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Canon apologises for Muslim prayers in church

20 March 2015


"Sharing trad­itions": left: Canon God­dard, on YouTube speaks at an inter­faith event at his church, at which he allowed Muslims to pray

"Sharing trad­itions": left: Canon God­dard, on YouTube speaks at an inter­faith event at his church, at which he allowed Muslims to pray

A PRIEST in the diocese of Southwark who opened up his church for Muslim prayers has apologised after being told that this was not permitted within a consecrated building.

The Vicar of St John's, Waterloo, Canon Giles Goddard, said on Tuesday that the event had caused "great consternation". He apologised for "the offence caused and any infringement of the Church of England's framework and guidelines".

The prayers were held on 6 March as part of the Inclusive Mosque Initiative, in the run-up to International Women's Day. They were led by Dr Amina Wadud, who campaigns for gender justice in Islam. Men and women sat alongside one another in the church.

Canon Goddard read from Psalm 139, and concluded: "Allah, God, is always with us and always around us, and is within us. And this is from the Hebrew scripture, so it is our shared [tradition], we all share these great traditions. So let us celebrate our shared traditions by giving thanks to the God that we love, Allah, Amen."

It was announced last Friday that the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, had asked the Bishop of Kingston, the Rt Revd Richard Cheetham, to "investigate fully what happened". A spokesperson said: "The Bishop of Southwark takes very seriously his responsibility to uphold the teaching of the Church, and to work within its framework of legislation and guidance."

On Tuesday, the spokesperson said: "While it is very important to build good interfaith relations, it is clear that an act of worship from a non-Christian faith tradition is not permitted within a consecrated Church of England building."

Further clarification was provided on Wednesday: "Canon B1 sets out what services can be used in the Church of England: these are the Book of Common Prayer or those authorised or commended through the appropriate processes. This does not include services from another faith tradition."

Canon Goddard affirmed on Tuesday that he stood by the Church of England's Declaration of Assent to "use only the forms of service which are authorised or allowed by canon".

He continued: "It is in that context that I have tried to build a better understanding between faiths. The Church of England is in an especially responsible position as the Established Church, with a duty to try to engage with all the people of England.

"Now, more than ever, it is essential that we are able to meet in friendship across the boundaries of faith, and the event at St John's was part of attempts to enable that to happen. . . I have assured the Bishop of Southwark of my commitment to work to build good interfaith relations, but to do so within the teaching and guidelines of the Church of England."

The Provost of St Mary's Cathedral, Glasgow, the Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth, defended the event. On Saturday, he wrote on his blog that, two years ago, he had offered Muslims the opportunity to use the cathedral for Friday prayers while their mosque was being refurbished. He had also invited Islamic scholars to give a reading from the Qur'an during carol services.

In 2013, the BBC reported that Muslims and Christians shared St John's Episcopal Church, Aberdeen. The Rector, the Revd Isaac Poobalan, had made the invitation because the mosque lacked enough space for its worshippers, who were outside in the cold.

The Bishop of Aberdeen & Orkney, Dr Robert Gillies, told the BBC: "We have demonstrated that Christians and Muslims do not have to agree with one another."

In 2013, the Muslim call to prayer was issued at Southwark Cathedral during an interfaith exhibition held there.

The diocesan spokesperson said on Wednesday that it was used "to call Muslims at the event to leave the cathedral in order to say prayers to end the fast of Ramadan. The call to prayer is literally that: a call to prayer, and not prayers. Those who wished to pray went into the Cathedral Education Centre to do so. This is not a consecrated space."


Question of the week: Should people of other faiths be permitted to worship in C of E churches? 

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