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English poet and priest Malcolm Guite talks prayer, sonnets and his latest book

Episcopal News Service - qui, 06/02/2020 - 18:25

The Rev. Malcolm Guite. Photo courtesy Anglican Journal

[Anglican Journal] The Rev. Malcolm Guite is an English poet and musician. He is an ordained Anglican priest, a chaplain and teacher at Girton College, University of Cambridge, and has written nine books, including five books of poetry. His sonnets have been praised by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams as having “economy and pungency,” offering “deep resources for prayer and meditation to the reader.”

His most recent collection of poetry, “After Prayer,” was released through Canterbury Press in October and begins with a series of sonnets responding to George Herbert’s poem “Prayer.” In advance of Herbert’s feast day, Feb. 27, the Journal spoke to Guite about his poetic influences and how his art and faith work together in his life. This interview has been edited for length.

Read the entire article here.

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New Orleans church, home to ‘murder board,’ eyes new tribute to victims in stars on ceiling

Episcopal News Service - qua, 05/02/2020 - 14:53

St. Anna’s Episcopal Church in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana, has posted the names of the city’s homicide victims since 2007 on a wall outside the church. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] Though far from a good year, 2019 was a statistically better year for New Orleans, Louisiana: The city recorded 119 homicides, the fewest in nearly 50 years, further distancing itself from its reputation just a decade ago as the unofficial “murder capital” of the United States.

But the recent decrease in deaths has not alleviated the human toll that violence, particularly gun violence, takes each year on the people of New Orleans. They still are murdered at a higher rate than residents of all but three other major U.S. cities. Their deaths still leave holes in the lives of surviving loved ones and the community.

And their names continue to be added to the “murder board” at St. Anna’s Episcopal Church. Since 2007, the congregation has maintained and updated this memorial list outside the church in the city’s Tremé neighborhood just north of the French Quarter. The memorial now contains more than a thousand names of people killed in and near the city, and even with homicides decreasing, more than 100 new names are posted each year.

“That’s still an intolerable amount,” the Rev. Bill Terry, rector of St. Anna’s, told Episcopal News Service by phone. “We have a large part of our community that lives in a deep longing and a deep and profound sadness,” he said, and the church’s lament for that loss of life transcends any public policy success extolled by government leaders.

The permanent memorial at St. Anna’s, covering a fence next to the church, lists each victim’s name, age, date of death and method – “shot” is the most common – but it only covers 2007 to 2012 because the congregation ran out of room on the fence. So, the current year’s homicide victims are written in marker on a separate board attached to a nearby church wall. The congregation envisions a new memorial large enough to commemorate all the victims, by representing them as a sky full of stars on the ceiling inside the church.

Joel Dyer calls it “Stargazers.” He is the local artist who came up with the idea for the new memorial and now is trying to raise money to install it at St. Anna’s, where he has been a parishioner for most of the past decade. The ceiling of the nave and sanctuary would be painted blue, and 2 1/2-inch gold stars would be arranged in a grid, with enough estimated room to memorialize up to 5,000 murder victims.

“I thought ‘Stargazers’ would imply a little hope,” Dyer, 74, said in an interview with ENS, adding, “our hope is to keep our kids off that ceiling.”

Artist Joel Dyer, a parishioner at St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, sketched the design on the left for a future Stargazers’ tribute to murder victims, which would be displayed on the ceiling of the church, shown in the photo on the right provided by Luigi Mandile.

One star will shine particularly bright in the eyes of this diverse congregation on Esplanade Avenue. Robert Atkins, 21 years old when he was shot and killed on Oct. 20, 2016, grew up attending the church and had served as an acolyte since he was 5 – a “perfect little boy,” his mother, Althea Atkins-McCall, remembered in a phone interview.

Robert Atkins, 21, was shot and killed in October 2016, less than two weeks after this photo was taken while he was attending his mother’s wedding at St. Anna’s. Photo courtesy of Althea Atkins-McCall

The connection between her family and St. Anna’s goes beyond a name on a memorial. “It’s a little deeper for me because we actually were very much involved in the church,” Atkins-McCall said, and though she now lives in Louisiana’s capital city of Baton Rouge, she still has “just a great appreciation for the level of commitment that Father Terry has for the community and the members of his church.”

Atkins’ murder remains unsolved, and his mother is grateful for ways “of keeping my son’s name alive.” Though his killing was too recent to be included on the permanent list at St. Anna’s, Atkins-McCall donated a bench in his name that was installed next to the sidewalk in front of the church memorial, so anyone who visits can sit in contemplation and remembrance.

Terry had only been rector at St. Anna’s a couple years when Hurricane Katrina dealt a devastating blow to New Orleans in 2005. Once a city of nearly 500,000 people, New Orleans lost more than half its population in Katrina’s aftermath as it struggled with recovery efforts, but the number of homicides remained high. When murders reached 209 in 2007, the city’s estimated per capita murder rate topped that of any other major American city.

Early in 2007, thousands of people marched in New Orleans to protest the killings and what they saw as public officials’ inadequate response. After the march, Terry began talking to a deacon about what St. Anna’s could do. They came up with the idea of publicly naming each of the victims, and “we’ve really been doing that ever since,” Terry said.

In addition to writing the names on a display outside the church, St. Anna’s began incorporating a reading of the latest victims’ names into Sunday services, which typically draw about 120 worshippers. Church staff members scour local media outlets each week for reports of killings and follow up with authorities to obtain information about the victims.

Other churches asked to receive the names compiled by St. Anna’s, and now the lists are sent out every week by email, usually on Thursdays. They include people killed outside the city limits, in communities that are part of greater New Orleans.

The church is “literally on the border between two worlds,” Terry said, between some of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods and those struggling with deep poverty. That intersection is reflected in the congregation, which Terry said includes parishioners from a mix of backgrounds, many of them middle-class or low-income residents.

Crime is driven by a range of factors, and fluctuations in crime rates defy easy explanations. Terry, though, noted that extreme poverty, an affordable housing shortage and limited job opportunities continue to plague New Orleans, and the local black community, which had made up a significant majority of city residents, has been greatly diminished since Katrina.

The “murder board” at St. Anna’s Episcopal Church is only big enough to fit the hundreds of names of homicide victims from 2007 to 2012. The church is looking for a long-term solution to memorialize all the victims since 2007. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

The church regularly gets visitors to the homicide memorial. Terry recalls a police sergeant who spent about 15 minutes one day looking over the names before approaching the rector in tears: “I saw four of my high school friends on your murder board,” he said.

Mere numbers can dehumanize crime victims, Terry said, and “most of these people live in poverty. They have no memorials.” He thinks simply sharing their names is a step toward giving them some dignity in death, though the congregation doesn’t stop there. St. Anna’s also supports neighborhood children and their families through its Anna’s Place program, and it is raising money now for an ambitious expansion of those efforts called the Dodwell House.

“The ‘murder board’ is a memorial. It’s a public spiritual statement to the world that life maters. But that’s not good enough,” Terry said. “We have to become disrupters in cycles of violence, so the Gospel begins to take shape in the community.”

As the “murder board” grew to include more than a thousand names, the list stretched across the church’s fence, eventually running out of room. Terry said one option the congregation is considering is to reinstall the permanent memorial so it is configured to fit nearly 3,000 names, but that still would only hold the names of victims through 2017. The longer-term solution is the Stargazers project.

The ceiling of the church is large enough to accommodate stars for all the victims since 2007. Plans also include a computer kiosk, so visitors can search victims’ names and find where on the ceiling each victim’s memorial star is displayed.

And there will be room for the memorial to expand as more residents of the New Orleans area succumb to deadly violence.

“It can be discouraging because it’s so common,” Atkins-McCall said.

Her family was fortunate in many ways. She and her family immigrated to the United States from Guyana in 1989 and settled in New Orleans, where her mother made sure they attended church, first at Christ Church Cathedral and then at St. Anna’s.

Robert Atkins, left, poses for a photo with the Rev. Bill Terry at St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, where Terry presided at the wedding of Atkins’ mother. Atkins had been active in the congregation for most of his childhood. Photo courtesy of Althea Atkins-McCall

“We had this very strong Christian-based upbringing,” she said, and she instilled the same in her son, who was born in 1995.

Robert Atkins was “everything you wanted in a kid,” she said, but tragedy struck early in his life. His father, who had been Atkins-McCall’s high school sweetheart, was shot and killed a few months after their son’s first birthday.

Despite that loss, Robert grew into a gifted student who loved art and football, his mother said, and St. Anna’s “became home and became part of our family.”

