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Letters from London

An Irregular Column

Will Pratt

by Will Pratt –

Unarmed Combat for Clergy

Seventy Christian ministers, both men and women, locked in unarmed combat with police who were teaching them how to defend themselves, was a scene I never expected to see in a television news program. The instruction was being given at the clerics’ own request.

A course in self-defense had been requested following fatal attacks on individuals whose well-known work of caring and kindness would surely have made them immune to any physical hurt in society. But seemingly not so nowadays.

Last August, a Church of England priest, Father Christopher Gray, was stabbed to death by a man he was trying to counsel outside his church in the city of Liverpool (home of the Beatles). Christopher had trained for the priesthood at the College of the Resurrection, founded by a community that had moved from Oxford (‘that sweet city with her dreaming spires’ featured in the film ‘Shadowlands’) to the ruggedness of Leeds, specifically to take the church to the inner cities. Their actions were driven by their theology. Anglo-Catholicism grew out of the Oxford Movement of the 1830s, which sought to rescue Anglicanism from the complacency into which it had sunk in the 1830s (and was so fiercely criticized by the young William Booth).

They were inspired by the words of a Magdalen missioner, Father Basil Jellicoe, who declared, “Everyone is a blood relative of Christ the King.”

Christopher Gray was regarded by his peers as a brilliant young man with a most promising future. His death has caused some to question the wisdom of a mind so elevated and a man so monastic, working in conditions so difficult.

But Christopher had no doubt about his calling. Writing as recently as 1993 about what priesthood meant to him, he invoked the example of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet on the eve of his passion and the idea of “humble labor for others, in obedience to the Father, and to the point of sacrificing one’s own life.”

The Western Territory is well aware of how costly it can be to work among people who can be volatile because of mental illness or addictions. Scores of officers and hundreds of staff at work in the inner cities face scary challenges every day. Those of us who battled with the decision whether Hollywood Tabernacle Corps should transfer to Pasadena, with its possible threat to young people should it remain, know how heart-searing it is to face such questions.

It will never be easy for those who take up the cross-bound way.

P.S. Even as I write, BBC radio reports a Roman Catholic priest has been literally stabbed in the back of the kitchen of the Sacred Heart Church, Holloway, North London, as he went to make a cup of tea for a man he was counselling.

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