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Harry Potter Day at San Francisco cathedral combines fun, magic and theology

Episcopal News Service - ter, 19/11/2019 - 18:32

About 80 children participated in Harry Potter Day at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, California, on Nov. 16, 2019. Photo: Matthew Woodward

[Episcopal News Service] Based on the number of excited children who showed up to Harry Potter Day at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral on Nov. 16, you might find it hard to believe that the last book in the series was published 12 years ago. About 80 children – far more than the cathedral staff initially expected – from around the Bay Area came to make wands, play Quidditch and learn how prayer can fend off scary feelings.

And given the day’s focus on the overlap between J.K. Rowling’s books and the Christian worldview, you also might find it hard to believe that in their heyday, the books faced fierce opposition from some fundamentalist Christians who claimed they were satanic. In 2006, the American Library Association named the Harry Potter books the most challenged of the 21st century up to that point because so many parents had tried to remove them from libraries on the grounds that they were anti-Christian and dangerous to children.

Caren Miles, the Diocese of California’s associate for faith formation, never saw it that way.

“I just remember reading the first book before I even heard that folks were getting upset about it; the baptism analogy hit me so hard over the head that I didn’t think anyone would have a problem with it. [The Christian imagery] seems so blatant to me!” said Miles, who organized this first-ever Harry Potter Day for the cathedral, which is the seat of the Diocese of California.

Rowling, a member of the Scottish Episcopal Church, has said that the parallels between her books and the Gospels are intentional, although she rarely delves into more details. The only explicit connection to Christianity is the appearance of Biblical passages on two gravestones in the final book, but readers have long observed allegorical elements in the stories.

“To me [the religious parallels have] always been obvious,” Rowling told an interviewer in 2007. “But I never wanted to talk too openly about it because I thought it might show people who just wanted the story where we were going.”

Some of Rowling’s own faith journey is hidden in the books, Miles said.

“I love to tell kids the trivia that most of them don’t know – even the ones who know every little bit of trivia – which is that Harry receives his Hogwarts [acceptance] letter on his 11th birthday because that’s the day that J.K. Rowling was baptized,” Miles told Episcopal News Service.

The flags of the four houses of Hogwarts (Slytherin, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Gryffindor) hang in the nave of Grace Cathedral for Harry Potter Day. Photo: Mike Scrutton

“There are so many examples of – not only faith, but that idea of life and resurrection coming through death, especially in the seventh book,” Miles said, citing a particular scene that has been commonly interpreted as a vision of the afterlife in which Harry talks face to face with a dead character.

“There are so many great role models in the books. Even Draco Malfoy ends up making a turn. Snape obviously makes a huge turn,” Miles went on, referring to two characters who are initially portrayed as villains but prove to be more complex. “So it’s this [sense of] redemption.”

Miles first organized a Harry Potter Day almost 20 years ago, when she was working for the Diocese of Dallas, and said it’s a great way to attract the young families that churches are so eager to reach.

“It was that idea of trying to have something for families mainly in the diocese, but also something they can invite friends to as an easy entry into The Episcopal Church,” Miles told ENS. It shows parents who might be unfamiliar with the church that “we are fun, we are silly, your kids can run around and be themselves and be kids!”

Harry Potter Day was a mix of fun and more serious topics, of religion and Potter lore. It started with morning prayer, followed by “Defense Against the Dark Arts,” which in the series is a Hogwarts class in repelling curses and creatures like the boggart, a manifestation of one’s worst fear. In the books, this is done with a Patronus – a sort of spiritual guardian in the form of an animal. On Nov. 16, the children learned that prayer can be its own kind of Patronus when fear becomes overwhelming.

Then it was time for Quidditch, the sport described in detail in the series that is played for real by enthusiasts.

The Bay Area Breakers teach kids how to play Quidditch. Photo: Mike Scrutton

“We had a college Quidditch team come and teach them Quidditch in the plaza,” Miles said. “The Bay Area Breakers came, brought all the equipment, and were willing and young enough to run around with small kids all day.”

That was followed by a wand-making class, in which the kids could choose the materials for the wand based on parts of their personalities.

“It’s kind of fun to be able to talk about spiritual gifts in that way, to talk about what are the things that you have that we can amplify as good,” Miles said.

Different materials for making wands are available at Harry Potter Day. Photo: Mike Scrutton

And since Hogwarts students take Potions classes, the children then learned about another kind of supernatural transformation: the Eucharist. The Rev. Kyle Oliver, who has developed a set of cards that break down elements of the liturgy to explain them more fully, “walked the kids through the entire Eucharistic prayer, explaining all of the little magic pieces,” Miles said.

“And then we had a closing Eucharist and a group photo. Everybody went home happy!”

In her sermon at the Eucharist, the Rev. Lindy Bunch, priest in charge at Trinity St. Peter’s in San Francisco, focused on Dobby, a lowly enslaved elf who ends up making the ultimate sacrifice to save Harry and his friends. She connected his story to Romans 8, which talks about how Christ frees all from bondage and ends with the famous passage: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.”

“We’re not teaching them that there are bad things in the world. They already know that,” Miles said. “But we’re giving them tools and emotional help to stick together, to fight, [to] hope. We’re giving them hope.”

– 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 congregation near death row prison braces for first federal execution since 2003

Episcopal News Service - seg, 18/11/2019 - 18:24

A corrections vehicle patrols near the Federal Corrections Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, in May. Photo: Reuters

[Episcopal News Service] Federal executions are scheduled to resume next month for the first time since 2003, at the prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, and the nearby congregation of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church has joined other faith groups and anti-death penalty advocates in leading discussions on the issue.

St. Stephen’s hosted a forum on Oct. 29 featuring a retired executioner and a murder victim’s family member. The Rev. Drew Downs, the church’s rector, has blogged on the issue and plans to attend a prayer vigil on Dec. 9, the morning of the first scheduled execution. Long-time parishioners still have vivid memories of the frenzy in 2001 when Timothy McVeigh was executed there.

“It was a very tense time,” said Gene England, 79, a death penalty opponent who has been a St. Stephen’s member for 50 years. Reporters and activists on both sides of the issue swarmed the city before McVeigh’s execution, fueling some conversations at the congregation’s parish picnic that year.

England, in an interview with Episcopal News Service, recalled that even some who opposed the death penalty thought it might be justified for McVeigh, who killed 168 in the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. But since then, England thinks many of his fellow parishioners “have come to feel that they just can’t support capital punishment because of their strong feeling against taking a life of any kind.”

Not taking a life of any kind is the official stance of The Episcopal Church. It has spoken against the death penalty since 1958, when General Convention passed a resolution asserting a theological basis for the belief that “the life of an individual is of infinite worth in the sight of Almighty God; and the taking of such a human life falls within the providence of Almighty God and not within the right of man.” General Convention has reaffirmed its opposition to capital punishment several times since then, most recently with a resolution passed in 2018.

“It has never meant a bit of sense that we ought to kill somebody to prove that killing is wrong,” Downs said in a blog post last month. “And as a person of faith, that is even more the point.”

When reached by phone, Downs told ENS he thinks his congregation is in some ways still in shock at the decision to resume executions at the federal prison in Terre Haute, where most of the 62 federal death row prisoners are held. “The timeframe has been so quick that we haven’t had much of an opportunity to wrestle with it,” said Downs, who has served at St. Stephen’s for five years. Some of his parishioners remember the “psychic effect” that the sudden attention had on the community in 2001.

This year, Downs and other faith leaders in the city have partnered with a group called Terre Haute Death Penalty Resistance to coordinate events in response to the federal developments.

The death penalty still is in effect in 29 states, but the number of executions nationwide has dropped since 1999, from a high of 98 that year to 20 in 2016, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The U.S. government hasn’t carried out an execution since 2003, partly due to concerns about the effectiveness and availability of the three-drug cocktail used in lethal injections.

Federal charges are tried in federal courts, where certain crimes under U.S. law carry with them the possibility of the death penalty at facilities administered separately from state prisons. The Justice Department under President Donald Trump announced in July this year it would resume executing prisoners on the federal death row using the single drug pentobarbital.

“We owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system,” Attorney General William Barr said in a written statement announcing the decision.

The Episcopal Church, through its Washington, D.C.-based Office of Government Relations, condemned the Trump administration’s decision in a statement that argued killing as retribution “for even the most heinous crimes” is wrong.

“The death penalty is not theologically justifiable, in part because it is not necessary for the protection of innocent people, and the state cannot morally justify killing for the sake of vengeance,” the church said while invoking Christ’s atonement for all sin through his own death. “The premeditated and unnecessary killing of a person is unchristian and beyond the legitimate powers of the state.”

England said he agrees with the church’s stance and supports Episcopal advocacy on the issue, and he shares the concerns of those who question “the fairness of who is executed, who isn’t executed.” Critics of the criminal justice system argue that poor defendants are more likely to be convicted and sentenced because they can’t afford better legal representation.

The Oct. 29 forum at St. Stephen’s, “The Human Toll of Capital Punishment,” featured a screening of the movie “The Executioner’s Shadow” and drew about 40 attendees, and other groups are hosting events in the city in the coming weeks to spark further discussion.

A free event on Dec. 8, the eve of the upcoming federal execution, will be held at St. Benedict Catholic Church in Terre Haute and will feature a full lineup of speakers from secular and faith-based groups that oppose the death penalty. Early the next morning, Downs plans to join a group gathering at a city park that will make its way to the prayer vigil outside the federal prison, south of downtown.

At dawn, Daniel Lewis Lee is scheduled to be executed for killing a family of three, including an 8-year-old girl, in 1999.

