Should a Dean grow a Beard?
If the number of Muslims in Hamilton continues to increase, will we one day expect members of the clergy to grow beards?
Much will depend on whether our clergy follow a suggestion made recently by the Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres.
In British parishes where there are a lot of Muslim immigrants, the bishop commends bearded clergy for “reaching out to the people.”
One of the priests praised by the bishop said he found having a beard helped to provide a connection with many people in his parish (around 85 per cent of whom are Muslim).
Another vicar 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?”. He replied that a beard ‘shows dedication and commitment to something and shows wisdom.’
It appears that in many Middle Eastern and Asian cultures a man with a bearded appearance tends to be more associated with “holy things” than people who are clean shaven.
In Islam, beards are viewed as an “adornment” and Muslim men are encouraged to grow them to honour the Prophet Mohammed (who used to dye his beard with henna).
Many orthodox Jewish men also wear beards, because of the traditional interpretation of a verse in the Old Testament as a ban on shaving. However, the Bible also forbids beard-trimming.
When military chaplains in the Jewish army were told recently to remove their beards, a prominent chaplain described the order as being like “something from the Nazi era.”
In the late second century, St Clement of Alexandria condemned shaving, saying it is “unholy to desecrate the symbol of manhood.”
Disagreements over facial hair were even one of the factors in the Great Schism of 1054 which separated the mainly clean-shaven western church (controlled from Rome), from the more heavily bearded eastern church (centred around Constantinople).
In the 12th century, Pope Alexander III reaffirmed a ban on clergy wearing beards, ordering archdeacons to “forcibly shave priests” if necessary (now that would be interesting if it applied today!).
Henry VIII put a tax on beards, but the king made sure his own was exempt.
Gilbert Sheldon, Archbishop of Canterbury in the 166s and 1670s, is thought to have been the last bearded Primate of All England, until Rowan Williams in July 2002.