Can Muslims worship Allah in an Anglican church?

The apology this afternoon by Giles Goddard of St John’s Waterloo is nothing of the sort.

The apology this afternoon by Giles Goddard of St John’s Waterloo is nothing of the sort. If the Diocese of Southwark choose to accept it as a resolution of the complaints received about the church hosting an Islamic worship service, then the Church of England will have departed from the catholic faith and have abandoned its own canon law.

The apology reads as follows:

The Inclusive Mosque Initiative event hosted by St John’s Church, Waterloo, for International Women’s Day has given rise to great consternation, and I am sorry for the offence caused and any infringement of Church of England’s framework and guidelines.

I am, by faith and tradition, a Christian. I stand by the Church of England’s Declaration of Assent: The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.

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 remain committed to finding ways for Christians and Muslims to acknowledge our shared heritage and history, without minimising the uniqueness of both our traditions.  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.

This non-apology is egregious for the following reasons (highlighted above).

1.    Giles Goddard does not apologise for his actions, merely for the offence caused. He is saying “I’m sorry that you didn’t like what I did, but I am not apologising for doing it”. This is not acceptable. Nowhere in his apology has he stated clearly that hosting the Islamic worship service was an incorrect thing to do.

2.    When Giles Goddard describes hosting an Islamic Worship Service as a matter of “framework and guidelines” he attacks the fundamental constitution of the Church of England. The subject of who should be worshipped in a Church of England consecrated building and what form that worship should take is a matter not of framework and guidelines but of doctrine and canon law. To relegate the worship of a non-Triune God to just being the subject of “framework and guidelines” is to undermine (if not deny) the first five Articles of Faith of the Church of England. To argue that the decision as to whether an explicitly anti-Trinitarian worship service where the most basic of Christian symbols were deliberately and specifically covered up or removed is valid or not is merely a matter of “framework and guidelines” is to tear numerous entries out of the Canons of the Church of England.

This apology is not acceptable.

If the Bishop of Southwark believes that the validity of non-Christian forms of worship in consecrated buildings are decided not as matters of doctrine and canon law but rather as outworkings of policy documents then he himself is undermining the very constitution of the Church of England. If the House of Bishops of the Church of England believe that clergy should not be disciplined for breaching in intent and action basic Anglican Doctrine then they will lose the confidence of thousands of clergy up and down the country. Most serious of all, if Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and patron of the parish of St John’s Waterloo, believes that at a time when our Christian brothers and sisters across the Middle East and Africa are dying as martyrs for publicly claiming Christ as saviour, that our international Anglican and wider ecumenical partners will accept this fundamental denial of the Christian faith, then the very role of Archbishop of Canterbury as the primus inter pares of episcopacy across the Anglican Communion will be jeopardised.

This is now a crisis engulfing not just a single parish in London, not just a single Diocese, but the whole Church of England. Every time that some form of excuse for the events of the 6th of March is published the situation simply exacerbates.

It is now time for the leadership of the Church of England to give a clear message on this issue in both word and action. It is up to that leadership to decide what that message will be, even if it is just silent acquiescence.


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