Downs recently spoke to the prison chaplain about the prison’s preparations for the execution, and “he said they were getting started really from the day it was announced.” As a rector, Downs is focused on the pastoral needs of his congregation and community as they approach Dec. 9, “bracing for what’s to come.”

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

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Civil rights activist Dolores Huerta: We need spiritual guidance and spiritual activism

Episcopal News Service - seg, 18/11/2019 - 18:20

Civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, 89, delivers the biennial Margaret Parker lecture during the Diocese of Los Angeles’ diocesan convention. Photo: Janet Kawamoto/Diocese of Los Angeles

[Diocese of Los Angeles] Legendary labor organizer and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta galvanized some 800 delegates and others Nov. 16 at the 124th annual meeting of the Diocese of Los Angeles, leading rousing chants of “We’ve got the power” and “Si se puede! Si se puede!”

And she brought petitions to be signed.

“As you leave the gathering here today, you can go out there and help us sign a petition that will bring $12 billion into the California educational system,” Huerta told delegates. “We’re going to ask the large corporate property owners to pay their fair share of property taxes. This is easy!”

Over hearty, sustained applause, Huerta urged support for the Schools and Communities First ballot initiative.

“We have to get signatures to put it on the ballot for the November 2020 election,” she told the gathering. “It will not affect homeowners. It will not affect small business owners.

“Anyone who makes $3 million or less will not be affected. It’s only for the big guys, okay?”

Huerta, 89, who founded the National Farm Workers Association along with César Chavez, addressed convention delegates as part of the diocese’s biennial Margaret Parker Lecture Series.

The series honors Parker, who died in 2007 at the age of 93. She was an active lay leader and ministry partner with her husband, the Rev. Richard I.S. Parker, who served for 42 years as rector of St. Cross Church in Hermosa Beach, California.

A lifelong advocate for women’s empowerment, Parker was actively involved with the Episcopal Church Women of the diocese and Church Women United. She helped lead the way as The Episcopal Church began to include women and people of color in leadership roles in the 1960s and 1970s.

She was a co-founder of the ECW Today’s Woman events, later named Tomorrow’s Woman, and was named an honorary canon in 2003 by Bishop J. Jon Bruno.

The lecture series honors her life and ministry by addressing topics of peace and justice through the empowerment of women. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori delivered the inaugural address in 2008; the second was given in 2011 by the Rev. Jim Wallis, evangelical leader, author and founder of Sojourners magazine; the third in 2013 by Bishop Barbara C. Harris, first female bishop in the Anglican Communion; the fourth in 2015 by the Rev. Renita Weems, theologian, author and AME pastor; and the fifth in 2017 by Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the United Methodist Church California-Pacific Synod.

A tireless advocate … speaking truth to power

The Rev. Richard Estrada, founder of Jovenes, a nonprofit agency that aids homeless youth, and an assisting priest at the Church of the Epiphany in Los Angeles, introduced Huerta. “As a seminarian, I was on the front lines of the United Farm Worker movement along with Huerta and Chavez,” he said.

Los Angeles Bishop John Harvey Taylor adjusts the microphone for Dolores Huerta after her introduction by the Rev. Richard Estrada. Photo: Janet Kawamoto/Diocese of Los Angeles

Estrada described Huerta as a tireless leader, teacher and activist who didn’t hesitate to advocate for human rights. “I remember her speaking truth to power to politicians who were trying to duck hard decisions and circumvent social justice,” Estrada said.

“She taught us by example. She taught me how to be tough and to stand up for what is right, especially in the face of intransigent power,” he said.

Huerta charged delegates with exercising not only spiritual guidance, but spiritual activism, eliciting laughter with: “I’ve heard they go together. You can’t have one without the other.” She urged delegates to start at the beginning, by improving the educational system.

Los Angeles Bishop John Harvey Taylor invited Huerta to deliver the lecture, and Canon Lydia Lopez, a longtime parishioner at the Church of the Epiphany in Los Angeles who organized along with Huerta and Caesar Chavez, coordinated the arrangements.

Huerta called Estrada “a very, very courageous individual. He has always been such a visionary, taking care of homeless children in LA, helping them get to school, to find housing, jobs.

“And going into the desert – he was one of the first persons that took water into the desert for the people who are trying to cross, making sure that undocumented people had a place not only to sleep but to eat, feeding hundreds of homeless people every single day.”

Getting back to basics

Huerta is the daughter of a New Mexico miner and farmworker who won a seat in the New Mexico Legislature in 1938. She was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2013. Two former presidents have singled her out for recognition: In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award, and in 2012, President Barack Obama bestowed on her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.

Six schools — four in California, another in Fort Worth, Texas, and a high school in Pueblo, Colorado — have been named in honor of Huerta, a former teacher.

Staff from the Dolores Huerta Foundation brought petitions for convention-goers to sign, along with some mementos of the legendary civil rights leader. Photo: Colleen Dodson-Baker/Diocese of Los Angeles

In remarks frequently interrupted by applause and laughter, she urged delegates to join her and “to fortify ourselves, to take on the issues challenging our society, country and world. We have to start with the basics and start thinking about what we as institutions, as individuals, can do to erase some of the wrongs happening right now.”

Teaching “the true history of the United States … what isn’t in the schoolbooks” is the way to take on such challenges as racism, gun violence, education and salary inequity, she said.

For example, she said, children should be taught that slaves built the White House and the halls of Congress.

And children should learn that people of color and immigrants from Mexico, India, China, Japan and elsewhere built the nation’s infrastructure, Huerta said, “so they should never feel like outsiders. And then our Anglo children will not be fed with that poison of white supremacy and white privilege.”

Children must be taught “that we are one human race. We have a lot of different ethnic groups, cultures, nationalities, but only one human race … and that human race began in Africa,” she said. “So we can say to all of those people in the Ku Klux Klan, the white nationalists: You’re Africans. Get over it.”

That, Huerta said, means “We’re all related.” She invited delegates to take the hand of the person beside them and say, “Hello, relative.”

“You’ve got to start spreading this message,” she said.

About the wall that President Trump said he would build along the “Colorado border,” she said, “I think he was looking at a map of the United States from 1847. If you go to Google and Google ‘maps of 1847,’ it’s going to be kind of shocking. When you look at the map of the U.S. in 1847, you will find that one-third of the United States was Mexico.”

And although Russia has come under heavy international criticism for invading and seizing land in Crimea and Ukraine, she said, “This is what the U.S. did to Mexico.”

“So when they tell people from Mexico, when they tell us to go back to where we came from, we can say, ‘We are where we came from. We didn’t cross the border; the border crossed us. We were here before the border.’”

She decried child separations and children in cages at the border and multinational corporations that place profit above human rights and safety, and called for free child care and education for all.

Paraphrasing Gandhi, she added, “There are enough resources in the world to fill the world. There are enough resources in the world to fill the need. But we will never have enough resources to fill the greed.”

She called upon delegates to work to eradicate racism, to protect labor unions and to advocate for social justice and women’s empowerment.

Leadership is present in every community, she said, citing a woman who wanted her children’s school to have a new gym. The woman and her husband circulated a petition to pass a bond issue; it succeeded, and the gym was built. Afterward she was elected to the school board.

“When she got elected, the principal wanted to do away with the school breakfast program,” Huerta said. “She got rid of the principal and kept the program.”

Such organizing begins with the basics, she said. “Go and have house meetings. Talk to folks. Find out the issues. Make an action plan. Volunteer to do the work.

“We have sued our high school district because of their large expulsions of African American and Latino American students. We had 2,600 students expelled in one and a half years.

“I’m glad to say that after the lawsuit, expulsions dropped from 2,600 students in one and a half years to 26.”

The now-legendary 1965-1970 UFW-backed grape boycott began with just 40 farmworkers who left Delano, California, to go to New York City to learn how to strike, she recalled.

“In one and a half years, through the efforts of those 40 farmworkers, talking to people, 17 million Americans boycotted grapes.”

Huerta urged participation in the upcoming census and getting reluctant community members involved, saying, “Go door to door and tell people, ‘Please, you have to participate in the census. If we do not get counted, we will lose millions of dollars.’

“The only way we can make things happen is by all of us working together. We have the power.”

– The Rev. Pat McCaughan is senior correspondent for The Episcopal News and vicar of St. George’s Church, Laguna Hills, California.

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Georgia elects Frank Logue as 11th diocesan bishop

Episcopal News Service - seg, 18/11/2019 - 13:08

[Diocese of Georgia] The Rev. Frank Logue has been elected the 11th bishop to lead the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia. Currently the canon to the ordinary for the diocese, he was elected Nov.16 on the first ballot during an election that took place in the Lane-Nessmith Center at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro. Logue received 78 votes from lay delegates and 64 votes from the clergy order; 44 votes were the minimum needed for clergy and 70 for lay.

“I am grateful to be called by God through this election to lead this part of the body of Christ which consistently puts Jesus at the center,” said Logue. “We have many great partnerships with other denominations, and I look forward to deepening our relationships and strengthening the bonds that unite us in Christ.”

“On behalf of the Standing Committee, I would like to congratulate the Rev. Canon Frank Logue who has been elected to become the 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia. I would also like to extend heartfelt thanks to all of the candidates who stood for the election. I’m very excited for the future of the Diocese as we begin a new chapter in our ministry under the leadership of Bishop-elect Logue,” said the Rev. Al Crumpton, president of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia’s Standing Committee, “I believe that clergy and lay leaders from all of our congregations are looking forward to joining Bishop-elect Logue in our shared ministry of spreading the good news of Jesus, and to serve the world as the Body of Christ.”

