Epiphany, The Qu’ran, and The Cathedral

As regular readers are aware, I am a member of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow. I am a server at the altar of the Lord in that church, and I am elected as lay representative of the congregation.

St Mary’s Cathedral is no stranger to conflict, and no stranger to calling out injustice where we see it or causing trouble where we see that it is needed. We proclaim ourselves to be open, inclusive, and welcoming — and proud.

It is fair to say that I did not see the events of the last week coming.

Last Friday, I was at the Epiphany service that has been widely misreported largely by segments of the right wing media. I was there as we celebrated the birth of Jesus and the incarnation of the Word of God, and as we received the body and blood of Christ, and as we proclaimed the Gospel of the Lord. It filled me with great joy to send clouds of sweet smelling incense up to heaven in praise of the babe born in Bethlehem. I was there when one of our Muslim sisters in God sang for us the story of Mary and Jesus as it exists in the Islamic tradition of the Qu’ran. In our cathedral church which we dedicate to her, it means a great deal to us to know that throughout the world people from all kinds of traditions are singing songs to honour Mary.

I have been astonished at the subsequent furore, and at the vitriol and intolerance that has been unleashed on St Mary’s in response to our Epiphany service.

As Christians who consider ourselves called to the practice of neighbourly love and radical hospitality, this is quite simply what we do and we view that as thoroughly unremarkable.

I confess that I am uncertain what the “Christians” whose response to this has been hate mail and threats thought they were being called to. Theirs is not a form of Christianity that I recognise.

When I attended our Eucharist this morning, I took messages of love and goodwill that had been passed to me from all over Glasgow and beyond. From friends who worship in the Baptist tradition, and the Greek Orthodox tradition, and the Roman Catholic tradition. From friends who are Muslim. From friends who have no religious tradition at all but who see the work we do at St Mary’s and think that it is a good thing. From fellow Anglicans and Episcopalians too.

This week has been a difficult one, but here we still are and our business goes on as usual; our business of proclaiming to Glasgow and to all the Earth the Gospel truth that God is love, God is love, God is love.

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15 comments

  1. I am not in the least bit surprised at the furore over the events at the cathedral. I’m not at all surprised that the press have blown it up into something it wasn’t.
    This seems to be how the world is. Full of people who are full of themselves, & so have no room for their neighbours. Ignore them if you can, call them out for their bad behaviour if you can’t, but don’t let them stop you living in the Lord’s way – they didn’t like him much either as I recall

  2. This was wonderful news, shared by a Facebook friend. I live in Greece now, so Epiphany is a much bigger deal than in the protestant Northern Europe where I come from. What also strikes me, is how here, Christianity and Islam existed side by side for so many centuries, not without tensions and outright conflict, but long enough to influence each other. It reminds me of Jacob’s fight with the angel. They fight, but Jacob will not let the angel go until he has received something of the other. So to me the muslim woman singing was completely the most logical thing to do when celebrating Epiphany on shores where there probably are more muslims than Greek/Eastern Orthodox.

  3. To quote a talk I heard recently, “Christians said that Jesus died and rose again, Jews that he died normally, and Muslims that he never died – they can’t all be right!”

  4. Oh, no – I’d read about the service and thought it a lovely idea. I’m so sorry… but at the same time, unfortunately, so NOT surprised. UGH. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

    1. Thanks, T. I admit that I was surprised — and I go through my day-to-day life expecting us to get in some sort of trouble, and sometimes helping cause the trouble, if we’re honest, but this was one that blindsided me completely.

  5. As an Edinburgh pisky temporarily in Canada, I want to express my support to St Mary’s and to both you and Father Kelvin personally. Clearly, the Cathedral Service has been widely misreported and even people who should know better such as Peter Ould and Dr Ian Paul have leapt in without checking their facts. It is important to hear alternative accounts and points of view – the very fact of hearing them does not mean that you endorse them. I am disappointed by the Primus’ response and horrified by some of the comments. I am not surprised by the mis-reporting or the hostuile response but that dosen’t mean that you should stop doing the right thing. You and all at the cathedral have my full support. Best wishes

  6. Probably the most moving piece of music I’ve ever heard was Karl Jenkins’ mass for peace “The Armed Man” sung in York Minster the day after the Paris attacks in Nov 2015. This included a muezzin singing from the Minster’s pulpit, which the local press recognised as a welcome sign of hope and our common humanity in a world of violence and fear. “The presence of a muezzin, Ustadh Adam Aslam, intoning the Muslim call to prayer from the pulpit, lent welcome perspective, since Jenkins’ underlying use of the mediaeval melody L’Homme Armé (“the armed man should be feared”) implies that warlike intent – from any quarter – has always bedevilled civilisation.” http://www.yorkmusicalsociety.org.uk/?p=1351

    The YMS concert in Nov 2016 told a different story of how the venerable 100-year-old musical society had kept on performing German music by Brahms and others throughout both World Wars, at a time when most German music was effectively banned. But the quarrel at that time was not with Brahms – and neither is today’s with our Muslim brothers and sisters.

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