Vicar takes on the Anglican Church over racial discrimination

When Reverend Alwyn Pereira was not shortlisted for parishes for several years after completing his curacy, he became concerned. His investigations uncovered covert racism at the heart of the Diocese in the Anglican Church in Bristol that no one had challenged.

Reverend Pereira has now taken a discrimination case to Employment Tribunal and the Clergy Discipline Commission Tribunal against senior members of Bristol’s Anglican clergy.

Rev Pereira is an ordained Anglican priest who works as Vicar of St Michael’s and the Church of the Ascension in Aldershot.

Right Reverend Mike Hill, retired Bishop of Bristol wrote in a letter to an Anglican colleague 05 July 2016: “I think the other thing I need to say, having worked closely with people from the Indian Subcontinent in my past, is that I think there are cultural differences in the way people like Alwyn (Rev Pereira) communicate, and actually handle issues of truth and clarity.

Reverend Pereira is not from the Sub-continent. His heritage is Indo-Portuguese, he was born in Kenya, and educated almost entirely in England.

Judge Cadney’s judgement from a preliminary hearing of the Employment Tribunal was published on 01 May. It said: “In my judgement there is some merit in the contention that on the face of it the emails relied on could without explanation from the respondent be sufficient for the tribunal to draw an inference of discrimination.”

The court heard that emails dating back to May 2014 showed that several Bishops had blocked Rev Pereira’s applications due to “cultural eccentricities.”

For example, on 25 May 2014 Rev Hill wrote to colleagues: “I took some serious flack for not shortlisting him to Stoke Bishop. Lee [Rayfield, Bishop of Swindon, Training Bishop] mentioned to me that his application was culturally eccentric but this is slightly dangerous as of course Alwyn is a minority ethnic Anglican (whose cause according to the National Church, we should be promoting.)

“…There was strong support for shortlisting him at Hotwells and St.Stephens which Lee resisted… he (Rev Pereira) has much if not more experience than some getting shortlisted.”


Anglican Church
Reverend Alwyn Pereira preaching in his church in Aldershot

In spite of the evidence, the Employment Tribunal dismissed the claim because it was out of time. It was also dismissed by the Clergy Discipline Commission Tribunal (CDC) for the same reason. However, Rev Pereira is currently seeking permission to extend the time at the CDC so the claim can be heard upon appeal.

Rev Pereira first pursued his complaint directly with the Anglican Church, a process he describes as “attrition” – it was kicked into the long grass with constant delays, presumably in the hope that Rev Pereira would drop the claim.

He explained how the discrimination felt: “The Bishop’s letter brought up a sense of real betrayal. It’s not just me who has been let down and offended but my children and every BAME person too. I trusted and respected Rev Mike Hill who was telling me one thing up front, held these views and perceptions and felt emboldened to write this to another clergyman and no-one challenged him. I’m horrified.

“We, the Church, uphold it as the place of hope and reconciliation for all ethnicities, where everyone finds their identity.” He has taken legal action because he believes there is a systemic problem with covert racism in the Anglican Church in Bristol.

Rev Pereira describes Bishop Hill’s actions as a “misuse of power… he withheld jobs from me on the basis of a racial stereotype. No one challenged him. His letter quoted above was in my personal file that everyone sees.”

He said: “I don’t feel hate towards these guys. I offered and exhausted various routes for reconciliation including mediation and these were declined.

“The Anglican Church has to be the bastion of good practice, it’s the established church. There needs to be reconciliation and recompense, there’s a culture that needs correction. The Church has paid barristers but they won’t reimburse me for loss of stipend and the reputational damage done.

“Instead they defend their immorality, they don’t think they’ve done wrong. They’ve not apologised. They genuinely think that letter is acceptable.”

Rev Hill was asked what evidence he had to substantiate his statement in the letter about cultural differences with the way people like Rev Pereira from the Indian Subcontinent handle issues of truth and clarity.

Bristol’s retired Bishop said: “l’m not saying this is a situation where there is nothing to be learnt. The Tribunal is over. The complainant I regarded and regard as a friend. I had no idea he was feeling this way and I’m surprised by it.

“We all need to be a little more honest about what we’re thinking when we’re thinking it.

“There are lessons to be learned about how we express ourselves. When I reread the letter I don’t feel good about it and it’s inappropriate to explain why.

“Out of context, the statement in the letter does not look great…

“I don’t think there’s a problem, with racism in the diocese of Bristol. At some level in all of us, prejudice does occur.

