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Episcopal, Cuban churches celebrate reunion after more than half-century apart

Episcopal News Service - seg, 09/03/2020 - 12:40

The Episcopal Church and Episcopalians in Cuba celebrate the Diocese of Cuba’s readmission into The Episcopal Church during a March 6 Eucharist at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Havana. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Editor’s note: A Spanish-language version of this story will follow shortly.

[Episcopal News Service – Havana, Cuba] It’s official. The Episcopal Church of Cuba has returned to The Episcopal Church as the Diocese of Cuba.

“Today really was finally the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace of our hearts and our lives coming together as one church,” said Presiding Bishop Michael Curry in a March 6 interview with Episcopal News Service following a Eucharist at Havana’s Holy Trinity Cathedral recognizing the readmission of the Episcopal Church in Cuba as a diocese.

“This was a reunion, a reconciliation, a re-communion with one another in Jesus Christ,” Curry said. “This was a celebration of what God does. As St. Paul said, ‘If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old is passed away. Behold the new has come!’ And we saw, for one brief shining moment, something of that new that is coming.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preaches and Luz Dinorah Padro, the church’s manager for language services, interprets during a Eucharist March 6 celebrating the Diocese of Cuba’s readmission into The Episcopal Church at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Havana. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Along with Curry, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, House of Deputies president; Episcopal bishops representing dioceses in partnerships with the Diocese of Cuba; members of Cuba Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio’s 2011 College for Bishops’ class; and other supporters from the United States and Canada celebrated Cuba’s readmission during the Eucharist that preceded the official start of Cuba’s Diocesan Convention.

“We love Cuba,” Curry said to applause as he took the microphone at the beginning of his sermon. “It’s so good to be here. … On behalf of the entire Episcopal Church, we love Cuba.”

In his sermon, Curry referenced John 15, the Last Supper, when Jesus knew he was going to die.

“He was willing to give his life, not for himself, but for others,” Curry said. “That’s what love looks like. … And Jesus said, ‘Abide in me as I abide in you. I am the vine, you are the branches. As the father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now abide in my love.’”

Cuba Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio holds her granddaughter’s hand as she and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry process out of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Havana. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Curry also recognized Delgado’s long-held desire for the Cuban church to rejoin The Episcopal Church and become part of a larger family.

“Not only Cuba must become part of a big family, but The Episcopal Church must be part of a big family … not only part of the Christian family, but the human family,” Curry said. “And Jesus has called us to be family so that we followers of Jesus can be a witness to the rest of the world of what God’s dream is for the whole human family. God made this world so that we would learn to be family.

“God is the vine and we human beings are the branches, and we will make a better world when we live in God and with each other,” Curry said.

Turning to face Delgado, who was seated in a chair behind him, and addressing her directly, Curry said, “When you said we must be part of a big family, the Holy Spirit was speaking through you, my sister. We must be part of a big family.”

Cuba Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio and Central New York Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe pose for a photo outside Holy Trinity Cathedral in Havana, March 6. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

For more than half of its 110-year history, the Cuban church has been separated from The Episcopal Church. The readmission, or reunification, is something Delgado has worked toward since she became bishop coadjutor in 2010.

“I’m feeling that the Holy Spirit has held my hand all the time,” Delgado said in an interview with ENS. “As a human being, I wouldn’t have had the capacity without the strength of the Holy Spirit. I believe this moment was chosen by God that we return to The Episcopal Church. Years ago, we made a petition (for readmission), but at the time, we couldn’t reach the goal.”

This time, readmission was something accomplished “detail by detail,” along with the support of The Episcopal Church, she told ENS, adding that there are still details to be worked out and that becoming a full diocese will require a different way of relating to one another.

“It will be quite a new experience for the two churches walking along together, but the experience itself will teach us how to keep going,” she said.

Congregants hold hands while singing during the Eucharist celebrating the Diocese of Cuba’s readmission into The Episcopal Church. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Executive Council formally approved the Cuban church’s readmission at its February 2020 meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Diocese of Cuba joined Province II, which includes dioceses from New York and New Jersey in the United States, the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, Haiti and the Virgin Islands.

During the 79th General Convention held in Austin, Texas, in 2018, the House of Bishops voted unanimously to readmit the Cuban church as a diocese, with the House Deputies concurring.

Though the readmission process accelerated after the 79th General Convention, it first was set in motion five years ago. In March 2015, two months after the United States and Cuba agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations following a 54-year breach, the Episcopal Church of Cuba’s synod voted 39 to 33 in favor of returning to the church’s former affiliation with The Episcopal Church. That summer, the 78th General Convention called for closer relations with the Cuban church and a lifting of the decades-long U.S. economic embargo against Cuba. (The Episcopal Church, through General Convention resolutions, has long supported ending the embargo.)

At right, the Rev. Molly James, deputy executive officer of General Convention, witnesses as the Very Rev. Jose Angel Gutierrez, dean of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Havana, signs the Oath of Conformity as part of the Eucharist celebrating the Diocese of Cuba’s readmission into The Episcopal Church. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

During the Eucharist on March 6, 2020, Delgado, Bishop Suffragan Ulises Mario Aguero Prendes, priests and deacons signed the oath of conformity, according to Article VIII of church’s Constitution and Canons.

Following the 79th General Convention’s action to readmit the Cuban church, The Episcopal Church in February 2019 launched a campaign to raise $800,000 to provide retirement benefits for active and retired Cuban clergy.

Donations have exceeded that goal, according to T.J. Houlihan, associate director and senior development officer for The Episcopal Church’s episcopalchurch.org/development, which led the campaign.

“When The Episcopal Church separated from the Episcopal Church of Cuba in 1966, all of the systems and benefits, including pension contributions, were no longer available to Cuban clergy. Now that the church is reconciled and Cuba has been reunited, this funding will ensure that Cuban clergy are treated comparably to their sister and brother clergy throughout The Episcopal Church,” said Houlihan, who added that the campaign continues.

The Diocese of Cuba’s Holy Trinity Cathedral was built in 1946 in Havana. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

The Episcopal Church of Cuba traces its origins back to an Anglican presence that began on the island in 1871. In 1901, it became a missionary district of The Episcopal Church. The two churches separated in the 1960s, after Fidel Castro seized power following the 1959 Cuban Revolution and diplomatic relations between the two countries disintegrated. The Episcopal Church of Cuba has functioned as an autonomous diocese of the Anglican Communion under the authority of the Metropolitan Council of Cuba since the separation in 1967. The primates of the Anglican churches of Canada and the West Indies and The Episcopal Church chair the Metropolitan Council.

“Now we go to work. … The church here in Cuba has been doing the work here, but now in a new and different way, we’re doing it together,” Curry said in a conversation with ENS. “And their witness is going to have an impact on the rest of The Episcopal Church because they’ve had to, they’ve learned to be, Christian and to follow Jesus in a very different cultural context, and so they are going to witness to us how to follow Jesus. … In many respects, the whole Anglican Communion is going to be profoundly enriched by the witness of the church in Cuba.”

– Lynette Wilson is managing editor of Episcopal News Service.

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Anglicans in Italy experience coronavirus lockdown limbo

Episcopal News Service - sex, 06/03/2020 - 18:34

All Saints’ Anglican Church in Milan, Italy, is experiencing the coronavirus outbreak firsthand. Photo: All Saints’ via Anglican Journal

[Anglican Journal] The novel coronavirus and the disease caused by it (COVID-19) continues to spread around the world. As of March 3, the World Health Organization reported more than 90,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in 74 countries, with 3,123 deaths caused by the virus. China remains the most affected country with more than 80,303 confirmed cases, followed by South Korea (4,812), Iran (2,336) and Italy (2,036).

In Italy, the government has taken emergency measures to deal with the coronavirus, locking down cities, closing many public places such as schools and restricting movement. The majority of cases have been in the Lombardy and Veneto regions, whose respective capital cities are Milan and Venice.

The Anglican Journal emailed Anglicans in these affected areas, receiving responses from two clergy: Canon Vickie Sims, chaplain at All Saints’ Anglican Church in Milan, and Canon Malcolm Bradshaw, chaplain at St. George’s Anglican Church in Venice. We republish here their responses, which have been edited for clarity.

Read the full article here.

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Dioceses respond, adapt as coronavirus spreads to Canada

Episcopal News Service - sex, 06/03/2020 - 18:29

[Anglican Journal] As cases of the novel coronavirus are confirmed in Canada, Anglican Church of Canada leaders have responded with a review of good hygiene practices in pastoral care and public worship — with at least one diocese suspending sharing of the common cup in worship.

As of March 2, public health officials had confirmed 24 cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) across Canada. These included 15 cases in Ontario, eight in British Columbia and one in Quebec.

Read the full article here.

