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Deacon whose ancestors were enslaved by her Baltimore church’s founding rector helps parish face its past

Thu, 09/26/2019 - 6:14pm

The Rev. Natalie Conway, deacon at Memorial Episcopal Church in Baltimore, and Steve Howard, a parishioner, pour holy water into the ground near the slave quarters at the Hampton estate in Towson, Maryland, where Howard’s ancestors held Conway’s ancestors as slaves, on Aug. 18, 2019. Photo courtesy of Memorial Episcopal Church

[Episcopal News Service] Though a number of Episcopal churches have worked to acknowledge and repent for their congregations’ historic involvement with white supremacy or slavery, it’s rarely as personal as it is for the Rev. Natalie Conway and Steve Howard of Memorial Episcopal Church in Baltimore.

Conway, a deacon serving the parish, discovered last year through a family member’s genealogical research that their ancestors were slaves owned by the family of the man who founded the church in 1860, The Baltimore Sun reports.

It got even more personal when she realized that Howard, a parishioner she had known for years, was descended from that slave-owning family.

“My initial reaction was, ‘Why should I stay at a place that enslaved my ancestors?’” Conway told the Sun.

But she did stay, and the result has been a transformative process of reckoning and healing for the mostly white church. Over the past several weeks, the parish has held a series of services and events that have examined its long history of promoting racism – which lasted into the 1960s – and sought to bring the community together in a spirit of atonement and forgiveness.

The Rev. Grey Maggiano, who has made racial reconciliation a priority during his three years as Memorial’s rector, was as surprised as Conway was to learn of the church’s painful history.

“When the truth came to light, the Rev. Conway was shocked. And so were the rest of us,” Maggiano wrote in a letter to the congregation. “Frankly, as a church we did not know what uncovering this historical tie would mean, for Natalie, for Memorial, for any of us. However, we knew it was incumbent on us to share the truth, and prayerfully engage with it.”

That engagement took the form of a pilgrimage to the historic Hampton plantation in Towson, Maryland, a grand estate that was once owned by the family of the Rev. Charles Ridgley Howard, the founding rector of Memorial and a Confederate sympathizer. When Howard was buried there in 1862, there were more than 400 slaves on the property, including the Cromwell family, the Rev. Conway’s ancestors.

More than 50 members of Memorial and the nearby Church of St. Katherine of Alexandria – a primarily African American church established as an alternative to white-only parishes like Memorial, which did not admit black members until 1969, according to the Sun – toured the Howard estate on Aug. 18.

Members of Memorial Episcopal Church and the Church of St. Katherine of Alexandria in Baltimore tour the Hampton estate in Towson, Maryland, on Aug. 18, 2019. Photo courtesy of Memorial Episcopal Church

“We saw the grandeur of the mansion and the beautifully manicured lands. We visited the graveyard where the Rev. Charles Ridgely Howard is buried. We saw paintings of his grandparents and his in-laws. We learned what happened to only some of the enslaved persons held at Hampton. We saw rooms where the Rev. Charles Ridgley Howard and his family might have slept – and in contrast where Deacon Natalie [Conway]’s family might have slept. We saw the chains used to hold people,” Maggiano wrote.

At the end of the tour, standing in a yard next to the slave quarters, the group said prayers, and holy water was consecrated. In a ceremony that Conway helped plan, she and Steve Howard – the parishioner who is descended from the Rev. Charles Ridgley Howard – poured the water into the ground together.

The act represented the “healing and restoration of relationship between two very different families, and a public symbol of who Memorial Church is today,” Maggiano wrote.

Howard told the Sun he always knew that he was descended from slave owners but had previously “kept it at an intellectual level,” and examining that history more closely felt like “a punch in the gut.” But he and other congregants said it’s also been illuminating and necessary.

“This has been a giant step forward,” he said.

During a later Sunday service, Conway and Howard led a “litany of reconciliation” in which the parish prayed for forgiveness for the sins of slavery and racism. The church posted a public apology to the families who were enslaved by its rectors. And on Sept. 15, it hosted a community conversation on the legacy of slavery in Maryland, inspired by The New York Times’ 1619 Project.

Similar efforts to recognize and heal from the history of slavery have taken place recently among Episcopal churches in the region, like a pilgrimage across Virginia’s “Slavery Trail of Tears” in August, Virginia Theological Seminary’s establishment of a slavery reparations fund and an upcoming pilgrimage to Jamestown, Virginia, where the first person of African ancestry born in the 13 British colonies was baptized. In June, the Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, bishop of the Diocese of Maryland, testified in support of a slavery reparations bill in a congressional hearing.

Memorial’s clergy and congregants will continue to have conversations about the church’s history; Maggiano told the parish that the pilgrimage to the Hampton estate was only “the beginning of something new.”

“Our church acknowledges our collective sin of slavery, and continues to work toward reconciliation through crafting new relationships, restoring things profaned, and hopefully coming back into right relationship with God as well,” he wrote.

“It’s not about shaming or blaming anyone for the past,” Conway told the Sun. “It’s about telling the truth. My ancestors and this church are one, and that story needs to be told.”

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

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Priest accused of child pornography possession will remain in jail

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 4:52pm

[Episcopal News Service] A Diocese of Western Massachusetts priest who was arrested and charged with possessing child pornography earlier this month will remain in jail as his case works its way through the federal court system.

The Rev. Gregory Lisby. Photo: Diocese of Western Massachusetts

The Rev. Gregory Lisby, appearing in a Worcester, Massachusetts, courtroom on Sept. 25, waived his right to a preliminary hearing and did not seek to be released from prison. Lisby has not yet entered a plea in the case.

For full ENS, coverage, click here.

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Faith-based organizations ‘raise ambition’ on climate emergency after UN summit

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 1:39pm

On Sept. 24 Presiding Bishop Michael Curry added his signature to a joint statement between The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church of Sweden outlining the churches’ “call to join in the care of creation.” Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] In April, the world lost a 700-year-old glacier to climate change. Oceans are warming, oxygen levels are declining as ocean acidity rises and fish are dying. At the same time, sea levels are rising and island nations are poised to disappear.

It’s alarming evidence of the climate emergency threatening all of Earth’s inhabitants.

