Many will be glad to see the back of 2016. With an array of celebrity deaths and shifts in the political landscape across the world, this year has been a relentless roller-coaster ride. So, thanking God for the good and trusting him in the uncertainties too, let’s review a year of ups and downs.
Brexit, trump and post-truth politics
The Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year was ‘post-truth’. From fake news websites to politicians playing fast and loose with facts, the phrase has become a sadly accurate summary of the divisive tone that marked the EU referendum and US election campaigns.
Although many British Christians were dumbfounded by the white US evangelical backing of Donald Trump, it’s true that prominent American Church leaders did support the now president-elect. Bethel Church’s Bill Johnson said, “Unfortunately neither Billy Graham or Mother Theresa [sic] were running for office. That leaves us with the responsibility to do our best with what we have.”
As we enter 2017 the political landscape is almost unrecognisable from the comparative calm of 2015. This year saw huge gains by the SNP, the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox, and a new prime minister in Theresa May. The PM, who is the daughter of an Anglican vicar, recently said that being a practising member of the Church of England has an effect on her political work. In 2017 the world will be watching as Mrs May attempts to put her catchphrase "Brexit means Brexit" into action.
‘International relations’ is a phrase that best describes the Church’s activities in 2016. This was exemplified at the end of July with over a million young Catholics from across the globe meeting in Poland for World Youth Day. As he addressed the crowd, Pope Francis took the opportunity to encourage the young people present to work towards peace, reconciliation and justice, saying, “God demands of us real courage, the courage to be more powerful than evil, by loving everyone, even our enemies.”
This year Pope Francis also met with Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church. This was the first meeting between a pope and the head of a Russian Orthodox Church for nearly 1,000 years.
In January, the Primates (the 28 principal bishops and archbishops) of the Anglican Church around the world were invited by Justin Welby to meet in Canterbury. This meeting led to the American Episcopal Church being sanctioned for three years because of their increasingly liberal approach to same-sex relationships.
Gay marriage was also in the news with the ongoing legal battle between Asher’s Baking Company and gay rights activist Gareth Lee. The Christian-run bakery refused to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan. A judge ruled that they had discriminated against Mr Lee and the Belfast bakery must now pay damages. Although Asher’s lost their appeal in 2016, the firm is now considering taking aspects of their case to the Supreme Court or European Court of Human Rights.
This year the Albanian nun and missionary Mother Teresa, who died in 1997, was finally canonised by the Catholic Church. Saint Teresa of Calcutta, as she is now known, founded the Missionaries of Charity, a religious congregation that continues to work in the poorest communities across the world.
God demands of us real courage
Death of the baby boomers
This past year has seen a seemingly unprecedented number of celebrities pass away. Musicians such as Prince (57), David Bowie (69) and Leonard Cohen (82) and well loved comics Ronnie Corbett (85), Victoria Wood (62) and Father Ted actor Frank Kelly (77) as well as broadcasting legend Terry Wogan (77) all died during 2016. This increase in celebrity deaths has been put down to the disproportionate number of famous baby boomers. Individuals who found fame and fortune in the Swinging Sixties are now in their 50s, 60s and 70s. This trend of well-known people passing away is unlikely to dissipate and so its likely 2017 will contain even more deaths of much-loved celebrities.
The Queen’s 90th
2016 saw Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday. Celebrations included beacons being lit throughout the British Isles and as far as Bermuda and Ascension Island.
The British Church used the occasion of the monarch joining the Nonagenarian Club to remember the Queen’s devout Christian faith, with over 400,000 copies of a commemorative book, The Servant Queen and the King She Serves, sold.
The internet has provided us with much hilarity and entertainment throughout the year. Who can forget the video of Texan worship leader Candace Payne laughing hysterically while wearing a Chewbacca mask? Former Labour MP Ed Balls’ I antics were also turned into unforgettable GIFs and memes. Churches have joined in various gaming and video crazes, including embracing Pokemon Go's designation of many church buildings as 'Pokestops' and taking part in the Mannequin Challenge (we’re looking at you, St Paul’s Onslow Square!).
For Sir Cliff Richard 2016 saw the end of a two-year police investigation into historical sex allegations. The Christian singer will not face any criminal proceedings and has spoken openly of how his faith has helped him cope with the false allegations. Sir Cliff has started legal action against both the BBC and South Yorkshire Police.
Justin Bieber’s faith
The Christian faith of pop sensation Justin Bieber took centre stage at a gig in Paris when the star sang the popular worship song ‘I could sing of your love forever’. The Canadian pop star grew up in a Christian home but after a rocky patch has had a re-emergence of faith under the wings of pastors Carl Lentz and Judah Smith.
The Rio Olympics had athletes competing under the motto ‘Faster, higher, stronger’. Various international competitors sought to combine their sporting ambitions and their Christian faith. Osea Kolinisau, the Team Fiji Rugby Sevens team member, gave God the glory as his team received Fiji’s first Olympic gold medal, saying “I thank the Lord, he has been our source of strength.”
International news has been dominated by the huge number of refugees displaced by conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan. Towards the end of 2016 Iraqi forces retook the city of Mosul from the hands of Islamic State. Thousands of the city’s historic Christian community had fled and are still yet to return, fearful that the city is not yet secure. Slowly Christians have returned to the area with churches being used for worship once again.
Churches throughout Europe have taken on the task of welcoming refugees by opening their homes and campaigning for more unaccompanied minors to be accepted. Although the Calais camp has now been demolished, the crisis remains and will continue to challenge the European Church in 2017.
Our most popular online articles of 2016
Muslims turning to Christ – a global phenomenon David Garrison
10 Brilliant things the Queen has said about God Mark Greene
The BBC’s decision to ignore Usain Bolt’s faith is another sign of anti-Christian bias David Robertson
Sally Phillips: How I became a Christian Paul Kerensa
Derren Brown: The miracle maker reveals his Christian past Justin Brierley
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