Atkins was taking a break from college in 2016 and working an overnight security job when he was murdered. He would call his mother after getting home from his shift, and when he didn’t call that morning, she grew worried. Later that day, she learned from his girlfriend that he had been shot in a car, pushed into the street and left for dead.

The killing was all the more jarring because it came at a time of celebration: Less than two weeks earlier, Robert Atkins had been all smiles while attending his mother’s wedding at St. Anna’s. Terry, who presided at the wedding, later led a candlelight vigil with the family at the scene of Atkins’ murder.

Atkins-McCall still holds out hope that police will find who killed her son, and she sometimes checks in with investigators, to see if they have any new information and to remind them that she still wants answers.

When she gets discouraged, she looks back on her son’s last Instagram post, which she said seemed both to foreshadow his death and to show that his faith remained strong. The photo appeared to be of a page from a Christian devotional, leading with the sentence, “You are on the right path.”

“I’m behind you Lord!” Atkins wrote in the post. “You gotta trust him and trust yourself. Your time is NEAR.”

“He was an awesome kid,” Atkins-McCall said. “Whatever God placed him here to do, it was accomplished.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

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Church of England Pensions Board launches stock exchange index to monitor climate action

Episcopal News Service - ter, 04/02/2020 - 15:50

Members of the Church of England Pensions Board open trading at the London Stock Exchange on Jan. 30 at the launch of the new Transition Pathway Initiative Climate Transition Index. Photo: Church of England

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Church of England Pensions Board has launched a Transition Pathways Initiative (TPI) Climate Transition Index to guide investors on companies’ progress towards alignment with the Paris Agreement on climate change. The FTSE TPI Climate Transition Index will enable investment funds to link their investments on the London Stock Exchange to the progress companies are making in line with the Paris Agreement. The move follows calls from Mark Carney, the outgoing governor of the Bank of England, for pension funds to tackle the financial risk of climate change.

The Pensions Board has announced an initial investment of £600 million in the index, which is also backed by 62 funds with over US $18 trillion (approximately £13.75 trillion GBP) of combined assets under management or assets under advice.

Read the entire article here.

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The Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission: An introduction

Episcopal News Service - ter, 04/02/2020 - 15:25

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Anglican Communion loves its jargon – key words and buzz phrases that spring up in conversations, sermons and speeches. One of these phrases is “the Five Marks of Mission.” The Anglican Communion News Service has commissioned a series of articles looking at each of the Five Marks and we will publish these in the coming weeks. In this article, Gavin Drake explores their background and history.

The Anglican Communion has no central authority or decision-making body. It is a family of 40 – soon to be 41 – independent but interdependent churches. The Anglican Communion’s four Instruments of Communion – the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates’ Meeting, the Lambeth Conference and the Anglican Consultative Council – have no right to impose policies or initiatives on those autonomous member churches.

But they can come up with ideas which they propose to the churches. These ideas may gain acceptance in some churches but not in others, they may be rejected by most churches or they may gain wide acceptance. This process is often referred to as “reception.” It is a way of testing whether the proposals by the Instruments have been received by the churches.

Once such proposal that has been universally accepted by the churches of the Communion is the Five Marks of Mission. Some member churches will have debated these in their provincial synods or councils, while others will have just adopted them through usage. The Five Marks of Mission are such an important resource that churches outside the Anglican Communion often reflect on them too. But what are they?

Read the entire article here.

The post The Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission: An introduction appeared first on Episcopal News Service.

Susan B. Haynes consecrated as bishop of Southern Virginia

Episcopal News Service - ter, 04/02/2020 - 12:01

Bishop Susan B. Haynes is presented the pastoral staff by the Rt. Rev. Herman Hollerith IV, 10th bishop of Southern Virginia. Photo: Susan Pederson

[Diocese of Southern Virginia]  The Rev. Susan Bunton Haynes was ordained and consecrated as the 11th bishop of the Diocese of Southern Virginia on Feb. 1 at Williamsburg Community Chapel in Williamsburg, Virginia. Approximately 1,300 people attended the historic service, and over 1,000 watched the live stream, as Haynes became the first woman bishop in the diocese’s 128-year history. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry led the service as chief consecrator. The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II, seventh bishop of Northern Indiana, was the preacher.

Haynes was elected at a Diocesan Special Council in Dinwiddie, Virginia, on Sept. 21, 2019. One of six nominees, she was elected on the eighth ballot. Prior to the election, Haynes served as the rector of St. Paul’s in Mishawaka, Indiana, for 11 years.

The service, held on the eve of the presentation of  Christ in the temple, began with a Candlemas ceremony by candlelight. Congregants held candles blessed at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem especially for use at this service.

A hymn written especially for the consecration by the Rev. Canon Henry G. Randolph, Jr. was sung during Communion.  Randolph’s text is set to the tune “Kingsfold,” a well-known tune from The Hymnal 1982. Randolph, a friend and colleague to Haynes, is also distantly related to The Rt. Rev. Alfred Magill Randolph, the first bishop of Southern Virginia.  The hymn was also shared with parishes in the Diocese of Northern Indiana, from which Haynes came, in order to be sung on Feb. during worship, as their way of supporting a priest from their own diocese who has become a bishop.

Haynes earned her master of divinity degree at Vanderbilt Divinity School and was ordained in 2004. She is married to the Rev. Thomas Haynes, and they have two adult daughters, Sarah and Avery.

Haynes succeeds the Rt. Rev. Herman Hollerith IV who served as the 10th bishop of Southern Virginia. Hollerith served the diocese for 10 years and retired in January 2019.

The Diocese of Southern Virginia encompasses 101 congregations from Virginia’s Eastern Shore to the Dan River.

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Across racial and denominational divides, two churches forge a decade-long partnership

Episcopal News Service - seg, 03/02/2020 - 14:50

From left, the Rev. Sidney S. Williams Jr., senior pastor of Bethel AME Church of Morristown, New Jersey, and the Rev. Cynthia Black, rector of the Church of the Redeemer in Morristown, take part in the Jan. 19 celebration of their congregations’ growing relationship. Photo: W. H. Schleicher

[Episcopal News Service] When members of the Church of the Redeemer and Bethel AME Church, both in Morristown, New Jersey, are out on the lawn sharing dinner, the Rev. Cynthia Black thinks to herself, “This is what heaven is like.”

The relationship between Redeemer and Bethel began 10 years ago and is part of Redeemer’s 20-year-old annual Season of Reconciliation. The season goes from the Sunday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January to the Sunday nearest Feb. 13, the day The Episcopal Church celebrates the feast of Absalom Jones. The season’s end coincides with a special day for AME members as well.

“One of the things we learn and relearn every year is about our relationship with Absalom Jones and Richard Allen,” Black, Redeemer’s rector, told Episcopal News Service recently.

Absalom Jones and Richard Allen were African Americans who left St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia after the mixed congregation voted in 1786 to banish its black members to the balcony. William White, the Episcopal bishop of Pennsylvania, accepted the group as an Episcopal parish. It later became known as the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. He ordained Jones, making him the first African American priest in The Episcopal Church.

Allen remained a Methodist and in 1794 founded Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. He later organized the AME Church, and the denomination celebrates Allen’s birthday, Feb. 14, as Founder’s Day.

The idea for Redeemer’s Season of Reconciliation began in the late 1990s when members of the church’s racial dialogue group challenged the congregational worship committee to think about how the church could address racism.

It wasn’t a totally new question. “We had always celebrated Martin Luther King Day as a liberation holiday,” said Colleen Hintz, who was a member of the worship committee at the time and later chaired the group for many years. The committee took up the challenge, she told ENS, building on Redeemer’s habit of changing the focus of many secular holidays, such celebrating rights for all women on Mother’s Day.

The worship committee decided to go further. “These single liberation days are as good as the day is, and it addresses the people who are there on that day, and then you forget about it,” Hintz said. Instead, the committee proposed setting aside a period of weeks “when we would be looking seriously at the issues of racism.”

She decided to make vestments and altar hangings for the season. “I knew right away what they looked like; they looked like the secret quilt code of the Underground Railroad,” she said.

Hintz, who has been creating vestments since 1980, was inspired by the somewhat controversial book “Hidden in Plain View,” which explains how enslaved men and women made quilts encoded with long-recognized symbols and used them to direct escapees to freedom.

“To me, hidden within that code are all the tools we need to dismantle isms in our lifetime if we only follow them,” she said. “And in my heart, I know Redeemer is a safe house; it’s a safe place.”

Hintz explains the meanings of the vestments’ symbols in this video:

If the Season of Reconciliation began with a focus on division between blacks and whites, Redeemer later expanded the season to consider other issues, according to Hintz, including issues like intolerance of immigrants and refugees and of other religions. “It is a time where we intentionally name the issues that divide us,” she said.