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Diocese of Oregon announces slate of candidates for 11th bishop

Episcopal News Service - sex, 06/03/2020 - 18:23

The nominees: the Rev. Diana Akiyama; the Rev. Mary Caucutt; the Rev. Andrew T. O’Connor; the Rev. Canon Tanya R. Wallace. Photo courtesy: Diocese of Oregon

The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon announces a slate of candidates who will be on the ballot for election of the 11th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon.

In alphabetical order, these candidates are:

The Rev. Diana Akiyama, Ph.D., Vicar, St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church (Kapaau, HI)

The Rev. Dr. Mary Caucutt, Rector, Christ Episcopal Church (Cody, WY)

The Rev. Andrew T. O’Connor, Rector, Good Shepherd Episcopal Church (Wichita, KS)

The Rev. Canon Tanya R. Wallace, Rector, All Saints’ Episcopal Church (Hadley, MA)

Visit the 11th Bishop of Oregon Search and Transition website for information on the candidates, including:
– an introductory paragraph,
– brief resume,
– answers to three interview questions, and
– a short video interview about the candidate’s call to be Bishop of Oregon.

On Thursday, March 4th, the Search Committee presented this candidate slate to the Standing Committee. At its March 5th meeting, the Standing Committee accepted the slate for publication March 6th to Convention Delegates and the public.

March 7, 2020 begins a period during which nominating petitions will be accepted, ending at midnight, March 21, 2020. Copies of the rules for the application and petition process as well as an electronic petition/application are available on The Bishop of Oregon Search and Transition Web Site. A final slate, including any approved petition candidates, will be published by the first week of May 2020.

A special electing convention is scheduled for June 27, 2020. A service of ordination and consecration is planned for January 30, 2021 at Trinity Cathedral, Portland, Oregon. At this time the Standing Committee would like to thank Martin Loring and all the members of the Search Committee for their excellent and hard work. The Rev. Beth Mallon and the Transition Committee now take the lead in planning for the Walkabouts, Election, and Consecration Service details. Please hold them in your prayers as this new phase of the transition begins.

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As diocese’s lobbyist, Iowa priest invites Episcopalians to speak their faith to lawmakers

Episcopal News Service - sex, 06/03/2020 - 16:01

Iowa state Sen. Rob Hogg talks about pending legislation in a meeting with the Rev. Wendy Abrahamson, right of Hogg, and her group of “Episcopalians on the Hill” on March 3, 2020. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Des Moines, Iowa] Should The Episcopal Church be involved in politics? Spend some time with the Rev. Wendy Abrahamson in the halls of Iowa government and she might convince you the answer is yes, when she’s not busy persuading state lawmakers to listen to the church.

In addition to her primary calling as rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Grinnell, Iowa, Abrahamson is a registered lobbyist – unpaid, nonpartisan and candidly Christian.

This is her fourth year advocating, on behalf of the Diocese of Iowa and Bishop Alan Scarfe, for and against legislation that intersects with policies approved by The Episcopal Church’s General Convention and the Iowa Diocesan Convention. “Lobbyist” may strike some as an unusual label for a priest, but that is the state’s term for the 653 people registered to do what Abrahamson does. She embraces the label.

The Rev. Wendy Abrahamson, rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Grinnell, Iowa, is an unpaid lobbyist for the Diocese of Iowa, so she is registered to enter the diocese’s position on pending state legislation. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

“In the United States, the distribution of good things is often regulated by legislation,” Abrahamson said. While congregations do good work alleviating the symptoms of inequality through ministries like soup kitchens and clothing drives, she said, “I think legislation is one way to get at the source of some of the problems. That’s why I think it matters that the church is there.”

The church was there at the state Capitol in Des Moines on March 3, when Abrahamson brought together more than a dozen Episcopalians for an afternoon event dubbed “Episcopalians on the Hill,” the diocese’s third annual lobbying day. Participants, some wearing clergy collars, came to meet with lawmakers and to learn how constituents like them can amplify their voices in representative government.

Being a registered lobbyist primarily allows Abrahamson to update the state’s lobbyist database with the Diocese of Iowa’s official positions on certain bills, but Episcopalians in the state don’t need to be lobbyists to talk to their elected officials. They just need to show up and ask.

Some brought deep experience in the legislative process. The Rev. Jeanie Smith, a deacon at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in West Des Moines, once worked in Washington, D.C., as a congressional lobbyist on behalf of an airport trade association. And the Rev. Marc Haack, a deacon at Trinity Episcopal Church in Iowa City, recently joined Abrahamson on Iowa’s list of registered lobbyists, drawing on his experience 18 years ago when he lobbied for Iowa school administrators.

No experience is necessary, however. Abigail Livingood, a parishioner at St. Timothy’s, said she had visited the Capitol before but never for something like this. Even so, she had nominally more experience than the Rev. Stephen Benitz, priest-in-charge at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Mason City.

“I’ve never been in the building,” Benitz said.

Even Abrahamson admitted she’s “still learning the ropes,” and there are so many bills to follow. Through her deliberations with Scarfe, they have narrowed their focus to a handful of core areas that reflect the diocese’s priorities: gun safety, immigration, the environment, economic equality, LGBTQ rights and mental health care. Abrahamson sometimes reaches out to The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations in Washington for further clarification of the church’s policy positions.

“She doesn’t lobby her own opinion,” Scarfe, who had joined the group at the Capitol, told Episcopal News Service during a break. “She lobbies issues that we know there is some track record” of Episcopal engagement on.

Like Abrahamson, Scarfe readily justifies the church’s political advocacy, which he says is a calling made plain in Episcopalians’ Baptismal Covenant – to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself,” and to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

“You cannot be a person of justice and of truth and uphold the dignity of every human being without engaging yourself at some point in the political life of the human race,” Scarfe said. “That’s where the struggle, the collective struggle, happens.”

He also underscored that Christian advocacy is not partisan, and Episcopalians from both major parties have represented Iowans at the Capitol. He credited Maggie Tinsman, a Republican who served as a state senator until 2007, with encouraging the diocese to become more active in the legislative process. Tinsman, a past deputy to The Episcopal Church’s General Convention, was particularly supportive of legislation curbing human trafficking.

Iowa’s Capitol in Des Moines. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Today, Iowa has a Republican governor, and Republicans control both houses of the part-time Iowa Legislature, whose session starts in January and lasts about three months. The number of Episcopalians in office remains small, and all are Democrats, as far as Scarfe and Abrahamson are aware. Three of those Democrats made time for the Episcopalians on the Hill as they gathered for introductions and an orientation in a meeting room on the Capitol’s third floor.

State Sen. Rob Hogg sat on Abrahamson’s right at the oval conference table. A legislator since 2003, Hogg represents Cedar Rapids and worships at Christ Episcopal Church.

Hogg joked of being “old and jaded” after nearly two decades in the Legislature. What he appreciates most from constituents is their sincerity in making personal appeals.

“I like people to just kind of come and tell me, ‘Why do you care about the issue?’” he said. Begin to develop relationships with your lawmakers, he said, even those who aren’t likely to vote your way. “You might be disappointed, but you might not be. You might be able to make a difference.”

Rep. Ross Wilburn echoed Hogg’s advice. “I personally like to hear stories, if folks are willing to share, and know how [legislation] touches you,” he said.

Wilburn is one of Iowa’s newest legislators, having won a special election last year. A former Iowa City mayor, he now lives in Ames, where he attends St. John’s by the Campus Episcopal Church, near Iowa State University.

They were joined later by Rep. Bob Kressig, who has represented Cedar Falls since 2005. He attends St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

“You know what I love about that church? They love everybody that comes there,” he said.

The lawmakers detailed some of the bills that were expected to come before the House and Senate that day, and they gave their visitors additional suggestions for making a difference: Connect with other organizations doing similar work. Even if a bill fails to make it out of a committee, the measure could pop up in a different form later in the session, so don’t give up on it. Find ways to reach lawmakers who appear to be on the fence about pending legislation because it may not be as effective to try persuading those who have taken firmer positions.

Abrahamson added it is important to thank lawmakers, regardless of their parties or policy positions, for the work they do on the people’s behalf.

“One of the things that I care about is that you all know that we pray for you,” Abrahamson said. “I hope that this ministry will express our collective thanks.”

State Rep. Bob Kressig, center, speaks March 3 to the group of Episcopalians visiting the Iowa Capitol, while state Sen. Rob Hogg, left, and state Rep. Ross Wilburn, right, listen. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

After about an hour, the three lawmakers prepared to return to their legislative work, and Scarfe sent them off by saying two prayers, one for the lawmakers and another for those they serve.

