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Child abuse inquiry begins public hearing into Church of England safeguarding failures

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 1:05pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The statutory inquiry investigating institutional responses to child abuse in England and Wales has begun a public hearing into the Church of England’s Diocese of Chichester. The diocese is being investigated as a case study in the “Anglican Church” strand of the inquiry’s investigation into the Church of England and the Church in Wales. Today, Senior Counsel for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), Fiona Scolding QC, began the hearing by setting out the structures of the Church of England and a history of cases involving the diocese, from the 1950s onwards.

Read the entire article here.

Anglican bishop of Boga, Mugenyi William Bahemuka, predicts a Congolese genocide or civil war

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 1:02pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] In the past month, three new military bases have been established by the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in the Djugu territory of Ituri province, but it has so-far failed to stem the increasing tide of violence. Last week, 33 people were killed in an attack on the village of Maze. The bishop of Bogo, Mugenyi William Bahemuka, has said that it is “difficult to confirm” that the recent violence is an extension of ethnic and tribal conflicts. “Is it a planned insurgency that will turn out to be either a civil war or a genocide?” he asked. “Both are situations no one would like to experience. Once again we need prayer and advocacy for peace.”

Read the entire article here.

Liturgy and Music committee offers church a plan to unscramble its calendar of saints

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 11:56am

The Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music has spent the 206-2018 triennium attempting to bring order to the Episcopal Church’s calendar of commemorations. Photo: Church Publishing Inc.

[Episcopal News Service] The church’s calendar of saints has been in a state of extreme flux for years and the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music is recommending a way for General Convention to remedy what it calls a “situation of great confusion.”

The SCLM’s proposal is contained in its Blue Book report to convention. The subcommittee report on the calendar can be found via the side navigation.

The committee said in its report that it inherited a “situation of great confusion about what the calendar of the church was, and what General Convention wanted the next steps to be.” The Blue Book report outlines that multi-year confusion.

“The SCLM’s first step was to pause, take a breath, and determine a clear narrative for where our calendar has been, what has happened to it over the past 10 years, and what General Convention asked us to do this triennium,” the Rev. Devon Anderson, SCLM chair, told Episcopal News Service.

“In some instances, the SCLM received conflicting directives from General Convention. Our Calendar Subcommittee, chaired by Liza Anderson, charted the calendar’s past course in order to interpret and engage the work we were asked to do this triennium, and propose a clear path forward for next triennium. So, what you will see in the report is clarity. We have graphs!”

The 2015 General Convention sent the SCLM 11 resolutions related to the church’s various lists of saints that it has chosen to remember and honor. Those resolutions, along with feedback from the church, led the committee to decide that it ought to prepare a new edition of Lesser Feasts and Fasts, which would better reflect the diversity of the church, and which could work in conjunction with A Great Cloud of Witnesses, which General Convention voted to “make available” at the last convention but did not authorize.

Efforts have been on-going to create a calendar that reflects the church’s diversity to replace the current list of commemorations that, in the committee’s words, “still skews overwhelmingly clerical, white, and male.” Even the process begun in 2003 that resulted in Holy Women, Holy Men added 100 commemorations, which tended to be white, male clergy.

The SCLM is recommending that convention authorize for optional use its revised version of Lesser Feasts and Fasts, which reflects what it calls “judicious pruning” of names made possible by the idea that A Great Cloud of Witnesses can include some of those names. The report said pruning is needed because convention has been “dramatically increasing the rate at which it adds commemorations, with no signs of slowing down.”

Yet, it said, Episcopalians are concerned about the sheer number of commemorations and their scope, including having multiple choices of people to honor on some days. “Given the inability of the calendar committee to bend space and time in order to create more days in a calendar year, the only solution we see is to keep the commemorations on the main calendar to a manageable number, and to use A Great Cloud of Witnesses to include an even wider scope of individuals,” the SCLM wrote.

The committee also considered the issue of the criteria by which the church decides to include people on the calendar.