One of those issues came to the fore in November 2010 when the Rev. Sidney S. Williams Jr. was called from a missionary posting in Cape Town, South Africa, to be Bethel’s senior pastor. Early on, he spoke during a clergy gathering about his experience of the truth and reconciliation work practiced in South Africa. Williams explained to the group that the work is “such an appropriate way to overcome barriers and prejudices,” adding that Americans don’t practice reconciliation nearly enough. “We just want to change laws,” he said.

Williams told ENS that the Rev. Lisa Green, who was then Redeemer’s interim rector, challenged him to look beyond his focus on blacks and whites to consider LGBTQ issues. She invited Bethel to come worship with the Episcopalians.

Redeemer has long advocated for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in their communities and in the life of the church. The AME denomination has not been as open to full inclusion as The Episcopal Church.

Williams said he assured his congregation that he was “not trying to change any laws or break away from the AME Church; we just want to go worship Christ together, and then they are going to come to do the same with us.”

In the end, Bethel decided to accept the invitation. That first year, the Episcopalians were led by Green, who is straight. Then, Black became Redeemer’s rector in June 2011. She recalled that Williams told her some Bethel members were worried how it would look if they worshipped at a church with a lesbian pastor. Williams said to them, “Pastor Cynthia and her wife have only been married once. Some of you have been divorced and remarried. They’ve been together for 30 years.”

At center, the Rev. Cynthia Black, rector of the Church of the Redeemer, presides at a Eucharist on Jan. 19. Joining Black at the altar are, to the left, the Rev. Elizabeth Cotton, Bethel AME Church’s associate minister, and to the right, the Rev. Sidney S. Williams Jr., senior pastor at Bethel. The altar frontals include a silhouette of Martin Luther King Jr. and a modern version of the safe house quilt symbol said to have been used by people helping slaves escape along the Underground Railroad. Photo: Rebecca K. Walker

As the joint services began, members of both parishes began discovering their common roots, including in the liturgy and the lectionary, but there were differences. At the first Bethel service, Green and Williams agreed that he would end the service with AME’s traditional altar call, something that is atypical in Episcopal churches. It left some people in tears.

“Some African American members of Redeemer said they never thought they would pray at the altar of a black church again,” Williams said. “Then there were some white members who grew up United Methodist and said, ‘My God, I thought I would never be at the altar of a Methodist church again.’”

The experience of people “black, white, gay, straight, lesbian at the altar just pouring their hearts out to God in this awesome fellowship” helped those who had felt alienated from their denominations for who they were feel like they had come home, he said.

Williams and Black say there is still much work to do.

Calling the Season of Reconciliation her “favorite part of the year,” Black said, “I see that we’re still in our comfort zones. We do these things together, but we’re still separately together.”

For instance, she said, Redeemer and Bethel have yet to combine their choirs for the joint services. Some senior Bethel members no longer come to the joint services because they can’t sit in their seats with their choir singing their hymns.

“It’s not so much a black and white thing as it is a normal human nature kind of thing,” Black said.

The Rev. Cynthia Black, rector of the Church of the Redeemer in Morristown, New Jersey, preaches during the Feb. 2 service at Bethel AME Church of Morristown. Listening are the Rev. Sidney S. Williams Jr., Bethel’s senior pastor, right, and others. Photo: Rebecca K. Walker

The two congregations come together for other annual events like a Juneteenth celebration. They join civic events such as the Whippany River cleanup. They tend to refer to each other as being from the same family, although Williams wishes there were “more of a yearning to come together instead of, ‘Oh, we’ve got to go see the in-laws again.’”

Black agrees. “As wonderful as the experience is, I’m wanting us to go one step further, and I don’t know how to do that, and maybe I should let go of that and say, ‘This is good enough. It’s great and it is so much more than anybody else does. Let’s just celebrate this.’”

These 10 years have taught Williams that people of faith often try to deal as legislative bodies with things like racial reconciliation and disagreements about sexuality and hope that their members simply agree.

“But wouldn’t it be more powerful if, within our own individual communities, we can begin a season of reconciliation, so maybe what Redeemer and Bethel are doing can become a model for other churches?” he asked. “Why not just start being neighborly?”

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg retired in July as the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the year that the Rev. Cynthia Black became rector of the Church of the Redeemer.

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Presidential candidate Tom Steyer, an Episcopalian, preaches the environmental gospel on the campaign trail

Episcopal News Service - seg, 03/02/2020 - 13:25

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and billionaire activist Tom Steyer speaks at a town hall meeting in Ankeny, Iowa, on Jan. 28, 2020. Photo: Rick Wilking/Reuters

[Religion News Service] — Lots of people see God in nature. But for Tom Steyer, a billionaire environmentalist turned Democratic presidential candidate, the divine is found not only in the environment but also in those who fight to protect it.

“Today I see God’s face in the young people who are demonstrating in the streets to break our reliance on fossil fuels,” Steyer said in a video address sent to progressive religious activists who gathered in Iowa in January. “This is the same God that my family sees when we walk through the woods of our home state of California. We’re reminded of our role in this world.”

Put another way: To Steyer, combating climate change is a spiritual act.

It’s a particular fusion of faith and environmentalism sometimes referred to as “creation care,” a broad theological category that achieved global acclaim after the publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment in 2015. But the general sentiment was already well-known among earth-conscious religious activists such as Steyer, who have been preaching a spiritual message of environmental concern for years.

According to Steyer, a self-described “political activist running for president,” faith is something he only fully embraced as an adult. Raised by an Episcopalian mother and an “irreligious” Jewish father who helped prosecute the Nuremberg trials after World War II, Steyer found spiritual clarity after a “midlife crisis” that occurred in his early 30s.

“Finding God as an adult … it could’ve had to do with having kids,” he told RNS. “I think it really had to do with, at some level, becoming an adult and taking responsibility for myself. That I needed a framework of meaning in my life.”

His conversion coincided with a “serendipitous” friendship with an Episcopal priest, whose services he started attending with his family. The result ultimately led him to identify not only as a Christian but, specifically, as an Episcopalian.

“I used to mock my mom for being a contradiction in terms: a devout Episcopalian,” he said, laughing.

It was through church that Steyer would eventually encounter California Interfaith Power and Light, an organization dedicated to “mobilizing a religious response to global warming.” In 2013, Steyer, who at the time was rapidly becoming a nationally renowned environmental activist, spoke at the group’s “Energy Oscars.” The event honored environmental achievements and was convened at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, where Steyer now often attends Sunday evening services and speaks at climate-related events.

“This is, for all of us, a deeply spiritual proposition … a chance for us together to reach for something great,” he reportedly told the crowd, referring to the need to care for the earth.

According to Susan Stephenson, executive director of California Interfaith Power and Light, Steyer’s presence at the gathering wasn’t an accident.

“He has been involved with us over the years,” Stephenson said. “He’s been a strong advocate for the faith movement to protect our climate.”

His fervor for religious environmentalism was piqued two years later in 2015, when Pope Francis published his papal encyclical on the environment, “Laudato si.’” Steyer did not hide his affection for the pontiff’s document — “The pope really nailed it,” he told RNS — and quickly set about utilizing the pontiff’s words as a way to put pressure on Democratic candidates running for president.

In June 2015, he issued a statement invoking the pope while praising then-candidate Martin O’Malley, a Catholic and former governor of Maryland, for putting forth a climate change plan that rejected the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

“Today, Pope Francis issued a powerful and inspirational encyclical on climate change — and I’m happy to see that many of our leaders are already heeding his call to action,” the statement read. He later added: “This is exactly the type of leadership on climate change the pope, military and business leaders are calling for — and that we need from our next president.”

The statement was widely seen as Steyer, a major Democratic donor, putting O’Malley’s opponents Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on notice: follow the pope’s lead on climate, or else.

He took a similar stance during the lead-up to the pontiff’s visit to the United States in September of that year, tweeting out praise for “Laudato si”; appearing on MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes” to applaud Americans for “listening to Pope Francis”; and inserting the pope into political advertisements produced by his activist organization, then called NextGen Climate.

He also published an opinion piece focusing on the encyclical in The Hill with liberal activist Sister Simone Campbell, head of the Catholic social justice lobby group Network.

“As people of faith — and as members of the American electorate — we have a profound duty to one another, and to our children, to care for our environment and protect the next generation,” they wrote. “Pope Francis challenges us to look beyond ourselves and act in the interests of our fellow humans, reminding us of our moral obligation to take action on climate to create a cleaner and more prosperous future for the generations who will follow us.”

