Canon Andrew White: ‘Don’t take care, take risks’

“Don’t take care, take risks,” is the advice that Canon Andrew White has for Christians in Britain.

In the latest Twurch of England podcast, the Vicar of Baghdad warns of a precarious future for Iraq’s dwindling Christian population.

“I don’t think [the future] is very positive,” he said.

“I think it’s very, very fragile, and I think without supporting the church there, there is no chance of the church continuing.”

Canon White leads St George’s church, the only Anglican church in Iraq and home to one of the country’s largest relief operations, providing food, financial assistance and healthcare.

The clinic alone serves 150 people a day, including the local Muslim communities, and its stem cell centre is one of the foremost in the world, having treated more than 3,500 patients.

With the withdrawal of US troops, there are fears of more conflict as political factions remain fiercely at odds with one another.

Canon White said the political situation in the country at the moment was “terrible”.

“We have to deal with religious leaders,” he said. “In the words of William Temple, ‘When religion goes wrong, it goes very wrong,” and religion has gone very wrong and it has been the source of so much violence.”

In a country that used to be home to around five million Christians, only 200,000 remain today. Many have fled north to the relative safety of Kurdistan, while others have left the country altogether.

Despite the hardship and instability, the church continues to grow and has built positive relations with the city’s Muslim governor, so much so that he built the church’s new overflow hall and school.

The overflow hall is being used to hold Christian services for around 500 local Muslims, many of them women.

Canon White asked Christians to pray for provision and protection.

“And we need people to support us financially so we can do what we have to do running the clinic and the relief programme,” he added.

He encouraged Christians in the UK to find similar ways of meeting the needs of their local communities.

“Don’t take care, take risks and make sure that the church is totally and utterly relevant. The reason I became a clergyman was because I was too bored sitting in the pews. There are so many churches that aren’t full of life.”

Canon White last week won the US First Freedom Award, becoming only the third Englishman to do so after Winston Churchill and Tony Blair.