The other nominees were:

  • The Rev. Rob Brown, rector, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, South Carolina.
  • The Rev. Lonnie Lacy, rector, St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Tifton, Georgia.
  • The Ven. Jennifer McKenzie, Archdeacon of Wigan and West Lancashire, Diocese of Liverpool, Church of England
  • The Rev. Canon John Thompson-Quartey, canon for mission development and congregational vitality, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

The 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia will be consecrated in a service to be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 30 at the Johnny Mercer Theater in Savannah. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will officiate and will also preach at a Eucharist to be held at 11 a.m. on May 31 in Forsyth Park.

Click here for more information on Logue.

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‘Yes in God’s Backyard’: Churches use land for affordable housing

Episcopal News Service - sex, 15/11/2019 - 18:51

An artistic rendering of the future St. Paul’s Commons in Northern California. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Walnut Creek would like to open its affordable housing complex in December or January. It’s called St. Paul’s Commons, and it will be a mixed-use development with community spaces operated by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. It will include 45 affordable apartments. Image courtesy of Resources for Community Development

[Religion News Service] Faith congregations across California are responding to the state’s housing crisis by sharing their parking lots with people living in their cars, providing mobile showers for the homeless and joining their neighbors in calling for rent control in their communities.

But another form of housing advocacy has been taking place among spaces of faith.

A number of churches are exploring ways to build affordable housing on their own land. It’s what pastors and other leaders are referring to as YIGBY, or “Yes in God’s Backyard.”

The acronym is a play off of the term NIMBY — short for “Not in My Backyard” — a term often used to describe community pushback against affordable housing or other similar projects.

“Jesus very clearly tells us to keep our eyes open to those who are in need,” said Clairemont Lutheran Church pastor Jonathan Doolittle.

California is home to the 10 least-affordable major markets in the nation and is near the top in cost-burdened households — second among homeowners and fourth among renters, according to a January 2019 report from the Public Policy Institute of California. The median home price in California is $549,000. The median rent is $2,800.

Aerial view of Clairemont Lutheran Church in San Diego, with a rendering of proposed affordable housing project in the parking lot, bottom right. Image courtesy of Yigby.org

About four years ago, Clairemont Lutheran Church members in San Diego decided they needed to do something about the housing crisis affecting their community.

The church was part of an interfaith shelter network in which congregations open their spaces for a certain length of time to house families in crisis. During this time, churches host families for two weeks while they get back on their feet.

The families rotate to other churches in the network, but once that cycle runs out, they may have nowhere else to seek shelter, Doolittle said.

As the church made plans to redevelop its fellowship hall, Doolittle said they sought to include affordable housing as part of that project. The church proposed building a number of affordable apartments on part of their current parking lot.

Church leaders thought the affordable housing component could also speed up the approval process for the project. Instead, they encountered more roadblocks including parking restrictions and costly environmental impact reports.

In San Diego, city code makes it a requirement for churches to have a certain number of parking spaces based on the number of people who can fit in the sanctuary.

The renovation of the church’s fellowship hall is underway, but the housing element is on hold for now.

However, that could soon change.

On Nov. 6, a subcommittee of the San Diego City Council voted in favor on an item that would make it easier for faith communities to get approval to build housing on their parking lots. Under this plan, excess parking spaces could be used as a location for housing. The City Council will consider the item at a future meeting.

Clairemont Lutheran Church plans to jump-start its housing efforts next year, hoping to put between 16 and 21 apartments on its parking lot.

To housing advocate Tom Theisen, the city’s move is a step in the right direction.

Theisen — a retired attorney and former chair of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless — is part of the San Diego YIGBY working group that helps activate under-utilized faith community properties suitable for residential units.

He says the YIGBY group shows how an abundance of church land across the county can help address the region’s housing shortage. Theisen said that in the past, individual churches were going to the government proposing small projects of 15 to 20 units.

“It’s hard to create any change when you’re talking about individual small projects,” Theisen said.

Theisen said the YIGBY group emerged when San Diego County tax collector Dan McAllister identified about 1,100 faith community properties on more than 2,000 acres of land. Theisen said a substantial portion of that land is available for housing.

“If we look at this from the perspective of ‘How do we help the churches help the needy in their community and look at it countywide?’ we’re talking hundreds of potential housing units, possibly thousands,” Theisen said.

Theisen estimates construction costs could be “primarily if not exclusively” paid through income coming in from the housing.

“The idea is to start building housing and start putting people in houses,” Theisen said.

People tour St. Paul’s Commons in Walnut Creek, California, in September 2019. Photo courtesy of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

In Northern California, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Walnut Creek would like to open its affordable housing complex in December or January.

It’s called St. Paul’s Commons and will be a mixed-use development with community spaces operated by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. It’s also where the nonprofit Trinity Center will have a physical space to serve people who are homeless.

The project will include 45 affordable apartments. The church leased its land to Berkeley-based developer Resources for Community Development, which used a property management company to perform background checks, call references and conduct interviews for apartment applications.

The development is taking over a single-family home where Trinity Center provided services to the homeless. The Rev. Krista Fregoso said they were already assisting people who were homeless and later thought, “What if we became a part of the solution, too?”

To Fregoso, “This is just one part of how we live out our faith. We hope to be a model for other faith communities who might see their property in a different way.”

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Church of Ireland celebrates 150 years of independence

Episcopal News Service - sex, 15/11/2019 - 14:10

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Church of Ireland is celebrating 150 years since it was disestablished from the Church of England and has set out an innovative program to mark the milestone.

A special service of celebration this month in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, where the archbishop of Canterbury will preach, launches the #D150 program and will look back on the achievements of the past century and a half.

Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland Richard Clarke wrote about the landmark year, saying: “Today we may reasonably celebrate 150 years of disestablishment, but only if we are now ready to show the same faith, courage and generosity our forebears epitomized in 1869 as we seek to shape our future course.”

Read the full article here.

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Diocese of Lexington elects Bishop Mark Van Koevering as bishop diocesan

Episcopal News Service - qui, 14/11/2019 - 19:00

[Diocese of Lexington] On Nov. 1, at the Special Convention for the Diocese of Lexington held at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Winchester, Kentucky, the first order of business was the election of the eighth bishop of Lexington.

Bishop Mark Van Koevering

The Rt. Rev. Mark Van Koevering was duly elected and was greeted joyously by the convention. Van Koevering has been serving as the bishop provisional since being appointed by the diocesan convention in February 2018. As such, he continues as the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese, but now also is bishop diocesan-elect.

The Canons of The Episcopal Church provide that a majority of bishops diocesan and standing committees must consent to the election. Responses must be made within 120 days after receipt of the certificate of election.

Pending the receipt of necessary consents, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has set aside March 21, 2020, for the Van Koevering’s investiture and recognition bishop diocesan of Lexington. That service will take place at Christ Church Cathedral, Lexington.

The Standing Committee will begin formulating plans for the investiture service at its meeting later this month. The Diocese of Lexington looks forward to continuing work with Van Koevering and living into the vision affirmed by the recent convention, “Be the Church: Be the Change.”

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Archbishop Welby and Pope Francis plan unprecedented joint visit to South Sudan

Episcopal News Service - qui, 14/11/2019 - 17:45

Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby embrace before a private audience at the Vatican on Nov. 13. Photo courtesy ACNS

[Anglican Communion News Service] The first joint pastoral visit by a pope and an archbishop of Canterbury could take place in South Sudan early next year, the Vatican and Lambeth Palace announced last night. The news came after a private audience between Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby at the Vatican’s Casa Santa Marta guest house.

“During the friendly talks we focused on the condition of Christians in the world and on some situations of international crisis, with particular reference to the painful reality facing South Sudan,” the Vatican Press Office said in a bulletin. “At the end of the meeting the Holy Father and the Archbishop of Canterbury agreed that, if the political situation in the country should allow the establishment of a transitional government of national unity in the next 100 days, at the expiry of the agreement signed in recent days in Entebbe, in Uganda, they intend to visit South Sudan together.”

Read the full article here.

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American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem responds to deadly violence in Gaza

Episcopal News Service - qui, 14/11/2019 - 17:43

[American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem] John Lent, executive director of American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, issued the following statement on Nov. 14 in response to volleys this week of rocket fire from Gaza and deadly Israeli airstrikes on the Palestinian territory after an Israeli airstrike killed the Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader.

Dear Friends,

I’m sure you’ve followed the tragic news from Gaza and Israel over the past several days. In the wake of the killing of an Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza by Israeli security forces, subsequent missile strikes from Gaza into southern Israel, and retaliatory air strikes by Israel, 34 Gazans – including civilian children and adults, have been killed and 111 have been wounded. Fifty-three Israelis have received medical attention for shrapnel wounds, injuries incurred while seeking protection, and symptoms of acute stress.

As I write, a negotiated truce is in place and security restrictions have been lifted at the borders and in communities in southern Israel. However, no one can predict the stability of the cease-fire or if, in the coming days, the violence will reignite.

We do know this: As American Friends we cannot forget our brothers and sisters at Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City who, no matter what each day brings, continue to serve, with dignity and respect, every person who enters the hospital’s gate seeking treatment and comfort.

Suhaila Tarazi, Ahli Hospital’s director, (pictured at left) wrote to us this morning, “Thank you for your prayers. We are deeply concerned by the recently escalated hostilities between Israel and armed groups for the third day. Gaza is full of fear and this has further strained the deteriorated humanitarian situation. Ahli Arab Hospital is playing a big role in treating injuries and victims of trauma who seek our services. Because Ahli is one of the hospitals used by the health system during emergencies, we need to rebuild our stock of medical supplies to meet the needs of Gazans.”

She told us the hospital’s most pressing needs: medicine, medical supplies, screws for orthopedic surgery and diesel fuel to run generators needed because of daily power outages.