Fast-forward five years, and now Steyer is the one running for president, rooting his campaign message in an urgent call to take action on climate change. Although he has endured criticism for his past investments in fossil fuels, he has said that, as president, he would declare a state of emergency regarding the environment “on day one”; make addressing climate change his primary foreign policy goal; and call on Congress to pass “something like” the Green New Deal — a sweeping legislative proposal introduced in the House of Representatives and Senate last year by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

And while he maintains a belief in the separation of church and state, his faith has also come up repeatedly on the campaign trail. He visited the church of the Rev. William Barber II in January, and referenced the activist movement co-chaired by the pastor — the Poor People’s Campaign — from the Democratic presidential debate stage that same month.

Many reporters noted that he draws a Jerusalem cross on his hand every day as a symbol to remind himself to “be truthful,” although Steyer is the first to admit he initially didn’t even know the version of the Christian symbol that he drew on his skin had a specific name.

“I’d literally never heard of it,” he told RNS. “I was just drawing a cross and then kept filling it in just to remind myself to be steadfast.”

His earth-focused theology has made appearances as well. He told “Good Morning America” anchor Paula Faris on her “Journeys of Faith” podcast that his environmental agenda emanates from his belief in “protecting God’s earth” and “the most vulnerable people amongst us, who will suffer disproportionately” due to climate change — almost exactly the same words he uses to describe the argument made by Pope Francis in his encyclical.

In addition, Steyer insists that he respects other forms of spiritually infused approaches to environmentalism. He has signed a pledge promising to halt the construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, both of which were strongly opposed by indigenous activists who claim that pipeline routes would impact lands they deem sacred.

Steyer said that, were he to be elected, he would take the sacred land claims of Native Americans and other indigenous groups “super seriously.”

“I have deep respect for Native rights,” he said.

The question of whether Steyer’s sometimes spiritual message will convert voters to his cause remains unanswered. He has surprised many by polling well enough to appear on the Democratic debate stage multiple times, and even has placed second or third in recent polls of South Carolina. Steyer has spent millions on campaigning in the Palmetto State, where he has visited churches. However, he has yet to land among the top five candidates in most Iowa polls and continues to trail the pack in national surveys.

Even so, Steyer remains optimistic, yet another trait he credits to his faith.

“I would never be doing this if I didn’t believe in God,” he said. “People think that politics makes people cynical, manipulative and dishonest. I’d say, for me, the exact opposite is true. It made me feel much more intent on being corny, and sincere and spiritual.”

That same religious optimism also informs his belief that, despite all the doomsday predictions regarding the current trajectory of global warming, human beings can help stem the tide. He framed the fight against climate change as giving the United States “a chance to reinvent ourselves as the moral leaders of the world,” a sanguine perspective he said was “totally” informed by his faith.

“I’ve never wondered about whether we had to do it, or whether we can do it, or whether it wouldn’t make us better people,” he said. “I know.”

This article was originally published by Religion News Service.

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Filmmaking ministry with Episcopal roots follows calling to bring stories of faith journeys to big screen

Episcopal News Service - sex, 31/01/2020 - 19:41

Filmmaker Brian Ide leads a group on a trip to the Holy Land in July 2019 to lay the groundwork for developing a movie about Jesus’ apostles. Photo: The Upper Room, via Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] As an Episcopalian, Brian Ide has been fixated recently on the passage in the New Testament that describes the brief period – estimated to have been about 10 days – between Jesus’ ascension and the Pentecost, during which the apostles were alone and uncertain about their path forward, praying together in “a room upstairs” in Jerusalem.

As a filmmaker, Ide wants to share that story and its spiritual implications with movie audiences. The tentative title of his film-to-be: “The Upper Room.”

“We can see ourselves in those unique 10 days,” Ide told Episcopal News Service by phone. “It’s that challenge of stepping into faith, even when we’re burdened by fear and uncertainty.”

Ide, a member of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, California, drew on his career as a movie director to help form a ministry at the church with other parishioners who work in the Hollywood film industry. In 2018, their efforts culminated in “This Day Forward,” a feature-length film about an Iowa family’s struggles with cancer and faith, for which they took a grassroots approach to finding audiences, hosting individual showings at theaters and churches around the country.

For “The Upper Room,” Ide envisions something bigger, both for the movie and the underlying ministry. His filmmaking team traveled to the Holy Land last year to flesh out a story for the new movie, for which they are budgeting nearly $3 million with hopes for a wider theatrical release. And Ide has overseen the creation of Grace Based Films, a nonprofit with a long-term plan for turning spiritually rich stories into thought-provoking movies.

“I can’t wait to see how it all comes out,” said the Rev. Anne Mallonee, who serves as chief ecclesiastical officer at Church Pension Group. Mallonee was among a handful of clergy members who joined the filmmakers on their Holy Land trip last July. She said in an interview with ENS that Ide’s energetic work mirrors a trend she has noticed: lay Christians finding creative ways of putting their talents and abilities in service of “the ministry that comes from being baptized.”

“The Spirit really does seem to be inspiring all kinds of people to be thinking in terms of mission,” she said.

Director Brian Ide, left, and cinematographer, Kyle Ramsey Moe discuss production design ideas while looking at a first-century model of Jerusalem during a Holy Land trip in July 2019. Photo: The Upper Room, via Facebook

That inspiration was evident in “This Day Forward,” which is heading toward an official release June 1 on streaming services and DVD. The movie was backed by donations, and Ide and his team from All Saints’ kept the production on a modest scale.

“We didn’t have the resources of a big studio to just throw money at it. Instead, it was just sweat equity for us,” Ide said.

They worked hard not just making the movie, but also promoting it during a 53-city tour in fall 2018. Ide estimates he and his team drove 17,000 miles to introduce the movie to audiences, and they embarked on another limited tour with the film last year, through south Australia.

The filmmakers have planned a few additional showings of “This Day Forward” in the coming months, prior to its digital release, and with this distribution deal, Ide thinks the movie “will have a long life, which is great.”

His primary focus, meanwhile, has shifted to development of “The Upper Room.” The initial idea came to Ide while he was with a group from All Saints’ on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Toward the end of the trip, he started thinking about how the experience might shape his next film project, and he was particularly intrigued by a passage in the first chapter of Acts of the Apostles: “When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying.”

The chapter continues by relaying that, after Jesus ascended to heaven, his apostles “were constantly devoting themselves to prayer,” but they had yet to receive the Holy Spirit and begin their ministry in the world.

“You can’t help but imagine that there would be a range of emotions, of fear and anticipation and imagination,” Ide said.

He began sketching narrative outlines for a possible script, and in April 2019, Virginia Theological Seminary hosted a sort of theological focus group for Ide and his fellow filmmakers that provided them with input from Mallonee, the seminary’s dean the Rev. Ian Markham, and a range of other Episcopal leaders.

With that group’s encouragement, Ide recruited Mallonee and a few others to join his filmmaking team on their own trip to the Holy Land, with the goal of developing ideas and supplying inspiration, accuracy and depth to the ultimate work of the writer and filmmakers.

It was Mallonee’s first trip to the Holy Land, and she said she was particularly moved by the group’s visit to an archeological dig where researchers were uncovering a temple where Jesus was thought to have taught.

“It helped to envision life there,” she said, and she also felt a direct connection between past and present. “Jesus is here, God is here, we are here. God’s love is here now, and we’re a part of it. It was really powerful.”

The Rev. Greg Millikin, rector at Grace Episcopal Church in New Lenox, Illinois, also joined the pilgrimage, his second to the Holy Land, and he described it as different from the overly scheduled tours that many pilgrims experience. This was more contemplative, particularly during the two days they spent in the garden of Gethsemane, he said.

“It really kind of zaps you back 2,000 years, and you can feel it,” he said.

Millikin has known Ide for about 20 years, since both attended All Saints’ in Beverly Hills, and Millikin has professional roots in the film business. He worked in studio marketing for 10 years before leaving his job in 2012 to attend Virginia Theological Seminary. He was ordained in 2016 and has served at Grace Episcopal Church for two years.

Now, as an informal adviser on “The Upper Room,” he sees himself as part of Ide’s theological “think tank,” and he thinks Ide’s story is mining fertile spiritual ground. “What does it mean for these disciples to have a leader leave, and that they have to kind of find a voice amongst them or some kind of direction or path forward that would end up becoming the church?”

While Grace Based Films is raising the money needed to turn “The Upper Room” into a high-caliber professional production, the writer on Ide’s team, Nick Schober, is working on finalizing a script that will draw on the pilgrimage experience and input from participants. Half of the movie will be set in the apostles’ time, and the other half will be set in the present, though all of it will be filmed on sets in the United States, due to the prohibitive costs of shooting in the Holy Land, Ide said.

