Religious news February 17, 2022


The President of the Council of Deputies meets the Pope in Rome

The president of the Council of Deputies, Marie van der Zyl, and the CEO of the council, Michael Wegier, met the pope in Rome yesterday. It was the first time that a council president had met a pope other than as part of a larger international delegation. The Jewish Chronicle reports that the meeting had been requested by Mrs. van der Zyl just ten days earlier, to strengthen “the bridge of understanding” between Jews and Roman Catholics. She thanked him for “his significant efforts in favor of the memory of the Holocaust and the denunciation of anti-Semitism”. The Pope gave her a gold medallion and she gave him a rare signed copy of the History of the Great Synagogue of Rome, by Cecil Roth. The JC quotes her as saying, “It was an amazing experience. He was warm, charming and gracious. It is good to remember that as Jews we have friends”.

Ukrainians are in churches every night to pray for peace

Talks to avert war in Ukraine continue as 150,000 Russian troops remain on the border and NATO plans to place more battlegroups in Eastern Europe. Urgent calls for prayer for peace have been made by Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant leaders. 67% of the country is Orthodox, 2% is Protestant, and Baptists are the largest Protestant group, with 113,000 members. Baptist News Global quotes Igor Bandura, vice president of the Baptist Union of Ukraine, as saying people gather in all churches every night to pray for peace, unity and God’s protection. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has warned that the Ukrainian standoff could last for months.

Church launches spiritual center for non-religious people

Trinity Episcopal Church in Connecticut has launched the Trinity Spiritual Center, a place of meditation, contemplation and community where people who call themselves non-religious but spiritual can find a home. The idea came to church leaders as they planned the next phase of the ministry against the backdrop of increasing numbers of people giving up affiliation with Christianity. A report by Bob Smietana for the Religion News Service quotes a church leader as saying his spiritual journey took him “everywhere” but he came back to church as his anchor. The new group will operate as a community service under the aegis of the church, without proselytizing. The rector, the Reverend Margaret Hodgkins, said helping people lead more contemplative lives helps everyone.

CofE website initiative giving Christian insight into contemporary issues so others can believe it

The Bishop of Kensington, Graham Tomlin, is to lead a new Center for Cultural Witness, creating a magazine website to ‘focus not on internal church debates, but on explaining the Christian faith in accessible terms”. It will aim to explain how Christianity responds to contemporary cultural issues in dialogue with those of all faiths and without religion, “so that others can understand and believe in it today”. The Bishop is President of St Mellitus College, a partnership between the Dioceses of London and Chelmsford and Holy Trinity Brompton. He will step down as Bishop to run the new Centre, which is a four-year project, based at Lambeth Palace, with full-time staff, funded by donations including from the McDonald Agape Foundation and the Charity Fund of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It will also offer a learning and training program for senior Christian leaders and “emerging communicators”.

Historic damage for man abused at Catholic boarding school

A man who says he was sexually abused by monks at St Ninian’s School in Fife more than 40 years ago has been awarded £1.4million in damages. Identified only as AB, the man said he was assaulted by brothers Ryan, Farrell and Kelly. Ryan is dead. Farrell and Kelly were imprisoned. The school was run by The Christian Brothers, who tried to have the case dismissed, but the attempt was dismissed. Lawyers say it is the highest sum awarded to a victim and describe it as a landmark case. The Herald report is here

Backlash Against Church Leaders Lobby Over Conversion Therapy Ban

A letter from 2,500 church leaders to the government’s Office for Equality, lobbying against plans to ban conversion therapy, has been condemned by LGBT activists. Representatives of the leaders, from conservative evangelical groups, met with government officials worried they would not be able to speak openly about their Christian beliefs if the ban was in place. Subsequently, the Telegraph reported a government statement that proposals to ban conversion therapy will not impact daily religious practice. Now the BBC quotes Oxford Pride as saying 18 signatories were from Oxford and are disgusted by the letter. The Bishop of Dorchester, Gavin Collins, was quoted as saying the letter “runs counter to the established view of the Church of England that coercive conversion therapy is unacceptable and should be banned.” story here

Suspended prison sentences for activists who complained that a bishop was anti-Semitic

Two human rights activists in Greece have received suspended prison sentences for falsely accusing a Greek Orthodox bishop of anti-Semitic hate speech. Activists filed a complaint against Seraphim, the Metropolitan of Piraeus in April 2017, accusing him of public incitement to violence and hatred. The prosecutor rejected this complaint more than two years later and the bishop then filed his own complaint against the activists. They are appealing the judgment and the sentence.

Ohio-based United Church of Christ program pays off $100 million medical debt

The United Church of Christ has paid off more than $100 million in medical debt over two years, through a donation-funded debt cancellation program. The Ohio-based church says the program has benefited 10,757 households in the state, unable to pay medical bills. He partnered with RIP Medical Debt, which consolidates debts and pays them off with donations. The church raised $200,000, which redeemed the debt for pennies.


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