The Reverend Peter Mullen is a distinguished member of the Clergy, and for many years has been Chaplain of the Freedom Association. He casts an acerbic and unforgiving eye on the follies of modern Anglicanism. He has given me his permission to publish the following piece as a Guest post on my blog:
In recent times, the Church of England has been blessed with some highly imaginative bishops. Remember the former Archbishop of Canterbury, the very devout Rowan Williams whose final sermon included the inspirational theological insight, “The church has a lot of catching up to do with secular mores.” Given such prophetic leadership, how can we fail to keep God’s word and commandments? Then there was Rt Rev’d Richard Harries, bishop of Oxford, who said we should stop saying “This is my body” at the Holy Communion – because visitors “will think we are cannibals.” We should use a phrase such as “angel bread” instead. And we can never find words sufficient to express our gratitude to John Sentamu, Archbishop of York who, in a darkening world, provides us with constant comic relief: a sort of episcopal Widow Twanky in an everlasting Archdiocesan pantomime.
But now these profoundly gifted fathers in God have been surpassed by that indefatigable stentorian Richard Chartres, bishop ofLondon who says that clergy in Muslim districts should grow beards “to reach out to the majority of their parishioners.” Of course they should. And they should strive to avoid even the suspicion of giving offence which might be construed as Islamophobia. The sensitivities of the Muslim population must be accommodated. It is appropriate too that the bishop should have made his suggestion two days after the earliest Christian community in Iraq was wiped out by our Muslim brothers and at a time when militant Islam is harassing, persecuting and murdering Christians – bearded or clean-shaven – across three continents.
Writing in Church Times, Dr Chartres reminded us that beards have traditionally been a sign of holiness and wisdom. Illustrating the bishop’s article were the pictures of two of his bearded London priests. I can’t speak for their wisdom but, as for evidence of holiness, neither was wearing a dog collar. In fact, from their attire, there was nothing to suggest their clerical orders. But one was clutching a glass of beer – which probably did little to help him “reach out” to his Muslim parishioners.
The episcopal suggestion that priests wear beards is not without its problems in these exciting days when we have women priests who might be unable to grow a full beard and will have to do their bit for “reaching out” by sporting a neat moustache. In order to commend themselves to Muslims, perhaps these ladies should adjure beads and necklaces, stop wearing short skirts, cover their heads and hold church services for women only?
But these trifles amount only to a small beginning in this godly programme of “reaching out.” Surely Deaconess Ursula Peabody who supervises the Confirmation class could make arrangements for the young girls to receive FMG? And all these bottles of wine for prizes at the whist drive will have to go.
As a priest myself, I have nothing but praise for the bishop’s invigorating suggestion and I can only regret that I no longer reside in his progressive diocese. But I wonder if his laudable policy of “reaching out” might be rather one-sided? Next time Bishop Chartres attends a meeting of that everlasting talking shop called Interfaith Dialogue with Moderate Muslims – aka the Total Appeasement and Self-Abasement Society – he might invite a little “reaching out” from the other side – say a pork pie and ale night at the mosque for the oppressed minority of Christians in Tower Hamlets. He might even put it to leaders of the religion of peace and love that they cease their practice of burning down churches and crucifying Christians – not permanently, you understand, but perhaps for a couple of weeks or so as an ecumenical gesture.