A page recording, sometimes with editorial comment,
articles from the papers on matters of concern to the Christian community

The management apologises (but only slightly) for the fact that these pieces are mostly from one newspaper group and reflect one political persuasion.  Other contributions are, as ever, more than welcome, but the editor feels bound to point out that the 'Telegraphs' do at least take religious matters seriously,  and, faced with the invariable indifference of most other journals, serious or otherwise, may demonstrate the truth of the familiar saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity...

To access a wide range of stories, click on the headline below. The most recent is at the top.

Mitre Cuts? - episcopal headgear under attack
Good news on Anglican ordinations locally and nationally
Churchgoers more liberal than their leaders, it seems
More young people coming to Church
A bit of Saint John Bosco's brain is missing
Cathedrals not banging on about God
The C of E is in the money!
Confirming the good news
A little cheer for the CofE?
'Lovely Jubbly' - funerals of distinction
Early Bath for Matins?
A Bishop for the ethnic minorities
Bishop's Move? The Philip North saga takes new turns
Students accused of 'Intellectual Vandalism'
University event 'undermining free speech'
Through a Glasss Darkly? Colston and Vestey
The View from the North? Another bishop speaks out
Church is so bland, laments retiring Dean
'What's all this? A woman pope coming down the tracks?'
Christian faith on the rise after all?
Getting online to spread the word
Growth or Shrinkage? - the Diocesan declaration
Evangelical rethink on same-sex partnerships
Catholic Cuts Too...
The Crumbly Clergy
The Virtual Sacraments in Scotland
Christianity facing extinction in Iraq

Praying for Long Life
Too much Christianity on the BBC!
The secular Easter egg trend
Archbishop speaks out on immigration and racism
Church accused of 'retrograde' worship
A Last Throw of the Dice?
Britain no longer a Christian country?
The decline of the 'silver ladies'

Heavens above: why Downton doesn't do God
Preaching to people puts them off God, warns  Church
Underused churches to open only on holy days?

Anglicans to move into separate bedrooms?
Fading respect for religion in public life?

Lord Carey believes Assisted Dying is Christian
'Six Days shalt thou Labour'
Falling congregations: the numbers game
'In Her image': time to make God a woman?
Unmarried mother denied baptism for her son

Faith groups filling the gap
Nothing to laugh about?
Women Bishops (again)
What would Mother Superior say?

The Global Pope
Our Festive Season peaks far too early

Cold Turkey receives the Church's blessing!
The Atheists' favourite Vicar

Women Bishops at last - three cheers for the C of E!
The Future of the Chapels Royal

Is Britain really a Christian nation?
No more Parish Magazines...?
Dropping sin and the devil from Anglican baptisms
'Overzealous' church vets 58,000 workers in year
Carey's vision of the church might kill it off
Defender of the Faith
Pruning the Prelates
Faith back at the Heart of Government

The Dawkins Delusion
Catholics may let CofE share communion

No place for Jesus in R.E., but there's always Gandhi

World Christians martyred for their faith
Faith Schools too middle class?

Would God vote Lib Dem or Tory?
Archbishop Welby: church on the edge of a precipice
Girl Guide unbelievers denied use of church halls
Persecuted Christianity
Fretting about Fracking
Don't cast away the Bible
Swearing by Jesus
CRB checks for Wardens and Bell-ringers

'Where did you get that hat?

A Senior Church of England figure is calling for bishops to ditch their mitres.

The Rev Ian Paul, a member of the Archbishops' Council, said the traditional hats were part of a "world of the past" and meant the bishops appeared elevated above the rest of the Church. "It looks daft and it doesn't signify anything in the Church of England. It makes them distant and it makes them look silly," he told The Sunday Telegraph, adding that the hats were "Roman Catholicism by the back door".

Mitres were not generally worn by bishops in the Church until the late 19th century and there is no rule that compels them to be worn. Mr Paul linked the mitres to a "culture of deference", criticised by Dame Moira Gibb in her report following an inquiry into the Church's handling of the sexual abuse committed by former bishop Peter Hall.

The associate minister at St Nicholas' Church in Nottingham made the comments ahead of a debate at the Church of England synod tomorrow about changes to clergy clothing. Clergy are to be able to dress down under plans to allow ministers to ditch vestments.

Olivia Rudgard
Religious Affairs Correspondent, The Daily Telegraph
July 10th, 2017

Good news on ordinations locally and nationally

The growing number of new Deacons highlights our vocations success, and underlines the hugely encouraging growth in the Liverpool Diocese as the national figures released by the Church of England show a significant increase in numbers training for the priesthood.

Figures released this week from the national Church of England show a 14% increase in numbers training for the priesthood with an increase of 17% in women and that 25% of the cohort beginning training this year are under 32.

Simon Chesters, Director of Vocations & Diocesan Director of Ordinands and Debbie Ellison Vocations Officer have seen their efforts in growing vocations within our diocese pay off as we have seen a sharp rise in the numbers here.

Between 2005 and 2015 the Diocese of Liverpool sent an average of 10 people a year to national selection panels for ordained ministry but last year we saw that grow to 16 and this year the figure has risen to 26 people to national selection panels.

It’s a hugely encouraging growth, especially alongside the people going into Reader ministry, Local Missional Leadership and other types of ministry in church and in daily life.

Liverpool Diocese online bulletin, June 2017

Extracts from the latest bulletin published at the time of the ordination of deacons (Liverpool Cathedral, June 25th), including our own Jackie Parry, whom God preserve)

Churchgoers at odds with  their leaders on key social and moral issues

Churchgoers are starting to accept gay relationships, with more than half of Anglicans viewing same-sex relationships as acceptable, a study has indicated.

The British Social Attitudes survey shows Christian views on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and homosexuality have eased in the past decade.

The proportion of Anglicans who say sex before marriage is acceptable is now almost the same as the proportion of the general population, at 73 per cent. Four years ago, 54 per cent of people agreed and in 1985 a third did so.

For the first time, more than half of the Anglicans surveyed said same-sex relationships were acceptable -55 per cent held this view, up from 31 per cent in 2012.

The Anglican Church is deeply divided over same-sex relationships, with those who want the church to introduce same-sex marriage at odds with Christians who say that the Bible condemns homosexuality. Last week, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York said a planned teaching document on sexuality, the first for almost. 30 years, will not appear until 2020. The church's split over sexuality would only be resolved by the "work of the Holy Spirit", they said.

The survey found that the majority of Roman Catholics are in conflict with the teachings of their church on abortion. Attitudes are more liberal than ever, with 61 per cent of Catholics surveyed saying a woman should be allowed to abort a child she does not want, almost as many as the general public, among whom 70 per cent say abortion is acceptable for this reason. The official position of the Catholic Church is to oppose abortion in all forms.

Roger Harding, the head of public attitudes at the National Centre for Social Research, which produced the report, said the results suggested religious people no longer look to churches for moral guidance. "It suggests people are taking their moral views from elsewhere," he said.

Olivia Rudgard
Religious Affairs Correspondent, The Daily Telegraph
June 28th, 2017

More good news, this time from the young

One young person in six is a practising Christian, new figures show, as research suggests thousands convert after visiting church buildings.

The figures show that 13 per cent of 11 to 18-year-olds say they are regular churchgoers and more than one in five (21 per cent) describe themselves as active followers of Jesus.

The study, commissioned by the HOPE Revolution partnership, a Christian youth organisation, and carried out by ComRes, suggested levels of Christianity were much higher among young people than previously thought. Research carried out by church statistician Dr Peter Brierley in 2006 suggested that church attendance among teenagers was less than half of this, with 6 per cent of 11 to 14-year-olds and 5 per cent of 15 to 18-year-olds attending church.

Around 13 per cent of teenagers said that they decided to become a Christian after a visit to a church or cathedral, according to the new figures. The influence of a church building was more significant than attending a youth group, going to a wedding or speaking to other Christians about their faith.

Jimmy Dale, the Church of England's national youth evangelism officer, said his team had been "shocked" by the results. The research was carried out in December, but was not released until now because analysts thought such a high figure could not be accurate. But another study recently released by Youth for Christ showed similar results, suggesting that a surprisingly high number of young people still describe themselves as Christian.

Mr Dale said: "There was disbelief among the team because it was so high.What is really exciting for us is that there is this warmth and openness that | we are seeing among young people -they are really open to faith."

The study suggests that new methods invested in by the Church, such as youth groups and courses such as Youth Alpha, are less effective than prayer or visiting a church building.

One in five said reading the Bible had been important, 17 per cent said going to a religious school had had an impact and 14 per cent said a spiritual experience was behind their Christianity "Things which we would class as old-hat methods are some of the more effective ways," Mr Dale added. "It's a real wake-up call for the church. We've got lots of young people who are coming into churches - that's a really integral part of them becoming a Christian."

The Rt Rev Dr John Inge, Bishop of Worcester and lead bishop for churches and church buildings, said: "This shows the power of church buildings. I'm passionate about church buildings staying open."

Olivia Rudgard
Religious Affairs Correspondent, Daily Telegraph
June 24h, 2017

Church at a loss to explain theft
of Don Bosco's brain fragment

Thieves have made off with a fragment of the brain of Saint John Bosco, popularly known as Don Bosco, the founder of the Salesian order of Roman Catholic priests.The cerebral relic was stolen from behind the main altar in the basilica at Castelnuovo Don Bosco, a small town in Italy's Asti region which is named after Giovanni Bosco, who was born there in 1815 and died in Turin in 1888.

The Carabinieri are investigating the sacrilegious heist and told reporters that they would exclude no motive in their hunt for the thieves, including a possible ransom, an attack by Satanists or the chance that the robbers may merely wish to sell the silver urn containing the relic, which had been housed in a small chapel built on the exact spot where the saint was born.

Police threw up road blocks in the area, famed for the its sparkling white wine, and a nationwide hunt has now been launched. The last people to see the urn were a group of pilgrims from Lombardy who visited the church around 7pm on Friday. The Salesian fathers only noticed the theft later as they began closing the basilica and they immediately alerted police.

The thief evidently climbed over a gate in front of the shrine where the relic was housed and removed the flask from a small cupboard. The flask was small enough to be slipped into a pocket, the newspaper IlMessaggero said.

The rector of the Basilica of Colle Don Bosco, Father Ezio Orsini said "one hopes that this is just a laddish prank. We trust that Don Bosco can touch the heart of whoever carried this [robbery] out to make them retrace their steps just as he was capable of transforming the lives of young people who he met," Father Orsini told the state-run RAI television. "It may be possible to steal a relic but one can't steal Don Bosco from us and the many pilgrims who visit this place every day."

The Archbishop of Turin, Monsignor Cesare Nosiglia, concurred. "This is one of those news items that you never want to hear," he said, "it makes one think of deep moral poverty".

It is the second time a relic of Don Bosco has been stolen. In 2011, a small bone reputedly from one of the saint's hands was stolen from a church in the town of Alassio. Don Bosco was canonised in 1934 under Pope Pius XI for his work in educating street children. The Salesians now run schools and other organisations in as many as 90 countries.

John Phillips in Rome, Daily Telegraph, June 2017

Cathedrals thriving for not 'banging on' about God

.Cathedrals are doing better than churches because they don't "bang on" about God, Sir Simon Jenkins has suggested.

The author and former National Trust chairman, who was at the Hay Festival discussing his new book on churches, said cathedrals were responding to a public desire for a more spiritual and less religious experience.

"There's something about cathedrals that draws you in, which is not being drawn into parish churches," he said. "One or two sociologists have explained it; one said if you go to a cathedral now, it's anonymous. It's pillar worship - people can't see you reading.

"No one shakes you by the hand, no one says peace be upon you. I asked a canon once why cathedrals are doing so well, he said 'unlike churches we don't bang on about God'. Which is very odd but also I sense rather true."

Sir Simon highlighted the importance of the services they offered, saying: "Musicisveryimportant-evensong is the most popular service. People go for the music. They [cathedrals] don't feel obliged to be religious. I think the churches, particularly cathedrals, are responding to people's desire for something that they might call spiritual."

He added: "People don't bang on about God in cathedrals but they bang on about beauty, and that's why I love them."

Sir Simon also suggested churches should be restored to their original glory, particularly those whose statues were damaged or destroyed during the Reformation. The writer praised the Victorians for their attitude towards restoring buildings, saying: "Why on earth are we leaving them in this awful state?

"Shouldn't we be replacing those statues? What's the point of a smashed statue? If someone gouged a picture in a gallery, the restorers would get to work putting it back to how it was before. We haven't got an agreement on what to do with these magnificent buildings - we once did.  "I find something very sad about our inability to restore them".

Rozina Sabur, Daily Telegraph, June 5th, 2017

C of E in the money!

The Church of England's investment fund saw "stellar" returns of more than 17pc last year.

The ,£7.9bn fund is managed by the Church Commissioners for England body to "support the Church of England as a Christian presence in every community".

The body said the 17.1pc return on investments during 2016 far exceeded targets, and was more than double 2015's 8.2pc return.
Its fund has an average return of 9.6pc each year over the past three decades. First Church Estates Commissioner Sir Andreas Whittam Smith said last year's return was partly a reflection of the depreciation of sterling.

The fund said it had seen strong returns from investments in global equities, private equity, residential property and timberland.
Daily Telegraph money pages recently.
May we now expect 'stellar' reductions in Parish Share payments - or just pay rises for the hierarchy?

Confirming the Good News

Confirmations are often seen as a rite of passage out of the Church of England for unwilling teenagers soon to become more interested in socialising and sport.

But one diocese is experiencing an uptake in interest after it introduced rock climbing, film sessions and baking bread into its classes which more often have focused on bible study.
The Rt Rev Dr Edward Condry, Bishop of Rams-bury, has been spearheading a project to increase the number of confirmations.  As well as young people, he has seen older members of the congregation ask to be confirmed, with one member taking part after coming to the church for 50 years.

The ceremonies, which traditionally involve children aged 11 to 13, have been in decline for years. Confirmations in the Church of England fell from 29,800 in 2005 to 16,700 in 2015. By contrast, in the same year 44,000 couples were married in the Church
and 120,000 adults and children were baptised. In 2014, the Diocese of Salisbury, where Dr Condry is the bishop, was faced with a crisis after years of decline. 1 But since the start of the project, numbers have stabilised. Some 551 were confirmed during 2016, with 546 taking place the year before. And 2017 looks set to be an even better year. "Confirmation was once seen as a graduation ceremony, but now it's seen as a public affirmation and a step on a pilgrimage" said the bishop. He added: "In life, there are not enough rituals. This is something positive that the church can offer."

One groundswell of growth has been among older people. One member in her 90s, who grew up in India, was confirmed by Dr Condry in her care home.

Olivia Rudgard,
Religious Affairs Correspondent, The Daily Telegraph
May 21st, 2017

(Slightly) Good News for Anglicans

The Anglican Church has hailed a rise in congregation numbers as pride in Christianity and 'Englishness' grows. The Church is experiencing a small increase in congregation numbers, partly thanks to a resurgence in patriotism and pride in Christianity, a report has found. The decline in Anglican believers has slowed since 2013 while the growth in the number of non-religious people has stabilised, the study shows.

Academic Stephen Bullivant said that the church was recovering after losing a lot of believers after the publication of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion in 2006. The professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary's University in Twickenham also said that a rise in patriotism might be linked to greater pride in Christianity among some groups.

"People see Christianity as an expression of Englishness. There has been more rhetoric around Britain being a Christian nation.
People are looking for ways to connect with others. I suspect a larger proportion of people who do say they are Anglican tend to be patriotic," he said.

The figures, which are based on an analysis of the British Social Attitudes Survey and the European Social Survey, show the proportion of people who say they have no religion rose to a high of 50.6 per cent in 2009. It has been static or lower ever since, and reached 48.6 per cent in 2015.  Meanwhile, the proportion who say they are Church of England worshippers has risen from a low of 16.3 per cent in 2009 to 17.1 per cent in 2015.

The report says: "The proportion of self-describing Anglicans in Britain has more than halved, from 40 per cent in 1983, down to 17 per cent in 2015. That said, the past three years are worth highlighting. If talk of even a modest Anglican revival would be premature, one certainly can speak of a newfound stability."

Professor Bullivant added that the release of Dawkins' book had stopped a lot of latent Anglicans from describing themselves as Christian. "That book was really aimed at those people who said they were Anglican but didn't really believe in God," he said. "So a lot of them stopped ticking Anglican on the forms and started to tick atheist instead."

He said that numbers could have stopped falling because the church is now left with a bedrock of genuine believers - and efforts to attract new worshippers could be working.  "After decades of bad news, this is certainly welcome for the Church of England," he said. "If I was in the Anglican Church I' would be celebrating this."

The Rt Rev Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, said: "The report tells us that the past four years have shown a gentle increase in the number of people who see themselves as Anglicans. In Liverpool, we say we want more people to know Jesus and more justice in the world - a message of personal relationship and community action. In my experience that message remains attractive to people in this increasingly self-centred and lonely world."
Olivia Rudgard
Religious Affairs Correspondent, the Daily Telegraph

Lovely jubbly! Funeral mourners do Only Fools and Star Wars

4 Star Wars, Only Fools and Horses and Hallowe'en have all been chosen as themes for funerals as people increasingly opt for personalised events, say funeral directors.

The Co-op said rising numbers of funerals were reflecting the interests of the person being buried or cremated. Most adults believe funerals are now a celebration, its research found, with many people preferring to have a party afterwards rather than a wake.

The Co-op, which arranges around 100,000 funerals a year, said recent unusual funerals included one with the funeral director dressed as Darth Vader in a Hallowe'en-themed event, mourners dressed as Superman, Batman and Robin, everyone wearing a leopard-print item of clothing and a funeral based on the TV series Only Fools and Horses.

David Collingwood, of the Co-op, said: "If a request is possible to do, our funeral directors and arrangers will do their utmost to make it happen.

"It has never been more important that we plan ahead, having conversations with our friends and family about our wishes."

'O Lord open thou our lips...'
(early Bath for Matins?)

Bath Abbey has prompted a backlash among churchgoers who are upset that it has replaced its traditional Sunday service with a version said in "familiar" modern English.

The church was among a handful to retain the Matins service, which is based on the 400-year-old Book of Common Prayer. After Easter it will be replaced by a modern choral Eucharist.

The abbey said it decided to change the service to make it more accessible as more people are familiar with the modern service. In a letter to the congregation sent in December, the rector of the abbey, the Rev Prebendary Edward Mason, said: "Generations of Anglicans have now grown up with Eucharist not Matins. "Few are now sustained in their faith by Matins these days. Casual attenders, visitors and those returning to faith are much more likely to be familiar with a Eucharist"

But some worshippers are upset by the changes, which they say are based on making the service more "fashionable" and will drive older members ol the congregation away.

Ann Taylor, who has been attending the service for 20 years, said she would not be attending the new Eucharist because it was in "supermarket" English. "We think it's been changed for fatuous reasons," she said. "The lady who sits in front of me turned around last week and said 'have a good Easter, but I don't know when I'll see you after that'. It's very sad."

The Book of Common Prayer was written by Thomas Cranmer in 1549 during the reign of Edward VI and revised in 1662. The version used in churches today is broadly similar to Cranmer's book.

A spokesman for the Prayer Book Society, which works to preserve usage of the text, said: "It was written by Cranmer over 400 years ago and it's beautiful. For many people who have used it all their lives, to suddenly have that taken away is devastating."

A Bath Abbey spokesman said: "Changes to worship are made carefully and after long periods of consideration and prayer."

Olivia Rudgard
Religious Affairs Correspondent, Daily Telegraph
April 4th, 2017

A Bishop for the minorities

The Church of England will appoint a new bishop to reach out to ethnic minorities because it is seen as too "quintessentially English". The new Bishop of Loughborough, based in the Diocese of Leicester, will have a specific focus on creating new churches which reflect the "cultural changes" in the area, according to the Bishop of Leicester, Martyn Snow.

It will be the first new post created since 1987, when the suffragan see of Brixworth was established. It is also the first to have a focus on ethnic diversity. The role includes responsibility for "enabling greater representation and engagement of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) Christians" as well as "building relationships with other faith communities".

