Bishop hosts Shabbat service for London shul closed for 16 months

A gathering in the Bishop of Southwark's garden allows South London Liberal members to pray together in person


South London Liberal Synagogue members prayed together in person for the first time in 16 months on Shabbat thanks to a much appreciated gesture by the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Rev Christopher Chessun.

The Bishop’s residence is a five minute walk from the shul, which has been closed since the start of the pandemic.

After an approach from SLLS minister Rabbi Nathan Godleman, he offered to host a “Bishop’s Garden Shabbat”.

The Bishop’s chaplain, Rev Dr Alun Ford, also attended and the congregation of 30 included Baroness Merron, former Board of Deputies CEO and a SLLS member.

Rabbi Godleman said afterwards that a recent SLLS council meeting had discussed “Covid restrictions that meant we can’t run normal services in our building”.

When garden services were mentioned as an alternative, “it occurred to me that the Bishop had a big garden. I asked him if he would host us, which he was happy to do, leaving up a tent used earlier in the week for an ordination.

“People were delighted to see each other in person after all this time and the setting, along with the presence of Bishop Christopher, helped make it a very special day.

“We look forward to developing our relationship as we move forwards.”

The Bishop tweeted: “It was an honour to welcome friends and neighbours from the South London Liberal Synagogue. ‘How lovely are your tents, O Jacob; your dwelling places, O Israel’.”

After the service, the community presented the Bishop and his chaplain with gifts including a bottle of gin, a pair of “holy socks” — complete with biblical verse — and a copy of the Liberal Judaism siddur.

Movement chief executive Rabbi Charley Baginsky said: “It is wonderful that Liberal Judaism could be involved in this. Interfaith relations have always been central to our movement and this is the perfect example of how they benefit us all.

“I am now looking forward to the time when we can invite our neighbours from other faiths back into our communities.”


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