I visited Ahli Hospital on October 31. After my visit, I received a note from Suhaila. She wrote, “You have left us with the feeling that we are not alone in this ministry. Without your strong stand beside us it would be difficult for us to continue.” She sent the message to me, but she is talking about you. You are the support structure for Ahli Hospital in this country. You give Suhaila and her team the strength and resources to continue their remarkable Christian witness in Gaza.

Thank you for your prayers for their ongoing ministry and the safety of all people in Gaza and the region. To donate to Ahli and to learn more, visit our website at www.afedj.org.

Today, families in Gaza prepare to bury their dead. Thousands of Palestinians in Gaza attend memorial services and funerals. Below is an intercession for the people of Gaza for use in your personal prayers and to share with your congregation and friends.

With gratitude and hope,

John Lent
Executive Director

An Intercession for the People of Gaza

God of peace, whose beloved Son was born not far to the East in Bethlehem, we pray for the people of Gaza that they may be assured of your unfailing love.

Grant them freedom from fear and give them hope for a future safe from harm. In the midst of their sorrow, keep them from despair.

For all who are injured, in mind, body, and soul, we pray they find healing.

For all who have been killed, we pray they find rest.

For all who grieve, we pray they find comfort.

For leaders on all sides, we pray for a renewed will to lay down arms, for the strength to put the grievances and wrongs suffered by their people to rest, and for the conviction to embrace a path of reconciliation and peace that preserves the rights and dignity of all of your children.

God of justice, help us to remember there is no border that can separate us from your great love, no stone that can sound the well of your deep mercy.

Bless our sisters and brothers in Gaza, especially your servants at Ahli Arab Hospital whose loving and tender care for all of their neighbors reveals the face of Christ.

With abiding hope for a just and lasting peace in the land of the Holy One, we ask all this in the name of your Son, Jesus. Amen.

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Confederate symbols workshop guides priests in confronting past by reexamining it truthfully

Episcopal News Service - qui, 14/11/2019 - 15:38

Participants in the workshop on Confederate symbols visit All Saints’ Chapel at Sewanee: The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. Photo: Sewanee

[Episcopal News Service] When the Rev. Hannah Hooker traveled last week to the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, she brought along her thoughts of a specific stained-glass window back home in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she serves as associate rector of Christ Episcopal Church. The window depicts Bishop Leonidas Polk preaching at the church’s dedication in 1839.

It’s not a conspicuous window – located to one side of the nave, overlooking a breezeway where little light reaches its panes. Only after a longtime parishioner pointed it out did Hooker examine it closely and consider what Polk’s legacy means for her congregation at a time when The Episcopal Church has called on its dioceses and congregations to research and tell the full stories of their historic complicity with slavery, segregation and other systems of racial oppression.

Polk, as missionary bishop to the Southwest and later bishop of Louisiana, was a key figure in the founding of Sewanee by Episcopal dioceses in 1857, but he died before the opening of the university, killed in battle during the Civil War while serving as a general for the Confederacy. Today, he has become a problematic figure in the churchwide reexamination of Confederate symbols and memorials in worship spaces.

“I sort of am of the opinion that all churches, whether they have Confederate symbols or history, have the opportunity to investigate their own history and sort of own whatever grossness is in their past,” Hooker told Episcopal News Service by phone this week after returning from a three-day Sewanee workshop on those topics.

Hooker and 10 other priests attended the university’s inaugural Confederate Symbols and Episcopal Churches Workshop Nov. 5-7. Each priest came from a Southern parish with historical connections to the Confederacy. Some of the priests lead worship services in churches where Confederate symbols are present. Their congregations generally have not yet engaged in full-throated discussions of those symbols’ meanings.

At Calvary Episcopal Church in Fletcher, North Carolina, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee are two of the Southern historical figures remembered in stone monuments, more than a dozen in all, arranged in a roadside display outside the church. The rector, the Rev. J. Clarkson, attended the Sewanee workshop on Confederate symbols and described the monuments at his church as “a little bit unusual.”

“Figuring out what the church might want to do with them at this point is … a more complicated discussion,” Clarkson said in an interview with ENS.

The Rev. Rusty McCown brought to the workshop a different example from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Franklin, Tennessee, where he is rector. In the parish hall of the 200-year-old church hangs a portrait honoring a prominent early parishioner, but a darker part of the man’s past is hardly acknowledged – that he was a major slaveholder.

“I’m kind of a belief we shouldn’t have any portraits at all,” McCown said, though no changes have been discussed yet at his church. He attended the Sewanee workshop looking for guidance in how to approach such conversations in a congregation where some parishioners may be resistant to change.

He said he came away from the experience better equipped to lead the planning of his congregation’s upcoming 200th anniversary commemorations, knowing that it is important for a church to “own the history and remember that history, but at the same time, how do we go forward with this?”

The Sewanee workshop was a pilot program developed by two seminary graduates, the Rev. Hannah Pommersheim and the Rev. Kellan Day, through the university’s six-year Roberson Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation. The research project, named for late history professor Houston Bryan Roberson, aims to tell the fuller story of the university’s founding and first 100 years within social and economic systems built upon racial injustice.

This initial workshop received a $5,000 grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund and was only open to Episcopal clergy who are dealing with Confederate symbols at their churches. The workshop’s three parts examined the theological underpinnings of Confederate symbols in worship spaces, provided context for understanding art and symbols and steered participants toward best practices for local action.

Pommersheim and Day, working with Sewanee history professor Woody Register, will review feedback from participants and consider future options, such as offering the in-person workshop for a broader pool of ordained and lay Episcopalians or hosting it online. Another option would be to develop a curriculum that dioceses and congregations can follow on their own.

“These conversations, we want them to be happening in more churches. We want folks to have tools to have these conversations,” Pommersheim told ENS.

The 11 priests who participated in last week’s workshop weren’t expected to return to their congregations and immediately start removing objects connected to the Confederacy, Pommersheim said, though congregations might decide to take such steps after changing and deepening how they engage with their history. “Something actually changing was the goal.”

The Sewanee seminary was among the Episcopal institutions that reassessed their own Confederate symbols in the wake of a deadly August 2017 standoff in Charlottesville, Virginia, between white supremacist groups and counterprotesters, who converged in the city amid a legal dispute over its Confederate statutes.

In September 2017, Sewanee relocated a monument honoring Edmund Kirby-Smith, a 19th-century professor who previously served as a Confederate general, though even before Charlottesville, the debate over Confederate symbols had divided the campus community. Some of the contention centered around how best to represent Polk’s role in the founding of the university without glorifying his Confederate service.

Another focal point for debate has been All Saints’ Chapel. Confederate battle flags were removed from the chapel years ago, but just last year, remaining references to the Confederacy in the chapel’s stained-glass windows generated renewed scrutiny. The university responded in October 2018 by removing a pane from the window that had featured the seal of the Confederacy.

Participants in last week’s workshop on Confederate symbols visited All Saints’ Chapel, turning it into a classroom for lessons on the meaning of art and the assessment of art theologically. Sewanee art professor Shelley MacLaren led one of those discussions. Another session, on best practices for congregations, was led by the Rev. Molly Bosscher, who spent four years as associate rector at Richmond, Virginia’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, once known as the Cathedral of the Confederacy.

The Rev. Jamie Osborne led a session on the theological underpinnings of Confederate symbols in churches. Such symbols are given added spiritual importance when placed in a church, elevating them to “a higher level, a God level” alongside the baptismal font and altar.

Osborne brought to the workshop his own experience in Montgomery, Alabama, where he serves as associate rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church. The St. John’s vestry decided in February to remove a plaque and pew that had been known as the “Jefferson Davis pew” because church leaders determined its connection to the Confederate president was tenuous at best and its 1925 dedication had been steeped in racism.

“The removal of the plaque and the pew is good for the long-term future of the church,” Osborne told ENS. “But there’s also the deeper conversation of ‘How was it that pew and plaque got there?’”

This plaque honoring Leonidas Polk, an Episcopal bishop and Confederate general, was displayed in Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, Ohio, until its removal in 2018. Photo: Sarah Hartwig/Christ Church Cathedral

Those conversations are happening at Episcopal congregations in all regions of the United States, not just the South. Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, Ohio, removed its own plaque honoring Polk in 2018. More recently, in Boston, the historic Old North Church held a forum in October to discuss its historic links to slavery, acknowledging that slave traders were among the prominent early members who helped pay for the 1740 steeple.

Reexamining centuries-old history goes beyond what certain Episcopal congregations might do about the Confederate symbols on church grounds. It’s about racial reconciliation, said the Rev. John Jenkins, associate rector at St. Paul’s Church in Augusta, Georgia.

“If you have an older church, your church is a Confederate symbol. It’s a symbol of the whole economic system,” Jenkins told ENS after participating in the Sewanee workshop.

Polk’s funeral was held at St. Paul’s in 1864, and the “fighting bishop” once was entombed on the grounds, Jenkins said. A monument honoring Polk takes up space in the sanctuary, as does a flag display that includes a Confederate banner that was known as the Bonnie Blue.

Jenkins participated this year in the Justice Pilgrimage organized by the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing in the Diocese of Atlanta, and he hopes to mine that experience and the recent Sewanee workshop to help his congregation decide on next steps.

“We need to take responsibility for learning our history and confronting it truthfully,” he said.

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

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‘The unvarnished truth’: Episcopal Peace Fellowship marks 80th anniversary with racial reconciliation event

Episcopal News Service - qua, 13/11/2019 - 20:59

Rhode Island Bishop Nicholas Knisely speaks at the Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s 80th anniversary commemoration at the Center for Reconciliation in Providence, Rhode Island, on Nov. 10, 2019. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Providence, Rhode Island] Founded in 1939 on Armistice Day – the commemoration of the end of World War I, which now coincides with Veterans Day in the United States – the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, or EPF, was established to promote pacifism and protect conscientious objectors as the world plunged into yet another devastating global conflict.

