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Marcus Walker on saving the parish

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marcus walker

Rev Marcus Walker

Rev Marcus Walker, Rector of Great St Bartholomew’s in the City of London, is founder of the Save the Parish campaign, launched in the Church of England this summer.

He stood for the CofE’s legislative body, the General Synod, in October along with other candidates concerned for the future of the traditional parish church and was elected to represent London Diocese.

Before he was ordained in 2011, Rev Marcus, 40, worked as a parliamentary researcher, having read History at Oxford University.

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Before becoming Rector of Great St Bartholomew’s in 2018, he was Deputy Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, the Anglican Communion’s embassy to the Vatican.

Christian Today spoke to Rev Marcus about his plans for the Save the Parish movement and his experience of his first General Synod in November.

CT: What are your reflections on your first General Synod?

MW: It’s a very interesting body and has its own culture and mood, which, as a new boy, I’m only starting to pick up. The whole procedure is very carefully managed and is designed to prevent real debate and discussion at any point – whether in questions or while debating actual measures.

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I hope it can open up over the course of the next five years and be a vehicle for really engaging with the issues which concern the ordinary people and parishes across the country.

CT: What are your plans for taking the Save the Parish movement forward?

MW: There are three strands really. The first is reactive: we have to keep an eye on all the proposals coming out of the national and diocesan centres and see whether these will make it easier for parishes to survive and thrive or not – and to rally the troops when the answer is “not”.

The second is more proactive: to give resources and advice to parishes across the country who are fighting for survival.

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The third is much more difficult but ultimately the absolute key to the whole thing: working out ways to funnel money back upstream to the parishes and allowing people on to ground to have the resources they need to thrive.

For all of these we are going to need to create, and are well on the way to creating, a formal structure and a means of receiving and spending money on these projects, while harnessing the amazing experience of our supporters across the land.

CT: You have expressed concerns about CofE plans for 10,000 new lay-led church plants and the potential threat to traditional parish churches. Is it really either-or in terms of parish churches and church plants?

MW: It depends what you mean by church plants. If these are revitalising parish churches and reigniting the light of Christ in places where it has flickered out, then this is great and much to be supported.

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If these are new communities, put into parishes but having nothing to do with those parishes, and costing the kind of money that would be transformative for the local church, then it’s very problematic.

As for the 10,000 lay-led churches, if all we’re talking about is Bible studies and Alpha Courses and the rest, then that’s an excellent idea.

If it’s actual church structures using unpaid lay labour and meeting in people’s private houses, then it is not only going to be a vast waste of money but will almost certainly prove to be a safeguarding catastrophe – among many other entirely predictable disasters.

CT: What is the future for High Church Anglicans like yourself in the CofE in your view?

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MW: Exciting! We’re on the back foot at the moment, which is not a bad place to be. It means we’re where the new ideas need to come from, where the Spirit is likely to start bubbling up – and we’re seeing this already with the growth of Cathedral services and the Prayer Book coming back in fashion among Gen Z.

The wonderful thing about the CofE being in continual tension between different churchmanships is that just when you think one side is out – bang! That’s where the new revival comes from.

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Religion

This Chinese Church Escaped Persecution, But Now Fears Being Returned to China

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01/26/2022 South Korea (International Christian Concern) – With thanks to an interview conducted by Radio Free Asia (RFA), we have learned that the members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church are due to have their appeal for asylum heard by South Korean courts, following an initial rejection by the lower courts last year.

As many may recall, the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church, often referred to as the ‘Mayflower Church’ for its resemblance to those seeking religious freedom on the Mayflower voyage to the US, has been taking refuge on South Korea’s Jeju island since 2019. The unregistered church had begun to face harassment from Chinese government officials and police, as running a church outside of the Chinese regulations is against Chinese law and religious guidelines. In an attempt for a better life for themselves and their children, a contingent of the congregation voted to leave China. However, after two years, their South Korean host has soured on their presence.

The congregation’s initial applications for asylum were rejected, and their appeal is expected to be heard by South Korea’s higher courts soon. If the congregation is denied by the Korean courts, they will be on a short timeline to leave Korea or they will be living there illegally and fearing a possible removal back to China.

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The expected outcome of this congregation’s case remains uncertain, as Chinese nationals are rarely approved for asylum status in South Korea. Some allege this to a result of the South Korean government’s weariness of their communist neighbor – to accept refugee from China would be seen as a direct slight against the regional superpower. The congregation must also demonstrate a significant threat, and when dealing with a nation like China, the threatening party has a tight control on the information. Given that the global community is preparing to tune in for the Beijing Olympics next month, it can be assumed that the world has not fully come to terms with the scale of persecution in China.

Christians are among many of the religious groups in China facing regular and often harsh religious persecution. Under the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping, China continues to demonstrate an open hostility toward religious minorities, meaning that victims of persecution will continue to climb. Should this congregation be returned, it is expected that the CCP will have a close eye on them, if they are not punished for their alleged crime. While the status of the Mayflower Church in Korea remains undecided, we should not assume these Christians are out of options, as other Christian groups have heard their call for help. RFA has reported that this group has also applied for asylum in the US, however, there has been no comment on the situation further.

For questions, please contact: [email protected].

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Religious freedom violations persist in Iran

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(Photo: Getty/iStock)

Christians continue to suffer as a result of widespread religious freedom abuses in Iran, human rights organisations have warned. 

A new joint report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Article 18, Middle East Concern and Open Doors International found that violations persisted in Iran in 2021, with at least 59 Christians arrested over the course of the year.

Thirty Christians endured some form of imprisonment last year while 34 were detained by the authorities. 

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At least 209 individuals were affected by judicial rulings, 35 of whom reported “intense psychological torture”.

The actual numbers are likely to be higher as many cases go unreported “either because no-one raises awareness — arresting authorities frequently issue threats to prevent publicity — or because those involved request confidentiality”, the organisations warned. 

The report notes some positive developments. In November, the Supreme Court said that the prison sentences of nine converts should be reviewed because “promoting Christianity and ‘Zionist evangelism’ in private homes is not an example of gathering and collusion against internal or external security as decided in the original verdict”.

“According to this decree, house-church activities and the promotion even of the pejoratively termed ‘Zionist’ Christianity are not crimes,” the report said.

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“It remains to be seen how this ruling will be applied by the Revolutionary courts, but the Christians have at least since been released while their cases are reviewed.”

In another positive development, officials in the western city of Dezful decided not to press charges against eight Christian converts on the grounds that although apostasy is a crime under Sharia, it is not an offence according to the laws of Iran.

Despite these positive developments, the report warned of “inconsistencies” in the Iranian judicial system after the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of a Christian couple sentenced to 10 years in prison over their involvement in a house church.

“The differing decisions highlight the inconsistencies that plague the judicial system in Iran and suggest that favourable rulings reflect the views of individual judges rather than systemic improvements at the heart of the judiciary,” the report said. 

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Recommendations in the report include a call to the Iranian government to uphold freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) for all citizens, and the release of Christians detained on “spurious charges” relating to their faith or religious activities. 

The report also calls for an end to the criminalisation of house church organisation and membership, and asks the international community to hold Iran accountable on FoRB by raising the issue during political and trade discussions involving the country. 

CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “Once again, this report provides an important reminder of the continuing violations faced by Christians in Iran.

“We urge the Iranian government to take heed of its recommendations and to end what amounts to the criminalisation of the practice of a religion the Iranian constitution claims to recognise.

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“We also call for the government to ensure that all citizens, including members of the Baha’i, Gonabadi Dervishe, Humanist and Sunni communities, are free to enjoy the full right to freedom of religion or belief as articulated in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory.”

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