Religion news 4 January 2024

Images provided by Jacqueline Cresswell, from Wells Cathedral contemporary art exhibition. "Confetti", by Clare Phelan (l); and "The unremembered guest from the unremembered past", by Nicola Walker (r)

Renaissance of art in English cathedrals

England’s cathedrals and churches are increasingly involved with art, from sculpture to paintings, and from textiles to illumination. Touring exhibitions and artists-in-residence create opportunities for reflection, discussion and exploration.  Five artists-in-residence are working on programmes at the cathedrals of Chester, Chichester, and St Albans, plus two churches, St Bartholomew the Great in the City of London, and St Mary’s Priory, Abergavenny. Artists-in-residence have previously worked in the cathedrals of Bradford, Durham, Lichfield, Worcester, and Christ Church, Oxford. Events have included contemporary art exhibitions, lights illuminating cathedrals inside and out, light star shows and a giant earth “Gaia” suspended from the ceilings. The sculptor and light artist Peter Walker says: “There is a renaissance in art in Britain’s cathedrals. It is not artwork for galleries or museums but for sacred spaces.” Read Angela Youngman’s report on art in English cathedrals, on our website here

Evangelicals create system to select alternative CofE leaders opposed to same sex relationships

The Church of England Evangelical Council has announced the names of nine people who will select leaders to give “spiritual oversight” of clergy and members of church councils who object to same sex blessings and therefore have lost confidence in bishops who chose to go ahead. They are the former bishops of Blackburn (Julian Henderson), Maidstone (Rod Thomas) and Willesden (Pete Broadbent); Busola Sodeinde – HTB member of General Synod and Church Commissioner; Rev Elaine Sutherland – Vicar, Holy Trinity Leicester; Jane Patterson – member of General Synod and 10 years on Crown Nominations Commission; Brian O’Donoghue – Pioneering and Operations Director, Renew; Rev Canon John Dunnett – National Director, CEEC and chair of Evangelical Group on General Synod; and Rev John Coles – Ambassador, New Wine. The CEEC has already announced an alternative financial fund, so churches give to it and not to central CofE funds.  

MP takes up case of sudden death of Sikh activist in Birmingham

Neil O’Brien, the Conservative MP for Harborough, has written to the home secretary about the sudden death last June of a Sikh activist in Birmingham. Avtar Singh Khanda was a supporter of the Khalistani independence movement who died suddenly on 15 June, aged 35, with a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukaemia. His family and supporters were suspicious about the cause of death as another Khalistan activist,  Hardeep Singh Nijjar, was killed in a drive by shooting in Canada on 18 June. Subsequently, the Canadian Prime Minister told parliament that India was implicated in the death. The Guardian reports that Mr. O’Brien’s letter says he has been extremely concerned by ongoing reports in the press about the death of Avtar Singh Khanda and questioned the thoroughness of the police investigation.

King Charles makes exceptional order to open a church graveyard for boy’s burial

The date has been announced for the funeral of seven-year-old William Brown, who was killed in a suspected hit and run on 6 December and whose family won the permission of the King to bury him in a churchyard near his school in Folkestone. Kent Online reports that the King had to give permission for him to be buried at the Church of St Mary and St Eanswythe, because it had been closed since 1857 and could only be used with the permission of the Privy Council, a lengthy process. The boy’s mother circumvented the system by driving to Sandringham to deliver the reuqest by letter to the King on Christmas morning. The funeral date  is 13 January and hundreds of people are expected to line the streets to pay their respects. Law and Religion legal backgrounder here

World Council of Churches denounces Russia’s “outrageous violation of international law

The World Council of Churches is appealing to leaders in Russia to change course and “respect international humanitarian and human rights law” for crimes committed, and work for a secure and sustainable peace for Ukraine. It denounced the strikes on Kyiv, Odesa, Dnipro, Kharkiv, Lviv, and elsewhere in the early hours of 29 December. General Secretary Rev Prof Dr Jerry Pillay said they were a clear and outrageous violation of international law and fundamental moral precepts, aiming to terrorise the Ukrainian population.  The WCC was seeking to work through its member churches to promote dialogue, peace and “an end to the violence and fear that Russia’s invasion has inflicted on the people of Ukraine”.

Project to identify and understand global spiritual leaders

More than 100 “spiritual exemplars” who are making the world a better place inspired by their religion, have been identified and lauded by a project sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation. Project leader, Professor Donald Miller of the University of South California, says they are exceptional people who tell a different story of religion to the media portrayal of abuse, corruption and decline. The list includes Ela Gandhi, South African peace and race equality activist; Father Greg Boyle, Jesuit priest working with gangs in Los Angeles; Shaily Gupta Barnes, from the Hindu tradition, working with the poor and marginalised across the world; Prof Anton Treuer, working for equality and rights of indigenous people; Denis Mukwege, from the Christian tradition, a gynaecologist and human rights activist, as well as Nobel Peace Prize laureate from east Congo; and Brother Phap Dungal, a Buddhist monk promoting meditation and retreats. As well as revealing their life stories, they discussed overcoming anger, burnout, roadblocks to their work and how spiritual practices sustain them

App helping churches hire out rooms raises £1million in four years

The Times reports that an app which lists church halls and community meeting rooms for hire in England, has raised £1million worth of bookings since it started in 2020. The Sharesy app  has 800 venues listed, many of which are in London, but the creators, based in Highbury, north London, are aiming to continue to expand nationwide. The Times quotes Felix Atkin, the founder of Sharsey, saying that community venues are chronically under-utilised and volunteers often don’t have the expertise to manage them. The project began as a means of helping local schools rent space and now includes many churches.

Andrew Lloyd Webber engages a priest to eject a poltergeist

The Telegraph has produced a comprehensive report of ghosts in Britain’s theatres, prompted by a new series of the BBC Podcast “Uncanny” about supernatural experiences. The report quotes Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber who owns six west end theatres, but says he has never seen a ghost in any of them. He did reveal, however, that he believes there was a poltergeist in his home at Eaton Square, who would collect theatre scripts and put them in a neat pile in an obscure room: “In the end we had to get a priest to come and bless it, and it left”, he said.


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