Religion in the news in 2023 – a review of the year

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In January 2023, our panel looking ahead to the year suggested the stories to look out for were Ukraine, refugees, and church divisions. They were correct, but Ukraine slipped off the front pages as war broke out in Israel / Gaza, and other stories emerged.  


Pope Benedict XVI died aged 95, and tens of thousands of people queued at the Vatican to file past the body and attend the funeral. Our briefing is here  

Cardinal George Pell, Catholic archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney, then Vatican treasurer until jailed for child sex abuse charges subsequently overturned, died from heart complications after hip surgery at the age of 81.  RMC factsheet here

The Church of England committed £100m to address past wrongs after a report confirmed that funds of the Church Commissioners’ endowment had historic links with transatlantic slavery

A one million brick appeal was launched to build a six storey mosque and community centre in Birmingham, to be known as The Islamic Centre of Britain.

A New York rabbi delivered a sermon written by Artificial Intelligence.

Jesuits celebrated the 400th anniversary of the founding of the British Jesuits UK


Church of England allows blessings for same-sex marriage, following a highly charged debate at the general synod. Briefing here

Asbury revival in a Methodist college in Kentucky, attracted thousands for spontaneous worship which lasted 21 days. View our briefing here and read our report here

Ukraine one year on – day of fasting and prayer

Kate Forbes, contender for leadership of the SNP and a member of the Free Church of Scotland, the “wee Frees”, criticised for conservative Christian views on morality. Briefing here


Campaign to solve RE teacher shortage – briefing here

The Nishkam Healthcare Trust set up by a Sikh association in Birmingham, celebrated its tenth anniversary. Hardeep Singh reports on the initiative and new trends in faith based healthcare provision on our website here

The Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and the moderator of the Church of Scotland the Rev Dr Iain Greenshields are visiting South Sudan this weekend on a “pilgrimage of peace”. Briefing here

Pope Francis celebrates tenth anniversary. View the briefing on our YouTube channel here

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby marks his tenth anniversary steering the CofE in a troubled decade. Briefing here

Humza Yousaf elected First Minister of Scotland and is first Muslim to take this role. Acceptance speech here

Parliament passes law allowing 150 metre buffer zones around abortion clinics, preventing protesters from harassing women attending a clinic


Government faith adviser Colin Bloom resigns with a report “Does the Government Do God?” reviewing the ways religion intersects with public life and making 22 recommendations for tackling issues such as radicalisation, Religious Education and freedom of religion or belief. Briefing  here

Liberal Judaism and The Movement for Reform Judaism announce the creation of a new movement merging with each other to represent all Britain’s Progressive Jews


The coronation of King Charles III, defender of the faith, who emphasised the idea of service and interfaith dialogue. Briefing on the coronation service is here; discussion on understanding the concept of service is here

Mike Pilavachi, founder of the evangelical charismatic movement Soul Survivor, resigned and eventually suspended over inappropriate, intimate relationships with young men, involving massaging and wrestling them to the floor. The story was broken by Gabriella Swerling in The Telegraph here. The investigation and revelations rocked evangelicals in the Church of England, where Soul Survivor had huge influence. Explainer here

The High Court has ruled that local authorities cannot exclude humanist representatives from their Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education (SACREs)

One of the founding scientists who developed Artificial Intelligence, Professor Yoshua Bengio, says AI developers need to undergo ethical training, similar to doctors,  to ensure proper regulation. BBC interview here


The Hajj took place in record high temperatures in Mecca – up to 113 degrees Fahrenheit were recorded. Our briefing considered the health and safety concerns for the 2.5 million pilgrims. Briefing page here

700 people attended the National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast to hear sermon on forgiveness by Amy Orr-Ewing

Faith leaders come out against the government’s immigration bill, making a film outlining their complaint.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby was our keynote speaker at the Religion Media Festival, giving us 16 headlines on public issues such as values in public life and church issues including safeguarding and decline in attendance, for which he felt accountable.


The Church of England’s general synod descended into chaos at its meeting in York, as the two sacked members of the Independent Safeguard Board told their side of the story, in what was described as a “watershed moment”. Briefing: Is the CofE ungovernable? here. Rosie Dawson’s analysis here.