“General Convention kicked the calendar back to ‘Lesser Feasts and Fasts,’ which included the criteria for inclusion in “Lesser Feasts and Fasts,” Anderson said. “It also passed a resolution directing SCLM to include former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court (and General Convention deputy) Thurgood Marshall on the calendar, with an emphatic ‘now!’

“But under ‘Lesser Feasts and Fasts’ criteria, Marshall could not be included, as at least two generations have not passed since his death in 1993. Our Calendar Committee struck the difference, placing Marshall, in addition to Pauli Murray and Florence Li Tim-Oi, on the draft calendar in brackets, and submitted a resolution that the brackets be removed and the three become a permanent part of our calendar.”

The committee recommended that convention authorize Lesser Feasts and Fasts for “optional use throughout the church,” noting that the idea of “trial use” does not canonically apply to anything other than revisions of The Book of Common Prayer. A process of “optional use” with the next iteration of the SCLM monitoring feedback will allow for refinements at the 2021 meeting of convention, the SCLM said.

The members added a caveat, saying that while they recognize the sometimes irresistible “temptation to tinker with the calendar on the floor of convention,” they generally believe that “the church will ultimately have the highest-quality document if significant revisions can wait until the church has had the opportunity to test this new volume, and if all of the anticipated necessary revisions can be accomplished organically rather than by a process of individual resolutions and amendments.”

The committee’s proposed revised Lesser Feasts and Fasts can be found here.

ENS’ previous coverage of the SCLM’s proposals on prayer book revision is here.

The SCLM plans to post on its blog a series of essays about the various projects it worked on this triennium, and will host on-line discussions there.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.

Liturgy and Music committee recommends against revising The Hymnal 1982

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 10:53am

The Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music is recommending to the General Convention that it not authorize a revision of The Hymnal 1982. The committee did propose a revised and expanded collection of rites for the pastoral and liturgical needs of congregations. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] While the prospect of revising the Book of Common Prayer looms large over the upcoming General Convention, the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music has also considered a number of other parts of the Episcopal Church’s worship life.

The SCLM’s entire report is posted here. Episcopal News Service has written about the committee’s invitation to the church to consider how to revise the prayer book. And, ENS has written about the committee’s proposed rememdy to what it calls a “situation of great confusion” over the church’s caldendars of saints.

Below is a summary of the rest the SCLM’s work and recommendations.

“I am exceedingly proud of the SCLM’s work this past triennium. Because the projects we received were mostly unfunded, the SCLM chose the scope of our work very carefully,” the Rev. Devon Anderson, SCLM’s chair, told Episcopal News Service. “We were determined to send complete, thoughtful and quality work back to General Convention. But more importantly, we were unified in our desire to serve as faithful stewards of the gift and tradition of our liturgy.

Book of Occasional Services

Convention told the SCLM to continue its multitriennium project of revising the 2003 edition of this collection of optional services and texts that are available for “occasional” pastoral and liturgical needs of congregations. The book includes church-year-specific things such as seasonal blessings, a Christmas Festival of Lessons and Music, and a service for All Hallows’ Eve. The committee has prepared a revision that modernizes “archaic language” and adds new material, some of it at the specific direction of convention, including rites for changing one’s name and honoring God in creation. It also includes the outline of a rite for Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead with the hope that local communities will flesh it out. The entire proposed revision is included in the SCLM’s report and can be found here.

Racial reconciliation

Part of General Convention Resolution A182, which called on the church to address systemic racism, asked the SCLM to produce and post online a set of prayers for racial reconciliation and justice, suitable for inclusion in the Prayers of the People. A subcommittee created four sets of Prayers of the People and a Litany of Repentance and Commissioning for the Ministry of Justice and Reconciliation.

Marriage

The 78th General Convention, meeting in July 2015, changed the canonical language that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman (Resolution A036) and authorized two new marriage rites with language allowing them to be used by same-sex or opposite-sex couples (Resolution A054).

