Episcopal News Service- The last remaining Anglican church in Iraq is receiving help from a Mobile, Alabama Episcopalian stationed in Baghdad. The Alabama Press-Register reports that Commander Scott Rye, one-time parishioner of Trinity Mobile and day chief at the Media Operations Center at the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, has begun a campaign to support the unique ministry of St. George’s Memorial Church in Baghdad.
According to The Press-Register, Rye, who has served in Baghdad since September 2007, worships at the Embassy Chapel in the U.S. Embassy. There he met and was inspired by the Rev. Canon Andrew White, who ministers at St. George’s Church, located outside the Green Zone, Baghdad’s “secured area” and center of international presence in the city.
Rye explained to The Press-Register that St. George’s “was forcibly shut down for 10 years under Saddam Hussein’s regime. Sometime after the war started, the church was hit and badly damaged by rocket fire. Of the 1,300 or so parishioners, only a half a dozen are men — the rest were killed or kidnapped in the sectarian violence that swept through Iraq.”
White recalls that the church had been “totally looted; not a pew remained. Many of the windows had been broken, the organ was removed, and the only church fixture that remained was the solid marble font.” Slowly, St. George’s became functional for worship.
Nevertheless, St. George’s, which White describes as “a fairly typical example of 1930s Church of England architecture set in a dust Baghdad street,” is still surrounded by razor wire and barricades to deflect bomb blasts. “We cannot walk the streets of Baghdad safely as we could in the days of Saddam Hussein,” says White, who wears bullet-proof clothes and is escorted to St. George’s by a brigade of the Iraqi Special Forces, complete with guns and armored cars.
White estimates that 90 percent of Iraq’s Christians, who once numbered more than a million, have fled or have been murdered by Islamic extremists during the religious civil war. “Some are kidnapped,” says White. “Here in this church, all of my leadership was originally taken and killed. This is one of the problems. I regularly do funerals here, but it’s not easy to get the bodies.”
Yet White, whom Rye describes as “holy” and “full of joy,” refuses to dwell on despair or his own Multiple Sclerosis, which forces him to use a cane. He prefers to discuss his “wonderful” congregation, about a third of whom are children. “None of them are Anglicans,” says White. “They normally belong to every possible denomination in Iraq — Syrian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Presbyterians and others — but come to our church because they live nearby and it is too dangerous to travel.
“Being Christian has been a dangerous thing to be in Iraq since the fall of Saddam,” adds White. “Despite the fact that the Christian community here is one of the most ancient in the world, with roots going back to the dawn of our religion, my parishioners have been threatened and intimidated out of their homes and businesses. Most of those with money have long since fled over the borders to Syria, Jordan and further afield. Those who are left are usually either poor or widowed — or both.”
In many cases, according to White, “their only place of shelter, protection, and help is the churchâ€¦We have to totally take care of all our people, with food, medicine, surgery, etc. It costs us over $20,000 a month to run the Church and most of it is spent on providing for our people.”
As Rye emailed to The Press-Register, “No matter one’s politics or personal views of the war, if people want to make a personal gesture to help Iraqis, this is one way to do so.”
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