Abrahamson and her group remained in the room for about another half-hour to discuss their strategy. With a long list of bills worth discussing, Abrahamson highlighted three for the Episcopalians to emphasize. The diocese was advocating defeat of two bills: one that would prevent local governments from regulating shooting ranges and another that would increase administrative hurdles for recipients of public assistance. The third bill, supported by the diocese, would create a voluntary certification system for hotels that have trained employees in preventing human trafficking.

Livingood said her daughter works for an organization called Truckers Against Trafficking, and Abrahamson encouraged her to mention that personal connection when talking with lawmakers.

After the orientation meeting, the group walked down the hall to doors that opened into the gallery overlooking the Senate floor. Abrahamson invited the Episcopalians to sit briefly and witness the legislative process in action, including a vote to allow Iowans with gun permits to take their guns onto school grounds.

Abrahamson told ENS she rarely preaches on political topics at St. Paul’s in Grinnell, home of Grinnell College – a “liberal bubble in a liberal college town,” she said – but once or twice a week, she visits the Capitol to catch up on legislation and meet with lawmakers.

Lawmakers don’t have offices at the Capitol, so they meet with constituents in the rotunda, out in the open. Constituents “have a lot of access here in Iowa,” Abrahamson said. To speak with a senator or representative, a citizen need only fill out a yellow slip the size of an index card, submit it for delivery to the lawmaker and wait to see if the lawmaker has time.

The Iowa Senate is seen from the gallery above. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

The Episcopalians at the Capitol had hoped to spend the rest of the afternoon filling out those yellow slips and meeting with lawmakers, but they were dealt a double dose of disappointment: The House had recessed so its members weren’t available to meet with constituents, and the senators voted to break for meetings with their party caucuses while the Episcopal group was sitting in the gallery.

Even so, the “ministry of presence” matters too, Abrahamson said, and this would not be the only opportunity for her and the other Episcopalians to make contact with lawmakers.

Abrahamson, Scarfe and the others gathered afterward at a nearby restaurant called Tasty Tacos – its slogan: “Nada Es Imposible.” Over chips, tacos and burritos, they made plans to follow up with lawmakers by email or, in some cases, in person.

The Rev. Wendy Abrahamson, center, talks about the day’s activities with the Rev. Jeanie Smith, left, at Tasty Tacos, a restaurant near the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Abrahamson asked for feedback on the lobbying day, and the response was decidedly positive despite not being able to meet with more lawmakers this time. Several of the Episcopalians said they appreciated receiving insight into the process from the three lawmakers who spoke to the group early in the afternoon. One suggested possibly partnering with other Christian denominations for a joint lobbying day.

Another suggestion was to expand Abrahamson’s communications, possibly to include an email list. To this point, her primary communication platform has been a Facebook group that is approaching 400 members.

Abrahamson said she hopes to build on the diocese’s ongoing engagement with legislators, especially now that Haack, the Iowa City deacon, has signed on as the diocese’s second registered lobbyist.

Benitz said he plans to share what he’s learned with his congregation back in Mason City, letting his parishioners know ways they can get involved, and he came away from this experience particularly inspired to engage with lawmakers who disagree with him on certain issues. He thanked Abrahamson for inviting him and the others to the Capitol with her.

“It’s wonderful just to have an opportunity to go there and experience it and to be there with a guide,” Benitz said.

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

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West Tennessee church partners with Episcopal school on major construction projects

Episcopal News Service - sex, 06/03/2020 - 15:08

The Rev. Sandy Webb, rector of Church of the Holy Communion in Memphis, Tennessee, poses for a photo in the church’s nave, which is closed for construction until Palm Sunday. Photo: Cindy McMillion/Holy Communion

[Episcopal News Service] When parishioners at Church of the Holy Communion in Memphis, Tennessee, process into the nave on Palm Sunday, April 5, they won’t just be participating in the traditional re-creation of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. They’ll also be looking around a lot.

That is because Palm Sunday is serving as the congregation’s “grand reveal” of its newly renovated nave, marking the completion of a $12 million overhaul of the church facility that has coincided with the opening of a new $21.5 million 60,000-square-foot athletic and wellness facility on church property for the adjacent St. Mary’s Episcopal School.

The girls’ school was founded in 1847, and the partnership between the church and school dates to 1953, when Holy Communion offered a permanent home to St. Mary’s on the church’s campus a few miles east of downtown Memphis. Today, “the partnership reminds both of us that we’re stronger together than we are apart,” the Rev. Sandy Webb, rector of Holy Communion, said in an interview with Episcopal News Service.

The church is one of the largest in the Diocese of West Tennessee, with an average Sunday attendance of about 400 across three services. The school, with 825 students from preschool through 12th grade, had long used the cafeteria in the church’s basement, as well as a small church gymnasium, but neither facility was fully serving either institution’s needs, Webb said.

Holy Communion has worshipped in its current church building since 1950. In recent years, it had been spending considerable time and money keeping up with maintenance on its aging facilities, making it more difficult to focus on the congregation’s core values of worship, service and hospitality, Webb said.

The church’s and the school’s shared values made it natural to collaborate on a construction plan and a fundraising strategy, Webb said. Though the church and school projects were distinct, their constituencies overlapped. Donors were encouraged to give to both projects.

Holy Communion kicked off its fundraising in fall 2016, and demolition for the church project began in May 2018. The church buildings were taken down to the studs to allow modern upgrades, including air conditioning and internet connectivity. When crews began work on the nave in June 2019, the congregation began worshipping in the parish hall. Parishioners, as they look ahead to returning to the nave on Palm Sunday, have been following the project’s progress in updates on Facebook.

The school’s new athletic and wellness facility, meanwhile, opened in January 2020. It includes a larger dining hall, a larger gymnasium, workout facilities, locker rooms, classrooms and offices.

“It validates the students and shows that we really do care about their health and wellness,” Albert Throckmorton, St. Mary’s head of school, told the Memphis Business Journal.

Holy Communion, after providing the land and covering some of the cost, will have access to some of the space, including the gymnasium. The congregation’s support of local youth sports leagues serves about 1,000 children a year, Webb said, and the new athletic and wellness facility also will be used by additional church-sponsored community programs, such as yoga classes and ballroom dancing.

“We are very much aware that the future of the church is going to be different from the past of the church,” Webb said, and he sees these modernized buildings as part of Holy Communion’s work toward that future, in collaboration with St. Mary’s.

And with the project nearly complete, the congregation also is looking ahead to November 2020, when it will host the 39th annual convention of the Diocese of West Tennessee, Holy Communion’s first time hosting since 2008.

“I am looking forward to being at the Church of the Holy Communion next November for Diocesan Convention,” Bishop Phoebe Roaf said in a church newsletter article. “I am grateful to the Rev. Sandy Webb, the wardens and vestry as well as St. Mary’s Episcopal School for their willingness to host. This will provide an opportunity for the diocese to see firsthand the renovated and expanded space at the church and the school.”

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

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West Coast dioceses stop use of common cup at Communion as precaution against coronavirus

Episcopal News Service - qui, 05/03/2020 - 20:08

Three dioceses have instructed their clergy to stop using the common cup in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Editor’s note: After this story was published, Bishop Marc Andrus of the San Francisco-based Diocese of California also directed the clergy of his diocese to stop offering Communion wine.

[Episcopal News Service] The bishops of the dioceses of Olympia, Los Angeles and California have instructed their clergy in recent days to stop using the common cup during Holy Communion as a precaution while the outbreak of the new coronavirus worsens in the United States, though it is not yet known whether the virus can be passed in this way.

The three dioceses, along with many others, had previously issued less stringent advisories about how to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, with suggestions such as avoiding handshakes during the sign of peace. Many church leaders and clergy have said they do not believe drinking from the common cup poses a serious health risk, and that drinking from it is actually safer than intinction (the practice of dipping the host into the wine).

However, the outbreak of the virus in the U.S. has worsened in recent days, and there is still uncertainty about exactly how it spreads. As of the afternoon of March 5, there were 11 confirmed deaths and 177 confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. The regions served by the three dioceses – the Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco areas – have been among the hardest hit so far. Nearly half of all documented cases in the U.S., and all but one of the deaths, have happened in Washington state.

In a March 4 message to his diocese, Olympia Bishop Greg Rickel said the decision to stop using the common cup was a response to a request from health officials, as several of the diocese’s churches have been “directly affected, with some of the people in quarantine.”

“We do now have one instance of possible spread by an individual(s) while in our churches, which occurred at Emmanuel, Mercer Island,” Rickel wrote. “I want to reiterate there is no evidence at all that these people contracted it there, but simply they have become ill since attending. At this point two people are ill and there is no verification if they are ill with COVID-19, but out of an abundance of caution Emmanuel did close their school and today is having their facilities deep cleaned by CDC guidelines.”

Rickel said that while the cup of wine can still be used by the priest on the altar, it should not be offered to anyone else.

