Sheffield church excluded people of colour from top positions so it would not appear 'too Black', report finds

A church in Sheffield perpetuated a culture of racist policies which saw people of colour excluded from top positions so that 'white people would not be deterred from joining'.

Hope City Church, which is based at Bernard Road in Sheffield, has published a report into allegations of a 'culture of racism'. Picture: Google Street View

Hope City Church, which was founded in Sheffield but has congregations in Leeds and York, has vowed to do better after the report detailed how the church was managed in a way so that it would not appear "too Black".

Allegations around racism in the church came to the forefront in June last year in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which led to the resignation of founding pastors David and Jenny Gilpin.

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A post on Mr Gilpin's Instagram account in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests prompted multiple allegations of racism faced by members, leading to an email address set up for people to submit any experiences that they had had.

The church's co-founder Dave Gilpin (pictured) resigned in June last year after allegations of a culture of racism and toxic leadership

Feedback summarised in the report detailed "a number of notable instances where people of colour had felt intentionally discriminated against on the basis of race", which were mainly - but not limited to - the Sheffield congregation.

The report said: "Response from people of colour has ranged from disappointment and sadness and in some cases shame, to outrage and indignation with some members deciding to leave the church but others either suspending judgement or choosing to remain pending the outcome of the investigation."

It added: "Some people said that it was felt by the senior pastor that by having Black people on certain teams would deter white people from joining the church.

"Some were told that the senior pastor did not want to see Black people in certain roles in order to manage appearance or first impressions.

The church's co-founder Dave Gilpin (pictured) resigned in June last year after allegations of a culture of racism and toxic leadership

"Some members of the Black community had felt ‘overlooked’ or even ‘excluded’ despite their desire and willingness to serve within the church.

"There was a feeling that the practice was contradictory, in that for example, an all-Black presence on stage was discouraged but there were times when an all-white presence was evident and seemingly not discouraged."

Feelings of poor people management where people of colour were treated insensitively and left hurt were also mentioned in the report, while it added that racial discrimination had been "to a large extent, not malicious or ill-intended" but rather "from a place of ignorance" and "lack of empathy".

The practice of marginalising people of colour, the report said, "had originated at the most senior level of leadership" without open consultation, with many senior figures in the church feeling discomfort and voicing their objections, but never fully challenging it.

It later says that while some members of the church's Board of Trustees were aware of reports of racial tension, no formal investigation was held at the time.

Also highlighted in the report was an apparent "lack of transparency" around the church's handling of finances, which led to an "erosion of trust" among some members.

Hope City Church was founded in 1991 by Pastors David and Jenny Gilpin as a response to the Hillsborough disaster. The couple moved to Sheffield from Australia at this time, but returned to the country following their resignation last year.

Colin Davies, Chair of the Board of Hope City Church, said: “Hope City Church recognises that racism, even unintentional racism, has no place in our organisation and we have implemented in-depth measures to create a fully inclusive church.

“We have used the findings of our internal report on racism to positively transform the way that the church interacts with, and welcomes, people from all backgrounds regardless of their skin colour.

“Our board of trustees now takes a fully active role within the leadership culture of Hope City Church with regular reviews and monitoring set in place to ensure that the church is continually strengthened as a multi-racial faith community."

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