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Buddhist meditation offered at York Minster

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The Church of England has come under fire, after it has emerged that a senior clergyman at York Minster have introduced Zen Buddhist meditation into their offered services.

York Minster is one of the UK's best-known cathedrals and offers daily prayer and choral worship.

Fortnightly meetings for Zen meditation were quietly introduced two years ago, following the suggestion of Rev Canon Dr Christopher Collingwood, who claims to be a long-time enthusiast of the Buddhist practice and has described himself as "religiously bilingual".

Christian Concern's Chief Executive and member of the General Synod, Andrea Williams, has spoken against the practice, stating that it is "deceptive" to mix the teachings of two very different belief systems.

Listed as a 'main spiritual activity' 

The meeting (called a 'sangha') takes place every other Friday at the Minster's Old Palace, led by Rev Collingwood and supported by a Roman Catholic priest and Zen master, Fr. Patrick Kundo Eastman Roshi.

They are supported by the Dean, the Very Rev Vivienne Faull, and are now listed under the Minster's main "spiritual activities", alongside Sunday school.

Commenting on his support for the Buddhist ritual, Rev Collingwood said: "I'm sure there are those who think I'm an out and out heretic but it seems to me perhaps Zen poses fewer problems [than other non-Christian customs] because it doesn't claim to be a system of doctrine or belief."

He claims that the practice dates back to Second Vatican Council, when Roman Catholics were encouraged to include eastern traditions in their own meditations.

"It has been going on in the Roman Catholic church for 50 years and more," he said.

He went on: "When people are meditating in Zen who are Christian I think the focussing on the breath coincides with the idea of the Holy Spirit. {...} I talk about being religiously bilingual […]I would say that the focus on breath is attending to the Holy Spirit."

'Religiously bilingual' 

Rev Collingwood also defended his claim of being "religiously bilingual" by saying that every person has "multiple identities", comparing mixing Christianity and Buddhism with being fluent in two languages or being a father, a husband and a priest.

Andrea Williams refuted this claim, stating that as believers, our identity is first and foremost found in Jesus Christ.

"The idea that we can pick and choose practises from other religions is found nowhere in the Bible. We cannot come into God's presence without the one mediator, Jesus Christ. To suggest otherwise is dangerously false and violates God's command to love and serve Him only."

Christianity and Buddhism 'incompatible' 

Andrea continued, refuting Collingwood's claim that Zen has no system of doctrine of belief, and that it can in any way be mixed with Christian teaching.

"Buddhism contrasts sharply with Christian teaching about God. The two are incompatible. To try to mix them is deceptive and dishonours Jesus Christ," she stated.

"It is remarkable that this is happening at one of the country's best known cathedrals. The Archbishop of York must take swift action. This type of confusion undermines the Church of England's current initiative to encourage Christian prayer.

"Unless there is clarity about the Christian gospel at the heart of the Church of England's call to prayer, the initiative will be counter-productive.

"It is sobering that last year a Canon of this same cathedral blessed the city's 'Pride' march. The Church of England must take decisive action to deal with this radical agenda."

Unclear on the gospel

The 'Thy Kingdom Come' evangelism initiative was discussed during February's Church of England General Synod and was rolled out last week in time for Pentecost.

After the Synod, Andrea Williams issued this comment piece, raising concerns about the increasing confusion in the Church of England surrounding primary gospel issues.

She said: "I had and have a burning and fundamental question: how can we do evangelism if we don't explain what the gospel is? We cannot assume that because we are members of the Church of England or elected to Synod that we understand what the gospel is or can agree on it."

Related Links: 
'Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done': A comment on the Church of England's call to evangelism 
York Zen Sangha (York Minster) 
York Minster brings in Zen Buddhism, quietly (Telegraph) 
Evangelical Christians condemn introduction of Zen Buddhism to York Minster (Christian Today)