Important Sites of Religious Pilgrimage

A BBC travel article in 2012 named 10 must-see pilgrimage locations around the world. You might have heard of the pilgrimages before, or simply learnt the famous religious story in class and can now discover how a village or town in 2018 can allow a religious person to feel closer to their faith by visiting a place written about in their holy books.

Lumbini
Location: Rupandehi, Nepal
Religion: Buddhism
Significance: birthplace of the Lord Buddha. Siddhartha Gautama, the Lord Buddha, was born in 623 B.C. in the famous gardens of Lumbini, which soon became a place of pilgrimage. Buddhism has interesting ideas which we can reflect on when thinking about whether we are at fault for our suffering and if we should take care in our actions so not to harm others or ourselves.

Lumbini

Vatican City
Location: surrounded by Rome, Italy
Religion: Catholicism
Significance: home of the Pope and centre of the Roman Catholic Church. Currently Pope Francis is the man at the Vatican! He often brings to the world’s attention things we learn about at school, such as Christians being persecuted and the need for Christians to pray for them; how Christians should show mercy and compassion to refugees like the Rohingya Muslims; and that if you are fasting during Lent you should still be kind to others to be a truly just Christian.

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Wittenberg
Location: Saxony, Germany
Religion: Protestantism
Significance: birthplace of the Protestant Reformation. It was here in Wittenberg that the monk Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of  Castle Church in 1517. Unfortunately during the Seven Years’ War, much of Wittenberg was destroyed, but Castle Church was rebuilt in the 1800s and the text of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses was inscribed into the church’s front doors. Inside the church you will also find Luther’s tomb. There are some great Martin Luther raps; film clips; animations; and mini documentaries you can watch or sing along to to help you remember the facts!

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Western Wall
Location: Jerusalem, Israel
Religion: Judaism
Significance: the holiest of Jewish sites. The Western Wall made headlines in May 2017 when the US President Donald Trump visited it and prayed there, and female journalist were kept in a penned off area behind male colleagues. It is a place where awe and wonder fills Jewish pilgrims minds and hearts.

Orthodox Jewish men praying in the  men's section, Western Wall (Wailing Wall), Old City, Jerusalem, Israel.

UK’s only bomb proof Sunday School

A Presbyterian Church in Dungiven, County Londonderry in Northern Ireland is proud that it has the only bomb proof Sunday Sunday in the UK. Last year it bought an old police station and though the original plan was to demolish it all and build a car park they instead decided to use the old police station for Church activities. It cost them over £200,000 to transform the station so there’s now a new kitchen, elevator, crèche facilities, gym space and meeting rooms.

Church Member Gladys Carmichael explained, “There are lots of rooms now for the Sunday School children and the older groups to meet and play games and if any of the kids misbehave we can also put them in the cell to cool off.”

It was only in 2010 that Dungiven Presbyterian Church made the local news when it celebrated 175 years in the town. At that event the offering money which came to over £1,500, was in aid of the congregation’s Missionary Support Fund. The congregation was supporting the work of Stephen and Angelina Cowan, PCI missionaries in Kenya, Alan and Dorothy Graham, CEF missionaries in Zimbabwe, and Eric and Anne Magowan, missionaries who work with the persecuted church in Vietnam. The evening’s theme was the words of Phil 1:27, where Paul urged the Philippians to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel. He challenged all present to do likewise if they are to present a credible witness to the world in which they live.

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Presbyterianism is a denomination of Christianity.

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Being based upon the teachings of John Calvin (1509-64) it has a central theme of predestination — everything that happens is pre-ordained by God.

The symbols which make up the Presbyterian Church symbol help us to understand what this denomination of Christianity focuses on…

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500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses

In Religious Studies lessons we learn about Martin Luther and how he complained against the corruption of the Catholic Church by nailing his 95 complaints, or Theses, to the church door, sparking the Reformation.

Students always get confused between Martin Luther born in the late fifteenth century, a monk in what is now Germany…

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And Martin Luther King Jnr the Baptist minister from 20th century USA who was a Civil Rights hero…

Martin Luther King Jr

Well 500 years since Martin Luther nailed those Theses to the door, Lutherans and Christians are preparing to celebrate his huge role in the growth of Protestantism. It was Martin Luther who translated the Latin Bible into German as he strongly believed the people should be able to understand the word of God. Already since the start of 2017 media outlets have been celebrating the year of Martin Luther’s brave moves against the Catholic Church, with BBC Radio 4 broadcasting an interesting 27 minute long discussion of Martin Luther and the Reformation. Nothing can beat, for sheer weirdness the rap music video called 95 Theses, watch and learn!

Easter Eggs – how Christian are they?

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The British Prime Minister Theresa May has spoken up in a debate about whether the National Trust and Cadbury (the chocolate brand) should make more mention of Easter in their egg hunts. The chocolate brand partner up with the National Trust each year to provide all the Easter eggs which children search for around country estates and houses in the National Trust’s portfolio. Currently on the National Trust website it states there is a lot of Easter fun but the name of the hunt is: Cadbury Egg Hunt – as you can see missing the ‘Easter’. Is this a problem? How Christian are Easter eggs anyway?

Easter Sunday is the culmination of an entire season in the Christian calendar. Preceded by Lent (a time of penance for sin) at Easter Christians celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But what has this got to do with rabbit eggs?  It is interesting how many Easter traditions can be traced back to long before the spread of Christianity. Easter was in fact originally a pagan festival. The ancient Saxons celebrated the return of spring with a festival commemorating their goddess of offspring and springtime, Eostre

The Easter Bunny may well have its origin in the honouring of rabbits in spring as an animal sacred to the goddess Eastre. Although quite why a rabbit should bring you eggs, no-one is quite sure. It’s likely that the pagan symbolism that’s survived has become merged together and increasingly commercialised.  Meanwhile the egg has long been a symbol of new life, so it’s no surprise that they’re used to symbolise nature seeming to “wake up” and bring forward new life in spring. And guess what, this isn’t a recent thing either. Ancient Greeks and Egyptians placed eggs on their tombs. A Roman proverb states, “All life comes from an egg”.