And some of its leaders today – including the Rev. Bob Davidson, chair of EPF’s national executive council, and the Rev. Will Mebane, vice chair – became involved when EPF supported them as conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War.

“EPF is actually the reason I’m an Episcopalian,” Mebane told Episcopal News Service. Mebane had thought he only had two choices as a conscientious objector: “Go to Canada, or go to prison.” But a friend referred him to an Episcopal priest who connected him with EPF’s resources and invited him to come back to church on Sunday. The rest is history.

However, peace means more than just the absence of war, and EPF’s mission has expanded from its earlier focus to a wider variety of social justice issues, from combating gun violence and sex trafficking to promoting racial reconciliation and criminal justice reform.

“Part of our mission statement is to ‘dismantle’ violence,” Davidson told ENS. “That’s a more active term than ‘be aware of’ or ‘oppose.’ … What we’ve come to understand is the intersectionality of poverty and racism and violence. That … has led us more deeply into racial reconciliation and the awareness of white supremacy, white privilege, as the root cause of so much collective and interpersonal violence.”

The Cathedral of St. John in Providence, Rhode Island, now houses the Center for Reconciliation. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

That’s why the organization chose to celebrate its 80th anniversary with a two-day series of events focused on racial reconciliation. On Nov. 10, EPF hosted a “Commemoration of Witness” evensong service at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Bristol, Rhode Island – at which Bishop Nicholas Knisely of Rhode Island officiated and the Rt. Rev. Shannon MacVean-Brown, the newly consecrated bishop of Vermont, preached. It was followed by a fundraiser.

Members of the EPF National Executive Council at the 80th anniversary evensong at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Bristol, Rhode Island. Front row: The Rev. Cody Maynus, the Rev. Ann Coburn, Bob Lotz, the Rev. Will Mebane
Back row: Rob Burgess, the Rev. Bob Davidson, Melanie Ath, Ellen Lindeen. Photo: Steven Atha

The next day, the events continued at the Center for Reconciliation at the Cathedral of St. John in Providence. The cathedral – which remains the seat of the Diocese of Rhode Island – suspended services in 2012 due to financial difficulties, but it has housed the Center for Reconciliation since 2013. Established as a diocesan initiative, the nonprofit center educates the public about the history and legacy of slavery and racism.

With the center mostly operating in the basement of the cathedral, repair work in other areas of the building is ongoing, with the hope of reopening it completely in the future.

“The cathedral had closed just about a month before I was elected bishop, and I was not consulted, but it was presented to me as a closed building, and I set as a goal for myself reopening the building,” Knisely said.

The Center for Reconciliation is an especially useful resource in Rhode Island because, as with much of the Northeast, public awareness of the local impact of slavery is not as acute as in the South, Knisely said – a theme that was repeated throughout the day on Nov. 11.

“The Diocese of Rhode Island in its early days profited directly from the slave industry, and worse than that, a number of our buildings were built by enslaved people,” Knisely said. “As a child … I thought I was in the North and therefore I was exempt from having to feel guilty about this, and I discovered that’s not the case. And I have learned that this is not something that happened a long time ago. This is something that is ongoing, built into the historic inequities in American culture.”

When asked why racial reconciliation work – especially dealing with events that happened centuries ago – is important for Christians now, Knisely explained that progress cannot happen if not everyone understands the full historical context.

“How can I be a person of the Gospel truth if part of my life is blocked from my own understanding?” Knisely asked. “It is impossible for us to have a conversation across racial divides if half of that group knows a history we don’t know. … [Racism] is the original sin of the United States. And gun violence, drug addiction, gender violence – all of that vectors back to the enslavement industry. Capitalism, the way we abuse workers on the assembly line, vectors back to the plantation. Until we go to confession, we have no way of being reconciled.”

Traci Picard, the Center for Reconciliation’s program and research associate, gives a presentation on the history of slavery in Rhode Island. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

The day began with a presentation from Traci Picard, the center’s program and research associate, and volunteer tour guide Mark Burnham on the history of slavery in Rhode Island.

“This is what we call ‘difficult history,’” Picard said.

She spoke of how the state, the church and businesses combined to create a “web of complicity,” even in states like Rhode Island, which lacked the large plantations found in the South but where the economy was heavily based on trade, including the slave trade. Until 1807, Rhode Island was the top slave-trading state in the United States, Picard said, and Rhode Island had some of the strictest laws on runaway slaves.

“We didn’t have a primary crop, like tobacco or cotton,” Picard explained. “The African people were the commodity. That was our primary product.”

Byron Rushing, vice president of The Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies, delivers the keynote speech. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

In the afternoon, Byron Rushing – the vice president of The Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies and founder of the Episcopal Urban Caucus who also served as a Massachusetts state representative from 1983 until this past January – delivered a keynote speech in which he delved into some of the semantic problems encountered when talking about slavery, racial reconciliation and colonialism.

“Episcopalians, like many Christians, love words that start with the syllable ‘re-,’” Rushing said. “[Those] words have a huge implication: the implication of return. Returning to something that existed. Returning to a different relationship between humans.

“In the ‘re-,’ what was the ‘conciliation’? ‘Re-conciliation’ assumes there was a time when it was not a problem.”

Rushing also took issue with the use of the word “discover” to describe European colonization of Native land, explaining the problem in a modern parable.

“I’m going to go out into the parking lot and I’m going to find your car. I’m going to figure out a way to get into your car. I’m going to get into your car. I’m going to drive your car to Boston! I have ‘discovered’ your car,” Rushing said.

The theft of Native land gave rise to the theft of the labor needed to exploit it, Rushing said.

“You have stolen the land, so you steal the people.”

Rushing then moderated a panel discussion with representatives from all over Province I, who spoke about the various racial reconciliation projects they had undertaken.

When the Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts, decided to hold the 10-part Sacred Ground dialogue series on race and racism developed by The Episcopal Church, co-facilitators Holly Carter and Caitlin Slodden expected about 20 people to sign up to participate in the whole series, while in fact, 88 parishioners did – nearly a third of the congregation in a town whose population is almost completely white.

Holly Carter speaks during the discussion panel. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

Carter and Slodden credited the success to robust support from the clergy and vestry and to the fact that Carter, who is black, and Slodden, who is white, are equal partners in running the series, bringing different backgrounds and experiences.

The Rev. Katie Ernst, interim executive director of the Mission Institute, talked about how she successfully lobbied the Commission on Ministry in the Diocese of Massachusetts to make changes to the diocese’s vocational discernment process after a black woman left the process because of issues related to race. Through a series of interviews with multiple seminarians and recently ordained clergy of color, the Mission Institute was able to identify patterns of white supremacy within the process, she said, and the commission has made promising changes.

Lee Cheek of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, spoke of her efforts to restore the “erased” history of W.E.B. Du Bois, the black writer and activist who was born in her town but not appropriately recognized and celebrated there. The Rev. Gail Avery described a similar struggle to recognize and honor the contributions of black citizens through the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire.

It’s crucial, Cheek said, for white people to personally engage with people of color and witness “the unvarnished truth” of the effects that racism has had on their lives.

The Rev. Rowena Kemp and Suzy Burke, the conveners of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut’s Racial Healing, Justice, and Reconciliation Ministry Network, spoke of the success they’d had in fostering difficult conversations through pilgrimages, forums, workshops and even theatrical performances, in addition to curating a library of helpful media and resources. They stressed the importance of reaching beyond the intellectual level to a deeper emotional level, a point also raised by Cheek.

“We need to grab people by the heart,” Cheek said.

– 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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‘Wake-up call’: Canadian church hears statistics report on membership decline

Episcopal News Service - ter, 12/11/2019 - 18:20

[Anglican Journal] The Anglican Church of Canada’s first reliably collected set of statistics since 2001 show the church running out of members in about two decades if the church continues to decline at its current rate, the Council of General Synod (CoGS) heard on Nov. 9.

“We’ve got simple projections from our data that suggest that there will be no members, attenders or givers in the Anglican Church of Canada by approximately 2040,” the Rev. Neil Elliot, a priest for the diocese of Kootenay assigned in 2016 by the national church to collect a new set of statistics, told CoGS. Elliot, who reported on 2017 data collected from all of the church’s dioceses, also told the group about ongoing efforts to expand and diversify data collection.

Read the full article here.

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UTO grants helped the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church survive, rebuild

Episcopal News Service - ter, 12/11/2019 - 15:30
The United Thank Offering grant-site pilgrims pose for a group photo outside Holy Spirit Episcopal Church in Villaescusa, Spain. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] At one point in the mid-19th century, almost all of the residents of Villaescusa, a tiny village in the north of Spain near Santander, were Episcopalians.

It started with one villager who traveled 200 miles to the town of Fuentesaúco, where he bought a Bible, carried it home and began reading it. Then he brought the Bible to his Roman Catholic priest.

“The priest said, ‘This is a Protestant Bible; you cannot have this,’” said Bishop Carlos López Lozano of the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church, during a visit with 12 U.S. Episcopalians to Holy Spirit Church in Villaescusa.

The man, Melquíades Andrés, didn’t know anything about being a Protestant; he just wanted to read the Bible. But the priest said, “‘Give me this Bible. I’ll put it in the fire.’” The man did not surrender the Bible and, instead, traveled 222 miles to Salamanca, where he attended his first Episcopal service at the Church of the Redeemer. “He went, he liked the service and then he saw the school,” López explained.

