Religion news 5 January

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Surprise at decision to keep places of worship open in England

The government’s decision to allow places of worship in England to remain open for public worship in the coronavirus lockdown has caught clergy by surprise. Government guidance says it is permitted to attend or visit a place of worship for communal worship, a funeral or a wedding ceremony, but people should not mingle with others and should observe social distancing and other safety measures.

Clergy and church members were astounded, with comments on social media describing it as “a bit mad .. v surprising .. ridiculous.”

The decision brought a cautious response from the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullaly, who said: “Some may feel that it is currently better not to attend in person, and there will be parishes which decide to offer only digital services for the time-being. Clergy who have concerns, and others who are shielding, should take particular care and stay at home”.

In contrast, the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said: “It is with real regret that we consider it necessary for places of worship to close during this period for all purposes except broadcasting a service or conducting a funeral, wedding, or civil partnership”. Up to 20 people can attend a funeral but only five a wedding or partnership ceremony.

In Wales, places of worship can stay open, but the government advises they should review the services they plan to offer.

In Northern Ireland places of worship are open with restrictions for numbers attending weddings and funerals.

Baptist pastor from Martin Luther King’s church seeks Georgia senate seat

The crucial Georgia race for two senate seats ends today (5 January) with the Rev Raphael Warnock, pastor at Martin Luther King’s Ebenezer Baptist church in Atlanta, vying to become the state’s first black senator. He is an orator in the Baptist tradition, a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and a civil rights campaigner, who is up against the Republican senator Kelly Loeffler. The other seat is being contested by a 33 year old journalist Jan Ossoff against the sitting senator, wealthy businessman David Perdue. If both Democrats win, the party will take the Senate.

The extraordinary legacy of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

The Conference of European Rabbis (CER) held a virtual memorial event on Sunday evening to honour the life of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi and Associate President of the CER. Eminent religious scholars and politicians spoke of his significant impact on spiritual, sociological, political and intellectual matters. The Jewish News reports that the former prime minister Tony Blair told the gathering: “He gave me a feeling of why it was important to have faith and how faith was central to human progress… When I think of the difference that he made to my life and to the lives of so, so many others, it’s an extraordinary legacy and a wonderful example to those of us who remain.”

Orthodox church in Greece defies government to open for Epiphany

The Orthodox Church in Greece has vowed to defy a government lockdown and hold services marking the feast of the Epiphany on 6 January.  Greece had banned the services because of a rise in coronavirus cases and pressure on hospitals. Reuters reports that in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Epiphany is one of the most important religious festivals, commemorating the baptism of Christ. In the western tradition, it is more associated with the story of the three wise men visiting the baby Jesus.

Russian orthodox priest and cult leader arrested

A renegade Russian orthodox priest who ran a cult in a former convent, has been arrested on charges of driving people to suicide, violating the right to freedom of conscience and fomenting unlawful actions. Father Sergiy’s cult is said to worship Russia’s last czar Nicholas II who was murdered in the 1918 revolution and he has been accused of denying coronavirus exists.   He had previously been sentenced to 13 years in jail for murder and robbery but was released in the 1990s. He was prised out of the convent by riot police and taken to Moscow where he was charged.

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