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All Saints Shirley

Black woman Church of England vicar and her Parochial Council appeal to the Privy Council to save their parish from dissolution

Black woman Church of England priest Rev Yvonne Clarke has the first ever hearing to appeal a decision taken by the Church Commissioners under 2011 legislation that would result in her being put out of ministry (despite no accusations of any personal wrong-doing) and dissolve her parish in Croydon, rendering her BAME-led Parish Council redundant.

Posted on 25 February 2024

The hearing will be before the Privy Council on 27-28 February to consider whether there was a failure to consult appropriately as required by the Equality Act 2010 and whether there was any indirect discrimination in the decision taken by the Diocese which was upheld by the Church Commissioners.

That decision is now being appealed to the Privy Council – the only route for such an appeal in the Church of England. It is a route very rarely used – the last time being in 2000.

Rev Yvonne was the first Black woman to be ordained deacon – on 15 March 1987 – in the Church of England, and among the first women to be ordained priest in 1994. She has been the incumbent priest at All Saints since 1998, arriving at a time of much direct racism and opposition to her appointment from within the parish. This has now been all turned around and she is welcomed as a member of a very diverse community.

Rev Yvonne Clarke
Rev Yvonne Clarke

However under the plans approved by The Bishop of Southwark, All Saints Spring Park in Shirley will be dissolved as a parish, and the incumbent role that Rev Yvonne now has, will disappear. No future has been offered to her within the Church of England. Rev Yvonne will lose her ministry and the parish vicarage which has been her home since 1998 and her Parish Council will also be dissolved.

The scheme to dissolve All Saints Parish and put Rev Yvonne out of ministry was made under section 12 of the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011.

Rev Yvonne and her Parish Council have been fighting the plans for the past four years. Rev Yvonne had an oral hearing before the Church Commissioners on 7 September 2021, where she was represented by Frances Swaine, human rights solicitor at Leigh Day.

Following the hearing, the Church Commissioners approved the Bishop of Southwark’s decision, leaving Rev Yvonne facing a loss of her vocation and livelihood and the parish without its diverse Parish Council, in an area of predominantly BAME parishioners.

The Church of England will lose a Black woman parish priest who has welcomed and ministered to a growing migrant and refugee population, and its BAME-led Parish council, in favour of splitting the parish between two adjacent parishes, citing the impoverishment of the parish, and a failure to increase wealth, as a reason for the decision.

On the instructions of Rev Yvonne and the Parish Council, Frances Swaine made the application to appeal directly to the Privy Council – the only route by which to challenge a decision of the Church Commissioners.

Leigh Day will make the case that the Commissioners’ decision to uphold the Southwark Diocese decision to dissolve the parish and put the sitting incumbent out of ministry is a decision taken without due regard to the special characteristics of Rev Yvonne, her Parish Council and, just as importantly, the parishioners whom they serve.

The scheme to dissolve All Saints Parish and put Rev Yvonne Clarke out of ministry was made by the Southwark Diocese and approved by the Church Commissioners under section 12 of the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011.

The Human Rights Act section 6(1) makes it unlawful for a public authority to act in a way that is incompatible with a person's rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Leigh Day argues that as a state entity administering ecclesiastical property, the Church Commissioners are a public authority. Therefore their decisions that they take would be open to challenge under the Human Rights Act.

Rev Yvonne Clarke said:

“We have been campaigning on this issue since the decision was made without sufficient consultation in 2020. I have always had the care of my parishioners in mind but have been dreadfully hurt by a decision which will put me out of ministry after serving this parish to the best of my ability for over 20 years. I overcame the most upsetting racism when I first arrived in this area, from those who would not countenance a Black woman priest. My ministry and the work of my parish council has been to take the word of God into the entire parish, and to be prevented from those acts of inclusivity has been very harsh.”

Frances Swaine said:

“My clients will demonstrate to the Court how decisions were taken about their parish without adequate consultation and with insufficient due regard to the unique qualities that a Black woman priest and a global majority Parish council bring to an area of London with an ever-growing global majority population, especially serving the migrant and refugee community. At a time when the Archbishop of Canterbury is spending much time talking about racism in the Church England, my clients deserve to have had the special characteristics of their parish considered very carefully before any decision to get rid of them was taken.”



Frances Swaine
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Frances Swaine

Frances was the firm’s first managing partner from 2010 to 2021, and was a partner in the regulatory and disciplinary department, the human rights department, and clinical negligence department.

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