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Further Afield



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"Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone."
Mark 16:15


News from the Wider Church Community






The BBC to increase coverage of religion

The BBC has recently pledged to ‘raise our game’ on religion by increasing the portrayal of all faiths in mainstream shows

The corporation said it would ‘enhance’ the representation of religion on TV and radio dramas and documentaries. It said it would also create a new global religious affairs team, headed by a religion editor, in BBC News. The BBC will also keep Thought For The Day on Radio 4's Today programme

The corporation recently published the conclusions of a review into its coverage of religion and ethics, and Director General Tony Hall said audiences of all faiths and none have said they want to learn more about those topics.

‘They recognise that, if we truly want to make sense of the world, we need to understand the systems of belief that underpin it,’ he said. He added that he wants the corporation ‘to do more about Christianity and other beliefs as well.’

The plans include:

There will be more about non-Christian festivals like Diwali, Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Ramadan and Eid on mainstream programmes like The One Show, The Chris Evans Breakfast Show and Newsround.

There will be landmark programmes to ‘explore religion in all its forms’, including a major TV series about the world's sacred sites, a Radio 4 series on morality in the 21st Century, and a Radio 2 initiative to encourage young people to discuss issues about peace

2019 will be ‘A Year of Beliefs’, with programmes looking at how people make big decisions and where they get their moral values from.

There will be more ‘people-led stories that have warmth and depth’, such as observing vicars working in local communities.

There will be tie-ins with music and comedy, and more digital-first video and social media content.

The role of the religious affairs correspondent - currently Martin Bashir - will be upgraded to religion editor, leading BBC News's new global religious affairs team. BBC News will also broaden the range of interviewees and contributors to represent a wider range of opinions and practices


Now you can text your ‘tithe’

40 churches have been taking part in a trial of contactless giving, offering worshippers hand-held terminals in order to process their donations. It is all part of an effort to encourage today’s increasingly cashless congregations to donate electronically.

As the Rev Dr David Evans of Rugeley, in the Midlands, explains, ‘it’s a way that most people pay for things these days, if they are not using cash. There will be time before the service and after the service, when people can text. It is a worship service, so we hope that people won’t text during the service.

Each of the churches in the trial also have put up signs, explaining how the money is being spent locally. 12 cathedrals are also trialling contactless donation boxes.


New catechism

A new catechism, The Pilgrim Way, has just been published by the Church of England. It takes the form of a series of questions and answers on the four texts that form the basis of the Pilgrim Course, which was produced four years ago. The four texts are: the Apostles’ Creed, the Beatitudes, the Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer.

The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Stephen Croft, explained that the catechism was designed as a tool to prepare people for baptism and confirmation, rather than as a way of defining doctrine. It has been given a very positive welcome by trial audiences.

He went on: ‘I think we need a major, deep renewal of our thinking about Christian formation and catechism for the 21st century. We have had 30 years now of relearning how to do this through things like Alpha, but we still have not put formation back at the heart of Church life sufficiently.’ For more details, go to: www.churchofengland.org/our-faith/pilgrim-way/about-pilgrim-way.

There are probably more catechisms out there than you realise: apparently between 1530 and 1740, there was evidence of more than 1000 catechisms has been written and circulated by clergy.


Care for your own church building

Don’t look to the government for so much help. That is the message of an independent review which considered the Church’s reliance on government funding with regard to the upkeep of its church buildings. The review instead calls for a ‘cultural shift’, where communities contribute to their church’s upkeep.

The Taylor Report was commissioned in 2016 to report to the Chancellor and Culture Secretary. It recommends that from 2020, the Government provide £66 million a year, compared with the recent ‘exceptional hike’ of 2014 and 2016, when it was £90 million.

The report says: ‘Long term, it is the view of the Panel that the Church of England should aspire to reach a position where its buildings can, as far as is possible, be financed sustainably with reduced reliance on government funding.’

It goes on: ‘The long-term survival of Church of England church buildings requires a change in the way many communities regard these buildings. ‘We need to create a cultural shift in attitudes towards church buildings such that communities realise they are resources they can use, and congregations have the confidence to share space and where appropriate, to ask for a fair income.’.

The report also said that the main theme emerging from the thousands of churches who responded to the review was the ‘huge care that people feel for these buildings’.


End Hunger campaign targets the UK’s ‘food insecure’ families

Millions of households in the UK are struggling to avoid hunger, as latest figures from the United Nations show that nearly three million people in the UK are now classed as severely ‘food insecure’, which means they are facing hunger on a daily basis. In the whole of Europe, according the UN, only Albania has higher levels of food insecurity.

And so it is that the End Hunger campaign, a collation of charities and faith groups who are working to tackle food poverty, is demanding that a new cross-departmental Household Food Security Minister be appointed to tackle the problem.

The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Rev Rachel Tweek, said in her recently published report, A Menu to End Hunger, that in her diocese, one foodbank alone had distributed about 1860 food parcels in the last year. She said: ‘We know that many more people are living on cheap food, much of it unhealthy, or skipping meals, because they are too ashamed to visit a foodbank. Whilst celebrating the work that churches and other voluntary groups are doing to respond to this urgent need, it is clear to me that Government and businesses could and should be doing more to reduce the need for foodbanks in the first place.’

