Religion news 12 August

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A rush of polls on religion in lockdown

 SavantaComres: Half the UK’s under 34s pray and worship online

Christian churches have been online for decades, but “it’s gone mainline during the pandemic” and is soaring amongst young people, the Rev. Dr. Peter Phillips of Durham University told a webinar of the Religion Media Centre.  He had been staggered by the extent of the religious practice amongst young people under the age of 34.  In a recent survey run by Savanta Comres, they found that 45% – 49% of people under 34 prayed in July. It was even higher in August – at 55%.  Another question on worship showed that more than half of young people aged 18-34 were engaging in online worship. “That’s just staggering. I’m shocked by that”, he said. The poll also showed a considerable difference between older and younger generations, the older starting to “drift off”. And there were interesting geographical trends, with London once more emerging as the faith capital in the UK, followed by the West Midlands and then Yorkshire. It was no coincidence, that these places are multicultural, he said, which is good for people of faith who work together.  For the future, online religion is here to stay and research is going on to establish how this ‘hybrid’ worship will move forward, for example how sacraments will be observed. Full report here: (Savanta ComRes survey interviewed 2,244 UK adults aged 18+ online between 31st July and 3rd August 2020. Data was weighted to be nationally representative of all UK adults by key demographic characteristics).

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Pew Research: 115 Million American Adults Turn to Prayer During Coronavirus

Pew Research Centre in America has found a similar online trend. New data shows that 55% of U.S. adults, or 115 million women and men, regularly turn to prayer to help them cope with the coronavirus outbreak and is particularly important in the workplace. The survey of 10,211 America adults between July 13 and 19, also found that 89% reported that they are watching TV or movies daily or weekly. The Religion News Service reports that those most likely to seek comfort in spirituality at least once a week — prayer, Scripture reading and meditation — are members of historically Black Protestant churches, followed by evangelical Protestants.

YouGov: No major shift in religious practice overall

The Think tank Theos has commissioned a YouGov poll to find out whether people have become more spiritual in the lockdown. It finds no shift in religious practice, but substantial movement in a search for answers. Completed at the end of May / beginning of June, the research points to the common theme, that young people are turning to spiritual matters more than any other age group. 54% of 18-24 year olds said they were searching for meaning, compared to 32% in the general population. More admitted to doing so more during the pandemic and those in London and Northern Ireland were more likely to be in this category.  Younger people were also less likely to agree that their life was meaningful. The top answers to what would lead to a fulfilling life, were family, being content and financially comfortable. Faith came almost last on the list. The You Gov poll did not find a surge in online religious activity. Theos says “When asked whether people were accessing spiritual or religious content online (e.g. an online service, prayer or meditation, webinar etc.) just 9% of the population said that they had started or were doing so more often than they had in the past, 3% said that they were doing this less often, or had stopped. On prayer, 33% of people said that they were praying before the pandemic, and 33% after. Theos concludes that the biggest shifts indicate a more reflective and contemplative perspective, edging towards holistic spiritual practices.

Norfolk churches stay digital

The Christian magazine Inspire has discovered that 92% of all churches in Norfolk have gone digital during the lockdown and 85% say they will continue even after restrictions end, with some form of hybrid operation – physical and online. Rev Matthew Price, from St Mary’s Gorleston, is quoted as saying: “We are really aware that for some people they do not feel ready to come out of their homes yet and we want to continue to provide access to church for them for the foreseeable future”.  

Bishop calls for compassion towards refugees

The former Church of England Bishop Stephen Lowe has robustly defended the right of refugees to find a safe place in the UK. In an energetic discussion on LBC, he called for compassion for the hundreds of people risking a Channel crossing to come to this country. He was challenged by a caller who thought the people were not desperate, but economic migrants who could find safety in France. But the Bishop said they were fleeing war and famine and “you’d have to be desperate if you’re crossing one of the busiest shipping routes in the world in a rubber dinghy”.

Meanwhile, the Rev Gareth Jones from Ilford, has criticised the CofE for failing to appoint a National Refugee Welcome Co-ordinator. He said the role was needed to co-ordinate work with refugees across the country. In a letter to the Church Times, he said many parish based refugee and asylum support initiatives had closed because of the lockdown. The CofE said the role was to enable dioceses to create their own capacity to help refugees and there are local coordinators now.

Sex abuse and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ response

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is hearing evidence this week from religious organisations. The Guardian reports that two former Jehovah’s Witness elders, who gave evidence on Monday, called for mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse, taking it out of the hands of the church. The story emerged of overbearing authoritarianism, strict codes of conduct and exclusive social lives barricaded from the world outside. A survivor of sexual abuse told her story. The inquiry was told that elders were given internal training on how to deal with abuse allegations. A Guardian investigation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, in 2018, based on allegations from more than 100 people, revealed a “culture of cover-up and lies”.

Covid19 outbreak in monastery in Assisi

Ten Franciscan friars and eight novices in the community at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, have tested positive this week for COVID-19. The Catholic News Agency reports that all are in isolation and good health. They include novices who arrived from European countries to begin their training. All are being kept away from the public, so tourists and pilgrims can continue as normal. Umbria, the region in which Assisi is located, had one of the lowest number of coronavirus cases in Italy

$5million from Islamic Relief for the people of Beirut

The Muslim aid agency Islamic Relief has pledged $5 million in emergency funding to help the people of Lebanon following the explosion which devastated Beirut. 155 people died, 300,000 people are homeless, and aid workers are struggling to meet the need for food, water, medicine and shelter. The store next to the building which exploded, contained 18 months of grain and food shortages are expected as a result. The charity says that Islamic Relief Lebanon is aiming to provide 7,500 people with food parcels for the next two months as well as non-food items such as lamps, fans, hygiene kits, tarpaulins and blankets for 10,000 people. The country was in lockdown when the explosion happened.