Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words. — St. Francis of Assisi
There is no place in the world that has the profile of the Middle East – constantly in the news and constantly the scene of war. Yet amidst the tragedy of the region there are few places that have such wonderful people. I love the people of this region and so do we as an organisation. This includes all peoples of the region: Muslims, Christians and Jews. In the midst of these conflict situations we seek political, diplomatic and religious solutions. — Canon Andrew White
I had the honour and privilege of meeting Canon Andrew White (aka Vicar of Baghdad) Vicar of St George’s Church, Baghdad, Anglican Chaplin to Iraq and President of FRRME during a recent visit to the UK.
As I was early I attended an AGM of Evangelicals who were hosting the dinner I was to attend later at which Canon Andrew White was the invited guest speaker. It was the weirdest AGM I had ever attended and lasted less than 30 minutes. Nothing was questioned, nothing was discussed. The accounts were presented (and I assumed approved) in less than five minutes. Officers were elected on a nod (I assumed no one else wished to stand). We were told that the Archbishop of Canterbury had said something to which they had made an objection. We did not learn what the Archbishop had said or why there was an objection. No one asked. I asked later and no one seemed to know. The Agenda lacked Any Other Business should anyone wish to raise anything.
Very appropriate it was held in the Lewis Carroll room!
Whilst waiting for dinner to be ready, I had a chat with Canon Andrew White.
Dinner was excellent and I must go back to find out how they cooked their excellent pork chops which I had as the main course.
– Cream of Tomato Soup
– Braised Pork Chop in a cider and tarragon sauce
– Raspberry Pavlova
The meeting, to their credit, was hosted by Evangelicals.
Why is that no one likes Evangelicals? People I spoke to went out of their way to emphasises to me that they were not Evangelical, they were there to hear Canon Andrew White speak.
To answer my own question, could it be their lack of grace, their lack of spirituality, their misplaced dogma? Certainly that was the view of people I spoke to and I see no reason to differ.
I spoke to the one and only Evangelical I could find not counting the handful who were at their AGM. It was ensuring the word was correct, I was told. Whose word, from where has it originated, who determined what is deemed ‘correct’ was my response. It is sad they seem to lack any understanding of the origins or history of early Christianity. If they were Muslims they would be called fundamentalists. Jesus Wars by Philip Jenkins ought to be mandatory reading, as did What’s So Amazing About Grace and The Jesus I never Knew both by Philip Yancey. We had an interesting discussion of these books at the table I was sitting. To this list I would also add Reconciliation by Benazir Bhutto, the book she was working on when she was killed by Pakistani extremists.
The previous week I had attended a fascinating talk by Professor Adel Sharif on The Role of Science and Faith in the Development of Civilisations hosted by the Guildford and Godalming Interfaith Forum at Saint Nicolas Church in Guildford. His basic premise was that faith played a pre-eminent role in the development of civilisation and that although Man had evolved in the scientific realm he had failed to do so in the religious-spiritual dimension.
One of the reasons, though by no means the only reason, Christians have problems in Iraq, is due to meddling by American Evangelists.
Christianity in Iraq dates right back to the time of Jesus. Doubting Thomas visited Iraq. The roots go back still further. Abraham was in Iraq. Job was in Iraq. Iraqi Christians are very proud of their heritage.
St George’s is an Anglican church. It was founded in 1864 as a church for the British. It was known under Saddam Hussein as the English church and for that reason it was periodically closed down.
Few Brits now stray out of the Green Zone, it is not safe, St George’s has become the church for Iraqis. At first only a handful, but now a congregation of 4,000.
The people need food and health care. St George’s has its own clinic which serves all Iraqis regardless of faith. An Abrahamic dental practice, a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim. The standard of heath care provided by the clinic is good.
The people are petrified. Those who can flee the country do so. Only the poor and those who are determined to stay do so. Within the last two months, forty families from his church have fled. Canon Andrew White has promised his people he will not leave.
Although the people are frighted, risk being killed when they do so, attendance at church is regular. The church provides a haven of tranquillity in a war-ravaged country.
