Religion news 28 August

Image credit: lukejerramartist

Cathedrals welcome back visitors

Cathedrals are emerging from the lockdown with tours, exhibitions and events over this bank holiday weekend. They have been in financial trouble because of the lockdown and asked the government for £40 million for repairs. Durham is opening its cloister – made famous as a Harry Potter filming location – and the shop and restaurant from Bank Holiday Monday. Lichfield extends its opening hours for the Bank Holiday weekend. A theatre show at Ely and tours at Southwell are already sell outs. Worcester welcomes back small tour groups after a £5k grant from a community foundation. Gloucester is hosting large scale installations in Luke Jerram’s ‘Earth and Sky’ exhibition (pictured) expressing the experiences of people in lockdown.  

Families of Christchurch mosque massacre victims relieved at whole life sentence

Relatives of 51 people who died in the Christchurch mosque massacre, have supported the whole life sentence passed on the white supremacist who carried out the attack. Sentencing followed four days of impact statements from relatives and survivors. Aya Al-Umari, whose brother Hussein was killed, said the hearing had shown the resilience of the Muslim community in Christchurch. She told TV New Zealand that they had breathed a sigh of relief when the sentence was passed and commented that faith had helped  her family deal with the trauma of losing her brother.

Charity Commission investigates church which sold covid-19 protection kit

The Charity Commission has launched an investigation into the finances of the Kingdom Church in Camberwell, which sold a coronavirus “plague protection kit”. That was withdrawn after Southwark trading standards stepped in. In a press statement, the Commission says it is concerned about the accuracy of information on the charity’s operation, income and expenditure.

Roman Catholic priests face poverty due to complex tax laws

A Roman Catholic priest whose income fell drastically during the pandemic as his church was closed to congregations, was denied support from the government’s self employed scheme. The Catholic News Agency explains that the story highlights the anomaly that for National Insurance, priests are classified as self-employed earners, but for tax purposes they are regarded as office holders, so their income is taxed. The report also quotes other priests who managed because the diocese paid them a living allowance, and others who said the congregation carried on giving even though services had stopped.

Plea for security funding for places of worship in northern Ireland

Church leaders in Northern Ireland say they need government finding to bolster security at places of worship. Premier Christian Radio reported that the police service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has revealed there were 600 attacks on religious properties in the last five years, including 173 in Belfast city centre. Campaigners say crimes range from graffiti to arson and have a devastating effect on worshippers and church finances. England and Wales have a government funded ‘Places of Worship Security Funding Scheme’, with something similar in Scotland. But Northern Ireland does not.

American vice president at centre of Christian nationalism storm

A speech by the American vice president Mike Pence, at the Republican convention, has caused a stir, as he substituted ‘Jesus’ for national symbols. He based a section of his speech on a familiar Bible verse “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” to “Let’s fix our eyes on Old Glory and all she represents”. The Religion News Service says Pence, who describes himself as a born again evangelical Catholic, has angered Christians who think this is a nod towards Christian nationalism.

Five metre dreadlocks in obedience to “coconut religion”

Reuters reports that a 92-year-old man from the southern Mekong Delta region in Vietnam, has grown five-metre long dreadlocks, because his faith says a person must leave  untouched what a person is born with. He follows “Dua”, the coconut religion, named after its founder who survived only on coconuts to retain his vitality. Nguyen Van Chien told Reuters: “I believe if I cut my hair I will die. I dare not to change anything, not even combing it”. He was required to trim it at school, but has not had a haircut for 80 years, adding “It has attached to my head and became a thing of its own.”