The Bishop will focus particularly on younger people as well as ethnic minorities, and work in rural and deprived areas. The post will be filled later this year following the retirement of the current Assistant Bishop of Leicester Christopher Boyle in May.
Bishop Snow told the General Synod, the Church's governing body, in February, that of 100 churches in Leicester which had a majority black and ethnic minority congregation', just three were Anglican. Leicester has a population which is almost 50 per cent non-white and 37 per cent Asian.

He said: "If we truly want to be inclusive of all who live in our parishes, then we have to heed the cultural changes and challenges within our cities."  Yesterday he told The Guardian that the Church of England was "quintessentially English" and needed to be more welcoming to other cultures.

Bishop Snow said: "In the Fifties and Sixties, when immigrants came from the Caribbean and elsewhere, they did not get a warm welcome in the C of E. We have to hold our hands up to that. They went off to set up other churches and we're now facing the legacy."

The proposal received support from the Synod, and the Queen's permission will now be sought.

The Church of England has been focusing on attracting younger and more diverse congregations amid concerns about declining numbers and ageing clergy.
Olivia Rudgard
Religious Affairs Correspondent, The Daily Telegraph
March 28th, 2017

Bishop's Move?

The  first story

A Bishop who has faced calls to quit a new post over his opposition to women priests has been publicly supported by 36 female clergy who say he "created a real buzz" in his old diocese.

Philip North, 50, is currently Bishop of Burnley, but becomes Bishop of Sheffield later this year. That makes him the first bishop opposed to the ordination of women to be appointed to a senior post since the Church allowed women to become bishops in November 2014.

In 2012, the Bishop withdrew from a post as Bishop of Whitby amid controversy about his views on women clergy. He continues to be a member of a conservative group called "The Society", which opposes female ordination and refuses to recognise any priests ordained by women bishops. According to its rules, "Priests of the Society" can only be "male priests, ordained by a 'bishop in the male historic succession".

Last week, the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Rev Martyn Percy, invited Bishop North to decline the Sheffield appointment, saying it would "feel like a step backwards". Sheffield churchgoers have also signed a letter to Bishop North expressing "concern and disappointment" at his appointment.

However, the signatories of another letter, addressed to the Church Times, have said Bishop North had gone "the extra mile to affirm and share in the ministry of women clergy". The letter was co-ordinated by the Rev Canon Fleur Green, an advisor for women's ministry in the Blackburn diocese.

Three female bishops also publicly backed his appointment, saying female clergy would find him a "thoughtful and caring pastor".  The Bishop of Repton, the Rt Rev Jan McFarlane, said: "Philip is a gifted bishop with a real heart for the less privileged... someone who is willing to speak out and give a voice to the voiceless."

Bishop North was popular in Burnley for reaching out to those in the city's more deprived areas. He has criticised the Church for being elitist and too concerned with sexuality at the expense of tackling social inequality.  Last year, he said the Church was too dominated by the middle classes to understand the concerns that led to Brexit. He also criticised it for neglecting deprived areas in a speech to the 2016 General Synod.

The second story

The bishop-elect of Sheffield criticised Church members for being unable to "disagree well" with other Christians as he withdrew from the post last night.

The Rt Rev Philip North, 50, has stepped aside, citing "highly individualised" attacks from members of his new diocese over his view that women should not become priests.  He is currently Bishop of Burnley, but had been promoted to the new role as a diocesan bishop and was due to take on the position later this year.

He said: "There is clearly much to be done on what it means to disagree well and to live with theological difference in the Church of England. The highly individualised nature of the attacks upon me have been extremely hard to bear. If, as Christians, we cannot relate to each other within the bounds of love, how can we possibly presume to transform a nation in the name of Christ?"

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, said there were "lessons to be learned" from his withdrawal and added that members of the Church had to learn to "disagree Christianly".

Bishop Philip would have been the first bishop appointed to a senior role who did not agree with women's ordination since the Church voted to allow women to become bishops in November 2014. He had withdrawn from public life for a period of "prayer and reflection" and had not previously made any statements about the controversy.

Residents of the new diocese and liberal Church members had urged him to stand aside over his views.  The controversy stems in part from his membership of a Church of England group known as the Society, which does not recognise women priests.

By Olivia Rudgard
Religious Affairs Correspondent, Daily Telegraph

The sad saga of Bishop Philip North continues. The reports (two separate articles, a few days apart, by the ame correspondent)  speak for themselves and, for this writer at least, provide further evidence of the sorry sate in which our church seems increasingly to find itself these days. Bishop North is a good man, whatever views, and surely deserves better than the treatment to which he seems to have been subjected. The lack of proper support from his superiors come as little surprise, sadly...

(see the bishop's unfashionable but admirable comments on other matters

Students accused of 'Intellectual Vandalism'

University students have been accused of "intellectual vandalism" after launching a campaign to remove the legacy of a Victorian polymath they claim "invented racism".

Academics have voiced their concern over the Galton Must Fall movement, aimed at the "poisonous legacy" of Sir Francis Galton. Dr Niall McCrae, a lecturer at King's College London, called on the university to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to students calling for at University College London to divorce itself from its association with the founder of eugenics.

He said that Galton is a seminal figure, yet is being re-cast as a fascist.

The Galton Must Fall movement grew out of a campaign called "Why is my Curriculum White" where students and academic staff called for Galton's "poisonous legacy" at UCL to be "critically examined". It echoes the Rhodes Must Fall campaign to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oxford University, due to his colonial links.

Dr McCrae said that the students were contributing to the "intellectual and cultural vandalism of universities"

A spokesman for UCL told The Daily Telegraph that there are no plans to remove Sir Francis's name from anything at the university.

  Camilla Turner, Education Office, The Daily Telegraph

University event "undermining free speech'

A University has been accused of undermining free speech after a professor held a workshop for academic staff on how to "deal with Right-wing attitudes in the classroom."

The event at Sussex University stoked controversy among students and staff, who complained that the institution was revealing its political bias. The workshop, titled "Dealing with Right-wing attitudes and politics in the classroom" took place last week and was advertised around the university.

Dan Hough, a politics professor at the university, tweeted a picture of the poster, with the caption: "Perhaps we should just talk about, analyse and then evaluate all positions in any given debate, no?"

 Harry Howard, a third-year history and politics student^ told the Telegraph he was "shocked and angry" to see the poster on display.   He said there is a "worrying aversion" to Right-wing opinions at the university, adding that "universities should be intellectually diverse, rather than echo chambers of Left-wing opinion".

A university spokesman said the staff involved in the discussion recognised that the poster "did not reflect the aims of the discussion".

Camilla Turner, Education Office, The Daily Telegraph

Through a Glass Darkly: Colston and Vestey

Bristol philanthropist was part of an 'evil' trade, Dean admits, but he also had key role in the city's history
Patrick Sawer, Daily Telegraph

Bristol Cathedral may take the significant step of removing a giant stained glass window dedicated to the prominent slave trader Edward Colston after coming under growing pressure from anti-racism campaigners.

The Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Rev David Hoyle, has said he is open to considering the idea of removing its largest window because of its links to the notorious slaver. It comes after The Sunday Telegraph revealed that campaigners  have intensified calls for Bristol's Colston Hall, one of the country's oldest music venues,  to change its name. They say institutions such as the 2,071-seater   hall - which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year - should not be seen as celebrating a man who built his extensive wealth on the misery of thousands of enslaved African men, women and children.

But opponents of the campaign say it is an attempt to rewrite history and deny the good Colston did for Bristol through his extensive philanthropic work.

Campaigners have widened their focus to include the city's cathedral, where the window commemorates Edward Colston, along with his motto "Go and do thou likewise", from the parable of the Good Samaritan.  In response to their calls, Dr Hoyle said: "Opposition to slavery is dead simple. Slavery is wicked and evil. Removing the biggest window  in the cathedral would be hugely difficult for me. If I can find a way of doing that, I would be perfectly prepared to have that conversation."

The cathedral says it is caught on the horns of a dilemma: attempting to satisfy modern sensibilities about slavery while trying to preserve its own history and that of the city. It has already had to change an annual service held in November with Colston's Girls' School, during which sections of the slave trader's last will and testament are read out. Now, the congregation is also told about Colston's activities in transporting slaves from Africa  to  the Americas. Several  buildings  and streets in Bristol are named after Colston, who was deputy governor of the Royal  African  Company, which between 1672 and 1698 transported around 100,000 slaves. Thousands died and were thrown overboard during the passage. Campaigners are  also calling for the  Colston's School, Colston's Girls' School and Colston Primary School to change their names.

Dr Hoyle told Premier Christian Radio: "Colston was a major benefactor, a man of charity. He was also involved in a trade that wasn't considered evil at the time, but we now know to be wicked. I think that's a complicated conversation to have. This is a conversation the city is now having about the relationship of the city with its own past."

Colston Hall is being boycotted by several artists, including the Bristol trip-hop band Massive Attack.

Another attempt to rewrite history. Whatever the shortcomings of past figures, once we start removing their legacy we are in danger of bringing Orwell's '1984' nearer and opening the way to a world of 'alternative facts'. It may not be much mentioned, but the great central tower of Liverpool's monumental Anglican Cathedral is officially the Vestey Tower - and the Vestey family has s dubious record of harsh exploitation of Aboriginal workers in Australia: quite enough to label them racist and their money presumably tainted. Mind you, knocking down down the Vestey Tower would be even harder to do than removing the Colston window... Perhaps Massive Attack could help.

The view from the North

'A Church of England bishop has accused his colleagues of failing in their duty to stand up for the family and of being embarrassed in the face of patriotism.

Bishop of Burnley the Right Rev Philip North said the CofE is run by academics and moneyed elites and has been ignoring the interests of the people.

He said if it had really been listening to the poor it would not have been surprised by the Brexit vote and the concerns of those who 'feel frozen out'.

The bishop's attack follows the embarrassment of senior Church leaders headed by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby after voters disregarded their appeals to vote to remain in the EU in the June referendum.

 His criticism in a Church Times article effectively accuses other prelates, who have repeatedly underlined their concern for the poor, of hypocrisy. It makes him one of the rare senior clergy in recent years to break ranks by voicing dissent.

The bishop, who was 50 yesterday, said the Church had allowed gay rights to dominate its concerns, and  'all too often middle class clergy squirm nervously during Remembrance Sunday and excise any hymns that hint of nationalism'.

He said working class people were frozen out of the economy and suffered shrinking wages, but they are routinely accused of xenophobia, or worse, when they express concerns about changes imposed upon their communities by those who live far away'.

Bishop North said working people felt abandoned by their own institutions and 'if the CofE was still adequately present in areas of deprivation, it would not have been surprised at the revolution in popular politics this anger caused'.

He added: 'The Church's agenda is being set not by the poor, but by academics, the moneyed elites, and certain sections of the secular media. ‘We then listen to the poor on condition that what they say backs up our own preconceived arguments.'

 'Across many communities, extended family life remains very strong, for all its frustrations, it is where most people find support, self-identity and purpose. But too many Anglicans seem embarrassed to stand up for the sanctity of the family.

The bishop said that in the referendum campaign the ‘leave’ side had called for voters to take back control of the country, and this had resonated with them.  'It was less an anti-immigration vote than a patriotic vote from people who were fed up with having pride in their nation, its flag and its armed forces misrepresented as intolerance or racism,' he said.

Bishop North, known to us from his visits to St Faith's, speaks out forcefully. His comments were widely reported in the media, and will strike a sympathetic chord with many - and annoy others!


Church is so bland, laments retiring dean

The Church of England is attempting to get rid of "colourful" and "uppity" clerics in favour of "bland" business managers, a senior clergyman said in a blistering attack on his employers before he retires.

The Very Rev Charles Taylor, Dean of Peterborough, suggested that Anglican leaders who excited the public imagination were being replaced by "monochrome blandness".

In his farewell sermon, the dean admitted the recent death of Bishop David Jenkins, the controversial former bishop of Durham, had led him to wonder: "Where among the leaders of today are the colourful clerics and turbulent priests, the prickly prophets, the rebels and reformers?"

He added: "It is surely of salutary significance that newly appointed deans and bishops these days are sent on an induction course - not as you might think, to hone their skills in theology, or liturgy, community outreach, or pastoral care, but to take a mini-MBA.

 "The pattern of the Good Shepherd has been hijacked by the model of the chief executive officer. Where among the leaders of today are the prickly prophets and rebels?'

A cashflow crisis at Peterborough Cathedral meant staff were in danger of going unpaid over the summer. A loan was secured from the Church Commissioners and it was announced that Mr Taylor was to retire.

According to the Church Times website, the dean, who is 63, hinted that retirement was forced upon him.

October 31st, 2016

'What's all this?
A woman pope coming down the tracks?'

Every time the Pope is cornered by the press on an aeroplane he seems to say something awkward. Remember "Who am I to judge?" - his remark about people in a homosexual relationship? This time, on the way back from a trip to Armenia, the beans he spilt were about a new commission to study the question of whether women should - or indeed could - be made deacons. The commission members were named this week. If that doesn't sound explosive, consider that the Church of England made Elizabeth Ferard a deaconess, and, the next thing we knew, the place was thronged with women bishops. Granted, it took 152 years between the granting of Deaconess Licence No 1 to Miss Ferard ("a strict disciplinarian, with an indomitable will") in 1862 and the ordination of Libby Lane as Bishop of Stockport in 2014.

So could it happen in the Catholic Church? After all, the Pope's infallible, isn't he? If he waved his magic crozier we'd have women deacons, women bishops, women cardinals and a woman pope, wouldn't we?

Not really. Infallibility doesn't mean that the Pope can just invent new teachings. In 1871, the year after papal infallibility was denned, Lewis Carroll had the White Queen in Through the Looking Glass, declare: "Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." This was meant as a parody of hardline infallibilist Catholics who thought the pope should be able to spin new dogmas like candyfloss. But their ambitions were dashed by the strict limitations put on the circumstances when the pope's word must hold true. In effect, Pope Francis is bound by the tradition of the Church, which is to say, the teaching handed down from the Apostles. As far as women priests are concerned, Pope John Paul II pronounced in 1994: "I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." Pope Francis agrees. "That door is closed," he said.

In which case why has he appointed this commission? Its 12 members include six women, and its conclusions are by no means foregone. Some say that it might recommend the creation of women deacons of a kind like the C of E deaconesses of 1862. In English Canon Law we find a surprisingly strong statement: "The Church of England holds and teaches that from the apostles' time there have been these orders in Christ's Church: bishops, priests, and deacons." The deaconesses of 1862 did not receive such orders. Not till 1987 was a woman ordained a deacon (rather than made a deaconess) in the Church of England.

There seem to be two silos in the Catholic Church: one holds the ordained hierarchy of bishop, priest and deacon, and the other unordained ministries. In the unordained silo, women, like men, can baptise. There too, women can wield authority surprisingly like bishops' - after all abbesses often carried croziers as a mark of authority over parts of the Church. Why should women in this silo not also act as cardinals, some ask?

It's as clear as fire from heaven that confusion, both innocent and deliberate, will follow Pope Francis's initiative. If the Catholic Church behaved like a political party, it would ordain women as fast as the Tory party embraced equal marriage. But it doesn't, and, whatever bafflement it may cause, it won't.

Christopher Howse, Daily Telegraph

The writer is a learned and fluent Roman Catholic journalist and academic, whose writings are always worth reading

Christian faith on rise despite 'age time bomb'

Recent reports heralding the imminent demise of Christianity may have been greatly exaggerated, a survey has indicated.

Although only a small increase, the proportion of Britons who describe themselves as Christian has risen one percentage point over the past year from 42 per cent to 43 per cent.   It corresponds with a one-point fall in the number of so-called "nones" - those who describe themselves as having no religion - from 49 per cent to 48 per cent.

The variations are too small to be regarded as statistically significant in themselves but will still offer some comfort to those praying for an end to the decline in Christianity.

Perhaps most strikingly, there was a three-point fall in the number of adults under 25 identifying themselves as non-believers.

Religious belief is still a minority view among younger people, with 62 per cent describing themselves as non-believers, down from 65 per cent a year earlier.

"No religion" became the biggest faith group in the survey seven years ago, when it reached 51 per cent of respondents, but has since drifted. The number describing themselves as Christian is now at the same level as stated seven years ago.

But experts on religious trends warned that the levelling off could be the "pause at the edge of the cliff" before the oldest, most religious generation dies. While among the young, non-believers outnumber the religious two-to-one, the proportions are almost exactly the opposite among pensioners.

Dr Abby Day, a sociologist and expert on religion in society at Goldsmiths, University of London, argued that the churches, particularly the Church of England, are facing a "demographic time bomb" because of their heavy reliance on the oldest generation. "I think this could be the pause at the edge of the cliff. I don't think anybody, except the most deluded clergy locked away somewhere, will disagree with that."

John Bingham
August 2016

Nice to have some good news for once, though with a sting in the tail. We must make the most of it while our generation survives


Vicars urged to get online to spread word

'Appy' Days are here again...?

In ages past, the technical side of a local vicar's calling might have involved nothing more challenging than locating the correct page in the prayer book and keeping track of the lectionary.

But in the age of instant communications, when some people may be more likely to venture into their parish church in search of Pokemon than prayer, clerics are being advised to keep up with the times.

The Church of England has issued guidance to clerics and congregations to help them navigate a bewildering array of apps and online sites to help them in church life.

It suggests that committees such as Parochial Church Councils (PCCs) use the messaging tool "Slack" to coordinate discussions on topics such as fixing the roof or organising Christmas services.

Other advice includes using an app which makes it quicker and easier to broadcast services on Facebook, and using a site which combines blogs, newsfeeds and YouTube videos to "inspire your parish magazine". Clerics are encouraged to make their own Gifs - animated images - to spread the Christian message online.

"Make photographic stop-motion animations, create mini-action moments and more - the possibilities are endless," adds the guidance from Tallie Proud, the C of E's digital media officer.

The initiative is the latest in a series of efforts to urge the organisation to become more technologically savvy.

Recent examples include putting orders of service onto an app, so that those in the pew who wish to do so can follow readings and prayers through their smart-phone, and broadcasting services live online to reach out to those who find it too "scary" to attend in person.

C of E officials fear that unless the church embraces social media it will fail to get its message to those who live much of their lives online. It is offering places on "social media for beginners" courses for liturgical luddites.

"It's not a question of if your church should be on social media, but how is your church going to make a difference through social media, and when," Miss Proud said.

 John Bingham
August 4th, 2016

'Our Growth Conversation: The Challenges we face.'

The Liverpool Diocese speaks:
When the Growth Agenda was launched in 2011 and updated in 2013 we faced some clear challenges. The context of the world in which we are called to ministry and mission is changing and challenging. We want, in our thoughts, prayers and planning, to be ready to accept and embrace that need for change whilst pursuing a faithful obedience to the Gospel.

The Growth Conversation paper recognises four sharp realities we face.

1. Church attendance has been in fairly relentless decline and whilst initially we began to change this we have reducing attendance levels.

2. We have less stipendiary clergy. We have to select and train more people if we are to avoid longer vacancies.

3. Our congregations are getting older. The average age of a church attender is 61 and only 0.6% of 18 to 24 year-olds attend church. That is a startling figure.

4. The national church has agreed we cannot subsidise decline – we need to fashion a vibrant church.

In our conversation we need to face these realities and agree a way forward. The challenges are not for negotiation, they cannot be changed for they represent the clear reality the church faces. We can control our response and this is what this conversation is about.  We have carried out work to:

• Develop local leaders
• Encourage vocations
• Explore the sustainability of individual churches
• Tackle the buildings issue
• Make good appointments
• Grow our giving base
• Find ways to make parish life, mission and ministry easier.

This report appeared earlier this year in the bulletin of the Liverpool Diocese of the  C. of E. It makes for depressing reading, but at least it faces reality without attempting to fudge the issues. Its statistics probably come as little surprise and will strike a chord with most congregations, and, as more than one recent pronouncements from other faith groups have revealed, are echoed by the situation in the Roman Catholic and Free Churches.

