Religion news 2 December 2021

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In the Bleak Midwinter tops the charts

The Church of England’s first Christmas single reached number one in the UK iTunes Classical Charts following its release yesterday. The single, a new carol version of In the Bleak Midwinter, by composer Rebecca Dale, is designed to be the soundtrack to the Church’s campaign for Advent and Christmas. The theme this year is “At the heart of Christmas”. Speaking about the campaign, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby said: “Presents don’t last that long. People are for a lifetime. Focus on the people…To spend time is worth a thousand times spending money.” The single was recorded by a choir from St-Martin-in-the-Fields, London, and proceeds are going to charities which help homeless people in the UK. How it will fare in the competition for the coveted number one Christmas spot remains to be seen. The Times says only divine intervention will help it beat off the likes of Adele, Elton John and the bookies’ favourite, LadBaby.

Midnight mass cancelled in the Netherlands

Catholic bishops in the Netherlands have cancelled midnight masses at Christmas again this year to help stop the spread of Covid. No masses or other parish functions will be allowed to take place after 5pm. The Dutch bishops’ conference website said the decision, also taken last year, was made to prevent large crowds gathering for evening Masses on Christmas Eve. The announcement was reported by the Catholic News Agency. Read the full story here.

Coronavirus claims a Scottish pastor and American Christian TV founder

Tributes have been paid to a pastor from the town of Buckie in Scotland who has died after contracting coronavirus. John Coppard was the pastor of the Riverside Christian Church as well as chaplain to Buckie Thistle Football Club. He had been double-jabbed against the disease but his daughter said his dying wish was that everyone should get the vaccine. In a statement, the football club said: “We are absolutely devastated to announce the passing of Club Chaplain John Coppard. John did so much for our club and was a gentleman and friend to so many.”

A prominent Christian broadcaster in the US, Marcus Lamb, who was a vocal opponent of the Covid vaccine, has died weeks after testing positive for the virus. Lamb, a co-founder and CEO of the Texas-based Daystar Television Network, died in hospital at the age of 64. A statement by the network on Twitter said: “It’s with a heavy heart we announce that Marcus Lamb, president and founder of Daystar Television Network, went home to be with the Lord this morning.”


US Supreme Court crucial abortion case attracts Christian protesters

The US Supreme Court has begun hearing arguments in what has been called the most important abortion case in a generation. It is considering a law in the state of Mississippi which seeks to ban most abortions after 15 weeks. Its ruling could affect abortion laws in other states. Former vice-president Mike Pence said he hoped the court would overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade case which legalised abortion in the US. Hundreds of protesters from both sides of the debate gathered outside the courthouse ahead of the hearing, some carrying Christian crosses.

Evangelicals produce guidance to stop leaders’ abuse and bullying

The Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) has published resources to help church leaders address issues of culture, power and abuse. “In Lament” follows the publication of an independent report into incidents of abuse at two prominent evangelical churches. At Emmanuel church, Wimbledon, its vicar of 30 years, Rev Jonathan Fletcher, is alleged to have engaged in naked beatings, sexual misconduct and bullying. And in Sheffield, Steve Timmis resigned as leader of The Crowded House church after accusations of spiritual abuse and intimidation. CEEC co-chair Ed Shaw said he hoped the material, including a book with more than 100 questions for church leaders, would be of benefit beyond evangelicalism. “Problematic cultures, misuse of power, and abuse are, sadly, to be found everywhere,” he said. Church Times report here

Holocaust survivors light Hanukkah candles at the Western Wall

Several dozen Holocaust survivors marked the third night of Hanukkah with a menorah-lighting ceremony at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. The ceremony paid tribute to their lives and the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis. The Associated Press reports that it was accompanied by an online event featuring a statement by Jewish, Israeli and German leaders and musical performances by Barry Manilow and a Yiddish performance of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Bus carrying Jewish teenagers attacked on Oxford Street in central London

Police are investigating after an open top bus carrying Jewish teenagers celebrating Hanukkah, was attacked by a group of men on a crowded Oxford Street in central London. The teenagers from the Chabad Orthodox Jewish Hasidic community were celebrating with music and dance, when the men shouted abuse and threats, tried to smash the bus windows and spat on the vehicle. No arrests have been made.

Omicron in Saudi Arabia provokes fears for pilgrims

Saudi Arabia has confirmed its first case of the Omicron Covid-19 variant. AFP reports that a health official said the person came from a North Africa country and he has been put in isolation. There are fears that a spread of the variant in the kingdom may lead to future travel restrictions for pilgrims to Mecca, for Umrah or Hajj. The population is well vaccinated – 35 million people with 47 million vaccinations.

TODAY’s audio advent calendar misses the deadline

The BBC’s Today programme received complaints about the timing of the launch yesterday of its audio advent calendar, which revisits highlights of the past year. Presenter Simon Jack said there had been “quite a bit of pushback from people saying advent actually started on Sunday” and had “nothing to do with the 1st of December”. He said that though that may well be true in terms of the religious period, he had never seen an advent calendar start on the 29th of November. For more information about Advent, read our factsheet here  

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