Religion news 17 February 2022

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Image credit: Christopher Lamb

Board of Deputies President meets the Pope in Rome

The President of the Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyl, and the board’s CEO Michael Wegier, met the Pope in Rome yesterday. It was the first time that a board president had met a pope other than as a member of a larger, international delegation. The Jewish Chronicle reports that the meeting was requested by Ms van der Zyl just ten days beforehand, to strengthen “the bridge of understanding” between Jews and Roman Catholics. She thanked him for “his significant efforts towards holocaust remembrance and speaking out against antisemitism”. The Pope gave her a gold medallion and she gave him a rare signed copy of the history of Rome’s Great Synagogue, by Cecil Roth. The JC quotes her saying: “It was an amazing experience. He was warm, charming and gracious. It is good to remember that we as Jews have friends”.

People in Ukraine are in churches every night praying for peace

Talks to avert war in Ukraine are continuing as 150,000 Russian troops remain on the border and NATO considers placing more battle groups in eastern Europe. There have been urgent calls for prayers for peace from Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant leaders. 67% of the country is Orthodox, 2% are Protestant and Baptists are the largest Protestant group, with 113,000 members. Baptist News Global quotes Igor Bandura, vice president of the Baptist Union of Ukraine, saying people are gathering in all churches every night to pray for peace, unity and God’s protection. The UK foreign secretary Liz Truss has warned that the Ukraine stand-off could last for months.

Church launches spiritual centre for non-religious

Trinity Episcopal Church in Connecticut has launched the Trinity Spiritual Centre, a place of meditation, contemplation and community where people who say they are non-religious but spiritual can find a home. The idea came to church leaders as they planned the next phase of ministry in the context of growing numbers of people who have abandoned affiliation to Christianity. A report by Bob Smietana for the Religion News Service, quotes a church leader saying his spiritual journey had taken him “all over the place” but he came back to the church as his anchor. The new group will operate as a community service under the umbrella of the church, without proselytising.  The rector, Rev Margaret Hodgkins, said helping people to have a more contemplative life helps everyone.

CofE website initiative giving Christian take on contemporary issues so others can believe it

The Bishop of Kensington, Graham Tomlin, is to lead a new Centre for Cultural Witness, creating a magazine website to “focus not on internal church debates, but on explaining Christian faith in accessible terms”. It will aim to explain how Christianity responds to contemporary cultural issues in conversation with those of all faiths and none, “so that others can understand and believe it today”. The bishop is president of St Mellitus College, a partnership between the dioceses of London and Chelmsford and Holy Trinity Brompton.  He will step down as bishop to lead the new Centre, which is a four year project, based at Lambeth palace, with a full time staff, funded by donations, including from the McDonald Agape Foundation and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Charitable Fund. It will also offer a learning and training programme for senior Christian leaders and “emerging communicators”.

Landmark damages for man abused at Catholic boarding school

A man who says he was sexually abused by monks at St Ninian’s school in Fife more than 40 years ago, has been awarded £1.4 million in damages. Identified only as AB, the man said he was assaulted by Brothers Ryan, Farrell and Kelly. Ryan has died. Farrell and Kelly were jailed. The school was run by The Christian Brothers, which tried to have the case thrown out, but the attempt was dismissed. Lawyers say this is believed to be the highest sum awarded to a victim and describe it as a landmark case. The Herald report is here

Backlash against church leaders’ lobby on conversion therapy ban

A letter from 2,500 church leaders to the government’s Equality Office, lobbying against plans to ban conversion therapy, has been condemned by LGBT campaigners. The leaders’ representatives, from conservative evangelical groups, met government officials concerned that they would be prevented from speaking openly about their Christian beliefs if the ban were in place. Afterwards the Telegraph reported a government statement that the proposals to ban conversion therapy will not impact everyday religious practice. Now the BBC quotes Oxford Pride saying 18 signatories were from Oxford and they are disgusted by the letter. The Bishop of Dorchester, Gavin Collins, was quoted saying the letter “cuts across the settled view of the Church of England that coercive conversion therapy is unacceptable and should be banned”. Story here

Suspended prison sentences for activists who complained a bishop was antisemitic

Two human rights activists in Greece have been given suspended prison sentences for falsely accusing a Greek Orthodox bishop of antisemitic hate speech. The activists brought the complaint against Seraphim, the Metropolitan of Piraeus in April 2017, accusing him of public incitement to violence and hatred. The prosecutor dismissed this complaint more than two years later and the bishop then filed his own complaint against the activists.  They are appealing the judgment and sentence.

Ohio based United Church of Christ scheme pays off $100m medical debt

The United Church of Christ paid off more than $100 million in medical debt over two years, through a debt cancelling scheme funded by donations. The church, based in Ohio, says the scheme has benefitted 10,757 households in the state, unable to pay medical bills. It partnered with RIP Medical Debt, which bundles debts together and pays it off with donations. The church raised $200k which bought the debt for pennies.

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