Reverend Yvonne Clarke: First black female deacon fights to save parish

Published
image copyrightLeigh Day
image captionReverend Yvonne Clarke became a deacon in 1987

The first black woman to become a deacon in the Church of England is fighting to keep her parish open.

The Reverend Yvonne Clarke became a deacon in 1987 and was among the first women ordained as a priest in 1994.

Her south London parish of All Saints Shirley, in Southwark Diocese, which is also her home, is earmarked to close under plans to reduce financial pressures.

The diocese said it had not come to the decision "lightly".

Ms Clarke said no-one had consulted with her about her future "in an appropriate way".

"Instead, I have been informed about what will happen to me, that the changes will mean I lose my vocation and my home," she said.

"It has been my mission to ensure that immigrants and children of immigrants to the area have been welcomed into the church.

"I work with the diverse community and I have brought a wider group of worshippers to the church."

Having served All Saints since 1998, it is the place where Ms Clarke "would like to see out" her ministry.

image copyrightPhilip Talmage
image captionPlans have been put forward to close All Saints Shirley

The Diocese of Southwark confirmed it had proposed to the Church Commissioners that All Saints, Spring Park, be dissolved and divided between the parishes of St George, Shirley, and St John, Shirley.

It added that it had come to the decision due to "ongoing concerns about the financial viability and capacity for governance and mission over a period of several years" and had "not come to it lightly".

The parish remained unable to sustain itself either in terms of finance or governance, it added.

'Unfair and unjust'

Ms Clarke's solicitor said the closure would have an impact on the community.

Frances Swaine said: "The Church of England has made clear its intention to tackle institutional racism, wherein it is clear decisions are made to preserve the white church structures with which its priests and more senior clergy are more familiar.

"Given a re-evaluation of institutional racism in the past seven or eight months, the complexities of being seen to be 'sacking' a loved and admired priest are likely to rebound in the community, and it is unfair and unjust that such matters do not receive a full public airing."

She added Ms Clarke had won a small breakthrough in being allowed to make a plea at an oral hearing.

A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Southwark said it has "worked hard" to ensure diversity across south London.

She said: "We have a robust structure to examine our policies and practices, including a flourishing Diocesan Minority Ethnic Affairs Committee, which represents minority ethnic clergy and lay people across the diocese, and we are fully committed to racial justice."

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