Earlier pronouncements of the need to halve the number of Anglican churches in our diocese, and the ongoing process of retrenchment and potential cost-cutting in schemes such as the putative Waterloo Group Ministry, are evidence that the Liverpool Diocese is biting the bullet to an increasing degree. The Church that seemed stable and secure not so many years ago has probably gone for ever, and we await the working of the Spirit as we face a future with more questions than answers.

Postscript: we at St Faith's can only look with envy at the youthfulness of the average church attender quoted above! Oh, and when they talked of less stipendiary clergy, they of course meant

The full document from which the summary above is taken is online HERE

August 3rd, 2016

Evangelical rethink on same-sex partnerships

Two leading bishops from the evangelical wing of the Church of England are urging their fellow clerics to rethink traditional "interpretations" of the Bible which condemn homosexuality as a sin.

The Rt Rev Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, said it was time for a "reconsideration" of the traditional view of marriage and insisted his mind was "open" on how passages about homosexuality should be read today.

The Rt Rev Colin Fletcher, Bishop of Dorchester, said church teaching on sexuality should not be treated as a core doctrine like the Trinity, from which anyone who disagrees is a "heretic".

They are among a number of prominent evangelical clerics who have contributed to a book of essays calling for the Church to move to "affirming" people in same-sex relationships.

Neither bishop calls for traditional teaching on the family to be abandoned. But they say that those who do not accept traditional teaching should not be excluded.

Their intervention will anger traditionalists and risks further inflaming tensions with Anglican leaders in Africa and elsewhere.

Bishop Bayes said he had been "profoundly changed" by encounters with lesbian and gay Christians in recent years, including within his own family.   "I have come to believe that we need to change the church," he writes.   "As the tradition of celibacy indicates, the command to multiply is not the primary calling for the Christian Church," he writes.

"My views on the few explicit biblical texts on 'homosexual practice' (which is an anomalous term for biblical times) are open not closed."

In a foreword, Bishop Fletcher adds: "I do want to challenge the assertion that places [questions of humanity and sexuality] on an equal footing with the great credal truths of the Trinity or the humanity and divinity of Christ."

John Bingham again., and very welcome reading.

Catholic cuts too...

Salford parishes may be cut from 150 to 75 due to a lack of priests and a declining Roman Catholic population.

The proposal has been made in a report on a consultation with members of the diocese commissioned by Bishop John Arnold.
The report recommends the parish closures due to the fact “the Catholic population has dispersed and declined” and because of the falling numbers of priests.

According to the report there are 150 priests in active pastoral ministry in Salford (including nine not in parish ministry and 11 outside of the diocese). Of these, 23 are already past the normal age of retirement of 75 and by 2020 it is estimated that there will only be 108 priests (under 75 years of age) in pastoral ministry.

In the report, Bishop Arnold wrote: “I accept immediately that this will be a matter of great sadness to many people who will be asked to transfer their spiritual homes to other churches. This will also be a difficult moment for some priests who will have to come to the conclusion, in the deanery discussions, that even their own parishes must close – communities that they may have served for many years.”

 Catholic Herald report. Salford Roman Catholic Diocese covers Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire. Their bishop's proposals echo those made for Liverpool Anglican Diocese not long ago, and are a salutary reminder of the continuing decline in churchgoing and the problems that brings to Christians of all  denominations. The same note is struck in the report below. We're none of us getting any younger...

The Crumbly Clergy

First it was the crisis of emptying pews, now the Church of England is facing an even more immediate threat from empty pulpits as thousands of ageing clergy prepare to retire.

New figures published by the Church show that a quarter of its current full-time paid clergy were over the age of 60 last year, meaning they are likely to retire within four years. In some areas, including the Archbishop of Canterbury's own diocese, the proportion is as high as four in every 10.  The figures also show that only 1.3 per cent of current incumbents are black.

It follows a warning from the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell, of a "shocking" lack of diversity in the Church's leadership. The figures also show that while the overall number of female clergy rose in 2015, the year in which the first women bishops were consecrated, they are still little over a quarter of all paid priests.

The Venerable Julian Hubbard, the Church of England's Director of Ministry, said: "While the number of stipendiary ordinations showed a welcome increase between 2012 and 2015, this is not sufficient to redress the gathering effect of clergy retirements.

"With 25 per cent of stipendiary clergy aged 60 or over, at present rates of ordination this trend will have a material and growing impact on the-number of those available to serve in ordained roles," he added. "The statistics on the age and ethnicity of clergy show that we still have some way to go to ensure that the whole cohort fully reflects the demographics of the wider community."

The Telegraph again, needless to say. Our previous vicar, Sue Lucas, has just been instituted to his diocese by the above-mentioned Bishop, thereby adding to the tally of female and (relatively!) young priests. Note the tedious use of buzz words ('cohort' and 'demographic')! Our ageless interregnum clergy are, of course, the exception that proves the rule...

The Virtual Sacraments?

For centuries the Christian sacraments of baptism and communion have symbolised people coming together in one place. But under radical plans being considered by the Church of Scotland, the rites could be administered online via services such as Skype in a move that redefines the idea of a congregation in the internet age.

The proposal, to be debated by members of the Kirk's decision-making General Assembly which meets in Edinburgh next week, stems from initiatives such as streaming services to enable housebound parishioners to join in despite being unable to attend in person.

A paper presented to members of the General Assembly, drafted by the Church's legal questions committee, suggests re-examining issues such as voting rights at congregational meetings for people joining remotely.

It also argues it is time to create what amount to virtual congregations, by allowing "access to the sacraments" for people who are not "physically present in the congregation".

In Presbyterian teaching, the -term "sacraments" refers only to the rites of baptism and communion. "Wider questions about membership and belonging are being asked by congregations whose services, through the internet, are being carried well beyond their parish boundaries," the paper says.

"The old rules are fast becoming redundant and, as a result, the [committee] believes it is time for the Church to undertake a wide-ranging review of practice and procedure which is impacted by the use of new technology in church life."

It says the idea of being a member of a congregation is becoming "blurred" as people move around yet keep strong links through new technology. "As fewer people join up in the traditional sense and as they make choices which include ever greater interaction with the Church through online access and social media, questions arise about online membership and even about access to the sacraments while not being physically present in the congregation," the paper states.

"In a world where the fastest growing communities are being fostered online, the committee believes now is the time to open up a wide-ranging discussion on these developments." Norman Smith, vice-convener of the Mission and Discipleship Council, said there would be a "grown-up discussion" about the theological and practical arguments before any proposals would be put to the General Assembly.

"The question of the relationship with the Church when someone is online is being driven by a growing reality on the ground," he said. "We have an increasing number of churches with an online component and they are asking questions about what it means to belong to the Church."

John Bingham, Religious affairs editor, the Daily Telegraph

Christianity facing extinction in Iraq

When members of Father Martin Hermis Dawood's congregation used to ask guidance about fleeing Iraq, his advice was to be strong.Iraq's Christians had to stay together and hope, he would counsel, no matter how bleak the situation may look.

Yet, the dramatic arrival two years ago of Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (Isil) extremists forced him to change his guidance. "I tell them one thing. If you are thinking about leaving, go now, do not wait," the 41-year-old Assyrian priest told The Daily Telegraph.

For many in Iraq's ancient and beleaguered churches, the rise of Isil and its seizure of territory where Christians have worshipped for two millennia, has ended years of equivocation.

A gradual decline in Iraq's Christians dating back decades has accelerated into an exodus that the priest believes will effectively end the Christian presence in his country. "They have lost their hope of staying. In five years, you will see only a few who are unable to leave, maybe a few priests," he said.

Christian leaders in Iraq estimate the population of Chaldean Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, and members of the eastern Assyrian church and others has dropped from 1.3 million people 20 years ago, to fewer than 400,000. In the past two years, the rise of Isil has displaced more than 200,000 Christians from the northern region of Nineveh.

Many are now in refugee camps in Baghdad, like the one where Fr Dawood ministers to 150-odd families.

They feel caught in a confrontation between Islamic extremism and the West, he said. "We are in the middle. When newspapers published cartoons about the Prophet Mohammed, it was in Europe, but gangs tried to assault Christians here. If something happened in Belgium or in Holland, I paid for it here.

"There's a struggle happening in the whole world and we will be burned in this fire in the future."

Ben Farmer in Baghdad, May 2016

 Praying for Long Life

For the past 2,000 years it has preached a message of eternal life - but only in the hereafter. Now experts have pointed to evidence that going to church could also help people live longer in the here and now. An analysis of data charting the lives of more than 74,000 women over a 16-year period has found that the most regular churchgoers were 33 per less likely to die during that time than those who never attended services. Even those who went to church sporadically appeared to have better survival rates. The team noted there were fewer deaths from heart disease and cancer in particular among the regular church-goers than those who did not attend.

The international team of researchers, including Prof Tyler Vander Weele, professor of epidemiology at the TH Chan School of Public Health at Harvard, suggested that being part of a congregation not only may have discouraged habits such as smoking, but made them less likely to feel lonely and more optimistic. The study, published online in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, used information gathered for the Nurses’ Health Study in which a sample of American women, all nurses, filled in questionnaires about their lives between 1996 and 2012.

Of 74,534 women surveyed at the start of the study, 13,537 had died by 2012, a third of them from cancer and a ifth from cardiovascular disease. Almost one in five said they attended church more than once a week, another 40 per cent went weekly, just over one in six were less frequent in the pews and a quarter never attended. Those in the first group were 27 per cent less likely to have died of cardiovascular disease and had a 21 per cent lower risk of dying from cancer than those in the non-churchgoing group.

John Bingham, Religious Affairs Editor, Daily Telegraph, May 2016

Too much Christianity on the BBC?

The BBC's religious output is too Christian, an internal review by the corporation has said, opening the way for more programmes on other faiths.

A report by Aaqil Ahmed, the BBC's head of religion and ethics, has sijg' gested the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh faiths should get more airtime. One Muslim leader suggested the review could lead to Friday prayers from a mosque being broadcast in the same way that Christian church services currently feature in the BBC's schedules.

The report is being considered by Lord Hall of Birkenhead, the director general, who could make changes to make religious output less "disproportionate". Mr Ahmed told a Commons event on religious literacy he had written a report for Lord Hall that would answer criticisms from non-Christian faiths that they were underserved.

Mr Ahmed said: "Christianity remains the cornerstone of our output and there are more hours dedicated to it than there are to other faiths.

"Our output in this area is not static, though," he added. "It has evolved over the years and we regularly assess it. We do look at the number of hours we produce, and measure that against the religious make-up of society."

The number of Muslims in Britain has doubled in a decade to three million.                     • '

Mr Ahmed's appointment in 2009 was controversial because of allegations he had shown a pro-Islam bias in his previous role at Channel 4.

Ibrahim Mogra, of the Muslim Council of Britain, said the BBC could televise Friday prayers from a mosque and extend coverage of Eid. But he added: "We would not wish Christians to have any less exposure."

The BBC's religious output includes Songs of Praise and Sunday Morning Live. Asked if greater coverage of other faiths could lead to cuts in Christian coverage, a BBC spokesman said it was too early to say what was safe but added that Songs of Praise would be secure. "We... are actually intending to do more programming around Christianity and more on other faiths as well, so there is absolutely no question of an 'either or' on our output," he said.

David Barrett, Daily Telegraph Home Affairs Correspondent, May 2016

Chocolate Easter eggs lose their Christian flavour

It is a vanishing act worthy of the Easter bunny himself and just as mysterious.

Easter - the most important Christian festival of the year, celebrated by well over two billion people around the world - appears to be quietly disappearing: at least when it comes to eggs.

Growing numbers of chocolate eggs are on sale in the UK with no mention of the word "Easter" on the packaging.

Many of Britain's best known brands have quietly dropped the name of the Christian festival, now selling Easter products labelled simply as "chocolate egg" or even "egg", it is claimed.

The allegation was highlighted by the makers of the "Real Easter Egg", a fair trade chocolate product which carries a Christian message instead of pictures of bunnies and chicks and donates its profits to charity.

David Marshall, of The Meaningful Chocolate Company, based in Manchester, said: "A lot of businesses, quite often, are not comfortable with the religious aspect of the festival."

John Bingham, Daily Telegraph, Tuesday in Holy Week, 2016

First it was 'Winterval', now it's the turn of Easter to suffer from the relentless secularisation of our world. I am reminded of the chap who allegedly asked a shop assistant for a pendant cross, and was asked if he wanted one with the little man on...

'Outrageous', says the Archbishop

Families are entitled to fear the impact that "enormous" numbers of migrants will have on jobs, housing and the NHS, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

The Most Rev Justin Welby said it was "outrageous" to condemn people who raise concerns as "racist" and said that their "genuine fears" needed to be listened to and addressed. In an interview with The House magazine, he described the migration crisis The Archbishop of Canterbury said it was outrageous to condemn those who raise concerns about migration as 'racist'
as "colossal" and said people were "justified" to raise concerns.

He also said there was no "correct Christian view" on how to vote in the EU referendum.

He said: "Fear is a valid emotion at a time of such colossal crisis. This is one of the greatest movements of people in human history. Just enormous. And to be anxious about that is very reasonable. There is a tendency to say 'Those people are racist', which is just outrageous, absolutely outrageous." The comments represent the most significant concerns raised by the Church of England about the migrant crisis.

The archbishop also repeated his call for Britain to take more than the 20,000 refugees pledged by David Cameron.

Steven Swinford, Deputy Political  Editor, Daily Telegraph
March 11th, 2016

Church accused of 'retrograde' worship

The Church of England is facing claims from its own ranks that it risks turning the clock back to before the Reformation with the return of features of "Roman Catholic" worship.

Anglicans from the reformist tradition have voiced "concern" about an interdenominational pilgrimage from London to Canterbury in May involving fragments of Thomas Becket's bones.

Eyebrows have also been raised about the inclusion of popular Catholic prayers such as the Hail Mary and the Prayer to St Christopher on a Church of England website as part its campaign to encourage prayer.

It follows a small protest by one protestant group outside Hampton Court Palace last week over its first Roman Catholic service in the Chapel Royal for 450 years.

Prayers directed to saints and the veneration of relics were among traditional practices abandoned during the Protestant Reformation amid claims they encouraged idolatry and superstition. They are both still officially banned under the 39 Articles, the Church's articles of faith, which date to 1562.

During a question and answer session at last week's General Synod one member queried whether plans for services involving the relics of Becket were in contravention of the 39 Articles.

The Bishop of Coventry, the Rt Rev Christopher Cocksworth, said that the events in May were simply to encourage "thankful remembrance" of Becket as well offering "hospitality" to Roman Catholic fellow Christians.

But Susie Leafe, director of the Anglican group Reform, called it a "retrograde step". "It is a whole range of things which show a moving away from the 39 Articles of the Reformation," she said.

John Bingham, Sunday Telegraph, 21st February, 2016

A Last Throw of the Dice?

The global Anglican Church faces "dire, consequences" unless it enforces a traditionalist line on homosexuality at a crucial summit in Canterbury this week, says a leading cleric taking part.

Bishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt, convenor of Anglican primates in the "global south" - the bulk of the church's 80 million members, told The Sunday Telegraph unless the issue is resolved there will be "irreparable" splits not just between countries and dioceses but even individual parishes.

The heads of almost 40 separate churches meet for the first time in more than a decade in what the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby,i sees as a "last roll of the dice" to save the Anglican Communion. The split is said to be so deep he is providing separate chapels amid fears the   groups   will   not even pray together.
It is expected to be a stormy week-long primates' meeting to discuss a plan Rev Welby  hopes will avert a permanent schism between liberals and conservatives.

The faith has been in turmoil for 12 years since its' US branch, The Episcopal Church (Tec), ordained its first openly-gay bishop, Gene Robinson, causing traditionalists especially in the southern hemisphere to break from more liberal wings and the creation of a separate American church.  The Anglican Church in Canada has endorsed blessings for same-sex unions and Tec altered its marriage definition. Some conservatives have called the leadership of the liberal US and Canadian churches heretics. They in turn were accused of homophobia for backing strict anti-gay laws in Africa.

After many reports, commissions and meetings failed to reconcile the factions, Archbishop Welby wants to recast Anglicanism as a loose confederation. Individual national churches would be formally linked only to Canterbury, rather than to each other, to let them disagree on issues such  as gay bishops without severing ties. One of his aides likened the move to "separate bedrooms" rather than divorce.

Such a move would effectively scale back the once-powerful Anglican Communion and formalise a rift, rather than trying to heal it. Lambeth Palace advisers privately admit it is a "last throw of the dice" to save the Communion.

Sources close to key southern primates called the plan unworkable. There are fears the closed-door summit could founder in days with separate sides issuing their own communiques, deepening the crisis. Bishop Anis said there would be no solution unless the meeting upholds unenforced agreements which would have put a moratorium on North American churches ordaining further openly gay bishops.

He said: "Failure to allow this to happen will-have dire consequences and cause irreparable divisions at all levels of the Communion." Although firmly in the conservative camp, he is a strong supporter of Archbishop Welby's efforts to reunite the communion.

Aides said the Archbishop hopes accommodating both sides separately, will help them come together - like the Northern Ireland peace process where parties initially met separately, before signing the Good Friday Agreement.

 Sunday Telegraph news story on 10th January 2015, echoing the gloomy prognosis of several other papers.

Britain no longer a Christian country?

Britain is no longer a Christian country and should stop acting as if it is, a major inquiry into the place of religion in modern society has concluded, provoking a furious backlash from ministers and the Church of England. A two-year commission, chaired by the former senior judge Baroness Butler-Sloss and involving leading religious leaders from all faiths, calls for public life in Britain to be systematically de-Christianised. It says that the decline of churchgoing and the rise of Islam and other faiths mean a "new settlement" is needed for religion in the UK, giving more official influence to non-religious voices and those of non-Christian faiths.

The report provoked a furious row as it was condemned by Cabinet ministers as "seriously misguided" and the Church of England said it appeared to have been "hijacked" by humanists.
The report, by the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life, claims that faith schools are "socially divisive" and says that the selection of children on the basis of their beliefs should be phased out.   It also accuses those who devise some RE syllabuses of "sanitising" negative aspects of religion in lessons and suggests that the compulsory daily act of worship in school assemblies should be abolished and replaced with a "time for reflection".

The report backs moves to cut the number of Church of England bishops in the Lords and give places to imams, rabbis and other non-other non-Christian clerics as well as evangelical pastors. Meanwhile the coronation service for the next monarch should be overhauled to include other faiths, the report adds.

It also suggests that Thought of the Day on BBC Radio 4's Today programme should include non-religious messages.

The Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life has attracted particular controversy because of the seniority of those behind it. Its patrons include Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Woolf, the former chief justice, and Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the former general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain. While gathering evidence the commissioners met key players including Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury; Ephraim Mirvis, the Chief Rabbi; the Home Secretary Theresa May, and senior executives at the BBC and Channel 4.

The Church of England said the report was a "sad waste" and had "fallen captive to liberal rationalism". A spokeswoman said: “The report is dominated by the old-fashioned view that traditional religion is declining in importance and that non-adherence to a religion is the same as humanism or secularism."

A source close to Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, described the report's recommendations on faith schools as "ridiculous". The source said: "Nicky is one of the biggest champions of faith schools and anyone who thinks she is going to pay attention to these ridiculous recommendations is sorely misguided."

The report highlights figures showing the decline in people who say they are Anglicans from 40 per cent in 1983 to less than a fifth in 2013. It says: "Three striking trends in recent decades have revolutionised the landscape on which religion and belief in Britain meet and interact.
"The first is the increase in the number of people with non-religious beliefs and identities. The second is the decline in Christian affiliation, belief and practice and within this decline a shift in Christian affiliation that has meant that Anglicans no longer comprise a majority of Christians.
"The third is the increase in the number of people who have a religious affiliation but who are not Christian."
It goes on to say: "The increase in those with non-religious beliefs, the reduction in the number of Christians and an increase in their diversity, and the increase in the number of people identifying with non-Christian religions: these are the settled social context of Britain today and for the foreseeable future, as is the unsettled and unsettling context of the international environment".