The recent carnage at a Catholic Church was a sister church to St George’s. When Canon Andrew White saw pictures of the carnage, saw his friend the priest lying in a pool of blood, he wanted to fly straight back. He spoke of the pain he felt. His people said no, you must stay and go to your dinner, talk to the people in Guildford, then come back. [see Canon White responds to the Baghdad Hostage Crisis]
They were right. By speaking, people maybe learnt a little of Iraq. They need to spread that knowledge to others.
Iraq is a British creation, lines on a map. If a country is occupied, then the occupiers have a duty to stay to resolve the problems they have created. Under President Obama, the situation on the street has got much worse. Canon Andrew White is guarded day and night by over 30 security personnel, but his people are not.
Canon Andrew White is a negotiator. He will talk to anyone who is willing to talk. The one group who will not talk to him is Al Qaeda. He is one of their targets.
The work FRRME do in Iraq is entirely dependent on external support.
Religion is a Big Issue in the Middle East. If we fail to understand this, then we fail to understand the Middle East. When religions go wrong they go very wrong and that is the situation we are now seeing in Iraq.
Asked at the end was there one prayer he would like people to say he did not hesitate with his answer: Please pray for security for myself and my people.
Copies of his four most recent books were on sale, profits to his mission in Iraq.
Canon Andrew White is not only the Vicar of St George’s, he is also a skilled negotiator, accepted and respected by all sides, Very quickly flipping through his books I can see why. He is a man of faith. I saw this a few years ago when I met Peggy Gish. A devout Christian but also a woman of steely determination. She too when in Iraq was accepted by all sides.
The tragedy that is Iraq would not be if it were not for war criminals Blair and Bush. Where, asked an Iraqi colleague of Andrew White, were the weapons of mass destruction? As many now realise, but many of us knew at the time, we went to war with Iraq on a pack of lies. There were no weapons of mass destruction. We went to war to control Iraqi oil. We have destroyed Iraq, destabilised the Middle East, created a problem of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. The fate of Iraqi Christians, most of who can have now fled the country, is the price they have had to pay.
It was Madeleine Albright, then US Ambassador to the UN, speaking of the estimated one million children who had died as a result of sanctions on Iraq: it was a price worth paying.
Canon Andrew White was flying back the next day. I shook his hand and wished him a safe journey. We all pray that God keeps his tireless servant safe.
Professor Adel Sharif is of the view that it is faith that enables men to do great works. It is faith that inspires his innovations. I see faith when I read the works of Paulo Coelho. I saw faith when Canon Andrew White talked of the love of his people. It his faith that keeps his people going in war-torn Iraq. It his faith that helps him strive for peace. [see The Role of Science and Faith in the Development of Civilisations]
During dinner I had a chat with a clerical lady re the so-called Peace Oil on sale in St Mary’s Church in Guildford and the misleading information that seemed designed to deliberately mislead the public. We agreed it was scandal that it was on sale and that the deathly silence from St Mary’s would appear to condone its sale on church premises. There is fairtrade Palestinian oil on sale in Guildford, so why was St Mary’s allowing the sale of Israeli olive oil? If you want to make a dfference in occupied Palestine buy fair trade Zaytoun Palestinian olive oil. If you want to help peace and reconcilliation in the Middle East then please make a donation to FRRME of which Canon Andrew White is president. [see Peace Oil or taking the piss?]
Footnote: The following week I had the pleasure of meeting the chef at YMCA Guildford to compliment him in person. He kindly gave the recipe for the Pork Chop in Cider and Tarragon Sauce. Please scale accordingly, unless of course you are cooking for a banquet.
Up coming events
Faiths in Harmony Guildford and Godalming Inter-Faith Forum at St Nicolas Church in Guildford. 3pm, Sunday 14 November 2010.
Israeli Apartheid: Hosted by West Surrey Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Ben White, author of Israeli Apartheid and campaign co-ordinator of A Just Peace for Palestine, will talk of the plight of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. 7-30pm Thursday 18 November 2010, St Nicolas Parish Centre, Guildford.
Woking Quakers as part of Interfaith Week are putting on a show from the Edinburgh Fringe On Human Folly by the Plain Quakers theatre company. Friends Meeting House, 41 Park Road Woking. 2pm Sunday 21 November 2010.