Religion News 1 May

Locked down and locked in poverty

The annual report of Christians Against Poverty has outlined the plight of “families in  inescapable destitution, households locked in poverty, and children growing up in desolate homes”. It says the coronavirus pandemic means families struggling financially struggling risk being pushed over the edge. The charity offers face-to-face debt management advice and support to people in poverty. In the past year, 61% of its clients had borrowed money to buy food, clothes and essential items.

The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Rev Alan Smith, said charities needed urgent help to allow them to function fully again in the lockdown. In a House of Lords debate, he said charities were experiencing a loss of income but increase in demand for services and he suggested the government should act rapidly, perhaps by raising the amount of gift aid that charities can claim back.

The Methodist Church is providing ministers with resources to help them cope with the scope and scale of the trauma resulting from the coronavirus. The church says: “Though you’re used to being with and alongside others in illness, bereavement, the end of life, and amid mental health difficulties, the scope and scale of Covid-19 are new, and challenging, and potentially overwhelming.” The resources include advice on protecting ministers’ mental health and reflections on how they can reshape their idea of vocation, in an environment where they cannot meet people face-to-face or lead services.

In other religious news:

  • A Sikh consultant anaesthetist in Wolverhampton was moved from the front line of duties, after he refused to shave his beard to ensure a PPE mask fitted properly. Sikhs allow hair to grow naturally as a symbol of faith, indicating respect for creation. The practice is known as “kesh” and is one of the five Ks — commands, or articles of faith.  The Telegraph reported that the Sikh Doctors Association had taken up the case and NHS England replied saying that trust medical directors should take account of their needs.
  • The Board of Deputies of British Jews has called for swift action following reports that Labour MPs shared a platform with people who had been expelled from the Labour Party for antisemitism. The Jewish Chronicle reports an account of the online meeting, organised by the “Don’t Leave, Organise” group. The MPs said they were unaware expelled members might contribute. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Those people who have been expelled from the Labour Party do not share the values of the Labour Party and the Labour Party does not share their views, and I condemn those views.”
  • The Pagan Federation has complained to The Sun about an article by Rod Liddle on the festival of Beltane, which falls this year on 30 April / 1 May. It said it was an “important festival for many assorted oddballs”, going on to describe in graphic detail the supposed impact of social distancing. The Pagan Federation said the piece “perpetuated false and negative stereotypes which could lead to the inciting of religiously motivated discrimination against Pagans and their practices”. The federation is complaining to the police, the press complaints body and the editor of The Sun.
  • A large funeral procession in a Hasidic Jewish neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York, provoked an angry response from Mayor Bill De Blasio, who said there was zero tolerance for breaching social distancing rules. Thousands gathered on Tuesday for the funeral service of Rabbi Chaim Mertz. Two days later, police arrived in force at a synagogue in the area, shouting orders for social distancing. Jewish leaders have criticised the mayor for his response on Twitter, referring to the whole community: “My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed.”