The Church of England's General Synod: Multi-faith worship faces broad attack

THE CHURCH of England's General Synod meeting in York yesterday rejected a general attack on multi-faith worship, but commended a report that condemns some of the practices of the Commonwealth Day Observance in Westminster Abbey, a service much favoured by the Queen.

The Archishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, said he was convinced that God had not hidden himself from other faiths.

'His grace is not absent from them. To fail to honour the faith of other people soon leads to a failure to honour them as human beings made in God's image.'

But, he asked, 'can there really be common worship together if the content of faith is not agreed and shared? I really have strong doubts that such a thing is possible'.

At the root of the dispute are the strong evangelical objections, marshalled by the Rev Tony Higton, to occasional services, usually in cathedrals, where texts or prayers from non-Christian religions are read out.

The most controversial is the Commonwealth Day Observance, where it is alleged that references to Jesus have been removed from hymns to avoid bruising the sensitivities of other religions present. Mr Higton collected 2,000 clergy signatures on a petition against it.

The author of Multifaith Worship?, the Bishop of Wolverhampton, the Rt Rev Chris Mayfield, said the report 'slammed the door' on such mutilation of hymns. He was also prominent in agitation against a multi-faith pilgrimage in Canterbury in 1989, which the Archbishop of York, Dr John Habgood, joined.

Dr Habgood intervened in yesterday's debate to remember that 'we were shouted at and vilified by so-called Christians; called apostates, and language was used that I won't repeat here. One of these Christian witnesses forced his way into the cathedral, grabbed a microphone to harangue us, and was forciby ejected. Where do you find witness to Christ in that kind of behaviour?'

The synod rejected an amendment by Margaret Brown, of Rochester, who wanted to ban all prayers of alien religions from cathedrals and spoke in praise of missionary activity. 'How dare the Church of England deprive members of other faiths of the chance of eternal life?' she said. 'Our forebears would have a fit if they knew what was happening now. The Commonwealth Day Observance is blasphemous.'

The Archdeacon of Leicester, the Ven David Silk, describing how he had slowly come to terms with multi-faith events in his city. He said: 'My concern is with my own experience of encounter in dialogue and worship with peope of living faith in the 20th century, and I cannot read of guidance for that from isolated Bible verses very easily. We are not exactly over-run with idolaters in Leicester. But I do see at close quarter a startling and sometimes dazzling quality of sheer goodness in people of other faiths.'