Rowell suspends Istanbul chaplain

by
01 February 2007

by Rachel Harden

Members of the congregation and supporters of the Anglican chaplaincy in Istanbul, including Victoria Short, the wife of the murdered diplomat Roger Short, have criticised the suspension of the church council and the chaplain by the Bishop in Europe, Dr Geoffrey Rowell.

Dr Rowell is to make an episcopal visitation to the Anglican chaplaincy in Istanbul next week: the Chaplain, Canon Ian Sherwood, has been suspended as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Ecumenical Patriarch, but has not been suspended from ministry.

The visitation is the result of long-running discussions between the chaplaincy and the diocese in Europe over a number of issues, including the ordination by Dr Rowell last month of a pioneer minister, the Revd Engin Yildirim, to a congregation in Beyogl, Istanbul.

Mr Yildirim has been leading a group of Turkish Anglican Christians who meet in a church away from the chaplaincy buildings. His licence to officiate restricts him to that congregation, and is not related to the work of the English-speaking Anglican congregations in Istanbul.

But the members of the chaplaincy, who worship at Christ Church, Istanbul, this week described the situation as “very troubling”. They said that the council had been suspended “in the most ludicrous circumstances”.

Professor Norman Stone of the Department of History at Koc University in Istanbul wrote, in a letter also signed by other chaplaincy members, that, during his 18 years as chaplain, Canon Sherwood had built up a lively parish.

“He has saved four fine Victorian buildings from unnecessary destruction — the entire heritage of the Anglican presence in Istanbul. We are therefore astounded that the Bishop of Gibraltar has recently suspended Canon Sherwood and the church council in Istanbul, and placed them under visitation in an attempt to silence their opposition to his unpopular plans — and ultimately to dislodge Canon Sherwood.”

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Dr Rowell will meet all Anglican clergy in Turkey, and others involved in Christian ministry. A diocesan spokesman said that the views of everybody would be taken into account.

Later this month, a visitation will take place by an independent bishop. The spokesman said that it was wrong to say that a suspended church was under disciplinary measures, and that it was normal procedure for the church council’s authority to be temporarily reverted to the diocesan bishop while a visitation takes place.

Mr Short and 60 others were murdered in 2003 in a number of bombings in Istanbul. St Helena’s chapel, part of the chaplaincy, which lies on the edge of the Consulate, was almost destroyed. The chaplaincy, led by Canon Sherwood, objected to suggestions in 2005 that the site could be leased to a hotel developer. But, after discussions with the diocese and the Foreign Office, work began on restoration.

The diocesan spokesman said that some news reports about Mr Yildirim were unfounded, and that under no circumstances would the Church of England ever condone proselytising activity in Turkey. He added that the diocese was aware of objections to Mr Yildirim’s ordination; after thorough investigation, it had found them all to be unfounded.

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