Turkey ‘promises’ first new church in 90 years

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently announced in a Jan. 2 meeting with representatives from Turkey’s non-Muslim communities that the government would provide land for a church for the Syrian Orthodox community.

“It is the first time since the creation of the Republic. Churches have been restored and re-opened to the public, but no new church has been built until now,” a government official told the AFP.

The church, if completed, will be the first officially-sanctioned new church building in Turkey since the nation was founded in 1923. Most new places of Christian worship, particularly Protestant ones, do not have official recognition to be zoned as religious buildings.

But according to a source in the Turkish press, this announcement by the government is only posturing to the international community.

“This comes onto the agenda every election period. Votes were sought in the 2011 general, and 2013 local, elections with the promise that permission would be given for a [new] church,” an anonymous source told Taraf, a daily paper.

“Of course the same subject is coming up for the 2015 general elections. Because this year is the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, they are bringing up this issue again in order to give positive messages to the international public.”

Some Turkish politicians are skeptical. Aydin Ayaydin, a parliamentarian for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) questioned whether the proposed church would actually overcome bureaucratic obstacles. In an inquiry to the Culture and Tourism Minister on Jan. 12, Ayaydin was quoted in Hurriyet newspaper as asking, “Why has the church’s application to the Higher Monuments Committee still not been processed until now? What is the reason?”

The city had promised to allocate a 2,700-square-meter plot of land to the church in the Yesilkoy neighborhood, where many Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Catholic churches are also located.

Virgin 
Mary 
Syrian 
Orthodox 
Church
Virgin Mary Syrian Orthodox ChurchCourtesy Yakub Atag

Over 17,000 Syriac Christians live in Istanbul, but the only church that has official recognition, the Virgin Mary Syrian Othodox Church in Tarlabasi, holds only 300. This has been a problem for Syriacs who live far away from the church building, due to a Syriac tradition that they must fast until their Sunday service concludes.

Because those in Yesilkoy do not have a building of their own, they have had to meet in a Latin Catholic church. It has led to scheduling problems, since Syriacs couldn’t begin their service until 11 a.m., creating difficulties for children or the elderly who do not want to break their fasts.

“The Latin church was not suitable for our purposes. It wasn’t large enough and we couldn’t use it for long enough. Only 200 people could fit inside,” said Sait Susin, president of the board of directors for the Syrian Church of the Virgin Mary Foundation.

Ongoing hurdles

The city government first promised permission for the church construction in 2009 amid local elections. It approved construction of the new church in 2012 to much fanfare from the pro-government press. The daily Star announced in a headline “A Mosque in Camlica, a Church in Yesilkoy,” a reference to a mega-mosque being built on the highest land area in Istanbul.

But while the mosque is nearing completion, the Turkish government has not cleared all hurdles for construction of the church to even begin.

In 2013 a government historical preservation committee denied a transfer of property from an Italian Catholic Church to a Syrian Orthodox committee in order to preserve the ruins of a chapel and graveyard on the land. It approved the transfer in 2014.

“We do not consider any religious or cultural tradition to be foreign,” Davutoglu said at the meeting with Christian representatives. He added that the government respects the “equal citizenship” of all Turkey’s minorities, regardless of religion.

But international watchdog groups disagree. According to the annual World Watch List issued this month by Open Doors International, a charity which monitors religious freedom, Muslim-majority Turkey is among the 50 countries in the world where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

Turkey is ranked 41st on the current list, which stated that four churches were attacked and damaged during 2014. The main “engines” of persecution against Turkey’s Christians were identified as Islamic extremism and religious nationalism.

Nevertheless, Davutoglu believes discrimination against Muslims to be an equally problematic global issue, when compared to anti-Christian discrimination. He has called on Turkey’s non-Muslim communities to raise their voices against Islamophobia.

“When we raise our voice together against Islamophobia, then we do not only stand against discrimination against Muslims, but we raise our voice against discrimination against all religious identities,” he said.

The Council of Europe hailed Turkey’s announcement that the Syriac community would be permitted to build a new church as “a sign of diversity,” wrote Daniel Holtgen, spokesman for the secretary general of the Council of Europe in his Twitter feed on Jan. 7.

Some Syriac church leaders agree that relations have improved with the Turkish government. Susin said that the government is paying more attention to the needs of the Syriac community than in the past.

He noted that the government allowed the first Syriac pre-school to open in Istanbul in

Mor 
Efrem 
Syriac 
Preschool, 
Istanbul
Mor Efrem Syriac Preschool, IstanbulMor Efrem Syriac Preschool’s Facebook photo

September 2014. Some 25 children attend the Mor Efrem Syriac Pre-school, surrounded by icons and crosses, singing songs in their ancient Syriac language, closest to the Aramaic dialect spoken by Jesus.