“While the common cup, properly administered, has been scientifically proven to be safer than intinction, health officials are now asking us to cease the use of the common cup. For this reason, I am asking that this be done in all of our parishes starting immediately,” Rickel wrote.

Rickel also directed clergy to have as few people as possible administer the bread, and for those people to sanitize their hands before and during distribution and to try not to touch the hands of those receiving. In addition, Rickel requested that only ordained clergy – and not lay eucharistic visitors – make home Communion visits until further notice, and that offering plates not be passed from hand to hand.

Responding to another request from health officials, Rickel also directed churches to discontinue the use of baptismal fonts.

“Until we know more, I am requesting that when possible, and if at all possible, water in the fonts be drained, and that the practice of dipping the hands in the water of a font be discontinued. Scientists who have reviewed this feel that the virus could be spread in this manner, though [it is] not proven,” Rickel wrote. “They also ask that if doing baptisms, new water be used for each person. I am directing you to do this; however, this being Lent, there should be very few baptisms!”

In a March 5 letter to his diocese, Los Angeles Bishop John Harvey Taylor cited the precautions being taken by the Diocese of Olympia and said it is “prudent for us to follow suit … until we can be confident that the danger of mass COVID-19 infections has abated.”

Taylor also halted the use of the common cup in his diocese, stressing that “according to our theology of Holy Eucharist, the work of the sacrament is complete when taken in only one kind.” He also instructed churches using baked bread to switch to wafers, “since the act of breaking up the bread entails considerable contact with ministers’ fingers and hands,” and for ministers to drop the wafers into the hands of those receiving without touching them. Taylor’s letter did not repeat Rickel’s directions on baptismal fonts.

Later on March 5, Bishop Marc Marc Andrus of the San Francisco-based Diocese of California also directed the clergy of his diocese to stop offering Communion wine.

The bishops reiterated the best practices for avoiding the virus: frequent hand-washing, avoiding hand-to-face contact, coughing or sneezing into a tissue or your elbow, staying home if you feel sick and substituting alternative gestures for handshakes and hugs.

Also on March 5, Bishop Lucinda Ashby of the Diocese of El Camino Real instructed churches in her Salinas, California-based diocese to drain their baptismal fonts and refrain from passing offering plates, and she offered clergy the choice of whether to serve the common cup or limit Communion to wafers only. Bishop Chip Stokes of the Diocese of New Jersey indefinitely postponed his diocese’s annual convention, scheduled for March 7, over coronavirus concerns.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, The Episcopal Church has suspended employee travel to several countries, and on March 4, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry switched the upcoming House of Bishops meeting in Texas to a virtual meeting via teleconference.

“Let’s try to live out of preparation and education, and not fear,” Rickel wrote in conclusion to his message. “Let’s be the people God calls us to be. … We cannot hunker down or simply disappear, but indeed we must, as we can, help others.”

Echoing Rickel’s message, Taylor wrote: “As we face and overcome this crisis, may a deepening understanding of our obligation to watch over our closest neighbors in the name of Christ make us ever more devoted to God’s glory and the thriving of all God’s people.”

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

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Archbishop of Canterbury launches 2020 Thy Kingdom Come global prayer initiative

Episcopal News Service - qua, 04/03/2020 - 16:25

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby with Pete Greig at Lambeth Palace for the launch of the Thy Kingdom Come global wave of prayer. Photo: Ben Jones/Missional Generation

[Anglican Communion News Service] The global ecumenical prayer movement Thy Kingdom Come, which started life as a simple request from the archbishops of Canterbury and York to the clergy of the Church of England, will this year take place in more than 90 percent of countries around the world. The international launch of this year’s event – which runs from Pentecost to Ascension Thursday (May 21-31) took place last week at Lambeth Palace, the official residence of the archbishop of Canterbury in London, England.

Church leaders and representatives from a number of denominations and para-church organizations gathered at the palace for the launch, which took place exactly four years to the day since the first launch. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby was joined by a number of church leaders, including Pete Greig from the 24-7 Prayer movement, Bishop Nicholas Hudson from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster, and Teresa Carvalho from the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales. The event was streamed live on Facebook and watched by Christians from around the world.

Read the full article here.

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Presbyterian-Episcopal dialogue looks at the needs of a changing church

Episcopal News Service - ter, 03/03/2020 - 11:30

[Presbyterian News Service] Meeting at First Presbyterian Church in San Diego Feb. 17-19, representatives of the Episcopal-Presbyterian Bilateral Dialogue met and considered how the two ecclesial traditions could partner with each other considering the context of the 21st -century church.

Representing the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in San Diego were Ruling Elder Anne Bond (co-chair), the Rev. Neal Presa (co-vice chair), the Rev. Terri Ofori, the Rev. Dr. Christian Boyd, the Rev. Robert Foltz-Morrison, and Ruling Elder Dianna Wright, the interim director of the Office of the General Assembly’s Ecclesial and Ecumenical Ministries.

Representing The Episcopal Church at the gathering were the Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton (co-chair), the Rev. Elise Johnstone (co-vice chair), Michael Booker, Elizabeth Ring, and Richard Mammana, serving as staff liaison.  Other members of the dialogue from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are the Rev. Brooke Pickrell and (alternate) Rev. Brian Entz and from The Episcopal Church, the Rev.  Joseph Wolyniak and the Rev. Margaret Rose, serving as staff.

This was the second meeting of the third round of bilateral dialogues between the two ecclesial communions.  The meeting was grounded in prayer, scripture and song.

Representatives discussed at length how the two communions might, at some time in the future, look to a limited exchange of ministers, noting especially the good work that has been done in the Churches Uniting in Christ and the June 2017 CUIC liturgy where all CUIC members recognized the ministries of each member body, in light of the 2008 agreement between the two traditions.

Representatives affirmed that there are practical differences in the denominations, but that as there are fewer young people who have knowledge of any church body at all, The Episcopal Church and the PC(USA) are in a significant moment of being able to work together to build up the body of Christ.

Dialogue members also noted that ecumenical partnerships often occur at the grassroots level and the dialogue wishes to help those ecumenical partnerships to flourish.  They affirmed that in whatever ways the two ecclesial communions will be working together, that partnerships would always work to break down oppressive, discriminatory barriers and look to all areas of partnership — especially such partnerships as campus ministry, immigrant communities, rural communities, communities of color and multicultural, multiethnic communities.   

Both the Rt. Rev. Susan Brown Snook, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, and the Rev. Michael Mudgett, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of San Diego, met with members of the dialogue to share about ecumenical and interreligious partnerships ongoing in the local area, especially those relating to caring for migrants on the border.

The members of the dialogue will meet again Sept. 16-18. They’ll be hosted by The Episcopal Church.

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RIP: G.P. Mellick Belshaw, ninth bishop of New Jersey

Episcopal News Service - seg, 02/03/2020 - 16:38

[Diocese of New Jersey] The Rt. Rev. George Phelps Mellick Belshaw, who served as the ninth bishop of New Jersey until his retirement in 1995, died peacefully at his home in Princeton on Feb. 29. He was 91.

“I am deeply saddened by the death of Mellick Belshaw, the ninth bishop of New Jersey,” said the Rt. Rev. William H. (Chip) Stokes, current Bishop of New Jersey. “Mellick was old-school gracious and kind. He loved the people God called him to serve from Hawaii to New York to New Jersey. His leadership in the Diocese of New Jersey was strong and stable during the years he was bishop suffragan and later bishop diocesan. When I was a seminarian at The General Theological Seminary in New York, Mellick was president of the board. I will always be grateful for his warm affection then and in later years when I ended up in the bishop’s chair in New Jersey. I will miss his wise care and counsel and am eternally grateful for the legacy he left for those of us who have succeeded to the office he occupied so faithfully and well.”

George Phelps Mellick Belshaw was born in Plainfield, New Jersey, in 1928, the son of the Rev. Harold Belshaw and Edith Mellick. He attended St. Paul’s School, in Concord, New Hampshire, where he was a member of the Missionary Society. He earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of the South in 1951 and followed that with both a bachelor of arts in 1954 and a master of arts in 1959 in sacred studies from The General Theological Seminary.

After completing his studies at General, Mellick Belshaw served churches in Waimanalo, Hawaii; Dover, Delaware; and Rumson, New Jersey, where he was rector of St George’s-by-the-River for 10 years. He was elected Suffragan Bishop of New Jersey in 1975, then Bishop Coadjutor in 1982, and in 1983 became the ninth bishop of New Jersey. He served as diocesan bishop until his retirement in 1995.