In October, 31 Episcopalians traveled to Spain for a 10-day pilgrimage organized by the United Thank Offering in coordination with the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana through Corazon Travel. The pilgrimage began with Mass at the Anglican Cathedral of the Redeemer in Madrid. The following day, the pilgrims boarded a bus and drove to the 11th-century walled city of Avila.

From left, Isabelle Watkins, UTO intern; Louise Ambler, a member of Christ Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Bishop Carlos López Lozano of the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church walk the streets of Lugo, Spain, where the old city is still surrounded by Roman walls. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

In Avila, the group went in two different directions. A dozen people traveled by small bus to Salamanca, where they visited the first of three UTO grant sites; the larger group departed for Sarria, where the next day they began the 62-mile walk along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. The two groups would later converge in Arzúa for a pilgrims’ Mass the night before the walking pilgrims completed the journey’s final 12 miles and the groups reunited in Santiago de Compostela.

The “grant-site pilgrims” made stops in Salamanca, where they visited the Atilano Coco Center, an international student center named for Coco, an Episcopal priest and a professor at the University of Salamanca who was assassinated by the Franco regime in December 1936. From there, they visited the rectory that serves as Holy Spirit Church in Villaescusa, and later, they stopped by St. Eulalia, a storefront church serving low-income Spaniards and immigrants in a public housing development on the outskirts of Oviedo.

The grant-site pilgrims, who heard the history of the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church, were surprised to learn of the critical impact UTO grants have had on churches and ministries across Spain.

“I knew that we had this long relationship with the Spanish church, but I didn’t realize how [the church was] nearly exterminated and how deliberate that extermination had been,” said Sherri Dietrich, UTO board president, who attends St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Newcastle, Maine. “And what they’ve done since then, and Bishop Lozano and the church people we’ve met, they’re so positive and optimistic. Not pie-in-the-sky optimistic, but they’re just doing what God has called them to do.”

“The [UTO] board, like all church boards, doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on board expenses, so we don’t get to see what our grants have done. You know, we get reports, but we don’t see it firsthand,” she said.

Sherri Dietrich, UTO board president, admires the goods in the pantry of St. Eulalia, a storefront church serving low-income Spaniards and immigrants in a public housing development on the outskirts of Oviedo, Spain. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

The Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2018. In the years following the Spanish Civil War when the country was under the dictatorial rule of Francisco Franco, the government confiscated the church’s property, with the exception of the cathedral in Madrid, forcing the church underground.

“Twenty-six buildings and 14 schools were taken by Franco,” said López, who led the grant-site pilgrims’ tour. “The church was almost entirely destroyed. People met in a private home with a Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.”

Bishop Carlos López Lozano of the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church explains to the UTO pilgrims that Holy Spirit Church in Villaescusa, Spain, was seized by the government of Francisco Franco in 1936. Today, the building belongs to a Swiss company and the congregation worships down the hill in the former rectory. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

In 1936, when Holy Spirit Church in Villaescusa was forced out of its building, the congregation moved a three-minute walk down the hill to the rectory, where they worshiped until 2008, when the roof collapsed and they moved to the city hall. A $20,000 UTO grant allowed the small congregation to fix the rectory’s roof.

“Seeing where our money went to repair a roof with a congregation that had only 15 people – they would have never been able to do that; they would have had to close again,” said Dee Dugger, a UTO coordinator for the Diocese of Florida and also her parish, Holy Trinity in Gainesville.

Like Dietrich, Dugger appreciated the opportunity to see the results firsthand.

“For me, to be able to see where the money goes that we collect each year, and then to be able to go back and tell my parishioners and my diocesan constituents that every penny counts,” she said, while fighting back tears. “How can we have made [such] a difference in Spain? We have basically saved the Episcopal Church here in Spain,” said Dugger.

Each day of the pilgrimage, the UTO grant-site pilgrims would stop and reflect and read one verse of Psalm 103:1-5. Here, Leo Dugger reads the verse. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

In the 1950s, the U.S.-based Episcopal Church became aware of the Spanish church’s challenges, among them having no bishop. So in 1956, two American bishops – Minnesota Bishop Stephen Keeler and Northern Indiana Bishop Reginald Mallett – along with a bishop from the Church of Ireland, which had oversight of the Spanish Episcopal Church at the time, snuck into the country and in secret, consecrated the Rt. Rev. Santos M. Molina in his home in Sevilla.

Mallett and his wife had vacationed in Spain previously and returned under the pretense of tourism, said Northern Indiana Bishop Douglas Sparks, who walked the Camino with the UTO pilgrims.

“On the first day, they baptized, confirmed and received a number of people. On the next day, they ordained deacons and priests, and then they ordained the bishop who had been elected [clandestinely],” said Sparks, and when they left, their secret visit hit the newspapers.

“The Episcopal Church in Northern Indiana, our diocese, they’re grateful for the risks that Bishop Mallett took and the other bishops to come and to make it possible for the church to be sustained in the midst of some pretty challenging and life-threatening experiences,” Sparks said.

The United Thank Offering grant-site pilgrims pose for a group photo outside the cathedral in León, Spain. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Then, UTO took notice. “From 1956 until now, UTO has helped us to survive,” said López. To date, the Spanish church’s properties have not been returned, nor has it received compensation, though it formally requested the latter a decade ago.

After Franco’s death in 1975, the church began to rebuild with the continued support of UTO and others. Today, it operates 55 parishes in all major cities and towns in Spain with bi-vocational clergy. Last year, to help celebrate its anniversary, the Spanish church invited the Rev. Heather Melton, UTO’s staff officer, to speak during its kickoff event, and it was from there that she imagined the pilgrimage.

“During that trip, I heard countless stories of how congregations or ministries would not have existed were it not for the funding provided through UTO grants,” Melton told Episcopal News Service. “It was so inspiring to see how far the UTO grants to Spain have gone. I really wanted others to see and experience the church in Spain and the powerful witness of blessings.”

When Melquíades Andrés saw the school at the Church of the Redeemer in Salamanca, he set out to establish an Episcopal church and a school in Villaescusa, where only the children of wealthy families who could hire tutors received an education. From that one church, another five were established in the region.

“Four hundred people, almost all the villagers, became Episcopalians,” said López.

Today, Villaescusa has only 150 to 200 year-round inhabitants, and the 15 to 20 Episcopalians who attend Holy Spirit Church continue to worship in the former rectory, while up the street at 41 Calle Derecha, a Swiss company owns the actual church building, whose front gate stays locked. Still, it’s an active congregation engaged in the community.

“You cannot imagine how important it is to us to have you here and to thank you,” said López, as the pilgrims toured Holy Spirit.

Isabelle Watkins, United Thank Offering intern, and UTO board member Caitlyn Darnell take a selfie outside the Botana family estate church in Arzúa, Spain. The grant-site and walking pilgrims came together for a shared Eucharist the night before the walking pilgrims would complete the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Thank offerings collected during a calendar year are granted the following year. UTO has set aside $60,000 in matching funds for the 2020 grant cycle to help to establish an Anglican Pilgrim Centre in Santiago de Compostela. To date, $23,594 has been raised.

The Anglican Pilgrim Centre would follow those in Jerusalem and Rome, the two other cities most often visited by Christian pilgrims. Like Israel and Italy, Spain has a rich religious history, from the time the Apostle St. James brought Christianity to the Iberian Peninsula just after Jesus’ death to its history as part of the Roman Empire to the Muslim conquest that began in 711 and continued until 1492. Then in 1880, the Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain was established by former Roman Catholic priests who began to question the pope’s infallibility and dogma in what was truly a Spanish-led – not an Anglican-led – movement.

Still, the Roman Catholic Church, which aligned itself with the Franco regime, continues to be the state-sanctioned church, receiving $900 million from the Spanish government yearly, and its history is told throughout the country in its many Gothic and Romanesque cathedrals, as the grant site pilgrims would discover. Yet, it was the Episcopal churches and ministries that most impressed the group and brought tears to their eyes.

“It’s just very touching, spiritual and sacred. … It’s holy work, and it feels like holy ground,” said Dugger. “You know, the cathedrals that we’ve been in have been awesome, but these little, tiny, simple churches are more magnificent than the biggest cathedral with all the silver and gold.”

The United Thank Offering was founded in 1890 to support innovative mission and ministry in The Episcopal Church and to promote thankfulness and mission throughout the Episcopal and Anglican churches worldwide. One hundred percent of thank offerings collected are distributed annually in support of projects that address human needs and help to alleviate poverty.

“We say, I don’t know how many times every Sunday, ‘Thanks be to God,’ and I think very few think about it what it is to give thanks and gratitude. What I love about gratitude is that it’s … relational: It means someone has given you something, and there’s really nothing you can do in return. I mean, you can turn it into a transactional thing. But just being grateful and acknowledging that gift, it makes you feel good. It makes you healthier, emotionally and physically,” said Dietrich.

“God asks us to be thankful. He doesn’t ask us, he tells us to be thankful. And I love that it is one of the most obvious things to me that God tells us to do this,” she said. So it’s … a command, but it turns out [that] it feels really good. And it’s so good for us; it brings us closer to God and to others.”

Since it began, UTO has collected and granted $138,629,911.07 in thank offerings to support innovative mission and ministry in The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion through 5,257 grants.

– Lynette Wilson is a reporter and managing editor of Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at lwilson@episcopalchurch.org.

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Diocese of New York establishes reparations fund, adopts anti-slavery resolutions from 1860

Episcopal News Service - ter, 12/11/2019 - 13:47

Wayne Kempton, archivist and historiographer for the Diocese of New York, displays the journal of the 1860 diocesan convention. Photo: Diocese of New York

[Episcopal News Service] At its annual convention on Nov. 8 and 9, the Diocese of New York established a task force to examine how it can make meaningful reparations for its participation in the slave trade and committed $1.1 million from its endowment to fund the efforts the task force recommends.