On Sept. 24, faith-based organizations held a daylong interfaith event to address that emergency, meeting at The Salvation Army in New York’s midtown Manhattan, a half mile from United Nations headquarters and a day after world leaders met in a climate summit to discuss plans to meet the objectives laid out in the Paris agreement.

“What’s happening all over our city, all over New York right now, really all over the world, people are talking about movement,” said the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, canon to the presiding bishop for evangelism, reconciliation and creation in The Episcopal Church, during a noontime Eucharist held at the Episcopal Church Center’s Chapel of Christ the Lord.

“You’ve been talking about a movement, many of you, you’ve been stirring movement, you’ve been praying for movement. At least in The Episcopal Church, we also talk a lot about movement. In particular, we’ve been talking about a Jesus movement. We even call ourselves the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement. And we say that together, we are a community of people who are following Jesus, follow Jesus into loving, liberating and life-giving relationships with God with each other, and with the whole of creation.”

The Rev. Stephanie Spellers, canon to the presiding bishop for evangelism, reconciliation and creation in The Episcopal Church, looks on during a Sept. 24 interfaith climate emergency event held at The Salvation Army in midtown Manhattan. Photo: Simon Chambers/ACT Alliance

Spellers pointed to the day’s Gospel reading, Matthew 11:25-30, suggesting that in that reading, Jesus is giving “loving advice” on how to lead a movement.

“I would invite you to even just imagine together that as we engage in a climate movement that is a part of the Jesus movement, that creation care and climate justice, for us, is not only about burden and negation, but instead about tapping into the true source, an invitation to abundance and living more like Jesus,” she said.

Episcopalians, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, United Methodists, Muslims, Buddhists and Baha’i representing some 48 organizations came together to strategize ways faith-based organizations can address climate change by filling the gaps left by governments as related to climate change and adaptation to its effects.

The event included breakout sessions to address justice, loss and damage, migration and emergency declarations as related to climate change.

The Episcopal Church has a long history of support for the environment and climate action.

“Episcopalians are members of a transnational union: We can stand up for our brothers and sisters, be they in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico or our Anglican brothers and sisters across seas, and we are one with them,” said the Rev. Melanie Mullen, The Episcopal Church’s director of reconciliation, justice and creation care. “[We can use our influence] to speak to bodies of power, to talk about their burdens and where they’re vulnerable, and hold our power and our privilege and use it well for those who are most vulnerable because they’re one of us in the part of our family.”

 Speaking truth to power, however, is not reserved just for the church’s leadership; Episcopalians across the church have indicated they care for the environment through letter writing and other local campaigns aimed at calling attention to climate change and prioritizing care for creation.

“Episcopalians by far care about climate because of their faith in Jesus. [It’s] not just ancillary,” said Mullen. “And we care about people who are vulnerable. And we care about the world because of our interpretation, the Bible and of the way we read the Book of Common Prayer.”

Episcopalians, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, United Methodists, Muslims, Buddhists and Baha’i and others came together on Sept. 24 to strategize ways faith-based organizations can address climate change by filling the gaps left by governments related to climate change and adaptation to its effects. Photo: Simon Chambers/ACT Alliance

The U.N. secretary general convened a climate summit on Sept. 23, a day before the first high-level debates of the 74th session of the General Assembly meeting in New York through Sept. 30.

The 2015 Paris agreement committed states to restricting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The agreement marked the first time nations came together under common cause to arrest climate change and adapt to its effects.

“This summit was designed from the beginning to be a moment of especially governments announcing their plans to ramp up their ambition to achieve their zero carbon objectives that they have set for themselves with the Paris Agreement,” said Lynnaia Main, The Episcopal Church’s representative to the United Nations. “But most governments are not meeting their targets. …. At the current target, we are well above 2 degrees. And the science, scientists agree that two degrees itself is not where we actually want to or need to be. We should be at 1.5.”

An October 2018 report release by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change further raised the alarm at the international level.

“The report said we basically have 12 years to get this right before we reach the tipping point,” said Main. “Since that report came out, the level of urgency and alarm has risen dramatically within the U.N. And as a result of that report and the realization that governments aren’t meeting their targets, the secretary general decided to hold this climate action summit to encourage governments to ramp up their ambition, so that we can try and achieve these targets.”

The Anglican Church of Canada’s National Indigenous Archbishop Mark MacDonald pointed to interfaith efforts to protect the Arctic from oil drilling as a victory for faith-based environmental advocacy during a Sept. 24 interfaith gathering in New York. MacDonald also serves as the World Council of Churches president for North America. Photo: Simon Chambers/ACT Alliance

The action that resonated worldwide, however, occurred on Sept. 20, when more than 4 million people in more than 160 countries took to the streets in a strike climate demonstration.

The climate strike built on the momentum of youth-led school walkouts inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who led the strike in New York and addressed the U.N. delegates on Sept. 23.

“The eyes of all future generations are upon you,” said Thunberg, criticizing world leaders for their “business as usual” approach to addressing climate change. “If you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you.”

Two of the New York climate strike youth organizers spoke during the Sept. 24 interfaith event at The Salvation Army.

“World leaders are not getting it, elected officials are not getting it,” said Olivia Wohlgemuth, a 17-year-old climate activist from Brooklyn. “There are world leaders, when they speak, they talk about really progressive actions … but they don’t act.”

Wohlgemuth and Xiye Bastida, who also addressed the interfaith gathering, said the youth intentionally made the strike an intergenerational event recognizing that adults have the power to vote and have access to power in a way that youth do not. It was something Presiding Bishop Michael Curry acknowledged later that day when he suggested church leaders and church officials who are used to leading, this time are following the youth.

“We lead we’re used to we’re used to that, and this is one time when we are following,” said Curry. “We are following the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are following the God who is the author of creation and whose world this is.

“But in this particular moment, we are following our children, who have called us to account for caring for God’s world, because the inheritance that is theirs will not be there in the fullness that it needs to be there. And we are being called to account, and so now, the churches are following the children. And that is maybe the way we find ourselves stumbling into God’s future and changing it.”

Later in the evening on Sept. 24 before a reception held in his private residence, Curry added his signature to a joint statement between The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church of Sweden outlining the churches’ “call to join in the care of creation.”

“As we observe the Season of Creation, we renew the call for our churches to work together for the sake of Earth and to build collaborations wherever possible, both with other communities of faith and with diverse agents in our civil society. Now is the time for science, politics, business, culture and religion – everything that is an expression of human dignity – to address together this critical issue for our time,” read the statement.

