Religion news 4 July 2024

Image credit: Diocese of Oxford

Bishop criticises “Alliance” group for suggesting a CofE schism

The Bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft, has strongly objected to an open letter from a group of evangelicals in the Church of England, who have threatened to set up an alternative “province” in opposition to same sex blessings. In his blog published on Tuesday, he said the proposal from “The Alliance” group, which includes Holy Trinity Brompton, was deeply unhelpful and misleading, hurt many people and deployed “doom laden and catastrophising language” to put pressure on the bishops. The prospect of a parallel province would be a “deep and disproportionate schism” in the Church of England. The number of people who say they require their own province is very small, he said, and most congregations have diverse views and just want to get on with the mission of God. He rebuts the letter’s request for a different process requiring a two thirds majority synod vote. Synod will discuss proposals for same sex blessings again at its meeting in York next weekend. Church Times article here

Archbishop revokes Lambeth award from Mike Pilavachi

The Archbishop of Canterbury has revoked the Lambeth award given to Mike Pilavachi, the founder of Soul Survivor, who resigned after more than 150 people came forward with allegations of abuse spanning 30 years, with stories of  grooming young men, wrestling them to the ground and giving them massages. An internal church investigation substantiated safeguarding concerns against him and Soul Survivor has commissioned a KC investigation. He was given the Alphege Award for evangelism and witness in 2020, citing his “outstanding contribution to evangelism and discipleship amongst young people in the United Kingdom” which “shaped a spirituality and discipleship for generations of young people”. A petition was set up in April calling for the award to be removed because of the “appalling harm” from his conduct.

Ukrainian Catholic priests released from Russian detention

Two Ukrainian Catholic priests have been released from Russian captivity as part of the latest exchange of prisoners between Ukraine and Russia. The Tablet reports that Fr Ivan Levytsky and Fr Bohdan Geleta were detained by Russia in November 2022, in a coastal town in south east Ukraine. One month later, the church authorities warned of their deteriorating health and accused the Russians of mistreatment and torture. Their release followed interventions from the Vatican and a peace summit last month which discussed prisoner exchanges. Days later they attended a National Prayer Breakfast in Kyiv hosted by President Zelenskiy, who thanked the Vatican for its role in facilitating the exchange.

Police investigate Hindu festival stampede that killed 120 people

Investigations are underway into how a Hindu festival in India led to a stampede where more than 120 people died. It’s reported that a vast crowd, estimated at 250,000 people, gathered in a muddy field designed for just 80,000, with a marquee that was enclosed, despite high temperatures and humidity. The Associated Press reports that when the Hindu guru, Bhole Baba, arrived, the crowd surged towards him and some died from suffocation.  Others then made for the exits and slipped on the muddy ground and were crushed. There were further chaotic scenes when the guru left in his car, and the crowd was pushed back. Bhole Baba is a former police officer, who now has a huge following in Uttar Pradesh, where he has two ashrams and holds regular large meetings. Police are now trying to find him and the people who organised the event. AP report here

Chief Rabbi roles lie vacant in Israel

Israel’s two chief rabbis, David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, representing Ashkenazi and Sophardic Jews, have come to the end of their time in office with no successors in place. This leaves their permanent posts vacant for the first time since the 1920s, but in the meantime, two rabbis will serve as an interim measure. The Religion News Service reports that internal disagreements among the 150-member council of rabbis and officials have delayed the election. One key issue is the role of women on the council which elects them, another was a dispute over names of successors. The chief rabbis are in a department of the Israeli government and have powers over marriage, divorce, conversion and other matters at the intersection with Jewish law.

CofE launches schemes to find new members

The Church of England has announced several schemes to enlist new members, especially children and young people.  A project to set up a network of 40 worshipping communities called “Flourish”, meeting in schools or colleges, has been launched. Local primary and secondary schools, further education colleges and churches will form partnerships to set up the schemes and leaders from churches and schools will be trained to create communities designed to reach of every child in the country. Secondly, the “Leading your Church into Growth” project has been given £755,100 to increase its work supporting 1,000 parishes hoping to grow their membership, especially among children and young people. And thirdly, more than £1.3 million will go to theological education projects including children and youth work, and encouraging neuro diverse people, for example with dyslexia, into ministry. Latest CofE stats show all-age weekly attendance at Church of England churches rose to 685,000 in 2023, from 654,000 in 2022, an increase of 4.7 per cent. The number of children attending weekly increased from 87,000 in 2022 to 92,000, up 5.7 per cent.

Methodists reviewing recognition of online churches

The Methodist Church is considering how predominantly online churches can be recognised in its structure.  Its conference in Leeds agreed to do more theological work on celebrating communion online, review how online membership can be determined, and plan to offer training and support for organisers, implementing protocols on who is in charge of the accounts.

Tajikistan orders hard labour for witchcraft and fortune telling

Tajikistan plans to increase the punishments for people involved in fortune-telling, sorcery, or witchcraft, with large fines or sentences of hard labour for up to six months. In a statement, the Interior Ministry said people engaged in various “occult” businesses were considered fraudsters and punishments would be more severe than fines already in place. The practices include witchcraft, illegal religious teachings, fortune telling, Tarot cards and distributing talismans and amulets – magical and good luck charms.  The Wild Hunt website explains that witchcraft is illegal in other countries including Saudi Arabia and some African countries. Tajikistan is a predominantly Sunni Muslim country where witchcraft is regarded as a sin. Last month it banned the hijab, in part to combat perceived radicalism, as well as superstition.


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