Religion news 15 May

PIc: flickr Luca Moglia

The Oasis Academy Trust, which runs 52 schools in England, says all their schools will open on June 1st. Founded by Baptist minister, Rev Steve Chalke, the Trust says its ethos of inclusivity and equality are based on Christian values, but these beliefs are not imposed.  In an interview for the BBC Today programme, Steve Chalke said opposition to re-opening was ‘rather middle class’. He said the advice from teachers’ unions not to reopen was lopsided and failed to recognise the harm to disadvantaged children from missing school.  49% of children in Oasis schools are from disadvantaged backgrounds. Teachers’ unions are meeting government scientific advisers today to seek assurances that re-opening schools will be safe.

Faith leaders are due to meet the government to discuss the easing of lockdown restrictions on places of worship today.  In a tweet on Wednesday, Robert Jenrick, secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, said: “On behalf of @BorisJohnson I will be convening leaders of all the faiths to plan the reopening of places of worship, whether for public worship or individual prayer. “We will work together to agree how and when to do so, whilst protecting the public and controlling the virus.”  That same day he made a statement on the coronavirus in which he said that places of worship could potentially open for private prayer earlier than July 4.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, told Radio 4’s Today programme that faith leaders want to highlight the importance of religion at this time. He said: “What we want to say is that the issues of how people are able to practice their faith are profound and are sensitive and we would like a bit more sensitivity from the government.”  He added: “It needs an understanding that what goes on in places of worship is quite different from one to another.”
While individual prayer is common in church, Muslim congregants pray side by side.  “We are talking about the practice of faith but we need to differentiate,” he said. “There is a great deal of spiritual sacrifice being made. We are willing, but we want to know that we are appreciated and the sensitivities are recognised and that we have the opportunities to open up safely, step by step.”
Full RMC backgrounder on reopening of places of worship here

Vicar and musician Rev Tim Hughes has received an award from the Prime Minister for organising ‘The UK Blessing‘ music video which has had 2.5 million views on youtube. He arranged for  hundreds of musicians to get together in a matter of days to record the song and then edited it together. He is the vicar of Gas Street church in Birmingham, which is a ‘plant’ – off shoot – of the evangelical church Holy Trinity Brompton. The daily Points of Light Award is given to people who have had a positive impact on society.  In a letter to Tim Hughes, the Prime Minster said the song was sensational.

Churches in Rome have been disinfected by the Italian army ahead of plans to reopen them next week. Priests will don gloves and masks when they resume services from Monday, alongside the opening of all shops and museums, according to The Times.  Worshippers will be required to wear masks also and sit a metre and a half apart, with hand sanitisers replacing the font of holy water. There will be no choirs and collection boxes will not be passed around.  Confession will take place in “well ventilated” rooms instead of the traditional booths, according to new regulations drawn up by bishops and the Italian government. The revised practices were approved after the church was angered when mass was initially absent from the list of permitted activities post lockdown.

The religious tourism sector of Iraq’s economy has been so badly affected by the coronavirus, that television channels have been airing round-the-clock images from religious shrines and mausoleums instead. A hotline also provides a free audio guide for a virtual visit to the shrine city of Najaf, where Ali, the fourth caliph and relative of the Prophet Mohammed, is buried.  Iraq has reported over 3,000 coronavirus infections and more than 110 deaths since its first case was recorded nearly three months ago in Najaf, according to AFP. As a result, the news agency reports, the religious tourism sector – which constitutes around half of the country’s non-oil economy – has been battered. Millions of Shiite pilgrims visit shrines in Najaf and nearby Karbala annually, travelling from neighbouring Iran or even India.