Episcopal News Service
[Episcopal News Service – Chaska, Minnesota] One impressive figure keeps coming up as Executive Council meets here this week: 1,200.
More than 1,200 volunteers from around the Episcopal Church applied to serve on one of the church’s dozens of interim bodies, including those created by the 79th General Convention in July, to address various issues and tasks over the next three years. That response is a 60 percent increase over the applications received for the previous triennium.
Members of Executive Council have heralded that number, calling it representative of the energy in the church following its triennial meeting in Austin, Texas.
“It indicates that people are interested in serving in a churchwide level,” the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, told Episcopal News Service on Oct. 16 during a break in the day’s proceedings at Oak Creek Hotel & Conference Center. “I think it indicates we’re doing some worthwhile and meaningful things.”
Interim body refers to any task force, board or committee created to do work for the church in the interim between the last meeting of General Convention and the next, which will be in 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. The types and numbers of interim bodies have fluctuated since 2015, when General Convention sought to dramatically reduce the number of long-term policy-making bodies, known as standing commissions.
Much of the work that had been done by the eliminated commissions was assigned to newly created task forces, explained Sally Johnson, chancellor to the president of the House of Deputies. So the number of interim bodies has actually increased this triennium to 65. They are listed here.
Some interim bodies are created by church Canon. Executive Council is one such example. General Convention in July created an additional 21 interim bodies by resolution, such as the Task Force on Church Planting and Congregational Redevelopment, the Task Force to Study Sexism and Develop Anti-Sexism Training and the Advisory Council on Disability and Deaf Access.
Even with so many interim bodies, the church won’t have space for all 1,200 volunteers, Jennings said. She estimates there will be 554 appointments this triennium by her office, the presiding bishop’s office or both offices jointly.
Jennings maintains a spreadsheet of all applicants and their criteria, which helps assist church leaders in selecting candidates for seats on interim bodies. Her office fills some interim bodies, while the presiding bishop’s office is responsible for filling others. Some will be filled by vote of Executive Council.
“It’s a big undertaking,” Jennings said.
The interim bodies typically have about a dozen members, but some are smaller. The largest, the Task Force on Liturgical and Prayer Book Revision, was created by General Convention Resolution A068 and will have 30 members – 10 bishops, 10 priests or deacons and 10 lay people.
After General Convention, the application process was promoted across the church, and interested Episcopalians were encouraged to identify which of the interim bodies they’d prefer. Jennings was impressed by the quality of the candidates.
“There’s a huge number of incredible, gifted people in this church. It’s really great,” she said.
This year’s crop of candidates easily topped the 750 or so people who applied in 2015, and Jennings noted that many younger Episcopalians were among the new names on this year’s list.
She and other church leaders are in the process of reviewing all the applications, and applicants should find out soon if they have been selected to an interim body and, if so, which one.
General Convention did not approve funding to support all 65 interim bodies, so each will face its own set of accommodations and limitations in carrying out business over the next three years. Some will meet electronically, and others will meet in person, as Executive Council is doing for four days this week.
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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[Anglican Communion News Service] Both Church of Ireland archbishops took part in the All–Ireland Triennial Thanksgiving Service of the Mothers’ Union this month at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. The highlight of the service was the dedication of a stained glass plaque commissioned to celebrate 130 years of the Mothers’ Union in the island of Ireland last year. The Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson led the service and the sermon was preached by Archbishop of Armagh Richard Clarke, the primate of the Church of Ireland.
Read the full article here.
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[Episcopal News Service – Chaska, Minnesota] The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council kicked off its first meeting since the 79th General Convention on Oct. 15, gathering in a conference center in this Twin Cities suburb to begin discussing how to align church operations with the priorities and mandates established in July.
The 40 voting members of Executive Council and additional nonvoting members are a broad mix of races, ages, genders and places of origin. One example was Table 4, where Honduras Bishop Lloyd Allen from sat across from the Rev. Devon Anderson, rector at the nearby Trinity Episcopal Church in Excelsior, Minnesota. The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, House of Deputies president, lauded the group for its diversity – “more diverse than it was at last triennium, and I think God for that.”
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry opened the morning session at Oak Ridge Hotel & Conference Center by using a passage from the Gospel of John to set the tone for this four-day session: “I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus said during his Last Supper. “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
Curry came back to those lines several times during remarks that ran about 20 minutes. The church “loses its soul the further it gets away from Jesus of Nazareth,” he said, but the work of the Executive Council will build on the movement of Christians seeking to reclaim what it means to be followers of Jesus and his teachings.
“I know that it’s easy for fads to come and go, and yet it is my deep and earnest prayer that our embracing what it means to be the Jesus Movement will not be a fad that comes and goes,” Curry said.
The Episcopal Church put its beliefs into action through more than 500 resolutions passed at the 79th General Convention in Austin, Texas. “Our structures for translating, processing and disseminating strained at the sheer volume” of resolutions, Jennings said, but she was heartened rather than troubled by the numbers. A record number of resolutions shows Episcopalians are energized by their faith.
She also was encouraged by the stunning 1,200 people who have volunteered to serve on one of the interim bodies that continue the work of General Convention during the triennium.
“The good news is 1,200 people want to be involved in the work between conventions,” Jennings said.
She opened her remarks by briefly recapping General Convention and couldn’t help getting in final references to the General Convention Pigeon and some deputies’ love of VooDoo doughnuts. Lighter moments aside, during the two weeks in Austin, the bishops and deputies led the church in confronting some of the most pressing issues facing society today, including immigration and gun violence.
The House of Bishops held a “Liturgy of Listening” to tell the stories of sexual abuse and exploitation, including within the church, drawing attention to an issue “that too many church leaders have refused to acknowledge and have only become more urgent since convention concluded.”
Jennings in February appointed a 47-member Special Committee on Sexual Harassment and Exploitation to lead the church’s efforts, and those efforts will accelerate in the new triennium, Jennings said Oct. 15. She also referenced that work recently in a guest post in The Christian Century written in response to sexual assault allegations against Justice Brett Kavanaugh made by psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford.
The Executive Council carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, according to Canon I.4 (1).
Curry, as presiding bishop, serves as president of Executive Council, and Jennings is vice president. Twenty members of Executive Council – four bishops, four priests or deacons and 12 lay people – are elected by General Convention to six-year terms, with half of those members elected every three years. Each of the Episcopal Church’s nine provinces elects an ordained member and a lay member for six years, and those elections also alternate every three years.
Council also has several additional nonvoting members, such as the Episcopal Church’s finance director and chief operating officer.
The agenda for the first day of this Executive Council meeting was light on legislative business, though the group voted in the morning to establish a new roster of committees based on the priorities set by General Convention under Curry. They are Finance, Government & Operations, Ministry Within the Episcopal Church and Ministry Beyond the Episcopal Church.
The Rev. Michael Barlowe, secretary of General Convention, sought to frame the Executive Council’s business this week partly as an attempt to bridge the gap between the churchwide and the local. “The further you get from the local congregation,” he said, “the more remote things can sometimes seem.”
