The United States Department of State ended it second summit on global religious freedom, which they called a “Ministerial”. Almost one thousand persons from around the world attended the event, designed to focus attention on religious persecution. The State Department honored five religious leaders for their actions on behalf of persecuted believers: Ima Abubakar Abdullahi, an 83-yer-old Muslim leader who saved the lives of 262 Christians in Nigeria in 2018; Mohaed Yosaif Abdalrahan of Sudan, lawyer in Sudan who has defended religious minorities; Ivanir dos Santos of Brazil who has worked to to support inter-dialogue, and William and Pascale Warda, who have labored in Iraq in support of religious freedom; and Salpy Eskidjian Weiderud, one of the architects of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process.
Hymn Society in the United States and Canada announced the winner of its March-Madness-like competition for “the greatest hymn of all time.” More than 800 people, mostly members of the Society, voted in the three-month event, set up like a single-elimination tournament. Thirty-two hymns, old and new as nominated by Society members and staff, were reduced to a final four of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, “Holy God, We Praise Your Name”, “Holy, Holy, Holy”, and “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, with “Holy, Holy, Holy” (which had trounced “Amazing Grace” in round two) barely topping “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” for top honors in the first ever such competition. The text was written by Rev. Reginald Heber and the tune (Nicaea) by Rev. John Dykes, both 19th century ministers of the Church of England.
Christian pastor and author Joshua Harris announced he is separating from his wife of 20 years, Shannon. “In recent years, some significant changes have taken place in both of us,” he wrote. Harris is noteworthy, first, as the founding pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, the founding church of the Sovereign Grace Ministries that has come under such intense criticism for the way church leaders responded to incidents of sexual abuse. Harris is also the author of the 1997 best-selling book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, calling for a repudiation of traditional American young adult dating. In 2015, Harris renounced the book, apologized for its false premises and misleading promises, and resigned his position at the church to pursue further education.
Fulton Sheen, a native of Peoria who became a famous Catholic priest and preacher, was beatified by official action in Rome. The Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints announced their decision after reviewing the evidence for a miracle attributed to Bishop Sheen. In 2010, a family near Peoria prayed to Sheen, who died in 1979, asking his assistance in reviving their apparently still-born child, a child named James Fulton Engstrom, now nine years old. Sheen was ordained a priest in 1924, served as auxiliary bishop of New York from 1951 to 1956, when he became bishop of Rochester. While in New York, he rose to fame as a television personality, winning an Oscar with his show “Life is Worth Living.” Beatified is the penultimate step on the Roman Catholic road to sainthood.
Christian Church Disciples of Christ, approved a Full Communion Agreement with the United Church of Canada (as they did four years ago with the United Church of Christ). This joint recognition with Church of Canada allows the respective churches to recognize the rites of baptism, communion, and ordination in the other tradition and also allows ministers of each to move freely to ministry posts in either communion. The Church of Canada had approved the arrangement one year ago. This is not a merger of any of the churches, however, but a step toward more fraternal relations and official cooperation.