Its central recommendation is for a national consultation exercise to draw up a 21st Century equivalent to the Magna Carta to define the values at the heart of modern Britain instead of the Government’s controversial “British values” requirements. “From recent events in France, to the schools so many of our children attend and even the adverts screened in cinemas, for good and ill religion and belief impacts directly on all our daily lives,” said Lady Butler-Sloss.

“The proposals in this report amount to a ‘new settlement for religion and belief in the UK’, intended to provide space and a role for all within society, regardless of their beliefs or absence of them.”
The 150-page report sets out a major shift away from Christianity in Britain – particularly the Church of England – with the number of people describing themselves as having no religion jumping from less than a third of the population to almost half in just 30 years. At the same time it highlights the growth of non-Christian faiths, especially Islam, and an explosion in the number of newer Pentecostal and evangelical Churches outside of the traditional denominations.

But the report stops short of calling for the disestablishment of the Church of England, arguing that the special status of Anglicanism in England and the Church of Scotland north of the border, has helped other faith groups and “enables them to make their voice heard in the public sphere”.

But it adds: “The relationship of the Church of England to the state has changed and is changing, and could change further. “The pluralist character of modern society should be reflected in national forums such as the House of Lords, so that they include a wider range of world views and religious traditions and of Christian denominations other than the Church of England”. It goes on to call for all national and civic events – including the next coronation – to be designed to reflect “the pluralist character of modern society”.

Although the commission does not call for the abolition of faith schools, it questions the fundamental premise on which they exist. “In England, successive governments have claimed in recent years that faith schools and free schools create and promote social inclusion leading to cohesion and integration,” it says. “However, it is in our view not clear that segregation of young people into faith schools has promoted greater cohesion or that it has not been socially divisive, leading to greater misunderstanding and tension.”

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said the report did not go far enough. “There are some sensible recommendations in the Commission’s report, but there is no escaping that the Commission is composed of vested interests and is unlikely to make recommendations for any radical change. Disestablishing the Church of England should be a minimum ambition for a modern Britain in the 21st century.”  “This report promotes a multi-faith approach to public life which is completely at odds with the religious indifference that permeates British society."

Church faces decline as it loses its army of 'silver ladies'


Older women's 'invisible labour', such as cooking and cleaning, unique and irreplaceable, study finds


The Anglican Church could face "catastrophic" decline within 10 years as the "cheese on sticks and coronation chicken" generation of older women /dies out, research concludes.  A largely unsung army of dedicated lay women born in the Twenties and Thirties and coming of age around the time of the Second World War, could prove to be the "last active generation" in the Church of England and its sister churches in countries such as the US and Canada, it finds.


 The bleak assessment of the future of Anglicanism emerges in a study of the role of older women in congregations by Dr Abby Day, a sociologist and expert on religion in society at Goldsmiths, University of London.   She concludes that the full extent of the contribution of the "silver ladies" of parishes has been consistently underestimated and overlooked, going far beyond filling the pews on Sunday mornings to organising and facilitating the day-to - day life of most parishes.   Their absence will, she argues, cause an "inevitable acceleration" in the long-running decline in numbers.


Dr Day spent months mixing with the women she calls "Generation A" to understand the role of a key group of churchgoers who, she said, were largely "invisible" in official documents.  Because the women were "uniformly suspicious and !tired of surveys", she instead took an anthropological approach, spending months "immersed in the field", joining them cleaning and serving food or making tea.


Dr Day's fieldwork involved attending "spring and autumn lunches in churches and village halls; the Queen's Jubilee parties, Christmas parties and private events at people's homes". The paper, published in a collection of essays, Powers and Pieties, uses sociological terminology to analyse how the women assert their position in the hierarchy through "food rituals".   But Or Day notes: "The types of food prepared or, increasingly, bought as the women's energy faltered, were mainly resonant of that generation: prawn cocktails, coronation chicken, cheese on sticks, trifle."


Visiting Anglican or Episcopal churches in England, Scotland, the US, Canada and Sri Lanka, she was struck by the "startling" similarities, from the style of pews and the "near-ubiquitous eagle lectern" to the "same musty, candle-wax, wood-infused smell". But in the northern countries, the similarities extended to the congregations themselves, with older women making up more than half in most cases.


 "Those 'silver ladies' were always conservatively dressed, with hair coiffed neatly in the" sort of style rendered by weekly visits to the hairdresser, using curlers and big-hood hair-dryers," Dr Day observes.   "The natural, blow-dried look favoured by their daughters and granddaughters was never theirs." And in each place, they played the same central role going far beyond providing the bulk of congregations at services.


"They - even in their 80s - clean the church, wash the vestments, polish the brasses, organise bring-and-buy sales or jumbles, bake cakes and visit vulnerable people in their homes.   "Their often invisible labour ensures the church's continuity and enriches surrounding communities."


She adds: "Generation A is irreplaceable and unique. When this generation finally disappears within the next five to 10 years, its knowledge, insights and experiences will be lost forever"      

Most churchgoers - and not just Anglican ones - will recognise the truth of this statement as they look around their pews. It does not always seem that the hierarchies of the churches pay enough respect to the hosts of 'silver ladies' (and gents!) who keep the ships afloat.

Heavens above: why Downton doesn't do God

They may live in a Britain that was far more Christian than it is today, but the Crawley family doesn't do God. Thai is because, according to Downton Abbey's historical adviser, television chiefs ordered producers to "leave religion out of it", for fear of alienating viewers.

Alastair Bruce pointed out that the Crawley family is never shown ;in the process of sitting down to dinner, with the action instead starting part-way through the meal. This, he said, was to avoid having to show the characters saying grace. "In essence, you hardly ever see a table that isn't already sat at. We never see the beginning of a luncheon or a dinner, because no one was ever allowed to see a grace beng said, and I would never allow them to sit down without having said grace," said Mr Bruce.

"I think that the view was that we'd leave religion out of it, and it would've taken extra time, too. I suggested a Latin grace, but they decided that was too far, and no one would've known what was going on.'

Mr Bruce said he was even banned from featuring napkins folded in the shape of a bishop's mitre, for fear of breaching the religious edict. "Everyone panics when you try to do anything religious on the telly" he said. "I still wish we could've got some decent napkin folds."

The lack of religious references in Downton has been a topic of debate in America, where the series, broadcast on the PBS channel, is wildly popular.

The unease at featuring any religious reference even extended to the name of the show. Peter Fincham, ITV's head of television, revealed earlier this year that the channel had considered a different name for the series, because of the word "abbey" in it. He said: "I can remember discussions that almost seem comical now... Would people think it would have nuns or monks in it and be a religious series? But we satisfied ourselves they wouldn't and we did a bit of marketing around it."

Patrick Foster
Media Correspondent, Daily Telegraph
November 16th, 2015

Preaching to people will put them off God, Church warns members

The Church of England is to signal to members that speaking openly about their faith could do more harm than good when it comes to spreading Christianity. Stark research findings being presented to members of the Church's ruling General Synod suggest that practising Christians who talk to friends and colleagues about their beliefs are three times as likely to put them off God as to attract them.

The study, which was commissioned by the Church and a coalition of other Christian groups, also found that four in 10 British adults did not think that Jesus was a "real person who actually lived". Twenty-two per cent stated that Jesus was a "mythical or fictional character". A third of those surveyed said they were not aware of anyone they knew being a practising Christian.

The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Rev Michael Hill, admitted the findings had been "greeted with disbelief" but warned members of the Synod not to dismiss them. The Church's most senior lay official, William Fittall, the Synod's secretary general, added that some forms of outreach by Christians hoping to win new converts should be recognised as "counterproductive". The findings were sent out to almost 470 members of the Synod, which next meets in London next month.

The study, called "Talking Jesus", was commissioned by the Church of England, the Evangelical Alliance and "Hope", an umbrella body which brings local churches together in different areas, in an attempt to arrest the decline in attendances. Non-believers were asked if a practising Christian had ever spoken to them about their faith. Of those who said yes, only 19 per cent said it made them want to know more, compared with 59 per cent who said the opposite. (Although 23 per cent said it made them 'feel "more positive towards Jesus Christ", 30 per cent said it left them feeling more negative.

Mr Fittall said: "It is important to find out what people actually think so that you don't just preach to the choir."

John Bingham
Daily Telegraph, November 2nd, 2015

Sad and perhaps unsurprising evidence of the continuing marginalisation of religion in the 21st century. Even a generation ago, this sort of situation would have been unthinkable. We should be grateful that 'Rev' - and 'Dibley' - have not been similarly diluted and emasculated... yet.

Underused churches may open only for holy days

Historic village churches across England may be closed down except on holy days under radical plans being considered by the Church of England to cope with shrinking congregations.

 A  report on the future of the 16,000 Anglican places of worship in England acknowledges that parts of the centuries-old parish system may soon not be "sustainable" as congregations age and overall numbers fall.

It discloses that one in four rural parishes - or about 2,000 churches - now has fewer than 10 regular worshippers, and half would be unable to muster 20 on a Sunday. At the same time parishes collectively spend about £160 million a year on maintaining their premises, which include almost half of all the country's Grade I listed buildings.

A committee of clerics and laity is recommending a change in ecclesiastical law to allow some to be designated "festival churches", used only for important celebrations or occasional weddings and funerals.

Anglicans to move into separate bedrooms?

Archbishop Justin Welby is ready to make his 'last throw of the dice' to stop the Anglican rift becoming permanent

The Archbishop of Canterbury is preparing to gamble his legacy on a high-stakes plan to overhaul the 80 million-strong worldwide Anglican Church in what he sees as a "last throw of the dice" to avert a permanent split over issues such as homosexuality.

The Most Rev Justin Welby has invited the heads of all the other Anglican Churches - some of whom have not spoken directly to each other for more than a decade amid a deep liberal-conservative split - to a make-or-break meeting in Canterbury in January.

He wants them not only to acknowledge the rift but effectively formalise it by scaling the Anglican Communion back into a loosely linked organisation - a step aides liken to "moving into separate bedrooms" rather than full-scale divorce. But he is understood to fear that the confrontation will trigger an angry walkout by traditionalist archbishops, particularly from Africa. This could also lead to "large chunks" of the Church of England breaking away.

Aides said the archbishop was convinced that the rift between the different wings of the world's third largest Church must be resolved. "We've actually got to draw a line here, we can't go on," said one Lambeth Palace source.

It is understood that the archbishop accepts that there is at least a 70 per cent chance the strategy will fail in some way and a one in three chance of triggering a permanent schism.One aide added: "We are not going around grovelling and trying to just tweak everything to make it happen. It is time we stopped messing around."

One idea being considered is to effectively dissolve the Anglican Communion as it currently exists — with 38 national churches, or provinces, formally linked to each other — to a structure in which they are all tied to the "mother church" in Canterbury.

Lambeth Palace sources said each church would have enough "wriggle room" to hold different positions on questions such as gay marriage.

Daily Telegraph, September 17th, 2015

Fading respect for religion in public life, say faith leaders

Publicly identifying with any religion has become an "act of courage" in many western countries because believers are routinely assumed to be "naive, unsophisticated and narrow-minded", according to Britain's most senior Jewish and Roman Catholic clerics.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and Cardinal Vincent Nichols warned it is becoming increasingly difficult to voice arguments based on faith in debates about vital social and political issues such as assisted dying or family values. They also said the "brazen persecution" of Christian, Muslim and Jewish minorities in the Middle East and other regions was "one of the most pressing and shameful issues of our time".

The leaders called for greater tolerance and understanding as they travelled to Rome together for an audience with Pope Francis to discuss faith relations. It comes as Jewish and Catholic communities prepare to mark the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate - meaning "in our time" - the landmark declaration by the Second Vatican Council to condemn anti-Semitism and help to transform relations between the faiths.

"Jewish and Catholic shared history has been so deeply stained with the blood of innocent men, women and children whose only crime was a sincerely held personal religious conviction, that the thought of such a warm  relationship as we share today would  have once seemed absurd," they wrote.

They said that the lessons of the transformation of relations between  Judaism  and the Catholic  Church  should now be applied to a "new but no less troubling set of global issues".

"In many places, to be a person of faith can be, in and of itself, an act of courage," they wrote.

John Bingham
Religious Affairs Editor, The  Daily Telegraph
September 4th, 2015

Lord Carey believes assisted dying is Christian

Allowing doctors to help terminally ill people to take their own lives would be a "profoundly Christian arid moral thing" to do, Lord Carey has insisted. The former Archbishop of Canterbury dismissed arguments that enduring pain at the end of life was a "noble thing" and insisted that proper legal safeguards could be devised to ensure vulnerable people were not pressured into ending their lives.

His remarks, before a Commons vote on assisted dying, underline a growing rift with the official position of the Church he once led.
One senior Church of England official condemned the attempts to change Britain's euthanasia laws as "criminally naive". The Rev Dr Brendan McCarthy, the Church's national adviser on medical ethics, claimed that dying people would "most certainly" be put at risk by a change in the law.

Next month's debate amounts to the first serious attempt in the House of Commons to overturn the ban on assisted suicide.

Rob Marris, the Labour MP, will use a guaranteed slot for backbench legislation to introduce proposals put forward by Lord Falconer in the Lords last year. The Assisted Dying Bill would allow patients thought to have no more than six months to live and who had demonstrated a "clear and settled intention" to end their lives to be prescribed a lethal dose of drugs on the authority of two doctors.  It also includes extra safeguards introduced by peers during discussion of Lord Falconer's Bill that Would give a High Court judge a role in any future system of assisted dying. Lord Carey, who has maintained a strongly conservative stance on questions such as gay marriage, stunned the Church last year by announcing that he had changed his mind on the issue of assisted dying.

He used a short video promoted by the campaign group Dignity in Dying to underline his support for the Bill.  "Some people have said on the issue of compassion that actually pain is a noble thing, to bear pain and to say that we are suffering with you is, in my view, a very poor argument indeed," he said. "There is nothing noble about excruciating pain and I think we need as a nation to give people the right to decide their own fate"

"And in my view it is a profoundly Christian and moral thing to devise a law that enables people, if they so choose, to end their lives with dignity."

John Bingham
Religious Affairs Editor, The  Daily Telegraph
August 14th, 2015

'Six Days shalt thou Labour'

Ministers will challenge the Church of England to support the biggest shake up of Sunday trading laws in a generation to help boost high streets and cut household shopping bills. Under plans unveiled in a consultation local authorities will be given the power to prevent large supermarkets from opening longer in an attempt to revive Britain’s high streets. The Government will encourage councils to use the powers to help town centre store at the expense of larger out-of-town stores.

But the move to extend Sunday hours, announced by George Osborne in July, has been criticised by the Church of England, which has said that the Sabbath should be preserved for the sake of "family stability and community life". Ministers will write to the Church to say that the plans will help ensure that high streets "remain the heartbeat of our communities". They will also highlight official research suggesting that longer opening hours could help reduce household shopping bills by up to £64 a year as stores become more profitable due to the ability to open longer.

In a letter to bishops, Brandon Lewis, the local government minister, will say: "The Government has been determined to revive our nation's high streets to ensure they remain the heartbeat of our communities for decades to come. High streets provide the social, cultural and essential services so many local people enjoy and rely on."

All shops other than the smallest premises are currently allowed to open their tills for no more than six hours on a Sunday, a law which came into force in 1994 after a long struggle by the business community. Only shops with fewer than 3,000 square feet – essentially convenience stores and small independent shops – can open for longer.

Under the new plans local councils will be able to decide for how long shops can open. They can decide which zones should benefit from longer opening hours, enabling them to exclude out-of-town supermarkets. The consultation states: ‘This means local authorities could choose to allow longer Sunday trading in specific locations where they want to grow their economy or attract more shopper footfall."

The Government calculates that relaxing Sunday trading laws will lead to £1.4billion worth of benefits to the economy a year and increase the amount people spend by as much as 12.5 per cent. Anna Soubry, the business minister, said: "Modern Sunday trading laws have the potential to create thousands of jobs across the country and help British businesses to thrive."

Britain's biggest retailers are divided over whether to extend Sunday trading hours. Asda and Morrisons have pressed for the Government to change the law, but Tesco, Salisbury's and Waitrose support the current rules. It has been suggested that they are concerned the move could see fewer customers in their smaller convenience stores.

Research has found that extending Sunday trading by two hours in London alone would create nearly 3,000 jobs, and generate more than £200 million a year in extra income. The consultation also highlights previous government research suggesting that households could save £64.10 a year under the plans.

Daily Telegraph, August 5th, 2015

Further signs of how the world is changing, and how quickly we have moved from the traditional pattern of the special Sunday to the seven-day-week pattern. It's obviously one major reason for declining church attendance figures, and highlights the need for the Church to come to terms with modern lifestyles. Just how it does this is another matter....

Falling congregations - the numbers game

Allegiance to the Church of England has slumped dramatically over the past decade at a time when the number of Muslims in the UK has increased by almost three quarters, authoritative new research suggests.

Analysis from the long-running British Social Attitudes survey indicates that the number of adults describing themselves as Church of England fell by 4.5million between 2004 and 2014. Between 2012 and 2014 the Church lost around 1.7million followers. In this time the number of people identifying themselves as Muslim jumped from 3.2 per cent, or l.5 million, to 4.7 per cent, or 2.4 million.

People who said they had no religion have risen in number from 31 per cent to 49 per cent in just over 30 years.

The proportion of British adults who describe themselves as Anglican has fallen from 40 per cent in 1983 to 17 per cent in 2014, but the proportion classing themselves as Roman Catholic has remained essentially stable at around eight per cent over the same period. Those classed as "other" Christian is also steady at about 17 per cent.

Naomi Jones, head of social attitudes at NatCen Social Research, said: "Each generation is less religious than the next so as older generations die the overall population becomes less religious. But this doesn't explain why the Anglican Church alone continues to decline. One explanation for this might be that the numbers of Catholic and non-Christian people in Britain may have been supplemented by migrants with strong religious beliefs."

John Bingham, Daily Telegraph Religious Affairs Editor, June  2015

These increasingly challenging statistics are echoed in our own records over recent years, and explain our Diocese's current preoccupation with combining parishes and cutting costs. It is perhaps some comfort to realise that we are not alone in trying to cope with decline - lots of backs to the same wall.

'In Her image': time to make God a woman, says church group

Support is growing within the Church of England to rewrite its official liturgies to refer to God as female following the selection of the first women bishops. Growing numbers of priests already insert words such as "she" and "mother" informally into traditional service texts to try to make the language of worship more inclusive, it has been claimed.

But now it has emerged that calls for a full overhaul of liturgy have been discussed informally at a senior level.  It comes after the Transformations Steering Group, a body that meets in Lambeth Palace to examine the impact of women in ministry on the Church of England, issued a public call to the bishops to encourage more "expansive language and imagery about God".

Hilary Cotton, chairman of Women and the Church, the group that led the campaign for female bishops, said a shift away from the traditional patriarchal language of the Book of Common Prayer is at an advanced stage in some quarters. "The reality is in many churches up and down the country something more than the almost default male language about God is already used," she said. "The response you often get at one end is, 'Why does it matter, because God is beyond all this?' At the other end the reaction is: 'You mustn't, because Jesus calls God father."

Mrs Cotton said that while congregations were experimenting with terminology, it was time for the issue to be considered by the Liturgical Commission, the body which drafts official service books. "Until we shift considerably towards a more ‘genderful’ expression in our worship about God then we are failing God and missing something," she said. Her comments came after a discussion at the Westminster Faith Debates on whether consecration of women as bishops will change the Church of England.

The Church of England's worship already includes some references to God as female, many of them centuries old. Canticle 82, the song of Anselm, the 11th-century Archbishop of Canterbury, likens Jesus to a mother, and number 86, attributed to Julian of Norwich, speaks of God as "our mother in all things".

"That gives an indication that the Church of England hasn't set its face against this in any way, and there is recognition from the Church of England that men and women are made in the image of God and therefore it is entirely appro- f priate to express our worship toward God s as a female presence," said Mrs Cotton. "There is a thin thread of this throughout history but having women bishops makes it particularly obvious that to continue to refer to God purely as male is just unhelpful to many people now."

