“Inclusive Mosque” meets to pray in Waterloo church

Mar 10, 2015 by

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By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

On 6 March a service of Muslim prayers was held in St John’s Waterloo, a short walk from the South Bank opposite the Houses of Parliament. Excerpts from the service, and interview clips with participants, have been made into a short film, posted via Twitter by the Rector, Canon Giles Goddard and now on YouTube.

The purpose of the event was presumably to symbolically bring the Church and Islam together by uniting Christians and Muslims in prayer. It was also to show how a modernised Islam can successfully incorporate some key Western values – the group of worshippers consisted of men and women standing, kneeling and prostrating together; the prayers were led by men and women, and the sermon was delivered by a female Imam, hence “Inclusive Mosque”. Of course while the venue was a church, the theological basis of the event was Islamic, as shown by the repeated and joyful declarations of “Allah u akhbar” (God is great). Giles Goddard is shown ending the service with a reading from Psalm 139, then giving praise to Allah.

Not surprisingly, evangelical clergy in Southwark Diocese, who have already made strong protests to the Bishop about recent and systematic appointment of revisionist and partnered gay clergy to senior positions, are very concerned about this development. But what exactly has Canon Goddard done wrong? A quick look at the Canons of the Church of England does not show any guidelines for multi-faith services let alone purely Islamic services. But even someone not trained in Canon Law such as myself can see that rules have been broken and doctrine has been abandoned in this case. Those responsible for allowing the service, presumably the Rector and Wardens, have rationalised that the Christian and Islamic faiths are really just different expressions of our common attempt to connect with the divine, and that bringing Islamic worship into the church is a means of reconciliation. However Canon A1 indicates that the Church belongs to Christ who is not accepted as Lord by Muslims:

A 1: Of the Church of England

The Church of England, established according to the laws of this realm under the Queen’s Majesty, belongs to the true and apostolic Church of Christ; and, as our duty to the said Church of England requires, we do constitute and ordain that no member thereof shall be at liberty to maintain or hold the contrary.

There are also clear rules on how any service in church must be Christian:

B5: Of the discretion of ministers in conduct of public prayer

  1. The minister who is to conduct the service may in his discretion make and use variations which are not of substantial importance in any form of service authorized by Canon B 1 according to particular circumstances.

However it goes on to say this:

  1. All variations in forms of service and all forms of service used under this Canon shall be reverent and seemly and shall be neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter.

In addition, B 9 (Of reverence and attention to be used in the time of divine service), says this:

  1. All persons present in the time of divine service shall audibly with the minister make the answers appointed and in due place join in such parts of the service as are appointed to be said or sung by all present.

  2. [All persons] shall give reverent attention in the time of divine service, give due reverence to the name of the Lord Jesus…

A Muslim prayer service has clearly departed from the Doctrine of the Church of England and has not given reverence to Jesus.

Going on further to “B 43; Of relations with other Churches”, there are further rules about who is allowed to preach or lead prayers in a C of E church:

(1) A minister or lay person who is a member in good standing of a Church to which this Canon applies and is a baptized person may, subject to the provisions of this Canon, be invited to perform all or any of the following duties -…

(c)   to preach at any service;

(d)   …to lead prayers at other services;

Well perhaps we could argue that this wasn’t a service as such, but a cultural event. There are Canons which cover this as well:

F 16 Of plays, concerts, and exhibitions of films and pictures in churches

  1. When any church or chapel is to be used for a play, concert, or exhibition of films or pictures, the minister shall take care that the words, music, and pictures are such as befit the House of God, are consonant with sound doctrine, and make for the edifying of the people.

This of course means that Bath and Wells Cathedral, which pushed the boundaries at last year’s film festival by screening “The Last Temptation of Christ”, have breached this regulation. But so have St John’s Waterloo, since once again, prayers to Allah are not consonant with sound doctrine.

Beyond the narrow confines of Church of England laws, let’s just think about the effect that this service will have and the wider message that it will send. No doubt Canon Goddard and his congregation think that holding an Islamic service of prayer in a church is a radical and prophetic challenge to both faiths to be more “inclusive” – Mosques should allow women to lead, and churches should include other faiths in their understanding of salvation. However, while being heresy in the eyes of the orthodox of both faiths, these ideas are nothing new, and in fact in today’s climate look like a policy OFSTED or some other Government department might want to implement. So inclusive Mosques and multi faith services are not the actions of prophets but of poodles of the secular liberal establishment.

Secondly, the motive behind this service was probably to build trust, to reconcile where there is division, to bring different communities together for greater cooperation and mutual understanding. But if orthodox believers consider this service to be a grave error and in fact blasphemous, imagine how conservative Muslims might feel? There has been a lot of hand wringing in government and media recently about why middle class British Muslim young people would travel to join murderous death cults – is the sight of  female Imam leading prayers in a church which also conducts blessings of same sex couples going to help calm down the rage and confusion many Muslims feel about Western culture? We need to find ways of conducting interfaith dialogue, reducing tension and building trust in communities in which the Church can be involved, and indeed many such initiatives are being carried out by churches across the country without compromising their faith. This action in Waterloo may have an opposite effect, not bringing peace but further division, both in the local community and in the Diocese.

Lastly, this is not just an act of hospitality. Here Muslims are leading professing Christians in the worship of a deity other than the Trinity inside a church sanctuary. This is not merely an intellectual, theological and missiological question, or an issue of the flouting of church rules. It is, according to Scripture, something offensive to Christ who alone is worthy of worship and prayer. But has it crossed a line in terms of ecclesiastical polity? If the Bishop of Southwark does not take any action against the Rector and Wardens of the church concerned, it confirms once again that we are in a situation where everyone does what seems right in their own eyes. Can the Church of England hold together with such confusion about doctrine, flouting of the rules and lack of respect for orthodox faith? Or will this result in another round of ‘Conversations’ on how the Church can generously include both those who believe in Christ alone, and those who don’t?


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