The lasting impact of 2022, when religion helped to mend a broken year

Image credit: Kate Ter Haar, flickr CCLicense2.0

This was the year of the war in Ukraine, the death of Queen Elizabeth II, three prime ministers in No 10, countless ministers of state, and a cost-of-living crisis so deep that families could not afford to feed their families or heat their homes.

And through it all, religion ran through, with voices challenging broken values in public life, ritual and community in a time of shared grief, and frontline assistance for the most vulnerable members of society.

In a Religion Media Centre briefing rounding off 2022, panellists and commentators noticed how society responded to the overwhelming sense of hopelessness and despair.

The journalist Catherine Pepinster, author of Defenders of the Faith, thought the trauma the country went through when Queen Elizabeth died was not as considerable as expected because rituals gave an opportunity to express emotion.

The vigil, processions, funeral and committal service took place alongside new rituals that sprang up, such as the queue to pass by the Queen’s coffin lying in state, or the crowds lining the 30-mile route from London to Windsor where the Queen was laid to rest.

“The queue was incredibly British and remarkable in that it was an expression of contemporary Britain, with a real mix of people from the old soldier with his medals to a young woman in a hijab. For once, we seemed to have a United Kingdom,” she said.

Elizabeth’s personal Christian faith was much commented on at the time, and so is that of the new King, Charles III, who has demonstrated his interest in faith in the first few months of his reign, from a reception for faith leaders at Buckingham Palace, to visits to a gurdwara, a Jewish community centre, a new Anglican church and an Ethiopian service.

Ms Pepinster suggested that all these events involved him in talking to people about faith in action, out in the community helping young people or providing for essential needs. This was emphasised again in the royal Christmas service at Westminster Abbey, where the King chose a poem about refugees to be read.

Values were at the heart of the assessment of Queen Elizabeth’s service and were well documented and explored after her death. They were also centre stage in the tumultuous political landscape this year, with three prime ministers and multiple ministers of state.

The Rev Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis Charitable Trust, spoke of the lasting damage done to children witnessing lying, corruption and chaos among the political elite.

His organisation looks after young people — 32,000 children in schools, youngsters on the streets and some in custody centres. He said there was an emphasis on character development, and the young people had been gently mocking the values they are learning, as they see people at the top living by a completely different set of values.

He said the whole sorry episode of politicians’ behaviour and changing leaders made children feel they didn’t matter. “I think it’s had a lasting impact on them. I think the respect for parliament has gone,” he said. However, he was optimistic that rebuilding could be done.

With the publication of the 2021 Census in November this year, showing that 46 per cent in England and Wales identified as Christian, there was a discussion on what was the basis of values now in this supposed Christian country.

Professor Abby Day referred to the striking census statistic that the number of people identifying as non-religious had risen to 37 per cent — 22 million people. She said young people may identify as having no religion, but they have incredibly strong values — diversity, equality and inclusion — taught by parents brought up in the era of civil rights and human rights movements. These values were sacred to them.

Generation Z students aged 12-27 appeared to put the politicians to shame. Young people will not tolerate racism, patriarchal or anti-gay attitudes in the institutional church, she said. And about politicians they say: “Who are these jokers? Who are these people?”

Values lie at the heart of faith groups’ response to people in need and their role on the front line was the subject of a report this year from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on faith and society.

Mr Chalke said: “Where churches and faith groups get involved in the needs of the community, we find growth. People are looking for a purpose. In a society without close family and friendly neighbours or close social connections, people seek community and when it is provided, it is hugely welcomed.”

His foundation has been helping families for years to keep warm in libraries, to wash in the toilets or to be provided with hot drinks. The high-profile cost-of-living crisis often talked about today was “a little bit of a middle-class invention”, he said.

The difference this year is that the struggle to survive has spread to more people with new articulate voices. This was the year when the world emerged from the Covid pandemic and witnessed the invasion of Ukraine, with both events harming the economy. Faith groups have been rallying round providing frontline support, for example in providing foodbanks.

Similar community strengthening has been witnessed this year in the overwhelming response to Ukrainian refugees, who fled in hundred of thousands when war broke out in February.

Dr Krish Kandiah told the briefing that he and some friends started the Sanctuary Foundation asking people to pledge support to the refugees arriving in the UK. It was a fantastic success, providing family homes for 106,000 Ukrainians, often with people who had never worked with refugees before.

He was concerned about what happened now as people needed to move into more permanent accommodation, and he welcomed government funding for more social housing.

In Ukraine, the people face a dismal winter with power cuts, the threat of attack and homes and infrastructure destroyed. An estimated 80 per cent of the population is Orthodox, but the conflict in the country has spilt over into the church, with the setting up of an alternative church aligned to Constantinople and not Moscow, where the Orthodox leadership has backed Russia’s war in Ukraine. Dr Katie Kelaidis, an American academic specialising in Orthodox Studies, believed this would become a continual split between modernising western ideas versus traditionalists who see modernity as the enemy.

But the interchurch conflict is transcended by the struggle to live. And the faithful membership in Ukraine is torn by loyalty to tradition and heritage in a church that has been “completely co-opted” to Vladimir Putin and his regime.

There were stories from within religious traditions that made the headlines in 2022. The Lambeth Conference of global Anglican bishops met in Canterbury in July and in an unusually positive story from this year, journalist Rosie Dawson said the outcome appeared to be that there was still an Anglican communion and people were still talking to one another.

While an earlier resolution against same-sex relationship remained, the bishops agreed to disagree in a move that has brought praise to the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. However, Rosie Dawson warned that the Church of England faced a vote on the contentious issue in February and if they decided to go ahead, “we can expect a blow up within the communion”.

Catherine Pepinster described moves to democratise the Catholic Church — synodality — which has meant every church member has had a chance to give their view on issues affecting church and public life. Pope Francis is determined to bring about reform, she said, but a lot depended on his health and for how long he could continue. He has already written a letter of resignation if the time comes when he can no longer perform his duties.

In July, the international Freedom of Religion or Belief Conference was held in London, hosted by the UK government. Journalist Julia Bicknell said it was important that representatives from many countries had the chance to take part in formal and informal discussions leading to small incremental steps towards freedom.

There were many other headline stories from 2022. The controversy over The Lady of Heaven film, about Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, which led to protests and the sacking of Imam Qari Asim as a government adviser, leaving no official Muslim voice in an advisory role to government.

In the year to March 2022, religious hate crimes increased by 37 per cent to 8,730 offences, up from 6,383 in the previous year. This was the highest number of religious hate crimes recorded in 10 years.

BBC local radio Sunday morning religious programmes hang in the balance after the BBC announced cuts to local programming to save money. There is hope that the decision may be watered down or even reversed after government pressure.

Briefing on our YouTube channel below:


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