THE Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, has said that his diocese has run out of churches and is building new ones to cope with demand. He made his comments after the consecration of Britain’s first Syriac Orthodox Cathedral, on Thursday of last week, in Acton, west London.
The cathedral occupies the former St Saviour’s, in Armstrong Road — a chapel for deaf Christians previously owned by the Royal Association for Deaf People.
”Increasingly, the doctrine is that those who are afflicted by deafness ought not to be corralled into separate communities,” Bishop Chartres said. “So, all over London, there has been a change, and congregations and churches have become more alert to the need to reach out to people who suffer from disabilities.
”With that change of policy, this building has become available, and I am overjoyed that it has become a Syriac Orthodox cathedral.
”We have run out of churches in the diocese of London. We would never let one of ours go, but we wanted to help this community, and so did, in the background, encourage it. But we are not allowing any of our churches to go. In fact, we are building new ones.”
Average all-age Sunday attendance in the diocese has risen from 57,000 in 2010 to 58,300 in 2015. The average all-age weekly school-service attendance has more than doubled in two years from 5700 in 2013 to 11,600 in 2015.
The rise in attendance was, in part, due to the “extremely diverse community” that the capital had become, Bishop Chartres said. In London, he went on, “we realise that the 21st century is so different from the 20th century. As the title of a book by the [former] editor of The Economist [John Micklethwait] put it: God is back.”
The consecration of the new St Thomas’s Syriac Orthodox Cathedral was carried out by the Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius Aphrem II, the chief pastor of the Syriac Orthodox Church, with the leader of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the UK, Archbishop Mor Athanasius Toma Dawod. The Prince of Wales was the guest of honour.
Amid the celebration — including the singing of a Syriac-language version of the British national anthem, and traditional dancing, which Prince Charles joined in with — much thought was given to the plight of Christians in the Middle East.
Prince Charles, who was dubbed a “21st-century St Paul” for his support for Christians in the region, said that it was “deeply encouraging” that the Syriac Church was able to expand and gain strength in Britain “at a time when the members of the Syriac Orthodox Church in their homelands of Syria and Iraq are undergoing such desperate trials and such appalling suffering”.
Patriarch Ignatius said that Christians and Muslims were suffering in the Middle East “because of fanaticism, because of hatred, because of narrow-mindedness. We need the good efforts of everyone to establish peace back in our countries.”