It also passed four resolutions condemning slavery, which had first been introduced by John Clarkson Jay – grandson of founding father John Jay, governor of New York and first chief justice of the Supreme Court – in 1860. At the time, the resolutions were met with fierce opposition from the clergy and laity, many of whom were still profiting from the slave trade, and they had been tabled indefinitely until now, according to the diocese.

New York Bishop Andrew M.L. Dietsche has made racial reconciliation a priority in his diocese, which designated 2017-18 a Year of Lamentations, 2018-19 a Year of Repentance/Apology and 2019-20 a Year of Reparation.

“The legacy, the shadow, of white supremacy which flows from our slave past and continues to poison the common life of the American people … continues to impose extraordinary burdens, costs, hardships and degradation upon people of African descent in our country,” Dietsche said in his address to the convention. “The Diocese of New York played a significant, and genuinely evil, part in American slavery, so we must make, where we can, repair.”

Dietsche noted in his address that in the 18th century, a high proportion of New Yorkers were slave owners, and according to diocesan records, some churches owned slaves as parish servants or “property assets.”

“We have a great deal to answer for,” Dietsche said. “We are complicit.”

At the 1860 convention, Jay, an ardent abolitionist, introduced four resolutions urging the leadership and laity of the diocese to publicly renounce and oppose slavery and slave trading. Importing slaves had been illegal in the United States since 1808, and the last remaining slaves in New York were freed in 1827. However, the Port of New York was still considered “the largest slave market in the world” as late as 1859, being the home port for ships that sailed across the Atlantic to abduct Africans and generate profits for New York merchants.

Jay wanted his diocese to take a firm stand against the human trafficking that continued “in violation of the statutes of the Republics, of the teachings of the Church, of the rights of man, and the laws of God.”

The reaction?

“Enough people rose and left the floor of the convention to deny the action even the possibility of a quorum,” Dietsche said.

Diane Pollard of the diocesan Reparations Committee said it was decided to bring back the resolutions at this convention in part because “it is so painful” to have them still sitting on the table, an unfinished chapter of an ugly history.

“It is painful to people who have family that were slaves,” Pollard said in a video produced by the diocese about the resolutions.

Dietsche referred to the passing of the resolutions as “the fruit of the Year of Apology” but noted that “there is a third and final chapter to this movement, which begins now with this convention, and that is the Year of Reparation.”

In his address, Dietsche called for a previously unannounced resolution “to set aside $1.1 million from the diocesan endowment for the purpose of reparations for slavery.”

Citing Virginia Theological Seminary and Princeton Theological Seminary as examples – VTS pledged 1.1 percent of its endowment and Princeton 2.25 percent – Dietsche considered 2.5 percent of the diocesan endowment an appropriate amount, which came to $1.1 million.

“Much smaller, and the resources for significant reparation would be insufficient; much larger, and it might not be something we could do,” Dietsche said. “When I ask that we remove this much money from our modest endowment, I know that this is not a small thing. However, I am sure that any honest process of reparation must require sacrifice and a commitment, not only from our surplus but from our seed corn.”

The resolution included the creation of a task force that will determine how best to structure the reparations effort and make recommendations at the next diocesan convention. Dietsche emphasized that the effort is about more than simply spending money, but he brought up several specific possibilities.

“This money could produce five $10,000 college or seminary scholarships every year in perpetuity,” Dietsche said. “This money could establish and fund an education and advocacy library and resource center in this diocese dedicated to racial justice and reconciliation. This money could support a first-step program in this diocese to invite, nurture and prepare black young people, and men and women, to explore the possibility of ordained ministry. $1.1 million isn’t so much money, but it’s not nothing either, and I look forward with anticipation to the creative possibilities that might come from this initiative.”

– 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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Iconic Boston church reckons with its links to slavery

Episcopal News Service - sex, 08/11/2019 - 17:43

Old North Church is Boston’s oldest standing church, and it still houses an active Episcopal congregation. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Boston] Old North Church is a living witness to one of the most significant chapters in American history. Immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride,” the white spire rising above the narrow streets of Boston’s North End is where two lanterns were hung to signal the approach of British troops that started the Revolutionary War.

But while Old North has been known as a symbol of the American fight for liberty and justice, its story is also intertwined with the national sin of slavery.

Old North Church, built in 1723, is the site of the lantern signal — “one if by land, two if by sea” — that set Paul Revere off on his famous ride. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

In October, the leadership of the 296-year-old church – which is Boston’s oldest standing church, the city’s most visited historical site and an active Episcopal congregation – held a panel discussion on Old North’s links to slavery. New research had revealed that some of its most prominent early members were slave traders and they had donated large sums of money to pay for the construction of the original steeple in 1740.

One name in particular – Newark Jackson – is still familiar to the Old North community. In an adjacent building, the historic site runs a re-creation of an 18th-century chocolate shop named for Jackson, who owned and operated a chocolate shop elsewhere in the North End in the 1740s. Since 2013, Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop has offered visitors the chance to watch the process of Colonial-era chocolate making and taste (and buy) the results. In the church, there was also a memorial sign in the private pew Jackson occupied when he attended services.

When Old North started the chocolate shop, Jackson’s name was “picked somewhat out of a hat,” without knowing much about him other than his ownership of an Old North pew and a chocolate shop, said the Rev. Stephen Ayres, the vicar at Old North and executive director of the Old North Foundation.

“‘Jackson’ just sounded good, so we picked that without knowing a lot about him,” Ayres told Episcopal News Service.

The deeper research started after Ayres happened upon a book called “Unfreedom: Slavery and Dependence in Eighteenth-Century Boston” by Jared Ross Hardesty, which mentions Newark Jackson – not as a chocolatier but as a slave owner. Old North asked Hardesty to do additional research, and the results were informative but upsetting.

At Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop next to Old North Church in Boston, visitors can watch chocolate-making demonstrations and experience what Colonial-era chocolate tasted like. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

“Jared eventually found the ship manifests, and that’s when he called me and said, ‘I’ve got bad news for you,’” Ayres said.

The news was that Jackson and several other Old North members were participants in a slave-smuggling ring. Defying British law, they transported slaves from Barbados to Suriname, outside the British Empire. In 1744, Jackson and fellow Old North parishioner George Ledain were killed in a mutiny shortly after leaving Suriname, according to Hardesty’s research. On the ship, Dutch authorities found 15 slaves who had not been sold: 2 adults and 13 children. Jackson himself owned three slaves at the time of his death, according to Hardesty.

Hardesty’s research had “given us some work to do to figure out how to go from where we are to where we should be,” Ayres said.

The first step was to present the findings to the community at that panel discussion in October, which included Hardesty, another historian, a lawyer and the Rt. Rev. Gayle Harris, bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Massachusetts. The commemorative sign in Jackson’s pew has been removed and may be replaced with a new one. Further changes are in the works, Ayres said.

The Rev. Stephen Ayres, vicar of Boston’s Old North Church, stands next to Newark Jackson’s old pew. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

“We have a board meeting next week and on their agenda is to talk about de-branding the [chocolate] shop, which would be to stop calling it ‘Captain Jackson’s.’ We still want to do the chocolate program, but we don’t want to be honoring somebody who by our standards is not honorable,” Ayres told ENS.

The discoveries about Jackson and the other parishioners could be just the tip of the iceberg. Even in a region not typically associated with slavery (Massachusetts abolished it in 1783), almost 10 percent of Boston’s population in the 1740s was enslaved.

“There was probably enslaved labor working on the construction of church; we haven’t really done the deep dive into our archives to see if we can find any information about that, but that’s for future research. We know the first two rectors of the church were slave owners,” Ayres said.

Slaves and free black citizens attended Old North, and there are multiple records of a particular free black family, Ayres said. But all people of color had to sit up in the mezzanine, which was the least comfortable part of the church – cold in the winter and hot in the summer.

“Because of the nature of slavery, black people did not have much of an opportunity to get together and socialize. So this was a real source of community to them. I also think about how they’re sitting up there looking down on all their owners,” Ayres said.

– 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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Spreading God’s love through coffee and cookies in Bethlehem

Episcopal News Service - sex, 08/11/2019 - 17:22

[Diocese of Bethlehem] Morning commuters traveling on Wyandotte Street outside the Cathedral Church of the Nativity received a pleasant surprise last week: free cookies, coffee and a reminder of God’s love.

Early on Friday Nov.1, the Very Rev. Tony Pompa, dean of the Cathedral Church of the Nativity, and the Rev.  Dale Grandfield, the cathedral’s canon missioner, handed out cups of coffee and packs of cookies to anyone stopped at the red light on the corner of Wyandotte and Third Avenue. Included with the morning refreshments was a card which read: “God loves you. We do too. Remember someone you love.” The card also included a prayer to celebrate All Saints’ Day.

“The idea came to me, building on the concept of ashes to go, that there are other times of the year when we go out and we remind people that God is present in their lives,” said Grandfield.

Commuters were appreciative of the morning pick-me-up.

“They would say ‘Thank you so much. This is so sweet,’” said Grandfield. “They were just delighted.”

All Saints’ Day was not the first time the pair built an event around cookies and coffee. Now dubbed, “Cookie Canon” and “Barista Dean,” respectively, Grandfield and Pompa held a similar event at the cathedral’s Kickoff Sunday. Falling early to mid-September, Kickoff Sunday is the first Sunday of the program year, when Sunday school and other formation opportunities restart after a summer hiatus. The event was popular, and the promotional Facebook video received thousands of views.

