UK

London Priests' Beards Praised For Helping Church 'Reach Out' To Tower Hamlets Muslims

22/01/2016 18:09 GMT | Updated 22/01/2016 18:59 GMT

The Bishop of London has praised two Tower Hamlets priests for growing beards to "reach out" to local Muslims.

Richard Chartres said the men - "two of the most energetic priests in east London" - have facial hair that "would not have disgraced a Victorian sage".

"The clergy of Tower Hamlets are safe from episcopal censure, and their desire to reach out to the culture of the majority of their parishioners can only be applauded," Chartres wrote in The Church Times.

"Most of the residents [in Tower Hamlets] are Bangladeshi-Sylheti, for whom the wearing of a beard is one of the marks of a holy man."

The east London borough is 38% Muslim, the highest of any borough in England and Wales. Muslims are the largest single religious group there. Only 30% of the borough is Christian, compared with a national average of 59%.

richard chartres

Richard Chartres praised the two priests' beards

One of the priests, Rev Adam Atkinson, Vicar of St Peter’s Church in Bethnal Green, told The Telegraph: “It is an icebreaker – St Paul said ‘I become all things to all men that by all possible means I might save some’.

“In our area there are three main groups, the poor, the ‘cool’ and the Muslims and beards cover at least two groups reasonably well.

“A Muslim friend said ‘I will lend you a hat and you can join me on Friday. It was done in a jokey way but it was quite affirming.”

The reverend has previously engaged "Piano-top preaching," his Twitter account reveals.

The other priest, Rev Cris Rogers of All Hallows, Bow told the Telegraph one man said he respected him because of his beard.

He added: “I said ‘that’s really interesting why?’ and he said a beard shows dedication and commitment to something and it shows wisdom.”

The church's Twitter feed has also shown off his beard.

Chartres wrote that he has had a "modest beard" since the last 1970s before a retreat to a monastery in Egypt.

He added: "Fashions have changed. Beards are no longer confined to those excoriated by their opponents as 'trendy lefties', and websites such as coolbeardstyles.com offer a gallery of suggestions for the modern male of all ages."