A Lambeth Palace spokesman emphasised that the steering group is independent of the Archbishop of Canterbury and any change in liturgy would have to be approved by the General Synod.

John Bingham, Daily Telegraph Religious Affairs Editor, June 2nd, 2015

Unmarried mother angered by vicar's refusal to baptise son

A mother has criticised her local church for refusing to baptise her son because she and the boy's father are not married. Heather Lawrence and partner Jonathan, both Christians, wanted their nine-month-old son Roman to be christened. But when they tried to arrange the service with the Rev Tim Hayes at St John's in Dukinfield, Greater Manchester, they were told they would only be allowed a blessing. The couple, who have been in a relationship for four years, were told by the vicar his refusal was because they were not married.

Ms Lawrence, 30, said: "He said:'Having a christening and having the holy water was not a ticket into heaven'. But in my eyes if you are not baptised you can't be bought into the Church and you're not one of God's children."

She said the only reason they are not married is because they cannot afford a wedding.

Mr Hayes told the Manchester Evening News that this had always been the policy during his 21 years at the parish church.  He said: "I believe marriage is God's way... [but] it's not so much about what I think, it's about what Jesus thinks."

Daily Telegraph, 29th May, 2015

Faith Groups Filling the Gap

Faith groups are filling a "huge gap" once occupied by the state before the financial crisis and onset of austerity forced a rethink, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

The Most Rev Justin Welby said that churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and other religious organisations had stepped in, "in a most extraordinary way" over the past seven years.

A national "audit" of faith groups has calculated that members give time worth £3 billion a year to social action projects. The study, published by the Cinnamon Network, a Christian charity, estimated that 1.9 million people, from all the main religions, regularly volunteer to run services such as parent and toddler groups, food banks and debt counselling.

Overall, the Faith Action Audit concluded that religious groups are involved in 220,000 separate projects specifically aimed at serving communities, with tens of millions of people benefiting in some way from their efforts.

At the publication of the report in Westminster, the Archbishop recalled that when he was installed as Bishop of Durham in 2011 he called for churches to seize the "opportunity" offered by the changing social landscape — something he said it was clear had been taken up.

"I talked about the fact that the idols we had built our society on, the idols of materialism, of wealth, had toppled, had. been toppled by the recession after the great crisis of 2008 and that as the idols were toppled the only thing that was left were the eternal values," he said.

"I talked about the need for meeting that huge gap which we could see opening around us and which opened from 2008 onwards. I'm not trying to ascribe blame, it's simply a fact that that gap opened up.

"I remember going back to my seat after the sermon and thinking to myself, 'well there was some good purple prose in there but it won't have any effect'.

"I couldn't have been more wrong, as usual. The faith communities of this country have risen to the challenge of the last seven or eight years in the most extraordinary way."

Religious groups, he said, would continue to step in "because there will always be people in need, there will always be people who need not just provision but who need provision wrapped up in love.

"And it's when they get that, that human dignity is preserved and humanity is lifted," he added.

The audit sampled thousands of places of worship and religious organisations.Each group was asked to calculate how many hours its members provided as volunteers. That was multiplied by the 2 Living Wage and adjusted for the overall population to reach the estimate.

The Archbishop added: "Einstein said many years ago it is extraordinary what can be achieved by people who don't care whether they get the credit for it or not."

John Bingham, Religious Affairs Editor, The Daily Telegraph

A welcome and encouraging report and commentary. It reflects a truth churches have always known, not least our own and other local religious groups.
A recent tallying of community involvement by our church and congregation bears this out. Read it here.

Nothing to laugh about?

Is this the reason why East Anglia is so godless?


It has been nicknamed the most godless place in Britain and now perhaps we know why.

When the last UK census singled out parts of East Anglia as having some of the lowest levels of religious affiliation in the UK, social commentators were unable to explain the reasons why.

But new polling of a panel of 1,800 regular churchgoers across the UK could provide a clue: po-faced clergy.

Christians in the region are less likely than those anywhere else in the country to recall hearing a sermon or talk which contained a joke that made them laugh.

Congregations in Yorkshire and the Humber have the most entertaining services, with 80 per cent able to recall laughing at a clerical quip - just ahead of London, where 77 per cent had heard a decent joke in church. In the East of England barely half (53 per cent) could recall laughing hi church.

The survey, by the polling group Christian Research, was commissioned by the Christian Resources Exhibition, a trade-fair for the clergy taking place in London this week.

This year the event will include a professional stand-up comedy training session to help clergy liven up their sermons.

John Bingham and Hazel Southam, Daily Telegraph, 18th May 2015

An entertaining theory. St Faith's frequently laughs with (and just occasionally at) its clergy, with no perceptible effect on congregational numbers. Liverpool is full of comedians, possibly unlike deepest Norfolk and Suffolk. This website has an archive of hundreds of religious jokes, several of which have caused offence, and some of which originated in our pulpit...

Women Bishops (again)

As many as 300 congregations and a tenth of the Church of England still cannot accept the authority of women bishops, according to the leader of the campaign against their appointment. The Rev Prebendary Rod Thomas said several hundred clergy in the conservative wing of the Church still opposed female bishops.

Church leaders last week appointed him to be the next Bishop of Maidstone, in a move intended to help avert a split or an exodus of traditionalists. He was given the post specifically to minister to members of the growing conservative evangelical tying of the Church, similar to the "flying bishops" introduced in the Nineties to serve Anglo-Catholics.

Mr Thomas told the BBC: "It's certainly not my intention to lead a church within a church. My intention is to enable conservative evangelical congregations to  play a very full part in the life of their dioceses, but in terms of sheer size, the best guess is that conservative evangelicals of this particular conviction are something like 10 per cent of the Church of England."

The Church's ruling General Synod last year voted overwhelmingly for women bishops. The Rt Rev Libby Lane became the first female bishop in the Church of England earlier this year. While many of those who left the Church of England after women first became priests in the Nineties came from the high or traditionalist Anglo-Catholic wing, opposition to female bishops has been dominated by conservative evangelicals, who aim to emphasise biblical teaching over interpretation.

The group, who see passages of the Bible as meaning that only men can operate "headship", includes some of the only congregations which have seen significant growth in recent years.

Ben Farmer, Daily Telegraph, May 11th, 2015


What would Mother Superior say!
Mobbing the Pope is not great PR for the sisterhood, says Peter Stanford

Pope Francis has made a virtue out of bringing a new informality to the mission of leading the Catholic Church in the social media age, but even his crowd-pleasing spontaneity deserted him momentarily when he was mobbed in Naples Cathedral by a gaggle of nuns, wimples flapping, wanting nothing more than to touch the hem of his white robes.

Lip-readers have had a field day pouring over the photographs, trying to decipher the exact words on his lips as the overwrought sisters bore down on their pin-up. "Get them off me," is one of the kinder suggestions.

"Well, would you look at that," Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, the archbishop of Naples, said in an off-the-cuff running commentary over the cathedral's public address system as Pope Francis got the pop-star treatment on Sunday. "And these are the cloistered ones. Just imagine the non-cloistered ones. They're going to eat him. Sisters... sisters!"

So while the Church of England is busy ordaining sensible, sober, sage women like the Rev Libby Lane as bishops, here are representatives of what is officially the summit of women's ambitions in the Catholic Church acting like teenage groupies, overcome by their proximity to One Direction.

In the process, every silly stereotype of the nun is confirmed - from Whoopi Goldberg's over-ebullient convent room-mates in Sister Act, through the battleaxe Sister Assumpta in Father Ted putting the residents of Craggy Island Presbytery through a detox retreat, and on to the simpering Julie Andrews dressed in the curtains in The Sound of Music. Nuns are, once again, a joke, so why not just laugh? Well, because the life they have chosen does have a serious point, even if the rush of blood to their heads in Naples momentarily caused them to forget it.

Behind the funny pictures, the message their behaviour conveys is that their choice of a celibate, all-female vocation leaves them so at sea that the proximity of the Pope causes them to lose all judgement, reason and dignity. It is hardly a recruiting poster for the nunnery.

It is, I suppose, an improvement on the image left by the films Philomena or The Magdalene Sisters, with their portraits of religious sisters utterly lacking in charity, not to mention compassion or indeed any redeeming human virtue, in their custodianship of homes for unmarried mothers and their offspring in the Ireland of the Fifties and Sixties. But Tristram Hunt - recently berated for his snide, disparaging remarks about nuns who taught in schools - will be feeling even smugger than usual at the unseemly scenes in Naples.

These unlikely groupies hailed from seven enclosed convents in the southern Italian city - hence the cardinal's remark. Unlike the "non-cloistered" 90 per cent of the world's 700,000 nuns who work in hospitals, schools, prisons and  -    increasingly - in social services, these enclosed sisters only usually have contact with the outside world through the bars of a
grille in the visiting room. Their life is one of prayer and often silence. It's a choice that is difficult for many of us to understand. Harder still, now. Talk of the contemporary convent liberating women from men's control, allowing them complete freedom to explore spiritually and intellectually (something borne out historically by the example of inspired individuals such as Hildegard of Bingen or Therese of Lisieux), rings a bit hollow when the current generation gets so overcome the instant they are granted an exeat.

In an enclosed convent, nuns live under what is called "papal enclosure". That makes it sound as if they are only allowed out when the Pope gives his permission. If it was true, Pope Francis probably won't be signing any more forms in the near future. The reality, though, is that day release from the enclosure is down to the discretion of the Mother Superior.

The "papal" element refers to the Vatican's overall responsibility for setting the parameters within which enclosed convents operate. Its most recent guidelines - laid out in the 1999 instruction, Verbi Sponsa - paint what sounds, in the wake of events in the cathedral, like an idealised picture where "the cloister becomes a response to the absolute love of God for his creatures" and the main challenges are "inner solitude, the trials of the spirit and the daily toil of life in community". No mention of stampeding to get the Pope's autograph.

Our sceptical, secular world may now regard such a lifestyle choice as bizarre, but in the middle of sleepless nights, I find it hugely comforting to think that, at any hour of the day and night, there is an enclosed convent somewhere full of nuns praying for the good of us all.  Now, though, I am going to be struggling to banish the thought that they only have prayers for Pope Francis.

Daily Telegraph, March 24th, 2015

The Global Pope
Tim Stanley

Pope Francis is showing he has the capacity to be a truly global force for good in our time

It was probably the largest papal Mass in history. On Sunday, an estimated six million Filipinos went to Manila to witness Pope Francis celebrate communion - the crowning event of an astonishing tour. Over four days, His Holiness condemned corruption, visited a slum, and said Mass in a yellow cagoule, lashed by the driving rain. "I saw God in his eyes," said one 13-year-old boy.

The success of the Philippines "show" tells us two things. First, that outside Western Europe a lot of people still believe in God. Here, we tend to regard religion as passe - something they did centuries ago, when unenlightened Europeans took the advice of burning bushes. But out beyond the EU, millions of people stubbornly continue to put their faith in the Almighty. The West may enjoy comparative power and wealth, but our attachment to secular liberalism is a minority opinion.

Europe's loss of faith makes it harder for us to comprehend the wider world and contributes to cultural misunderstanding. Lucidly, we have the Roman Catholic Church to act as interpreter. For the second thing that the crowds in Manila show is that Pope Francis is one of the most important diplomats of his era. He is a bridge between the West and the rest.

Of course, that's always been the case. By historical accident the leadership of Catholicism is located in Rome, but its Christian origins were in the Middle East and many of its early saints and theologians were African. Today, it is a uniquely global Church, with around 1.2 billion members.

As its official face, the papacy has always enjoyed diplomatic clout. In the early 1800s, the Pope pressured heads of state to suppress the slave trade. In the Eighties, Pope John Paul 11 united Christians in opposition to communism. And Benedict XVI made overtures to the Eastern Orthodox - something that his intellectualism and love of liturgy made him especially well placed to do. The personality of the pontiff helps define his mission.

As such, Francis is especially suited to the challenge of reaching out to the developing world. He is the first non-European Pope in nearly 1,300 years, coming from a country - Argentina - whose history touches upon relevant themes of colonialism and struggle for democracy.

His emphasis is, sometimes regrettably, not upon liturgical richness but, happily, upon straightforward themes of love and compassion that resonate widely. In the Philippines, former street children asked him why God allowed suffering. When one girl broke down in tears, the Pope told her that crying cleansed the soul and asked why so few other women had been invited to speak. This is a cleric who is prepared to talk frankly and humanely about issues of injustice.

His simplicity appeals, too - although it can have a whiff of stage management. Often, the Pope is seen boarding a plane carrying his own bag. Why does he need a bag on a short flight? What's in it? Paperwork? A toothbrush? One suspects that this is ostentatious modesty. But when talking to the press mid-flight, he displays a rugged kind of faith that, again, citizens of the developing world would appreciate more than "cosmopolitan" Europeans. His Holiness decried the killings in Paris but noted that when people love God like a father, you take a risk when you insult Him.

For perhaps the first time, many Western liberals were disappointed with Francis - for questioning the wisdom of blasphemy. But those who truly want to understand how Muslims feel about Mohammed could learn a lot from what he had to say. And those who routinely gripe about the moral conservatism of poorer peoples should understand that Francis's blunt traditionalism also goes down well with those struggling to get by. Gay rights just aren't as far up the political agenda in a country like the Philippines, where a quarter of the country lives on 60 cents a day and takes spiritual sustenance from a Church to which some 80 per cent of them belong.

The practical effects of having a Pope who can speak to two very different cultures was shown in the rapprochement of Cuba and America. We now know that the Vatican hosted secret talks between officials and that the pontiff wrote to both Barack Obama and Raul Castro.

President Obama said that Francis led through "moral example, showing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is". Which is a very neat summary of Christianity in action, of being the change that one wants to see.

So we live in the age of a new super-pope. Forbes magazine called Francis the fourth most powerful man in the world; he has been tipped for a Nobel Peace Prize. There are downsides to that. Disappointment often trails promise, and we mustn't forget that the Church is bigger than just the Pope.

Nevertheless, as the West slowly surrenders its claim to leadership over tin-world, it is fortunate there is a charismatic transitional figure telling of peace, rather than seeking votes.

Daily Telegraph, January 19th, 2015

Our festive season peaks far too early
Melanie McDonagh

Our festive season peaks far too early, leaving us with a long, gloomy period ahead

On the fifth day of Christmas, it may be pushing it a bit to say that the festivities really don't last long enough. Quite a few family cooks may feel  that they've done their bit already, and then some. But for many Britons, the Christmas spirit only lasts until the end of Boxing Day, even though this year the country won't fully get back into working gear until January 5. That's when we get all those guides in the papers about "New Year, New You" (yeah, right), and the shops go into Spartan mode, with a chilling emphasis on diet and exercise products. Can I just say: this is wrong, wrong, wrong.

We are, folks, only approaching the middle of the Christmas season, properly considered. Because the real feast, the Christian one, begins on Christmas Eve and goes on for 12 days - remember the carol? - right through until the Epiphany, on January 6. We shouldn't even be considering putting away the fairy lights. Christmas should only be getting properly under way now, in a crescendo of festivity until Twelfth Night, when the Three Kings come to baby Jesus.

Certainly, that's how Christmas used to be done. December through to Christmas Eve is, was, should be, Advent, or a time for preparing for the feast. And that means that, come December 24, we're up, or should be, for 12 days of having fun. Today you should be winding up, not winding down. Twelfth Night should be when the party season reaches its climax, not when we pack away the decorations.

The problem is, the secular calendar at this time of year is pretty well the opposite of the traditional way of doing things. The office party season started at the beginning of December; the Christmas sales began with Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving - an American import to the festive season, thanks for that) - and so by the time we get to Christmas itself, we're partied out and up for abstinence.

It has a lot to do with the commercialisation of the season; obviously, getting people in a festive mood early is a great strategy for retailers. A dispiriting survey by the Salvation Army before Christmas, reported in this paper, suggested that for most Britons, the real festive activity is shopping - not carols, and not churchgoing.

Well, there are good reasons for keeping the celebrations going for another week. One is that New Year's Day is a terrible time to be starting diet and exercise regimes. It's the coldest, bleakest time of the year, a time for starchy carbs, plum pudding and fairy lights if ever there was one.

The historian Nick Groom, in his book The Seasons, put his finger on the problem. "Today, decorations can go up alarmingly early - even in the first week of October - although there seems to be a common consent that after Bonfire Night is an appropriate time. But they also come down much earlier, too. The season of Christmastide has, in other words, shifted forward as if it now expresses an impatient and premature desire for gratification. The result is that there are two cold months of winter following Christmas."

Dead right. Our forebears were more in tune with the psychology of winter, when they insisted that Christmas should be in full swing for 12 days, and then carry on in a muted form through January until the feast of Candlemas, on February 2, when we celebrate the feast of the Purification of the Virgin after the birth of Christ.

January is, when you think about it, a time for hunkering down around the fire - or whatever our equivalent of the fire is -and making the most of indoors and having people round for dinner. The Victorian guide Gunter's Oracle (1830) observed: "January is perhaps of all the months in the year the most favourable to enjoyments of the table: then it is, that the gastrologist, vigorous, in high spirits, and with a voracious and insatiable appetite, is a most welcome guest... at the tables of the rich."

He's right about the voracious appetite. In cold, miserable weather, we crave our carbs. Does anyone actually want to go in for 5-2 diets or protein-only eating when it's cold? And can anyone think of a worse time of year than January for giving up drink? Bother January, the time for abstinence is Lent, when at least there is spring to cheer you up.

The very least we can do is to keep up the celebration of the twelfth day of Christmas, the Epiphany, including the evening before, when people used to go to town with entertainments - Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is so called because it was written for this very time. The French serve galettes du rois on the night - kings' tart -with a bean in the middle, and whoever gets the bean is the queen or king, and can boss everyone else around. I try to have friends round then, to see out the season with party games.

So, let's keep the fun going. This is only the middle of the real Christmas season. There's plenty of time for winter gloom afterwards.

Cold Turkey receives the Church's blessing!

By John Bingham, Religious Affairs Editor

The thought of more food might be the last thing on many people's minds after Christmas. But in one of the more unlikely pieces of theological advice in recent years, the Roman Catholic Church has given its approval to the practice of eating cold turkey sandwiches or bubble and squeak on Boxing Day.

The unexpected endorsement for gorging on leftovers follows doubts over whether it conflicted with the Catholic custom of eating fish on Fridays. The practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays as an act of penance was revived by the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, headed by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, three years ago.

This year is the first time since then that either Boxing Day - known in the Church calendar as St Stephen's Day - or Christmas itself has fallen on a Friday, prompting doubts over whether Catholics who eat cold meats on those days could be going against official Church teaching.

But following inquiries on the issue, the Church's Christian life and worship department has formally made clear that Catholics should consider Boxing Day exempt from the requirement because it is part of a special period of celebration around Christmas. Officials have issued a detailed explanation of how St Stephen's Day falls within one of the two major eight-day periods of celebration - or octaves - in the ecclesiastical year, which take precedence over other observations such as penance.

It added: "Octaves are weeks of joy, not abstinence, even though the Easter octave ranks unambiguously higher than that of Christmas. To consider St Stephen's Day or Boxing Day as a day of abstinence goes against common sense.

"It is a special day when, uppermost in our hearts and contextual of our celebrations is that instinctive sense of wonder at the incarnation of our saviour Jesus Christ, the meaning of the love, joy and peace we all crave at Christmas."

The custom of observing personal penance on Fridays was revived in a vote of the Bishops' Conference in 2011 to mark the first anniversary of Pope Benedict's visit to Britain. Cardinal Nichols called on Catholics to express their penance for sins by avoiding meat - a call widely understood to mean a green light for eating fish.

Vegetarian members of the faithful were encouraged to choose something else to give up. Cardinal Nichols explained at the time: "The Bishops' Conference has decided to invite Catholics to understand again the importance of self-denial, which springs from that self-sacrificing love of Christ who denied himself that we might have life.

"What better day than Friday because it's the day on which our Lord died and made that ultimate self-sacrifice?

