Controversy has erupted over a Church of England vicar’s decision to open his church to a Muslim group for prayer.
The Reverend Canon Giles Goddard invited Muslims from the Inclusive Mosque organisation – a liberal group that promotes both genders praying together – to worship in St John’s Waterloo on Friday.
The service, attended by roughly 50 members of the group, was led by campaigner Amina Wadud and commemorated the 10 anniversary of Ms Wadud’s decision to speak out against the segregation of worshippers on ground of gender.
Inclusive Mosque spokesperson Farouk A. Peru told The Independent the mood was “like Eid,” adding it was a “joyous occasion.”
But Reverend Stephen Kuhrt, Vicar of Christ Church, New Malden in south-west London, condemned the decision to open the church.
Labelling the service “absolutely illegal,” Rev Kuhrt said the gathering was “disrespectful” to both Islam and Christianity and “part of a liberal agenda”.
“We cannot blend them [Christianity and Islam] together and pretend they are part of all one thing,” he told The Independent. “What happens when this blurring occurs is neither respectful to Christianity or Islam.”
Rev Kuhrt, who has been Christ Church’s vicar since 2007, said that Canon Goddard had broken the “strict” regulations surrounding the use of church buildings, but expressed scepticism that the liberal Canon would face disciplinary action.
In footage capturing the event, the group are seen coming together to pray and listen to a sermon celebrating inclusivity by Ms Wadud.
Afterwards, Canon Goddard reads to the congregation from Psalms 139. Finishing the reading he says: “Allah, God, is always with us and always around us, and is within us.”
Rev Kuhrt called Canon Goddard’s decision to refer to God as Allah as “confusing”, claiming that his decision would only “stoke up” anti-Islamic sentiment.
But he made clear he did not want to be disrespectful towards Islam, adding he had no wish to “whip up” Islamophobia.
He continued: “I think the real problem is that there is a very liberal agenda and I think is trying to water down the distinctness of Christianity.
“It is making it toothless, which means it hasn’t got a message to say and leaves us in the situation where no one should challenge anyone on anything,” he added.
The latest upset comes amid growing anger against a perceived liberal take-over in the Church of England Diocese of Southwark. Around 60 clerics have signed a declaration of concern to the Bishop of Southwark over the shift in attitudes towards issues such as sexuality.
St John’s has been singled out for criticism previously after it emerged that the church holds “thanksgiving” services for same-sex civil partnerships and marriages, the Daily Telegraph reported.
St John’s Waterloo and Southwark’s Church of England spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.