He encouraged the Executive Council members to keep the local context in mind, and he noted the Executive Council plans to meet in all nine provinces over the course of the triennium leading up to the 80th General Convention in Baltimore Maryland. “We’re going to make an effort to learn more about that local context as we go around,” he said.
The next Executive Council meeting will be Feb. 21-24 in Midwest City, Oklahoma. Future locations have yet to be announced.
Curry, in his remarks, also alluded to unspecified organizational “crises” within the Episcopal Church that had been hindering its spiritual work. “Every crisis is a disguised opportunity, you just have to figure out what it is,” he said. “We realized we needed to do something different.” One of those things was hiring a personnel consultant to study the workplace culture of the churchwide offices and help church leaders improve that culture.
“Through it all, we’re going to love each other and take care of each other,” he said.
Curry was more pointed in making his case for “reclaiming Jesus,” invoking an initiative that he and other ecumenical leaders launched earlier this year to refocus the broader culture on Jesus’ teachings. Certain far-right Evangelical preachers don’t even mention Jesus, Curry said, but they speak with a “religious tonation” that sounds Christian but is actually political.
“Christianity is being hijacked in public perceptions of what it means to be Christian,” Curry said.
By trying to reclaim the Jesus of love and compassion, he said he wasn’t making a political commentary, though “it may have political consequences.”
“That’s what I believe we need, not just in the church,” he said. “I’m talking in the culture, a revival of the way of being Christian that looks something like Jesus, the Jesus that said love is what it’s all about.”
When the group reconvened after lunch, Curry spoke briefly about the Way of Love, a rule of life that he, his staff and leaders from around the church developed to help Episcopalians practice being part of the Jesus Movement in their own lives and communities.
Russell Randle, a lay member from the Diocese of Virginia, offered praise and thanks for the Way of Love, which Curry had unveiled during General Convention.
“For the first time, really, in my memory our wider church has put in the hands of people a very able and effective tool to make people at the individual and parish level more effective witnesses of the Gospel,” Randle said. One of the resolutions at Virginia’s upcoming convention would ask parishes how they plan to implement the Way of Love locally, he said.
Allen, the Honduras bishop, speaking through a translator, emphasized the need to change how the church reaches the younger generation, including through smarter use of technology and rethinking what church should be in today’s world.
“Jesus Christ has challenged us,” Allen said. “Jesus Christ is challenging this church. … Let’s leave our old ways behind, and let’s do what Jesus called us to do.”
The Executive Council’s mandate is to provide top-level leadership for the church during the triennium, but Allis Freeman worried that most Episcopalians don’t understand its function.
“We’ve heard that all politics is local. I think all church stuff is actually local too,” said Freeman, a lay member from the Diocese of North Carolina. “There are people who do not know there is an Executive Council. There are people who do not know what the executive council does.”
She urged the church to communicate that mission more widely, adding this is one way to improve outreach to young people.
As if on cue, the rest of the afternoon was devoted to a presentation on the role of the Executive Council led by Sally Johnson, chancellor for the president of the House of Deputies, and Douglas Anning, chief legal officer.
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal churches on the Gulf Coast, including parts of Georgia and North and South Carolina, continue to assess Hurricane Michael’s damage, with some in the hardest hit coast areas still in the rescue phase.
“We’re at a time when every tree is down, and every roof is compromised,” said Dwight Babcock, diocesan administrator for the Episcopal Church of the Central Gulf Coast, in an Oct. 15 interview with Episcopal News Service. “This [recovery] is a marathon, not a sprint. We just don’t know what we’re looking at.”
On Oct. 12, Babcock and Central Gulf Coast Bishop Russell Kendrick traveled east from Pensacola to Panama City and other affected areas to visit some of the 11 affected churches. The bishop made a second trip the following day with a small group to distribute generators and other emergency supplies, said Babcock.
Ten of the 11 damaged churches held services “in one form or another,” on Oct. 14; some inside the churches, some outdoors in pavilions, he said.
On Oct. 10, Hurricane Michael made landfall near Panama City, Florida, as one of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit the mainland United States, killing 19 people. A Category 4 hurricane packing 155 mph winds, Michael wiped out trees and flattened buildings. Five days later thousands of people remained without electricity.
“From Highway 79 to the eastern edge of our diocese, the road conditions are still not safe for anyone to travel,” said Kendrick in a video posted on the diocese’s website. “Please be patient. Let’s let the trained responders do their jobs and make the conditions safe so we can get in there and help as necessary.”
The Episcopal Church of the Central Gulf Coast has created a Hurricane Relief Hub, listing ways to donate to hurricane relief efforts. The diocese also offers emergency preparedness and response resources. The diocese includes the Florida Panhandle and parts of southern Alabama.
Communities inland, in Georgia and further into the Southeast, were affected by Hurricane Michael; some of those communities continue to recover from Hurricane Florence, which made landfall as a Category 1 storm on Sept. 14 near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. The Diocese of East Carolina, which covers North Carolina’s coast, also has issued an appeal for support.
The Episcopal Diocese of Georgia reports significant damage in Albany, Brainbridge, Americus and the surrounding counties. Tree damage was significant in Albany, affecting the infrastructure and leaving many without power or potable water. In Bainbridge and Decatur County, roofs were blown off and trees took out power lines, blocked streets, and crashed into houses, according to Episcopal Relief & Development.
“The local dioceses are continuing to assess the damage caused by the storm,” said Katie Mears, senior director of Episcopal Relief & Development’s U.S. Disaster Program, in a statement posted on its website. “Disasters have three phases: rescue, relief and recovery. We are prepared to support them as we move into the next phase of providing relief to affected communities.”
-Lynette Wilson is reporter and managing editor for Episcopal News Service.
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[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Josiah Idowu-Fearon, have taken part in a pre-election interfaith peace conference in Nigeria. Giving the keynote address at the “Religious Harmony in Nigeria: Towards the 2019 General Elections” conference in Abuja, Welby told the audience that “Peace requires justice.” He said: “Attacks cannot be treated with impunity. Truth needs telling and arriving at the truth that is to be told is a complex process.” While in Abuja, Welby held separate meetings with President Muhammadu Buhari and opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar. A series of primaries will be held between now at the election date of Feb. 16, 2019. The new president will be inaugurated on May 29, 2019.
Read the full article here.
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[Anglican Communion News Service] The former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams led an Anglican delegation to the Vatican this weekend for the canonization of Oscar Romero. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby sent a letter to Pope Francis in which he described the former archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated as he celebrated Mass in March 1980, as “a true example to all Christians, and particularly to our fellow bishops.” The weekend’s service at St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, also saw the canonization of Pope Paul VI and five other saints: Francesco Spinelli, Vincenzo Romano, Maria Catherine Kasper, Nazaria Ignazia of Saint Teresa of Jesus, and Nuncio Sulprizio.
Read the full article here.