The Syrian Orthodox Church is a branch of Eastern Orthodoxy that constitutes one of the oldest distinct church bodies in Christianity. The ethnic Syriacs who make up this church community in Turkey now number only 20,000. Their numbers have grown slightly in recent years due to Christian refugees flowing from Syria and Iraq across the borders of southeast Turkey, where some 2,000 Syriacs are living in villages and small towns near the church’s 4th century Mor Gabriel Monastery in Midyat.

SOURCE

House On The Rock Church Shows Love This Christmas Through Project Spread | @houseontherockc @GospelHotspot #HOTRProjectSpread

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The Christmas season is usually one of festivities and celebration everywhere and House On The Rock church decided to celebrate with the less privileged in the society by reaching out and sharing gift items in the spirit of love and togetherness.
Over 2,400 families in the Makoko, Ijesha, Jakande and Isale Eko communities were beneficiaries of the Project SPREAD initiative which took place on Saturday, 20th December 2014.
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Founder and Pastor of the House on The Rock Church, Pastor Paul Adefarasin was also on ground to help distribute food items to families in these communities and it was indeed a sight to behold as the families trooped out in their thousands to receive from the church.
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House on The Rock is a church that stands out as regards community initiatives like education and healthcare. The church also recently organized The Experience Lagos, a music concert that brings people from different denominations nationwide together in worship and intercession and has since grown to become one of the biggest in the world, and indeed the largest music event in Africa.
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Speaking in an interview on Inspiration Fm, Pastor Goke Coker who is in charge on the Mission Department of House On The Rock, said Project SPREAD was a huge success so far and was still going to extend to the prisons and old people’s homes in the state.
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He also urged religious organizations nationwide including churches and mosques to reach out more to the less privileged in the society.

Georgia’s New ‘Guns Everywhere’ Law Allows Guns in Church with Pastor’s Okay

To wear your six-shooter to church in Georgia, now all you need is the preacher’s okay. The state’s unique “guns everywhere” law also applies to bars and bartenders.
 
You can wear your sidearm in church as long as you have a license to carry — and permission of the pastor.
 
“The law allows religious leaders to ‘opt in’ to permit guns on their worship premises,” reports Claire E. Healey at Townhall.  “Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed the bill into law in April.“
 
“Calling it ‘a great day to reaffirm our liberties,’ Deal said the law allows residents to protect their families,” reported CNN, “and expands the list of places where they can legally carry firearms while allowing certain property owners, namely churches and bars, to make judgments on whether they want worshippers and patrons carrying guns.”
 
Governor Deal says the legislation protects citizens. “License holders have passed background checks and are in good standing with the law,” he said at a public picnic. “This law gives added protections to those who have played by the rules– and who can protect themselves and others from those who don’t play by the rules.”
 
However, Georgia Episcopalians aren’t writing guns into their liturgy.
 
“Robert Wright, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta,” reports Josh Sanburn at Time magazine, “sent an open letter last week to the 56,000 members that make up the dozens of Episcopal churches throughout north Georgia with a simple message: ‘Don’t bring guns into the house of God.’”
 
“Jesus did not preach a gospel of self-protection, a gospel of live by the sword, die by the sword,” Wright says. “Quite the opposite.” Wright says that while he understands the need for Second Amendment protections for those wanting firearms for self-defense or for sport he sees the very idea of guns in church as blasphemous.
 
“Weapons in a place of sanctuary seem to me to be inconsistent with a God of love,” he says. “The prince of peace isn’t spelled P-I-E-C-E. It’s P-E-A-C-E.”
 
In Columbus, Ga., “Faith Worship Center International pastor Norman Hardman is one of the church leaders that opted to ban the weapons,” reports Brownie Marie at Christianity Today. 
 
“I think that if we let people go loosely, we’ll have a vigilante spirit,” he told TV station WTVM. “I’m glad that at this point, we can put up a sign that says, ‘You can’t bring this in here.’‘
 
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta issued guidelines last week for its parishes, which encompass 69 counties throughout Georgia. “The last thing we need is more firearms in public places, especially in those places frequented by the children and the vulnerable,” advised Archbishop Wilton Gregory.
 
On the other hand, the Georgia Baptist Convention supports the bill. The convention, made up of 3,600 congregations throughout the state.
 
“We think it’s important that churches be able to make their own decisions,” said Mike Griffin, a pastor and lobbyist for the convention.
 