Bishop Belshaw has been awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity from the General Theological Seminary and the University of the South; he has also been the recipient of an honorary degree from Hamilton College. His service to General Theological Seminary includes 31 years on the board of trustees, as well as serving at various times as tutor, fellow, adjunct faculty member, chairman of the Board of Trustees, and acting dean of the seminary.

Bishop Belshaw has been a fellow of the College of Preachers, a member of the Commission on Peace of the Episcopal Church from 1979 to 1985, president of the Coalition of Religious Leaders of New Jersey in 1986–1987, president of the Episcopal Urban Caucus from 1986 to 1989, and a member of the Economic Justice Committee of the Episcopal Church from 1988 to 1995. In the late 1990s, he was chair of the Coalition for Peace Action, a grassroots organization that advocates for the global abolition of nuclear weapons, a peace economy, and a halt to weapons trafficking at home and abroad.

He was the editor of two well-regarded books, “Lent with Evelyn Underhill” and “Lent with William Temple,” as well as a number of articles and reviews.

He was married to Elizabeth Wheeler from 1954 until her death in 2014. The couple had three grown children and several grandchildren.

The funeral will be Friday, March 6, at 11:00 a.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church, 33 Mercer St., Princeton, New Jersey. Clergy should vest in cassock and surplice with white stoles and gather in Pierce-Bishop Hall no later than 10:30 a.m. There will be a reception at the Nassau Club, 6 Mercer St., immediately following the service.

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Australian bishop: We must rise to the challenge of the climate emergency

Episcopal News Service - sex, 28/02/2020 - 17:26

Bishop Philip Huggins, president of the National Council of Churches in Australia. Photo: Ivars Kupcis/WCC

[World Council of Churches] At the the 57th session of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission of Churches on International Affairs in Brisbane, Australia, Bishop Philip Huggins of the Anglican Church of Australia thoughtfully summed up why this year is a crucial one for the planet.

“We are well aware that this is the year the Paris Agreement comes up for substantial contribution by each nation,” said Huggins, president of the National Council of Churches in Australia. “It’s a bottom-up process. It’s a very democratic process.”

Read the full article here.

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Episcopal clergy cartoonists find inspiration turning Christian messages into hand-drawn art

Episcopal News Service - sex, 28/02/2020 - 14:52

The Rev. Jay Sidebotham has produced 12 cartoons a year for the Church Pension Group calendar since 2001. Image courtesy of Church Pension Group

[Episcopal News Service] In the Rev. Jay Sidebotham’s hand-drawn world, “safe church” isn’t a training. It’s a parish encircled by a thick, crenellated concrete wall, which itself is surrounded by a moat filled with toothy beasts. The church’s “Welcome” sign isn’t visible to visitors who approach the outermost layer of defense, a ring of razor wire.

“I believe there are easier ways to keep your church safe,” a man tells the rector, both dwarfed by the impenetrable fortress that is protecting the tiny church building within.

That’s just one of the hundreds of Episcopal-tinted cartoons Sidebotham has drawn, and it has a name: June 2020.

In addition to his main duties as director of RenewalWorks, Forward Movement’s church vitality and spiritual growth ministry, this is Sidebotham’s 20th year as featured cartoonist in the Church Pension Group’s annual calendar. Every year since 2001, 12 of his illustrations have provided monthly occasions for faith-based humor in each of the 10,000 calendars that are distributed, mostly by mail, to every congregation in The Episcopal Church.

For Sidebotham and other clergy members with cartooning in their professional resumes – New York Bishop Andrew Dietsche is among them – their creations are part meditation, part divine inspiration and often just a lot of fun. And while some professional cartoonists produce work worthy of museum or gallery exhibits, Sidebotham, a former “Schoolhouse Rock!” animator, said fine art isn’t his goal.

“The fewer lines I can use in a cartoon the better,” he said in an interview with Episcopal News Service. “It’s like preaching a good homily: Cut to the chase.”

Church Pension Group’s 2020 calendar, featuring this cartoon, is the 20th to showcase Sidebotham’s work.

Church cartoonist is just one of the several hats worn by the 65-year-old Sidebotham, who left a career in advertising to become a priest in the 1980s. He serves part time as associate rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Wilmington, North Carolina, and as RenewalWorks director, he travels regularly to support congregations that are enriching their parishioners’ spiritual journeys. However, his cartoons arguably have garnered him the most churchwide attention.

“Jay is an institution,” Dietsche told ENS. “Jay is certainly the best known and best recognized cartoonist in The Episcopal Church.”

The Rev. Jay Sidebotham. Photo: RenewalWorks

Humor doesn’t have to be edgy, but most humor is, Sidebotham said – including church humor. When a cartoonist makes a point with a joke and bit of loving-kindness, the audience may be more likely to hear the message, he said, and to consider previously hidden truths. “You’re able in those cartoons to highlight something that might otherwise be under the radar.”

As an example, he described a cartoon he drew about the regulars at the 8 a.m. worship service. A young couple – newcomers – is sitting, waiting for the service to begin, and an older parishioner approaches them and welcomes them warmly to her church.

“By the way,” she adds, “you’re in my pew.”

The cartoon was shared on an Episcopal Facebook group, and someone complained that Sidebotham was promoting an awful caricature. “Within a nanosecond, from around the globe, people were writing in saying, ‘This happened to me last week.’”

He also loves to poke some fun at clergy, being a priest himself. “A lot of us get to be sort of more impressed with ourselves than we need to be,” he said.

Church life is a bottomless source for inspiration in the Rev. Jay Sidebotham’s cartoons.

Dietsche thinks the church is a legitimate and fertile subject for cartoons, though the cartoonist also must respect Episcopalians who are serious in their beliefs.

“There’s plenty of room in the church to find absurdity or humor, not so much about the faith itself,” he said.

When Dietsche was in his 20s working as a commercial illustrator in Southern California, cartoons were his specialty, until he felt called to the priesthood in his 30s. He suggested that the club of Episcopal clergy who cartoon might be rather small. A fellow seminarian of his was an avid cartoonist, though Dietsche, now 66, isn’t sure if his former classmate continued cartooning as a priest.

The Rev. Nancy Hills, 63, sometimes preaches about her love of old cartoons at Christ Church Episcopal in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, where she is a deacon. Cartooning and church life are part of her heritage: Her father, the Rev. Donald Hays, was a longtime parish rector, including at Christ Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and he would illustrate his sermons for children during Sunday morning services.

Like Sidebotham and Dietsche, Hays worked in advertising before giving up that work to attend seminary. He was ordained as a priest in 1966, and Hills said her father enjoyed illustrating scenes from the Bible for most of his adult life, until his death in December 2016.

Hills doesn’t consider herself a cartoonist, though art has been a big part of her life. She recently retired after 25 years working as a graphic designer for the city of Milwaukee. Some of her most intricate art takes the form of colorful journal drawings.

“It’s the way I meditate,” she said. The process itself is spiritual, as are the subjects. “Everything I draw, I would say, has a spiritual base to it.”

Dietsche agrees.

“The act of creation is inherently spiritual,” he said, “and very much fulfilling of that aspect of my life in Christ.”

The future bishop started cartooning as a child. In college, Dietsche first studied architecture, then switched to art school and painting, but he never liked his own paintings all that much. “I said, ‘You know, Andy, you’re just not that good.’ So I destroyed them all and put together a portfolio of cartooning work.”

Dietsche found work as a graphic artist and illustrator at a small commercial art studio while freelancing for ad agencies in suburban Los Angeles and later San Diego. As a priest, he continued to find audiences for his cartoons in church publications, including the Diocese of New York’s Episcopal New Yorker magazine.

Church life offered an ample trove of punchlines. “Other people would have to tell you whether they were actually funny,” he said.

As bishop, Dietsche still illustrates his annual Christmas card, sent to more than 1,500 clergy and lay leaders in the diocese. His list of influences and favorites runs long, from Mad magazine and underground cartoonists like Robert Crumb to modern comic classics like “Calvin and Hobbes.” At home, “Barney Google,” “Krazy Kat” and other vintage comic strips hang in frames on his wall.

Sidebotham’s influences start with the late “Peanuts” cartoonist Charles Schulz, a man of deep faith and a great observer of human nature, Sidebotham said. “He understood children often have great insight, and the adult world just generates noise.”

Some #WednesdayWisdom from Charlie Brown. pic.twitter.com/ubEL7wMUQ6

— PEANUTS (@Snoopy) January 29, 2020

Family was influential as well. Sidebotham’s grandfather worked in advertising starting in the 1920s, as did his father starting in the 1940s, both of them on New York’s Madison Avenue. In the suburban New York home where Sidebotham and his three siblings grew up, “there was a lot of white paper and magic markers around.” Drawing was a natural childhood pastime.

