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Persian Celebration

4 March 2019

Fitting tribute to ministry of Wakefield Cathedral as it launches first Persian Holy Communion.

Wakefield Cathedral was chosen to launch the Church of the England’s Persian translation of the service of Holy Communion on Saturday.

The special service in Wakefield Cathedral on Saturday saw hundreds of Iranians from across the country come to hear the Persian language version of Holy Communion for the very first time.

The Bishops of Loughborough, Bradford and Durham led the new service, which included the singing of hymn verses in English and Persian alternately, and prayers in both languages.

The service is a fitting tribute to Wakefield Cathedral. It began a ministry for Iranian refugees in 2016 with twice-weekly Bible classes, a weekly Sunday service and a bi-monthly Saturday service in response to the growing number of Iranians arriving in the city wanting to find out more about the Christian journey.

Most Iranians stay in the city for between four and six weeks while their application for asylum is processed before being dispersed throughout the country – many of them finding a home in the North East.

And since 2016, the sub dean of Wakefield Cathedral, Revd Canon Tony Macpherson, has baptised over 400 adults, attended many of their confirmation services in other parts of the country, while the Cathedral has gained volunteer vergers, welcomers, kitchen assistants, volunteer translators…and last Christmas a Persian baby called Jesus was the centrepiece at the nativity service.

Said Canon Tony: “This has brought a richness to our ministry and while it has meant quite a considerable refocusing of resources – especially in the pastoral work of this cathedral – Persians have enriched much of the life of this cathedral in so many different ways.”

Like Mohsen Chinaveh, for example. An Iranian Christian, Mohsen was a civil engineer and running a furniture business in Shiraz when he and his architect wife, Sara, were forced to flee Iran in 2017. They had become Christians a year earlier but their house church was discovered and they had to leave everything behind to escape persecution.

It was a journey Mohsen and his wife would rather forget – but as

asylum seekers, they both ended up in a hostel in Wakefield – and discovered the cathedral and the twice weekly Bible classes .

Here in the UK, Mohsen began volunteering in Wakefield Cathedral, translating for Tony’s classes and joined the welcoming team.

“We came here because of our faith, and we found this church and Tony’s classes.

“It’s a good place here; it’s peaceful, and now I help with interpreting for others too.

“I know we have to start over; but we built our lives up before, and we can do it again,” he said.

The couple have now been granted leave to remain – and have just had their first baby, christened Jesus, who was the baby in the manger at the Christmas nativity service.

Said Canon Tony: “We did take a conscious decision to be open to embrace and welcome them to our cathedral and in that we pretty much had the support of the congregation…

“We have people who have been trafficked, damaged, abused and broken, but through all that have found a new way of living, through Christianity, and when they give their testimony of their experience of persecution, our congregation is visibly moved.

“In my 39 years a priest, I have probably done more direct Christian teaching and evangelism in the last three years than in rest of those years, and undoubtedly baptised more people.

“It’s been exciting, demanding, it’s been enriching to my ministry, and helped me to talk about Jesus in a much simpler and more direct way than I did before,’ he added.

The new liturgy is designed to be used alongside English language liturgy, with both languages printed side by side, enabling people to follow and participate in services.

Around 75 clergy in England have asked for translation help in response to the number of Iranians coming to their congregations.

The Bishop of Loughborough, the Rt Revd Guli Francis-Dehqani, who came to the UK from Iran with her family when she was just 14-years-old, following the events of the 1979 revolution) presided at the service and conveyed messages from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

Her father was the late Bishop Hassan Dehqani-Tafti, the first Persian Bishop in Iran, who was forced into exile after an attempt on his life and the murder of his only son.

Together with the Bishop of Bradford and Bishop of Durham, she holds a brief for supporting work with Persian Christians around the country. The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Toby Howarth helped her lead the service and the sermon was given by the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler.

“This translated service is highly significant in the life of the Church of England as we seek to find ways to adapt to the reality where we find minority communities as part of our congregations,” she said.

“This enables English speaking and Farsi speaking people to worship alongside each other in an integrated way and is really significant. I hope it will be the first of others to come. There seems to be something happening. Iranians are quite spiritual in nature and if they come to our churches we want them to feel welcomed. This is a really joyful thing for us to celebrate. It is very exciting.”

Bishop Toby also spoke of the Iranians coming to our churches as something God is doing across our churches and across the world: “We are trying to find a way of worshipping together. It has been such a blessing to the Church,” said Bishop Toby.

“We are not just the Church of England, we are the church of God and we want people to be able to worship in their own language alongside each. What we’re trying to do today is trying to find a way of worshipping together.”

You can hear Bishop Toby talking about the service and its importance on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme here; https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0002yb3

The liturgy is available online from the Church of England at https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/worship-texts-and-resources/additional-resources-worship

Both Archbishops sent messages which were shared at the service:

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Revd Justin Welby:

Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! Although I cannot be with you today, I have had the privilege of meeting Iranian followers of Christ in London, and was moved by their powerful testimonies. I therefore rejoice greatly that the liturgy for Holy Communion has been translated, enabling people to better understand and participate in services. The book of Revelation paints a picture of a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne praising God. Today is a tiny foretaste of that glorious vision, and I pray that as you worship together you will catch a glimpse of the worldwide family of faith that we are part of by God’s grace. May the Lord bless you and keep you as you worship and witness to our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu

Brothers and sisters in Christ, greetings to you in his name on this wonderful occasion. I am sorry to be unable to be with you, and I trust that the service will be a great celebration of the goodness of God, who makes us one in Christ, breaking down every barrier between us. I rejoice at the publication of this Farsi translation of the Holy Communion Service – though we are many, we are one body!

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