Picture: Diocese of Leeds

Wakefield Cathedral has hosted a special service to launch the Church of England’s first Persian language translation of Holy Communion to further engage with the growing numbers of Iranians in our congregations.

Some 500 Iranians from across the country packed into the cathedral, one of three in the Diocese of Leeds, and were welcomed by its Dean, the Very Revd Canon Simon Cowling and Subdean Revd Canon Tony Macpherson.

Authorised by the House of Bishops, the publication of the Farsi language service affirms the presence of Iranians in churches as a gift and demonstrates a commitment to welcoming them into the life of the Church of England.

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.

At a special celebration service in Wakefield Cathedral (Saturday 2 March 2019) the Bishops of Loughborough, Bradford and Durham used the service wording for the first time. More than 450 members of congregations from churches across England, including British, Iranian and other nationality Christians, attended the service which included the singing of hymn verses in English and Farsi alternately and prayers in both languages.

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. You can read more details below, including the story of her cope and mitre with Persian designs, which she wore at the service.

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. Bishop Guli’s role within the Diocese of Leicester has a particular focus on encouraging and enabling the participation and ministry of BAME heritage people in churches.

Together with the Bishop of Bradford and Bishop of Durham, pictured above with Wakefield Iranian family Mohsen, Sara and their baby Jesus (courtesy of Tony Johnson, Yorkshire Post), 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.

Before the service, and while worshippers enjoyed a feast of food, Bishop Guli told reporters more than 75 clergy in England had asked for translation help as there were so many Iranians coming to their congregations.

“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.”

Listen to Bishop Toby talk 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

 You can read more about the service below, which was also attended by by Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Tony Robinson and Bishop of Huddresfield, the Rt Revd Jonathan Gibbs.

 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!

Wakefield Cathedral  began a ministry for Iranian refugees in 2016. They started twice-weekly Bible classes three years ago and a weekly Sunday service in response to this. Since that time the Cathedral family has gained volunteer vergers, welcomers, kitchen assistants and translators. And last Christmas, a Persian baby, christened Jesus by his parents, was at the centre of the Cathedral’s Nativity service.

Iranian Christian Mohsen Chinaveh was one of those taking part in the service and talked to media about why the Farsi translation would help people, even those who could already speak English: “because it gives you a good feeling to worship in your home language”. Mohsen is  a civil engineer and was running a furniture business in Shiraz. He and his wife, Sara who is an architect, fled Iran in 2017. They had become Christians a year earlier after they learned about the Gospel from a friend who prayed for an illness Sara had been suffering from. Hospital scans shows the blockage in her brain had disappeared and she was cured of the pain. However, their house church was discovered and the Christian community that had been growing underground for 28 years had to flee.

After several days’ journey to an unknown ‘safe place’ they were separated and told they would be sent to the same town. Five days later Mohsen did indeed find his wife Sara, at asylum seeker accommodation in Wakefield.

Now, both have leave to remain in this country and have chosen to stay in Wakefield where they are both speaking English and have become integral to the life of the church at the Cathedral. Their first child was born three months ago. They named him Jesus.

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler gave the following sermon which was translated into Farsi.

Wakefield Cathedral 2nd March 2019

It is an immense honour and privilege to be preaching at this significant service. I am humbled by the opportunity.
Rosemary and I first met a Farsi speaking Christian when we moved to Walthamstow in 1994. The people of St Mary’s had befriended a lovely Iranian woman who had come to the country for private fertility treatment. It had become a sad story as the first set of twins that she conceived died. We met her as she entered the second round of treatment. It was our privilege to have her stay in our home for a few weeks after the twins were successfully born.
The warmth and love of the Christians she met had led her to discover more about Jesus. She had decided to become a follower of Jesus through this loving care and gentle sharing of the story of Jesus. It was a deep honour to baptise her and her twins. Rosemary became godmother to the baby girl, Mariam.
But whilst she loved worshipping with her sisters and brothers in her faltering English she always longed to worship in her own language. We had no resources then to help.
So today is a personal delight and joy to share in this celebration of this authorised Farsi version of the eucharist.