"Not eating meat on a Friday is a gesture, a reminder of something that tells us every week we have a very particular take on life. The gift of faith. It's something we treasure." 

Daily Telegraph, October 25th, 2014

The Atheists' favourite Vicar


Pop star turned broadcaster - and priest - Richard Coles tells Sally Saunders about sex; drugs and rock'n'roll"

An entertaining and sympathetic article in the Lifestyle section of a recent Sunday Telegraph is worth a read. Access it here

October 19th, 2014

Women Bishops at last - three cheers for the C of E

The Church of England has long had a strong streak of pragmatism running right through it that has enabled it successfully to adapt to changing circumstances ever since it got started in the English Reformation. Back then, it helped the fledgling Church steer a survival course as monarchs veered from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism in all but name, and then back to somewhere in the middle. And that same innate spirit of pragmatism was conspicuously on show as the General Synod in York voted through women bishops by the necessary two-thirds margin. Some of those casting their ballot in favour hadn't actually changed their minds about opposing the core idea since it was rejected 18 months ago, but they have realised in the interim the damage that a further refusal would do -both to internal church unity (the overwhelming majority of Anglicans are in favour), and to the image of their church in wider society.  It would look, frankly, so out of touch with the real world as to be utterly irrelevant.

And the supporters of women bishops - including those senior female clerics most likely to benefit by the vote and break through this latest ecclesiastical glass ceiling any day soon - have been unfailingly polite and muted in arguing their case. They stressed - as Jane Hedges, dean of Norwich Cathedral did in these pages at the weekend - the paramount need to understand where opponents are coming from, and walk a mile in their shoes.

Such a profound spirit of compromise is among the most attractive features of Anglicanism - certainly to this member of the unbending Church of Rome. The urge to find a consensus that keeps the whole show together and on the road is, finally, the most powerful instinct of all in the Church of England, which should ensure that it is always with us.

The vote in favour of worm bishops is, then, both a landmark and routine. With so many of the able and dynamic priests in the Church of England now women, restricting bishops' hats to men would have been proof positive of a mad, self-destructive streak had it persisted much longer. And since the day in 1992 that the Church allowed women priests, this decision has always been inevitable.

If the ease with which female vicars were accepted back then is anything to go by, in a couple of years' time churchgoers will be struggling to remember why everyone got so worked up in the first place about women bishops. We may even have a female Archbishop of Canterbury in post.

Praise is therefore due all round. Had it happened quicker, it might have won the CofE more public respect, but alienated, possibly fatally, the Catholic wing that is a useful check and balance within a Church that remains an assembly of its various parts. Had it taken even longer for it to be agreed - because eventually, even if Parliament had to intervene and force the matter, it would have come to pass one day - too much damage would have been done to go forward with any sort of shared purpose.

So the right decision, reached at the right pace, and sufficient to keep our national church doing a bit better than ticking over. With a new injection of female talent in its most senior ranks, and the chance finally to concentrate efforts on what really matters - the issues Jesus talked about in the Gospels - this might even be the start of a minor renaissance. But let us not get carried away.

Peter Stanford
A former editor of the Catholic Herald
July 15th, 2014

The future of the Chapels Royal

The two Chapels Royal at St James's Palace are beautiful, but they are also costly, and following Margaret Hodge and her Parliamentary Accounts Committee's swipe at the royal finances in January, they are now under the scrutiny of the Queen's money-men. Sir Alan Reid, Keeper of the Privy Purse, has had his team looking for areas ripe for pruning, and first in the headlights is the ecclesiastical household.

Between them the two chapels operate on just 44 Sundays a year. Unlike their money-spinning equivalents at Windsor and Hampton Court they open only for worship. The public make up the congregation and no royals have attended Sunday service there since Mrs Thatcher was a regular.

The chapels have a team of around 48 clergy (although only one is full-time), a choir of six men and ten boys, an assistant organist and the 'Organist, Choirmaster and Composer' (an exalted position once held by Boyce, Blow and Handel).

The six adult choristers are professionals, and get paid for weekly services plus additional fees for extras such as royal weddings. The ten choirboys - known as the Children of the Chapel Royal - are chosen from the City of London School and receive bursaries. The Organist, Choirmaster and Composer receives more than £20,000 a year for his part-time role. There is also a paid, full- time Serjeant of the Vestry and a Keeper of the Chapel and Clerk of the Vestry (both honorary).

So how to pare back these expenses? The weight of history wouldn't allow services to stop completely - the Chapel Royal even attended Henry VIII at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Early thoughts are that all services should be held in the Chapel Royal proper whilst the Queen's Chapel is opened to the public with some of the chapel treasures - never normally viewable - on display. It would be only the second part of the central London royal estate to be permanently open to the public after the Queen's Gallery, and a Royal Collection source has estimated that income from opening the Queen's Chapel would be £550,000 in the first year.

Plans are being drawn up and it is expected that insiders will start firing-up the old choristers' association as the main opposition to the changes. We'll keep you posted.

The Oldie, June 2014


Is Britain really a Christian Nation?

That's the view of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, he observed: 'A Christian country as a nation of believers? No. A Christian country in the sense of still being very much saturated by this vision of the world and shaped by it? Yes.'

His observations were borne out by the paper's poll. Only 14 per cent of respondents described themselves as practising Christians, while 38 per cent described themselves as non-practising Christians and 41 per cent as non-religious. An interesting group was the two per cent that didn't know. Just over half, 56 per cent, said Britain was a Christian country; 30 per cent said not; 14 per cent didn't know.

Unsurprisingly, it was oldies who were clearest in their sense of Britain's Christian identity: 73 per cent of over-65s said it was. Certainly that's the country in which oldies grew up. Most over-65s will have been educated in schools where Christian religious instruction rather than religious education was the norm; in other words you were taught about Christianity as a matter of received faith, not the quasi-anthropological, multi-faith subject in today's state school curriculum. Which isn't to say that religious instruction was necessarily done well. My uncle, who is 90, remembers these classes as a matter of teachers reading from scripture: there was little or no effort to engage the boys' interest.

What you did have were Sunday schools, where parents could offload their children on a Sunday afternoon to get proper religious instruction. The movement, founded by Robert Raikes - you can see his statue on the Victoria Embankment in London - was at its peak in the :88os when some 5.5 million children attended, but it survived in robust shape until the 19503. Many working-class children would have gone to them and their decline has a good deal to do with the present crisis in Britain - the strange death of working-class Christianity. Private school pupils, with their continuing regime of school chapel attendance, probably have a better chance of some sort of religious formation.
As for Catholics, the most critical development has been the steep decline in the numbers of nuns. They were the backbone of Catholic primary education for boys and girls. A friend, a university chaplain, has observed that the biggest divide he notices is the one between the generation taught by nuns and the generation since; those the nuns taught are indefinably assured about what they should believe, even if they don't believe it. Those taught subsequently by lay teachers are less well grounded in what they're meant to know - the stuff of religion.

Linda Woodhead, the brilliant sociologist of religion, has said that if the churches are to survive, religious instruction must be done in the family, as is the case with minority religious communities such as Sikhs. I can't see it myself. Most Brits regard religious education as a matter for schools - they don't have the knowledge themselves to impart. The best hope is for more Christians to take on the governance of free schools and academies to expand the provision of that elusive thing, the Christian ethos; that way, if parents want a Christian education for their children, they can get it.

Melanie McDonagh, R.C. commentator, writing in 'The Oldie', June 2014  

Church fears end for Parish Papers
Church leaders fear for the future of parish magazines, as one of the oldest is to close after 115 years.

The parish magazine at the Brontes' former home of Haworth, West Yorks, is thought to rfave first gone on sale around 1899, growing from a single page into a 12-page magazine. The current edition will be the last after the church, which hosts a busy website, found that only half of the 200 copies being printed were sold.

"It is costing us a lot of money, and like all organisations we have to make hard decisions about spending," said the Rev Peter Mayo-Smith, the vicar of Haworth. "We recognise certain groups of people really love paper so we might go to a quarterly, glossy magazine, rather than [writing about] who is doing the tea rota and who is handing out the hymn books." He added that the exact age of the magazine was unknown but that its roots may extend back to the Brontes.

In 2009, the Church of England celebrated 150 years of parish magazines. Now, there are signs that many are changing from monthly publications to more expensive, quarterly magazines.

The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Rev Nick Baines, a communications expert at the Church, said: "The whole media world has changed. People look at a church on the internet not wandering around buildings.If we are trying to communicate more widely there are other, more imaginative cost-effective ways of doing it. "What we should not be is slaves to nostalgia and see if there is a better way of doing things.The other thing is you have to have the people to produce a church magazine which can be a problem these days."

A recent report for the Church of Scotland pointed to the decline for church magazines in general. "One of the questions the Church will have to face is whether we wish to duplicate in print news items which inevitably appear instantly in electronic form," it warned.

January 28th, 2014

As editor of our magazine, this strikes a chord. I have seen the printed edition, which was once distributed free of charge as part of our mission, drop from a peak of 380 to some 70 copies each month, partly as a result of making a charge in the last few years, but also due to increasing accessing of the online version, which is inevitably more colourful and which costs nothing to access and read.

Please Don't Drop the Devil

Christina Odone, doughty R.C. journalist, responds persuasively to the piece below

The devil is in the detail, but nowhere else, if the Church of England has any say in the matter. Henceforth, Anglican christenings will drop the word "devil" from the service. Parents and godparents will opt for a new formula, renouncing "evil" and "empty promises" instead of the devil.

What a pity. The devil has been with us for millennia, serving a vital purpose. Whether you see him (I still think of the anti-Christ as a "him") as a horned fellow with a pitchfork and goatee, or, Minotaur-like, as half-man half-beast, the devil personifies the intangible and unmentionable wickedness in the world. It may be childish to hanker for a solid figure of fear and loathing, but I suspect it is a good thing for human beings to share a basic, even primitive, sense of evil.

When being wicked is nuanced and subtle, the very worst can appear sophisticated; when bad is an ambiguous term, being on guard becomes a guessing game. I don't want to be like Aunt Ada in Cold Comfort Farm, spending my life in the shadow of "something nasty in the woodshed". That kind of vagueness thrills in fiction but in real life it's confusing.

There's nothing vague, thank goodness, about the devil. Stupendously, unashamedly evil, Satan has fallen from on high and rubs his hands with glee at the prospect of tempting us to do the same. He pleads and entices, then thumps us -just like the worst bully in the playground or at work.

Whether he succeeds in making us do his bidding, as with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, or fails, as with Jesus in the desert, the devil offers the easiest lesson in ethics. Few children today are taught, as the nuns in Rome taught me and my five-year-old classmates, that a guardian angel sat on our right shoulder, urging us to do good, while a devil sat on the other, tempting us to do
bad. But Beelzebub emerges as such a vivid figure, if sometimes as garish as the bad guy in a Disney film, that even the tiniest child -and not only one raised in a Christian household -recognises what he represents.

The Church should hold on to such a powerful figure. I can see that the devil is controversial in a culture that seeks to blame every vice on poverty, discrimination or spending cuts. The notion of truly unmitigated evil sounds truly subversive in this context, so perhaps the C of E can pass off the devil as a prop in RE lessons. This should not prove difficult given that most schools' RE features nowadays a hodge-podge of the major faiths - and the devil stars in all of them.

Even if through subterfuge, Satan must be spared. He has served Christianity so well: by capturing the imagination of painters, poets, politicians, even the Rolling Stones, he has ensured that the Christian concept of evil is common currency. Or at least, it has been. Today, things look less promising as Britons, so au fait with Americanisms and online jargon, struggle with biblical references.

Scholars point out how many everyday expressions originated in the King James Bible - "a law unto themselves" and "a thorn in the flesh" are but two examples. But Michael Symmons Roberts, who won the Forward poetry prize last year, has complained that if he wants to reach a young audience, he must prune his poetical lexicon of biblical references. Should he mention "the Ark" or "Bathsheba" he cannot be sure anyone under 40 will know what he's getting at.

The devil has survived "Bathsheba" (and David and Goliath too, I warrant) so it would be a shame for the C of E to ban him. In so doing they would rob Anglicans of an easily identifiable foe; and our language of its richness.

Sin no more: dropping the devil from Anglican baptisms

Traditionalists and reactionaries will either laugh or weep at this latest piece of C of E trendiness.  Christina Odone has a very different view above...

The Church of England should remove references to sin from baptism services because people associate the word with "sex and cream cakes" rather than religious and moral transgressions, clergy behind the reforms said yesterday.

The Church was yesterday accused of "dumbing down" after trialling a new wording for christenings in which parents and godparents are no longer asked to "repent of their sins" and "reject the devil".

The new wording was drawn up after a request from a group of clergymen from Liverpool, who wanted the service to be made easier to understand. The group included the Rev Dr Tim Stratford, who has since become the Archdeacon of Leicester and is also a member of the Church's 19-strong Liturgical Commission, which drew up the new wording.

"There are questions over how the word 'sin' is received," he said. "There are two ways it crosses people's mind instantly: one way is, it's all about sex. The other way is, it's all about cream cakes and eating less. We are talking about something that is much bigger than that."

He said he would not oppose the inclusion of the word 'sin' in the service, but added: "There is a case for exploring whether we can talk about sin more deeply, without using the actual word 'sin' that trips some people up."

The new wording, which is being trialled from this month until Easter in 400 of the Church's 14,000 parishes, instead asks parents and godparents instead to "reject evil".

The Archdeacon defended the cutting of the reference to the 'devil'. "The devil is a very strong image and the image that will cross people's minds is probably a little red creature with a pitchfork and pointed ears because that's what popular art has done to the devil," he said. "Am I sorry society is losing its sense of the devil? Yes. Do I think that it is easy to use that word in a baptism service in which there are large numbers of people who are not familiar with the language of the church? I think that's a discussion we have got to have."

He said that as a parish priest on a large estate in Liverpool he could see that some "phrases and poetic sentences" in the baptism service were not being understood properly. The clergy, he said, wanted the messages to be "communicated more strongly."

But the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, told the Mail on Sunday that the change constituted "dumbing down" and that the Church should instead spend more time "preparing people for these great rites of passage".

The Church of England stressed yesterday that the new wording was subject to approval by the General Synod. Even if approved, it "would not replace or revise the current Baptism service but would be available for use as alternatives to three parts of the service".

Emily Gosden, Daily Telegraph, January 7th, 2014

'Overzealous' Church vets 58,000 workers in a year

Volunteer bell-ringers, florists and organists risk being pushed out of the Church of England because of a regime of "overzealous" criminal record checks, the Archbishop of Canterbury has been warned.

Figures obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that at least 58,000 people have been vetted by the Church in the past 12 months before being allowed to work in parishes or take back-office roles. More than 80 per cent of the checks were on volunteers, it emerged.  In many cases, vetting procedures are used in relation to adults working with children in Sunday schools and church creches - a target of the Government's Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). But large numbers of volunteers with positions including organists, choir members, bell-ringers, altar servers, welcome stewards and tour guides have also been subjected to criminal record checks.

The figures were revealed after the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, said this year that the Church was being "utterly ruthless" in its approach to criminal record checks, even though cases of abuse were "negligible". The Archbishop said volunteers refusing checks would be told: "You can't come to church." But campaigners warned that blanket checks were unnecessary, would "breed suspicion and make long-time volunteers feel that they were not welcome".  It was also claimed that the move created a "false feeling of security" and did little to weed out child abuse.

The comments were made despite government reforms designed to stop institutions such as schools, charities and churches imposing cumbersome vetting procedures.The Coalition pledged to scale back Labour's "vetting and barring scheme" - introduced after the murders of Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in 2002 by school caretaker Ian Huntley - amid concerns the process had spiralled out of control.

As part of the new service founded in late 2012, only those in sensitive posts with intensive contact with children or vulnerable adults need to undergo criminal record checks. But the Manifesto Club, which campaigns against the regulation of everyday life, said the Church was taking an "overzealous" approach.

Its director, Josie Appleton, said: "There is simply no need to vet volunteers before they arrange flowers or welcome visitors at the church door. Blanket criminal record checks breed suspicion and make long-time volunteers feel that they are not welcome."  She added: "What happened to the Christian values of goodwill and good faith? General vigilance and adult responsibility would do far more to protect children."

But the C of E insisted it would "make no apology for taking action to ensure our systems are as robust as possible".

Graeme Paton, Daily Telegraph

Carey's vision for the Church might kill it off

In this stimulating and sombre article for the Daily Telegraph, controversial commentator A.N.Wilson says that the 'vibrant' services favoured by the former Archbishop will not bring back the crowds

I go to a well-attended church in London, but I have made frequent .travels throughout England in the past year (literary festivals, television work, visiting friends). On Sunday mornings, I have gone to church. When staying with friends near Canterbury, I have enjoyed splendid liturgy, intelligent sermons and often part of a huge congregation. So what do I make of Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, saying that the Church is "only one generation from extinction, its clergy gripped by a feeling of defeat" and its congregations rn down with "heaviness"? Is he suffering from peevish-old-man syndrome?

Alas, Lord Carey is right. Come away n Canterbury with me into the parishes I have visited - in the West intry, in East Anglia, in the Midlands and the North. I have attended at least 10 churches in the past year - all very different in their history, but in each case I have had the same experience. At the age of 63, I have been the youngest person present by 20 years. The congregation has seldom numbered double figures. The C of E is a moribund institution kept going by and for old people. They are ministered to (perhaps I was just unlucky) by an ill-educated clergy with nil public-speaking ability.

Lord Carey, as an evangelical, thinks that the cure for all this is to reach out to young people with such initiatives as the Alpha Course (a basic grounding in the faith, which began at Holy Trinity Brompton). He wants the sort of services that such Christians consider "vibrant".

Evangelicals like him have had some success, mainly in suburban parishes, where congregations can be numbered in their hundreds. But these places, which appear to buck the trend, are in catchment areas of tens of thousands of people, none of whom would go near such an evangelical Church, with its outreach, Toddlers' Praise and speaking in tongues.

There are two simple reasons for this, and there is nothing anyone can say that will make these reasons go away.

The first is sex. Traditional Christianity taught that there is no permitted sexual act outside marriage. All but no one now - even Christians - really believes this. What used to be called "living in sin" is absolutely normal. Nearly all young people, gay or straight, when they reach a certain moment in their relationship, try living together. The Churches can either back down and say that for 2,000 years they have been talking nonsense about sex; or they can dig in their heels. Either way, the Church is diminished.

The second reason is a much bigger thing. That is the decline of belief itself. Most people simply cannot subscribe to the traditional creeds. No number of Alpha courses can make people believe that God took human form of a Virgin, or rose from the dead. They simply can't swallow it. They see no reason, therefore, to listen to a Church that propounds these stories and then presumes to tell them how to behave in the bedroom.

When there was a tradition of church-going, there was more room for unbelief. When a young priest told Archbishop Michael Ramsey that he had lost his faith in God, Ramsey replied, after a long pause: "It doesn't matter - it doesn't matter." You can't imagine Lord Carey saying that.

Unbelief, and the change in sexual mores, affects not only the decline in Anglican congregations, but the entire history of the Western Church. The "Francis effect" is said to be drawing back mass attendance in Italy. But the Pope's focus groups, asking what the faithful believe, will yield similar results as they would in the Church of England - people don't think it is sinful to live together, they don't think it is sinful to be gay, and they no longer really believe in the Incarnation.

This is dire news for institutional Christianity. Yes, pockets of prayer still exist - of course they do, in the surviving religious orders in both Churches, in individuals and in parishes. Some people like me will always feel their hearts restless until they rest in God. And we feast on the riches that the Church provides. Go to church and you are not alone. Stretching back into Platonic and Jewish pre-Christian times, the wise of old are there to speak to you, through liturgy, Scripture, architecture and music.

But such habits of Common Prayer (as we still call it, some of us) are a knack, like the enjoyment of classical music (which is also, we are told, something that is catastrophically on the wane in Britain). Lose the knack and it is very difficult to reclaim it.

