It is strange, I had been thinking of meeting with Canon Andrew White, and early hours Sunday morning, I found I had a message that he was at St Saviour’s Church in Guildford.
I had not planned on being in Guildford, but a change of plans, afternoon in Guildford, lunch in Guildford, maybe a walk along the River Wey, then wander along to St Saviour’s for the evening service.
Not quite according to plan. I did not get the roast pork I was looking forward to for lunch, nor did I get my walk along the river, but I did experience a black church called The Upper Room meeting in St Nicolas, and had afternoon tea at Glutton & Glee.
I arrived at St Saviour’s more than half an hour early and was told I was first one.
I was not sure I had the correct evening, as no mention on their website, but on arrival I saw a space had been reserved for Andrew White and there was a notice on the church door.
The service started with music. During rehearsal, they were awful, but during the service far better.
We were then told of the situation in Egypt, or rather were were told half truths.
It is good that a church is recognising the plight of Christians in Egypt and the Middle East as too often they feel ignored and the churches in the West do not give a damn, but what we should also recognise is that the Christians in Egypt especially their leadership, are not a reliable witness to events on the ground and will give a partisan view.
We should not forget, that when people occupied Tahrir Square and refused to leave until Mubarak was overthrown, those who supported Mubarak to the bitter end and condemned the brave people in Tahrir Square, were the leaders of the Christian Church in Egypt. Neither should we forget that Muslims and Christian stood shoulder to shoulder in Tahrir Square.
Morsi betrayed the revolution. He tried to Islamise what is a secular country, betrayal of rights for women, installation of cronies to positions of power. In other words, no different to every corrupt government in the Middle East.
20 million Egyptians took to the streets to overthrow Morsi. A lot of rubbish in the West about the democratic overthrow of Morsi. The will of the people was executed. That is democracy. Democracy is not rule by unaccountable elites, the people reduced to election fodder and having no further say.
But, the overthrow of Morsi, has been hijacked by a military junta.
Attention was drawn to a letter from Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis. This proved to be little more than a propaganda sheet for the brutal military junta, demonisation of the Muslim Brotherhood.
St Saviour’s need to be very careful that they are not being used as unwitting tools of the military junta.
Morsi supporters, and it is not only the Muslim Brotherhood, have every right to peaceful protest. The response of the junta, to massacre in cold blood several hundred peaceful protesters.
Yes, there has been attacks on Christians, on churches, but these attacks, pre-date the overthrow of Morsi, they are nothing new.
The slaughter of innocent protesters will have only one consequence, it will open the void for Islamic terrorists to step into.
We must hope, that the crimes against humanity being committed by the military junta, are documented and they are brought to justice, in the meantime, all Egyptians must unite to overthrow the junta, otherwise Egypt will descend into bloody civil war.
Coverage of Tahrir Square by mainstream media was poor. Post-overthrow of Morsi much better.
For good coverage turn to Democracy Now, Russia Today and Al Jazeera. On twitter follow Sharif Kouddous.
The pastor leading the service, invited Andrew White to join him, and they discussed what had led Andrew White to where he is today, leading a church in Iraq.
Andrew explained his interest in the Middle East had started when he studied at an ultra-Orthodox university in Israel.
Andrew White started from when he was a curate, then a vicar, and how he had then been asked to head the peace and reconciliation unit at Coventry Cathedral.
Formed out of the ashes of the bombed Coventry Cathedral, the focus had been Europe. Andrew refocused on the Middle East. He had acted as envoy for the then Archbishop of Canterbury, engaging in dialogue with Israelis and Palestinians and encouraging them to talk to each other.
Diagnosed with MS, he was asked to step down from what he was doing. His response was to take over the running of St George’s in Baghdad. His assistant was Justin Welby, now Archbishop of Canterbury.
The church costs over $175,000 a month to run. They have no money, no reserves. They rely entirely on donations, on people inviting Andrew to talk at their church, on buying his books.
The money given on Sunday, and during the week, will all go to FRRME (of which Andrew White is the Founding President).
The church has a school, a medical clinic, feeding programmes, all paid for through donations. All the programmes the church runs are free to all.
Beside the work at the church, Andrew acts as Embassy Chaplain, works on peace and reconciliation between the various factions, advises on security.
FRRME was formed to support the work in Iraq and the Middle East.
Following the reading of the lesson, Andrew White was asked to give the sermon.
Andrew started by blessing the congregation in Ameraic, the language used by Jesus, and the language still used in the Iraqi Church.
His theme was Matthew 24:6-8
You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.
For people of Guildford, words in the Bible, for people of Iraq, daily occurrence.
There are rumours of war, there is war, there is bombing, there is killing.
Of the church over 1,250 have been killed.
When people have lost everything they have everything.
The church in Iraq is filled with joy.
To love your friends is easy. We have to learn to love those who are our enemies.
Andrew was once kidnapped. When he looked around, he saw severed fingers and toes.
He has to deal with his friends, who bomb and kill.
When dealing with one of he founders of Hamas, he invited him to dinner. He convinced him to work with a rabbi. When accused of being a Zionist, the founder of Hamas said no, he was walking the path of peace and reconciliation, a very difficult path to walk.
Often asked: How do you deal with Muslims? Easy we love them, we welcome them. The church is over 6,000 people, of which over 600 are Muslim.
When you love can also be very painful, when you see the people you love killed.
Andrew has three adopted Iraqi children. One, Lina, now also his personal assistant, has recently become engaged.
The service lasted almost two hours, but it seemed much shorter. I have known half hour service seem longer.
Too many people spend their lives griping about their lives and never getting off their backsides. Andrew is the exact opposite, faces danger every day, sees more tragedy in a day than most people would see in their lifetime, and yet, he is full of hope, full of joy, and always willing to take risks.
He said when people shake hands and say take care, no, they should shakes hands and and say take risks.
It is unfortunate the service was not filmed. As much my fault as I did not think to ask. It has at least been recorded, or at least the sermon recorded, and possibly the exchange at the beginning. This will be available on the church website.
Andrew then signed books:
I gave Andrew a copy of Manuscript Found in Accra. He said he enjoyed Aleph. He asked me did Paulo Coelho know the new Pope? I said I did not think so, but at a press conference in Athens, Paulo Coelho had been asked two questions, his thoughts on the Catholic Church and of the new Pope. He said there was much wrong with the Catholic Church and that he had high hopes of the new Pope implementing much needed reform.
I also gave Andrew a letter I have had in possession for many months, which a lady had entrusted me to give to him.
A chat with Andrew.
I came away with several signed copies of his latest book, Father, Forgive, one for me, the others I will have pleasure in giving away.
Next year, Andrew is to be awarded the William Wilberforce Prize.