On Saturday 13 October the Cathedral Church of St Philip, Birmingham hosted a service of thanksgiving and celebration for Black History Month.
This service also saw the commissioning of the Reverend Dr Sharon Prentis as the Dean of Black & Minority Ethnic Affairs in the Church of England Birmingham.
Sharon explains: “This was the very first Black History Month service at the Cathedral. It enabled people to come together to celebrate, to give thanks and to acknowledge the roles of people of colour over the years within this area. We had a children’s choir, a gospel choir, children reading the lesson, as well as liturgical dance and poetry. There was a great sense of coming home, of happiness.”
One of the key moments during the service was when Reverend Douglas Machiridza robed Sharon in a special vestment known as the ‘Windrush cope’. This screen-printed silk garment was designed by acclaimed artist Terry Duffy for a service at Westminster Abbey in June to mark the 70th anniversary of Windrush.
The vestment features a photo montage illustrating aspects of black history in Britain including the original 1948 ‘British citizen’ passport issued to Alford Gardner, a passenger on the the MV Empire Windrush, the Jamaican-born Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin as well as Stephen Lawrence’s headstone and images denoting the racial discrimination faced by Caribbean migrants in post-war Britain.
Sharon was deeply moved by this ‘passing on of the mantle’. She says: “I’ve just been in the Diocese for seven months and being commissioned as Dean was a recognition amongst the people that I’m here to be a bridge, to speak truth to power, to lament and rejoice about who we are collectively as a people of God.”
The cope is available on request to clergy across the country as a catalyst to advancing thought, dialogue and action in the wider Church on issues of racial justice and as a memorial of the outstanding impact of the ‘Windrushers’ to British life and culture.
“This service was symbolic of the challenges and difficulties of the past but also some of the joys and the richness of what being in a diverse community brings and the synergy that comes from the understanding that we all have something to contribute.”