“Schoolhouse Rock!” was his first job out of college in the late 1970s. Back then, before computer animation, the popular educational cartoon series was produced by hand, and many hands were needed. Sidebotham later worked for ad agencies, as graphic designer, illustrator, animator and art director, before enrolling at Union Theological Seminary in 1986.

“I found myself cartooning in my seminary classes, and people would cluster around to see what I was cartooning while taking notes,” he said.

As a parish priest in Rhode Island, North Carolina and Washington, D.C., he often was enlisted to provide illustrations for various church communications, but it wasn’t until he returned to New York to join the staff at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan in 1999 that he connected with Church Pension Group, or CPG.

The Rev. Clayton Crawley, CPG’s chief information officer at the time, was assigned to parish work at St. Bart’s, and he asked if Sidebotham wanted to create some cartoons for the calendar. Sidebotham has been doing so ever since.

“Jay’s sense of humor is based on real life, which sometimes is funnier than anything you can think of,” Crawley said, and whatever tense topic the church is grappling with, “Jay can turn it into something we can laugh about and not get stressed about.”

Sidebotham’s process now is well established. He and a small team from CPG usually begin tossing around cartoon ideas in February or March, starting with leftover ideas that didn’t make it into the previous calendar. They also make sure they aren’t repeating a concept.

“In my limited cerebellum, I find I do an idea and I think it’s absolutely brilliant – and then I find I did the same cartoon verbatim about 15 years ago,” Sidebotham said.

Each calendar needs at least one cartoon for Lent and one for Advent. Other cartoons serve as friendly reminders about CPG products. In one cartoon, for example, a rector is in a rowboat outside his half-flooded church, with phone in hand. (It might be a good time to call Church Insurance and ask about flood insurance.) By the end of summer, Sidebotham usually is ready to submit his final artwork.

“There’s plenty of material,” he said. “There’s no shortage of topics to illuminate.”

I like a bit of incense!

(Cartoon by the Revd Jay Sidebotham & the Church Pensions Group – USA) pic.twitter.com/3nUUqbh4xZ

— Wendy Edwards

Episcopal Church limits global travel over coronavirus’ spread as dioceses urge precautions

Episcopal News Service - qui, 27/02/2020 - 19:04

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church has suspended official travel to a half-dozen Asian and European countries, and its dioceses and congregations are urging Episcopalians to take precautions to prevent the spread of infection as concern mounts over the growing number of global coronavirus cases.

The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, had been confirmed in 37 countries as of Feb. 26, raising fears of a global pandemic, though so far most of the more than 80,000 confirmed infections have been in China. The virus, with symptoms similar to those of influenza, has been blamed in more than 2,700 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

CDC does not currently recommend the use of facemasks to help prevent novel #coronavirus. Take everyday preventive actions, like staying home when you are sick and washing hands with soap and water, to help slow the spread of respiratory illness. #COVID19 https://t.co/uArGZTJhXj pic.twitter.com/yzWTSgt2IV

— CDC (@CDCgov) February 27, 2020

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, warned Feb. 25 that an outbreak of the disease in the United States was inevitable, though only 60 domestic cases have been reported so far. The Rev. Geoffrey Smith, The Episcopal Church’s chief operating officer, said in an email to church employees that the health risk for now is low, though the threat locally could increase as the virus spreads.

“While we don’t want to overreact, we do not want to underestimate the potential of this situation either,” Smith said in his email, which was prompted by the CDC warning.

Episcopal Church staff members were advised that travel to China, South Korea, Japan, Iran, Italy and Hong Kong is suspended, and anyone traveling from those countries is asked to self-quarantine for 14 days to ensure they don’t have the coronavirus.

Diocesan leaders have joined Smith in advising Episcopalians everywhere to take common-sense health precautions, such as washing their hands regularly, limiting travel, minimizing contact with people who are sick, seeking medical attention if symptoms develop and, if sick, avoiding places where contact could risk infecting others, such as an office or worship service.

Episcopal Relief & Development also issued a summary of faith-based responses to the spread of the coronavirus, including printed resources for church bulletins. And the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe sent an advisory to its clergy and lay leaders with prevention recommendations, while noting that deaths from the coronavirus have been confirmed in Italy.

Guests, wearing protective face masks, look through a window at H10 Costa Adeje Palace, a hotel on lockdown after cases of coronavirus were detected there, on the Spanish island of Tenerife. Photo: Reuters

The warnings come after numerous Episcopal leaders returned to the United States from Taiwan after attending the consecration of Taiwan Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang on Feb. 22.

“Despite growing concerns about the coronavirus outbreak, it was considered safe to continue with the consecration service, although the evening’s consecration banquet was canceled and travel restrictions meant that the archbishop and bishops of Hong Kong were unable to participate,” the Diocese of Taiwan said in its consecration announcement.

Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang consecrated and installed as bishop of Taiwan https://t.co/Rr6tui2yUR pic.twitter.com/5WJF1aS48s

— Episcopal News Service (ENS) (@episcopal_news) February 25, 2020

Also this week, a patient in Northern California became the first in the United States reported to have contracted the coronavirus locally – which health experts call “community spread” – rather than from overseas travel. The number of California cases, however, remains low, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Los Angeles Bishop Suffragan Diane Jardine Bruce, who was among the bishops who attended Chang’s consecration, addressed some of the coronavirus concerns in a letter to her diocese that offered a list of precautions Episcopalians can take.

“The biggest lessons from my Asia visit are to use common sense, don’t be anxious, get plenty of rest and eat as healthily as you can,” Bruce said.

The Diocese of New Jersey sent a message Feb. 25 asking parishioners to take precautions similar to the steps recommended for worshippers during the flu season. For example, avoid intinction, or dipping the bread into the wine during Holy Eucharist.

“Intinction does little to avoid the spread of disease and may actually increase the spread, as the bread or wafer spends more time in the (possibly unclean) hand before being dipped in the wine,” the diocese advised.

The diocese also recommended parishioners avoid shaking hands at the peace if they are coughing or sneezing. An elbow bump or simple wave still gets the point across.

“Some people get exuberant and want to hug others,” Steve Welch, New Jersey’s canon for communications, told NorthJersey.com. “We make sure all of our congregants know that they can say they are not comfortable, regardless of the reason.”

The concerns across The Episcopal Church are reminiscent of two winters ago, which was said to have been the worst flu season in nearly a decade. Then as now, Episcopal leaders advised parishioners to use common sense during worship without letting their precautions get in the way of participating fully in the life of the church.

News of the SARS-related CoronaVirus spread has led again to questions about the wisdom of receiving from the Holy Eucharist from the common cup. Previous scientific consensus gives no cause for this specific concern.https://t.co/3g9jIkzwZR

— Frank Logue (@franklogue) February 24, 2020

The Rev. Frank Logue, canon to the ordinary and bishop-elect in the Diocese of Georgia, tried to ease renewed concerns over sharing the common cup in a Feb. 24 blog post.

“Previous scientific consensus gives no cause for this specific concern,” said Logue, who is scheduled to be consecrated bishop in May. “While there is a theoretical risk, the actual added risk is so small as to be undetectable.”

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

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Congolese archdeacon murdered amid increased violence against Christians in Africa

Episcopal News Service - qui, 27/02/2020 - 15:08

UN peacekeepers work in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Kevin Jordan via ACNS

[Anglican Communion News Service] A spate of violence against Christians has included the murder of the Archdeacon of Eringeti, Ngulongo Year Batsemire of the Anglican Church of the Congo, who was killed for refusing to denounce his faith. The Barnabas Fund reports that he was walking to his fields with his wife when they were surrounded by members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) who demanded he convert to Islam. When he refused, they killed him.

He was one of 36 Christians murdered by insurgents on Jan. 29 in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Earlier this month, in three days of terror beginning on Feb. 7, another 30 Christians were killed in attacks in the villages of Toko-Toko and Makeke.

Read the entire article here.

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Self-guided prayer walk offers a different kind of Ash Wednesday experience

Episcopal News Service - qua, 26/02/2020 - 19:05

The dust station is the first stop on the Ash Wednesday Dust to Ashes prayer walk at All Saints Parish in Brookline, Massachusetts. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Brookline, Massachusetts] While many Episcopal churches have tried adapting the centuries-old tradition of Ash Wednesday to modern life by offering Ashes to Go on the streets of their communities, the Rev. Richard Burden is trying something different this year. He’s inviting people to come into his church and have their own Ash Wednesday experience – on their own time and at their own pace.

In addition to its usual morning and evening Ash Wednesday services, All Saints Parish in Brookline – a tranquil enclave surrounded by the city of Boston – is offering a self-guided prayer walk called Dust and Ashes. Stations have been set up around the church, each with a different focus relating to the spiritual themes of Ash Wednesday, and it’s available for anyone of any age throughout the day.