Most decent, intelligent, middle-aged or young people I know have no sense at all of what churches are for. The trouble is, so many of those who run the institutions share this deficiency. Those of us whose minds are filled (whatever we believe) with the words and patterns of the old liturgy feel like the old man in Nineteen Eighty-Four, O'Brien, who is one of the last left alive who can remember the words of Oranges and Lemons.

Maybe, in "reviving" a Church along Lord Carey's lines, we would actually finish it off altogether. Maybe for Churches, as for people, there really are fates worse than death.

O'Brien asked Winston (the hero of Nineteen Eighty-Four) to propose a toast - perhaps to drink to the future. Winston instead proposes "To the past!". 'The past is more important,' agreed O'Brien gravely." I'd drink to that.

December 2013

Defender of the Faith

Christianity is beginning to disappear in its own birthplace due to a wave of "organised persecution" across the Middle East, the Prince of Wales warned last night.

In an impassioned intervention, he said that the world is in danger of losing something "irreplaceably precious", with communities mat trace their history back to Jesus's time under threat from fundamentalist Islamist militants.

He said he had become "deeply troubled" by the plight of his "brothers and sisters in Christ". The Prince, a longstanding advocate of dialogue between religions, voiced dismay at seeing his work to "build bridges and dispel ignorance" being "deliberately destroyed" by those attempting to exploit the Arab Spring for their own ends.

He devoted a Christmas reception at Clarence House for religious leaders to draw attention to the threat to Christians in recent months across Egypt, Syria, Iraq and other parts of the region. In his address, the Prince urged Christians, Muslims and Jews to unite in "outrage" as he warned that the elimination of Christianity in much of the Middle East would be a "major blow to peace".

"I have for some time now been deeply troubled by the growing difficulties faced by Christian communities in various parts of the Middle East," he said. "It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are increasingly being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants." Earlier in the day he heard vivid testimony from Christians who have fled to Britain, as he visited the London cathedral of the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church centre in Stevenage, Herts.

The Prince said: "Christianity was literally born in the Middle East and we must not forget our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in Christ. "Yet today the Middle East and North Africa has the lowest concentration of Christians in the world, just four per cent of the population, and it is clear that the Christian population has dropped dramatically over the last century and is falling still further. We all lose something immensely and irreplaceably precious when such a rich tradition dating back 2,000 years begins to disappear."

He added: "For 20 years I have tried to build bridges between Islam and Christianity and to dispel ignorance and misunderstanding ... we have now reached a crisis where the bridges are rapidly being deliberately destroyed by those with a vested interest in doing so. This is achieved through intimidation, false accusation and organised persecution including upon Christian communities in the Middle East at the present time."

 John Bingham Religious Affairs Editor, The Daily Telegraph, December 2013

Pruning the Prelates?

The Church may cut bishop numbers as congregations continue to fall

The Church of England is considering "radical" plans to cut the number of bishops as it faces up to a collapse in congregations.  Members of the ruling General Synod were told that dioceses could be merged and the role of bishops reassessed to cope with a drop in donations as ageing congregations dwindle.

Lord Carey, a former archbishop of Canterbury, has warned that the Church could be a "generation away from extinction". The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, also urged the Church to begin a missionary campaign, comparing its current arguments to "rearranging furniture when the house is on fire". 

Despite strong growth in some parts of the Church, especially evangelical congregations, average Sunday attendances have almost halved in the past 40 years to 807,000. The Census in 2011 showed that the proportion of the population of England and Wales describing themselves as Christian had dropped from 72 per cent to 59 per cent in a decade.

In a written question tabled to the Synod, the Rev Dr Patrick Richmond, from Norwich, asked what the Church was doing to address the "impending human and financial resource challenges". In a formal reply, Prof Michael Clarke, chairman of the Church's Dioceses Commission, pointed to a scheme to merge three• dioceses in West Yorkshire. The dioceses of Bradford, Wakefield and Ripon and Leeds are to be replaced with a "super-diocese" under a single bishop, in the first move of its type in modern times. The Rt Rev Stephen Platten, the final Bishop of Wakefield, is to return to parish ministry in London. His counterpart in Ripon, the Rt Rev John Packer, is to retire.

The Church has 112 bishops, with 43 in charge of dioceses in England, a figure soon to be reduced to 41. Prof Clarke said that more cuts could be on the way.

John Binqham Religious Affairs Editor, The Daily Telegraph, November 2013

Faith is back at the heart of government, says Baroness Warsi

Faith is being put back at the "heart of government," as it was under Sir Winston Churchill and Baroness Thatcher, a minister will say today. The Coalition is one of the "most pro-faith governments in the West," Baroness Warsi, the Minister for Faith, will say. "More often than not, people who do God do good."

Churchill and Thatcher would have welcomed the Coalition's promise to protect the right of town halls to hold prayers and the creation of more faith schools under Michael Cove's Free Schools programme, she will say.

Public policy was "secularised" under the previous, Labour government, Lady Warsi will tell an audience at the Churchill Archives at the University of Cambridge. But Churchill saw totalitarian regimes as "godless" while Thatcher regarded politics as second to Christianity in denning society, she will say.  "We see flickers of Churchill's flame and echoes of Thatcher's sermons in all we do," she will say. "But this was never inevitable. When we came back into power in 2010,1 felt that some of the reverence for religion had disappeared from politics. I found that the last government didn't just refuse to 'do God' - they didn't get God either."

The Coalition ruled out a ban on the full-face veil out of respect for religious liberty, she will say, also citing the welcome it gave to a ruling which saw Nadia Eweida win the right to wear a small crucifix at work for British Airways.

Lady Warsi, a former chairman of the Conservative Party, will say that religious groups must be allowed to provide public services without the state being "suspicious of their motives". "I know that Mrs Thatcher would have approved of devolving power to faith communities," Baroness Warsi will say. "As she once said: 'I wonder whether the State services would have done as much for the man who fell among thieves as the Good Samaritan did for him?'"

Of Churchill she will say: "He took the bigots to task, berating one anti-Semitic politician and telling him his views did not represent the Conservative Party, arguing that it was quite possible to be a good Englishman and a good Jew. "And that has inspired me again and again to say that it is entirely possible to be British and Muslim."

David Cameron is a Church of England worshipper but has said his faith "comes and goes". Tony Blair, the former Labour prime minister, was urged to keep his faith private by his aides. Alastair Campbell famously said: "We don't do God."

Matthew Holehouse, Political Correspondent
Daily Telegraph, November 12th, 2013

The Dawkins Delusion?

Interesting man, Richard Dawkins. In interviews for his new book, An Appetite for Wonder, he has been talking about the cultural value of Anglicanism. At Oundle School he led a schoolboy insurgency against kneeling in chapel, which was followed by an interview with the headmaster. 'It was a revelation,' he told the Spectator's Douglas Carswell, 'to talk to a decent, humane, intelligent Christian, embodying Anglicanism at its tolerant best.'

Indeed, he says, 'I'm kind of grateful to the Anglican tradition for its benign tolerance. I sort of suspect that many who profess Anglicanism probably don't believe any of it at all in any case but vaguely enjoy it, as I do... I suppose I'm a cultural Anglican and I see evensong in a country church through much the same eyes as I see a village cricket match on the village green. I have a certain love for it.' He would, he says, miss churches if they didn't exist. 'I would feel an aesthetic loss.' And he thinks knowledge of the Bible is important for the culture.

Yet Richard Dawkins has done as much as anyone to make the Bible seem not just redundant, but malign. He himself draws a clear distinction between Anglicanism and militant Islam, but in his best-known book,'The God Delusion', it was religion per se that was the object of his enmity.

He can take satisfaction in having won the culture war, at least in England. When he observed, in another interview, that 'I think we are winning. We are all moving in the same direction. I get the feeling more and more that religion is being left behind,' I think he is right. At a dinner party, he says, 'you do not have to be reticent in what you say. You do not have to look around and say "I hope I am not offending anyone."' Well yes, that's pretty much my experience too.

Yet I would take issue with the Prof in his contention that his victory will have no moral results, that society will be no less kindly as it becomes less Christian. Asked whether the moral underpinning of British society is not profoundly Christian, Prof Dawkins responds: 'I don't buy that. I live in a post-Christian world in Oxford... and there is absolutely no tendency for rioting and mayhem and it is extremely civilised.'

Yes, but. The Oxford in which he lives is profoundly influenced by Christianity, in a thousand subtle ways, from the physical presence of churches, to college grace, to the age of so many academics, formed, like the Prof, in an environment in which knowledge of the gospels could be taken as a given. A cultural revolution takes a couple of generations to come about. Most middle-aged atheists and agnostics will, like him, have experienced a world that could take for granted that everyone would be shaped by the Christian morality of the Prodigal Son, the widow's mite, turning the other cheek. The precepts of Christianity were shared by all, not just churchgoers.

Once that ceases to be the case, as is happening already, we shall see whether our culture will indeed be more kindly; I am sure it is already less honest. I am afraid when that moral framework goes, the consequences will be grimmer than he imagines.

Catholics may  let CofE share communion

By John Bingham

The ban on Anglicans receiving Roman Catholic Holy Communion could be relaxed as part of moves to bring the two Churches together after centuries of division, one of Britain's most senior Catholic clerics has suggested. . The Most Rev Bernard Longley, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, signalled that restrictions might be "reconsidered" as a result of "deeper sharing" between the two Churches.

Although he insisted he was expressing a "personal view", the Archbishop's comments will be closely watched as he is the senior Catholic cleric responsible for dialogue with the Anglicans. His remarks were warmly welcomed by leading figures in the Church of England.

For centuries, the issue of communion was a source of some of the deepest and most bitter division between Protestants and Catholics.

In the 16th and 17th centuries Christians from both traditions were killed, in part because of disagreements over transubstantiation - whether the bread and wine in communion was really transformed into the body and blood of Christ or was simply a symbol.

Archbishop Longley is the Catholic co-chairman of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission.  In an interview with the Church of Ireland Gazette, he said that although the two Churches now work closely on ecumenical matters it was a source of "pain" that they still could not share communion.

But he pointed to a Vatican document from 1993 as well as a paper produced by bishops in the British Isles which allow non-Roman Catholics to receive sacraments in very special circumstances, including if they are in danger of death.

"I could imagine and foresee one of the fruits of our ecumenical engagement as moving towards a deeper understanding of communion and a deeper sharing between our churches," he added.

The Rt Rev Christopher Hill, the Anglican Bishop of Guildford, welcomed Archbishop Longley's comments and said that the influence of Pope Francis could mean that the time is ripe for change.

Sunday Telegraph, October 13th, 2013

No place for Jesus in R.E., but there's always Gandhi

Aged eight, my daughter knew that she must . take her shoes off when entering a mosque. But ask her to recite the Ten Commandments, and she couldn't. This, despite being at a Catholic state primary. I wasn't too surprised, therefore, to learn that religious education in state schools is inadequate - so much so that Ofsted claims most pupils don't know who Jesus was.

This is not a metropolitan, or even a British, phenomenon. One irate mother tweeted last night that in her child's primary school in Ireland, RE consisted of watching videos of Gandhi. (In his Ben Kingsley reincarnation, I am willing to bet.) I have nothing against the Mahatma, who probably does come as close to holiness as human beings can get. But if Gandhi deserves a role in RE, Jesus should star. This is a Christian country, not a Hindu one.

Yet Jesus is being sidelined, and His teachings with Him. If we treat the nation's religion so casually, as if we valued it no more and no less than an inspiring human rights campaigner, it stands to reason that we should erase it from serious places such as the courtroom. It becomes perfectly legitimate for magistrates to propose to remove the Bible from the court - which is what they plan to do next month. Henceforth, they suggest, when witnesses have to swear to tell the truth, they'll just hold up their hand and... and what? Cross their hearts and hope to die? Mouth the Scouts' pledge, now that God's been banned from that, too?

Christianity was once the lingua franca in the West. Today, it is as exotic as Shiva, Ganesha and Kali, of Gandhi's Hindu faith. Sadly, ignorance often feeds hostility. Grown-ups unschooled in the basics of their religion - the catechism, say, or the parables of the New Testament - are suspicious of its influence. Their
discomfort grows with talk, now unfamiliar, of sin and Judgment Day. Jesus may be hailed as meek and mild, but his message sounds scary to an audience used to the comforting tut-tuts of their shrink, or the happy pill sold by their GP. Far easier to quash such disturbing talk and banish the trouble-makers. Or, at least, warn them not to pipe up in public with their puritanical notions.

I wrote about this recently in my ebook No God Zone. In the course of my research, I interviewed men and women who had learnt that religion had become a secret pastime to practise behind closed doors. Each one had to choose between their work and their faith - or between the boss and God. They included a nurse, a couples' counsellor and a pharmacist.

They had hoped that the state, which pays lip service to freedom of conscience, would exempt them from doing what they held to be wrong. The pharmacist who didn't believe in abortion, for instance, wanted to be exempt from selling the morning-after pill; the couples' counsellor who didn't believe in gay marriage wanted to be exempt from advising a homosexual couple. They were disabused of this blind hope when they were sacked, suspended from their job, or humiliated in public. In effect, a number of professions now are closed to believers.

But, as the magistrates' proposal proves, ignorance of religion affects lives beyond the workplace. People's identity, not just their job, is at stake. Who are we, and what do we believe in? When Christianity was at the centre of British life, that answer was clear - from classroom to courtroom. Not everyone practised, or believed, in the nation's Church. But they knew what it stood for. Today, few can distinguish between Jesus and Gandhi, or Shiva and Yahweh. That's not multiculturalism, but the hollowing out of culture. We are the poorer for it.

Cristina Odone
October 9th, 2013


Welby: World Christians are being martyred for their faith

Christians are being martyred for their faith in parts of the Muslim world, but should still pray for terrorists, the Archbishop of Canterbury said yesterday.

The Most Rev Justin Welby said that there had been more than 80 Christian "martyrs" in the past few days alone. He was speaking about the bombing of All Saints' Anglican church in Peshawar, Pakistan, in which 85 were killed and more than 200 injured.

Christian communities which have existed "in many cases since the days of Saint Paul" are now under threat in countries such as Syria and Egypt Last month, around 100 Christian sites were attacked amid turmoil with 42 churches burnt to the ground. Ancient Christian communities in Syria have also been singled out for violence.

Speaking during an interview Radio 4, Archbishop Welby, who leads almost 80 million Anglicans around the world, said it was the duty of Christians to pray for their killers.  He said that religious conflicts were bound up with other social and historical grievances, but that this could not explain several recent attacks on Christians.

"I think Christians have been attacked in some cases simply because of their faith," he said.  "I think it is true to say — and also in Peshawar — that we have seen more than 80 martyrs in the last few days. They have been attacked because they were testifying to their faith in Jesus Christ by going to church. That is outside any acceptable expression... of religious difference."

 He said the Church had raised it concerns with William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, and called on other governments to act to protect Christians.  He added: "As Christians, one of the things is that we pray for justice and particularly the issues around the anger that comes from this kind of killing. But we are also called, as Jesus did at the Cross, to pray for those who are doing us harm."

John Bingham, Religious Affairs Correspondent, Daily Telegraph

Faith Schools 'Too Middle Class'

Middle-class parents are increasingly monopolising places at the most sought-after faith schools amid fresh claims that religious secondaries are becoming more socially selective.

New research shows that religious schools are far less likely to reflect the economic status of families in the local area than traditional comprehensives.

Around a fifth of secondary schools in England have a particular religious affiliation. But a study found that more than two thirds of the most socially exclusive schools are faith-based. One Church of England school, St Mary Redcliffe and Temple in Bristol, takes just under 8 per cent of pupils from poor families even though more than half of children in the area are in deprived households.

The Fair Admissions Campaign, which wants to end religious selection, claimed that many faith schools have overly complicated admissions policies that favour middle-class families who can play the system to secure places. Researchers analysed the number of children eligible for free school meals in all non-academically selective state secondaries in England. They compared these with the number of poor pupils in the area using data from the Office for National Statistics.

Some 19 per cent of comprehensives are faith-based, the study said, but 68 of the 100 "worst offenders" are religiously selective.

Faith school admissions policies have been repeatedly defended by religious leaders, who claim they ensure schools give priority to the children of true believers. Earlier this week, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster,   insisted that parental preference for a faith-based education was a "precious" human right.

But Rabbi Dr Jonathan Remain, head of the Accord group, which is a part of the  Fair Admissions Campaign, said: "It is astonishing that faith schools, whose remit should be to look after the needy and vulnerable, seem to be ignoring them."

Graeme Paton, Education Editor, Daily Telegraph
September 21st, 2013

Pray consider: would God be a Lib Dem or a Somerset Tory?
See also  Terry Wogan's comment below

The question of which political party God would join is unlikely to have crossed the minds of many notable theologians.   But that is precisely what is being asked by Westminster MPs after a minister declared that God is a Lib Dem.

Steve Webb, the pensions minister, said that evidence in the Christian gospels suggested that God shared the values of members of Nick Clegg's party. He made the claim, which he admitted "will shock or offend some" in the introduction to a new book entitled Liberal Democrats Do God.  "The most fundamental reason why Christians should feel at home in the Liberal Democrats is that the character of God, as revealed in the Christian Gospel, would suggest that God must be a liberal," Mr Webb wrote. The MP for Thornbury and Yate in Gloucestershire added: "This assertion will shock or offend some, but I believe that there is no other conclusion that can be drawn from a reading of the New Testament."

However, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative MP for nearby North East Somerset, said that "everyone knows that God is a  Somerset Conservative".  "I think it's highly unlikely that God is particularly interested in the minutiae of party politics but if He were, everyone knows that God is a Somerset Conservative," Mr Mogg said.   "Joseph of Arimathea is well known to have brought Christ to visit Glastonbury when Christ was a schoolboy - that would indicate a Somerset connection, and all sensible people in Somerset are Conservatives, so we get Him as a Somerset Tory."

Despite disagreeing with Mr Webb's views, Mr Rees-Mogg said that he was impressed that the minister was "willing to speak up for his faith".  "I think he's a first class minister, and I think that in his role, you would want to think that what you were doing was the Christian thing to be doing," Mr Rees-Mogg said.  "So I rather admire Steve Webb for saying it, but I'm not going to let him get away with the idea that God lives in Gloucestershire and is a Lib Dem."

The book is a collection of essays by Lib Dems who aim to show Christianity can contribute positively to politics. Its title is a riposte to Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's former spin doctor, who once said of the last Labour government: "We don't do God." Tim Farron, the Lib Dem president, wrote in his contribution: "Liberal Democrats stand alone as the defender of the rights of all human beings."

Peter Dominiczak

Wogan's World

The one and only Mr W. adds his comment on the heavenly politics debate in his weekly column

According to Steve Webb, the Lib Dem Pensions Minister, although his party may be flagging in the popularity stakes with the public, it none the less as the unswerving support of Almighty God.

Nothing new there; since man first crawled from the primeval ooze, both sides in every dispute, political or military, have claimed that God is on their side. The belief is everywhere. The Liverpool striker, Louis Suarez, looks to leaven and blesses himself in thanks to the Man Above every time he scores. The golfer Bernhard Langer gave thanks to 'his God" for helping him win the Masters. Leaving the rest of the field wondering why the Almighty had singled out Bernhard for the trophy while allowing the rest of them to flounder in rough and bunker.

Even if Langer and Suarez say their prayers every morning, and are rigorous in the pursuit of their religious duties, it seems hardly fair for God to single them out for special treatment. Surely they must wait for Heaven to claim their eternal reward?

Mr Webb - who, I would remind you, is in charge of our future in the crucial area of pensions - has more to say in the manner of the Prophets: "The most fundamental reason why Christians should feel at home in the Liberal Democrats is that the character of God, as revealed in the Gospel, would suggest that He must be a liberal. There is no other conclusion that can be drawn from the New Testament."

Well, "stone me!", as Tony Hancock used to say, but I always believed, in common with everybody else brought up in the Christian faith, that the God of the New Testament was one and the same as the God of the Old Testament And the latter was as far removed from Liberal principles of personal freedom and self-determination as you can get. He operated more along the lines of a dictator, and not a benign one either. You toed that line, or you got fire and brimstone on the back of your neck, or a plague of locusts.  He didn't seem big on self-expression. You only had to turn around against his wishes and you were a pillar of salt.

