Religion News 18 December

Image credit: Lichfield Cathedral

This is the last daily news briefing until Monday 4 January, but news articles will appear on the website over the Christmas holiday including a review of the year and a lookahead to 2021. Season’s greetings from all of us here and see you back on the daily news beat next year.

Christmas in church

Church services are still allowed in England despite Covid-19 restrictions, either inside with social distancing, or outside, where carol singing is also permitted. A variety of 15,000 services online, in church and outdoors are listed on the Church of England’s ‘church finder’ website A Church Near You.  The Archbishop of Canterbury will lead a service of Midnight Mass on YouTube and Facebook and give a sermon on Christmas Day. Cathedral services continue as usual, but as only limited numbers are allowed, services are ticketed.

Roman Catholic churches have been given permission by the Pope to celebrate four masses on Christmas Day, accommodating all parishioners who are limited in numbers due to Covid-19  restrictions. The pope will deliver his usual  “Urbi et Orbi” message – ‘to the city and to the world’- on Christmas Day at 12 noon, from inside the Vatican, in order to prevent crowds gathering outside as is the usual custom.

The Church in Wales will have services this Christmas, more than one on a given day if desired, so long as social distancing and hygiene rules are observed. But afterwards when it goes into Tier 4, churches are being encouraged to review whether they open for worship, considering the risks.

In Scotland, churches must admit limited numbers of people depending on the Covid-19 tier of the locality. In some cases congregations may meet outdoors.

Facts about Christmas in church on our website here

Church of England appoints BAME woman as diocesan bishop

A bishop who fled Iran with her family after a failed assassination attempt, is to become the next Bishop of Chelmsford. Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani is currently the Bishop of Loughborough, a more junior role. Her appointment makes her the C of E’s only BAME diocesan bishop. Dr Francis-Dehqani’s father was an Anglican bishop in Iran, who brought his family out in 1979 after armed men broke into their house and shot and wounded his wife. She told Premier Christian radio that she had never visited Essex, as her appointment process had been entirely on zoom.

Diocese of Chelmsford story here

Schoolboys kidnapped in Nigeria by Boko Haram have been released

344 schoolboys kidnapped by Boko Haram from a boarding school in north-western Nigeria have been released, according to the state governor. They are said to be in good condition and travelling to be reunited with their parents. Early reports suggest they were marched into a nearby forest where security forces surrounded them and their captors, before being released. The Islamist militant group Boko Haram had claimed responsibility.

British Islamic Medical Association says Pfizer vaccine is safe

The British Islamic Medical Association has issued a statement reassuring Muslims that the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine is safe and urging people to take part in the national vaccination programme. Muslims in Britain have experienced excess cases and deaths. One third of those from minority backgrounds in the UK are Muslim. The statement says that after discussion with experts, “we recommend the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for eligible at-risk individuals in the Muslim community”. Until all are vaccinated, they say people should be vigilant, wearing  masks,  social  distancing,  and  washing hands.

British Islamic Medical Association statement here

Europe upholds ban on kosher and halal slaughter

The European Court of Justice has ruled that a Belgian ban on kosher and halal slaughter methods is lawful. In these practices, animals are killed without first being stunned, and animal rights groups have campaigned on grounds of cruelty and justice. European Jewish groups fear laws against Jewish ritual slaughter could now be upheld across the European Union. They say animal welfare has been given a higher priority than freedom of religion.  

BBC story here

Cardinal: Trump is a barbarian, but he is our barbarian

Cardinal George Pell has described Donald Trump as “unfortunately a bit of a barbarian, but in some important ways, he is our barbarian”. He was speaking at the launch of his book “Prison Journal” about his 404 days in an Australian jail after conviction on sex abuse charges – later quashed. He said Trump had made a positive contribution with his choices for the Supreme Court, but his questioning of the election outcome weakened trust in institutions, which was “no small thing”.  Since his release and return to Rome, questions have emerged over whether money was sent by his detractors to Australia in an effort to sway the court case. In the virtual press conference, he said: “I myself am quite confident that money did go from Rome to Australia about that time, but I’ve got no proof about where that finished up”.

Guardian report here

Megachurch splits with US Southern Baptist Convention over critical race theory

The founder of a megachurch in Houston, Texas, is severing links with the Southern Baptist Convention in a row over ‘critical race theory’. Six presidents of the Convention, which is the largest denomination in the States, issued a statement on 30 November saying the theory is incompatible with Baptist beliefs. The premise is that white supremacy exists and that law has a role in maintaining it; also that social problems are rooted in society’s structures and culture. The theory is challenged by conservatives who deny systemic racism. The Rev Ralph D West, founder of Church Without Walls, said of the Baptist presidents: “These men chose to castigate a framework that points out a truth that cannot be denied. American history has been tainted with racism. America codified it. And more, our public and private institutions propagated it.”

Religion News Service story here