Former Archbishop of York, John Sentamu,  forbidden from officiating as a minister after failing to apologise over a safeguarding complaint. He also resigned as chair of Christian Aid. 

A summit on faith in the workplace was held at Number 10, with employers talking to the Prime Minister’s advisers about encouraging faith friendly policies .


France banned the wearing in school of the abaya dress, a loose robe, because it violates secular laws in education

The number of students who sat A-level Religious Studies this summer fell by 3.5 percent in England and 24 percent in Wales. Interview with Prof Opinderjit Kaur on RE and worldviews here

US evangelist Franklin Graham, a Trump supporter, came to London for a mission and told  us Trump definitely lost the 2020 election. Big Interview here

Rishi Sunak, told a Hindu gathering at the University of Cambridge that his Hindu faith influences every aspect of his life and gives him the courage to do his best as Prime Minister. He was visiting the “Ram Katha”, a recital of the story of Lord Rama, led by the Indian spiritual leader Morari Bapu at Jesus College.

6,500 people from 95 countries, representing 212 spiritual traditions, attended the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago. Story here

The National Zakat Foundation has reported the highest income in its 11-year history, distributing over £5.5 million in 2022, up from £3.8m in 2021.  Its annual report said it helped support 17,000 Muslims in need in the UK, up from 11,100 the previous year, with applications from families rising due to the cost of living crisis and rising energy prices,

Flags, dancing, processions, a choir, an orchestra, ticker tape and streamers welcomed Pope Francis to the 37th World Youth Day in Lisbon, where an estimated half a million young people gathered from across the world. Story here

Sinead O’Connor, the Irish singer who rose to fame with the ballad “Nothing Compares To You”, was buried in a Muslim ceremony in Bray, Co Wicklow. She converted to Islam five years ago and in his eulogy, Imam Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri said her voice had moved a generation of young people and “could reduce listeners to tears by her otherworldly resonance”. Story here


The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, accused the Indian government of being behind the killing of a Canadian Sikh, shot dead outside a gurdwara in Surrey, British Columbia, in June.  Story here

Shortage of trained Religious Education specialist teachers in a dangerous cycle where GCSE entries are stable,  A-level results dipping and fewer students studying Theology or Religious Studies at university. Briefing on the future of RE here

Community reporting in England is under threat, as META (formerly Facebook) withdraws a multi- million pound scheme providing community reporters and the BBC cuts local radio broadcasting hours to become regional instead. Briefing here

The UK’s first gospel music festival is launched in Liverpool with a packed programme of international stars taking to the stage in Stanley Park. Story here

A report on Mindfulness in Westminster has called for more support for politicians beginning or maintaining their mindfulness practice, including the provision of a mindfulness room within the parliamentary estate. The report was commissioned by the APPG on Mindfulness and reveals that more than 300 British politicians have been trained in its use during the last decade. Story here


The Rome Synod of Bishops in October followed a global consultation and opened the prospect of wider involvement of women and lay people in the running of the Catholic church.  Briefing here  

War in the Middle East breaks out on 7 October, with every Jewish family in the UK said to be affected by the atrocity in southern Israel when 1200 Israelis were killed by Hamas. Israeli attacks on Gaza have killed 19,000 people. Antisemitic and Islamophobic attacks are up by record levels. Reports on Jewish fear in the UK here and Islamophobic attacks here. Briefing on the impact of the war on the UK is here

The Sunday programme on BBC Radio 4 celebrates its 50th anniversary. Briefing here


The Church of England agreed to introduce standalone services for blessing same sex couples, for a trial period, following a marathon 10 hour debate at the general synod.  Briefing here


Repeated calls for a ceasefire in the Israel / Gaza war, from the Pope and faith leaders

A Faith Pavilion at Cop28 in Dubai provides a platform for faith leaders to appeal for more action from world leaders on global warming. They ask for more action after Cop28 agrees to “transition towards” the end of fossil fuels. Briefing here

Church of England bishops decide prayers of blessing for same sex couples can take place from 17 December


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