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‘Activen’ a los ciudadanos para reclamar derechos humanos y gobiernos que los garanticen, dicen los líderes de Cristosal
[Episcopal News Service – St. Louis] Un grupo de derechos humanos en El Salvador fundado por clérigos episcopales ha recurrido a los tribunales para obligar al gobierno del país a vivir a la altura de su responsabilidad de proteger a centenares de miles de ciudadanos desplazados internamente por la violencia desenfrenada, delincuencial y de otro tipo.
Y cuando esos refugiados de la violencia vienen a Estados Unidos, este país tiene también una responsabilidad de brindarles un asilo seguro, dijo Noah Bullock, el director ejecutivo de Cristosal, el 8 de octubre en la Universidad de Washington en San Luis, en un simposio sobre una respuesta a la inmigración y a la violencia desde la perspectiva de la fe.
“A ninguna persona puede negársele un lugar en el planeta Tierra donde pueda ser libre de persecución”, dijo Bullock, al hablar en el Centro sobre Religión y Política John C. Danforth , que lleva el nombre del senador John Danforth, republicano de Misurí y sacerdote episcopal.
Contrario a la opinión popular, dijo Bullock, el típico inmigrante que cruza la frontera sur de Estados Unidos ya no es un mexicano en busca de trabajo, sino alguien proveniente de los países del [llamado]“Triángulo Norte” [de América Central] , El Salvador, Honduras y Guatemala, que huye de la violencia de las pandillas. Cristosal, que tiene oficinas en los tres países, dirige centros de acogida en ellos para la protección de los desplazados. Sin embargo, la solución definitiva no consiste en que agrupaciones privadas reemplacen al gobierno en ese papel protector, dijo Bullock. Más bien, instituciones como Cristosal logran reformas estructurales a largo plazo “motivando” a las víctimas a reclamar sus derechos, y al estado a cumplir con sus deberes. La Convención de Naciones Unidas sobre los refugiados de 1951, dijo Bullock, enuncia este deber para cualquier país que reciba a personas que huyan de la persecución.
Bullock describió una ejecución exitosa de su estrategia de activación. Cristosal demandó al gobierno de El Salvador en nombre de seis familias obligadas a abandonar sus hogares debido a la violencia de las pandillas, arguyendo que un gobierno indiferente había violado sus derechos constitucionales. En julio, el Tribunal Supremo del país falló a favor de las familias, ordenándole al gobierno que reconociera el problema del desplazamiento forzoso después de haberlo desmentido durante años, que impidiera que sucediera y que ayudara a las víctimas.
David Morales, que dirige el equipo de litigio estratégico de Cristosal, le contó a los 75 asistentes en la Universidad de Washington de otro intento de exigir responsabilidades a los poderosos de El Salvador a través de los tribunales. Cristosal está acusando privadamente a los perpetradores de la masacre de El Mozote, en la cual soldados del gobierno adiestrados por EE.UU. mataron a más de 1.000 civiles —más de la mitad de ellos niños— en 1981. Morales comenzó a investigar la masacre durante el conflicto cuando trabajaba en la oficina de derechos humanos de la arquidiócesis católica de San Salvador, la capital de la nación. (Morales también buscó justicia para el asesinato del arzobispo Oscar Romero en 1980, un defensor de los pobres que será canonizado como santo católico el 14 de octubre).
El caso de El Mozote se paralizó cuando la guerra civil terminó en 1992 con un acuerdo de amnistía que protegió de enjuiciamiento a los criminales de guerra. Sin embargo, en 2016, el Tribunal Supremo del país anuló la amnistía como inconstitucional. Ese fallo le permitió a Morales retomar [el caso] donde lo había dejado años antes.
Morales dijo que el uso de violencia flagrante contra los civiles durante la guerra ha persistido en el presente en que la policía y el ejército salvadoreño asumen un criterio de “puño de hierro” hacia la violencia pandilleril “sin invertir en políticas para la prevención de delitos”. En el proceso, los jóvenes de quienes meramente se sospecha que pertenecen a pandillas enfrentan prisión, tortura y ejecución extrajudicial, dijo él.
Bullock añadió que es importante enjuiciar crímenes de guerra de hace décadas porque ¨cuando no hay verdad, cuando no hay justicia, hay una continuación de la norma”.
“Creemos que podemos impugnar la premisa de impunidad, la premisa de que el poderoso puede hacer lo que quiera del débil sin consecuencias”, dijo Bullock acerca del caso judicial. “Es algo que buscamos eliminar”
En lugar de instar a Estados Unidos a proteger a refugiados del Triángulo Norte, Bullock y Morales no abordaron las controversiales políticas migratorias de EE.UU. sobre separación de familias, estatus de protección temporal o Acción Diferida para los Llegados en la Infancia [DACA]. Bullock abordó de manera más amplia la importancia de Estados Unidos, no obstante imperfecta, en la salvaguarda de los derechos humanos.
“Significa mucho para el mundo cuando Estados Unidos dice que los derechos humanos son importantes”, dijo Bullock. Hay una palanca, entonces, para organizaciones como la nuestra para abogar”.
“Pero cuando Estados Unidos renuncia a su papel de liderazgo, hay menos presión para promover esos cambios”, dijo él. Advirtió de un resurgimiento del autoritarismo a través del planeta e “incluso en nuestro propio país”, que envalentona a los violadores de los derechos humanos. Sirva de ejemplo: “En Nicaragua, el régimen ha matado a más de 400 personas que protestaban en los últimos meses y expulsaron del país al Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos sin importarles ninguna repercusión [internacional]”, afirmó.
Bullock también impugnó la caracterización que hizo el presidente Donald Trump de El Salvador y otras naciones en desarrollo como “agujeros de mierda”, diciendo que el Presidente ignora las políticas de EE.UU. que han configurado a esos países para lo peor a lo largo de los años. Por ejemplo, las balas usadas por los soldados del gobierno en la masacre de El Mozote se fabricaron en una planta de municiones de Independence, Misurí, dijo Bullock.
“No podemos vernos al margen de las condiciones que existen allí”, afirmó.
Un panel de tres activistas religiosos de San Luis que participaron en el simposio relacionaron la obra de Cristosal en América Central a sus propias misiones. “La fe es personal, pero no privada —la fe tiene que ser pública”, dijo el Rdo. Travis Winckler, pastor de la segunda Iglesia Presbiteriana. Su congregación, dijo Winckler, está intentando hacer realidad esas palabras salvando el abismo entre un barrio predominantemente afroamericano que queda justo al norte [y] que ha experimentado “el residuo histórico del racismo” y un barrio más próspero e integrado que está al lado.
Para la Rda. Dietra Wise-Baker, que estuvo activa en las protestas en Ferguson, Misurí, luego de la muerte a tiros por la policía de Michael Brown, el “puño de hierro” que blandiera el ejército y la policía salvadoreña “suenan como la misma historia, la misma cantinela, que tuvo lugar aquí, con la policía en atuendo antimotines”.
“¿Cómo entenderán que están a nuestro servicio?”, dijo Wise-Baker. “Hay mucho en común entre nuestro pueblo y el pueblo de El Salvador”. Ella añadió que anteriormente no había visto la opresión de los afroamericanos a través de una lente de derechos humanos.