The statement served as testament to a relationship established between the three churches; one that has carried on even as the leadership has changed.

“Climate change is a pressing critical issue for the future, and the present world,” said the Rev. Stephanie Johnson, who chairs The Episcopal Church’s Task Force on Creation Care & Environmental Racism, following the signing. “And that regardless of how we move forward in politics, that the church itself will continue being the prophetic voice to change the world and be part of God’s creation.”

 -Lynette Wilson is a reporter and managing editor of Episcopal News Service.

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Bishop of the Bahamas calls hurricane a ‘national tragedy’

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 10:51am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The impact of Hurricane Dorian on the Bahamas has been worse than imagined, according to the Bishop of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, Laish Boyd.

In a pastoral letter about how his diocese had been affected, he said: “This is a national tragedy which grieves and devastates all of us… The damage has been catastrophic. The human impact has been heart-breaking. The relationship between people and the sea in the Bahamas is intimate. Many people make their living from fishing. This hurricane has seen a friend become an enemy.”

Read the full article here.

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Bishops meet with federal lawmakers to advocate for Episcopal Migration Ministries, refugees

Tue, 09/24/2019 - 6:20pm

Maine Bishop Thomas Brown, from left, West Virginia Bishop Mike Klusmeyer, Northern Indiana Bishop Douglas Sparks and Rio Grande Bishop Michael Hunn gather Sept. 24 in Washington for a series of Capitol Hill meetings with lawmakers about the federal refugee resettlement program. Lexington Bishop Mark Van Koevering, not pictured, also joined them. Photo: Office of Government Relations

[Episcopal News Service] Five Episcopal bishops traveled to Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 24 for meetings with senators and representatives from their dioceses to advocate for preserving the U.S. government’s refugee resettlement program at a time when the Trump administration is considering cutting the program further.

The bishops represent a diverse group of dioceses. Rio Grande Bishop Michael Hunn’s diocese touches 40 percent of the U.S. border with Mexico, and the group also included Maine Bishop Thomas Brown, West Virginia Bishop Mike Klusmeyer, Northern Indiana Bishop Douglas Sparks and Bishop Mark Van Koevering from the Diocese of Lexington in Kentucky.

They were accompanied by staff members from The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations, which organized the visits. They met with both Republicans and Democrats. And their appeals carried the weight of the church’s decades of experience resettling refugees in the United States through Episcopal Migration Ministries, or EMM.

“This is certainly not a partisan issue, from my standpoint,” Hunn told Episcopal News Service after concluding his meetings. “It’s a moral issue of how we care for the stranger among us.”

Thank you @RepDebHaaland for meeting with Bishop Michael Hunn from the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande on the critical need for refugee resettlement! #EpiscopalAdvocacy pic.twitter.com/yuyK7M2QuJ

— The EPPN (@TheEPPN) September 24, 2019

Hunn, whose diocese encompasses New Mexico and the westernmost region of Texas, met personally with New Mexico Reps. Deb Haaland and and Xochitl Torres Small, both Democrats, and with someone from the office of Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican. Sparks told ENS he met with Indiana’s two senators, Mike Braun and Todd Young, both Republicans, as well as three representatives from districts in his diocese.

“This is where God’s called me to be,” Sparks said after the meetings. “And anything I can do to support them to address this important program of resettling refugees I stand ready to do so.”

This morning Bishop Doug Sparks of @EDofNIN connected with @SenatorBraun and @SenToddYoung on Capitol Hill to discuss advocating for refugees and refugee resettlement #EpiscopalAdvocacy pic.twitter.com/68F0j2mwhN

— The EPPN (@TheEPPN) September 24, 2019

EMM is one of nine agencies with contracts with the U.S. State Department to resettle refugees fleeing war, persecution and other hardships in their home countries. The Episcopal agency has resettled more than 95,000 refugees since the 1980s, providing a range of services for these families upon their arrival in the United States, including English language and cultural orientation classes, employment services, school enrollment and initial assistance with housing and transportation.

The number of refugees allowed into the United States each year is based on a ceiling set each year by the president’s administration. Under President Barack Obama, that ceiling rose as high as 110,000 in the 2017 fiscal year, but President Donald Trump’s administration has reduced the number to just 30,000 for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, 2019.

The administration has not yet announced a new refugee resettlement ceiling, but reports have suggested Trump and his advisers are considering sharper cuts – possibly even dropping the cap on refugees to zero.

EMM once oversaw 31 resettlement affiliates in 26 dioceses, but now that number is down to 13 affiliates in 11 dioceses. The ongoing uncertainty over future resettlement levels poses additional challenges for EMM and the other eight agencies.

“At a time when refugee admissions to the United States are under constant threat, it is more important than ever that we raise our collective voices and advocate for a robust resettlement program,” said Kendall Martin, EMM’s communications manager, in an email to ENS. “The Episcopal bishops advocating for the refugee admissions program honor the rich legacy of Episcopal Migration Ministries and provide a critical witness by living our mandate delivered by Jesus himself to ‘welcome the stranger.’”

Thank you @RepCarolMiller for meeting with Bishop Klusmeyer of the Diocese of West Virginia and Canon C.K. Robertson today! pic.twitter.com/0Wy0ZP93Yb

— The EPPN (@TheEPPN) September 24, 2019

The five bishops in Washington to advocate for EMM and the refugee resettlement program gathered in the morning for a briefing, in which Office of Government Relations staff members outlined talking points that invoked church policy positions as determined by General Convention resolutions. The bishops also received biographical information about the lawmakers they were meeting.

For some, this was their first time taking The Episcopal Church’s advocacy directly to federal lawmakers, though Brown said he has some experience doing the same at the state level.

“One of the things that’s true in smaller states is that the people that serve in public policy, whether it’s at the statehouse or in Washington, are a little more accessible,” Brown said. He met earlier in the day with Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, and Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat. After speaking with ENS, he planned to meet with Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat.

Brown identified two main topics he and the other bishops sought to discuss with the lawmakers: EMM’s long history of facilitating the refugee resettlement program and the church’s concerns about the cuts in the number of refugees allowed in the country.