Nowadays, according to Mr Webb, God takes a kindlier, liberal view: He probably is in two minds over tracking, and will listen to both sides of the debate on wind turbines and climate change. Although, as with Suarez, Langer and the Lib Dems, He will probably listen more closely to Sir David Attenborough on climate change.

Last week, I finished on a line from A Little Night Music: "Send in the clowns." The next line is: "Don't bother, they're here."

Oh, and Nick Clegg says he's an atheist.

Sunday Telegraph

Welby: Church on Edge of a Precipice

Archbishop warns Anglicans worldwide that divisions are taking them close to plunging into a 'ravine of intolerance'

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has warned that the Anglican church is tottering on the brink of disintegration amid disputes between liberals and traditionalists. In his most stark comments yet about divisions over issues such as homosexuality, the Most Rev Justin Welby said the Church was coming perilously .close to plunging into a "ravine of intolerance". He even drew parallels between the crisis afflicting the 77million-strong worldwide network of Anglican churches and the atmosphere during the Civil War. And he likened the collective behaviour of the Church to a "drunk man" staggering ever closer to the edge of a cliff. Yet he added that many of the issues over which different factions in the Church were fighting were "incomprehensible" to people outside it.

He spoke out during a sermon in Monterrey, Mexico, which he was visiting as part of a plan to travel to every province of the Anglican Communion at the start of his ministry. The Archbishop, who took office in February, inherited a Church deeply divided at home and abroad. At home, he has been attempting to resolve the seemingly intractable disagreements within the Church of England over women bishops. But the worldwide Anglican Church has also been split between liberal provinces, particularly in North America, and more conservative regions for several years after the US Church consecrated its first openly homosexual bishop.

Archbishop Welby said the Church had to steer a course between, on one hand, compromising so much that it abandoned its "core beliefs" and, on the other, becoming so intolerant that it fractured completely. Addressing a service in Monterrey, he spoke about the life of Jeremy Taylor, a cleric imprisoned after the Civil War. "I sometimes worry that as Anglicans we are drifting back in that direction," he said. "Not consciously, of course, but in an unconscious way that is more dangerous. Like a drunk man walking near the edge of a cliff, we trip and totter and slip and wander, ever nearer to the edge of the precipice.

"It is a dangerous place, a narrow path we walk as Anglicans at present. "On one side is the steep fall into an absence of any core beliefs, a chasm where we lose touch with God, and thus we rely only on ourselves and our own message. On the other side there is a vast fall into a ravine of intolerance and cruel exclusion. It is for those who claim all truth, and exclude any who question."

He went on: "When we fall into this place, we lose touch with human beings and create a small church, or rather many small churches - divided, ineffective in serving the poor, the hungry and the suffering, incapable of living with each other, and incomprehensible to those outside the church.

"We struggle with each other at a time when the Anglican Communion's great vocation as bridge builder is more needed than ever."

By John Bingham, Social Affairs Editor, Daily Telegraph

Threat to church hall meetings for Girl Guides who refuse oath to God

By Victoria Ward, Daily Telegraph

Girl Guide groups who do not pledge allegiance to God should be turfed out of the church halls they meet in, Christian leaders and groups have warned.

It would be "hypocritical" of the 103-year-old movement to expect to use church premises after abandoning its beliefs, Rev Paul Williamson of St George's Church in Feltham, Middlesex, said.  "If the Guide promise does not mention God, I cannot see why they should be on Church premises," he added. "The Girl Guide Association does not realise what it's done. It has not thought through the consequences and has made itself look ridiculous."

The organisation has been plunged into an atheist row after announcing that it is to scrap the traditional oath, replacing references to "God" and "country" with a pledge to "be true to myself and serve the "community".

A group in Harrogate became the first to defy the movement — risking expulsion — by promising that it would be "sticking with the previous promise". Rev Brian Hunt, minister of the church where Harrogate Guides have met for around 50 years, supported their stance, indicating that the unit could not possibly expect to use the facilities otherwise.  "My church allows the Guides to use my premises for free," he said. "And we do that because they've always tried to look after the whole person - body, mind and soul - and we encourage that. I don't think, in fairness, that Girl Guides can expect churches to provide premises for free when they don't believe in God."

Hundreds of Girl Guide groups meet in church halls or premises, which they are often allowed to use for free or for a token amount.  Rev Williamson, a former Scout leader, said most Guide groups did not have the funds to run their own buildings and that schools or councils would charge far more to hire their facilities. "It seems to me the Girl Guides are being doctrinaire, feminist and anti-Church," he said. "How can they expect, as a reputable charity organisation, to go on using church premises whilst telling young girls that they cannot promise their duty to God?"

A Christian Concern spokesman said removing any reference to God from the oath was a "slap in the face" to churches that provide premises as well as the movement's many Christian members and leaders. "It's understandable that some church leaders won't be happy providing premises if the Guides are so insistent on keeping God out of the movement. It puts the movement at odds with Christian belief as well as its original Christian ethos."

A Girlguiding UK spokesman insisted that the decision to change the oath was based on research to "unify all girls of all backgrounds and all circumstances".  She said: "Updating the promise does not alter our continuing commitment to offer all girls a safe space where they can explore and develop their beliefs.  "We remain hugely appreciative of all the support churches give to guiding and hope they will continue to do so. If they do not feel able to we will work with local volunteers to ensure a suitable alternative venue is found."

Stephen Evans of the National Secular Society said: "There is something deeply unpleasant and unchristian about the threat to deny Girl Guides access to church buildings, particularly when the new promise is as inclusive of Christians as it is of those of other faiths or none".

August 26th, 2013

Persecuted Christianity

Melanie McDonagh

A really excellent book has come into paperback - Christianophobia, by Rupert Shortt (Rider, £9.99), an account of attacks on Christians qua Christians around the world. He estimates that 200 million people are persecuted and discriminated against, which makes it easily the most targeted religion. Yet, as he says, the mystery is why the situation is not a source of anger and indignation in liberal countries such as Britain, which rightly takes other forms of discrimination, against women, say, very seriously. We're not talking here about the soft stuff - people not being allowed to wear crosses at work. We're talking hardcore persecution.

The author takes a dozen and a half countries as object lessons, from Egypt to Indonesia. And while he acknowledges freely the problematic record of Christians themselves in relation to each other as well as to other faiths, and notes the grim record of Hindu fundamentalists in India when it comes to Christians, the inexorable conclusion is that this is a problem to do with Islam, and certainly with particular strands of Islamic fundamentalism.I made for the chapter on Egypt because I've just been there. What emerges is that discrimination against Christians is not a new problem, a consequence of a brief period of Muslim Brotherhood government, but a continuing succession of attacks on Christians, on top of systematic discrimination over decades. Discrimination is centuries old, but the rise since the 19703 of Salafism, the Wahabbi fundamentalism of Saudi Arabia, has made a bad situation worse.

There were until recently about ten million Copts, an ancient strand of Christianity, living in Egypt. Yet like all the other Christian communities in the Middle East, believers are blamed for the sins of their co-religionists in the West - anything from the invasion of Iraq to the Danish cartoons. They are better educated than most; they have the means to go abroad, and they do, in hundreds of thousands, to the US, Brazil or Australia.

There are good reasons to leave. To take recent examples, there was the bombing of worshippers at a church in Alexandria in the New Year 2010, killing 21 people, following an earlier attack that killed nine Christians at a church near Luxor. More recently, after the uprising against the Muslim Brotherhood, three people were gunned down outside the Coptic cathedral in Assiut.

Wha's striking is both the triviality of the pretexts on which the attacks are made - alleged insults to Islam, alleged apostasy or an extension to a church, and the reluctance of the police or judiciary to react. The situation of Muslim converts to Christianity is grim. In one 2005 example, a convert, Gaseer Mohamed Mahmoud, was arrested by police and his toenails pulled out. He was taken to a mental hospital where he was beaten and whipped and told he would be incarcerated until he renounced his faith. This isn't lions in the amphitheatre, but it's persecution all the same and it's replicated through many parts of the Muslim-majority world.

The question is why this situation is under-reported. It's hard not to agree with the author's conclusion that the reason for this is a 'bien-pensant blind spot' which identifies religion as a source of conflict, with nothing much to choose between them.

Daily Telegraph, August 25th, 2013

Fretting about Fracking
A sequence of articles and letters on this controversial subject.

1. Fracking risks God's creation, says Church
By James Kirkup, Deputy Political Editor, The Daily Telegraph

The Church of England has told parishioners that fracking causes environmental problems and risks harming 'God's glorious creation'.

The warning has been issued to Anglicans in Lancashire, where significant work to extract gas and oil by fracking has been proposed.

The Diocese of Blackburn published a leaflet for members of its flock telling them that, for Christians, fracking presents 'a choice between economic gain and a healthy environment'.

Conservative ministers are stepping up efforts to promote the technology to voters as an economic necessity. Fracking, which involves fracturing rocks deep underground with water and chemicals to extract oil and natural gas, has sharply cut US energy bills and imports. Ministers say it could do the same for Britain, but campaigners and communities are opposing fracking in several counties, warning that it does environmental harm.

The Church leaflet appears to endorse such concerns, saying: 'Fracking causes a range of environmental problems.' It does not explicitly commit the Church to a clear position for or against fracking. But its focus is on the potential for lasting environmental damage and urges believers to consider their Christian duty to act as 'stewards of the Earth'.

It says: 'The time we spend thinking, praying and acting now to protect our drinking water, and the rest of God's glorious creation cannot compare with the time succeeding generations could potentially spend trying to make good what will likely happen if we in the Church remain uninformed and silent.'

A spokesman for the diocese said the leaflet was to inform parishioners about the issues involved in fracking, and not to persuade them to oppose the technology.

August 17th, 2013

2. Fracking fears over Church's land claims
By James Kirkup, Deputy Political Editor

The Church of England has begun legal action to claim ancient mineral rights beneath thousands of homes and farms, prompting fears that it could seek to profit from tracking.

Residents across England have started receiving letters from the Land Registry, informing them that the Church is seeking to register the mineral rights to the earth beneath their properties. Lawyers believe the
Church's claim may allow it to profit from tracking, the method of extracting oil and gas by fracturing underground rocks with water and chemicals.

The Church said it has "no particular plans to mine under any property".

Some church leaders have opposed tracking. The Daily Telegraph revealed this week that the Diocese of Blackburn has warned parishioners in Lancashire that fracking could threaten "God's glorious creation".

The Church Commissioners manage its investments and their financial decisions sometimes clash with the clergy's ethical positions. Last month, it emerged that the commissioners had invested money in the backers of payday lenders that were criticised by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The commissioners are seeking to assert the Church's ownership of mineral rights beneath up to 500,000 acres of land, an area roughly the size of Sussex.   The claim is being made under old laws that give "lords of the manor" rights to exploit the earth under property on their former estates. The Church holds such rights in many parts of England.

Under a new law, landowners have until October to assert their rights over minerals. The commissioners have told the Land Registry they wish to do so.As a result, the registry is sending legal letters to residents informing them of the Church's claim to benefit from any mines and minerals under their land.

Several readers of this newspaper who have received such letters expressed concerns that the Church's claim could be linked to future fracking projects.  Dr Richard Lawson, a retired GP who lives in the Mendip Hills in Somerset, said there were proposals for fracking projects elsewhere in the county. He said: "It's an ethical question for the Church, will they use their mineral rights to block fracking or to make money out of it?"
In a statement, the commissioners said: "We would make clear that this is just a registration and protection exercise, to protect existing rights and interests made vulnerable by the change in the law. There are no particular plans to mine under any property."

A spokesman said the registration had "absolutely no link with fracking", but that the legal position on unconventional  energy extraction "remains unclear".

August 19th, 2013

3. Letters to the Editor

If fracking puts at risk God's glorious creation (report, August 14), why haven't Anglicans previously questioned mining, oil and gas extraction, deep wells, diverted streams and canals and the use of highly polished jewels in Christian ceremonies? Surely, it couldn't be that the Blackburn diocese is confusing politics with worship.
David Thompson, Ipswich, Suffolk

As a retired Church of England clergyman, I find the Church's pronouncements on fracking deeply embarrassing. There has been not a word of objection to wind farms, which truly wreck the environment, but instead it objects to fracking, which will truly help the poor and leave no trace.
Rev Philip Foster, Hemingford Abbots, Huntingdonshire

How strange that the Church should come out so vigorously against fracking while at the same time the Church Commissioners are bombarding landowners of all sizes, from smallholdings to estates, with notices establishing their rights over all minerals. Does this mean that the Church intends to exercise its mineral rights purely in a preventative fashion, and not in order to realise any material benefit?
Richard Longthorp, Howden, East Yorkshire

August 20th, 2013

We can't cast away our Bible

Daily Telegraph columnist Alan Massie provided this thought-provoking article a few days ago. It speaks for itself.

Suppose you are cast away on a desert island. You might find yourself asking, “why me?” and wondering what you had done to deserve such a fate. Well, ever since the programme began, Desert Island Discs has provided its castaways with two mandatory books, the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare, volumes in which you might find answers to these questions or, if not answers, at least consolation. The best of Muriel Spark’s later novels was entitled The Only Problem. She described it as “a meditation on the Book of Job”, and the problem is: “How can an omnipotent and benevolent Creator permit the unspeakable sufferings of the world?” Job, one has to say, doesn’t come up with a convincing answer, but he asks all the right questions. Moreover the book, recounting his tribulations and the test of his faith which God sets him, has, amid marvellous poetic passages, its lighter, if also puzzling, moments: why is one of his daughters called “Box of Eye-Paint”? You could spend a long time on your island wondering about that.

The National Secular Society, a body not noted for its sense of humour, thinks you would be wasting your time. It has called for the Bible to be dropped from the programme and it appears that this may have been discussed within the BBC. I say “appears” and “may have been” because the BBC has been stonewalling and says there are no plans to ditch the Bible. Still, one can imagine a case being made for doing so. We live, some bright spark might say, in an ever more secular society. Most people don’t go to Church regularly. Practising Christians are now in a minority. Why should non-Christians be lumbered with a Christian and, in the case of the Old Testament, Jewish book?

When Kirsty Young, the presenter of the programme on Radio 4, suggested to Philip Pullman that, as an atheist, he might not be too keen to have the Bible, he replied: “Why not? There are lots of good stories in the Bible.” So indeed there are, especially in the Old Testament, lots of good stories and fascinating characters; and many of the stories and the people provoke teasing moral problems. They are usually true to life, too; even characters clearly regarded as heroes are never perfect. The Bible reminds us that even good men, such as Joseph or King David, may do bad things. St Peter, too, the rock on whom Christ said the Church should be built, has his moment of weakness when he denies Christ. The Bible may, or may not, be the Word of God, but it is a very human book. There is drama and tragedy, the story of Saul, first King of Israel, for example.

This touches only on the fringe of the Bible’s centrality to our culture, though. After all, there are lots of good stories, some with sound morality and others that are very moving, to be found elsewhere – in The Iliad and The Odyssey, in the Arabian Nights and in the fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm. So what is so special about the Bible? For practising and believing Christians, the answer is obvious, but even for those who don’t accept it as the word of God, or who don’t even believe that there is a personal God, the Bible may still matter.

First, though not all Christians may accept this, by the Bible I mean the Authorised or King James version, not any modern translation, even if it may be more accurate. God may not be an Englishman, as some in past generations seem to have believed, but one reason to be thankful for having been born into an English-speaking culture is that the English Bible is a great resplendent work of literature, made when our language was at its most fecund and vigorous. “If the salt hath lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?”

The public language of 21st-century English has indeed lost much of its savour, and is cluttered with abstractions, but the Bible is “a well of English undefiled”, from which we may yet draw refreshment. George Orwell once took a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes and translated it into contemporary bureaucratic English to make this point.

Nobody would pretend that all the Bible is of a high literary quality. Some books (Leviticus, Numbers) are tedious in the extreme. St Paul’s Epistles are written in language that is often clotted and obscure, though he does occasionally rise to heights of eloquence as in the Faith, Hope and Charity chapter in Corinthians, read at so many marriage ceremonies, and always movingly — so long as the reader is using the King James version. The content of the Book of Revelation is pretty crazy, though there the language is often sublime. There is indeed much fine poetry in the Bible. Any castaway on a desert island would find delight as well as consolation in the Book of Psalms.

Of course there is much great poetry elsewhere — plenty in the castaways’ other compulsory companion volume, Shakespeare. Indeed, Shakespeare and the King James Bible are so far complementary, so much part of our linguistic heritage, that many quote indiscriminately from either, and may well not know which they are quoting, or be able to distinguish between the two.

For this surely is the point: the Bible is at the heart of our national culture, just as Shakespeare is, perhaps even more so. For centuries it was found in any home where someone could read. The family Bible might be the only book there; often it might sit next to John Bunyan’s allegorical Christian novel, The Pilgrim’s Progress. This makes one thing clear: our historical culture, which has formed the country we have inherited, is a Christian one. Many today may no longer think of themselves as believers. Perhaps a majority of us have abandoned the faith, and yet we have been formed by it. Our ideas of what is right and what is wrong remain essentially Christian, and have been inculcated by the reading of the Bible over generations. We may have come to disregard many of its prohibitions, but whatever is admirable and generous in our morality derives from it, and especially from what Jesus taught, notably in the Sermon on the Mount.

Desert Island Discs is not itself important. It is agreeable easy listening, no more than that. And yet in one way it is significant. It has always been a favourite programme of Middle Britain. If it were to decide that its castaways should no longer be provided with the Bible, this would say something about the BBC’s understanding of the country it exists to serve. It would be tantamount to a rejection of our inherited culture, a rejection of our history, and an acceptance that the National Secular Society is more representative of Britain today than the Churches. Lord Reith, the BBC’s first Director-General who established the ethos of the corporation, would surely be whirling in his grave.

The Daily Telegraph, August 11th, 2013

Swearing by Jesus

Bus journeys on Merseyside, already blessedly free for the elderly (!) are occasionally enlivened by a quick scan of The Metro, a daily free sheet distributed through public transport. It is not known for its religious coverage, but this article in its local edition today unsurprisingly got past the editor's secular scanning. The vicar's disingenuous distinction between blasphemy and mere swearing doesn't hide the facts - and it is hard to see how the previous archbishop's substantial eyebrows didn't at least twitch a little. The evangelical fondness for the unexceptionable 'What Would Jesus Do' has something to commend it and to give pause for thought, but it is hard to see how the good folk of Alice Goodman's Cambridgeshire parishes, both inside and outside her churches would approve this crude extension of the slogan. Maybe the Archdeacon (in his role as the Bishop's attack dog) will have something to say. Of course, they say that there is no such thing as bad publicity...

Rapid Subsequent Update...
It soon transpires that this heady story is not after all a scoop for the local sheet, but has hit the headlines in the nationals as well. More detailed reports in The Times  and The Daily Telegraph repeat the main story but add some entertaining embellishments. Ms Goodman (as they term the vicar: by the look of her dog-collar she is of the evangelical persuasion so wouldn't want to be called Mother!) is American-born, a convert from Judaism, has written an opera libretto which was criticised as being too sympathetic to terrorists and is married to the Professor of Poetry at Oxford University (or Cambridge, if you read the Telegraph account). The complaint about the sticker came anonymously - and Lord Williams of Oystermouth saw the sticker when given a lift in the lady's car. Her bishop, she says, is aware of the sticker and 'has no difficulty with it'. And the Archdeacon, far from acting as his bishop's rottweiler, also apparently sees no problem with the sticker, and advocates a reconciliation meeting between the vicar and the whistle-blower, 'where people can bring their differing views and share their perspectives' (!)

The Times article has one final oddity to report. Repeating Ms Goodman's declaration that 'F*** is not a blasphemy, it's a vulgarity, an Old English word' she later says 'Whoever contacted the paper anonymously about this has only seen the letter F.' This raises the interesting possibility that she meant it to stand for some other, less offensive word... Suggestions on a postcard, please.