“But Episcopal Bishop Wright says he believes most people of faith in Georgia don’t want guns on church property,” reported Time. “And it’s not just Christians. He says he’s heard from Muslim and Jewish leaders as well who oppose it, citing about 200 other religious leaders who have publicly spoken out against the bill.
 
“I don’t know how you reconcile Jesus who says, ‘Love they neighbor, love thy enemy,’ and at the same time being armed to the teeth,” Wright said.

SOURCE

Boko Haram Locks Worshipers In Church, Kills 56 Near Chibok

Boko Haram militants invaded Kautikari, Kwada and Nguragila villages near Chibok in Borno State, killing at least 56 people and razing numerous homes.

According to SaharaReporters they learned that the militants, dressed in military camouflage, stormed the three villages from 8:45 a.m. when many Christians were at Sunday services. One source said the militants arrived in the villages in a convoy of sports utility vehicles and unleashed terror on villagers for several hours. Their killing spree reportedly lasted till 12:30 p.m.

Ibrahim Musa, a resident of Kautikari village, told our correspondent that the attackers “locked worshipers inside the EYN Church and sprayed bullets on them.” He disclosed that the terrorist group killed nine worshipers and later set the church ablaze.

Mr. Musa said the Islamist terrorists killed 38 people in Kwada village and nine in Nguragila village. He added that the attackers set fire to the EYN Church, the Deeper Life Church, and the Church of Christ In Nations (COCIN). In addition, the terrorists burned numerous homes.

Manaseh Allen, a Chibok-based youth leader, also confirmed today’s coordinated attacks on the three villages. “There is confusion everywhere in the Chibok area,” he said, adding, “If the attackers could succeed in day time, what if they come in the night?” He urged the federal government to redouble its commitment to combating terrorism.

He remarked that the three besieged villages are between 10 and 15 kilometers from Chibok, the location where Boko Haram militants seized more than 300 schoolgirls on April 14. More than 200 of the schoolgirls are yet to be rescued.

SOURCE

Cry for help from Syrian church leaders

 

Christians are being targeted by militants in war-torn Syria, say church leaders in the country.

Syrian church leaders raised the warning during a visit to Washington DC last week sponsored by Barnabas Fund and the Westminster Institute in the US.

During their visit, they took part in a panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation under the harrowing title of “Marked for Destruction: The Plight of Syria’s Christians”.

The panel shared that more than 1,200 Christians were martyred in Syria in 2013 alone and that over 600,000 have fled the country. Many still remain in Syria where they are at risk of abduction and acts of violence, and struggling with the same hardships as the rest of the population.

Barnabas Fund estimates that between 30 and 40 per cent of churches in Syria have been seriously damaged or completely destroyed as a result of the fighting.

Riad Jarjour, a Presbyterian pastor from Homs and former president of the Middle East Council of Churches, said: “If this continues the way it is, there will come a time when there will be no more Christians in Syria.”

As an example of the horrific violence that Christians are at risk of, Bishop Armash Nalbandian, primate of the Armenian Church of Damascus, told of two Armenian Christians from Aleppo who were taken from a bus by opposition fighters. When the fighters returned to the bus later with a box, they said it contained cakes but inside were heads of the two Christians.

Syrian church leaders asked US policymakers and officials to recognise a new “axis of evil” across Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, which they claim are arming the Islamic militants who are kidnapping, raping and killing Christians.

They also specifically urged the US to put pressure on its allies to stop supporting and sending terrorist fighters to Syria.

In his report on the church leaders’ visit, Dr Sookhdeo said they had been received “sympathetically” but given no assurance of support from US officials.

He likened the role of the churches in Syria today to those that worked for peace through the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

“We must believe today that the courage of my colleagues from Syria will one day bear fruit and that through their efforts, peace will come to Syria and ultimately Lebanon and the region,” said Dr Sookhdeo.

“This would be a glorious day, not just for the beleaguered Christian communities, but also for the many good, decent Muslims in the region who yearn for peace and an end to religious extremism.

“When politicians and statesmen fail, it falls to the Church to stand in the gap.”

SOURCE

5 Uncomfortable Issues The Church Needs to Talk About

It has been said that the Church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners. Yet, most of us would much rather pretend to be a saint on display than call for an ambulance.

Week after week, many of us walk into a church, sit by people we have known for years and yet would never dream of sharing our innermost struggles with. While a large part of this is our pride, another factor is a Church that seems unwilling to talk about certain uncomfortable issues, choosing rather to ignore them, try to cover them up or simply reject people who bring them up.