He and the other bishops stressed that there is bipartisan support for refugee resettlement, and Brown praised the work of the Office of Government Relations to elevate such issues in the eyes of lawmakers.

“The Office of Government Relations has done such a beautiful job of preparing us,” Brown said. “I’m so impressed with the care that this office is doing to tell the story of faith to our policy makers.”

The day’s Capitol Hill visits come seven months after the office worked in February with another group of bishops, representing Bishops United Against Gun Violence, in scheduling a series of Capitol Hill visits in support of gun safety legislation.

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

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After theft of historic bell, South Dakota congregation grateful for replacement from closed church

Tue, 09/24/2019 - 4:42pm

Utility workers help lower the bell from Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Gregory, South Dakota, so it can be transferred to Norris, where St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s bell was stolen in January 2018. Photo: Rosebud Indian Mission

[Episcopal News Service] The theft of a century-old church bell has been a disheartening blow to the congregation at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church just north of Norris, South Dakota. The bell, a beloved fixture of the local community, was discovered missing in early January 2018, and it has never been found or returned.

Another South Dakota congregation, about 100 miles to the east, has been struggling with a different kind of loss: the closure of its church. The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Gregory, South Dakota, shut its doors for good on Christmas Day 2018, and church leaders began offering furnishings from the Church of the Incarnation to other churches in the region.

Among those furnishings: a bell, hanging more than 25 feet up in the church’s steeple.

The two churches are both part of the Rosebud Indian Mission, which ministers to a region that includes the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Now, church leaders and worshipers from across the Rosebud Episcopal Mission are celebrating the gift of Incarnation’s old bell to the congregation in Norris, where it will become a next-best-case replacement for St. Paul’s stolen bell.

“The bell hasn’t been rung in about 10 years,” the Rev. Annie Henninger said in a blog post. She serves the congregations on the Rosebud Indian Mission’s eastern half. “I’m really sad to see the church close, but it is so good to have parts from the church go elsewhere.”

The Rev. Lauren Stanley, who is assigned to the mission’s western congregations, including St. Paul’s, traveled with members of that congregation to Gregory on Sept. 20 to claim the bell. Given its high perch and substantial weight, they received assistance from utility workers from Rosebud Electric Cooperative. The workers removed the bell from the steeple and lowered it into the back of Stanley’s pickup truck.

“I am so impressed by everyone who came out today,” Stanley said in the mission’s blog post, which noted that this bell is cast steel, as opposed to the stolen bell’s iron and brass. “It won’t be the same bell, or even the same bell tone … but it will ring all the same, and I’m confident it will bring joy to all the ancestors.”

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church just north of Norris, South Dakota, was founded in 1890, and its bell could be nearly as old. Decades ago it was used to summon worshipers to St. Paul’s for the monthly service and a community gathering, which would stretch over multiple days. Photo: Lauren Stanley, via Facebook.

St. Paul’s was founded in 1890, and the bell was thought to be nearly as old. Decades ago, it was used to summon worshipers for the congregation’s monthly services, and it rang to notify local residents of major news. The thieves who took the bell also toppled the small wooden tower that housed it next to the small church building, located on tribal land just outside the boundaries of the Rosebud Indian Reservation.

Stanley tried publicizing the theft to generate information that might lead to the bell’s discovery, and the congregation offered forgiveness to whoever took it, asking for its prompt return. No one came forward.

Instead, the congregation at St. Paul’s is thankful for the opportunity to receive Incarnation’s bell, which Stanley said is larger and heavier than the old bell. A new tower will be built to house the transferred bell at a nearby mission chapel in Norris. The bell is in storage in the community of Mission until the tower is ready.

Stanley added that her goal is to have it in place in time for a memorial in November for an elder, Emmaline Eagle Bear, who died late last year.

“I want Emmaline and all the ancestors to hear this new bell ringing all the way to heaven,” she said in the mission’s blog post.

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

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Priest takes the Gospel to the streets of rural Ontario

Tue, 09/24/2019 - 2:42pm

“They bring the agenda to the table, not me; I’m just a presence,” the Rev. Stephen Martin says. “Ninety-five per cent of the time, when conversations come about faith and faith issues, they bring it up—not me.” Photo: Contributed via Anglican Journal

[Anglican Journal] A priest in the Anglican Church of Canada is reaching out to the unchurched by giving services from the back of his SUV in the parking lots of southern Ontario.

Since June 2018, the Rev. Stephen Martin, part-time incumbent of St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, Stratford, and missioner for the Diocese of Huron, has been delivering Church on the Street — a program intended to bring church to people where they are. Twice a week, Martin hits the road and visits communities across the diocese in his specially equipped Ford Explorer — a sort of mobile chapel. He pulls into roadside coffee shops and makes his presence known, talking with anyone who wants to about God — or about anything at all — and even performing services.

“I carry my communion stuff with me,” he says. “I can actually put a table into my trailer hitch so I can sit back and make it what we call ‘tailgate church.’”

He also sometimes refers to it as “St. Timothy’s of Hortons.”

Read the full article here.

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‘God’s bringing us into wholeness’: LGBTQ Episcopalians who witnessed the Stonewall uprising share their stories

Mon, 09/23/2019 - 4:20pm

The Stonewall Inn on Pride weekend in 2016, the day after President Barack Obama designated it the Stonewall National Monument. Photo: Rhododendrites via Creative Commons

[Episcopal News Service] In the summer of 1969, homosexuality was still classified as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association, sodomy was a felony in 49 states, there had never been an openly queer elected official in the United States and there were divisions in The Episcopal Church about whether homosexuality was sinful.

Fifty years later, same-sex marriage is legal across the country, queer politicians serve in both houses of Congress, a gay man is running for president and The Episcopal Church has gay and lesbian bishops. The radical shift in American society’s acceptance of queer people started with a jolt on June 28, 1969, when patrons at the Stonewall Inn, a queer bar in New York’s Greenwich Village, rioted in response to a police raid. At the time, these raids were common; the city was determined to shut down the bars and simply serving alcohol to homosexuals was prohibited.

The Stonewall Inn in 1969. Photo: Diana Davies via New York Public Library

Although The Episcopal Church has long been a champion of LGBTQ rights and many in the church during the 1960s were ahead of their time in accepting homosexuality, the church did not explicitly express support for gay people until 1976 and did not ordain openly gay people until 1994.