Convention charged the SCLM with monitoring the use of those rites, formally known as Liturgical Resources 1: I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing: Revised and Expanded, 2015. The committee’s churchwide survey on the rites gathered 260 replies, and of those who said they have read or used the rites, just more than 50 percent ranked them as excellent, according to the SCLM’s report to convention.

After reviewing the survey results and discussing possible responses in its report, the SCLM said it thinks the rites “will continue to serve the church well in its current edition and does not recommend a further revision at this time.” It recommended to convention that the rites remain in trial use until the convention initiates a comprehensive revision of the Book of Common Prayer.

Meanwhile, a separate group, the General Convention Task Force on the Study of Marriage, has said its Blue Book report will call for continued trial use of the rites as “additions to the Book of Common Prayer” with three options. The task force will call for amendments to the rites, prefaces, and appropriate sections of the Catechism to make the language gender-neutral (i.e. “the couple”) rather than specific to a man and a woman.

The three options include continuing trial use of the rites amended as the task force recommends, adopting them at the 2021 meeting of General Convention as part of the prayer book or having that meeting of convention take some other action.

Changes to the Book of Common Prayer constitute constitutional changes and, thus, require the approval of two successive meetings of General Convention.

Hymnal revision

The committee said it “declined to act” on Resolution 2015-D060, which directed it to prepare a plan for the comprehensive revision of the Hymnal 1982. The members based their decision on the fact that they found no historical precedent in the Episcopal Church for a hymnal to be revised prior to a revision of The Book of Common Prayer. “The SCLM would like General Convention to make decisions regarding whether or not to revise the 1979 Book of Common Prayer before any further decisions are made regarding revision of the Hymnal 1982,” the members wrote in their report.

The committee also reviewed The Hymnal Revision Feasibility Study produced in 2012 by the Church Pension Group. Close to 13,000 people filled out a lengthy survey on the hymnal and the results, the authors said, showed the centrality of the hymnal to the life of the Episcopal Church. While saying their survey was not a red light to revision, the authors called for “caution before a decision is taken to go full speed ahead.”

And, the SCLM notes, the convention gave it no money to spend on devising a plan for hymnal revision.

Congregational Song Task Force

In a related matter, Resolution 2015-A060 “empowered” the committee’s Congregational Song Task Force to “further the mission of the Episcopal Church by enlivening and invigorating congregational song through the development of a variety of musical resources” and to develop and expand the work begun in the World Music Project.

The committee reported that it has developed a project to collect information from a sample of participants in each province of the church to discern which hymns and songs are being sung in parishes in the Episcopal Church. The committee calls it “a necessary preliminary step in developing further resources for congregational song.” The task force plans to convene a symposium by the end of the 2018-2021 triennium to bring together at least one participant from each province to discuss the functions of the hymns and songs they use, and identify new sources for hymnody.

The committee noted that it was given no money for this work but that it has applied for a $28,050 Constable Grant to fund this project.

Canonical and consitutional changes

The committee said collaborated with the Standing Commission on Governance, Structure, Constitution and Canons to develop what it called “an appropriate constitutional and canonical ‘vessel’ for liturgies, apart from the Book of Common Prayer,” for General Convention to consider.

It said convention has approved liturgies using a “trial use” designation added in 1964 as a way to introduce the church to new liturgical texts outside of the prayer book. However, the committee said, the use of that designation has gone beyond its intention and other monikers have also been created.

The members proposed amending Article X of the church’s constitution and a parallel amendment to Canon II.3.6 to create a system to authorize additional and alternative texts to supplement The Book of Common Prayer.

The constitutional change, which requires the approval of two successive conventions, would add a provision allowing the convention to “authorize for use throughout this church, as provided by canon, alternative and additional liturgies to supplement those provided in the Book of Common Prayer.”

The canonical change would require that whenever the General Convention uses the authority of the amended Article X to authorize alternative or additional liturgies, the enabling resolution must specify the precise texts thereof, and the terms and conditions under which such liturgies may be used.

