The Church of England has appointed its first black bishop for 20 years in a move that significantly increases its handful of minority ethnic clergy in senior leadership positions, The Guardian UK reports.
Woyin Karowei Dorgu was announced by Downing Street as the 13th bishop of Woolwich, and will be consecrated at Southwark Cathedral on 17 March.
Giving more highlight into the life of the man, the report revealed that Dorgu was born and brought up in Nigeria, and ordained in the UK. Woolwich, in south-east London, has a significant Nigerian population, many of whom worship in black-majority Pentecostal churches rather than the C of E.
At a press conference at Southwark Cathedral, Dorgu said one of his priorities as bishop would be to celebrate the racial diversity of the Woolwich area. He said he intended to “encourage BAME [black and minority ethnic] vocations and more participation in ministry”.
“I will celebrate the diversity in race, ability, gender, sexuality and class … Celebrating our differences is a gift,” he added.
The only other black bishop in the Church of England is John Sentamu, now archbishop of York – second in the church hierarchy – who was consecrated as bishop of Stepney 20 years ago. There are three BAME archdeacons and one dean.
BAME representation among clergy and senior leadership has long been a concern in the church. Last year, the proportion of BAME people among those embarking on the process of becoming a priest fell to 1.9%, compared with a share of the general population of about 15%. In previous years it has been 4-5%.
The church established a committee for minority ethnic Anglican concerns more than 30 years ago, which recently stepped up efforts to improve BAME representation. An initiative called Turning Up the Volume was set up in 2012 with the aim of doubling the number of BAME clergy in senior positions within 10 years.
Dorgu told the Guardian his appointment was “a small step in the right direction”, adding: “Quite a lot of Nigerian Christians [in the Woolwich area] are from an Anglican background. I hope my appointment will be a model. Seeing someone from a similar background could be a catalyst for dialogue between the C of E and black majority churches and Nigerians looking for a spiritual home.”
Although he and Sentamu were the only black bishops, Dorgu said: “I would not describe the position as lonely. There is a lot of support and friendship.”
Dorgu said he did not believe the C of E was institutionally racist, adding that he preferred the term “unconscious bias”. “If the church was racist, I wouldn’t be where I am today. The church is making an effort to be more inclusive.”
On the issue of sexuality, which has divided the Church of England and the global Anglican communion for two decades, Dorgu said he stood firmly behind the church’s official position. The church refuses to conduct same-sex church weddings on the traditional biblical grounds that marriage is between a man and a woman, and its insistence that gay clergy must be celibate.
Dorgu – known to some of his congregation as Brother K – trained as a medical doctor in Lagos before being ordained. He was brought up in a Christian family but said as a teenager he rebelled against the gospel and left the church.
After encountering Christian students at university, he decided to “accept Jesus as my personal saviour and Lord in my early 20s”. He came to the UK in 1987 and was ordained as a priest in 1996.
He described himself as an evangelical but added: “I will fly no party colours … I will promote unity, respect, integrity and collaboration among different traditions.”
Since his ordination, he has been a minister in London parishes.