Religion news 4 January

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Welcome back to our daily news briefing – wishing you a happy new year, through the challenges!

Stories to look out for in 2021

Christopher Lamb suggests four religion stories to look out for this year – the impact of Covid-19 on faith groups’ finances and charitable work as unemployment, poverty and loneliness bite; widespread speculation that the government will be asked to create a new faith commissioner and faith department to encourage better working between the state and faith groups; Pope Francis is due to visit Iraq in March; and president-elect Joe Biden’s faith will be tested in a divided America.

Read the analysis and predictions here.

In America, reporters at the Religion News Service are looking out for stories on how white evangelicals who supported Trump respond to a new political era; and how faith based campaigns on issues of race, immigration, climate and gender are re-shaped with Joe Biden as president. 

Stories you may have missed:

31 December: Church of England faces shortfall of £40million

The Church Times reported that figures given to the Archbishop’s council show giving has declined by £40 million during the pandemic. Some dioceses are facing a drop of 20%, including Durham, Leeds, Manchester, Truro, Lincoln and Sheffield; others have not felt such a harsh impact. The report says the drop is due to closure of churches, fewer congregant when churches reopened, loss of fees for services such as weddings, and loss of income from the hire of church buildings.

30 December: British Muslims campaign against forced cremations

The Muslim Council of Britain has launched legal action against the Sri Lankan government’s policy of ‘forced cremations’ to people who have died of Covid-19, a practice which is against the Muslim custom of burial. UK based Sri Lankan lawyers, medical experts, and senior community leaders have joined the campaign and written to the Foreign Secretary and the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to request an immediate reversal of the policy.

30 December: Hindu temple destroyed in north west Pakistan

A violent mob tore down and set fire to a Hindu temple in the north west region of Karak, Pakistan. Reuters has seen film of a mob using sledge hammers to smash the temple’s stones after which dark smoke billowed into the sky, an act described as barbaric by local Hindu leaders. Reuters says Muslim clerics had protested against the construction of a new building on the site. The building had changed hands between Hindus and Muslims since 1947. The Times of India says the local government has pledged to rebuild it.

29 December: Ampleforth college submits action plan to avoid closure

Ampleforth college, the Roman Catholic boarding school in Yorkshire, has submitted an action plan to the government, to tackle serious weaknesses reported in an emergency inspection in September, which led to an instruction not to admit any more pupils. The Telegraph reports that the college has faced safeguarding concerns for years and its current headmaster, in place for just seven months, fears it may be forced to close unless the order is revoked.

28 December: Pope re-organises Vatican finances

Pope Francis has issued a law transferring all the Vatican’s liquid assets at the Vatican bank and foreign banks to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA),  the Holy See’s treasury and sovereign wealth manager. The move follows financial scandals of mismanagement and losses and intends to provide more monitoring and supervision.

25 December – 3 January: Christmas and New Year’s messages from church leaders

Christian leaders drew stories of hope from the pandemic in their Christmas and New Year messages. At Christmas, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, reflected on the darkness brought by the pandemic and the coming of light and hope in the story of the birth of Jesus. Pope Francis called for care for the victims and universal access to vaccines. The Queen reassured people on their own that they were not alone and “even on the darkest nights there is hope in the new dawn”.  

In his New Year message, Justin Welby spoke of reasons to be hopeful for the months ahead and Pope Francis said the pandemic had aroused compassion, care and solidarity.  Yesterday he condemned people who had gone abroad on holiday to escape coronavirus lockdowns, saying they needed to show greater awareness of the suffering of others.

Churches stayed open for Christmas services, though some were ticketed to ensure social distancing. Many services were online.

22 December: Sikhs from Khalsa Aid fed lorry drivers stuck on the M20 in Kent

Sikhs from Khalsa Aid, a charity based in Slough joined members of the Sikh community in Kent to deliver hundreds of hot meals, snacks and drink to lorry drivers stuck on the M20, prevented from entering France after last minute restrictions demanding a Covid negative test. At its peak, 6,000 lorries were waiting to cross and some were stuck for 6 days. Khalsa Aid worked with emergency services walking along the motorway with essential supplies.

16 December: St Helen’s Bishopsgate breaks away from Church of England

St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, a large evangelical church in the City of London has severed relationship with the Church of England’s Bishops over sexuality. It says the church has a muddles message over sex and marriage which is at odds with Biblical teaching. In a statement, it said St Helen’s is not leaving the Church of England but will withdraw from certain activities such as the recommendation of people to become clergy and ‘planting’ (creating) new churches.

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