A United Kingdom Cathedral choir program was eliminated as punishment for being “too white” and failing to meet lofty diversity expectations of a city whose demographic make up did not match the choir.
Sheffield’s 30-strong choir was disbanded amid the coronavirus pandemic for an increasingly popular reason: it was deemed to lack the diversity to mirror the city’s “mixed urban community” and that a “serious change” was needed in a “renewed ambition for engagement and inclusion.”
The Dean of Sheffield Cathedral Reverend Peter Bradley said that church music could be “presented in a way that can be seen as elitist” and the option for several choirs could be considered, according to The Daily Mail. Many of the choristers are from privately educated and homeschooled backgrounds–possibly adding to the “elitist” conception of the choir’s socioeconomic composition.
The disappointing news was delivered in a letter to each chorister alerting them of the decision to start anew, without their participation.
“‘Following a review of the music department in 2019, Sheffield Cathedral Chapter has decided that a completely fresh start is needed. As a result, Chapter concluded this is the right time to close the current cathedral choir,” the letter read.
As a result, a Change.org petition was launched and amassed over 7,000 signatures in a bid to save the choir in its current form. Some even began to believe that the change was brought about because they were too white and middle class.
The petitioners vying to save the choir agree with the church’s decision to increase diversity. “We welcome the Dean and Chapter’s desire to champion diversity and inclusion and their willingness to connect with the ‘mixed urban communities’ in which the Cathedral is situate,” the Change.org post reads. “However, we are alarmed by statements from the Dean and Chapter which attempt to frame their decision to disband the Cathedral Choir as one of championing inclusion. We believe that it is dangerous and wrong to [characterize] our grievances with their decision in this way.”
“More must be done to make [organizations] more diverse and inclusive. But, to use inclusion as a pretext to obscure the Dean and Chapter’s mismanagement of music at Sheffield Cathedral is shameful,” the post continues.
The post then addresses the strides taken within the local community to improve their approach to social justice, praising the addition of more women and non-binary individuals in lay and scholarly roles. It also broaches the increasing inclusion of “children of mixed heritage, disabilities, and of socio-economic disadvantage.”
Vice-dean Rev Canon Keith Farrow clarified that they were seeking to reach out to people who might never have considered to join a Cathedral choir.
On a recent radio interview, Farrow defended the unanimous decision to start afresh. He said: “Every Dean always thinks their own choir is the best but we believe we should be raising our ambition and be the best choir we can be in Sheffield and South Yorkshire — and I don’t think we are there actually.
“Cathedrals believe in excellence. We want the cathedral to be singing at a quality that is thrilling — and that’s not the case at the moment.”
However, some staff members believe this to be a scapegoat for the Cathedral’s internal problems, including accusations of harassment and high staff turnover due to a toxic working environment.
Others close to the church theorized that it was merely an excuse to cover for the choir’s lackluster turnouts in recent years, falling abjectly short of its optimal number.
Despite the oblique decision to revamp the Cathedral’s outfit and enthusiastically pursue social justice causes, the Church of England still suffers from freefalling church attendance rates as they fail to resonate with the country at large.