Religion news 28 March 2024

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French headteacher resigns after death threats over student wearing a hijab
The prime minister of France said a teenage girl who falsely accused her headteacher of striking her in an argument over wearing a hijab will be sued by the state. The BBC reports that French law insists that pupils cannot wear head coverings and the head spoke to three girls to ask them to comply. Two did, but the third did not and her story went viral on social media. Then the head of the school in Paris, whose name has not been released, received death threats, a situation he took seriously after a teacher was decapitated on the street and another killed at his school. Soon after, the head resigned without warning.  Police were called to the school, but found no evidence that the girl had been hit.  
The web of influence of HTB philanthropist and media owner Sir Paul Marshall
Andrew Graystone has written for Prospect magazine on the influence of Sir Paul Marshall, an evangelical Christian, committed member of Holy Trinity Brompton, investor in GB news and prospective owner of The Telegraph and the Spectator. He was in the headlines recently for liking tweets critical of Islam.  The article paints the picture of a man attempting to shift the culture of society and the CofE, from a position of enormous wealth which he freely donates. He is said to be worth around £800 million from his work as a hedge fund manager, and has given millions to CofE projects. He set up St Pauls’ Theological Centre which then created St Mellitus training college, an off shoot of HTB where hundreds of ordinands are trained; and he funded the Centre for Cultural Witness based at Lambeth Palace, which produces the Seen and Unseen website on Christianity in public life. Through The Sequoia Trust, which he chairs, he gave  £10m to the Church Revitalisation Trust, which rejuvenates congregations and plants new churches, and £1m to HTB, a church which has spawned hundreds in its likeness across England and which nurtured the faith of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Andrew Graystone says Sir Paul’s vision is of liberalism, freedom and the sovereignty of the individual and his acquisition of media outlets means he is acquiring a place as a major influencer on the right and kingmaker of the Conservative party. Article here and podcast here
Talking faith in suicide prevention resource pack

The organisation Faith Action which supports faith-based organisations working in their communities, has produced a resource pack to help prevent suicide. It says providing advice and offering help from a faith perspective can help people from minority ethnic backgrounds at risk of suicide and unable to find support through the NHS. Its resource pack offers perspectives from six major world religions on the value of life, how to deal with anxiety, the importance of community and dealing with stigma attached to mental health.  It says: “Religious or spiritual beliefs and practices are important to many people, and can be a major influence on their attitudes and behaviours. Over half of people who use mental health services find their beliefs helpful in managing their mental health issues, but often find it difficult to speak about them with health professionals”.  The resource pack was created with a donation from the VCSE Health and Wellbeing Alliance, jointly managed by health agencies.

Religious orders in Britain declining as search for contemplative life springs up in other faiths

The number of people entering Catholic or Church of England orders has been slowly declining, but the quiet daily exercises and sense of vocation has kept the tradition alive in different ways. In our factsheet on monasticism, Maddy Fry charts the rise and fall of religious orders in Britain. She reports that latest CofE figures show the number of nuns and monks has fallen from 710 to 280 in the last 20 years. Catholic religious orders are also in decline. However there are new orders springing up from other world religions, with Orthodox, Buddhist and Hindu religious orders across Britain. Read the factsheet here

Maundy service in Worcester donating gifts to 150 men and women for their Christian service

The annual Royal Maundy Service will be held at Worcester Cathedral at 1100 this morning, when the Queen will present Royal Maundy ceremonial coins to 75 men and 75 women from around the country, in recognition of their “exemplary Christian service to church and community over many years”. The service rotates around the cathedrals and returns to Worcester for the first time since 1980. Worcester Cathedral says the ritual in Britain goes back to the 4th century and the presentation of gifts by the monarch began in 1213. The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word meaning commandment, referring to the command Jesus gave to his disciples on this day: “love one another as I have loved you.”

BBC series “Pilgrimage” starts tomorrow on BBC2

The BBC’s popular TV programme “Pilgrimage” is screened from tomorrow, Good Friday, on BBC2, with a group of well-known personalities on a pilgrimage across North Wales. The series of three one-hour programmes follows their journey from Flint Castle on the Dee estuary to Bardsey Island, via Yr Wydffa / Snowdon and the Llyn peninsula. The pilgrims include wildlife presenter Michaela Strachan, Amanda Lovett from the Traitors, and Spencer Matthews, a former reality TV star.  The route is linked to ancient churches going back to the sixth century, with paths well worn by Christian monks.

Good Friday Meditation: The Story of the Tree

Also tomorrow at 3pm, a special programme of meditation for Good Friday is on BBC Radio 4, explaining the impact of the felling of the tree that stands in Sycamore Gap in the north of England. Traditional readings and music are combined with Northumbrian pipes and interviews with the Bishop of Newcastle, Helen Ann Hartley. She tells the story of grief, bereavement and sadness of local people who had gone to Sycamore Gap to mark key moments in their lives – births, marriages, bereavements. The tree had been a signpost along a walk or a final point on a pilgrimage and the Bishop speaks of the way trees have the potential to bear witness to pain, strength and new life.. “It was just a tree, but never just a tree”.

Synchronised baptism for thousands in California at Pentecost
Hundreds of churches are partnering with “Baptise California” to host thousands of baptisms across the state on Pentecost, Sunday 18 May. The largest will be in the Pacific, by Huntington Beach, California. It’s the second such event inspired by Pastor Mark Francey of Oceans Church, a large evangelical church, but is open to all denominations. Last year, 4,100 people were baptised at Pirate’s Cove, on the coast at Corona del Mar, this year the baptisms will take place all over the state in a synchronised pattern, with live films coming into Ocean church so all can see. Pastor Francey said: “God is not done with America, and we are convinced that if we can unite the Church and turn fully back to Jesus, He will heal our land.”


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