A judge has granted permission for a memorial plaque with offensive wording to be removed from the north wall of St Peter’s Church, Dorchester, which is a Grade I listed building in the UK. The offending plaque is a memorial to John Gordon, who died in 1774, and is visible upon entering the church.
The plaque commemorating the slave owner has been a source of controversy in the area and beyond in recent years, and its removal was a welcome decision from the Chancellor of the Diocese of Salisbury, Ruth Arlow.
The memorial will be removed from the wall and taken care of in Dorset Museum, which is next door to the church.
St Peter's has worked tirelessly and diligently, consulting widely about the options for the plaque, concluding that its removal showed that they are supporting and embracing ethnic minorities. The Church of England has guidelines for parishes, to encourage them in their efforts to make their church communities safe and inclusive for people of all ethnicities and the decision to remove the plaque is a marker of success in the journey to eradicate racism in the church.
St Peter’s Church released the following statement in response to the Judgement:
“We are very pleased with this Judgement which we think is the most appropriate outcome for this truly exceptional monument. The memorial explicitly commends the action of brutally quelling a slave rebellion, using a totally unacceptable racist term, so it contradicts our aim to be an inclusive church, welcoming everyone as made equally in the image of God.
We are grateful to Dorset Museum for agreeing to accept the memorial on a loan basis, preserving it and making it accessible to those who wish to see it.”
The Ven Penny Sayer, Archdeacon of Sherborne, says,
"I very much welcome The Chancellor's considered opinion re the John Gordon Memorial. Moving the memorial to the next door museum will ensure that it is well taken care of, and allow continued access. It is important that this part of history continues to be told so that we can acknowledge the sins of our forebears and do everything we can to continue the fight against slavery in its modern form. A new memorial to John Gordon will acknowledge that he was buried at St Peter's and point future visitors to the museum. I am very grateful to all those who have helped with the preparation of the faculty, particularly churchwarden Val Potter."
Finally, the Rt Revd Karen Gorham, Bishop of Sherborne, said,
"I am very pleased that the Chancellor has reached this Judgement and chosen to issue a faculty for the removal of the Gordon memorial. I wish to thank Dorchester Museum and the congregation of St Peter’s for their hard work and assistance in addressing this challenging matter for us today. The Church of England can no longer ignore its past and its role in the oppression of others, and this move by the local church is a small contribution towards righting past wrongs. We want to show all are welcome in our churches and by removing that which offends, can even better demonstrate the infinite value of each individual to God regardless of, in this instance, their class or ethnicity. I am also pleased that the memorial will be placed in store at the local museum where it can be viewed for its historic context."