A British church came under fire after members and its female reverend reportedly discussed covering a devotional image of Jesus as well as crosses in order to let Muslims pray there during Ramadan.
According to the Mirror, the discussions of such a plan for St. Matthew and St. Luke’s church in Darlington were held on May 9. The Sunday Times reported, “They were told that a cross and a well-known devotional image of Jesus, a copy of The Light of the World by the pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt, would be covered up. The plans were discussed at a meeting held at the church on May 9 attended by the Rev Lissa Scott, the priest in charge, and Gerald Lee, a former mayor of Darlington who seeks to boost racial harmony through a group called Celebrating Communities.” The Sunday Times added, “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 Diocese of Durham interceded, instructing the church that church law forbids acts of worship by non-Christians in a Church of England building. A spokesperson for the Diocese of Durham told Premier, “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.’”
Christian Episcopal Church Bishop Gavin Ashenden, a former chaplain to the Queen, criticized the church, saying to Premier, “When Muslims come into our church, we invite them to come in and respect Jesus. If we accepted an invitation to go into a mosque, we would respect Muhammad.” He added, “They realize 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. Islam and Christianity are not Abrahamic cousins in Middle Eastern religion. They’re actually antithetic to each other. 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.”
The Times added, “Muslims will still join Christians and other faiths inside the St Matthew and St Luke Church, Darlington, at sunset on June 2 for Iftar, the evening meal with which they end their daily fast. Muslim prayers, however, will be held in a nearby building instead of in the church.”
Scott married her husband, Nigel Scott, in 2015 at one of the three churches she oversaw, St Andrew’s Church in Bolam. The other two were St Michael’s in Heighington and St. Matthew and St. Luke’s in Darlington.