I never knew Alton had a Maltings. Signposting needed from the town centre.
An excellent job done on the interior of the building. Strangely, you enter at rafter level. A large meeting hall (ideal for concerts) and a cafe. I did not explore the lower levels, but was told contained meeting rooms.
Tea was served in paper cups. Not good for the environment. The coffee I was told was single sourced.
Following a blessing in Aramaic, Canon Andrew White started by giving the background of how he came to be in Iraq.
At age ten, he was asked by his teacher, what would he like to be.
An anaesthetist and a priest.
You cannot be both, and you are a Pentecostalist, and they do not have priests.
Andrew was an anaesthetist at St Thomas in London, where he headed the cardiac arrest unit, then gave it up to be a priest.
Christian theology he did not find very interesting,and changed to oriental studies, part of which included studying in Israel at an Ultra-Orthodox University.
He became a curate, then a priest, and was then sent to Coventry, to be part of the peace and reconciliation unit. It had until then focussed on Europe. With his background in the Middle East, it changed focus to Middle East.
He was sent to Iraq, to St George’s Church, an Anglican Church that was derelict.
At first he was not wanted, you are bombing us. No, it is not I who is bombing you.
He had a minder. One day, the minder told him he was invited to dinner. He was to be guest of the two sons of Saddam Hussein. He at first decided to decline the invitation, but his minder pleaded with him to say yes, else he and his family would be executed.
Originally, St George served the diplomats, the military, but when it proved too dangerous, the Iraqis.
First week one hundred, second week two hundred, third week, three hundred, fourth week four hundred. Not bad growth rate, one hundred a week. Eventually six and a half thousand.
More than just a church. A food distribution centre, a school, a clinic.
Several types of service: wacky for the children, Anglican for the Embassy, very formal Catholic for the Iraqis.
The service at St George’s is in Aramaic
Iraq had a very good education system, Iraqis were well educated. It has now collapsed, those with education and the means, have fled the country, leaving behind the poor and uneducated.
More than looking after the church, also involved in peace and reconciliation.
Prior to 2003, there was not a problem of sectarian violence. One was an Iraqi. Now one is a Sunni or a Shia. Under Saddam Hussein, Sunni minority ran the country, now it is a Shia majority.
ISIS aka ISIL is an insurgency and a terrorist organisation. It is well funded, paymasters are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar.
The country has de-facto broken into three.
In the last year, over 1200 of the congregation of St George has been killed. In the last two weeks, 1000 have been killed.
People fled Baghdad as deemed not safe, back to their homeland, back to Mosul. Minerva is a Christian area. It is this area that has been overrun by ISIS.
Churches need to take much more account of what is happening in the Middle East.
Next week, Andrew returns to Iraq, to begin reconciliation talks with Sunni leaders.
Running the church, its various programmes, reconciliation, all costs money. It is only made possible by the generosity of people in the UK. If every church, held but one collection for the work that is being done, it would make a huge difference.
Sales of books went very well.
The meeting had been publicised in other churches. Farnham Parish Church had a poster in the porch. More though needs to be done communicating with the wider community. The press invited.
The dire situation in Iraq will only improve if the government changes, and is inclusive of all Iraqis, including the Christians, who are the minority of the minority.
The talk was filmed, and it is hoped once edited, to have uploaded to the net possibly as early as Sunday. It will be added here once available.
Andrew White is recipient of the Wilberforce Award.
- PHOTOS Canon Andrew White at Alton Maltings
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