A Church of England vicar is facing a storm of protest from traditionalist Christians after allowing a Muslim prayer service to be held in his church.
Dozens of Muslims took part in the “Inclusive Mosque” event at St John’s church, Waterloo in central London, in what is thought to have been the first time a full Islamic prayer service has been held within the Church of England.
The vicar, the Rev Canon Giles Goddard, a prominent liberal cleric, joined in the event, reading a passage from the Bible and inviting the congregation to give thanks to “the God that we love, Allah”.
Canon Goddard, described the service, on Saturday, as “very moving” and said it was simply an expression of the church’s desire to offer people a “place to pray”.
But evangelical clerics were angered by the service which they said marked a breach with canon law which forbids any variation from the official liturgy if it contains “any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter”.
It was also “offensive” to Christians being persecuted for their faith around the world, they said.
It came amid growing anger from evangelicals in the local Diocese of Southwark within the over what some claim amounts to a liberal take-over. Around 60 clerics have signed a joint declaration to the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Rev Christopher Chessun voicing concern at what they see as a shift away from Biblical teaching on issues such as sexuality.
They singled out St John’s for particular criticism over the fact that it holds “thanksgiving” services for same-sex civil partnerships and marriages.
Canon Goddard was approached by a group called the Inclusive Mosque Initiative, which allows both women and men to lead worship, to host the event to mark International Women’s Day.
“I said ‘yes, of course, come’ not realising that this would be controversial,” he said.
“We are offering a place for people to pray so it made absolutely perfect sense … we should be offering places to pray, we are the Church of England.”
He rejected claims it was a breach of canon law as the event was not officially a Church of England service.
“They could have gone to a community centre I suppose, but they loved being in a church, they were just really pleased and delighted to have the welcome and it was very moving really,” he said.
“It is the same God, we share a tradition.”
During the service a traditional call to prayer was issued by a man before the main worship was led by a Muslim woman, Dr Amina Wadud.
At the end Canon Goddard read part of Psalm 139, telling the congregation: “This is from the Hebrew scripture … we all share these great traditions, so let us celebrate our shared traditions, by giving thanks to the God that we love, Allah.”
The Rev Stephen Kuhrt, Vicar of Christ Church, New Malden, south west London, said: “I am appalled by Islamophobia and when people whip up an anti-Muslim frenzy but the vicar of St John’s Waterloo has done something that is completely illegal, which is to allow an Islamic service to be held in his church and then he has participated as well.
“It is no way to handle the complex issue of how to relate to Muslims to hold an Islamic service [in a church] - that would never happen in a Mosque.”
The Rev Robin Weekes, minister of Emmanuel Church in Wimbledon, and a former missionary said: “The issue is not primarily that canon law has been broken, which it has, but that it is offensive to Christians who believe that there is only one God, who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“And it is especially offensive to those who are being persecuted around the world for their faith in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.”
Farrukh Younus, lead editor of Implausibleblog.com, who took part in and filmed the prayers at St John’s, said the event fitted into a long tradition of Muslims and Christians giving each other sanctuary - and specifically a place to pray - at different times.
He highlighted the examples of the Prophet Mohammed providing a place for a group of Christians to worship in Medina while a group of early Muslims suffering persecuted by the Pagan rulers of Arabia were given refuge by a Christian King in what is modern day Ethiopia.
“To those who may be offended by a person of one faith performing a prayer in the institution of another faith (especially when permissions have been secured), they should be remember that all of us believe that spiritual guidance in and of itself is a blessing and mercy from God,” he said.
“So we should be careful of becoming arrogant and upset at another person’s spiritual journey to discovering God, lest God takes away the guidance which we individually believe that God has bestowed upon us in the first place.”
He added: “Having spent part of my youth growing up in Saudi Arabia as an ex-pat, on my return to England I spent the bulk of my secondary education at a boarding school.
“There, every day, we had a Church service, so being in a Church environment was certainly nothing new to me.
“Indeed just last year while on a trip to Belgium, we found ourselves in a Cathedral where with the greatest of respect to our hosts, I pronounced the Azan, the Muslim call to prayer; the acoustics were phenomenal.
“For me, a place of prayer is not necessarily the label of a building, be it a Mosque, a Church, a Synagogue, or any other description of a Temple. Rather, every place of prayer should be a sanctuary for all.”
A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Southwark said: "We are aware of some concerns surrounding the event at St John’s Waterloo held for International Women’s Day.
"The Bishop of Kingston is in conversation with the parish priest in order to ascertain exactly what took place."http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religio ... arish.html