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2012: The year in review

21 December 2012

Slideshow image credits: all photos AP / PA unless stated.

THE year began with concerns about the violence in Syria. The rebellion had already been going on for ten months, and an estimated 5000 were dead. The figure now is more than 40,000. Egypt, meanwhile, celebrated the first anniversary of the uprising against President Mubarak. Asssisted dying was in the news again, as Lord Falconer announced that his self-appointed "commission" had found in its favour.

The Occupy protest outside St Paul's was declared unlawful in the High Court, which granted the City of London Corporation the right to remove it. Five bishops led a successful rebellion in the Lords to exclude child benefit from a government cap in the Welfare Reform Bill. Attacks on Christians in northern Nigeria amounted to "ethnic and religious cleansing" according to a little-known diocesan bishop, the Rt Revd Justin Welby.

The gay-marriage issue made an early appearance, as the Archbishop of York criticised the Prime Minister, stating that heterosexual marriage "is set in tradition and history". An unnamed Scottish woman was fined and given three points on her licence for reading the Bible while driving on the A90.

THE February General Synod had its final opportunity to debate the contents of the draft women-bishops Measure. Members were given the chance to ask the House of Bishops to reintroduce the concept of authority derived from the Measure for traditionalists. A compromise was carried, asking the Bishops not to amend the basic Measure "substantially".

The Queen described the C of E as "commonly under-appreciated". Local councils could continue to say prayers at meetings if they were not part of the agenda, the High Court ruled, after a challenge in Bideford. The Coalition for Marriage (i.e. against gay marriage) was launched. To date, nearly 620,000 have signed its petition. The Occupy protesters outside St Paul's were forcibly removed in the early hours of 28 February. The Dean and Chapter said that they were committed to pursuing the issues raised by the camp in their teaching and relations with the City.

The 12 Zurbarán paintings were finally secured for Auckland Castle, thanks to a deal with Jonathan Ruffer brokered by a little-known diocesan bishop, the Rt Revd Justin Welby.

THE Government begins its consultation about same-sex marriage. The Dean of St Albans, the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John, criticised the Church for its opposition to the plan, calling it the "last refuge of prejudice" (and, in August, "morally contemptible"). Dr Williams announced his resignation, heralding in a lucrative few months for the bookies.

The succession of diocesan votes on the Anglican Covenant finished, ending with its defeat by 23 dioceses to 15. It later emerged that, had 17 people changed their vote, the Covenant would have passed.

A fragment of papyrus bearing a segment of St Mark's Gospel was dated to the first century, making it the earliest known manuscript of that Gospel, if confirmed. An official report said that more than one third of Britain's churches and religious buildings had been damaged by crime in the past year. The Chancellor, George Osborne, announced that churches must begin to pay VAT on repairs, at an estimated cost to the Church of £20 million.

US believers thought that Jesus shared their political opinions, whatever they were, a poll suggested.

CRITICISM of Christians in the UK did not amount to persecution, a new report concluded, but it was discrimination, and needed to be halted before it grew worse. Dr David Drew argued that sending an emailed prayer had contributed to his dismissal from Walsall Manor Hospital. An employment tribunal disagreed.

In his Easter sermon, Dr Williams suggested that the tide might, in fact, be turning towards Christianity: "More useful than the passing generation of gurus thought".

The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (formerly GAFCON) met in London. The Archbishop of Canterbury should no longer have an automatic right to chair Primates' Meetings, it concluded. Three members of a Moscow band, Pussy Riot, remained in prison for their anti-Putin demonstration in the Orthodox cathedral in Moscow. Protests in the West were dwarfed by criticism of the band by the Moscow faithful. Fabrice Muamba, a Christian footballer for Bolton Wanderers, said that his recovery was "more than a miracle", after his heart stopped for 78 minutes in the Tottenham ground during a game.

THE Prime Minister's rejection of a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions was "shameful", said the RC Archbishop of St Andrews & Edinburgh, Cardinal Keith O'Brien. Sir Paul Coleridge, a High Court judge, launched the Marriage Foundation to promote marriage and provide support for couples. The House of Bishops amended the women-bishops legislation, mentioning the "theological convictions" of PCCs for the first time.

The Chancellor agreed a deal over VAT on church repairs: churches must pay it, but they can expect a full refund for at least the next three years. The number of people using food banks had doubled in the past year, the Trussell Trust announced. Economic instability in Greece created uncertainty about the future of the euro. The Dalai Lama came to London to collect his £1.1-million Templeton Prize: he would not keep the money, "though my pocket may complain".

The bishops in Sudan called for an end to renewed border violence. President Obama gave his backing to same-sex marriage: "It's also the Golden Rule: treat others the way you would want to be treated."

CELEBRATIONS to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee spread across the country at the start of June, despite a soggy weekend. Dr Williams noted: "She has made her public happy, and all the signs are that she is herself happy." Church officials calculated that a change in Gift Aid to include unregistered small donations could bring in £13 million, on top of the £84 million reclaimed at present.

The Archbishops' Council, informed by a paper from the Mission and Public Affairs Council, criticised the "travesty" of Britain's relationship with Europe, and the impression it gave of "slowly drifting towards the exit". Dr Richard Scott, a GP in Margate, was reprimanded for discussing faith with a vulnerable patient. The scheme to combine three West Yorkshire dioceses progressed, despite reservations expressed by Wakefield. At the Rio summit on sustainable development, observers were shocked at the lack of urgency expressed by global leaders when facing the problems of poverty, debt, and environmental decline.

