The Christian soldier confronts a violent world Clergy become hardened to a violent world

Andrew Brown on the clergy's stance in the face of rising attacks
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The Independent Online
The Church of England's clergy have traditionally relied on courage and innocence to protect them against the dangerous world in which they work. But now they are asking if a new professionalism is in order in the wake of the murder of the Rev Chris Gray and the hatchet attack in Walsall on the Rev Nduna Mpunzi, who last night underwent brain surgery and was in a stable condition.

The diocese of Lichfield, in which Mr Mpunzi serves, has organised a one-day conference on clergy safety in November. But a spokesman said that this was not prompted by any general anxiety: it followed on from conferences about church security. Theft costs the Church of England around pounds 6m a year. Lichfield recorded 19 incidents of theft or vandalism in 1980, and now has 300-plus a year.

Many churches, even in rural areas, are now closed except for services. "I have just opened my church after 16 years in which it was locked except at services," a vicar in London said. "We can only do this because we have a rota of volunteers from the parish watching for theft or arson. But their average age is 70, so I do worry. After these attacks, I am not sure it's safe."

The diocese of London earlier this year advised priests to consider abandoning their traditional policy of welcoming almost everyone who comes to their door. Yet this will not stop the wretched and homeless coming. They know, as the priests do, that a professional Christian cannot easily turn away someone whom the rest of the world has rejected.

The Rev Rob Marshall, of St Augustine's, Queensgate, west London, said that last week he was woken twice after midnight by homeless men want- ing shelter in the vicarage, one just out of a mental hospital. Both he refused, partly because he was worried for his children, asleep in the vicarage.

The Rev Adrian Benjamin, rector of All Saints in Friern Barnet, north London, said: "I don't know what you do with somebody at midnight in your vicarage. In this job you do keep odd hours and meet all sorts of people. They do get very cross when you turn them away. They go back up the drive hurling abuse - but not knives."

Fr Benjamin, like most of the priests the Independent talked to, made the point that the clergy are often the only middle-class people living in areas of deprivation, which can make them the focus of hostility.

Last night a Walsall man was charged with Rev Mpunzi's attack. He is to appear in front of magistrates this morning.