Church of Scotland commissioners have agreed they should say sorry for historical links to slavery, with the Kirk ordered to prepare a statement of acknowledgment and apology for its role in the trade.
The Church of Scotland’s General Assembly instructed the Kirk to prepare the apology at its meeting on Wednesday, and that it should work with the wider church in drafting it before the statement is brought back at a future meeting.
The decision came after the church published a report into its connection to the transatlantic slave trade ahead of the annual meeting, in which researchers revealed some ministers and elders inherited wealth made on plantations from relatives and some buildings have memorials to those who profited from the slave trade.
The Rev Karen Hendry, addressing commissioners, said “there are aspects of our past, as a church, that we look on now with deep regret”.
“The Legacies of Slavery report gives substance to such a part of our history. And we seek to humbly acknowledge this and think about how we apologise,” she said.
“This requires further work and preparation, and this is what the forum is asking this assembly to agree to.
“The report helps us to understand better the historic relationship between chattel slavery and the Church of Scotland, and the continuing legacy of that abominable practice.
“We offer this report on the clear understanding that the assembly will want to affirm that we are members of a church that is actively anti-racist.”
For the report, which was produced by the Faith Impact Forum, it looked at the 131-year period between the Act of Union in 1707 and Britain’s abolition of slavery during the 1830s.
It also found that historically some church members received money from plantation owners while the organisation itself is the custodian of a multi-million-pound fund which can be connected to compensation paid out to a family upon the abolition of slavery.
The report was 18 months in the making and, as part of it, church buildings were examined to note any physical evidence of connections to slavery, such as memorial stones, inscriptions and stained-glass windows dedicated to slavers.
The forum also worked to uncover the ways the church may have benefitted from slavery, financially or otherwise.
The Rev Sandy Horsburgh, minister of St Nicholas Buccleuch in Dalkeith, Midlothian, said the report “shone a light on things that were hidden in plain sight, but things which we need to see and understand”.
“Through this report, we know our cities, our society, our church and ourselves just a little bit better,” he said.
As part of the decision on Wednesday, commissioners also ruled that congregations should be encouraged to research the history of slavery and its connections in their local areas.
They also agreed church members should continue to mark Racial Justice Sunday, to challenge racism and speak out against racial injustice.
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