He would like to begin filming this year if the financing comes through by then. The film’s success would enable more projects like it.

Churches of all denominations supported “This Day Forward,” and Ide’s nonprofit film company will continue to take an ecumenical approach to its mission. He sees a receptive audience in “people that are really hungry for honest stories about faith journeys.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

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Bishop’s son deported from US to El Salvador, where he fears for his life

Episcopal News Service - sex, 31/01/2020 - 19:09

People arrive at El Salvador International Airport near San Salvador after being deported from the U.S. on May 25, 2012. Photo: Ulises Rodriguez/Reuters

[Episcopal News Service] The son of the Anglican bishop of El Salvador, who fled to the United States after being kidnapped and threatened in his home country, has been deported back there from the United States, according to his father.

Josue Alvarado Guerra, 34, was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after getting a flat tire in Ohio in November, when police discovered he did not have proper immigration documents. Alvarado Guerra filed a petition for asylum but was denied, and he was sent back to El Salvador on Jan. 28.

Bishop David Alvarado of the Diocese of El Salvador, which is part of the Anglican Church of Central America, said his son had to flee El Salvador because his life was in danger. He had been working as a taxi driver in Colón, just northwest of San Salvador, one of the most dangerous cities in a country with the world’s highest homicide rate. Alvarado Guerra was “threatened, kidnapped and persecuted by one of the largest gangs operating in the country” and forced to drive them around, according to his father.

In a letter to Ohio Bishop Mark Hollingsworth Jr. and others who have offered support, which his office shared with Episcopal News Service, Alvarado expressed a combination of fear, gratitude and happiness at his son’s return to El Salvador. He added that the danger to his son’s life is so great that he is still trying to make arrangements for him to live in another country.

“We thank the God of life for allowing us to have Josue back in our house and share with him the difficult experiences he lived in detention,” Alvarado wrote. “Josue definitely can’t be safe anywhere in El Salvador, we fear for his life. … We want to continue with the plans to get him out of the country as soon as possible.”

Alvarado said his family is looking into requesting asylum for his son in Canada and has been in contact about that with the Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond The Episcopal Church. However, Robertson told ENS that Alvarado Guerra faces an uphill battle in seeking asylum in Canada after being denied in the U.S.

Alvarado is also examining the possibility of getting a missionary visa for his son to do reconstruction work in the Bahamas. Although it might be easier for Alvarado Guerra to move to another Central American country, “the situation of insecurity is the same as that of our country,” Alvarado said.

“We know that there is a large list of friends who gave spiritual and pastoral support to our son,” Alvarado wrote. “We are fully grateful for all they did and we beg you to continue supporting us to put [Josue] in a safe place.”

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.

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Church farm brings two Southwest Florida congregations together as ministry yields first fruits

Episcopal News Service - qua, 29/01/2020 - 18:03

Volunteers in July 2019 help develop the grounds that would become Benison Farm at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in St. Petersburg, Florida. Photo: Benison Farm, via Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Martha Goodwill doesn’t consider herself a master gardener, and though she serves as a deacon at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in St. Petersburg, Florida, her full-time job is as an accountant for the Diocese of Southwest Florida. But for the past year or so, she has been the driving force behind a lively farming partnership between her mostly white congregation and the historically black congregation of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church.

She credits her faith for the inspiration – and her grandmother.

“That general knowledge, I’ve always had from her,” Goodwill told Episcopal News Service, describing how her grandmother taught her at a young age about varieties of plants and how best to grow them. “It’s just always been a part of my life.”

The two congregations are now working together to harvest the first fruits – and vegetables – of their joint ministry on back acreage at St. Augustine’s, which was cleared and prepared for farming with support from a $63,600 grant from The Episcopal Church’s United Thank Offering. The congregations gave it the name Benison Farm, incorporating the Middle English word meaning “blessing.”

The first round of planting has produced collard greens, mustard greens, turnips, beets, tomatoes, kale, cauliflower and broccoli. Goodwill and other ministry leaders have begun distributing that fresh produce in the farm’s neighborhood, deemed a “food desert” because of a lack of grocers nearby. They envision a monthly farmer’s market on church property for the farm’s next phase.

Benison Farm is a partnership between the host congregation, St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, south of downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, and St. Thomas Episcopal Church, a larger congregation about 15 miles to the northeast. Photo: Benison Farm, via Facebook

Another measure of the ministry’s success can be counted in the many volunteers from both congregations who regularly come to St. Augustine’s and build fellowship while working together at the farm, especially on Saturdays, planting, weeding, trimming and harvesting.

“We did it, and we did it together,” said Hazel Hudson-Allen, who has been a St. Augustine’s parishioner since 1992. She regularly volunteers her time at Benison Farm and sees it as a form of discipleship, “just seeing how a few hands together can make something happen.”

Partnership was fundamental to creating Benison Farm because each congregation brought a different set of assets and challenges. St. Augustine’s is an aging congregation with an average Sunday attendance of about 50. Its members were interested in remaining active in the community but were limited in how much physical labor they could apply to clearing the congregation’s overgrown lot behind the church.

When Goodwill was ordained as a deacon two years ago, she was assigned to St. Thomas, which is northeast of downtown St. Petersburg. On a good Sunday, about 200 people will fill the pews at St. Thomas. She saw an opportunity in that unused acre and a half at St. Augustine’s about 15 minutes away on the city’s south side.

“St. Thomas doesn’t have any land, but they have people that want to volunteer,” said Goodwill, 56.

The two congregations already had developed relationships through various joint events, such as Bible studies and youth group meetings. Goodwill’s congregation loved the idea of creating a garden ministry, she said. She pitched the idea to lay leaders at St. Augustine’s, who also were receptive, especially given the dearth of stores selling fresh fruits and vegetables in the church’s neighborhood.

“The need for the fresh produce is there, so the goal of the farm is to give away 50 percent of what we grow and to sell the other 50 percent in that neighborhood so that the farm can be self-sustaining,” Goodwill said.

After receiving the UTO grant in August 2018, as well as money from the diocese’s annual Bishop’s Appeal, the churches began clearing invasive plants, trees and shrubs from the lot. They installed an irrigation system, 24 raised beds and 48 smaller planters known as earth boxes. Through summer 2019, volunteers from both churches filled the beds and boxes with organic soil and compost, and congregation members planted seeds and sprouted them at home so the seedlings could be planted at the farm.

Then in August 2019, St. Augustine’s hosted a planting day, when the foster gardeners from each congregation brought their seedlings to the nascent farmland to be tucked under the rich soil – like “handling a little baby,” Hudson-Allen said.

The church farm also has room for fruit trees, and so far the congregations have planted mango, avocado and guava. Banana trees have taken root on their own, possibly tracing their origin to the community gardens that occupied part of the property years ago. “That was pretty cool,” Goodwill said, “a surprise we didn’t expect.”

By January, some of the crops at Benison Farm were ready for harvest, though the farm is not yet at full capacity. For now, the food is being distributed for free through a local food pantry. Photo: Benison Farm, via Facebook

Benison Farm’s latest additions include squash, zucchini and sweet potatoes. Because of the warm Florida climate, the farm should yield food nearly year-round, except for a break during the hot summer months. A core group of about 10 volunteers is regularly tending to the crops, while more parishioners join them for once-a-month workdays.

Since Benison Farm isn’t yet at full capacity, the congregations are giving most of the initial harvest to a local food pantry, though they are starting to put plans in place to launch a farmer’s market soon on the church grounds and ramping up that effort throughout the year.

Goodwill also sees the ministry as a form of one-to-one evangelism, “sharing your story with other people that you’re digging in the dirt with and listening to their stories and understanding where Christ is in both of our lives.”

“It’s really life-giving. We’ve made good friendships,” she said.

Hudson-Allen, a retired teacher and management analyst, is among the core volunteers. The farm has been a catalyst for other members of her congregation to get involved, even those with less time or physical ability. “There is a role there pretty much for everyone,” she said.

She also is drawn to gardening’s spirituality, which she senses even when she’s alone working in the dirt. “The Holy Spirit has had many conversations with me in the garden on the farm.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

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St. Louis church becomes first Episcopal parish included in national historic register for LGBTQ advocacy

Episcopal News Service - qua, 29/01/2020 - 16:33

Trinity Episcopal Church members march in the 1991 St. Louis Pride Parade. Photo: Trinity Episcopal Church

[Diocese of Missouri] Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Louis’ Central West End is the first site in Missouri to be named to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) for its significance in LGBTQ history. It is the first and only such site in Missouri and the only Episcopal parish in the country so honored. Trinity is recognized in particular for the years 1969 to 1993, which include its early support of gay rights, its embrace of LGBTQ parishioners and community members, and its compassionate response to the first AIDS patients in the 1980s.

