15 February 2023
Members of the global Anglican Consultative Council took time out from their week-long 18th plenary meeting (ACC-18) in Accra today to visit a 17th-century castle on Ghana’s Cape Coast. At the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, many enslaved Africans were held at Cape Coast Castle before being transported to the Americas on British slave ships. After touring the castle and visiting the basement dungeons, known as slave holes, and the cells for condemned prisoners, members of the ACC took part in a Service of Reflection and Reconciliation at the adjacent Christ Church Anglican Cathedral.
They were joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, President of the ACC; the Archbishop of Ghana and Primate of West Africa, the host province of ACC-18, Cyril Ben-Smith; and the Archbishop of the West Indies and Bishop of Jamaica, Howard Gregory, attending ACC-18 in his role as Chair of the Commission on Theological Education in the Anglican Communion.
During the tour, ACC members heard how Africans were taken from their homes sometimes hundreds of miles away, and held with little ventilation and no windows before being transported across the Atlantic. Many died on the journey to the slave castle, some died at the castle while others died in the journey across the Atlantic.
Archbishop Justin Welby paused to pray in silence in a small basement prison cell where up to 200 men at a time were kept, underneath what was then an Anglican church.
During the tour, ACC members also saw the women’s cells, the place where enslaved men and women were branded, and the Door of No Return through which enslaved people passed before boarding ships bound for the Americas.
Commenting on the visit, Archbishop Justin said today: “It was profoundly moving and humbling to visit Cape Coast Castle today with my brother Archbishops from Ghana and Jamaica. It was a reminder that the abomination of transatlantic chattel slavery was blasphemy: those who imprisoned men and women in those dungeons saw them as less than human.
“It is to the Church of England’s eternal shame that it did not always follow Christ’s teaching to give life. It is a stain on the wider church that some Christians did not see their brothers and sisters as created in the image of God, but as objects to be exploited.
“Our response must begin on our knees in prayer and repentance. In calling on the God who blesses the broken, the reviled and those who mourn. In looking to God who transforms, redeems and reconciles.
“But our response does not end there. We are called to transform unjust structures, to pursue peace and reconciliation, to live out the Beatitudes in big ways and small.”
During the Service of Reflection and Reconciliation, the congregation prayed for forgiveness and reflected on current examples of injustice.
The Bishop of Cape Coast, Victor Atta-Baffoe, prayed: “Loving Father, you forgive us when we turn to you. Help us to forgive ourselves and others. Help us not to hold grudges but to move forward with peace. Teach us to reach out to those in need and speak out against injustice. To build a world of equality and fairness in our own lives and for all people. Amen”
Inviting the congregation to reflect, Archbishop Howard Gregory said: “Our world can sometimes seem a very unjust place, where people with the loudest voices get the most attention. But Jesus describes a world turned upside down. A world where suffering people, the meek and those who act with justice, mercy and courage are blessed.
“Today is a chance for each of us to reflect on what type of world we are building. Let us reflect on the Beatitudes and think about our own actions and inactions.”
Today’s visit by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the ACC follows the recent report published by the Church Commissioners of England into its endowment’s historic links to transatlantic chattel slavery. In response to the findings, the Church Commissioners have committed to £100 million of funding to a programme of impact investment, research and engagement. The impact investment fund will invest particularly in communities impacted by historic transatlantic slavery.
The Archbishop toured Cape Coast Castle with Archbishop Cyril Kobina Ben-Smith, the Primate of the Anglican Church of the Province of West Africa; Archbishop Howard Gregory, the Anglican Primate of the West Indies, and ordained and lay members of the global Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) which is meeting in Accra this week.