“We wanted to get people excited about being there, and to just be hospitable and engage with people,” said Grandfield.

Fueled by the recent call of their new canon missioner, the people of the cathedral have been making a concerted effort to reach out more to their surrounding neighborhood. In an interview held during Diocesan Convention, Grandfield described an event held in September, when a group from the cathedral walked the South Side neighborhood to learn more about the people in the community.

“I’m exploring a lot, and just trying to find my way and help the cathedral find their way,” said Grandfield.

When asked what the cathedral has planned for the future, Grandfield, who holds a degree in Spanish and speaks the language, says that the cathedral plans on offering more worship opportunities in Spanish and figuring out how they can work towards social justice in their area.

“If we can make one step in the right direction, then I will have done what I’m called here to do,” said Grandfield. “I don’t have a grand plan, a grand strategy … I’m just following. Jesus has the plan.”

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Archbishop of York condemns oil companies for sparking ‘environmental genocide’

Episcopal News Service - sex, 08/11/2019 - 17:20

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Archbishop of York John Sentamu has called for urgent action to stop the oil spills that are devastating communities in Nigeria’s Bayelsa state.

Following the release of an interim report of the Bayelsa State Oil and Environmental Commission, which he chairs, Sentamu called the actions of oil companies operating in the Niger Delta as “nothing less than environmental genocide.”

Sentamu said that oil companies needed to end a culture of double standards in Nigeria. Launching the report, he accused Shell, AGIP and other oil companies of reaping environmental devastation upon the people of Bayelsa and of ignoring their pleas for assistance.

Read the full article here.

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Bishop joins rally at Wisconsin Capitol for gun safety bills that GOP leaders promptly ignore

Episcopal News Service - sex, 08/11/2019 - 15:21

Milwaukee Bishop Steven Miller speaks at a rally at Wisconsin’s Capitol in Madison in favor of two gun safety bills. Photo: WisconsinEye via video

[Episcopal News Service] Milwaukee Bishop Steven Miller was among a handful of Wisconsin gun safety advocates who spoke Nov. 7 at the state Capitol in Madison in favor of pending legislation – two bills that state Republican leaders promptly ignored before closing the day’s brief legislative sessions without debate.

Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, had called the special legislative session for the Senate and Assembly, both controlled by Republicans, to consider measures that would implement universal background checks for gun purchases and a “red flag” system allowing judges to approve the temporary seizure of guns from individuals suspected of posing threats to the public.

Miller, a founding convener of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, spoke before the legislative session at a news conference organized by a coalition of groups, including the Wisconsin Council of Churches, Mothers Against Gun Violence, March for Our Lives and Forward Latino.

“We are here, as Episcopalians, because we believe in the dignity of every human being. And the dignity of every human being includes keeping people safe,” Miller said, describing Evers’ legislation as “common sense” measures that have Wisconsin citizens’ widespread support.

He and other advocates of the bills point to the results of an August poll by the Marquette University Law School that found 80 percent of voters in the state support background checks for private gun purchases and gun show sales, and 81 percent back red flag laws.

“This government must take a vote. We deserve to know where our legislators stand on this issue since 80 percent of us support it,” Miller said. He spoke for about two minutes at the beginning of the 25-minute news conference, which was streamed online by WisconsinEye.

Republican leaders were required by law to convene a session on the legislation based on Evers’ request, but they were not required to act on it. Instead, the Assembly and the Senate each met Nov. 7 for mere seconds before adjourning.

The Wisconsin Senate’s special session on guns starts and ends in approximately 30 seconds. pic.twitter.com/vXymsBxf8H

— Patrick Marley (@patrickdmarley) November 8, 2019

“There’s just not any momentum in the caucus to take up either one of the bills that the governor has offered,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told reporters, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The Episcopal Church has for decades advocated stricter regulations on gun ownership and improved gun safety. General Convention’s most recent actions, in 2018, included a call for greater study of gun violence as a public health crisis. Another resolution paved the way for the church to buy stocks in gun manufacturers to implement new shareholder advocacy strategies.

Bishops United, a network of about 80 Episcopal bishops, also has pressed for federal legislation. Some of the bishops traveled to Washington, D.C., in February to meet with lawmakers on the issue. While they were on Capitol Hill, the Democrat-led House passed a background check bill that has since languished in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Miller did not participate in those lawmaker visits earlier this year, but he has been active in Bishops United since the network was created in the wake of the December 2012 massacre of 26 children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Two other deadly shootings had occurred months earlier in suburban Milwaukee, at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek and at the Azana Salon & Spa in Brookfield.

In a radio interview Nov. 7 before the news conference, Miller cited the salon shooting in October 2012 as a grim example of the need for a more comprehensive background check law. In that attack, the shooter killed his wife, two of her coworkers and himself with a gun he had purchased in an online sale after being turned away by a gun store.

Miller also highlighted the rising problem of suicide by firearm, especially in rural Wisconsin. The proposed legislation, he said, promises to help alleviate that strain of gun violence, which claims hundreds of lives in the state each year.

“This is an opportunity to care for one another, I think, in a significant way,” Miller told the Between the Lines show. “We know that these laws will save lives, and I don’t know why an elected representative would not want to save the lives of his or her citizens.”

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

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Absalom Jones Center to launch social justice project named for Bishop Barbara Harris

Episcopal News Service - qui, 07/11/2019 - 17:42

Retired Bishop Suffragan Barbara Harris leads the Diocese of Massachusetts in singing hymns during its 2014 electing convention. Photo: Matthew Cavanaugh/Diocese of Massachusetts

[Episcopal News Service] The Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing, an initiative of the Diocese of Atlanta that has served the past two years as a resource supporting The Episcopal Church’s racial reconciliation work, is about to expand its scope, and it will do so in the name of one of the church’s most heralded bishops.

On Nov. 16, the Episcopal educational center will launch the Bishop Barbara C. Harris Justice Project to strengthen the church’s efforts to address environmental injustice, health inequities, mass incarceration, the death penalty, inhumane immigration policies and other social justice issues.

Harris became the first female bishop in the Anglian Communion when she was consecrated as bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Massachusetts in 1989. Now retired at age 89, she continues to be an inspiration to Episcopalians and an example of faithful commitment to justice work, making her a natural choice for this honor, Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright said.

Harris is able to “thread the needle” of being both kind and candid, Wright told Episcopal News Service, exemplifying “how to talk in terms of inequity and to talk in terms of justice and where we’ve missed building relationships of Christian affection.” She has spoken forcefully on issues of race, gender and sexual orientation while remaining personable and affable, Wright said, “and you just don’t see that every day.”

Retired Bishop Suffragan Barbara Harris of the Diocese of Massachusetts.

Harris is scheduled to join the ceremonies next week in Atlanta, which will include a forum discussion, a commemorative dinner and a worship service, with Wright preaching, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

The day will be both a celebration of Harris’ life and the starting point for the new justice project named for her.

“She totally embodies what this work is about, in her own journey and the way she has been living her life in the world as an advocate for justice and her courageousness and her trailblazing spirit,” said Catherine Meeks, executive director of the Atlanta-based Absalom Jones Center, which is located across the street from Morehouse College.

Meeks analogizes the Harris Justice Project as the center “spreading its wings.” So far, the center has assembled online resources, organized events, developed curricula, and led classes and a pilgrimage intended to help Episcopalians and Episcopal clergy members reckon with their own racial biases and need for healing, in the context of The Episcopal Church’s Becoming Beloved Community framework. Meeks sees the next step as connecting that spiritual journey to the outside world.

“The idea is that the justice project will be kind of the outreach arm of the center. A lot of our work has been focused on healing and inner work and we will continue doing that, but we are also getting ready to expand ourselves,” Meeks said in an interview with ENS. “Now that you’ve had some opportunity to heal, what do you do next?”

Much of the center’s ongoing racial healing work will build on the example of an inaugural pilgrimage that brought 20 Episcopal priests and deacons to Atlanta in May. The participants were selected from all 20 dioceses in the church’s Province IV, which encompasses all or part of nine states in the Southeast. Future pilgrimages will draw from a broader pool of participants, and the center hopes clergy members will return to their dioceses and parishes and mobilize Episcopalians to start their own journeys toward racial healing.

They also will be encouraged to consider how their faith calls them to work for justice on a range of social issues, Meeks said, because she thinks “racism is at the core of all those issues.”

Starting with a focus on the environment, the Harris Justice Project is developing a course curriculum that will debut in the new year. The curriculum will highlight ways that environmental risks tend to disproportionally affect minority communities and people of color, especially in less-affluent neighborhoods, Meeks said.

The Episcopal Church has endorsed such work through its General Convention, which in 2015 passed a resolution opposing environmental racism, “expressed in such ways as the locating of extraction, production, and disposal industries where they disproportionately harm neighborhoods inhabited by people of color and low income communities.” That resolution echoed a similar measure passed in 2000 that raised concerns about “the practice of locating polluting industries disproportionately near neighborhoods inhabited by people of color or the poor.”

Racist roots of unjust environmental policies stem from “the ways in which we’ve constructed this country on ideas of supremacy, on ideas of some people are better than others,” Meeks said.

She also knows that the people who come to the center’s classes bring a wide range of attitudes about race and society. Sometimes, it’s important for diverse groups first to unite around the basic Christian principle that “everybody on the planet is an equal person,” Meeks said. “That’s a starting place.”

Wright sees the Absalom Jones Center’s mission as “increasing people’s capacity to have more courageous conversations,” with the hope that they will replicate those conversations when they return to their families, communities and congregations. It helps to spotlight people like Harris who have embodied that work.

“Bishop Harris has been a courageous communicator, someone who has tried to create a brave space … as bishop and even beyond that,” Wright said.

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

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