The recognition of Trinity is part of an effort by the U.S. Department of the Interior to document a more complete story of the gay rights movement, a project announced in May 2014 by Secretary Sally Jewell. The NRHP is the U.S. federal government’s official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects deemed significant to American history and worthy of preservation. Currently there are 93,500 sites across the country, with LGBTQ sites numbering less than 20.

“Trinity, as a progressive Episcopal church, continues today as an energetic supporter of LGBTQIA+ worshippers,” said the Rev. Jon Stratton, rector of the church. “We are honored by the NRHP recognition and wear this designation proudly.”

A formal dedication ceremony, including the installation of a plaque on the exterior of the church at 600 N. Euclid Ave., will be held on Saturday, June 13. Bishop-elect Deon Johnson, whose ordination is planned for April 25, will be an honored guest and speaker. Johnson will be the first openly gay bishop to serve in the Diocese of Missouri.

“Trinity’s longtime support for the LGBTQIA+ community dates back to its serving as the meeting space of St. Louis’ first gay rights organization, The Mandrake Society, in 1969,” said Steven Brawley, founder of the LGBT History Project in St. Louis.

The NRHP designation came after a concentrated period of reflection, recollection and research by members of the church and those involved in the preservation of St. Louis’ early gay and lesbian history.

Aiding the application process were longtime Trinity parishioners who are keepers of parish records and institutional memory for the years cited in the NRHP designation – Ellie Chapman, wife of the late Trinity rector Rev. William Chapman; Etta Taylor, church archivist; and Jym Andris, community historian. Their work was supplemented by Ian Darnell, curatorial assistant for the LGBTQ Collection at The Missouri History Museum, and Steven Brawley.

University of Kansas professor Katie Batza wrote the application as an extension of a current book project and as part of her ongoing work with the National Park Service LGBT Heritage Initiative. She said that as the application took shape, Trinity Church’s ties to the LGBTQ community were inspirational.

“It was encouraging to see how committed Trinity was to the rights of all of its gay and lesbian parishioners at a time when these rights largely were unknown to the mainstream,” she said. “The first Mandrake Society meeting at Trinity was one of a handful of local, national and global political actions and protests in 1969 – including the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village – that marked the start of a new civil rights movement.”

Trinity Episcopal Church, founded in 1855, has stood at the corner of Euclid and Washington avenues since 1935. Trinity is urban, socially progressive and Anglo-Catholic in its worship. Its rector is 35-year-old Jon Stratton, a social justice activist involved with the Clean Missouri campaign and a member of the leadership team at Missouri Jobs with Justice.

– Michael Shepley is a member of Trinity Episcopal Church.

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St. George’s College in Jerusalem celebrates a century of service in the Holy Land

Episcopal News Service - qua, 29/01/2020 - 12:17

St. George’s College in Jerusalem turns 100 in 2020. Photo: ACNS

[Anglican Communion News Service] St. George’s College, an Anglican “center for pilgrimage, hospitality, study and reconciliation” in Jerusalem, has celebrated its 100th anniversary with a special service in the neighboring St. George’s Cathedral. Bishop of London Sarah Mullally preached at the service, which was presided over by the Anglican archbishop in Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani.

In a post on its Facebook page, the College said that “for the first decades of its life it was more of an idea than a reality, although in the 1930s, summer schools were run for Church of England clergy. College buildings were first constructed in 1962 and then year-round courses started to be run. Today we are a thriving centre for pilgrimage, study, hospitality and reconciliation.”

Read the full article here.

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Integrity’s new president elected unopposed as former presidents call for group’s dissolution

Episcopal News Service - ter, 28/01/2020 - 18:56

Ron Ward at the Rooted in Jesus conference in Atlanta, Georgia, on Jan. 23, 2020. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] Integrity USA, the nonprofit organization dedicated to LGBTQ advocacy within The Episcopal Church, will have a newcomer as its next president as it continues to grapple with infighting over transparency, procedure and purpose. Ron Ward will take over as president on Feb. 1, the result of a special election to fill the remainder of the Rev. Gwen Fry’s term, which ends in 2021. Fry resigned in November after criticism from members over perceived mismanagement.

Ward was the sole candidate for the presidency, and members have expressed concern and frustration with the election process on Integrity’s Facebook group, with some arguing that Integrity’s reputation is damaged beyond repair, its mission is unclear and it should fold.

Former presidents Susan Russell, Fred Ellis and Helena Barrett have joined the calls for Integrity’s dissolution in recent weeks, with Russell writing in her blog that “it’s time to let it go.”

“I’ve had a lot of communications from folks stating that Integrity is dead. ‘Let it die. It has no purpose,’” Ward, a student at Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary who has had no previous involvement with Integrity, told Episcopal News Service in an interview while attending the Rooted in Jesus conference in Atlanta, Georgia. “I didn’t step up to volunteer to be presiding over a Friday funeral. I would rather be involved with a Sunday awakening.”

The election was plagued by controversy ever since Fry’s resignation, mostly surrounding procedural issues. Integrity’s bylaws specify that if the presidency becomes vacant, a new president is elected to serve until the next regular election – not by the members, but by the Stakeholders’ Council, which is composed of provincial coordinators, past presidents, members of the board and other officials.

But it was unclear who was on the council, as some of those positions had essentially ceased to exist and the council had not been convened since Fry’s term began in June 2018. Aside from the board itself, Integrity as a national organization has been dormant for several years, though some local chapters are still operating.

“We have no idea who’s on that Stakeholders’ Council,” the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton – who has served on Integrity’s board in various capacities – told ENS as the election approached. “We have no idea how many people will be voting. The last we heard, the Stakeholders’ Council was moribund – was not functioning.”

When Integrity members asked the board to name the council members who would be voting in the election, the board declined, citing a confidentiality clause in the bylaws, but offered council members the opportunity to release their information.

Nominations for president of Integrity and chair and vice-chair of the Stakeholders’ Council closed on Dec. 31. Two people were nominated for president, but one withdrew, leaving Ward as the sole candidate. Interim Stakeholders’ Council Chair Bruce Garner and the Rev. Michael Backlund were nominated for Stakeholders’ Council chair. Magdiel Martinez was nominated for vice chair but later withdrew, leaving that position with no candidates.

The ballots that were sent to Stakeholders’ Council members did not include an opportunity to write in an alternative candidate, which is mandated by Integrity’s bylaws – an omission that further frustrated some members. On Jan. 26, Integrity announced that 19 ballots had been returned, and in the only contested race – for Stakeholders’ Council chair – Backlund beat Garner by one vote.

With Ward then the presumptive next president of Integrity, discussion on the group’s Facebook page turned to his background and platform. Ward, who was nominated by Secretary Ellis Montes after expressing a desire to run, is a longtime advocate for the LGBTQ community in Connecticut. He is now a first-year student at EDS at Union, with the goal of becoming a chaplain, and says he is “in an informal conversation about the diaconate” with the Episcopal Church in Connecticut.

Some Integrity members have raised concerns about Ward’s lack of experience with Integrity and The Episcopal Church, as well as an incident in 2012 when he was kicked off the Norwich Democratic Town Committee for “a pattern of behavior that included personal attacks and a history of absences from monthly committee meetings,” according to the town’s registrar of voters. Ward said the incident was political payback for pressuring Democratic town leaders to pay more attention to one of the town’s poorer neighborhoods, and he was defended by the New London Day in an editorial.

Ward, 55, attended mostly Unitarian Universalist churches until about two years ago, when he started attending St. James Episcopal Church in New London. His first experience with Integrity was the Integrity Eucharist at the 2018 General Convention, where he was volunteering with Episcopal Migration Ministries.

“I made a commitment to myself, when I was accepted a year ago to Union Theological Seminary, that I wanted to re-engage my advocacy within my own self-identified community,” Ward told ENS. “I’ve been following Integrity since 2018 – very thin information, not really available anywhere about who’s in charge. … When I realized that they were going to be having an election and looking for volunteers to serve, I saw that as an opportunity to step up and offer myself to serve.”

Ward has offered few details about his plans for Integrity but says he wants to revive the Believe Out Loud program, in which parishes could affirm their support of LGBTQ people and be listed on Integrity’s website.

“Just because a church or parish puts a rainbow flag out doesn’t mean they’re inclusive,” Ward said. “I think that Integrity USA has a role to play in organizing itself so that it can be a place and a resource for folks within the community to get resources they need.”

Other current leaders of Integrity echoed Ward’s belief that Integrity is still needed.