“We looked at hidden biases including gender and race in the diocese all the time. I don’t even know if some of my colleagues who were involved in the selection procedure were aware of Alwyn’s ethnic minority background.

Guardian: C of E accused of racism in spite of backing black lives matter

BAME vicar and trainee priest claim racism has blocked their church careers.

Church of England bishops have been accused of “utter hypocrisy” for publicly supporting the Black Lives Matter movement while failing to address racism in their dioceses.

Two men from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, a vicar and a trainee priest, claim discrimination has blocked their efforts to advance within the C of E hierarchy.

The Rev Alwyn Pereira was rejected for seven posts as a vicar in the diocese of Bristol before he discovered a letter on his personal file saying there were “cultural differences in the way people like Alwyn communicate, and actually handle issues of truth and clarity.”


Reverend Alwyn Pereira

Augustine Tanner-Ihm, a trainee priest who applied to become a curate, received a rejection email that stated “the demographic of the parish is monochrome white working-class, where you might feel uncomfortable.”

Both men said they were angry that C of E leaders had voiced support for the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd while failing to act on systemic discrimination against BAME people within the church.

Pereira said: “This is utter hypocrisy. Our church offers hope, and it is right that our bishops speak out against injustices, but it is a concern that endemic racism persists within. Over 30 years have elapsed, and our church is still ‘discussing’, still ‘listening’.”

On Monday, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, tweeted that “the racism that people in this country experience is horrifying. The church has failed here, and still does, and it’s clear what Jesus commands us to do: repent and take action.”

Following the tearing down of the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol on Sunday, Vivienne Faull, the bishop of Bristol, said Floyd’s death had “brought the issues of racism, oppression, inequality and injustice once again into the spotlight, where they should be. These are issues that the diocese of Bristol, like many organisations, has been aware of, discussed and attempted to address. However, while we have taken some positive steps, it is clear that we have not done enough.”

Pereira launched a discrimination case against the diocese of Bristol after discovering the letter on his file. Michael Hill, the bishop of Bristol at the time, wrote in July 2016: “I think the other thing I need to say, having worked closely with people from the Indian subcontinent in my past, is that I think there are cultural differences in the way people like Alwyn communicate, and actually handle issues of truth and clarity.”

Church of England

Pereira, who is now a vicar in Aldershot, Hampshire, is not from the Indian subcontinent. He is of Indo-Portuguese heritage, was born in Kenya and educated almost entirely in England.

In a preliminary hearing, an employment tribunal heard that emails dating back to 2014 showed several bishops had blocked Pereira’s job applications, one citing “cultural eccentricities”.

The employment tribunal dismissed the claim last month on the grounds it was out of time. Pereira made an internal complaint that was also ruled out of time by the C of E’s clergy discipline commission tribunal, a decision he is appealing.

He said: “I suspect my journey [in the church] has been impeded by systemic racism, because of my skin tone.”

The support by bishops for Black Lives Matter felt like “PR spin”, he added.

In a statement, Hill said he had used “racial stereotypes which were unacceptable and offensive” in his letter. “I deeply regret the incident and I wholeheartedly apologise.”

Faull said Hill’s comments had been “unacceptable”. She added: “I have made the commitment to address institutional racism and to recruit and support more BAME clergy. I stand behind these and my other commitments. This work won’t be easy but I will be relentless in my dedication to bringing about change.”

Tanner-Ihm, a black American who is training to become a priest at Cranmer Hall in Durham, said he was shocked and angry to receive a rejection email earlier this year saying he “might feel uncomfortable” in a white working-class parish.

When he challenged the view, pointing out that he was adopted by a white working-class family and had previously worked in predominantly white inner-city areas, “I got a response along the lines of ‘sorry you took it that way’.”

He added: “I felt broken down. The church has said they are investigating but I don’t know how. No one has formally reached out to me.”

The C of E said the letter was “plainly unacceptable” and it was seeking clarity from the diocese.

The church’s director of ministry, the Rt Rev Chris Goldsmith, said: “We fully recognise that the C of E 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.

“We reject racism of all kinds so we must not only root out discrimination but recognise and correct the unconscious biases which each of us carry and which can undermine our intention to recognise the gifting and calling of everyone equally.”

He added: “We need to be both humble and determined as we strive for the goal for full equality in our shared life.”

You can read the same Guardian article here.