Hinduism no Barrier to Job as Priest in Church of England
BY: RUTH GLEDHILL
David Hart offers prayers to Ganesh in his new Indian “parish”.
He now calls himself Ananda (C.Ratheesh Kumar/The Hindu)
Sep 11, LONDON, ENGLAND (TIMES UK) A priest with the Church of England who converted to Hinduism has been allowed to continue to officiate as a cleric.
The Rev David Hart’s diocese renewed his licence this summer even though he had moved to India, changed his name to Ananda and daily blesses a congregation of Hindus with fire previously offered up to Nagar, the snake god. He also “recites Gayatri Mantram with the same devotion with which he celebrates the Eucharist”, according to The Hindu, India’s national newspaper.
The Hindu this week pictures him offering prayers to an idol of the elephant god Ganesh in front of his house. However, he still believes he is fit to celebrate as an Anglican priest and plans to do so when he returns to Britain.
Mr Hart, a former chairman of Christian Aid in Loughborough and chaplain at Loughborough University, now serves in the Hindu temple in Thiruvananthapuram, a village in Kerala, southern India.
He was initiated as an Anglican priest in 1984 and, before leaving for India, was serving the Diocese of Ely, which covers most of Cambridgeshire and part of Norfolk, and living in Stretham. Anthony Russell, the Bishop of Ely, sent Mr Hart his licence, along with a personal letter, just three months after Mr Hart published a book, Trading Faith: Global Religion in an Age of Rapid Change, in which he writes about his conversion to Hinduism.
Mr Hart is the international secretary for the World Congress of Faiths, the world’s oldest interfaith organisation, and is a strong advocate of pluralism. He says in his book that Hinduism accepts the divinity of Jesus and is an especially tolerant and open faith. He adds that he changed his name to Ananda because of its Sanskrit meaning, happiness.
In an interview with today’s edition of Church Times, Mr Hart admits that he had not told Dr Russell that he had converted, but said that he would be amazed if his conversion were treated with any suspicion.
“I have neither explicitly nor implicitly renounced my Christian faith or priesthood,” he said. The renewal of his licence was sponsored by the Rural Dean of Colombo in Sri Lanka.
Mr Hart believes that his change to Hinduism would be “read in the spirit of open exploration and dialogue, which is an essential feature of our shared modern spirituality”.
He also said that he would continue to celebrate as an Anglican priest when he visited England, but he would also visit a Hindu temple while there. “My philosophical position is that all religions are cultural constructs,” he said. “I am acting out God’s story in local terms.”
In an earlier interview in India, the former University of Cambridge chaplain said that he was planning to immerse his idol of the four-armed Ganesh in the ocean.
“In England, the idol of Ganesha is more popular than Krishna or any other Indian god and many households have Ganesha in the living room,” Mr Hart said.
“The modern world is no longer dominated by any single form of belief. It is a world of religious pluralism. The Anglican Church firmly believes in engaging itself fully in inter-faith dialogues. God is the same irrespective of whether you pray to him in a temple, church or mosque.”
However, not everyone in the Church of England is impressed by Mr Hart’s passion for Hinduism. Pauline Scott, the team vicar of St James, in Stretham, said that she would oppose any attempts by Mr Hart to celebrate in the Ely Diocese.
“We do tend to use Christian priests, surprisingly enough,” she said.
The Bishop of Ely’s office said that it had not known of Mr Hart’s conversion to Hinduism until this week.