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So for a Christian remembering the events of Holy Week and Easter Sunday, should they be so concerned with people missing the Easter out of an egg hunt which isn’t completely tied to the Christian story anyway? There is no mention of an Easter festival in the New Testament of the Bible.  In fact the celebration of Easter didn’t finally win out until A.D. 325, nearly 300 years after Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection! The word Easter isn’t even to do with Christianity states a Guardian journalist, who goes on to complain that it’s a shame that people needed Jesus’ death and resurrection to make them believe.

‘Jesus had me at “love your enemies”. He sealed the deal with “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”, the parables of the good samaritan, the prodigal son, his transgression of the gender norms of the time, his emphasis on mercy and forgiveness, his reaching out to society’s outcasts, his practical help to the sick and hungry. That’s enough for me, as it evidently was to his disciples, who gave up what they had to follow him long before any crucifixion or resurrection.’

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Let us even consider hot cross buns – how Christian are they? The tradition of baking bread marked with a cross is apparently linked to paganism as well as Christianity. The pagan Saxons would bake cross buns at the beginning of spring in honour of the goddess Eostre. The cross represented the rebirth of the world after winter and the four quarters of the moon, as well as the four seasons and the wheel of life. The Christians then saw the Crucifixion in the cross bun and, as with many other pre-Christian traditions, replaced their pagan meaning with a Christian one – the resurrection of Christ at Easter. According to one story, an Anglican monk in the 12th century baked buns and marked them with a cross in honour of Good Friday. Over time they gained popularity, and eventually became a symbol of the Easter weekend.

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It might not have been until Tudor times that it was permanently linked to Christian celebrations. During the reign of Elizabeth I, the London Clerk of Markets issued a decree forbidding the sale of spiced buns except at burials, at Christmas or on Good Friday.  A song which some might still know to accompany these tasty Easter treats:

‘Hot cross buns, hot cross buns!
One ha’penny, two ha’penny, hot cross buns!
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons,
One ha’penny, two ha’penny, hot cross buns!’
Finally, a closer look at the criticism directed towards the National Trust and Cadbury’s. It was really kickstarted by the Archbishop of York who said that by calling the event the Cadbury Egg Hunt it was like “spitting on the grave” of the firm’s Christian founder, John Cadbury. John Cadbury was a Quaker. Quakers don’t celebrate Easter, because a Quaker believes that every day is holy, meaning that the criticism towards Cadbury is poorly judged too.
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Conscientious Objector at the Cinema

The new film by Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge, tells the story of WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, and refused to kill people. He became the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.

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The papers have varied reviews of the film. The Daily Telegraph reports that Doss, who’s played Andrew Garfield, was a committed Seventh Day Adventist and pacifist who served as a medic at the hellish battle for Okinawa towards the end of the Second World War. He saved 75 lives on the field of battle without ever lifting a weapon, and remains only one of three conscientious objectors to have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Their review of the film ‘bruising, fantastically moving comeback’ for Mel Gibson. The Guardian says the film has a sledgehammer lack of subtlety whereas Variety describes the film as “brutally effective”.

Seventh Day Adventists are a Protestant (therefore Christian) denomination with about 14 million Seventh Day Adventists worldwide.  Adventists live modest lives, with a strict code of ethics. They don’t smoke or drink alcohol, and recommend a vegetarian diet. Meat is permitted, but only following the Biblical commandments on clean and unclean food. Missionary work is very important to the Church and all Adventists believe they have a duty to share their beliefs with others. There is a Seventh Day Adventist in South London’s Balham.

In 2015 the President candidate for the Republican party Ben Carson had to explain his membership of the Seventh Day Adventist Church because other presidential hopefuls like Donald Trump were criticising him.

 

 

Cairo Coptic Cathedral bombed

This weekend a Coptic Cathedral in the Egyptian city of Cairo suffered a bombing which killed at least 25 and injured scores more. Copts, who make up about 10% of Egypt’s population of 90 million, faced persecution (hostility, ill-treatment and harassment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs) and discrimination during the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled by a popular uprising in 2011. In fact on New Year’s Day in 2011, shortly before the beginning of the uprising against Mubarak, a suicide bomber killed 21 worshippers outside a church in the coastal city of Alexandria. Meanwhile they have faced further attacks at the hands of Islamist extremists since 2013.

Egypt’s Copts make up the largest Christian community in the Middle East. The church is said to have been established by St Mark in approximately AD42 and survived the rise of Islam in the region from the seventh century.

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Denominations in Islam

The news that an explosion at a Sufi shrine in Pakistan has killed 52 people and injured a 100 more is another sad story of ISIS terrorism. It is an attack by extreme fundamentalist Muslims against other Muslims which is something that people worrying about ISIS violence often forget. It isn’t just against the West but against people who don’t agree with their specific brand of Islam.

The worshippers were performing dhamal – a trance-like dance – when the bomb hit. Sufism, a tolerant, mystical practice of Islam, has millions of followers in Pakistan but is opposed by extremists. In Year 8 students learn the basics about the denominations of Islam in their Flipped Classroom half-term of learning about What is means to be a Muslim. This means that for one half-term students get homework every week to prepare for the forthcoming lesson. They are supposed to have the facts and knowledge about the lesson’s topic before they walk into the classroom, and once they are in there they will have the chance to debate, discuss and use their knowledge to make and produce things.

TrueTube have a good video explaining the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims, and the BBC has a page explaining Sufism.