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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 February 2006, 18:47 GMT
Church apologises for slave trade
Dr Rowan Williams
Dr Rowan Williams says the apology is 'necessary'
The Church of England has voted to apologise to the descendants of victims of the slave trade.

An amendment "recognising the damage done" to those enslaved was backed overwhelmingly by the General Synod.

Debating the motion, Rev Simon Bessant, from Pleckgate, Blackburn, described the Church's involvement in the trade, saying: "We were at the heart of it."

The amendment was supported by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Archbishop of York John Sentamu.

Dr Williams said the apology was "necessary".

He said: "The body of Christ is not just a body that exists at any one time, it exists across history and we therefore share the shame and the sinfulness of our predecessors and part of what we can do, with them and for them in the body of Christ, is prayer for acknowledgement of the failure that is part of us not just of some distant 'them'."

Branding irons

During an emotional meeting of the Church's governing body in London, Rev Blessant explained the involvement of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts in the slave trade.

The organisation owned the Codrington Plantation in Barbados, where slaves had the word "society" branded on their backs with a red-hot iron, he said.

We were directly responsible for what happened
Rev Simon Bessant

He added that when the emancipation of slaves took place in 1833, compensation was paid not to the slaves but to their owners.

In one case, he said the Bishop of Exeter and three colleagues were paid nearly 13,000 in compensation for 665 slaves.

He said: "We were directly responsible for what happened. In the sense of inheriting our history, we can say we owned slaves, we branded slaves, that is why I believe we must actually recognise our history and offer an apology."

The synod passed a motion acknowledging the "dehumanising and shameful" consequences of slavery.

It comes ahead of commemorations of the 200th anniversary of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, which will be marked next year.

The debate heard from descendants of the slave trade including the Rev Nezlin Sterling, of Ealing, west London, who represents black churches. She told the synod that commemorations of the 200th anniversary would revive "painful issues and memories" for descendants.

The apology comes after Dr Williams was criticised in November for saying that missionaries "sinned" by imposing hymns ancient and modern on places such as Africa.

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