Wise-Baker, organizadora comunitaria con una agrupación llamada Congregaciones Metropolitanas Unidas, está de acuerdo con Cristosal en lo que respecta al uso del sistema judicial. En agosto, su agrupación presentó en un tribunal federal una demanda legal contra un distrito escolar local —junto con agencias educativas de Misurí— por supuestamente brindarles educación de calidad inferior a niños indigentes, en violación de estatutos federales. “Esta es una manera de intentar que el estado asuma su responsabilidad”, dijo ella.
Los panelistas también comentaron sobre las falsas caracterizaciones o narrativas repetidas sobre las personas privadas de derechos humanos, tales como el concepto erróneo de que los inmigrantes indocumentados que entran por la frontera sur son en su mayoría buscadores de empleo o, como Trump ha dicho, “delincuentes y violadores”.
“En verdad no me gustaría repetir lo que se dice contra nosotros”, dijo la majarat Rori Picker Neiss, directora ejecutiva del Consejo de Relaciones de la Comunidad Judía de San Luis.
Neiss dijo que una narrativa falsa sostenía el criterio común de que los posibles inmigrantes debían venir aquí legalmente como los recién llegados de generaciones anteriores.
“Tenemos historias de judíos que entraron ilegalmente en el país”, dijo ella. “En mi infancia, muchos de los relatos que oímos eran de personas que heroicamente falsificaron documentos, robaron documentos, y todo lo que necesitaron hacer para sobrevivir”.
– Robert Lowes, periodista independiente y poeta, es miembro de la iglesia episcopal de la Santa Comunión [Holy Communion] en University City, Misurí, un suburbio de San Luis. Traducción de Vicente Echerri.
[Anglican Communion News Service] A former Olympic sprinter is among 10 candidates in the running to be the next Bishop of Polynesia. The holder of the diocesan post will also become one of three primates and archbishops of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. The slate of candidates includes two women, a cathedral dean, three senior educators, a vicar-general and three bishops. An electoral college will convene in Suva on Oct. 26 and 27 to conduct the vote.
Read the full article here.
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[Anglican Communion News Service] A new School of Pioneers is opening in the Diocese of London to provide non-residential training for lay leaders in creating new congregations. The initiative is being run jointly by the Diocese’s Centre for Church Planting and Growth and the Anglican mission agency Church Mission Society. The new venture will “identify and train new pioneer leaders to birth ‘new churches, for new people in new places’ across London,” a spokesperson for the diocese said in a statement.
Read the full article here.
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[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians, congregations and dioceses across the Southeast again are assessing the damage and praying for the best after another powerful hurricane wreaked havoc on the communities in its path.
Last month it was Hurricane Florence, which hit coastal North Carolina hard and also brought wind, rain and flooding to parts of South Carolina and Virginia and cities farther inland. On Oct. 10, Hurricane Michael made landfall near Panama City, Florida, as one of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit the mainland United States. At least two people are dead as Michael left buildings in ruin, blocked roads and power outages affecting hundreds of thousands.
Michael weakened Oct. 11 to a tropical storm as it made its way across the Carolinas, dropping more rain on regions already struggling to bounce back from Florence. The latest storm is moving rapidly northeast and expected to head out to sea by early Oct. 12.
Episcopal Relief & Development, the agency that works at the churchwide level to help coordinate disaster response, began holding conference calls with dioceses before the storm hit, and that outreach continues as local leaders assess the needs of their communities.
“Our partners are just beginning to assess the impact of Hurricane Michael,” Katie Mears, senior director of Episcopal Relief & Development’s U.S. Disaster Program, said in a press release. “We will continue to support church partners to serve and care for affected communities in the weeks and months ahead.”
Michael intensified surprisingly fast into a Category 4 hurricane before hitting land, forcing residents and church leaders to expedite their preparations and evacuations.
In the Diocese of Florida, Christ Church in Monticello shared photos on its Facebook page of volunteers boarding up the church’s windows on Oct. 9. “Hope everyone remains safe as Michael approaches,” the post said.
Farther west along the Florida Panhandle, in the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, the Rev. Thomas Dwyer was bracing for the worst.
“I hope this finds you all busily completing your preparations,” he told his Port St. Joe congregation in an Oct. 9 post on the St. James’ Episcopal Church’s Facebook page. “Since we will likely lose power, I wanted to get this out early. Please, if you are staying in the area, make sure that wherever you are is safe, and stay indoors.”
Dwyer told Episcopal News Service by email on Oct. 11 that he fled the city before the hurricane. He heard from someone who made it to the church afterward that the church was damaged but survived the hurricane.
“Lots of shingles blown off and a chain-link fence down, but sounds like structurally it is OK,” he said. “I will hopefully get back Saturday and then I’ll know more.”
The Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast posted hurricane preparation info prominently on its website well before Hurricane Michael arrived, and Bishop Russell Kendrick issued a statement Oct. 9 offering prayers and support to the members of his diocese, which includes the western Panhandle and southern Alabama. He followed up Oct. 11 with a video message.
Kendrick and other diocesan leaders gathered for a morning staff meeting Oct. 11 to share updates on the storm’s aftermath and plan their next steps. Communication has been difficult in some areas, so information was still flowing in from various congregations.
“We do know that there has been damage to several of our church buildings,” Kendrick said. He didn’t have details but identified the churches with confirmed damage as Holy Nativity Episcopal Church and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Panama City, Grace Episcopal Church in Panama City Beach and St. James’ in Port St. Joe.
A similar assessment was underway in the Diocese of Georgia, which encompasses the southern half of the state. The diocese had been tracking congregations through an alert system, and by Oct. 11 more than 100 messages had come in, according to Katie Willoughby, the diocese’s canon for administration.
Bainbridge, Georgia, was one of the communities in the diocese reporting the most damage, Willoughby told ENS by phone. Thomasville, Albany and Americus also were hit hard, but most of the damage reported so far was downed trees. Church buildings seemed intact.
“Generally, we came through well, however we have some significant tree damage,” she said. Several parishioners also reported trees falling onto their homes.
Information is only trickling in about the congregations in the Panama City, Florida, the small Gulf Coast city that was in the direct line of the storm. News reports from that region paint an alarming picture.
A 300-bed hospital in Panama City was forced to evacuate Oct. 11 after the hurricane turned parts of the complex into tatters. The storm wiped out the roofs of hi-rise condos, knocked down trees, tossed boats around like toys and left the city looking like a “complete war zone,” according to one Facebook user who posted video of the destruction.
“My heart is broken for our community. In just a few hours, all of our lives were changed,” Bates said. “But what remains the same is the loving, caring, and giving of those who call Panama City home.”
He wasn’t sure if his own home sustained damage in the storm, nor could he say anything about the condition of the church, but he hoped for updates soon. “The work ahead is daunting. but I know beyond any doubt that we are stronger than this storm,” he said. “God love you.”
West of Panama City, services at Christ the King Episcopal Church in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, were canceled Oct. 10 afternoon, but the congregation posted an update on Facebook the next day saying the church had weathered the storm well. “No damage to the buildings, no trees down and power is on,” the post said. “Prayers continue for those to the east of us.”