In light of the 50th anniversary of the riots this summer, the Episcopal News Service spoke to three queer Episcopalians who witnessed the Stonewall uprising and asked them what it was like, how things have changed and how it affected their faith.

The Rev. John Moody, now 93, was a priest at Trinity Church Wall Street, running a popular arts programming series, at the time of the riots. Frank Tedeschi, now 74, was a graduate student at Columbia University attending the Church of St. Luke in the Fields, two blocks from Stonewall, and later had a career in The Episcopal Church’s Office of Communication and Church Publishing, Inc. Phyllis Jenkins, now 89, was a psychiatric nurse practitioner teaching at Lehman College who attended St. Luke’s later in life and has lived in the same apartment in Greenwich Village for 60 years.

These interviews have been condensed for clarity and concision.

Had you been to Stonewall before the riots?

Phyllis Jenkins in the early 1970s. Photo courtesy of Phyllis Jenkins

Phyllis Jenkins: I didn’t hang out in Stonewall because it was a boys’ bar (laughs). And they had girls’ bars! But I was known there, yeah.

John Moody: I’d been to Stonewall, but not often. It wasn’t a bar I went to. It was a younger group. When I moved to the city, I was 44 already.

Frank Tedeschi: I was not there the first night of the riots. I was there two nights before. I was in the Stonewall with a friend whom I knew from graduate school, Arnold Willens. … We knew, and I think my friend Arnold maybe even said, you know, we’ve got to be careful we don’t get raided, something like that. I remember coming up from Grand Street three nights later and somebody said, “They raided the Stonewall last night.”

Had you experienced raids before?

PJ: Oh, yeah. Sure. I remember, there was a bar – I think it was on Eighth Street, I think its name was Mary’s. And there used to be dancing in there. And [when the police came] they’d flash the lights and then you’d change partners; you would choose an opposite-sex partner. For some reason, they went after mostly the boys. They’d give women a warning sort of thing, and off you would go, if you kept your mouth shut. There was an unwritten rule that you had to have on two or three pieces of clothing that identified with your birth sex – you couldn’t be in drag, in other words, in a bar. I most frequently wore – back in those days I was wearing men’s clothes. Not just tailored clothes, but men’s clothes. So yeah, I would get hassled about that.

What was your experience at Stonewall like?

PJ: I went out from home to pick up a Times. And as I approached Christopher Street, I saw a, for lack of a better word, melee. And I am not keen on crowds, but I circulated around the edges. And when I found out what was happening, then I joined. I didn’t stay too long because it was after midnight, and I had to work the next day.

The Rev. John Moody in the early 1970s. Photo courtesy of Trinity Church Wall Street

JM: That night, I was getting off a bus in Greenwich Village. I was out on Fire Island and came in on Saturday night because I had Sunday duty. And I looked up – it was only about a half a block from Stonewall. I looked up the street and the lights were all on there, so I knew something was going on. And it was only after, the next day, that I found out what was happening. I went over there several times during the next couple of weeks when there were demonstrations every night. Different groups would have occasions to protest, and so I went up and would talk to people. You would talk about the situation in gay bars, how people felt about their own freedom to go there without police interference. Once it was over, the couple of weeks and riots and whatnot, that kind of a reaction by the police – going into a bar and checking ages and stuff like that – that was called off. So, the atmosphere was much more relaxed.

FT: There was a sense of illicit-ness, outside-the-norm experience, if not behavior, to be in a place like Stonewall. Because everybody, I realize now as I look back, was – whether he or she realized it or not – had an alert mechanism there. What to do if the cops come or whatever. Just up the street … there was a bar, I think it may have been called the Hornet or something like that. And it was, and still is, a very long room, long and narrow. My friend took me there as well. He pointed me to the back. He said, “Let’s go look at this.” And there was a trellis, and it was dark, and we walked back. And it was full of men… They were – the music was quiet and slow and they were dancing, cheek to cheek, as partners. And I can remember that to this day. And this was just up the street from Stonewall. And I don’t think they were ever raided because I think Stonewall paved the way. But just seeing same-sex couples dancing romantically was an eye-opener for me. And I’m telling you this because that experience is just as emblazoned on my memory as Stonewall. But when we were there, we all had our alert mechanisms on. Don’t have your back to the door.

Did you realize it was a historic moment at the time?

JM: Oh, I think afterward. But yes, you did realize it was a historic moment. Because the police were confronted. And it wasn’t long after that the mayor decided that they would not do that anymore.

PJ: Yes, I did. I didn’t know how big, but I knew that we were making history. I did know that.

FT: Oh, no, not at all. That’s one thing I have reflected upon in this anniversary year. I said to myself, “Jeez, who’d have thunk?”

Were you out then?

JM: I was not what you would call “out.” My boss knew I was gay, but there was no connection with the church as such. Soon after that there was Integrity, which started to meet over at St. Luke’s Church on Hudson. So, I wouldn’t say that I was out, no. I mean, I would go to bars; I wanted to meet people. I wanted to do something about my own sexuality. … I realized celibacy was not a calling for me. And I wanted to, if I could, I wanted to meet someone. And in those days, the way you met someone was at a bar. I didn’t feel as though it would be appropriate to come out at that time because the separation of sexuality and the church – and particularly priesthood – was so officially separate at that time, that I didn’t feel as though that would be appropriate. By the grace of God, somehow I felt alright about being gay, and by that I mean my own spiritual realization was such that this was who I was. So, the church was not supportive at that time. Spiritually I felt all right with it. I remember being at a bar once and a young man asking me what I did. I said I was a priest. And he said, “Well, how can you possibly be here?” I said, “Well, what is that really saying about sexuality? If I didn’t feel all right about being here, I wouldn’t be here.” But there was such a feeling of cultural oppression in that time, that people felt very bad about themselves that they were gay.

PJ: Uh… 99.5 percent (laughs). Yeah. I felt that I did not like to discuss my sexuality with people – to be accepted. You know, I didn’t go around asking people what they did and they shouldn’t go around asking me what I did. But yeah, I was never one to hide, but I was never one to throw it in your face either. Especially after I started going back to school. My livelihood depended on the establishment.

FT: Yes and no and no and yes. It’s what one chooses. Everyone was welcome at St. Luke’s, and I know other churches as well. But sexuality wasn’t talked about. Certainly not homiletically. Now, of course, it’s quite a different story.

