THE Government should be “more consistent” in its work with and support of faith communities, particularly of Muslim children in “poorly funded” independent schools, the outgoing Dean of Westminster Abbey, the Very Revd John Hall, has said.
Dean Hall, who was the chief education officer of the Church of England until 2006, was delivering the sermon at a service on Tuesday morning to mark the 750th anniversary of the rebuilding of the Abbey. The service was attended by the Queen and the Duchess of Cornwall.
The UK had good church schools, Dean Hall said, “but too many Muslim children are being educated in poorly funded independent schools. There should be a clear duty on Government to encourage excellent state-funded Muslim schools.
“Irish immigrants in the 19th century were able to study in emerging Catholic schools. That community is fully incorporated in our society. A substantial number of state-funded Muslim schools would contribute to similar incorporation, to mutual engagement and flourishing.”
Westminster Abbey, which has hosted every Coronation since 1066, is the third church to have been built on the site. Henry III, who was devoted to St Edward the Confessor, rebuilt Edward’s 11th-century Abbey in the French Gothic style of architecture, in his honour. The new church was consecrated on 13 October 1269, with St Edward’s Shrine at its centre.
In his bidding, Dean Hall said: “Today we celebrate the history of this Abbey and its Church and mark it’s continuing significance as a place of worship and of memorial, standing firmly for faith at the heart of our nation and Commonwealth and of the wider world.”
Yui Mok/PA WireThe Queen processes the length of Westminster Abbey at the end of the service
In his sermon, the Dean also reflected on the history of the Abbey as a place of welcome, thinking, and learning for visitors and worshippers from around the world, including many from other faith communities. “These occasions have led to real friendships and effective dialogue between faith leaders,” he said — but more interfaith work was needed worldwide.
“The world faiths need to collaborate, to discover more clearly what we have in common, of which there is so much, and develop means of mutual respect and understanding. The model is now well developed of the relations, between the Christian denominations, of unity in diversity; let that model influence relations between the world faiths.”
Dean Hall told the congregation that he saw “no evidence” that religion was becoming less relevant in modern society. “The place of the Church and of faith in our national life has waxed and waned,” he said. “Revival comes in various guises. True, clear faith is catching. We must always be modest, but also confident.”
He concluded: “I pray that we shall never lose our national commitment, not only at home but in the Commonwealth and in the wider world, to being and doing what is good.”
The first reading (1 Peter 2.4-9) was read by a Marshall of the Abbey, Joseph Lewis-Campbell. The director of the Westminster Abbey Foundation, Valerie Humphrey, read Luke 6.46-49.
The Abbey choir performed a new anthem composed by Matthew Martin, who is the director of music at Keble College, Oxford. The anthem, specially commissioned for the service, draws on anonymous words from the sixth to seventh centuries, as well as the words of a former Dean of Westminster (1902-11), Joseph Armitage Robinson. It begins: “Christ is made the sure foundation, Christ the head and cornerstone.”
At the beginning of the service, three historical documents were carried in procession. They were: a tenth-century (c.960) Royal Charter of King Edgar to St Dunstan, then Archbishop of Canterbury and a former abbot of Glastonbury, who sought to re-establish a Benedictine monastery on the site; a fragment of the shroud from the Shrine of St Edward the Confessor, who ordered the building of the second Abbey Church (consecrated 1065); and the Litlyington Missal, which was created by order of an Abbot of Westminster (1362-86), Nicholas Litlyington, for use at the high altar of the third Abbey Church.
The service concluded with prayers read by various members of the Abbey community, and the singing of the National Anthem. The Queen, in a grey dress and coat with fuchsia-pink details, who has attended many of the “sad and happy anniversaries” marked in the Abbey, to which the Dean referred, walked the length of the Abbey nave out into the autumn sunshine.
Read the full sermon here.