The report also calls on the Government to do something about the problem of ‘holiday hunger’, when parents whose children receive free school meals struggle to feed them during school holidays. The Government should provide holiday clubs where such children can be fed, the campaign says.


Persecution trends for 2018: concerns include China, Nigeria and India

China is a key country of concern for 2018 for Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world. Their latest ‘Persecution Trends Report’ warns Christians in China look set to face a harsh new year.

Tougher regulations on religious affairs came into force in February, giving the State greater control over churches and other places of worship. Those new rules will mean unregistered house churches will face increasingly tough measures to control their activities.

The restrictions are being promoted to prevent the use of religion to ‘endanger national security and undermine social order’. They reflect the Communist Party’s fear that foreign powers are working to undermine its authority by supporting Christianity.

It follows moves by Chinese president Xi Jinping to strengthen his control over the country by writing his name into the constitution. Although that constitution supposedly safeguards religious freedom, President Xi’s administration has been tearing down symbols of Christianity, such as crosses on churches, and imprisoning Christian lawyers who take legal action to prevent their removal. All in all, Release partners China Aid say the clampdown on Christianity in the atheist state is at its severest since the cultural revolution.

Another country of concern to Release is Nigeria, where Christian villages have been coming under sustained attack by armed Fulani herdsman. The militants are driving Christians from their farms, killing and displacing thousands. A Nigerian partner of Release says the Fulani are being armed and encouraged to drive out Christians from the north in pursuit of an Islamist agenda.

Attacks against Christians are also increasing in India, fostered by militants, who believe that every Indian should be a Hindu. Extremists have been pressurising officials to close churches and prevent Christian services.

In the Middle East, countries of particular concern include Iran, where the authorities are targeting Christian leaders. They arrest those who are leading house churches, and those involved in evangelism and teaching.

Also of concern in the region is Egypt, where militants have been grooming Christian girls to seduce them and force them into marriage to change their religion. Release partners say Christian girls are being systematically targeted for kidnap. Observers believe the practice is being funded from Saudi Arabia.

Release International celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2018. Release, which was founded by Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand, today supports persecuted Christians in more than 30 nations.

‘Fifty years is a significant milestone for our ministry,’ says Release CEO Paul Robinson. ‘Since 1968, the prayers and gifts of supporters throughout the UK and Ireland have helped many thousands of Christians who have been persecuted for their faith. For this we are truly humbled and deeply grateful to God. Today, as our Persecution Trends Report for 2018 shows, the need for prayer and support is greater than ever.’

Through its international network of missions UK-based Release International serves persecuted Christians by supporting pastors and Christian prisoners and their families, supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice.


Where did the church roof go?!

As the value of lead continues to rise, so heritage buildings such as churches are increasingly becoming prey to organised gangs who, in some instances, have made off with entire church roofs, according to specialist insurers, Ecclesiastical.

Although the Scrap Metal Dealers Act of 2013 ‘continues to be a powerful weapon’, according to the Home Office, still the ‘volume and severity of incidents of metal theft will also increase’, warns Ecclesiastical. As Robert Fells of the British Metals Recycling Association puts it: ‘The number of crimes has reduced, but they have got much bigger.’


When terror strikes

Anglican clergy are to receive training in how to cope with the aftermath of a terror attack in the UK. The new programme, Tragedy and Congregations, aims to help them to explore how tragic events can be related to the Christian narrative, both Scripture and doctrine.

Trainees will be helped to find ways and places where they can be ‘genuinely honest with God about the cost of what they’re having to do’, says Dr Christopher Southgate, the project director. Trainees will also be helped in how to help their congregations deal with disasters such as floods and the Grenfell Tower fire.


Church pledges £24 million for nationwide new projects

The Church of England's Strategic Investment Board will invest £24.4 million in funding for projects across the country, as part of the Renewal and Reform programme.

An ambitious project in Blackburn Diocese, aimed at opening new churches in deprived urban estates, is one of those which has been singled out for funding. The project will focus on training new leaders, both lay and ordained, with a view to providing a model for other dioceses, while also strengthening mission in the areas where the work is located.

Other schemes to receive Strategic Development Funding (SDF) include projects in Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield as well as piloting new approaches to mission in rural areas in Winchester Diocese.


Church attack kills nine in Egypt

A recent Islamic militant attack on a church in Egypt killed nine people, according to Egyptian sources. Many more worshippers would have been killed in the attack on Saint Menas Church, south of Cairo, had the suicide bomber succeeded in detonating his explosive vest.

President Al-Sisi called for heightened security. According to the BBC, more than 100 Christians have been killed by Islamic militants in Egypt over the past year, mainly by members of Islamic State. Egypt has the largest remaining Christian community in the Middle East.

Release International said: ‘The continued violence against our brothers and sisters in Christ is appalling and deeply sad. We call on friends and supporters in the UK church to pray for the families of those bereaved at this distressing time.’



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