The Rev. Richard Burden, rector of All Saints Parish. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

Christians around the world typically commemorate Ash Wednesday – the first day of the penitential season of Lent – by fasting and attending services during which a priest or minister uses ashes to mark a cross on their foreheads, saying, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The Dust and Ashes prayer walk provides a more flexible opportunity for prayer and contemplation on the impermanence of life. Those who can’t make the scheduled services can stop by any time, and it’s designed for all ages. All Saints’ former family minister used to do a late-afternoon Ash Wednesday service specifically for families with children, but Burden – rector of All Saints since 2014 – wanted to offer something that could fit into anyone’s schedule.

“I thought, let’s make it something that kids could do with their families but make it available to everybody,” Burden told Episcopal News Service.

Burden had also given Ashes to Go in previous years on the sidewalk in front of the church, but it’s not a high-traffic location – and he also had concerns about wanting to “be a good neighbor” to the many Jews who live nearby. Brookline is a heavily Jewish area; there are two synagogues, a Jewish school and a Jewish community center within a 5-minute walk from All Saints.

“The symbol of the cross and the symbol of ashes is potentially really problematic to a lot of our neighbors,” Burden said. “I wanted to do something that was inviting Christians to come in and take a deeper look.”

The water station alludes to baptism and new life. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

So this year, he tried something new. He adapted and expanded an Ash Wednesday service originally developed specifically for children by Elizabeth Hammond, found in her Skiturgies collection and republished in “Planning for Rites and Rituals: A Resource for Episcopal Worship” from Church Publishing. He retained the focus on tactile sensations – each station has something you can touch or even smell – but molded it into an all-ages, self-guided rite.

It starts where the Genesis creation story says human life originated: dust – or, more specifically, soil. A bowl of it sits at the first station next to a candle and a brief guide with the Genesis passage about the creation of humanity and some prompts for reflection:

“Reach your hand into the bowl of soil. Reflect on the substance from which all life comes. Breathe deeply and reflect on the breath of God, the gift of life that God provides with each breath.”

The water and holy oil stations stand in the rear of the church. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

Next (and convenient for those who don’t like dirty hands) is a bowl of water. The accompanying Scripture passage is the story of Jesus’ baptism from Luke’s Gospel. That story, along with other biblical references to water, the sacramental ritual of baptism and the essential role water plays in life on Earth are all linked in the reflective guide.

Participants can light candles at the light station. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

A sweet-smelling container of holy oil is next. “I always like to remind people that the ashes that we put on on Ash Wednesday go on over the top of the oil of the baptismal seal,” Burden said. “The whole prayer walk is an attempt to set Ash Wednesday in a larger narrative.”

At a station dedicated to light, participants are invited to light votive candles in memory of loved ones who have died, or for any other intention. Then they come to the bowl of ashes, which is set up in the columbarium – a small space off the nave in which the ashes of deceased parishioners are interred. Participants are invited to administer ashes to anyone who has come with them, reading the traditional passage from Genesis, or to give themselves ashes if they are alone. Burden is also available to administer them if requested.

The ashes station is found in the columbarium. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

But the prayer walk doesn’t end there. The sixth station is a cross leaning against the main altar – the same one that will be used for veneration during the Good Friday service. There, participants find a stack of blank “permission slips,” an idea Burden borrowed from Brené Brown.

The cross station uses the church’s Good Friday veneration cross. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

“To grow closer to God this Lent, I give myself permission to” is written at the top of each slip.

“This is a way of thinking about what to do for Lent that’s not just giving up something and not just taking on something; it’s being really honest with yourself about what you need to do to draw closer to God,” Burden told ENS. A list of suggestions sits nearby, with ideas like “Call up an old friend,” “Unplug for 15 minutes a day,” “Say the Daily Office” and “Go for more walks.”

The final station, set up at the high altar, is titled “The End?”

“Remember that God’s story doesn’t end, and you are with God always,” the guide reads. It embodies the concept of “burying the alleluia” – the practice of omitting liturgical expressions of joy during Lent. At the Shrove Tuesday supper, the children of All Saints drew colorful pictures spelling out the word “Alleluia,” and those have been placed on the altar underneath a black cloth – the kind used to wrap the crosses for Good Friday.

Drawings spelling out “Alleluia” are hidden under the black cloth at the final station. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

The drawings will remain under the cloth on the high altar until Holy Week, Burden said. “This is another visual reminder that can be up here through all of Lent, that there’s a promise coming – we can’t quite see it yet, but there’s a promise there.”

“The journey with God and to God goes far beyond death,” the guide reads, “and resurrection is always possible even when it is hard to see.”

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

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Majority of dioceses now pay full share of churchwide budget after shift to mandatory assessment

Episcopal News Service - qua, 26/02/2020 - 16:26

The proposed 2019-2021 budget was presented on July 11, 2018, at the 79th General Convention to a joint session of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies. Photo: Mike Patterson/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] Five years ago, The Episcopal Church, in balancing its budget, initiated a shift away from a policy of “asking” in favor of “expecting” its dioceses to share in its operating expenses. All churches and dioceses are “one in the body of Christ,” then-Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in January 2015, and “we must seek to receive and to share.”

Today, sharing is mandatory. Each of the 110 dioceses and regional areas is expected to contribute 15% of its adjusted annual income – its reported income minus a $140,000 deduction – under Episcopal Church canons that were amended in 2015 at the 78th General Convention. Noncompliant dioceses now may be deemed ineligible to receive grants, loans and scholarships from The Episcopal Church.

The canonical change was intended to encourage the church’s dioceses to participate more fully in funding churchwide ministries, from evangelism and church planting to caring for creation and racial reconciliation. By that measure, it has succeeded.

A decade ago, when dioceses were asked to contribute 21%, only 29 dioceses reached that level. After the church lowered the amount to 15% and pressed diocesan leaders to commit to that goal, 88 now pay in full, and Executive Council granted temporary waivers to an additional 17 while they work to increase their contributions.

“That is a huge success story in my mind,” said the Rev. Mally Lloyd, an Executive Council member from the Diocese of Massachusetts who chairs the Assessment Review Committee.

Only five dioceses paid less than 15% without receiving waivers from Executive Council: Albany, Dallas, Florida, Rio Grande and Springfield. Those five are ineligible this year to apply for grants from Episcopal Church programs, such as Becoming Beloved Community, church planting, Constable Fund, Roanridge Trust and United Thank Offering.

Bishops in some of those five dioceses partly explained their underpayments as rooted in longstanding theological disagreements with General Convention on issues of human sexuality, while still affirming their belief in the principle of shared financial responsibility for churchwide ministries.

“Being a diocese in full compliance mode with the whole church is what we’re supposed to do,” Dallas Bishop George Sumner said in a phone interview with Episcopal News Service.

The Diocese of Dallas pledged 6.1% in 2019 based on reported income of $3.6 million, and Sumner said the diocese upped its pledge this year to 9% – still not aggressive enough for Executive Council, which declined to grant the diocese a waiver at its February 2020 meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Diocesan assessments make up The Episcopal Church’s largest income source – more than 60% of the triennial budget. Executive Council, which drafts and recommends the triennial budget to General Convention for approval every three years, is then responsible for managing income and expenses during the triennium. As part of that process, the church’s Finance Office calculates current-year assessments based on dioceses’ income reports from two years earlier, so dioceses have time to plan for the payments.

Episcopal Church Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Kurt Barnes explains the church’s financial operations to members of the General Convention’s Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance in October 2017. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

At each General Convention, “the bishops and deputies vote to support a budget. They work on the budget together,” Kurt Barnes, the church’s treasurer and chief financial officer, said in an interview. “In that budget is an income and an assessment expectation.”

Paid in full, those assessments would total nearly $90 million of the church’s revised $137 million budget for 2019-2021, though church officials estimate about $5 million less in actual collections over three years, based on the number of dioceses that have said they can’t or won’t pledge the full amount.

Ability and willingness to pay can vary from diocese to diocese. The Diocese of the Rio Grande, for example, cut its budget by 10% in 2020 to stabilize its income after losing a key funding source. At the same time, it is encouraging its congregations, which are located in New Mexico and the westernmost edge of Texas, to step up their stewardship efforts, Bishop Michael Hunn told ENS.

Hunn, who was consecrated in November 2018, said he and Episcopalians in his diocese take seriously the financial expectations set by General Convention. In 2019, Rio Grande paid an assessment of 6% based on reported diocesan income of $1.3 million.

“I don’t want to be a bishop of a diocese that’s not paying its fair share,” Hunn said, but “there’s no way we’re going to get to 15% this triennium.”

