The top story on the news this morning is still the story about the Archbishop of Canterbury saying that Sharia law in the UK is ‘unavoidable’. Needless to say you actually need read beyond the hysterical headlines as what Rowan Williams is saying is a lot more complicated, and a lot less cut and dry than some of the news reports may imply.
For a start, you have to bear in mind that his audience was an audience of lawyers, so it’s not exactly pitched for the man on the street. Also the idea that religions have their own legal courts in the UK is not new – an Orthodox Jewish Beth Din (meaning House of Judgement) is based in London and can be used for legal matters relating to the Jewish faith.
Bishop Alan has produced a good overview under the title Abdul the Bogeyman, which first off highlights that as with most events, this isn’t the first time it has happened. Back in 1829 the English had much the same hysteria over whether Catholics could live under English law, and that the English are great at getting worked up into an unfounded massive hysteria. Bishop Alan highlights the hysteria in 2000 when paediatricians were hounded from their homes by vigilantes who didn’t understand the difference between a paediatrician and a paedophile.
Recently, Ekklesia ran a thought provoking article discussing how people can often be distracted from the shortcomings in their modern societies by quick-fix solutions that target particularly easy to define groups – you need look no further than this weeks headline grabbing attack on people in social housing who don’t work, which fails to address the real, and much more complex long-term issues highlighted by Shelter in their response. Indeed I highlighted the spectacular difference between the perception and the reality of youth crime in the UK earlier in the week – it doesn’t take much to realise the effect that these perceptions have in demonising large numbers of our young people.
The Muslim takeover hysteria has been around for a while, indeed I’ve had arguments with people at Church who at times seem convinced that it’s only a matter of weeks before Muslims turn up wanting to turn the Church into a mosque. The reality of course is somewhat different, and moving past the hysteria, as with so many things the facts really don’t match up to the hype.
Bishop Alan finishes up with a great statement, that really about sums it all up:
Hysteria about Bogeymen is a great British Tradition. It gets people talking. But when they do, historically, they usually talk rubbish.
The Diocese has posted edited highlights of the inauguration video online so people can get some idea of what went on. As a result of Oxford Diocese being one of the largest, but having one of the smallest cathedrals, there was very limited opportunity for people to attend the service, hence a video has been put together.
Unfortunately the video is not of exactly the best quality, with the sound levels way off, and some incredibly poor quality pictures at times. The main camera point is up adjacent to the organ (and to get an idea of how small the building is, the organ is over the main entrance), hence the music is loud, and other parts are barely audible. Other parts are filmed with hand held cameras, and in parts have serious colour problems too. The pictures here and here are a good deal better.
However you can get some idea of what went on though. Some random thoughts having watched it…
No sign of Ian’s processing in the video…
That’s the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, and he’s taking a part in the service too… There is a certain irony to that as a key part of the service is carried out by Rev Sheila Watson, who as Archdeacon of Canterbury represents the Archbishop of Canterbury during the enthronement, indeed the Bishops Chaplain for the new Bishop of Oxford during the service is a woman too…
Music wise the hymns are surprisingly modern – Be Still for the Presence of the Lord, I The Lord of Sea and Sky and The Servant King all featured – all of course played on the organ…
It will be interesting to look at the press over the next few days. Today is the annual St Albans Festival Pilgrimage, marking the martyrdom of St Alban, the first Christian Martyr in Britain, so as in previous years there is a grand procession in the city, led as usual by the Dean of the abbey, currently the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John. What is notable this year is that the guest preacher at Evensong, and the president at the Eucharist this morning, is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who was instrumental in forcing Jeffrey John to withdraw as Bishop of Reading back in 2003. As such, with the current situation there is a good deal of speculation in some circles about what effect Williams appearing at St Albans will bring.
Having said that, there possibly won’t be too much to worry about. Quite apart from the fact that attention is now firmly focused on the other side of the pond, it seems many people don’t actually know what Jeffrey John looks like. One of the amusing comments in his recent interview in the Church Times was that after he was appointed to St Albans but before he took up the post, he attended a service at the cathedral, and was asked at the end to sign a petition against himself by one of the people outside who had come up to the abbey from a big evangelical Church in London. It is worth highlighting at this point that there was little opposition within St Albans to his appointment – certainly nobody from the congregation at the cathedral signed the petition, and on the day of his installation only a lone protester appeared. Subsequent to that, Philip Lovegrove, Chairman of the diocesan board of finance resigned his post, and two or three parishes in the diocese are withholding their parish share. In terms of his work at St Albans, under his leadership the congregations are growing, with regular worshipers numbering about 1400. But as I said, I think with the big events in the USA, I doubt anyone will notice.