There are many issues the Church as a whole needs to address, such as creationism, activism, environmental stewardship and many others. But there are many more issues that individuals in the Church are dealing with—issues that the Church Body should be talking about. In Galatians 6:2, Paul urged the Church to “Bear each other’s burdens,” so maybe with more grace and love we can turn on the light in the darkened rooms of each other’s hearts and let our churches become safe havens for the uncomfortable things we have to deal with.

Many of these issues need to be dealt with professionally first. But that should not be the end of it. Research shows just listening to someone and showing them you genuinely care for their situation can be a huge part of that person’s healing process.

This is far from a comprehensive list—these are a few of the issues many people in churches around the world are dealing with, whether they admit it or not. And as people increasingly leave the Church, often over issues such as these, it is becoming more urgent that the Church talk about how to care for every one of its members.

Addiction

At AA meetings and therapy sessions, talking about addiction makes sense, but for some reason, it’s not a topic most church people want to hear about. Certain addictions are definitely more socially acceptable to talk about than others. For example, it’s OK to bug Frank about his smoking, but John’s alcoholism is more hush-hush.

And yes, in many churches, a person’s addictions can become fodder for gossip. However, if the Church were to first approach one another as family, then addicts in the Church might feel safer to be vulnerable about their struggles. Often, they just need to be loved and feel safe enough to know they can expose this part of themselves in a community where the addiction isn’t crushing them every second.

Sexuality

Sex and sexuality tends to be a loaded topic in the Church. Certain corners of the Church have been very vocal in their broad condemnation of premarital sex, but that’s where the conversation (for lack of a better word) tends to stop. We rarely engage the topic of sex on a personal, individual level. There’s a generally accepted idea floating around that, once two people are married, they enter into a carefree, blissful lifetime of sexual fulfillment that needs never be discussed in any meaningful way.

There are strong believers struggling with their sexual identity, brokenness and frustration in churches across the world, and among their Christian friends and families, they don’t dare say a word about it.

 

I know of a few people in my life who love Christ and want to abstain from sin, but they are struggling with sexual sin or sinful desires. There are married couples for whom waiting to have sex turned out to be the easy part, as both parties brought into their marriage a series of expectations that turned out to be flawed. There are very few people they can share this with, but that also means they carry this burden alone. If many churches stopped treating sexual issues as a personal choice, where it could be turned on or off like a light-switch, then maybe we could start to create more safe places where people can share their burdens with each other and find out they’re not alone.

Sincere Doubt

In many churches today, there are Christians, even pastors, who are struggling with doubt. They have absorbed all the recommended apologetics. They havecried out in prayer. They are struggling to believe that God is good or that He’s there at all, yet they continue with the motions. They put on the smile while setting up the coffee table. They mouth along to the words in the worship songs, but it all feels hollow to them. I know this because I’ve been one of these people.

One of the most vital ways the Church can handle doubt is to stop acting like everything about faith is obvious. The Church can recognize that we all have doubts from time to time, but we cling to a hope that’s beyond rational explanation. Churches can also stop trying to hide the hard parts of the Bible under the rug or downplay the significance these ethically questionable parts play in a person’s doubt.

Mental Illness

Those in our midst who deal with mental illness, either personally or second-hand, are typically silent about the struggles they experience. In our society, there still exist a lot of stereotypes about mental illness, and because people either don’t want to deal with it or they’ve been hurt, they will choose to avoid opening up about it. The problem is, if these issues go untalked about, then they often will go unresolved.

In some churches, people who do reveal their illness will go without professional help in lieu of prayer. When prayer doesn’t work, the person dealing with mental illness feels like a failure or like they don’t have enough faith. The Church needs to create an encouraging environment where people can be directed to right help and then receive spiritual healing alongside their physical healing.

Loneliness

There are droves of lonely people in the church, and that includes senior pastors and priests. The isolation comes from a lack of identification and identification comes through open communication. When we can be vulnerable and honest with one another, we understand each other in a profound way.

A lonely person may walk in to a church alone and leave alone each Sunday. Although they appreciate the free coffee and donuts the fellowship hall offers, what they really want is fellowship. Taking time to get to know the people around you and then reaching out to them outside of the church will allow for a greater, more stable community.

Of course, every church is different and while one church may be stronger in one area, it may be weaker in others. These are just a few issues that we as the Church Body need to be willing to address. And as we talk about them, we must remember to address them with humility, understanding and grace, keeping in mind our role as fellow hospital patients, not museum curators.

SOURCE

5 Uncomfortable Issues The Church Needs to Start Talking About

 

It has been said that the Church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners. Yet, most of us would much rather pretend to be a saint on display than call for an ambulance.