This new structure would “lend clear canonical status to worship materials already in use by the church as well as those approved in the future and maintain the integrity of theology and ecclesiology of the Book of Common Prayer.”  The change is not intended to preempt or stop Prayer Book revision (link), the committee said. Instead, it said, it will give the church more flexibility in its approach to worship, and the General Convention a more transparent criterion for authorizing such worship.

“We also see it as an exciting opportunity to engage in a discussion of how we are formed by the way in which we worship,” the committee added.

In addition to these projects, the SCLM has also made recommendations on the church’s calendar of saints. ENS coverage of that project is here.

The SCLM is posting on its blog a series of essays about the various projects it worked on this triennium, and will host on-line discussions there. Those essays include one titled “A better way to authorize liturgical texts.”

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.

Newark standing committee chooses four candidates for 11th bishop

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 10:27am

[Episcopal Diocese of Newark] The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Newark on March 5 announced a slate of four candidates who will stand for election as the 11th bishop of Newark at a special convention on May 19.

The candidates are:

The Rev. John Harmon, rector, Trinity Parish, Washington, D.C., Diocese of Washington

 

 

 

The Rev. Carlye Hughes, rector, Trinity Episcopal Church, Fort Worth, Diocese of Fort Worth

 

 

 

The Rev. Lisa Hunt, rector, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Houston, Diocese of Texas

 

 

 

The Rev. Scott Slater, canon to the ordinary, Diocese of Maryland

 

 

 

More information about the candidates is here.

The Bishop Search/Nominating Committee recommended the candidates to the Standing Committee, which approves the slate.

“We believe these individuals possess the skills, qualities, experience and spiritual grounding necessary for the office of bishop, and we are excited to commend them to the Diocese of Newark,” said the Rev. Joseph Harmon, president of the Standing Committee, in a press release. (Note: The Rev. Joseph Harmon and the Rev. John Harmon are not related.)

The Standing Committee also announced on March 5 the opening of a petition process by which nominees may be added to the slate. The process closes at 5 p.m. ET on March 15.

Members of the diocese will have the opportunity to meet the candidates in person at “walkabouts” to be held around the diocese on May 3-6, before the May 19 electing convention.

The new bishop’s ordination and consecration is scheduled for Sept. 22, with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry officiating.

The Episcopal Diocese of Newark comprises the northern third of New Jersey with 98 congregations in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Passaic, Sussex, Warren and Union counties. The Rt. Rev. Mark M. Beckwith has been bishop of Newark since January 2007 and will retire in September.

For all announcements, resources and upcoming events related to the Bishop Search, please visit dioceseofnewark.org/bishop-search.

Du cœur financier de Londres à la cathédrale de Montréal

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 9:35am

Le doyen et recteur Bertrand Olivier. (Présence/François Gloutnay)

Depuis le 8 février, la cathédrale Christ Church de Montréal a un nouveau recteur et le diocèse anglican de Montréal a un nouveau doyen. Le prêtre, dont la candidature a été acceptée au terme d’un long processus de sélection, est arrivé à Montréal deux jours plus tôt. Il n’aura pris que quelques heures pour faire ses bagages car le dimanche 4 février, il célébrait la messe pour la dernière fois à All Hallows by the Tower, la plus vieille église de Londres, une paroisse qu’il animait depuis treize ans.

Celui qui remplacera John Paul Kennington, doyen et recteur depuis 2011 qui a décidé en 2016 de retourner en Angleterre pour des raisons familiales, est donc un Londonien.

Un Londonien d’adoption plutôt. Car Bertrand Olivier, 55 ans, le nouveau doyen du diocèse anglican de Montréal, est né en France, à Dunkerque, a grandi dans une famille catholique et a étudié dans un collège tenu par les maristes.

Anglophile dès son jeune âge, il passait ses étés en Angleterre. En 1986, le jeune professionnel s’est installé à Londres où il travaillait en relations publiques avant de créer sa propre boîte de communications. Dix ans plus tard, Bertrand Olivier était ordonné diacre de l’Église d’Angleterre, puis prêtre en 1997.

