Denis M. MacEoin (born 1949, Belfast, Northern Ireland) has been editor of Middle East Quarterly since June 2009. A former lecturer in Islamic studies, his academic specialisations are Shi‘ism, Shaykhism, Bábism, and the Bahá’í Faith, on all of which he has written extensively. MacEoin is also a novelist, writing under the pen names Daniel Easterman and Jonathan Aycliffe
Dear Revs. Meader, Winkett and Valentine,
The last time I was in your beautiful church was for a memorial service for my dear friend Patricia Parkin, a leading literary editor and my own editor for a great many years. Thbe service was a thing of great beauty, with some wonderful music, as one might expect from your church. My attention was drawn by the magnificent Grinling Gibbons carvings on the font and reredos. Having recently read David Esterly’s lyrical account of his restoration of Gibbon’s carvings, my appreciation of the quality of your specimens has much increased. You are very welcome to visit my parish church, St. George’s in Jesmond, which is widely thought to be the most beautiful church in the North of England.
The welcomes you extend to LGBT people, the homeless, refugees, and innovative approaches to the liturgy and beyond (as in your Zen group) have always interested. My own background is in Persian, Arabic and Islamic Studies (especially Shi’ite Islam), on all of which I have written extensively. The bulk of my academic work has centered on the Baha’i religion and its precursors. I am very conscious of the plight of the Baha’is still living in Iran, where they have been and are being persecuted with great severity. I don’t know if you include them in your prayers, but perhaps I can ask you to.
Compassion for those who suffer is necessarily an automatic response of Christians, given the emphasis Christ placed on love for one’s fellow man.
For myself, my earliest encounter with true suffering came through a teacher at my drama school in Belfast, Helen Lewis (née Katz). I had heard that she had been imprisoned in a concentration camp, but it wasn’t till one day when she rolled her sleeve up and I saw numbers tattooed on her arm that her plight came home to me. She had spent a long time in Theresianstadt (Terezin), where she saved her life because she was a professional ballet dancer: the Nazis used Terezin as a Potemkin village with dancers, musicians, actors, painters and writers to impress the Red Cross and others with their kindly treatment of inmates (while thousands died behind the scenes). Helen’s husband died in Auschwitz.