Religion news 6 July

Pic: Ripon Cathedral twitter

Church services resume

Worship resumed in the Church of England and Roman Catholic churches on Sunday following the lockdown, with strict health and safety rules in place. 200 people pre-booked for the service at Canterbury Cathedral, seated in chairs two metres apart, with priests wearing visors distributing the eucharist, a hand sanitiser station at the entrance and music provided just by the organ. Ripon Cathedral (pictured) described their service as the next step in the journey through strange times. The Diocese of Exeter said people were glad to be back. In London, 50 people were allowed into Westminster Abbey for the first service since lockdown. In the vast nave, social distancing was easily achieved.  The Dean, Dr David Hoyle, said he had been close to tears when the Abbey closed in March and in the months since, he had felt dislocated and bereft, but returning to worship there was a privilege. Churches in all denominations are opening gradually after the lockdown, and many are still offering services online.

Weddings also resumed this weekend, with 30 people only allowed in a church, in joyful celebrations.    Fiona and Chris were married at Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, with relatives joining on Facetime; Lucy Johnston and James Bone were married at St Michael and All Angels Church, Ingram, Northumberland, with the vicar and 30 guests social distancing and the service broadcast on BBC News;  and a civil wedding was held at a hotel in in Ironbridge, which opened for just one hour for the purpose.

Wrecking ball against racism in the church

Stephen Cottrell, who will become Archbishop of York on Thursday this week (9 July), has told the Sunday Times that the Church of England’s leadership is too white, and that black Asian and ethnic minority people should be included, as women have been, into the leadership of the church.  He succeeds John Sentamu, whose retirement leaves no senior black bishops in the church. The new Archbishop said he believed Jesus would have joined the Black Lives Matter protests: “Jesus was a black man, and he was born into a persecuted group in an occupied country,” he said.

The Rev Azariah France-Williams, a church of England vicar in Teddington, has written a book which ‘has the potential to be a wrecking ball’ against racism in the Church of England. Ghost Ship: Institutional Racism and the Church of England unveils unconscious bias and barriers faced by black, Asian and minority ethnic clergy, through the telling of their stories and anecdotes.  In an interview with the Guardian, he says he believes there has been a shift within the church in recent weeks and a number of bishops have asked him to help write their statements on responses to Black Lives Matter.

The Church of England has set up the Archbishops’ Racism Action Commission to make bold changes ending racism and ensuring equality. Initial work will start in the next few weeks, mapping the scope of the commission, and it is anticipated that cultural and structural change will follow.


Populists using religion to give their politics soul

The Italian journalist, Iacopo Scaramuzzi, has published a book analysing the way nationalist politicians across the globe are using religion to consolidate their power. In an interview with the Religion Media Centre, he sets out how politicians such as Matteo Salvini in Italy, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Vladimir Putin in Russia, and President Donald Trump in the USA, make use of Christian iconography to give a sense of “soul” to their politics. He said this very sudden and marked campaigning tactic happened at about the same time, using the same kind of words and rhetoric.  The interview between Iacopo Scaramuzzi and Christopher Lamb is on our You Tube Channel here.

Pope welcomes call for global ceasefire

Pope Francis has commended the United Nations Security Council for calling for an immediate global ceasefire amid the coronavirus pandemic. He said it would allow peace and security to provide urgently needed humanitarian assistance and he hoped the decision would be implemented effectively and promptly for those who are suffering.

Row over museum in Turkey reverting to a mosque

In Turkey, a decision to change the use of the Hagia Sophia monument in Istanbul back into a mosque, has been condemned by the Russian Orthodox Church as “unacceptable”.  The sixth-century building was a church for 916 years, converted into a mosque in 1433, and then a museum in 1935, becoming one of Turkey’s most visited monuments. Metropolitan Hilarion, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external church relations, said this was a return to the middle ages but the world is “multi-confessional” and the feelings of believers should be protected. America and Greece have urged Turkey to keep the building as a museum, but President Erdogan has described foreign criticism as an attack on Turkey’s sovereignty.

Russian monk denying coronavirus is defrocked

A Russian Orthodox monk who has taken refuge in a monastery in Moscow, has been defrocked by the church. Father Sergiy, whose real name is Nikolai Romanov, had denied the existence of the coronavirus, refused to obey lockdown orders and urged others to do likewise, and then took control of the monastery. In a video he has denounced President Vladimir Putin as a traitor to the motherland serving a satanic world government and said church leaders were heretics and enemies of God. Before joining the church, Father Sergiy was a police officer until jailed for robbery and assault.

Kanye West for President?

Kanye West, the American rapper who has spoken publicly about his Christian faith and being ‘born again’, says he is running to be President of the United States. His faith is just one aspect of his life that has propelled him into the headlines. His “Jesus is King” album reached number one and his famous flamboyant Sunday services have been picking up supporters since 2019. He has found further fame through his marriage to the TV personality Kim Kardashian; and his on-off support for Donald Trump has been widely reported. In a tweet on Saturday night he said: “We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future. I am running for president of the United States.”