“It’s important to me that Integrity continue because I still have almost ongoing discussions with people who are being wounded by the church because of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Garner told ENS. “The fact that we have accomplished a lot in the canons, including marriage, does not mean that the work is finished.”

The Rev. Frederick Clarkson, Integrity’s treasurer, also acknowledged there’s work yet to be done.

“Integrity has historically been limited to the U.S., and the church is not limited to the U.S. … When the average life expectancy of a transgender person in Latin America is 35 years old, then there’s a need for Integrity,” he said. “When there are still people who have problems accessing marriage within the church, then there’s still a need for Integrity. And really, when the Gospel has not reached every LGBT person, then there’s still a need for Integrity.”

But others who have been involved with Integrity as members or officers disagree.

“I think Integrity has been dead for a while,” said Kaeton. “I think we’ve been afraid to admit that. And part of the reason that we’re at such a toxic level right now is because we’ve just been putting all of our energies into reviving a corpse. … We’re Christians. We believe in the resurrection. We know that something has to die before there can be resurrection and yet, there’s this anxiety, there’s this denial.”

In the meantime, Ward says his first order of business is filling out Integrity’s board.

“I’m getting to work right away after Feb. 1 identifying some additional folks to come and serve on the governing board, either formally or informally, and hoping to work toward a bigger announcement for Pride [in] June or July on how we’re going to try to move the organization forward,” Ward told ENS.

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.

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Episcopal school trustee, student are among dead in Jan. 26 California helicopter crash

Episcopal News Service - ter, 28/01/2020 - 15:22

Payton Chester (right), a student at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., and her mother, Sarah, a school trustee. Photo courtesy of Catherine George

[Diocese of Los Angeles] Sarah Chester, 45, a trustee of St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano, California, and her daughter Payton, 13, an eighth-grade student there, were among the nine people who died in a helicopter accident on Jan. 26 in Calabasas.

Retired Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna also died in the crash.

The other five crash victims were Orange Coast College basketball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa; Christina Mauser, an assistant basketball coach; and the helicopter pilot, Ara Zobayan, a respected flight instructor.

Gianna, Payton and Alyssa were members of an AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball team based at Kobe Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy. The group was headed for a basketball tournament at the academy’s Thousand Oaks location when the crash occurred. According to news reports, Bryant and his family often traveled by helicopter to avoid traffic.

Survivors in the Chester family include Sarah’s husband and Payton’s father Chris; Sarah and Chris’s twin sons Hayden and Riley, who are 10th graders at St. Margaret’s School; Sarah’s mother, Catherine George, a member of St. Matthias Episcopal Church, Whittier; and Sarah’s brothers Andy and Chris George.

“This is an unimaginable loss for the Chester family and the entire St. Margaret’s community,” wrote William N. Moseley, head of St. Margaret’s School, in a letter informing faculty, students and parents of the tragedy. “We are a community in mourning. Our greatest strength is when our St. Margaret’s community pulls together with arms around one another, and this is one of those times.”

“The deaths of Sarah and Payton, beloved members of our diocesan family, in a tragic accident receiving global attention serve as heartbreaking reminders of the connectedness and unity of all creation – of the indissoluble bonds among all who walk in faith,” said Bishop John Harvey Taylor of the Diocese of Los Angeles. “Each of us in the Diocese of Los Angeles is praying for Chris, Sarah’s husband; for Hayden and Riley, Payton’s brothers; for Catherine George of St. Matthias in Whittier, Sarah’s mother; for the whole St. Margaret’s Episcopal School community; and for the Bryant family and the families of all who died.”

Catherine George told NBC News that Payton was an accomplished basketball player who “loved playing for Kobe Bryant. He was a great coach.”

She said Sarah was “the heart of that family,” a devoted mother who spent much of her time nurturing her children’s talent for sports and the family’s love of travel.

Payton had ambitions to play basketball in high school and college, said her uncle Andy George, a football coach at La Serna High School in Whittier. “She had the sweetest soul – the kindest, … gentlest person you would ever meet,” George told the Orange County Register. “She always had a huge smile on her face. Every time we would see her she would spend all her time with my little daughters.”

George said his sister Sarah was “the one that everybody counted on. She was there for everyone. She was everything to her family, to our family. Anytime I needed anything, she was the person I went to.”

– Janet Kawamoto is editor of The Episcopal News, a publication of the Diocese of Los Angeles.

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South Carolina to begin search for 15th bishop

Episcopal News Service - ter, 28/01/2020 - 12:20

[Diocese of South Carolina] In a letter to the members of the diocese, the Rev.  Caleb J. Lee, as president of the diocese’s standing committee, recently announced that the standing committee has unanimously voted to move forward with the process that will lead to the election and consecration of the 15th bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina, the first diocesan bishop of the historic diocese since the 14th bishop renounced his ordained ministry and left The Episcopal Church in 2012.  Read the letter at this link.

As noted by Lee, “This is a very exciting time for our diocese,” as he laid out the timeline whereby the standing committee hopes the diocese will be able to elect a new bishop at the 230th Annual Convention in November 2020. After that, following the canons of The Episcopal Church, 120 days are given to allow for a majority of the standing committees representing dioceses of The Episcopal Church throughout the country to consent to the election. “We expect the consecration of our new bishop to occur in the late spring or early summer of 2021,” said Lee.

According to the letter, the standing committee has begun a conversation with a search consultant, the Rev. Richard Callaway, the former canon to the ordinary of the Diocese of Atlanta, who has extensive experience in the church and as a consultant to various dioceses that have been through similar search processes.

A search committee composed of diocesan clergy and lay members has been named by the standing committee and is scheduled to meet with Callaway on Jan. 30 to formally begin the search. The Rev. Philip Linder, priest-in-charge at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Charleston, has been named chair of the search committee.

Since 2012, the Diocese of South Carolina, also known as The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, has been led by two provisional bishops – the Rt. Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg from 2013-2016 and the Rt. Rev. Gladstone B. “Skip” Adams III from 2016-2019. Upon Adams’ retirement in December 2019, it was announced that the Rt. Rev. Henry N. Parsley Jr. would join the diocese as visiting bishop. See the announcement at this link.

A native son of the Lowcountry of South Carolina, Parsley, bishop coadjutor and diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Alabama from 1996-2012, spent many of his early years of ordained ministry serving in the Diocese of South Carolina at St. Philip’s, Charleston, All Saints, Florence, and St. Paul’s, Summerville.

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Priests emphasize peace and justice after Seattle-area Episcopal churches vandalized on MLK Day

Episcopal News Service - seg, 27/01/2020 - 18:24

[Episcopal News Service] Clergy members in the Diocese of Olympia, in the wake of an outbreak of vandalism at their churches over the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, have responded with messages of love that invoke King’s own words advocating peace and justice in the face of hatred.

The vandalism at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle, Washington, defaced a white outer wall of the church. Photo: St. Mark’s

The diocese had no information that any other churches were targeted or that the attacks were connected, Josh Hornbeck, the diocese’s communications director, told ENS.

Hate-filled graffiti that singled out the LGBTQ community and Muslims was found on a door at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Seattle, Washington, over the holiday weekend, according to the diocese, which didn’t give an exact date. The Rev. Britt Olson, vicar at St. Luke’s, said in a statement released by the diocese that the graffiti was discovered quickly, before most arriving worshippers could notice it.

The church also has received threatening letters, emails and phone calls, “for its mission of caring for those on the margins,” Olson said. The attacks have been “deeply disturbing” and “it is infinitely worse to know that this hatred is the daily experience for many in our community.”

At St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle, black paint was sprayed on a white wall forming a message in bold letters that included the phrases “Marxist Idiots” and “Wake Up!” The Very Rev. Steven Thomason, dean of the cathedral, wrote that he assumed the message was intended to provoke anger, but he felt a greater sadness upon first seeing it.

“I find myself prayerful – for those whose lives are filled with such hatred that they can justify desecrating a church, for this community that we might bring the fullness of our hearts and souls into this call to be the Body of Christ … and for this nation whose political discourse seems to condone acts such as this vandalism as justifiable in the course of partisan disagreements,” Thomason said in a written statement.

In Everett, north of Seattle, vandals spray-painted inverted crosses on the main doors at Trinity Episcopal Church on the evening of the King holiday, Jan. 20. To remove the graffiti, the doors must be sanded and re-stained, the Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton said. She noted that King preached “that love on the level of society looks like justice.”

Thomason, in his statement, quoted King’s reassurance that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle, Washington, put a large banner across its wall until the recent graffiti could be painted over. Photo: St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral

“We have work to do my friends, in the cause of justice,” Thomason said. “Let us do so in God’s name, with courage and faithfulness.”