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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[Episcopal News Service] Twenty years after the brutal murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard sparked national outrage, his ashes will be interred at Washington National Cathedral following a public service of remembrance.
The Service of Thanksgiving and Remembrance for Matthew Shepard on Oct. 26 will be led by Washington Bishop Marian Budde and retired New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop who knowns the Shepard family. Until now, Shepard’s parents had not settled on a final resting place for Shepard’s remains out of concern the site would be vandalized. As they approached 20 years since their son’s death, Robinson helped the family make arrangements at National Cathedral.
The tragedy of Shepard’s death is still a call to the nation to reject bigotry and “instead embrace each of our neighbors for who they are,” the Very Rev. Randy Hollerith, dean of the cathedral, said in a news release. “The Shepard family has shown extraordinary courage and grace in keeping his spirit and memory alive, and the Cathedral is honored and humbled to serve as his final resting place.”
Shepard, 21, was a student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie when a passerby found him beaten and tied to a fence in October 1998. He died later at a hospital. The crime ignited an outcry against the prevalence of anti-gay violence.
His 1998 funeral was held at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Casper, Wyoming, the congregation where he had served as an acolyte. Shepard also had attended the Canterbury Club while at college.
“Matt loved the Episcopal Church and felt welcomed by his church in Wyoming,” his mother, Judy Shepard, said in a cathedral news release. “For the past 20 years, we have shared Matt’s story with the world. It’s reassuring to know he now will rest in a sacred spot where folks can come to reflect on creating a safer, kinder world.”
About 200 people are interred at National Cathedral, including President Woodrow Wilson and Hellen Keller. Shepard’s internment will be a private ceremony, but the service of remembrance will be open to the public and could draw a capacity crowd of 1,500 to 2,000 people, cathedral’s chief communications officer, Kevin Eckstrom, told Episcopal News Service.
The site may become something of a pilgrimage stop within the LGBTQ community, Eckstrom said. And Budde, quoted in the New York Times, underscored that the Episcopal Church is striving to offer a message of welcome to all people.
“A lot has changed [since Shepard’s killing], but not everything has changed,” Budde told the Times. “It felt really important for us to say that we believe LGBTQ people are beloved children of God, not in spite of their identities but because of who they area – who God created them to be.”
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[Episcopal News Service – St. Louis, Missouri] A human-rights group in El Salvador founded by Episcopal clergy is using the courts to force the government there to live up to its responsibility to protect hundreds of thousands of citizens internally displaced by rampant violence, criminal and otherwise.
And when such refugees from violence come to the United States, this country also has a responsibility to give them safe haven, said Noah Bullock, the executive director of Cristosal, in a symposium on a faith-informed response to immigration and violence on Oct. 8 at Washington University in St. Louis.
“No person can be denied a place on planet Earth where they can be free of persecution,” said Bullock, speaking at the university’s John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, named after U.S. Sen. John Danforth, a Missouri Republican and Episcopal priest.
Contrary to popular opinion, Bullock said, the typical immigrant crossing the southern border of the United States is no longer a Mexican looking for work, but someone from the “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala fleeing gang violence. Cristosal, which has offices in all three countries, operates safe houses there for their protection. However, the ultimate solution is not for private groups to replace the government in this guardian role, Bullock said. Rather, groups like Cristosal achieve long-term structural reforms by “activating” victims to claim their rights, and the state to do its duty. The 1951 Refugee Convention of the United Nations, Bullock said, spells out this duty for whatever country harbors people fleeing persecution.
Bullock described one successful execution of its activation strategy. Cristosal sued the Salvadoran government on behalf of six families forced out of their homes by gang violence, contending that an indifferent government had violated their constitutional rights. In July, the country’s Supreme Court sided with the families, ordering the government to recognize the problem of forced displacement after years of denial, prevent it from happening and aid victims.
David Morales, who directs Cristosal’s strategic litigation team, told the audience of 75 at Washington University of another attempt to hold the powerful of El Salvador accountable for wrongdoing through the courts. Cristosal is privately prosecuting the perpetrators of the El Mozote massacre, in which U.S.-trained government soldiers killed more than 1,000 civilians—more than half of them children—in 1981, the second year of the country’s 12-year civil war. Morales began investigating the massacre during the conflict when he worked in the human rights office of the Catholic diocese of San Salvador, the nation’s capital. (Morales also sought justice for the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, a defender of the poor scheduled to be canonized as a Catholic saint on Oct. 14).
The El Mozote case came to a halt when the civil war ended in 1992 with an amnesty agreement that shielded war criminals from prosecution. However, the country’s Supreme Court struck down the amnesty as unconstitutional in 2016. That decision allowed Morales to pick up where he left off years earlier.
Morales said the naked use of violence against civilians during the war has persisted into the present as the Salvadoran police and military take an “iron fist” approach toward gang violence “without investments in policies to prevent crime.” In the process, young people merely suspected of gang membership face imprisonment, torture and extrajudicial execution.
Bullock added that it’s important to prosecute decades-old war crimes because “when there is no truth, when there is no justice, there is a continuation of the norm.”
“We think we can challenge the assumption of impunity, the assumption of the powerful that they can do what they like to the weak without any consequences,” Bullock said about the court case. “It’s something we chip away at.”
Other than urging the United States to protect refugees from the Northern Triangle, Bullock and Morales did not address controversial U.S. immigration policies on family separation, temporary protected status or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Bullock more broadly stressed the importance of the United States, however imperfect, of upholding human rights.
“It means a lot to the world when the United States says that human rights matter,” said Bullock. “There’s leverage, then, for organizations like ourselves to advocate.”
“But when the United States abrogates a leadership role, there’s less pressure to leverage those changes,” he said. He noted a resurgence of authoritarianism across the globe and “even in our own country,” which emboldens human-rights violators. Case in point: “In Nicaragua, the regime has killed more than 400 protesters in the last few months and kicked the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights out of the country with no concern for [international] consequences.”
Bullock also disputed President Donald Trump’s characterization of El Salvador and other developing nations as “shithole countries,” saying that the president ignores U.S. policies that have shaped those countries for the worse over the years. For example, the bullets used by the government soldiers in the El Mozote massacre were made in an army munitions plant in Independence, Missouri, Bullock said.
“We can’t see ourselves in isolation from the conditions that are there,” he said.
A panel of three St. Louis faith-based activists at the symposium related the work of Cristosal in Central America to their own missions. “Faith is personal, but not private—faith has to go public,” said the Rev. Travis Winckler, pastor of Second Presbyterian Church. His congregation, said Winckler, is trying to live out those words by bridging the divide between a predominantly African-American neighborhood immediately to the north that has experienced “the historical residue of racism” and a more affluent, integrated neighborhood next door.
To the Rev. Dietra Wise-Baker, who was active in the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police shooting of Michael Brown, the “iron fist” wielded by the Salvadoran army and police “sounds like the same story, the same song that has happened here, with police in riot gear.”