Week after week, many of us walk into a church, sit by people we have known for years and yet would never dream of sharing our innermost struggles with. While a large part of this is our pride, another factor is a Church that seems unwilling to talk about certain uncomfortable issues, choosing rather to ignore them, try to cover them up or simply reject people who bring them up.

There are many issues the Church as a whole needs to address, such as creationism, activism, environmental stewardship and many others. But there are many more issues that individuals in the Church are dealing with—issues that the Church Body should be talking about. In Galatians 6:2, Paul urged the Church to “Bear each other’s burdens,” so maybe with more grace and love we can turn on the light in the darkened rooms of each other’s hearts and let our churches become safe havens for the uncomfortable things we have to deal with.

Many of these issues need to be dealt with professionally first. But that should not be the end of it. Research shows just listening to someone and showing them you genuinely care for their situation can be a huge part of that person’s healing process.

This is far from a comprehensive list—these are a few of the issues many people in churches around the world are dealing with, whether they admit it or not. And as people increasingly leave the Church, often over issues such as these, it is becoming more urgent that the Church talk about how to care for every one of its members.

Addiction

At AA meetings and therapy sessions, talking about addiction makes sense, but for some reason, it’s not a topic most church people want to hear about. Certain addictions are definitely more socially acceptable to talk about than others. For example, it’s OK to bug Frank about his smoking, but John’s alcoholism is more hush-hush.

And yes, in many churches, a person’s addictions can become fodder for gossip. However, if the Church were to first approach one another as family, then addicts in the Church might feel safer to be vulnerable about their struggles. Often, they just need to be loved and feel safe enough to know they can expose this part of themselves in a community where the addiction isn’t crushing them every second.

Sexuality

Sex and sexuality tends to be a loaded topic in the Church. Certain corners of the Church have been very vocal in their broad condemnation of premarital sex, but that’s where the conversation (for lack of a better word) tends to stop. We rarely engage the topic of sex on a personal, individual level. There’s a generally accepted idea floating around that, once two people are married, they enter into a carefree, blissful lifetime of sexual fulfillment that needs never be discussed in any meaningful way.

 

There are strong believers struggling with their sexual identity, brokenness and frustration in churches across the world, and among their Christian friends and families, they don’t dare say a word about it. I know of a few people in my life who love Christ and want to abstain from sin, but they are struggling with sexual sin or sinful desires. There are married couples for whom waiting to have sex turned out to be the easy part, as both parties brought into their marriage a series of expectations that turned out to be flawed. There are very few people they can share this with, but that also means they carry this burden alone. If many churches stopped treating sexual issues as a personal choice, where it could be turned on or off like a light-switch, then maybe we could start to create more safe places where people can share their burdens with each other and find out they’re not alone.

Sincere Doubt

In many churches today, there are Christians, even pastors, who are struggling with doubt. They have absorbed all the recommended apologetics. They havecried out in prayer. They are struggling to believe that God is good or that He’s there at all, yet they continue with the motions. They put on the smile while setting up the coffee table. They mouth along to the words in the worship songs, but it all feels hollow to them. I know this because I’ve been one of these people.

One of the most vital ways the Church can handle doubt is to stop acting like everything about faith is obvious. The Church can recognize that we all have doubts from time to time, but we cling to a hope that’s beyond rational explanation. Churches can also stop trying to hide the hard parts of the Bible under the rug or downplay the significance these ethically questionable parts play in a person’s doubt.

Mental Illness

Those in our midst who deal with mental illness, either personally or second-hand, are typically silent about the struggles they experience. In our society, there still exist a lot of stereotypes about mental illness, and because people either don’t want to deal with it or they’ve been hurt, they will choose to avoid opening up about it. The problem is, if these issues go untalked about, then they often will go unresolved.

In some churches, people who do reveal their illness will go without professional help in lieu of prayer. When prayer doesn’t work, the person dealing with mental illness feels like a failure or like they don’t have enough faith. The Church needs to create an encouraging environment where people can be directed to right help and then receive spiritual healing alongside their physical healing.

Loneliness

There are droves of lonely people in the church, and that includes senior pastors and priests. The isolation comes from a lack of identification and identification comes through open communication. When we can be vulnerable and honest with one another, we understand each other in a profound way.

A lonely person may walk in to a church alone and leave alone each Sunday. Although they appreciate the free coffee and donuts the fellowship hall offers, what they really want is fellowship. Taking time to get to know the people around you and then reaching out to them outside of the church will allow for a greater, more stable community.

Of course, every church is different and while one church may be stronger in one area, it may be weaker in others. These are just a few issues that we as the Church Body need to be willing to address. And as we talk about them, we must remember to address them with humility, understanding and grace, keeping in mind our role as fellow hospital patients, not museum curators.

SOURCE