Did your experience witnessing the start of the gay liberation movement impact your faith at all?

JM: Oh, absolutely. Oh sure. Yeah. By the grace of God, I believe God wanted to bring me into wholeness with the person I am and the person He loves. And that fed right into and was really strengthened by the gay liberation movement. But the gay liberation movement so often was angry at the church. Angry at their own self division. And I think it’s the healing of that, in God’s bringing us into wholeness, that will enable us to work for the kind of justice in the world that Jesus calls us to.

PJ: It probably did. I didn’t think of it at that time, but it probably did because I became more aware of other faiths, for one thing. By the time I got to be a preteen, I was annoyed with church in general, religion in general. There was no place for women, blacks or whatever. And my belief faltered, so I just stopped going. And that lasted for 44 years. But I wanted to get my first great-grandchild baptized. … St. Luke’s was around the corner. And I’d been in the church a little, but I went in one day on my way home from work. That was 33 years ago. It’s an easy place to get involved and I like what their mission is. I like what they do.

FT: Back then, my own faith journey and experience of Sunday morning was kind of a different chapter, separate. And I think in my own psychospiritual development over the past half-century, I’m a much more integrated person than I was and so many other young gay men my age were in those days. We were in our 20s. I was 24 at the raid and I’m now 74. … But I realized that, you know, gay men my age, at that time, we’re accustomed to being below the radar, keeping our heads down, if you will. …  I look back and realize that if you’re used to being in the shadows, or subject to name-calling or persecution, you kept a low profile. When those courageous groups of people “…, hell no,” I realize now through the lens of history and of my own life is they were pioneers, they were indeed role models. They said no, no more. And again, from this distance, a half-century later, I respect them for that and I thank them for it.

Has the church overcome its hostility toward the LGBTQ community?

JM: I don’t think it has everywhere. I think in, for instance, my own parish, Trinity Wall Street, yes. I think they’ve overcome that. But whether all the membership has or not, I don’t know. I don’t think so. I think officially, it has overcome it. There are gay and lesbian married priests. And they seem to be accepted. But whether people themselves accept gayness, I’m not sure.

PJ: I think the Diocese of New York has, to a large extent, but not all dioceses are the same. And our diocese is not the same all the way through. But of all of the organized religions, the mainstream religions I know of, I think that The Episcopal Church has the best stance. Publicly, at least, anyway.

FT: Well, you use words like “the church” – what was I reading about the bishop of Albany and other bishops and other congregations who say “no, this is not OK.” … There’s still dissent, there’s still disagreement. And I think we would be shortsighted if we did not admit and acknowledge that.

Should the church be doing more to affirm and protect queer people?

JM: Well, I’d like to see the church really live its inclusivity, where there are no others, we are all one in God! And we as Christians need to share this with all the great leaders and mystical believers in all the major faiths. And the more we’re able to do that, the more I think we see the power of Jesus at work in the world. And I think our presiding bishop is doing that in his gospel of Love. That’s what it’s about!

FT: I think the church has been very good witness for the past 20 years and more. But if we were to do anything more, or in addition, it would be, I think, educationally. … I guess maybe what I mean by education is if there can be more and more opportunity for dialogue.

Is there a particular social issue experiencing a turning point today that you think is analogous to the Stonewall uprising?

JM: Oh, I think so. I think we’re finally realizing the depth and breadth and scope of racial prejudice, because of our history of slavery. This is the kind of turning point for that, I think. … I think we have a lot of digging to do on that one.

PJ: No, not really. The last time I really felt a huge involvement was during the plague – during the AIDS epidemic. I worked with people living with HIV and that was the last time I felt that there was that much involvement by more than a small group of people.

PJ: I believe in youth, I believe the youth will be our savior. And we need to concentrate on doing what we can with and for them. And so anything that focuses on young people, I’m for it – particularly young people of color and gay or both.

FT: No, other than the fact that the acknowledgment of same-sex relationships, including matrimony, is not shrinking. It’s doing exactly the opposite. It’s growing. And it’s bearing witness, and it’s causing great joy – and increasing discomfort among those who don’t agree with it.

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

The post ‘God’s bringing us into wholeness’: LGBTQ Episcopalians who witnessed the Stonewall uprising share their stories appeared first on Episcopal News Service.

Rabbi guides Christian leaders on mission to study Jewish history, destruction in Poland

Mon, 09/23/2019 - 3:22pm

Rabbi Yehiel Poupko leads the Christian Mission to Poland through Auschwitz on the second to the last day of the mission. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] The dead are buried in books.

At Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in Poland that came to symbolize the Holocaust, the Book of Names memorializes 4.2 million known victims in oversized books displayed in Block 27, a red-brick former barrack, as part of a permanent exhibit honoring the dead.

All told, the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews and untold millions of Soviet prisoners of war and Soviet citizens, Roma, Polish resisters and non-Jewish Poles, Serbs, German political prisoners and resistance activists, disabled people, homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses before World War II’s end in September 1945.

“If you cannot bring someone to a proper burial, you bury them in a book,” said Rabbi Yehiel Poupko. Here, Poupko searches The Book of Names and finds 800 Poupkos listed. The 6 ½ foot-high Book of Names memorializes 4.2 million known Jewish victims of the Holocaust and is part of a permanent exhibit at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The state museum and memorial opened on the site of the former death camps in 1947. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

“Not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims,” said Rabbi Yehiel Poupko, a rabbinic scholar at the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. “The act of coming here is an act of honor and respect. To forget is to erase memory … whoever remembers is fighting against erasure.”

In August, Poupko led a weeklong Christian Leadership Mission to Poland, making overnight stays in Warsaw, Lublin and Krakow, exploring the history and destruction of European Jewry in Poland.

Jews arrived in Polin, meaning “rest here” or “here you may dwell” in Hebrew, in the Middle Ages. Religious tolerance and Jews’ social autonomy made Poland home to one of the largest, most significant Jewish communities in the world. In 1939, 3.5 million Jews lived in Poland, a third of Europe’s 9.5 million Jews.

After World War I, however, rising Polish nationalism, pogroms, discriminatory laws and growing anti-Semitism made the country, just east of Germany and west of what was then the Soviet Union, a hostile place for Jews.