Organiste dans une paroisse anglicane

«À 18 ans, la religion, ce n’était pas mon intérêt le plus grand», concède le nouveau recteur, assis dans un banc de la cathédrale Christ Church de Montréal. «Et mon but n’était pas de devenir anglican. Mais ce qui m’a toujours retenu dans l’Église, c’est que je voulais jouer de l’orgue.» À Londres, il devint organiste dans une paroisse anglicane.

«C’est ainsi que j’ai mis le doigt dans l’anglicanisme. Dieu a le sens de l’humour», dit-il.

«J’ai trouvé dans la communauté où j’étais organiste quelque chose qui me rappelait d’où je venais. Cela a été une continuation dans mon cheminement. Mais je ne me doutais pas que j’allais recevoir un appel vocationnel. C’est arrivé dans une cathédrale au nord de Londres. J’ai reçu cet appel qui a bouleversé ma vie», dit-il, levant les yeux vers le ciel.

Il entreprit des études en théologie tout en continuant son emploi, qu’il quittera sans regret. Son diocèse lui confia une première paroisse située dans un quartier défavorisé de Londres. Trois ans plus tard, il s’occupait d’une paroisse qui compte beaucoup de professionnels et de jeunes familles.

Puis ce fut All Hallows by the Tower, l’église aux cotés de la tour de Londres, là où ont été décapités en 1535 Thomas More et John Fischer, tous deux canonisés 400 ans plus tard par le pape Pie XI. C’est une paroisse sans résidents, mais grouillante de monde durant la semaine. On y anime une pastorale pour les gens qui viennent travailler dans la City, le cœur financier de Londres.

Un nouveau défi

«Tout allait très bien à All Hallows by the Tower. J’aurais pu y demeurer jusqu’à la retraite. Mais cela ne me satisfaisait plus.»

C’est dans sa personnalité, reconnaît-il. «Je n’aime pas quand la vie devient trop confortable. Dieu m’appelle à faire des choses qui me mettent au défi, qui me permettent de grandir et de faire fructifier mes talents que je mets au service de tous. Je n’aime pas trop ronronner.»

Et surtout, dit-il, «je voulais réexplorer ma foi… en français».

Il connaissait déjà le précédent recteur et doyen John Paul Kennington. «On a été ordonnés dans le même diocèse. Je savais qu’il était ici et que c’était un job dont il parlait avec beaucoup d’affection.» Mais Montréal n’est pas sur son radar.

Jusqu’au moment où «la petite annonce est apparue sur mon écran». Deux fois plutôt qu’une, durant la même semaine. «Il faut que j’explore cette possibilité», s’est alors dit le vicaire de All Hallows by the Tower, dont la photographie est toujours affichée à la une du site paroissial.

«J’avais envie d’une expérience nord-américaine et d’une Église qui n’est pas majoritaire, qui n’est pas une Église d’État, si on peut dire. Je voulais vivre un ministère d’une manière différente. Je voulais parler français mais je ne voulais pas rentrer en France et perdre mon anglais.»

Au terme de deux longues conservations en ligne puis d’un weekend d’entrevue à Montréal avec le comité de sélection, la candidature du révérend Bertrand Olivier fut acceptée. «Venir à Montréal, c’est un projet qui me permet de faire une intégration d’éléments différents de ma vie et de redécouvrir ma personnalité francophone», se réjouit-il.

L’histoire

Il quitte toutefois une église historique – All Hallows by the Tower a été fondée en l’an 675! – pour une cathédrale, certes, mais âgée de seulement 160 ans.

«Beaucoup de gens sont éblouis par les églises historiques. L’histoire, c’est important, cela attire des visiteurs», reconnaît-il. «Mais ces visiteurs, ce ne sont pas forcément des gens qui viennent redécouvrir leur foi ou qui veulent la vivre. La vraie histoire, c’est celle de Jésus, une histoire qui dure depuis plus longtemps que les églises.»

