Church of Scotland urged to act on slavery links

Although the Kirk (Church of Scotland) is due to report on its historic links to slavery next year, it has been urged to act now with churches and parishes that have benefited financially from the practice.

The appeal by Reverend Yousouf Gooljary urged the Kirks to mount plaques and educate parishioners about the links between the slave trade and the buildings where they worship.

Reverend Gooljary, Scottish Episcopal Church minister and member of the Iona community, said:Churches we need to recognize their links to slavery, we need to have recognition and we need to educate.

He cited the example of Dornoch Cathedral in Sutherland. Refurbished in the mid-1830s after a donation of £15,000 (€17,800) from Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland, a sum which equates to approximately £1.39 million (€1.65 million) at current values. Elizabeth benefited from the enormous wealth of her mother, Mary Maxwell, whose father’s fortune was made “mainly in trade and plantations in Jamaica”.

Reverend Gooljary, who is aiming to demonstrate outside the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly next month to raise awareness of the issue, said: ‘The response from churches has been mixed. At first there is shock and surprise, some seem a bit lost, so they seek leadership to help them.

“I think the Church of Scotland should look at the issue as setting an example for a wider issue of engaging in a cultural conversation across Scotland, it’s more than just about their churches.”

Reverend Gooljary spoke of the links between Iona Abbey Cathedral and the wealth of its former slave owners and said: “In this way, the wealth associated with slavery played a part in stabilizing and the re-establishment of Argyll House in the second half of the 19th century, a period which lives on, the restoration program which largely recreated the Abbey as we experience it today.

It is understood that the Iona Cathedral Trust will present a motion to the General Assembly which urges the Kirk to support research into its links to slavery and places of worship.

A Church of Scotland spokesperson said: ‘The most difficult aspects of our history are something the Church of Scotland is looking at and linking to recent General Assembly motions condemning racism as a sin and claiming that black lives matter.

The 2020 General Assembly has tasked its Faith Impact Forum to report on the issue of racial justice and the legacy of slavery and to consult widely with people of color in the Church of Scotland and churches across the black majority in Scotland.

The Church of Scotland has begun to research its links to slavery, but some believe it is moving too slowly as it is being asked to act on its links.

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Martha J. Finley