A Church of England vicar has been subjected to withering criticism from fellow clerics and the public alike after she offered to cover up Jesus’ cross and allow Muslims to say prayers in her parish church during Ramadan.
The clergyman identified as Reverend Lissa Scott agreed for the celebration of the Muslim fast to take place in St Matthew and St Luke’s church in Darlington for an event scheduled for next month to mark Ramadan’s end.
Claims are that the church invited men who attend a nearby mosque to use the aisle of the parish church in Darlington as a place of prayer while Muslim women were also offered space in adjoining rooms of St Matthew and St Luke’s church.
As part of the plan, Reverend Lissa Scott agreed to ‘cover up’ the church’s cross and a copy of The Light of the World, a well-known devotional painting of Jesus by the pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt.
This arrangement was discussed at a church meeting on May 9 attended by the Rev Scott, former Darlington mayor Gerald Lee, and a number of local Muslim representation.
Mr Lee has been seeking to boost racial harmony in the area with a group called Celebrating Communities, which mostly organised diverse social events.
The Sunday Times reported that the minutes from the meeting read:
‘One aisle in church to be cleared of chairs for Muslim men to say prayers. Cover Christian crosses/ photographs in small rooms for ladies to say prayers.’
The covering of the cross and Jesus’s painting did not dwell well with many people and they have since slammed it.
Upon hearing about the event the Diocese of Durham intervened and told the church that it must not hold Islamic prayers in the church building as it goes against the Church of England laws.
Speaking to Premier, the Anglican Bishop of the Christian Episcopal Church in the UK said:
“Clearly the motivation behind the event is very good. Anything that tries to get people together to understand each other and be good neighbours is laudable and to be appreciated, but it has to be done from a position of integrity.”
Rt Rev Dr Gavin Ashenden, a former chaplain to the Queen, welcomed the intervention by the diocese but says he hopes lessons are learnt.
“They realise that the vicar made a silly mistake, but I’m glad it happened because it raises in the public eye some important issues which people need to work through,” he said.
“Islam and Christianity are not Abrahamic cousins in Middle Eastern religion. They’re actually antithetic to each other.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Durham said:
“While it is vital to build good interfaith relations, it is clear that an act of worship from a non-Christian faith tradition is not permitted within a consecrated Church of England building.
This is a legal position outlined in Canons B1/2/3 and B5 Section 3 where it states: ‘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’.
There seems initially to have been some misunderstanding locally of this, but that has been resolved now, with plans for Muslim Prayers to be held in a nearby building then the whole community coming together for a celebratory meal inside the church.”
When contacted for a comment, the former city father Mr Lee said that he was not trying to ‘convert or upset’ anyone, and just wanted to bring parts of the community together and accepted that they had made an ‘error of judgment’.
Although the incident erupted controversy, Muslims are still set to join Christians and other faiths at the church at sunset on June 2 for the evening meal of Iftar.
The Church of England is the mother church of the international Anglican Communion.
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