«Les bâtiments sont là pour nous aider à nous rassembler, à prier», ajoute le 23e recteur de la cathédrale anglicane de Montréal. «Ce sont des tremplins. Ce qui m’intéresse, c’est de pouvoir parler de Dieu et de Jésus avec tous ceux que je rencontre. Et j’espère, de temps en temps, pouvoir transformer une vie. C’est cela qui m’importe aujourd’hui.»

Œcuménisme

Son arrivée étant toute récente, le révérend Bertrand Olivier n’a pas encore rencontré des représentants d’autres Églises chrétiennes de Montréal. Mais il souhaite tisser des liens œcuméniques car il estime que «les Églises sont toujours plus fidèles à la parole du Christ lorsqu’elles travaillent ensemble».

«Dans un monde très sécularisé, il faut rechercher ce qui nous unit, pas ce qui nous sépare», affirme le nouveau recteur.

Le nouveau doyen indique qu’il est «marié avec a same sex partner» – une des rares expressions anglaises qu’il ait utilisé durant cette entrevue qui a duré trente minutes. «Paul – c’est le prénom de son conjoint – viendra me rejoindre mais il est toujours à Londres». Il compte bien participer au débat sur le mariage entre conjoints de même sexe dans l’Église anglicane du Canada. Le diocèse de Montréal, où il œuvrera dorénavant, permet le mariage homosexuel depuis l’an dernier, même si l’Église nationale ne doit officiellement se prononcer qu’en 2019 sur cette question qui divise les diocèses canadiens.

La cérémonie d’installation du nouveau recteur et doyen aura lieu le dimanche 11 mars à la cathédrale Christ Church de Montréal. Elle débutera à 16 h.

Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes names Joseph R. Swimmer as executive director

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 6:38am

[Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes] At the Annual Meeting of the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes in San Antonio, Texas the organization’s Board of Directors announced it has called Joseph R. Swimmer as the Consortium’s new Executive Director. Joe, who currently serves as the Major Gift Officer at Washington National Cathedral, begins this new ministry on April 1, 2018.

“We are thrilled that Joe has accepted our call to lead the Consortium at this exciting time in the organization’s history.” said the Rev. Matthew F. Heyd, incoming President of the Consortium and Rector of the Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York City. “Our Board of Directors unanimously and enthusiastically selected Joe this week after a year-long national search while meeting at our annual conference in San Antonio.”

Joe’s most recent work has been renewing the Washington National Cathedral’s Congregation, while securing funding for earthquake repair. Baptized and formed in the faith in Oklahoma, Joe is an active citizen and leader in the Cherokee Nation. He received his BA magna cum laude from Tufts and his JD from Stanford. His studied for an MA in American Indian History at the University of Tulsa.

After practicing law in San Francisco, Joe spent many years in the corporate world. Eventually, Joe spearheaded fundraising for legal nonprofits in the Bay Area. Joe will be based in Washington, D.C. where he resides with his husband, Tarak Patel. “I am honored and humbled by the Board’s call to lead the Consortium and build on the firm foundation laid over the last almost forty years. Together with the Board of Directors, membership and other stakeholders, we will continue as a resource and catalyst in the ministries of our members.” He added, “We will explore where the Holy Spirit is leading the Consortium in its work of building up the Episcopal Church and doing the work of the Gospel. Our strong position and continuing growth in ministry offer wonderful possibilities in the years ahead as we take this venerable organization into its next dynamic phase.”

Cary Kelly, chair of the Consortium’s Executive Director Search Committee and past President, stated that “The search committee, comprised of Consortium members, designed a diligent and prayerful process to identify a faithful and strategic partner for the board and advocate for our members. She added “over forty applicants from across the Church came forward and we are deeply grateful for their participation. Joe proved himself to be the one to help lead this organization that we love to the next expression of its
mission.”

