Black trainee vicar rejected from curacy post critical of apology

Augustine Tanner-Ihm(Photo: Augustine Tanner-Ihm)

A black trainee vicar rejected from a curacy post because the congregation was "monochrome white working class" has criticised an apology from the Bishop and Diocese of St Alban's. 

Augustine Tanner-Ihm, an Anglican ordinand who is studying at Durham University, applied for a curacy post in the diocese earlier this year but received a rejection letter via email telling him it was "not worth pursuing a conversation" because of the make-up of the congregation. 

"We are not confident there is a sufficient 'match' between you and the particular requirements of that post," the email said.

"The demographic of the parish is monochrome white working class, where you might feel uncomfortable."

The sender of the letter, who has not been named, has since apologised to Mr Tanner-Ihm: "I quickly recognised and regretted my poor choice of words and I am very sorry indeed that what I said was hurtful to Mr Tanner-Ihm. It was careless, thoughtless and hasty and I still regret my choice of words."

The Diocese of St Alban's has also made a "full and unreserved apology" to Mr Tanner-Ihm "for the hurt caused to him".

In an apology letter of his own, the Bishop of St Alban's, Dr Alan Smith, said the diocese was committed "to the increase and flourishing of BAME candidates for ministry and more widely the inclusion of BAME people in the churches, chaplaincies and schools here".

He continued: "We were one of the first dioceses to engage with unconscious bias training in 2018 for all clergy. In March 2019, the Diocesan Synod, the diocese's elected governing body heard a presentation: 'Celebrating and Including BAME People in the Diocese'."

He concluded by saying that there was a need to improve in addressing racism. 

"Racism is deeply embedded, affecting every part of society, including the Church and we all have much to do to confront it," he said.

"This incident and the hurt we have caused serves to heighten our awareness of the need to improve. We wish Augustine well with his search for a curacy and with his future ministry."

But Mr Tanner-Ihm was critical of the apologies, writing on Twitter on Friday: "Apologies for 'the wrong choice of words' isn't an apology. It would have been kind to send this to me before a press release." 

His tweet prompted further criticism towards the diocese for its handling of the controversy.

Anglican ordinand Hannah Malcolm said "the whole thing is an awful example of how not to apologise". 

Matthew White, Curate at St Peter's Church, Chertsey, said it was "awful". 

In light of the latest criticism on Twitter, a spokesperson for the Diocese of St Alban's clarified that the letter of apology was sent to Mr Tanner-Ihm in February, at which time the bishop also wrote to him "regretting the distress that Augustine had been caused".

The bishop also said in his letter: "I am pleased to confirm my personal commitment, and that of my staff, to the increase and flourishing of BAME candidates for ministry and more widely the inclusion of BAME in the churches, chaplaincies and schools here."

The spokesperson added: "The bishop again repeats our unconditional apology to Augustine Tanner-Ihm for the offensive words in the email of 12/2 sent to him by a Diocesan Officer regarding his enquiry over a curacy."