“The narrative of the destruction of European Jewry is not as well-known and experienced as it could be in North America,” said the Very Rev. Dominic Barrington, dean of St. James Episcopal Cathedral in Chicago, one of several Episcopalians on the Poland trip.

The Christian Mission to Poland included Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Congregationalist and other faith leaders and scholars. This post is outside the Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

The mission’s group formed out of a friendship between Poupko and Barrington. Methodists, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Evangelicals, scholars – including an Islamic scholar – a Reform rabbi and other Jewish United Fund staff also joined the weeklong mission.

“I’m honored, as a member of The Episcopal Church, that we’ve been able to work with Rabbi Poupko and initiate this extraordinary trip, which has been transformative for all of us who have taken part in it,” said Barrington in a conversation with Episcopal News Service on a bus traveling from Warsaw to Treblinka, the site of a former Nazi death camp located in a forest northeast of the capital.

When Barrington arrived in Chicago in 2015 as dean of St. James, Poupko was the first religious leader to welcome him and offer a lunch invitation; the new dean, who previously had served a parish in Kettering, England, 90 miles north of London, accepted with some trepidation. In England, he said, to encounter Jewish voices in interfaith dialogue is uncommon, as the Jewish population is very small (0.48 percent of the United Kingdom’s total population) and in fact Barrington had not encountered Jews in an interfaith context.

“I never met a rabbi in 20 years of ordained ministry in England, and that’s not atypical,” he said.

For Barrington, living in the United States – where Jews are only about 1.8 percent of the population, but every city has a Jewish presence — has been an interesting journey of discovery.

“He [Poupko] talked to me about how interfaith dialogue happened in a unique way in the United States, and very particularly, in his opinion, in Chicago, and that it was possible to have robust conversations that could be grounded in real friendship,” said Barrington. “And I’m not sure I believed him at first, but I discovered that that’s profoundly true. And I have learned a vast amount from him.”

For years, Barrington has led Christian pilgrimages to Israel and Palestine, his work supporting Christian communities. It was his work in the Middle East, he said, that made him “leery” to meet with an Orthodox rabbi.

“In very broad terms, I would say that Britain and probably most of Western Europe is instinctively pro-Palestinian rather than pro-Israeli in terms of the current situation of the conflict, and manifest in the United States it’s the other way around. So, I’ve had a huge learning experience, in terms of things that I thought I knew and understood,” he said. “I’ve learnt in much deeper ways what anti-Semitism is about, and I’ve also learnt that to be a friend to Palestinians, in particular perhaps to Palestinian Christians, it can be very helpful to have some Jewish friends.”

Every three years when The Episcopal Church holds its General Convention, the Israeli-Palestinian

conflict ignites passionate debate. 

But for Barrington, it was the 2016 film “Denial,” a portrayal of Irving v. Lipstadt, that helped him understand the real impact of the Holocaust on the Jewish people. “Denial” dramatizes how American historian Deborah Lipstadt wrote the 1993 book “Denying the Holocaust,” which named British writer David Irving as a Holocaust denier. In 1996, Irving sued Lipstadt for libel in Britain, where in her defense she was forced to prove the fact of the Holocaust. The court ruled in Lipstadt’s favor in 2000.

The Very Rev. Dominic Barrington, dean of St. James Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois, offers a reading from the Lamentations of Jeremiah (1: 1-7) during a stop at Umschlagplatz, a place where Jews were gathered for deportation to concentration and extermination camps inside what was the Warsaw ghetto. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

“As I watched this saga about how the Holocaust had to be proved in evidential terms in an English court, I suddenly realized that my own perception of my integrity was in question,” he said. “If I didn’t get on with it and come and see these places … the moment I had that realization, that I should go to Auschwitz, it was also abundantly plain to me that there was only one set of eyes through which I wanted to view it. And I got home, and I emailed Yehiel and said, ‘I’ve woken up to something, and I need to ask you a favor.’ And this is the result.”

It was the first time for Poupko, who for years has worked to build relationships with Christians and who has made many overseas missions to Eastern and Central Europe, to lead a Christian mission.

“The essence of a relationship is to know the other person as they know themselves,” said Poupko, as to the mission’s importance. “I think [when] these people, who are good Christians and good friends of the Jewish people, get to know us deeper, this helps people understand who we are. Secondly, I hope it inspires them. Because everyone needs to be inspired and reinvigorated to deal with the tribe of folded arms. We know how to deal with bad people; it’s very simple. You’ve got to stop them, right? We know how to deal with evil. You gotta stop it. That’s not the problem. The real problem is how to inspire people who have joined the tribe of folded arms.”

The city of Lublin can be seen beyond the fence of Majdanek, a German concentration camp built on what then was then the outskirts of the city, though the camp was still visible to Lublin’s citizens. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

For the Episcopalians — Barrington, Olympia Bishop Greg Rickel, retired Northern California Bishop Barry Beisner and the Rev. James Harlan, all of whom have led numerous Christians pilgrimages to Israel and Palestine — traveling to Poland and studying Jewish history in Europe where Jews once thrived and where Nazis sought to destroy them went beyond the history books.

“I think, for me, the Holocaust became more, even more than just the staggering numbers of people who suffered and died; that’s staggering enough. But I came to see this rich, beautiful culture, this whole tradition of Judaism that had grown up here, and basically no longer is,” said Harlan, rector of The Church of Bethesda-by-the Sea in Palm Beach, Florida, while standing in Old Town Krakow’s main square.

“And I realized that the Holocaust was more hateful than even just killing. It was even worse than that,” he said. “And I think, to see, to be able to come here and see it through the eyes of some wonderful Jewish friends, to learn the richness and the beauty of the whole Jewish tradition that grew up here, made visiting the Holocaust sights more painful, more poignant, and yet more hopeful as well.

“I think, as I lead groups, I hope to find ways to do what we did here, which is to listen to one another, to share the stories of our traditions, of our histories of our peoples. To find the common ground that we have is simply in our humanity, but also in our love of God and our faith.”

The Christian Mission to Poland’s second day begins with a stop at a remaining portion of the Warsaw ghetto wall, which is sandwiched between apartment buildings in a residential neighborhood. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Germany suffered immense losses in World War I: more than 7 million soldiers dead, widespread starvation, and economic devastation made worse by the Treaty of Versailles’s terms demanding billions of dollars in reparations to Britain and France.