The Rev. Luke Back, immediate past President of the Consortium and the new Rector of Church of the Holy Spirit in Lake Forest, Illinois noted that Joe will be a partner with the Board of Directors and the Consortium’s whole membership in developing a “strategic narrative” for our next chapter. “Joe’s deep love for the Church, coupled with his passion, strategic sense and collaborative leadership style will serve to build up the Body of Christ by supporting the work of our parishes and seminaries. This is an exciting time for the
Consortium.”

Joe succeeds Cynthia Cannon McWhirter, who has served as the Consortium’s Executive Director since 1999.

The Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes’ mission is to celebrate, inspire and equip its member parishes, seminaries, and other Episcopal institutions for effective leadership, stewardship and transformation in the Church and in the world. For more information, visit the Consortium’s website at www.endowedparishes.org, on Facebook or Twitter @endowedparishes.

Texas church sees ‘the kingdom at work’ in longtime wheelchair ramp outreach

Fri, 03/02/2018 - 2:25pm

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Corpus Christi, Texas, has built 218 wheelchair ramps since 2001 through its outreach ministry Access Plus, now led by Doug Wayland, center with sunglasses on his hat. This ramp was completed in April 2017 for Vicenta Merida, standing right of Wayland. Photo: Doug Wayland

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal congregations have plenty of tools they can add to their outreach toolboxes: canned goods, used clothes, a warm meal, a place to sleep, coins for the laundromat, backpacks for students and sometimes just the patience to listen.

At St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Corpus Christi, Texas, the tools of outreach include actual tools. But no carpentry experience is necessary.

“Anybody who can operate a battery-power screwdriver can help us,” said Doug Wayland, who leads the congregation’s Access Plus outreach ministry.

For 17 years, Access Plus volunteers have gathered at least once a month to build wheelchair ramps for residents in need, and the ministry is still going strong. With 218 ramps completed, Access Plus is increasing the number of projects it takes on this year after receiving $12,000 from a local foundation.

Access Plus assembles its wheelchair ramps in 8-foot sections, with a steel end piece bringing the ramp to ground level. This ramp was completed in September 2014. Photo: Doug Wayland

That money will pay for a lot of ramps, with the typical ramp only costing $150 to $600 in materials. As for who is served, there is no typical ramp recipient. A boy suffering from bone disease and an elderly woman with a walker will both benefit from the improved access and mobility that the ramps provide.

The work reminds Wayland of the passage from Matthew 25 in which Jesus says serving “the least of these who are members of my family” is service to God.

“When we’re doing this, we’re doing this for the Lord,” he said.

St. Mark’s is one of five Episcopal churches in and around Corpus Christi, a city of more than 300,000 people, and each congregation has supplied volunteers for Wayland’s Access Plus team, as have congregations from other Christian denominations. The Rev. John Hardie, rector at St. Mark’s, makes a point to describe the builds as ecumenical events.

Access Plus volunteers work on a wheelchair ramp project in 2013. Photo: Doug Wayland

“There’s just a lot of joy in working together. We take so much pride in having people from other congregations come and work with us,” Hardie said. “It feels like the kingdom at work, in simple, basic ways.”

Outreach has been a major part of St. Mark’s identity since the congregation formed in 1986 as a church plant. One of its founding principles was that 10 percent of annual income would be devoted to outreach. Thirty years later, that now adds up to $35,000 to $45,000 a year invested in Access Plus and the church’s various other ministries.

Hardie became rector in 1999, and the idea for Access Plus developed during a trip to Diocese of West Texas offices in San Antonio with parishioner Dik Johnson, a Navy veteran who had lost the use of his legs due to a spinal defect.

As adept as Johnson was at navigating in his wheelchair, the restaurant where they stopped for lunch and the diocesan offices still were not as accessible as they could have been, Hardie said. Later that day, on the road back to Corpus Christi, they began to talk about Johnson’s experiences.

“I asked Dik, do people here in town need a lot of help with accessibility into their homes?” Hardie said. “Do you think there’s a lot of impoverished people that struggle with that? He looked at me like I had two heads and said, ‘Of course.’”

Out of that conversation, Access Plus was born in 2001.

