Thanks to the work of the volunteer interpreters (The Cathedral Guides) led by Brian Dowling and the Cathedral archivists led by Val Jackson, Liverpool Cathedral company is able to tell a story of the way the Cathedral was built, the people who financed the building and the many artefacts that are dedicated to our benefactors. Liverpool Cathedral acknowledges that we have historical connections with slave traders and the wider slave economy. This is a part of our past that we are not proud of and we are working with the Diocese of Liverpool’s Slavery Truth Project to identify these connections, scrutinise them and explore reconciling ways of responding to our contested heritage.
The Diocese of Liverpool is committed to more people knowing Jesus, more justice throughout the world. Liverpool Cathedral is a place where we seek Justice and Mercy. This includes the fight against racism and all forms of prejudice. In the last few years, these challenges have become more widely acknowledged than ever before – the rapid expansion of the global Black Lives Matter movement and the tearing down of memorials dedicated to slave owners have positioned that fight for equality and understanding firmly in the public square.
The ‘Triangle of Hope’ reconciliation project is led by Canon Mal Rogers MBE (Vicar of Huyton Quarry, Area Dean of Huyton and The Bishop of Liverpool's Canon for Reconciliation). The Triangle of Hope is recognised nationally and internationally for the work it has done to make the history of slavery known. Its focus is on making connections between historic and modern forms of slavery and racism on the one hand, together with robust theological reflection on the evils of slavery and a capacity building focus on the other (that God calls and equips each person to make a difference) has resulted in many Christians, including scores of young people, being mobilised as Christian activists.
This is most evident in our Cathedral life in the missional community Tsedaqah where young people gather from Ghana, Liverpool and the USA – and live in a house on Lady Chapel Close. Canon Ellen is a trustee of this community and Canon Mike and Dean Sue have close connections. Many community members have also become part of our cathedral company over the years.
The image above is Sankofa from the Twi (Akan) language found in Ghana and other parts of Africa. This is the Slavery Truth Project motif. And as such is also the image that the Cathedral is using as part of our work as we seek to interpret our contested heritage.
Sankofa literally means, ‘reach back to knowledge gained in the past and bring it forward to the present in order to make positive progress’ The King of Ghana, Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II, has given his blessing to the Diocese (through The Triangle of Hope) to use this and other Adkinra symbols in its reconciliation work.
This interpretation of contested heritage does not simply focus on historical appreciation. The Slavery Truth Project is about facilitating learning and nurturing spiritual growth, that the present and the future can be better interpreted and transformed according to the way of Jesus.
That we can do more to work towards racial justice and engage with the realities of our contested heritage. There are many of us in our Cathedral company and those who visit who remain ignorant of the trade in enslaved Africans and how the church here in Liverpool was complicit. Our churches and Cathedral, in similar fashion to many locations in our city region, provide homes to trophies from this triangle of despair.
So, together, as a Cathedral company, we need to find a way of educating and engaging in both the historical roots of racism and the present-day challenges so that this opportunity for mission, justice, spiritual growth, vocational discernment and mobilisation isn’t missed.
Progress on Cathedral Slavery Truth Project
Over the years many people have written about the Cathedral’s contested heritage. Most of this work is already in the public domain, and Val Jackson has a significant amount of archive material. The recently published book Two Triangles is a good place to start in terms of your own research on the slave economy in Liverpool Diocese – and it contains some information about our cathedral. This book is available in the Cathedral shop and there will be a copy available for reference on the welcome desk.
Cathedral Chapter has accepted the principles of working set out within the Slavery Truth Project.
In Oct 2020 Cathedral Chapter agreed to use the principles and practices of the STP to enable dialogue, explore how we might interpret historical antecedents, promote reconciliation and discover how we seek racial justice into the future.
We appointed a project lead for the Slavery Truth Project on 2021. Thanks to the then Bishop of Liverpool, Paul Bayes, we have been able to appoint Adeyinka Olushonde to begin the project. Adeyinka works one day a week on the whole project - the cathedral is just one of 5 places of worship engaging in the project. Canon Ellen is the contact person who is leading on this for the Cathedral. This work fits into a portfolio of social justice work for the diocese and the one day a week she works on leading our cathedral commitment to justice and mercy.
4. Working party
Canon Ellen is chairing a working party of staff and volunteers that will hold the work, establish timescales for delivery and direct the activities of the project.
Three notices acknowledging historical connections with slave traders and the wider slave economy have been placed in the cathedral:
Any questions or observations please contact Canon Dr Ellen Loudon, Canon Chancellor and Director of Social Justice - Ellen.firstname.lastname@example.org