Efforts to hire a C of E church hall in Barnstaple for yoga classes were blocked by the parish office of St Mary’s Church in Pilton, Devon.
Yoga is an increasingly popular practice in the UK. Over 400,000 people attend classes each week. The exercises focus on posture, breathing and relaxation techniques.
Yoga stems from eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Chanting sacred mantras is frequently included.
Yoga is often promoted as a meditative, spiritual practice: the traditional aim being to suppress the activity of the mind and ‘unite the human spirit with the divine’.
Aware of this background, Rev. Nigel Dilkes (vicar of St Mary’s) said yoga ‘is not compatible with the Christian faith’ and did not want to promote the practice using church premises.
There has been pressure on the parish office to climb down. The UK’s Hindu Council expressed dismay at the decision.
So too did Rajan Zed, President of the Universal Society of Hinduism. He went as far as to call upon the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Prime Minister to intervene.
The official stance of the Diocese of Exeter is to delegate decisions regarding the use of church halls to individual parishes.
Rev. Dilkes remains resolute. He said, ‘The test of this is whether a belief or world view underpinning the activity acknowledges that there is only one God and that the New Testament person of Jesus Christ is God himself.
‘Yoga is one of several activities that claims to confer physical benefits for flexibility and balance but also claims a spiritual connection which doesn’t stand this test’.