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Saturday, September 24, 2016
Anglican priest to study witchcraft
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¬†An Anglican priest has received his bishop's blessing for a plan to meet witches and attend pagan rituals. Rev Richard Thomas, a member of the Bishop of Oxford's staff, said he hoped the research would increase Christians' understanding of paganism and that the work was "something that God has called me to do". However, he insisted that he would not overtly seek to "convert" pagans to Christianity. The clergyman set out his plan after the award this month of a £1,000 bursary from the Ecclesiastical insurance group to help him study wicca, or modern pagan witchcraft. He has also been helped in his studies by being allowed a three-month sabbatical from his job as director of communications in the Oxford diocese, a role that involves handling inquiries the media. Rev Thomas said that his bishop, the Rt Rev Dr Richard Harries, a senior Church figure, had been "very supportive". Mr Thomas, who is researching for a thesis on modern Pagan Witchcraft for his three-year Masters qualification under the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lambeth system of degrees, said that his aim was to achieve a "clear, unambiguous and academically moderated picture of Wiccan practice and theology". He said that Christians often indulged in speculation and made assumptions about pagan rituals, and that this led to a "clouded picture". He said: "I want to go to source to visit Wiccan rituals, to meet practising Wiccans, to record their understanding of their theology and practice, in order to produce a snapshot of the reality and to do some thinking about the theology that underlies it." "If Christianity is going to interact with people who are interested in witchcraft, druidry or shamanism [religion involving forms of spiritualism] then we are going to have to sit down and talk with people in humility and hear what they have to say about our faith." Mr Thomas said he saw no conflict between his ministry and his chosen area of study. "God is concerned about, and has love for all," he said. "Our mission is to care for all, and you can't have pastoral concern without backing it up with academic concern." "For dialogue to take place it is necessary to proceed from a position of humility and understanding rather than from a position of arrogance or fear." "The Church will benefit from my studies through having me and others who are known and trusted by members of the pagan community and who can be a point of reference." Mr Thomas said he would make no direct attempts to "convert" pagans to Christianity as he considered that this might make it harder to build a relationship of trust with them. However, he added: "I am more than happy to answer people's questions about the Christian faith." The Lambeth Degree is a real academic award. Candidates are exempt from both residential and examination requirements and the special awards are made on merit in recognition of recipients' contribution to religious, academic and public life. Source: CofE Press Office
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