Now amongst the crowd who gathered outside the house in Jerusalem where the disciples were praying I can safely say that there was no one who spoke English. Nor was anyone present who spoke anything like it.
I can also be clear that there was no one present who spoke modern Farsi. However unlike English there were those present who spoke languages from which Farsi developed. There were Elamites, Medes, Parthians and Mesopotamians, alongside peoples from North Africa.
Sisters and brothers for whom Farsi is your beautiful language I had no ancestors there on the day of Pentecost but you might well have done. People from the lands of your ancestors were there. Your people were hearers and followers of the gospel of Jesus Christ long before our English predecessors became the same.
They heard Peter and the others ‘speaking about God’s deeds of power’. They were those who repented, were baptised and became part of the new people of God, on day one.
So why does Luke list so fully the backgrounds of this gathered crowd?
I suggest two reasons.
First Luke has in mind the ancient story of the Tower of Babel, found in Genesis 11. Here human pride has reached such a peak that God intervenes and scatters the people abroad and confuses them by introducing varied languages. Sin leads to division and disharmony; it divides humanity and the varied languages are part of the expression of division. What happens on the Day of Pentecost is that everyone hears in their own language the deeds of God. The division comes to an end. All are drawn together into one by the good news of God in Jesus Christ. Babel is undone. Luke is emphasising that Jesus Christ brings all people together.
But second Luke thinks it is important that all of his readers understand that from the very first day of the Holy Spirit being poured out the people of God are made up from many peoples, nations and languages. Yes at this point they are all Jews but they are multi-lingual from the start. So the spreading of the good news into all the earth does not have to wait until the conversion of the Samaritans in Acts 8 or the first Gentiles, Cornelius and his household, in Acts 10 the global nature of God’s new people is here from the start and Elamites and Medes were in at the very beginning.

Now today’s celebration is a very different new beginning. It has been amazing to see, and hear about, the extensive and rapid growth of Farsi speaking Christians across this nation. In my own diocese we have significant Farsi speaking groups in Stockton, Hartlepool, Gateshead and Sunderland. Then in the neighbouring dioceses of Newcastle and York there are further significant groups in various churches. Here we are in our other neighbour of Leeds diocese. Liverpool, Manchester, Stoke on Trent, Leicester and many other centres have seen similar growth. It appears to be a significant work of God amongst Farsi speakers in this land.

Hence why the need for a specific authorised and commissioned translation of the liturgy has become necessary.
I hope in this all of recognise that it is a clear commitment to serve and a clear statement that all are equally part of the Church of England. Everyone matters; all count; all are to be helped to worship and learn.
So today as we celebrate this new Farsi language service let us reflect on this history and on the importance of language and culture to us all. Take time in giving thanks for all those who have worked hard to bring this about to also think further back. Thank God for those who translated the Bible into Farsi. Thank God for those who down the years have produced poems, stories, liturgies and texts to help us pray, worship and learn in our own languages. Amongst these give particular thanks to God for Bishop Hassan’s work in this area. Some of his works are available here today.
Let us pray for all who today continue this work of helping Farsi speakers hear the word and works of God including in radio and TV work.

Now we are all here, Farsi, English or other first language speakers because someone shared the story of God’s love in Jesus with us. Some of us have been raised and nurtured within the Christian faith. We were prayed for before our birth. We were nurtured in Christ from the day of our birth. Others of us, like myself, have come to faith in Christ through the loving witness of others; sometimes just one friend but very often through the loving care of a Christian community too. For some of us this journey has been relatively easy and straightforward. For others it has been costly and painful. This has, as we know, included martyrdom for some. The two Anglican Iranian martyrs are Revd Arastoo Sayyah and Bahram Dehqani-Tafti. The blood of the martyrs is indeed the seed of the saints. What every single one of us has discovered is the depth, breadth, height and length of God’s love in Jesus.
Our own stories recall us to Jesus’ command that we read in Matthew 28. We are called to be those who are going and making disciples of all nations. I wonder this day just what God might be calling so many Farsi speaking Christians to do? Matthew 28 makes it quite clear that the good news is for all. So how might God call some of you to serve amongst people whom you did not expect? Like a wonderful Persian curate in my diocese, with his deep sense that God has called him to serve more widely and broadly than simply the Farsi speaking community. How many more might be called out to serve in all kinds of ministry amongst all kinds of communities?
All of us have to remain wide open to the God who calls us both to serve the communities within which we are set, our Jerusalems and Judeas; and to go out into different, unknown communities – our equivalents of Samaria and the ends of the earth.

Much to my surprise I found myself in 2007 visiting Tehran. I was invited to do so to be present at the installation of Bishop Azad Marshall, Bishop Iraj’s successor.
One of the surprise parts of the visit was being taken to the Jewish Synagogue in Tehran and talking with some of the Jewish community there. I had no idea that there was such a community. In conversation I realised that some traced their family roots right back to the Jewish exile. Perhaps some of their ancestors were in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.
It was a delight on that visit to meet Christians from Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan and other cities. Some of them perhaps traced their roots right back to those who began to follow Jesus on the day of Pentecost. It was an extraordinary visit. Little idea did I have then of just how the need for Farsi worship in England would develop in the years that have followed.
My dear sisters and brothers today is a day to rejoice and give thanks. It is a day to revel in the joy of language and culture. A day to look forward to that great day when people from all tribes, nations and languages will gather together in worship of the Lamb who was slain, and who has triumphed.
Today is a day to rejoice as the Elamites and others did on the day of Pentecost that ‘God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus who was crucified but whom God raised from the dead.

Copy courtesy of the Diocese of Leeds

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