The cathedral’s plan to immediately paint over the graffiti has been delayed by cool, damp weather in the region, cathedral communications director Gregory Block told ENS by email. “Our solution was to conceal the message by re-purposing a banner that was last used in 2014 for a visit by author Karen Armstrong,” he said.

The giant banner contains just two words: “Love Wins.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

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Minnesota elects Craig Loya its 10th bishop

Episcopal News Service - seg, 27/01/2020 - 12:33

[Episcopal Church in Minnesota] The Very Rev. Craig Loya was elected during the 162nd convention of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota (ECMN), held in St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Jan. 25.

He was elected on the 2nd ballot.

When notified of the election, Loya shared this statement:

“I am deeply grateful to the people of ECMN, and I pray that, by God’s grace, I will be faithful to the trust you have placed in me today. Among diverse people and across diverse contexts, Minnesota Episcopalians have always borne vibrant witness to God’s reconciling love, and it’s an extraordinary privilege to be called to join that work in this new season. I look forward to walking with you as we follow Jesus together, engage what the Holy Spirit is up to in our neighborhoods, and boldly navigate a new landscape, in order to continue proclaiming the good news of God’s love to a world that is so hungry for it.”

Loya has served as dean of Trinity Cathedral in Omaha, Nebraska, since 2013, and was the canon to the ordinary in the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas from 2009 to 2013. He received his master of divinity from Yale University and a diploma in Anglican Studies from Berkeley Divinity School at Yale in 2002. Loya lives in Omaha with his wife, Melissa, and their two children.

To learn more about Loya, click here.

The Rev. Debbie Brown, president of the Standing Committee, offered these words of gratitude:

“On behalf of the Standing Committee I offer my thanks to the bishop candidates for their openness to the Holy Spirit; to the Search Committee for the deeply-considered profile and the gracious search process; the Transition Committee for its continued work of hospitality; to the ECMN family for its patience, heart, and discernment; the ninth Bishop of Minnesota, The Rt. Rev. Brian N. Prior, along with the Team of Missioners, for their support. Finally, we are ever grateful to our consultant, the Rev. Ann Hallisey, and members of the Episcopal Church beyond Minnesota for their mountain of prayers, enthusiasm, guidance, and wisdom. We are the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, bound together in Christ Jesus and the love of God. God is good, all of the time, and for that we rejoice!”

According to the canons of The Episcopal Church, all bishop elections must receive the consent of a majority of diocesan bishops and diocesan standing committees. Following a successful consent process, Bishop-elect Loya will be ordained and consecrated bishop on Saturday, June 6, 2020, at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.

The full announcement can be found on the Bishop Search website.

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Innovative ideas and collaborative energy flourish at Rooted in Jesus conference

Episcopal News Service - sex, 24/01/2020 - 18:57

Participants talk in a small group session at the Rooted in Jesus conference in Atlanta, Georgia, on Jan. 23, 2020. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Atlanta, Georgia] As The Episcopal Church grapples with how to stem its steep decline in an increasingly secular culture, the first-ever Rooted in Jesus conference offered a chance to share innovative ideas, collaborate and celebrate. Nearly 1,400 people attended the conference, held Jan. 21-24 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and various venues in Midtown Atlanta and hosted by the Episcopal Church Foundation in partnership with The Episcopal Church and several other Episcopal organizations. Dozens of presentations and workshops were offered by influential figures and groups from across The Episcopal Church on topics like digital evangelism, civic engagement, environmental justice, liturgical renewal, preaching on current events and welcoming younger generations into the church.

“Putting Feet on the Jesus Movement” was one of the dozens of presentations offered at the Rooted in Jesus conference. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

The conference got off to a lively start with a passionate address from the Rev. William Barber II, founder of the Moral Mondays movement and leader of the Poor People’s Campaign, who warned of the moral dangers of worshipping God without a conscience that responds to the needs of one’s neighbors. After his speech, between 2,000 and 3,000 people packed the arena at Clark Atlanta University for a rousing revival service featuring choirs, multilingual prayers, testimonials, and of course, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

[This post contains video, click to play]

The Rev. William Barber II preaches during the Rooted in Jesus conference in Atlanta, Georgia, on Jan. 22, 2020. Video: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

Attendees could hear presentations like “Lonely, Thirsty, Hungry People,” in which Jerusalem Greer, The Episcopal Church’s staff officer for evangelism, talked about the loneliness epidemic that is infiltrating every demographic group in American society and how churches are uniquely equipped to fight it, or “Evangelism for Shy People,” in which the Rev. Frank Logue, Diocese of Georgia’s bishop-elect and canon to the ordinary, offered tips for Episcopalians who don’t feel comfortable talking about faith. Participants also could attend panel discussions like “Where Is the Modern Liturgical Movement Taking Us?” which addressed the meaning of liturgy in the 21st century and how liturgical revisions might make it more relevant, and small group sessions like “Queering the Church” and “Sacred Resistance in the Pulpit.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry makes his selections for Lent Madness, the bracket-style tournament of saints developed by the Rev. Tim Schenck (center), at the Rooted in Jesus conference in Atlanta. Photo: Jason Merritt

They could even watch “Pitchtank,” part of the TryTank innovation project from Virginia Theological Seminary and the General Theological Seminary. Styled after “Shark Tank” – the reality show in which entrepreneurs pitch business ideas to investors – the event featured several contestants pitching their ideas for innovative ministry projects to a panel of judges for the chance to win a partnership with TryTank and up to $5,000 to launch and run their experiment.

Attendees also got to experience the first preview of “Embracing Evangelism,” a six-part evangelism video course developed by The Episcopal Church and Virginia Theological Seminary. The videos, which will be available to download this spring, offer new methods of spreading the teachings of The Episcopal Church, using group exercises and personal stories to demystify and unpack complex topics.

In addition to discussions of experimental and creative new modes of ministry, there were also workshops and lectures that focused on the immediate challenges of the church, such as “Discovering the Vitality in Small and Rural Churches” and “Preaching in the Era of Division,” as well as lessons on the more practical elements of ministry, like how to schedule a program year, write grant applications and build an endowment.

I’m glad to be with my Episcopal friends and my dear brother @PB_Curry at #Rooted2020 today. pic.twitter.com/oQM6Q77n0r

— Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II (@RevDrBarber) January 22, 2020

But there was much more than the typical conference agenda of presentations, workshops and lectures. Curry and Barber recorded a podcast episode live from one of the conference ballrooms. On the top floor of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, attendees could experience the Sacred Space prayer room, a cozy experiential worship space designed by Lilly Lewin with art installations, craft stations and sweeping views of Atlanta. Prayer services and informal gatherings created a strong sense of community, strengthening the bonds of friends and colleagues and forging new ones.

Lilly Lewin’s Sacred Space offered participants a calming environment to rest and reflect. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

“I think what’s really striking is just the sheer size of this conference – that this many people are excited enough to get on a plane or get in a car and come to Atlanta to talk about discipleship and evangelism and the church,” said the Rev. Scott Gunn, the executive director of Forward Movement, one of the conference’s sponsors. “It feels like The Episcopal Church has turned a real corner in the last few years and it’s very exciting.”

“It was good to see the community gathered, especially the lay community, to deepen our ministry experiences, and to meet each other, because we’re from all across the church. And I think it’s a model for how we can probably do General Convention, where we can combine a legislative agenda and programmatic agenda,” said Annette Buchanan, former president of the Union of Black Episcopalians.

Musicians lead the congregation in song during the closing Eucharist of the Rooted in Jesus conference at All Saints Episcopal Church in Atlanta, Georgia, on Jan. 24, 2020. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

The conference closed with a packed Eucharist at nearby All Saints’ Episcopal Church, during which the Rev. Mark Jefferson echoed one of the recurring themes of the conference: to truly be followers of Jesus, we must “get our hands dirty” and abandon our notions of “comfortable Christianity.”

The Rev. Mark Jefferson preaches during the closing Eucharist. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

“We must understand that liberation in the context of oppression is embodied grace,” Jefferson said, to shouts of “Amen!”

While there are no immediate plans to make Rooted in Jesus a recurring event, organizers have said it may be a possibility.

“Rooted in Jesus has been such a success,” said Melissa Rau, senior program director of leadership for the Episcopal Church Foundation, thanking the sponsors, host venues and attendees. “But what will make it even more successful is if you’re able to take all the great stuff that happened here over the last few days, resonate with it, think about it, really implement some of the stuff you learned, and move forward with it so that it will truly undergird what we’re trying to do in this Jesus Movement we find ourselves in.”

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.

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