“How do they understand who we are in their service to us?” said Wise-Baker. “There’s so much resonance between our people and the people of El Salvador.” She added that she had not previously viewed the oppression of African-Americans through a human-rights lens.
Wise-Baker, a community organizer with a group called Metropolitan Congregations United, is on the same page with Cristosal, though, when it comes to using the judicial system. In August, her group filed a lawsuit against a local school district along with Missouri educational agencies in federal court for allegedly providing substandard education to homeless children, in violation of federal law. “This is a form of trying to get accountability from the state,” she said.
The panelists also commented on false characterizations or narratives repeated about those deprived of human rights, such as the misconception that undocumented immigrants crossing the southern border are mostly job seekers, or, as Trump has said, “criminals and rapists.”
“I’d hate to think about actually repeating what people say against us,” said Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis.
Neiss said a false narrative undergirded a common argument that would-be immigrants should come here legally like previous generations of newcomers.
“We’ve had a history of Jews illegally entering this country,” she said. “In my childhood, so many of the stories we heard were about how people heroically falsified papers, stole papers, did whatever they needed to do to survive.”
-Robert Lowes, an independent journalist and poet, is a member of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in University City, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis.
[Episcopal News Service] Executions resumed in Tennessee this year after a nearly decadelong hiatus, and Episcopalians who minister to death row inmates and those who advocate against the death penalty are responding with prayers and protests.
The first execution in the state since 2009 was carried out in August with the lethal-injection death of Billy Irick for the 1985 rape and killing of a 7-year-old girl. A second inmate, Edmund Zagorski, is due to be put to death on Oct. 11 for a double murder committed in 1983. An anti-death penalty group has organized a demonstration for the evening of Zagorski’s execution outside the Riverbend prison in Nashville where male death row inmates are held.
Alvaro Manrique Barrenechea, a parishioner at Nashville’s Christ Church Cathedral, expects to participate. He joined a similar demonstration before Irick’s execution on Aug. 9 after spending a year and a half meeting monthly with Irick through a death row visitation ministry led by Christ Church Cathedral.
“He was definitely very excited when I visited,” Barrenechea said in an interview with Episcopal News Service. Irick didn’t have any relatives come see him, so Barrenechea often was Irick’s only contact with the outside world. That is one reason Barrenechea felt called to this ministry. “I can’t imagine the thought process of thinking there’s nobody in the entire world that’s thinking about you.”
Episcopalians also are called to such ministries by the Episcopal Church’s longtime opposition to the death penalty, as reaffirmed several times at General Convention since 1958. The 79th General Convention, meeting in July in Austin, Texas, added to that list a new resolution that calls for all death row inmates’ sentences to be reduced and enlists bishops in states where the death penalty is legal to take up greater advocacy.
“There’s considerable confusion about what might be the Christian response” to capital punishment, the Very Rev. Timothy Kimbrough, dean of Christ Church Cathedral said in an interview. “The Episcopal Church has been very clear for decades about its opposition to the death penalty. That’s one of the reasons I’m grateful to be a part of a community like this.”
Christ Church’s death row visitation ministry has been carried out by a team of up to 30 lay volunteers. Each is assigned to one of the 60 inmates awaiting execution.
Kimbrough wrote a letter to his congregation before Irick’s execution, saying such a time “tests the Divine’s resolve to forgive, hallow, and bless.”
While acknowledging the horror of Irick’s crime, Kimbrough wrote, “to murder the murderer … will neither restrain the savage impulse of another criminal nor model for society the respect that life itself would otherwise demand.”
Kimbrough also sent a letter to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, asking him to convert the sentence to life in prison. Receipt of that letter was acknowledged, Kimbrough said, but Haslam did not act to stop Irick’s execution.
Haslam also declined on Oct. 5 to offer clemency to Zagorski despite new objections to Tennessee’s lethal injection drugs in the wake of Irick’s execution. Some experts have suggested the first drug in a three-drug cocktail failed to render Irick unconscious before the other two drugs subjected him to excruciating pain and finally killed him.
Zagorski cited the threat of “torture” in requesting death by electrocution instead, but that request was denied by the state.
When asked about the execution drug controversy, Kimbrough called it something of a spiritual “red herring.”
A Christian “who would see the death penalty dismantled would not stand for any method of execution that somehow would be deemed constitutional,” he said. “Every method of execution might be seen to a Christian as cruel and unusual. How we can look at the cross and don’t imagine that to be true, I don’t know.”
The Rev. Bob Davidson, national chair of Episcopal Peace Fellowship who submitted the anti-death penalty resolution at General Convention, argued in an email to ENS that economic disparities in the judicial system also support reducing Zagorski’s sentence to life in prison.
“Those who cannot afford adequate representation or resources” often are unable to defend against “the ultimate act of society playing God by putting someone to death,” Davidson said. “Every life has worth and value, regardless of our human actions.”
The death penalty still is in effect in 31 states, but the number of executions nationwide has dropped steadily since 1999, from a high of 98 that year to 20 in 2016, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
A rapid series of executions in Arkansas in April 2017, brought the issue of capital punishment back into the national spotlight. At the time, Episcopalians and other advocates hoped the attention would add momentum to the push for abolition.
Public opinion has for decades tilted in favor of the death penalty, with a Gallup poll from 2017 showing 55 percent of respondents supporting a death sentence for someone convicted of murder. Support has been on the decline since the mid-1990s, however, and polls show fewer people favor the death penalty when alternatives are suggested.
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[Anglican Communion News Service] Guests from around the world have joined local Anglicans for a series of events to mark the 20th anniversary of the Anglican Province of Hong Kong – the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui. Thousands gathered for a colorful celebration of the Eucharist at the vast AsiaWorld-Expo centre on Saturday (6 October). Among them were dignitaries from mainland China, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Australia, Ireland, the UK and the United States.
Bishop of Texas Andrew Doyle delivered a message of message of congratulations on behalf of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Doyle, president of the Compass Rose Society, spoke of the “amazing” work and generosity of the province, describing it as a model of virtue for the Anglican Communion.
Read the full article here.
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[Anglican Communion News Service] More than 2,000 Anglicans from Southern Africa and around the world were in Durban, South Africa, last week for Anglicans Ablaze, an international conference within the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. The biennial event, which ran from Oct. 3 to 6, is a renewal platform meant to set Anglicans “ablaze with God’s love and power in order to build up the church and to serve God in the world.”
Read the full article here.
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“Dear People of the Diocese of Nevada,
Our bishop search process this year was challenging in several respects. One is that there were an unprecedented number of bishop searches in process, resulting in a limited applicant pool. Another is that decisions had to be made under time constraints that did not allow the Standing Committee to engage in the depth of deliberation really needed.
Since announcing the slate of candidates, more information has been brought to our attention that calls our decisions into question. We have, after much soul searching, unanimously concluded that it is in the best interest of the Diocese to postpone the election of our 11th Bishop until next year following another search under more propitious circumstances.
