The Archbishops of York and Canterbury are welcoming the Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities to help tackle the prejudice they face.

Today (June 9), Archbishops Stephen Cottrell and Justin Welby worked with different churches led by Gypsy, Roma, Traveller (GRT) communities, through the GRT Friendly Churches initiative.

While there is a strong Christian faith among GRT communities, the people sadly encounter prejudice, and so the initiative seeks to break down centuries of marginalisation and welcome them into the wider faith community, the church said.

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Churches befriend GRT people, which involves offering to pray together, offering water to people who are camping on the roadside, signposting people to services they need, accompanying people to an appointment. 

Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, attended the Appleby Horse Fair, the biggest annual gathering of Travellers in the UK, with Bishop of Carlisle, James Newcome, while Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, spent time with GRT communities in Poole as part of his mission visit to the Diocese of Salisbury.

Archbishop Stephen said: "I was delighted to be at Appleby Horse Fair today and to support the launch of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Friendly Churches.

"I have seen and heard of the prejudice and racism the GRT communities face in their daily lives.

"As a church we need to do more to stop this. And making a positive step to actively welcome them into our worshipping communities will help to bring about change."

The Church of England has acknowledged its past failures in supporting these communities.

In the second biannual report of the Archbishops’ Commission for Racial Justice, the Commission noted that since a resolution was passed at General Synod in 2019, condemning discrimination against GRT people, at least 12 chaplains have been appointed to CofE dioceses, whose work includes pastoral, advocacy, and educational activity.

Archbishop Justin has commented that he is “deeply grateful” to be spending time with the GRT people today, and to “acknowledge the pain and rejection felt by the GRT communities both now and in the past.”

He said: “We can and must do so much more to welcome, support, include and advocate for them. The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the mission of the church is about reconciliation, and it is my hope that the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Friendly Churches initiative will enable a bridge between settled people and Travellers and be part of this reconciliation process.

"Every country has distinct cultures amongst Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. The common feature that I have seen across Europe and most recently in Romania is the suffering and marginalisation they have had to endure."

Ivy Manning, a Romany Gypsy said: "I'm delighted to be part of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Friendly Churches, it's something that gives hope to my people.

"For too long we've felt scapegoated by wider society. Today marks a positive beginning of something new.”