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Cross and Christ covered up as Muslims worship in Southwark parish

Muslim prayer services may not be held on consecrated ground, a spokesman for the Bishop of Southwark tells Anglican Ink

Muslim prayer services may not be held on consecrated ground, a spokesman for the Bishop of Southwark told Anglican Ink last week, following reports that a Muslim Friday prayer service or jummah had been held at St John’s Waterloo with the permission of the incumbent.

On 6 March 2015 the Rev. Canon Giles Goddard invited the Inclusive Mosque Initiative to celebrate an “Inclusive Jummah” in the church. A video of the service, released on YouTube shows Canon Goddard participating at the close of the service led by a woman imam, Dr. Amina Wadud. Reading from Psalm 139 he said: “This is from the Hebrew scripture – we all share these great traditions, so let us celebrate our shared traditions, by giving thanks to the God that we love, Allah.”

All Christian imagery and iconography, including pictures and statues of the saints, the Virgin Mary, Jesus as well as the stations of the cross appear to have been covered with sheets during the service at St John’s, the video of the proceedings appears to show, leading some critics to charge that while hiding the cross and Christ may assuage Muslim concerns, it serves to deny the divinity of Jesus.

Other Anglican churches have served as the host the voluntary host for Muslim worship in recent years. In Nov 2014 Washington National Cathedral hosted a Friday prayer service in the northern precept of the cathedral as a gesture of interfaith hospitality. The organizer of the Washington event, the Rev. Canon Gina Campbell explained the cathedral was a “place of prayer for all people,” adding, “Let us stretch our hearts and let us seek to deepen mercy for we worship the same God.”

However, writing on Facebook Franklin Graham observed “It’s sad to see a church open its doors to the worship of anything other than the One True God of the Bible who sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to earth to save us from our sins. Jesus was clear when He said, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me”

English Evangelical clergy responded quickly to the incident, echoing criticisms raised by Franklin Graham about the Washington service. On Anglican Unscripted, the Rev. Peter Ould stated Canon Goddard had violated canon law and common sense in permitting the service to take place. He argued that this should not be excused as a misplaced gesture of hospitality, akin to allowing a Muslim group to use a parish hall. “Consecrated space should not be used” for non-Christian worship he said.

Complaints about the service prompted a meeting on 10 March 2015 between Canon Goddard and the Bishop of Kingston-on-Thames, the Rt. Rev. Richard Cheetham — who also services as Anglican president of the Christian Muslim Forum. After the meeting Canon Goddard gave an interview to Ruth Gledhill of Christian Today stating everything his church did was legal and within bishops’ guidelines.

He added: ‘It is very much about St John’s being a place of welcome. We understand God as a generous God, a God who celebrates love and celebrates life.”

‘We try and make sure we live that out. In that sense we feel very properly Anglican.’

However, Dr. Gerald Bray, director of research at the Latimer Trust at Oak Hill Theological College in London questioned Canon Goddard’s views about Islam and Christianity. Writing on Facebook he said: “The simple truth is that Islam is the only major world religion that is explicitly anti-Christian. The Buddha, for example, could not have known anything about Jesus and did not develop his ideas in contrast to Christ. Muhammad, on the other hand, knew about Christians and Jews and could easily have become one or the other himself. Instead, he concocted his own religion based on elements of Judaism and Christianity and regarded it is the culmination (perfection) of both. You could say that Islam is related to Christianity in much the same way as Mormonism is, but this does not constitute ‘a common tradition’.”

A spokesman for the Rt. Rev. Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark told AI that he “takes very seriously his responsibility to uphold the teaching of the Church and to work within its framework of legislation and guidance.”

“It is quite clear that Islamic prayer should not take place in a consecrated building.  This is why he has asked the Bishop of Kingston to investigate fully what happened. It is inappropriate to seek to make further public comments on this matter until this has happened.”

St John’s has been the focus of concern for Evangelicals in the diocese in recent years. The parish offers blessings of same-sex marriages after the civil ceremonies have taken place elsewhere, defending the practice as being in line with the bishops’ guidelines on pastoral care for gay couples.

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church Pastoral Aid Society are patrons of the living.


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