We are grateful to the Search Committee for their faithful work and regret any frustration they may feel that we are not proceeding to an election now. The decision to delay is in no way a reflection on the Search Committee, but rather is what we deem to be for the good of the Diocese. Likewise, we are grateful to the candidates on the 2018 slate. Our decision does not preclude them from applying again and participating in the 2019 search process.
Bishop Dan will still retire as planned in December, but Canon Catherine will remain through the search process to insure the smooth ongoing operation of the diocesan office. We plan to call a Provisional (interim) Bishop to provide episcopal oversight during the transition, just as Bishop Jerry Lamb served in our previous search process. Bishop Dan assures us there are some well-qualified retired bishops who would be a good fit for Nevada in this time of transition.
The Diocesan Convention will still take place in Elko, beginning with a reception on the evening of November 29, with our business conducted on November 30 and a closing banquet that evening. Obviously, the agenda will change. The new agenda will be posted online and distributed to delegates as soon as possible.
We hope for your trust and patience in this process. We too are eager to get the decision made but it is most important that we take our time to get it right.”
The Reverend Bonnie Polley
President of the Standing Committee
Southwest Mission District Clergy Representative
Christ Church, Las Vegas”
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[Anglican Communion News Service] A Roman Catholic bishop and his Anglican counterpart in Canada’s New Brunswick province have been inspired by an official international ecumenical mission partnership to create a joint project to address development needs of children living in poverty. Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Harris and Anglican Bishop David Edwards have signed a joint declaration to launch a child development program. The project, “Dads & Tots,” will work with single fathers from the Waterloo Village and South End neighborhoods of Saint John, a port city.
Read the full article here.
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[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson has chaired the inaugural meeting of the Network of Inter Faith European and North American Concerns meeting. The network is one of the new regional networks being established as part of the new global Anglican Inter Faith Commission that was launched at the Primates’ Meeting last October, and which met for the first time earlier this year in Cairo.
Read the full article here.
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[Episcopal News Service] The 12 apostles, the 40 days of fasting, the five loaves and two fish. Some key numbers are peppered throughout the Gospels, but no one would mistake attending church on Sunday for a math lesson.
And yet, for every Episcopal congregation, there is a count.
Actually, several counts, including total number of active members, average pledge and the endlessly fluctuating “average Sunday attendance.” That data gets wrapped into the annual parochial reports that each congregation files with the Episcopal Church, and the cumulative data is released once a year as one benchmark for church vitality.
For several years that benchmark has pointed to a denomination in decline, with church attendance and membership trending downward in all corners of the Episcopal Church. When the latest churchwide data summary was released in August, the response was a familiar mix of hand-wringing, naysaying and soul-searching about the future of the Episcopal Church.
“Facing more Episcopal Church decline” was The Living Church’s blunt headline on an analysis of the latest numbers by the Rev. David Goodhew, director of ministerial practice at Durham University’s Cranmer Hall in Durham, England.
“The church deserves congratulation for the detail, accuracy, and especially candor it shows in sharing its data,” Goodhew wrote. “Beyond that, it has to be said that the news is bad.”
How bad? Over five years, the number of active baptized members in the church’s domestic dioceses has dropped 10 percent to 1.7 million. Sunday attendance is down 13 percent. There are 175 fewer parishes and missions reporting parochial data than in 2013. The 10-year trend is even more sobering, particularly in dioceses hit by sharp membership drops due to splits over doctrinal disagreements, including Forth Worth, Pittsburgh, San Joaquin and South Carolina. The one bright spot churchwide is that the average pledge has been increasing each year.
Such data generates a fair amount of discussion within the church each year. On Aug. 30, Kevin Miller, an Episcopalian from Massachusetts, raised the issue in the Episcopal Evangelists group on Facebook.
“What can we do to buck this trend? Lord help us!” Miller said while sharing The Living Church’s story.
Responses ranged from the hopeful to the practical. Stop promoting “gimmicks” like Ashes to Go, some said. Others suggested looking beyond the walls of the church for evangelism opportunities rather than obsessing about filling the pews.
The Rev. Chris Arnold, rector at Trinity Episcopal Church in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, issued a back-to-basics call. “The church will shrink until it rediscovers its primary purpose, which is to be a community of pilgrim disciples, supporting one another in the art and craft of prayer,” he said.
The Episcopal Church, of course, is not the only mainline Protestant denomination suffering from decline. Only 36 percent of Americans identified as Protestant in an ABC News/Washington Post poll released in May, down from 50 percent in 2003. Overall, Christians declined from 83 percent to 72 percent of Americans over the same period, while those who claim no religion have doubled.
Nor is decline in worship attendance an exclusively Episcopal concern. Weekly attendance at religious services of all faiths dropped from 39 percent in 2007 to 36 percent in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study. In a separate Pew survey released in August, 37 percent of Americans who don’t attend religious services frequently said the reason was they practice their faith in other ways. An additional 23 percent said they simply haven’t found a place of worship that they like.
Seen in this broader context, the Episcopal Church is not alone in facing the “challenge of understanding broad social changes” that are affecting American Christian churches, said the Rev. Michael Barlowe, executive officer of General Convention, whose staff collects the parochial report data.
Declining membership and attendance numbers represent one snapshot of the Episcopal Church, and much can be learned from that data, Barlowe said in an interview with Episcopal News Service.
“We shouldn’t be afraid of that,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we’re doing something wrong.”
Barlowe also doesn’t think those numbers tell the full story of the church’s good work. The Episcopal Church, like other denominations, still emphasizes measurements and funding models established hundreds of years ago, when the Christian church was a more central institution in American society, he said. Today’s church is engaged in ministries that expand its spiritual footprint in ways the parochial reports may miss, such as food pantries or Bible studies in coffee shops.
“We need to grow in every way,” he said.
An important way to grow is by starting new congregations, argues the Rev. Michael Michie, the Episcopal Church’s staff officer for church planting infrastructure. The Episcopal Church has approved more than $8 million to start new congregations and regional ministries from 2013 through 2021. Michie works closely with recipients of those grants to ensure they get the backing they need.
Even the 86 new ministries planted from 2012 to 2017 likely wasn’t aggressive enough, Michie said in a blog post about the parochial report data.
“Just imagine how [the Episcopal Church] would change if we set this as a priority,” he wrote. “It would change the way we look for leaders, educate and train clergy, allocate resources and run dioceses. Decline makes us want to circle the wagons. I’m calling for the church to head ’em up and move ’em out! More than ever, we need pioneers, not settlers.”
New churches also should be planted in the right places, reaching congregations where they live, and with entrepreneurial leaders, Michie wrote.
He also threw out a target of more than 900 new church plants, based on a statistical analysis of what might be required to reverse the Episcopal Church’s decline. Michie, in an interview with Episcopal News Service, said he cited that figure “just to communicate the hill that is ahead of us to climb,” but he also thinks an aggressive approach to church planting would redefine how the Episcopal Church operates.
“The way that would impact and change our church would be terrific. It would supercharge our existing churches,” he said. “If they’re doing this and innovating in this way, we can too.”
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, during his first three years leading the Episcopal Church, has been active in pushing for initiatives that will expand the church’s reach in new ways. He often talks of the church being part of the larger Jesus Movement and recently unveiled the Way of Love, a rule of life to help Episcopalians live into the calling of that movement.
