Kaya Burgess

The Times

Kaya Burgess holds a unique dual role among specialist journalists, as both Religious Affairs Correspondent and Science Reporter. This entry focuses on his Religious Affairs coverage, an often under-recognised specialism.

He took a scientific approach to a Religion story by building the widest-ranging survey ever of Church of England priests, revealing where their views differ from public opinion or clash with church policy. Across five days and ten stories in print and 14 online, revelations included the view that Britain can no longer be called a Christian country, support for same-sex church weddings and a female Archbishop of Canterbury, opposition to assisted dying and conversion therapy, and fears the church will miss its net zero target. It took Kaya months to hand-type a database of emails and consult academics and pollsters on the questions (full methodology in supporting material). He worked with Ryan Watts on the data team to construct the survey and gather results from 1,200 respondents in-house. All copy was written by Kaya, with additional reaction quotes from parliamentary colleagues. It led, on day one, to a front-page splash and spread including Kaya’s analysis. It ran alongside a front-page science story by Kaya, with both his specialist patches on page one. The survey findings were called “absolutely huge” by the Rev Andrew Foreshew-Cain and “fascinating” by Prof Linda Woodhead of King’s College London. The Bishop of London said it informed bishops’ discussions on recognising gay relationships for the first time. Kaya’s coverage was followed by the Daily Mail, Telegraph, Guardian and BBC, prompting debates across print and broadcast. It drew six days of reader letters and more than 3,200 online comments.

Kaya had a world exclusive on King Charles’s coronation revealing how non-Christians would play a role for the first time. The King wanted to be “defender” of all faiths, but Buckingham and Lambeth palaces were saying nothing about whether other religions would feature. After weeks of grilling contacts, Kaya revealed Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Jewish peers would bring the King his regalia in the ceremony. Kaya also revealed remarkable efforts to enable the Chief Rabbi to attend on the Jewish sabbath.

A veil of secrecy around misogynistic abuse in the Methodist Church was lifted by Kaya’s investigation. With access to internal reviews withheld from churchgoers, Kaya uncovered concerns the church is “not seen as a safe place for women”, who face touching, bullying and alleged “failures to respond” from leaders. Kaya’s work prompted Charity Commission action and an outcry from worshippers, with one source noting it should raise alarm “like a fire engine with its sirens blaring”. He continued to pursue the story, revealing the investigation and suspension of senior Methodists.

Kaya also reported from Ukraine as the only journalist embedded with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit, seeing devastation in Bucha, churches used as morgues, and taking refuge in bomb shelters during air-raid alerts. The trip led to six Religion stories, some featuring Kaya’s photography, and to a Science story on harvesting Chernobyl’s apples to make schnapps.