The most significant stories for Christians from the past twelve months
The year began with the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who died on New Year’s Eve. Benedict, who shocked the world by resigning as pope nine years earlier, lay in state for three days in St Peter’s Basilica before almost 50,000 attended his funeral.
Bishop Rolando Alvarez was sentenced to 26 years in prison by the authoritarian government of Nicaragua. Alvarez had rejected the opportunity to go into exile in the United States, where a number of other Catholic clergy had also been sent. The president, Daniel Ortega, has cracked down on the Church in recent years, seeing them as part of a broader opposition protest movement which sprang up in 2018.
February saw reports of revival break out at Asbury University as tens of thousands flocked to the tiny town of Wilmore, Kentucky to take part in 24-7 worship and witness healings, miracles and salvations.
In March, Polish Catholics were forced to reckon with new claims about former pope John Paul II, an iconic figure in modern Polish history. A book and TV documentary claimed the pope, who died in 2005, covered up child abuse by priests during his time as Archbishop of Krakow. The Polish Catholic Church and the Vatican questioned the reliability of the reporting and said more research was needed.
In April, the conservative GAFCON faction of the Anglican Communion met in Rwanda, putting a bomb under longstanding Anglican structures by declaring they would not accept Most Rev Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, as their leader. Angered by moves in the Church of England to bless gay couples, GAFCON effectively launched a struggle to wrest control of the third-largest denomination on the planet.
The government published its landmark report on engagement with faith communities. The Bloom Review identified 22 improvements the government could make, including better faith literacy training for civil servants, more religious education in schools and expanding the remit of the religious freedom envoy to uphold rights of believers in Britain as well as overseas.
In May, Rt Rev John Sentamu, former Archbishop of York, was reprimanded for failing to pass on disclosures of abuse by a vicar. Sentamu insisted that he did not act on the disclosure because the abuse did not happen in his diocese. He has now been barred from ministry in the CofE.
The much-lauded preacher and apologist Dr Tim Keller died of pancreatic cancer. In one of his last interviews, Dr Keller told Premier Christianity that cancer had transformed his prayer life, and forced a pause in an otherwise hectic schedule: “The way you look at God – the way you look at everything – changes when you realise time is limited and you are mortal”.
In June, The Church of England divested its multibillion-pound endowment and pensions funds from fossil fuels. The Church said oil companies had failed to align their business plans with the Paris Agreement’s commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The Catholic Church in Germany recorded its worst ever decline in members, with 523,000 people quitting the denomination in 2022, up from 270,000 two years earlier.
In July, several Christians raised concerns that conservative evangelicals were being ‘unbanked’. An Anglican vicar had his account closed after he questioned the bank’s support for Pride month, and the head of a Christian sexuality charity also had his account suddenly closed. Both banks insisted they did not discriminate on the grounds of religious belief.
In August, Jan Figel, former EU envoy for religious freedom, launched a court case at the European Court of Human Rights to determine if the Covid-era blanket bans on public worship were lawful. Figel, supported by religious freedom advocacy group ADF, argued that his home nation of Slovakia’s ban on church services violated international law.
In September, Armenian Christians warned the sudden takeover of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan threatened centuries of Christian heritage. The enclave is part of internationally recognised Azeri territory but home to mostly ethnic Christian Armenians. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has been run as an independent state, but Azerbaijan’s military action led to a mass exodus of Christian refugees and fears that the predominantly Muslim authorities would obliterate Nagorno-Karabakh’s holy sites.
A Church of England report substantiated claims that Soul Survivor founder Mike Pilavachi used his spiritual authority to “control people”, leading to “inappropriate relationships, physical wrestling and massaging of young male interns”. ‘Soul Survivors’, a new podcast from Premier Christianity, will launch in January.
In October, a ten-month investigation into the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) concluded. Some complaints around working practices were upheld, but allegations of discrimination against female employees were unsubstantiated. Both senior leaders, who had been suspended during the investigation, were reinstated; however, more than half the board of trustees resigned as the report was released.
Former Vineyard pastor Alan Scott faced allegations of spiritual abuse and narcissistic behaviour, with his previous church in Northern Ireland issuing a report which accused Scott of engaging in “repeated patterns of…manipulation”. The Scotts have denied any wrongdoing and the board members of their new church, Dwelling Place Anaheim say the allegations were not put to them in advance of the report’s publication.
In November, the oldest church still in continuous use in Scotland was closed for regular services. The Birnie Kirk, which dates back to the twelfth century and is part of the Church of Scotland, was closed due to falling attendance.
A Christian MP in Finland was cleared of alleged hate speech after a four-year court battle. Päivi Räsänen was charged after she tweeted an image of a Bible passage condemning homosexual activity in protest against her own denomination’s support for Helsinki Pride in 2019.
December saw fighting in Israel and Gaza continue. Layla Moran MP told parliament that her Christian Palestinian relatives were among 300 civilians trapped in the Holy Family Church, Gaza City, where food and water were running out. Moran’s grandfather has already died during the conflict.
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