London bishop urges vicars to grow beards as way of reaching Muslims

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CANTERBURY, England (RNS) A senior bishop in the Church of England has blessed the idea that its vicars, or parish priests, should grow beards as a way of reaching out to this country’s fast-growing Muslim community.

The bishop of London, Richard Chartres, told the Anglican newspaper Church Times that two Anglican vicars, Adam Atkinson and Chris Rogers, should be commended for growing full beards — the types often seen on the faces of Orthodox rabbis and devout Muslim men.

There are more than 607,000 Muslims in the London area and an estimated 2.8 million in the U.K.

Tower Hamlets, a London neighborhood where the two vicars live and work, has the highest proportion of Muslims in England and Wales, many of them immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.

Chartres sports what he calls “a modest” beard. So he had high praise for Atkinson and Rogers, who have, in his words, grown beards “of an opulence that would not have disgraced a Victorian sage.”

Most of the male elite in Queen Victoria’s 19th-century Britain wore beards.

Sports figures such as David Beckham have made them popular among the young.

Rogers told the Church Times most people love his beard.

“My Muslim friends find that the beard almost gives authenticity to my (Christian) faith,” he said.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is clean-shaven, but his predecessor, Rowan Williams, was criticized by sections of the British media as “a trendy leftie” because of his long, often-unkempt beard.

(Trevor Grundy is an RNS correspondent based in Canterbury, England)