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New Bishop for Guildford speaks up for moderate Muslims

26 September 2014


Moving south: the Bishop of Aston, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson

Moving south: the Bishop of Aston, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson

THE Bishop-designate of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, has echoed the Archbishop of Canterbury's call for the Church to work with Muslims to counter radicalisation and the appeal of jihadism.

Bishop Watson, who is currently the Suffragan Bishop of Aston in the diocese of Birmingham, said on Friday, the day his nomination was announced, that Christians should engage with the issue of radicalisation of Muslims, and that in the West Midlands many already were.

"I was with some of our inner-city clergy yesterday and they were saying when you speak to the imams it is very sensible stuff," he said. "On the ground, one of the questions is whether people are listening to their imams or to messages from out of the internet. I think a fair amount of the latter is going on."

Archbishop Welby said earlier in the day, during a House of Lords debate on airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) terrorists in Iraq, that there needed to be an "ideological and a religious response" to the "dreadful barbarity" of IS (News, 26 September).

This response, he said, should set out "a more compelling vision, a greater challenge, and a more remarkable hope" than that offered by the terrorists.

Bishop Watson said that both he and the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, had been invited to speak to large gatherings of Muslims during Ramadan this year. "That was coming out of a sense in the Muslim community that we do need to work closer together in that way to discourage radicalisation."

It was important that the Church also stood up for moderate Muslims who abhorred Islamist extremism as much as Christians did. For instance, the diocese of Birmingham had been approaching the Trojan-horse scandal at Muslim-majority schools (News, 25 July) as an issue of "community cohesion" rather than an issue of extremism.

"[This] seems much more productive," he said. "Otherwise, the demonisation can continue, and make people feel misunderstood and pushed around."

Bishop Watson said that moving to the diocese of Guildford from the West Midlands would be a culture shock in many ways, as it was a wealthier part of the country. "Guildford is obviously a diocese which has fantastic resources in all kinds of ways. My vision is releasing the tremendous potential here to be a blessing locally and across the country."

There were also issues such as alcoholism and domestic abuse, with which the Church could engage, and these were no respecters of wealth, he suggested.

Nevertheless, with just 28,000 regular worshippers out of a population of more than one million, the diocese needed more strong and growing churches, he said. One of his proudest achievements in Birmingham was an initiative, Transforming Church, which had led to some church growth.

"I think it's a mixture of being good news in the parishes that they serve, and not just settling for 'Church-ianity' - being confident about proclaiming good news," Bishop Watson said. "Churches can either be salt and light, but lacking evangelism, or the other way round. Across the board of churchmanship, where churches are seeking to be both, they are growing."

Bishop Watson took part in the piloting of the shared conversations on sexuality as part of the College of Bishops last week ( News, 19 September). He said that he had mixed feelings going into the process, but was convinced that it was the only way forward for the Church of England.

"From my perspective, it is going to be important to keep the sense that we are having this discussions within the family context rather than manning the barricades," he said.

He was also looking forward to the entry of women into the College of Bishops in the near future. "[They] will have a positive and encouraging effect on the workings of the College, as well as being excellent on the ground."

Before moving to Birmingham in 2008, Bishop Watson, who is 53, studied at Corpus Christi College and Ridley Hall, in Cambridge, was an assistant curate in Worcester and London dioceses, and then Vicar of St Stephen's, East Twickenham, in London diocese. He will be enthroned in Guildford Cathedral in February next year.

He is married to Beverly, who is also ordained, and they have four children, aged 15 to 24. Besides being a keen amateur musician, Bishop Watson enjoys walking and is the author of three books. 

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