Religion news 22 April 2024

Gideon Falter, CEO Campaign Against Antisemitism. Image credit: @antisemitism

Met police meet Jewish leaders today after man moved on for being “openly Jewish”

Jewish leaders will meet the Metropolitan Police Commissioner today to discuss an incident in central London when Gideon Falter, chief executive of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, was told to move on from a pro Palestine march route. Filmed on social media, a police officer told Mr Falter that he was “quite openly Jewish” and the officer was worried about his presence on the route. Mr Falter told The Times that the demonstrators shouted abuse at him and his group.  After an exchange with the police, they were escorted down a side road away from the march. The Met has since apologised twice. Mr Falter is calling for the Met commissioner Mark Rowley to resign, saying the incident proved the police were sacrificing the rights of law abiding Londoners to appease lawless mobs.

Teenager charged with terrorist offence after bishop stabbed with knife

A 16-year-old boy has been charged with one count of a terrorist act, after allegedly attacking Assyrian Orthodox Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel with a knife, during a live streamed service in a church near Sydney last week. The case was heard in court on Friday, but the boy did not appear as he is receiving treatment in hospital. The court was told he has a long history of behaviour consistent with mental health issues and he is being assessed. The case was adjourned until 14 June and there was no application for bail. Police say the teenager travelled 90 minutes to the church from his home address.

New pilgrimage route honouring women founders of Christianity in Kent

Churches from Canterbury to Folkestone have launched a new pilgrimage route, highlighting royal Kentish women who were key to establishing Christianity in England in around 600AD. The “Royal Kentish Camino” follows the family of Bertha, wife of King Ethelbert, and starts at St Martin’s Church in Canterbury where she prayed with St Augustine in her private chapel. Next is St Mary and St Ethelburga Church, Lyminge, where it is believed the remains of her daughter, Queen Ethelburga, have been found. She was pivotal in the conversion of the north of England after her marriage to King Edwin, returning to Lyminge when he died. The end of the route is at St Mary and St Eanswythe, Folkestone, dedicated to Bertha’s granddaughter, and Ethelburga’s niece, Princess Eanswythe, who is recorded as founding a Christian community in Folkestone. It is believed her bones were hidden in the church wall and are now in a shrine.  The route is 23 miles long and takes in spectacular views and ancient villages.

St James’s Church Piccadilly themed garden at Chelsea Flower Show

A garden reflecting a project to renovate St James’s Church Piccadilly, and its surrounding land, is to feature at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show. The church has a paved area and rectory in front, adjacent to Piccadilly, and a café and side garden, which survived the Blitz. The rector, Lucy Winkett, told the Church Times that the garden is a “really beautiful oasis” away from the bustle of Piccadilly, and home to a drop-in counselling centre in a shed. An ambitious £20 million scheme, the Wren Project, will blend the building, courtyard, garden, and rectory into a green setting, and provide new pedestrian access routes between Jermyn Street and Piccadilly. The Chelsea Flower Show exhibition garden, designed by landscape architect, Robert Myers, will take in some of these themes with the title “Imagine the world to be different”.

Declining Sunday school attendance figures brought up in Commons

A parliamentary written answer from the second church estates commissioner has revealed statistics about Church of England Sunday school attendance which show a steep decline over the past 20 years. Andrew Selous MP was answering a question put by Neil O’Brien, another Conservative MP. The figures show there were 154,000 children under the age of 16 in C of E churches on an average Sunday in 2003. By 2022 that had declined to 70,000. The average adult Sunday attendance in 2003 was  802,000, which declined to 477,000 in 2022.

Appeal to defend inter-faith work from being denigrated and undermined

Laura Marks, co-founder of the Jewish and Muslim women’s network “Nisa-Nashim”, says she has never seen “such forceful efforts” to denigrate inter-faith work, despite the need being so urgent in the wake of the Middle East war which is “threatening to tear communities in the UK apart”. In a signed article in the Jewish News, she says inter-faith work is criticised for being “naïve, idealistic or in some way fluffy”, with critics saying it has let people down and  should be abandoned.  She says people and organisations are discredited for associating with undesirables and “guilt by association has become the norm”, adding that there are efforts to undermine inter-faith work, or intimidate those involved, because it suits extreme positions to whip up distrust.  Instead she says history shows that years of dialogue can lead to a more peaceful future, citing Northern Ireland as an example, where women took the lead. She is deeply worried about where intimidation will lead, with participants and funders walking away. In a week when many non-Jewish people will be invited to the seder table for Jewish Passover, she appeals for more people to become involved.

Passover is 22 – 30 April. Our factsheet on Passover customs and meaning is here:

Bahai’s celebrate 100th anniversary of Assembly in India

The Bahá’ís of India have marked the 100th anniversary of India’s Bahá’í National Spiritual Assembly, with a reception and large gathering at the Lotus Temple in New Delhi. Around 250 guests, including government officials, interfaith leaders, and members of civil society organisations, heard speakers, listened to music performances and received a message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressing appreciation for the contribution of the Bahá’ís to fostering social cohesion over the past century. Bahai’s have been in India since 1844 and their number is a matter of some dispute – the 2011 census said 4,572, but some Baha’i research puts it nearer to 2 million.

Salman Rushdie’s testimony of survival 33 years after fatwa ruling

Salman Rushdie, the author of the Satanic Verses, has written a searing account of the knife attack which almost killed him two years ago. It happened at the Chautauqua Institution in New York State, 33 years after Ruhollah Khomeini, Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a fatwa ordering Rushdie to die because of blasphemy in the book. In his latest book ,“Knife”, Salman Rushdie describes the injuries which led to the loss of his eye and the use of one hand. The book is said to read like a meditation on life, loss, love and art, telling the story of how people around him saved his life. His attacker is in custody awaiting trial.

Opposition leader in Greece says his success is divine destiny

The Telegraph reports that Stefanos Kasselakis, the 36-year-old head of the Syriza party, Greece’s left wing opposition, has claimed that the oil in his baptismal font formed the shape during his christening service, indicating a mystical destiny. His parents were told the sign meant he was destined to “either become a priest, or very important”. He has been a banker with Goldman Sachs, a shipowner and eventually the opposition leader.  But the revelation has been greeted as “slightly shocking” among his political competitors, with one claiming a green sun was seen at his baptism, and another a hammer and sickle.


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