their drive towards generational creation”.

He invited other members of the faith locally and regionally, as well as governments of the region, to offer reparation.

In January last year the Church of England apologised for its historical ties to slavery. The apology followed the revelation that the organisation benefited from donations from a fund dating back to Queen Anne in 1704 intended to help the poorest clergy. The fund was invested in the South Sea Company, which traded in African slaves.

The organisation also pledged to support communities affected by slavery with a £100-million (US$127 million) investment over nine years. However, experts advising the church on the initiative have recommended a new target of £1 billion.

According to a report launched at The University of the West Indies, Mona, last year June, England owes the descendants of the enslaved in 31 countries in the Caribbean, Central America and North America US$24 trillion, of which US$9.5 trillion is said to be owed to Jamaica.


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