Religion news 28 January

Image credit: St Saviour's, Wendell Park

Digital services attract more people and are here to stay

The Rev Chris Lee, the Instagram vicar who has more followers than the Church of England, has spoken of the increased interest in spiritual matters during the pandemic. He told a Religion Media Centre online briefing that his 60-second sermons, which can be be seen by 176,000 followers, offer the message  of love, as people are vulnerable, suffering and distant. “It’s been a wild ride of communicating this message of hope into a platform often seen as superficial,” he said. Other speakers pointed to increased numbers of people attending worship online and all agreed that the future would include both physical services and online activities. The pandemic had given rise to at least one theological disagreement over whether communion could be celebrated online, with a dispute over whether people meeting online is real. Books are being written. This was the last RMC zoom briefing on the impact of Covid-19 on religion in the UK. All the films are on our YouTube channel here

Vaccine should be available in poorer countries says archbishop

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has offered practical help to people in torment during the pandemic. Interviewed on the BBC, he spoke of his own emotions when a good friend died in the Congo, saying grief gives way to rebuilding lives as people work in solidarity with one another.  He said regrets were inevitable, including for politicians over choices that had been made. And he appealed to all countries to distribute the vaccine fairly so that everyone in the world can be safe.

Pandemic strengthens faith of Americans

Almost a third of Americans report that the pandemic has made their religious faith stronger, a survey from the Pew Research Centre says. This is despite places of worship closing and association made difficult by lockdowns. In contrast, only 10 per cent of people in the UK reported strengthened faith. The least impact was in Denmark where only two per cent reported a change.

Landmarks turn purple on Holocaust Memorial Day

The Millennium wheel, Wembley Stadium, Cardiff Castle and the Tyne Bridge were among many national landmarks lit up in purple last night to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day. It marked 76 years since Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated, bringing to an end the geocide of six million Jews. Prince Charles, patron of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, told an online ceremony that the task of bearing witness fell to all people, in all generations and  all time. Fiyaz Mughal of Muslims Against Antisemitism issued a statement in solidarity: “When antisemitism shows itself, we as Muslims need to understand that the haters will come for us all at one point. The Holocaust teaches us to act to defend life.”

Drive to attract more students to study theology and religious studies

Theology and Religious Studies UK, the organisation that represents, supports, and promotes the academic study of religion and theology in UK higher education institutions, has launched a PR campaign to attract more students. A series of YouTube films shows TRS graduates in such diverse jobs as the law, TV production, project management, policy manager for a mayor and chief executive of The Elders. One quote: “Studying religion and theology taught me to understand the interaction between people’s beliefs and the world we live in.”

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh moved to remote island

Bangladesh will move 2,000 to 3,000 more Rohingya Muslim refugees to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal this week, Reuters reports. They will join a further 3,500 refugees who have already made the journey. Campaigners object because of the island’s vulnerability to storms and flooding. The report says the Rohingya, who fled violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, are not allowed to move off the island without government permission.