Grow a beard, reach a Muslim is the message a retired Bishop of London is issuing to vicars after witnessing two East End priests receive a warm reception from their surrounding Islamic community, who view facial hair as an adornment and an honor to the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
Retired Reverend Richard Chartres said the two vicars have grown full beards "of an opulence that would not have disgraced a Victorian sage" and is applauding their efforts to share in the culture of the East End's majority Muslim population.
The priests themselves have chimed in on surpassing hipster status straight to being viewed as "holy men."
The Rev Adam Atkinson is one of the priests praised by Bishop Chartres. He said he began growing the beard in lieu of getting a tattoo. Yet according to The Telegraph, he was surprised by the doors he has open because of that decision:
It is an icebreaker – St Paul said ‘I become all things to all men that by all possible means I might save some.'
In our area there are three main groups, the poor, the ‘cool’ and the Muslims and beards cover at least two groups reasonably well.
A Muslim friend said "I will lend you a hat and you can join me on Friday [prayers]." It was done in a jokey way but it was quite affirming.
“I have got Jewish heritage from a few generations ago," Atkinson added, "and I am conscious around here that there is something about the ‘holy man’.”
The other priest is Rev Cris Rogers who said:
One guy approached me about a year and a half ago and said "I can respect you because you have got a beard."
I said "that’s really interesting why?" and he said a beard shows dedication and commitment to something and it shows wisdom.
“I like the idea of being the ‘wild’ priest rather than the gentleman priest," Rogers added. "What people are looking for is something that is relatable. They are not looking for someone who is the 'gentlemen', who is of the aristocracy, there is something about being grounded and real and honest in the East End.”
And so on behalf of the Church of England, Bishop Chartres is heralding "the theological significance of beards" and says the two clergymen are "safe from episcopal censure, and their desire to reach out to the culture of the majority of their parishioners can only be applauded."