Curry also has led a series of large revivals that serve as the cornerstone of his emphasis on evangelism, seeking to reach new people outside the church with Jesus’ message of love. Racial reconciliation is another top priority of the church under Curry, as detailed in the Becoming Beloved Community framework that was launched last year.
Despite such activity at the churchwide level and the dozens of new church plants, many existing congregations still may not be meeting the spiritual needs of all their parishioners, particularly newer ones.
“We are an old denomination, age-wise, so I think I have a feeling that would be part of what is behind the decline,” the Rev. Jay Sidebotham told Episcopal News Service.
Sidebotham, who serves part time as associate rector at St. James’ Parish in Wilmington, North Carolina, has studied the dynamics at play in congregation vitality through his work leading RenewalWorks, a ministry of Forward Movement. RenewalWorks released a study in January that found more than half of Episcopal congregations can be classified as “restless,” meaning parishioners are hungry for spiritual growth but may not receive the support they are looking for from clergy or church leaders.
They remain active, for now, but “don’t actually expect that much to happen in their own spiritual experience,” Sidebotham said.
For the past five years, RenewalWorks has helped more than 200 Episcopal congregations focus more intently on the spiritual life of their parishioners. Curry’s talk of evangelism and discipleship has helped lead the way, Sidebotham said, and RenewalWorks’ report suggested four catalysts for supporting Episcopalians on their spiritual journeys:
- Engagement with scripture,
- The transforming power of the Eucharist,
- A deeper prayer life, and
- The heart of the congregation’s leader.
“A focus on discipleship is just critical,” Sidebotham said. “That’s job one and that’s what we’re all about.”
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[Episcopal News Service – Honolulu, Hawaii] When the Rev. Bao Moua, the first Hmong woman ordained in the Episcopal Church, presided over the closing Eucharist at the triennial Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries National Consultation, it was a big deal.
“One of my motivations is to encourage young women to go into ministry,” said Moua, following the service in an interview with Episcopal News Service.
In the Asian-cultural context, which she explained is still deeply rooted in patriarchy, women often struggle to hear the call, let alone follow it. By example, said Moua, who serves as a priest associate at Holy Apostles Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, she intends to show young women that they, too, can serve in both ordained and lay leadership roles in the church: “to find the balance in our culture and ourselves to stand alongside men.”
Throughout the EAM consultation, women occupied larger leadership roles, both serving behind the altar and moderating the three panel discussions and leading workshops.
It’s not easy to find Asian women priests, said the Rev. Yein Esther Kim, parish associate at St. Anthanasius Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, California, who despite coming from a family of priests – her father is the Rt. Rev. Paul Geun-Sang Kim, Anglican bishop of the Diocese of Seoul, and former archbishop of the Province of Korea, didn’t always see herself as a priest. She was inspired in 2001 when South Korea began ordaining women and by the examples of the Rt. Rev. Barbara Harris, an African-American priest who was elected the first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion, and the Rt. Rev. Diane Jardine Bruce, bishop suffragan in the Diocese of Los Angeles.
Registration for the Sept. 27-Oct. 1 consultation held at the Ala Moana Hotel topped 267 participants – including 40 American and Canadian teenagers – representing Asians from the United States, Canada, England, South Korea and the Philippines.
“We assembled a cast of great plenary speakers and workshop leaders. We wove the tapestry of a program that combined academic and experiential learning,” said the Rev. Winfred Vergara, the Episcopal Church’s Asiamerica missioner and the consultation’s co-dean, during the Oct. 1 closing Eucharist.
“Our theme: ‘Piko-Celebrate Christ, Community and Creation’ was aptly captured by the youth who performed last night. They said, ‘We came from different places and myriad cultures and many of us met each other for the first time but now we are friends.’ That is what Christianity is all about … real relationships.”
There are some 22 million Asians in the United States, and Asians are its fastest-growing racial group. California has the highest Asian population, 6.8 million; in Hawaii, Asians are the majority at 57.1 percent, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.
Seven consultations make up the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries Council: Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, South Asian, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander. The council operates in partnership with the Episcopal Church’s Office of Asiamerica Ministries.
Asian American or “Asiamerican” describes Asian immigrants in the United States as well as Asian Americans born in the United States – Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Japanese, Southeast Asian (Vietnamese, Laotian, Hmong, Burmese), and South Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan). It also describes the relationship of Asians in the United States with Asian Episcopalians and Asian Anglicans in the global community. Close to two-thirds of the world population identifies as Asian.
The strong youth presence made the consultation one of the best ever, said Bayani Rico, EAM Council president and the consultation’s co-dean. The younger generation speaks to “the pan-Asian experience,” and EAM may add an additional convocation for those Asians who don’t identify with a single ethnicity.
The Episcopal-Asiamerican church is an immigrant church that in reality speaks one language, said Yunjeong Soel, EAM’s digital media consultant. Often times, the second and third generation don’t “speak the language of the mother country” and wonder how they can serve Asian-American ministries. And, realistically, she said, “bilingual services are hard to maintain.” Soel, who was born in South Korea and earned a master’s in divinity from Episcopal Divinity School, also favors adding a broader convocation.
Many people, she said, “identify as interracial… they don’t know if they are in the Korean or Japanese convocation.”
For Asupa Mila, 15, of San Francisco, California, and Lake Randall, 15, of Vancouver, British Columbia, identity doesn’t really matter so much, they said. What they found in serving alongside one another in service to the community made them come together as friends.
Asian identity is something Asiamerican Episcopalians are grappling with on both the east and west coasts. In New York, The Episcopal Asian Supper Table, EAST, invites all people of Asian ancestry to come together, “building a united community by sharing stories, developing spiritually, and lifting up our membership as leaders in the Episcopal Diocese of New York,” according to the diocese’s website. In the Diocese of Lost Angeles, the Asian ministries group is called the Gathering.
Nationally, there’s a push among the EAM leadership to train news leaders in evangelism, church planting and church revitalization. To that end, during the opening Eucharist held at the Cathedral Church of St. Andrew, the EAM network introduced the ANDREWS program and its first group of 70 mentors.
ANDREWS, an acronym for Asiamerica Network of Disciples, Revivalists, Evangelists, Witnesses and Servant Leaders, is a mentoring program of the Asiamerica Ministries Office in partnership with Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry Council and the Thriving in Ministry project of Virginia Theological Seminary.
ANDREWS’ goal is to develop a network of well-trained mentors and disciple-makers from among the EAM ethnic convocations. “Rice and Sing,” an anthology of diverse, Asian-cultural hymns and spiritual songs, as well as in-person training and a virtual classroom are in development.
“Vision and dreams are the language of the Holy Spirit,” said Vergara in his closing sermon. “If we don’t dream, how can our dreams come true?”
EAM convocations will meet separately in 2019 and come together again as a national consultation in 2021. The consultation last met in Seoul, South Korea, in 2015.
-Lynette Wilson is a reporter and managing editor of Episcopal News Service.
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