A scale model of St Bride's, Fleet Street, part of the church's £2.5-million fund-raising drive, was made entirely of sponge cake.

AFTER a long debate, the General Synod declined to give final approval to the women-bishops legislation. Instead, unhappy about the House of Bishops' amendments, it deferred a decision until November, asking the Bishops to reconsider. Jewish groups criticised the Synod's support for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).

The Olympics began, with an acclaimed opening ceremony. Many churches provided stewards (Gamesmakers) and pastors for visitors and athletes. The Olympic torch passed through 8000 pairs of hands belonging to many of the most community-spirited citizens.

The United Reformed Church became the first to encourage civil partnerships on its premises. The Episcopal Church in the US voted at its General Convention to permit transgendered people to be ordained. Church leaders appealed for more effort to be made to end the conflict in Syria.

A colony of the British black bee, thought to be extinct, was found in the roof of a Northumbrian church. A couple exchanged rings flown to them by a barn owl during their wedding service.

AT THE Olympics, spectators noted the number of religious gestures made by successful athletes. Sunday-trading laws were relaxed for the duration. The C of E divested itself of its £1.9-million holdings in News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch's media company. Attempts to reform the House of Lords were shelved.

A total of 23,000 students took RS A level, the highest ever (7000 male students and 16,000 female). Christians in Egypt expressed their concern after Islamist majorities prevailed in the election. President Mohamed Morsi said: "Stop asking who is a Copt, a Muslim, a Salafi . . . All I see is that we are all Egyptians." Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old with learning difficulties, was arrested in Pakistan after being accused of burning pages of the Qur'an. The accusations by an imam turned out to be false.

In South Africa, church leaders mediated in a mining strike, after police had shot and killed 34 protesters. The three members of Pussy Riot were jailed in Moscow. (One was later released.)

Greenbelt survived torrential rain, unlike other festivals. The University of Manchester installed a "Pray-o-Mat", a converted photo booth offering more than 300 multifaith prayers.

FOUR cases of alleged religious discrimination were heard by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. A UK government lawyer argued that having the freedom to resign meant that employees could not suffer religious discrimination. An amendment to the women-bishops legislation based on respect, suggested by the Revd Janet Appleby, was adopted by the House of Bishops. The Crown Nominations Commission met to choose the next Archbishop of Canterbury, but failed to reach agreement.

The diocese of Chichester was criticised for its "dysfunctional" child-protection safeguards after a visitation commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury. An independent panel into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, was highly critical of the police. The United States was denounced across the Middle East for a badly made film, Innocence of Muslims, depicting Muhammad, made by an Egyptian Copt in California.

The Revd Leah Philbrick, the first woman to play in a Church Times Cricket Cup Final, was part of the winning Southwark side.

Dr Williams, in Rome, addressed the Synod of Bishops, summoned to mark the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. He told them of the importance of contemplation: "What people of all ages recognise in these practices is the possibility, quite simply, of living more humanly." On the home front, he began a YouTube campaign in support of the draft women-bishops legislation, as opposed to the Forward in Faith Assembly, which urged its rejection.

The US Episcopal Church began disciplinary proceedings against the Bishop of South Carolina, the Rt Revd Mark Lawrence, saying that he had "abandoned" the Church. A chink of hope appeared for the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, as the Supreme Court in Harare heard its argument for the return of its property, annexed by the former bishop, Nolbert Kunonga.

The Scouts' religious pledge came under fire. A Christian B&B owner, Susanne Wilkinson, was convicted of discriminating against a gay couple, Michael Black and John Morgan, by refusing them a double room. The Food Standards Authority raised doubts and hackles about re-using jars to sell home-made jam.

CHURCHES on the East Coast of the United States were heavily involved in alleviating the hardship caused by Hurricane Sandy. Barack Obama won another term as US President, despite opposition from religious conservatives who favoured his Mormon opponent, Mitt Romney. The Anglican Consultative Council, meeting in New Zealand, heard Dr Williams describe "our wonderful, quarrelsome, diverse, untidy Anglican Communion". The Rt Revd Justin Welby was named for Canterbury.

The General Synod met to consider giving final approval to the women-bishops legislation. It gained the required two-thirds majorities in the Houses of Bishops and Clergy, but fell in the House of Laity by six votes. Aid agencies expressed anxiety about child soldiers and the abduction of girls, as Rwandan-backed militia made large gains in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Anglicans in Zimbabwe rejoiced after a court ruled that Nolbert Kunonga and his supporters must leave the churches and schools that they had appropriated.

In an experiment, 71 atheists agreed to pray for God to reveal himself to them. Two said that they had come to faith.

THE House of Bishops promised to reintroduce legislation to enable the consecration of women as bishops in time for the July General Synod meeting next year. In a Commons debate, MPs were critical of the Church's inability to agree. The Minister for Women and Equalities, Maria Miller, described forthcoming legislation to permit same-sex couples to marry in church. This included a "quadruple lock" to protect the Church's interest in the event of a legal challenge.

Figures from the 2011 Census were published. Those describing themselves as Christians declined by 13 per cent over ten years, to 59 per cent. Charities criticised proposed welfare reforms as being biased against the poor. The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, said in the wake of the inquiry by Lord Justice Leveson that the press had proved its inability to police itself. The Doha climate summit failed to provide any practical help for countries affected by the environmental damage.

York Minster announced that it was dressing its stone with an olive-oil-based compound to help preserve it.


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