Talk of changing the ‘asking’ took years to gain traction

How to get all dioceses to pay their fair share – an amount once known as “the asking” – has long been debated by church leaders, as they contended with wide disparities in dioceses’ demographics and financial standings. Alongside Texas, New York and other dioceses with multimillion-dollar incomes are small, rural dioceses like Eau Claire and Western Kansas, sometimes led by part-time bishops, struggling to get by with incomes at or well below $500,000.

Historically, the church asked for 21% but received only 15% as a churchwide average, Barnes said. Some dioceses paid the full amount. Others paid little.

Then in 2003, when the church elected its first openly gay partnered bishop, efforts to increase participation were further complicated. Some of the more theologically conservative dioceses responded by withholding all or part of their financial contributions to The Episcopal Church, a response that Barnes said was not widespread.

One of those dioceses was Springfield, which encompasses the largely rural lower half of Illinois. Nearly two decades later, it continues to contribute one of the smallest assessments of any diocese. Its 2019 pledge rate was just 3.5%, or $23,000 on reported income of just under $800,000.

Springfield Bishop Daniel Martins was not consecrated until 2011, but as bishop of Springfield, he has continued the diocese’s policy of leaving the question of assessments up to congregations – they decide what portion of their assessments to the diocese will be relayed to The Episcopal Church. Some congregations are fine sending money, while others want none of their assessments released beyond the diocese, Martins said in an email.

“This is a complicated and arcane system, but it manages to keep the peace in the diocese and allow us to focus on our mission,” said Martins, who plans to retire in 2021, adding that he would prefer the diocese move toward full payment.

The Episcopal Church began laying the foundation for its current effort to move all dioceses toward full payment at the 76th General Convention in 2009, when bishops and deputies approved a financial restructuring plan that lowered “the asking” from dioceses to 20% in 2011 and 19% in 2012.

Church financial records show only 29 dioceses were reported in 2009 to have pledged at or above the 21% asking. When General Convention met again in 2012, the roll of full participants had grown to 47 – still fewer than half of all dioceses.

The House of Bishops voted in 2012 to lower the rate even further, to 15% within three years, and to require underpaying dioceses to ask Executive Council for a waiver “accompanied by an action plan appropriate to the circumstances of the diocese.” But because of a procedural mix-up at General Convention, the House of Deputies never acted on it.

In addition to adopting a budget that maintained assessments at 19% without making them mandatory, both houses approved another resolution that established a task force to consider ways of streamlining and improving The Episcopal Church’s structure, governance and administration.

When the Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church, sometimes called TREC, issued its report in December 2014, one of its recommendations was to lower diocesan assessments and require dioceses to pay.

“A diocese that neglects or fails to pay its assessment according to the budget adopted by General Convention shall be subject to such reduction of any church program funds designated for the diocese as the Executive Council may approve, taking into account the diocese’s particular circumstances,” the task force said.

General Convention makes assessments mandatory

Executive Council, meanwhile, had been collecting input from dioceses about potential changes to the assessments, as it drafted the proposed 2016-2018 budget. Its 2013 survey of 221 bishops and deputies found that more than 60% of respondents thought restrictions should be placed on dioceses that don’t contribute at the requested level. And most said financially struggling dioceses should be able to make their cases for leniency.

Executive Council endorsed a new process based on those tenets at its January 2015 meeting. The church “should employ its resources for the welfare of the whole body of Christ,” Jefferts Schori told Executive Council then, in one of her final presentations to that body as presiding bishop. “The dioceses that make up this part of the body of Christ should expect this challenge to participate in the life of the body of Christ joyfully, in ways that demonstrate love of neighbor equal to love of self.”

Also in 2015, Executive Council created an Assessment Review Committee to follow up with noncompliant dioceses – “to encourage and work with such dioceses to create a plan for reaching the full assessment amount.”

Central New York deputy Chuck Stewart, right, studies the budget with fellow deputy the Rev. Georgina Hegney, at the 78th General Convention in 2015. Photo: Tracy Sukraw/Episcopal News Service

That summer, the 78th General Convention adopted Executive Council’s plan, passing one resolution to gradually reduce the annual amount to 15% and another resolution warning that the assessments would become mandatory in 2019.

That process has had a number of success stories, such as the Diocese of Pennsylvania. As recently as a year ago, meeting minutes show the Assessment Review Committee was uncertain whether the diocese would pay in full, but good news followed in August 2019.

“Hooray for Pennsylvania!!” the minutes of the committee’s meeting say. “After additional conversation they have agreed to commit at 15%.”

Other dioceses applied for and received financial hardship waivers based on their plans to move to the full amount or nearer that level during this triennium. In October 2018, for example, Executive Council accepted the Diocese of West Texas’ plan to pay 14% by 2021. Similar plans were approved for the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast in February 2019 and for the dioceses of Colorado and Fond du Lac in October 2019.

Other dioceses were granted waivers for agreeing to pay nominal amounts due to widespread poverty in their dioceses, particularly the Latin American dioceses of Province IX, each of which also receives money from The Episcopal Church to support their self-sustainability efforts.

When Executive Council met this month in Salt Lake City, the Diocese of Alabama received the final waiver for 2019. Although it contributed only 12.8% last year, it pledged to increase that rate to 15% in 2020.

“The waiver process has caused us to be more relational and to sit together to talk about money and mission. This is the best thing to happen in our financial life in many years,” General Convention’s Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance said in its introduction to the adopted 2019-2021 budget.

Five dioceses now ineligible for churchwide grants

Of the remaining noncompliant dioceses, Springfield arguably is the least responsive to Executive Council’s appeals. It didn’t increase its payment, and it didn’t request a waiver.

The Diocese of Albany requested a waiver but was denied, despite arguing that its parishes are struggling. Based in New York’s capital city, the diocese includes more than 100 congregations, most in less-populated communities from the Canadian border to the northern Catskill Mountains.

Albany pledged 8.8% in 2019 based on reported income of about $1.4 million. “The bottom line is we can’t give what we don’t have,” Albany Bishop William Love said in an email to ENS. Another reason the Albany diocese doesn’t pay its full assessment is that, like Springfield, it allows parishes to decide how much of their money goes to The Episcopal Church.

Whatever arrangement a diocese has with its parishes, it must find a way to contribute the full 15%, said Lloyd, the Assessment Review Committee chair, or else submit a plan for getting to that level. Albany offered no plan for increasing its contribution, she said in a phone interview.

The Jacksonville-based Diocese of Florida, like Springfield, never applied for a waiver, Lloyd said, after pledging to pay only 10.7% in 2019. Some diocesan officials had suggested to the committee that they were interested in moving toward a 15% contribution, but Florida’s Diocesan Convention rejected that idea when it met in January 2020. The diocese, with a little more than $2 million in reported annual income, is among the church’s more conservative dioceses under the leadership of Bishop John Howard.

“The place we begin, and always have, is with the admonition of Paul in 2 Corinthians: ‘Each one must give as he has decided in his own heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver,’” Kristyna Munoz, Florida’s communications director, said in an email to ENS.

Dallas Bishop George Sumner delivers remarks at the House of Bishops meeting in September 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Dallas, which also has been historically a more conservative diocese, is happily moving toward paying its full share of the churchwide budget, Sumner said. His diocese has been increasing its payments annually, he said, with “a full and clear intention to go to full compliance” before he retires in a few years.

The diocese’s reported income, approaching $4 million, has ranked it among the top 15 Episcopal dioceses in recent years. Executive Council concluded Dallas had not submitted a clear plan for getting to the 15% assessment that would justify a waiver, Lloyd said.

As for Rio Grande, it’s no longer a “won’t pay” diocese, but rather a “can’t pay” diocese, according to Hunn, who saw the other side of this process in his previous role as canon to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry for ministry within The Episcopal Church.

Rio Grande had been among the dioceses that were on the brink of leaving The Episcopal Church in 2003, but Rio Grande’s Episcopalians now want to be full participants in The Episcopal Church. “It’s our church. We’re a part of it, and that really matters,” Hunn said.

Shortly after Hunn took over as bishop just over a year ago, the Assessment Review Committee rejected a previous plan that tried to reach 15% too quickly. Hunn submitted a follow-up plan last year to hit the target by 2032, but the committee deemed that timeline far too long.

“We have a sense that it’s very, very difficult going for him and for the diocese right now,” Lloyd said, but the committee ultimately chose not to recommend a waiver for Rio Grande because the committee felt it was “not asking too much” of Rio Grande to submit a new plan for getting closer to 15% sooner. Other struggling dioceses have been able to viably clear that minimal threshold, Lloyd said.

Hunn said he is disappointed his diocese is now ineligible for churchwide grant programs, which have benefited Rio Grande in the past. After the diocese’s recent budget cut, he said he needs more time to develop a realistic timeline, but Rio Grande will pay its full assessment.

“We are coming home, and we’re happy about it,” Hunn said. “But we’ve got a long way to go.”

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

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