“It was just a Holy Spirit moment, when both of us felt that God’s asking us to do this,” Hardie said.

They enlisted another parishioner, Jerry Pierce, who was an engineer by trade. He and others at the church had been involved with Habitat for Humanity projects, but they were looking for a new ministry to call their own. Pierce led the design and construction of the wheelchair ramps. Wayland joined the team later that first year.

The “Plus” in the ministry’s name initially was meant to encompass other handyman services, such as painting homes and mowing lawns, but the work of Access Plus never broadened beyond the wheelchair ramps.

“What the ‘Plus’ became, and has become more recently, is just the way we involve more people,” Hardie said.

A Roman Catholic church group, for example, asked to help build one of the ramps to broaden its own outreach ministries. And St. Mark’s team taught a Rotary Club how to make the ramps, and the club now makes about 10 ramps a year, Wayland said.

From the start, the goal for Access Plus has been to construct at least 12 ramps a year, with a team of a half dozen or more volunteers gathering on third Saturdays for their monthly projects. Johnson was a constant presence at the worksites until his death in 2011. He was known for bringing doughnuts around for the volunteers.

“Dik never met a stranger,” Hardie said. “And he had a way of turning people toward service and love. He was a remarkable man.”

Pierce moved to the Houston area after he retired a few years ago, and since then, Wayland has taken the lead. Wayland maintains a list of at least 30 people who are waiting for one of Access Plus’ ramps. As he makes his way through the list, he visits each home to determine what size ramp his team will build.

The rule of thumb is a foot of ramp for every inch of vertical drop. If a resident’s steps are 24 inches high, that will require a 24-foot ramp. An 8-foot section costs about $150, and Wayland’s design also includes a flat section at door level, as well as in the middle of the ramp if the ramp includes turns.

Each inch of vertical drop requires a foot of ramp so the decline isn’t too steep. This ramp was completed in February. Photo: Doug Wayland

Wayland, also retired now at 62, fills up the church’s enclosed trailer with the necessary boards, plywood, screws and galvanized steel (for the ends of the ramps) that he picks up from MG Lumber in Corpus Christi. All of the cutting and assembly happens at the worksite, and even with that labor, most of the projects are completed in a matter of hours.

“We start at 8 o’clock in the morning, and we’re usually always gone at 1 o’clock in the afternoon,” Wayland said.

Smaller ramps take even less time. Access Plus’ project No. 218 was a three-foot ramp that Wayland made by himself Feb. 28 in his garage and installed at the house of a local woman.

“Doug is an energetic servant of the lord,” Hardie said. “If he finds a project that’s not too big, he tries to shoehorn a second one in.”

Access Plus crew members joke around at a worksite in May 2014. Photo: Doug Wayland

The 2017 budget for Access Plus was about $8,000 from the church’s pool of outreach money. This year, Wayland’s team hopes to take on 20 projects with the money it received from the Ed Rachal Foundation.

Every project concludes with a blessing. Hardie said the people receiving the ramps are asked if they belong to a local congregation and have a pastor they wish to invite to say the blessing. It need not be an Episcopal priest, but if no one else is available, the blessing is led by the Rev. Bruce Wilson, who serves as the Access Plus chaplain.

The need for these wheelchair ramps is “enormous,” Hardie said, and since a local TV station aired a news report on the ministry in February, Wayland has added two dozen additional names to his waiting list. “There’s no shortage of people asking for help,” Wayland said.

Among the people Access Plus has helped are a man who lost both legs above the knees, a couple who both use walkers, a Vietnam War veteran who suffered a stroke, a girl struggling with the effects of multiple sclerosis and a child suffering from brain cancer.

He has been amazed by some of the obstacles people in wheelchairs have to clear just to get into their homes. One woman who had lost one of her legs showed him her elaborate routine, which involved pushing her body out of the wheelchair and positioning herself backward and halfway inside the doorway, so she could pull the chair in with her over the step.

A mere 4-inch step may not seem like a challenge to an able-bodied person, Wayland said, but “to some people it is.”

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

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