Devon’s churches encouraged to consider the cultural heritage of their monuments and memorials
Churches in Devon are being encouraged to consider their cultural heritage, including monuments, memorials and headstones.
It follows new Church of England guidance addressing concerns over memorials with links to slavery or other contested heritage.
The guidance offers a framework for churches and their communities to discuss and decide the best course of action locally, while working alongside the organisations which oversee changes to church buildings, like the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) in Exeter Diocese.
“”We want all our churches to be places of worship and welcome for everyone.” Bishop Robert
The Reverend Tanya Hockley-Still, the Diocese of Exeter UK Minority Ethnic Advisor and Team Rector of St Michael’s Church in Exeter, said “The history of the Church of England is intrinsically interwoven with British history, particularly in the areas of the legacy and impact of the slave trade and of the British Empire.
“Consequently, it is important that we try to learn from and understand this history, which may involve reviewing certain memorials that we may find in our places of worship.
“However, I would want people to be wary of focusing on this at the expense of evaluating their own beliefs and actions and how these effect UKME people in their day to day lives.
“It is easier to focus on statues than it is to have these honest conversations with ourselves.”
The new guidance is the result of a wide-ranging consultation which was commissioned in June 2020 in the light of the Black Lives Matter protests across the UK and the toppling of the statue of Bristol slave trader Edward Colston.
It follows last month’s report From Lament to Action, by the Archbishop’s Anti-Racism taskforce, which set out specific action points to tackle racial inequality in the Church of England.
The Bishop of Exeter, the Right Reverend Robert Atwell, welcomed the guidance and said: “The church buildings and churchyards of Devon are the repositories of community memories and tell the story of local people’s lives over the centuries.
“We recognise that memorials commemorating historic figures responsible for the oppression and marginalisation of others, have made some people feel unwelcome and perpetuated a sense of injustice and inequality.
“We cannot change the past or rewrite history, but we can try to understand it and learn from it.
“For this, appropriate interpretation is absolutely critical.
“We welcome this new guidance and look forward to supporting our churches, as they consider whether they have any memorials which may need reviewing.
“We want all our churches to be places of worship and welcome for everyone.”
The guidance specifically addresses the issue of heritage associated with racism and the slave trade – including plaques, statues, inscriptions and other monuments, but hopes that by doing so it will establish a methodology which can be used for other forms of contested heritage.
The Archdeacon of Exeter, the Venerable Andrew Beane, said “The Archdeacons here in the Diocese welcome the report and will look to work with and support individual churches as they review monuments and memorials in their buildings and churchyards.
“Our colleagues on the DAC (Diocesan Advisory Committee) will also ensure that the right support and advice is offered to parishes if they have to make difficult decisions regarding historic memorials.”