“The Germans felt that the Versailles Treaty was the dolchsto Blegende stab in the back,” said Poupko. It was followed by a depression, weakness in the Weimar Republic’s democracy, civic chaos, communist agitation, the Prussian old guard seeking stability. “These were complex and real and very painful phenomena which the Nazi Germans explained in a simple way, a unified field theory: ‘Why are we in all this trouble? The Jews.’”

Jews as scapegoats, anti-Jewish propaganda, anti-Semitism and Christian anti-Semitism, persecution, killings and pogroms long predated the 20th century and the Holocaust; it can be traced to Biblical times and the Jews’ expulsion from Israel, through ancient Greece and Rome, the Middle Ages and into the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Still, it’s the Holocaust and the murder of 6 million Jews that continues to live in contemporary imagination.

The mission trip began in Warsaw with a tour of the Jewish ghetto and a cemetery, where many of the dead “died in their beds,” before the Nazis’ killing started. It made stops in Treblinka, Tykocin, Lublin, Kazimierz, Auschwitz-Birkenau and ended in the Krakow ghetto.

The mission’s stops mirrored the Nazi’s systematic extermination plan, which took place in three phases: Beginning in 1939, 80,000 people, including babies and the handicapped, were “euthanized.” Then came Operation Reinhard, when extermination camps were introduced, and 2 million people were murdered. Later, the Nazis ramped up the machine.

The Nazi slogan “arbeti macht frei” or “work makes you free” hangs over the entrance to Auschwitz. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

They constructed Auschwitz in 1940 on 12 acres at the site of a former military base. In 1944, when they knew they had lost the war, the Nazis built Birkenau on 360 acres in a hurried attempt to kill as many Jews as possible before the end. Many of those murdered there were Hungarians who had previously avoided deportation.

“Auschwitz came to symbolize the Holocaust when in reality 4.5 million Jews had already been murdered,” said Poupko.

“Three hundred thousand Jews survived: 50,000 underground, 250,000 in the Soviet Union. They came back in ’45 and ’46,” said Poupko. “And there was a wave of anti-Semitism. By 1952, the 300,000, we’re down to about 50- or 60,000; those 50- to 60,000 were reduced by 10- or 15,000 in ’58, and ’68 by another 30,000 because of anti-Semitism. And in ’68 there was an anti-Zionist campaign following the [1967] Six Day War. Jews were just not welcomed, and we were thrown out.

“Jewish history has passed this place by,” he said.

Beisner, retired bishop of Northern California, appreciated Poupko’s wisdom and teachings.

The Giesa Street Cemetery located in what was the Warsaw ghetto is maintained by Warsaw’s Jewish community. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

“It’s been a fantastic insight into what he calls ‘Ashkenazic civilization.’ This was the heart of much of Jewish life and expression for a very long time … that civilization has been largely destroyed, but it is a basis for contemporary Judaism,” he said. “This is not just a museum tour, as it were; this is also a way to better understand roots and foundations of what is around us and happening now in Judaism — and that’s something I’m very hungry for — and to increase my knowledge and experience and my capacity for friendship.”

Rickel, bishop of Olympia, had previously met Poupko in Israel, where the rabbi has greeted Episcopalians on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He told ENS that visiting Poland contextualized the Holocaust and challenged some misguided information.

“It’s much like any pilgrimage… when I’ve gone to the Holy Land, I’ve always said, ‘everybody’s got to come’; I’ve gotten so much into that. I don’t ordain people unless they go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land because I think you have to see it and touch it and walk it if you’re going to teach it,” said Rickel, who blogged about the mission. “What he’s done with this is show the same from a Jewish perspective. I just think it’s a Christian one too; that we were definitely part of this in many, many ways, and we are still part of it. We still have a lot of work to do.

“I’m going back with this, almost like I did when I went to the Holy Land, this fervor to get people to come here and do what we did; maybe even bring some back here. Because I think that really does make us live differently.”

Not only did the Nazis seek to erase the Jews, they also sought to divorce Christianity from Judaism.

It was the Nazis who created anti-Christian anti-Semitism, said Poupko.

“What the Nazi Germans tried to do was to erase the Jewishness of Jesus, the origins of Jesus from the flesh of the Jewish people, the rootedness of the New Testament in the Hebrew Bible, and they wanted to marry racism to Christianity, asserting that Christianity is a uniquely Aryan phenomenon with no connection to Judaism,” he said.

Hilter built on the work of mid-19th century German scholars who sought to establish that “Jesus was still the source of salvation, but he was not a Jew,” said the Rev. Jay Phelan, president emeritus and dean of North Park Theological Seminary and a pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church.

The scholars’ effort was part of an effort to establish that Greek culture had more influence on Christianity than Judaism, “looking for the essence of Christianity outside Judaism,” he said.

“So, when Hitler goes after Jesus, as a Jew, he was working out of conversations that had been going on for a while in anti-Semitic circles,” said Phelan. That purification of Christianity went further, he said, as both scholars and Hilter sought to purge German society of anything that encouraged resistance to the state.

“Their understanding of relationship between the citizens and the state is that the citizen is there to serve the needs of the state,” said Phelan. “And then there are states that understand that the state is there in some sense to serve the needs of the citizen. And obviously, you know, it’s a little bit of both, but in the case of Hitler the individual is there to serve the needs of the state.”

Railroad tracks lead to the gates at Birkenau; once inside the gates, the tracks end. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

For the Rev. David Lyle, a Lutheran pastor, visiting Auschwitz and the other death camps made him mindful of his denomination’s heritage and brought him back to the 16th century and Martin Luther.

“For me, the Lutheran understanding of the Gospel is about peace and love, mercy, grace, freedom,” said Lyle, senior pastor at Grace Lutheran Church and School in Lake Forest, Illinois. “But [Martin] Luther also, especially toward the end of his life, wrote very anti-Semitic writings, most clearly in a little treatise called ‘On the Jews and Their Lies,’ in which he advocated for the burning of Jewish homes and synagogues, and that they shouldn’t have laws protecting them, and even alluded in a direction of killing, although he didn’t openly advocate for that.”

Many Lutherans aren’t aware of Luther’s anti-Semitism, and some attribute it to poor health later in life. “But I think as Lutherans, we need to be much more aware of it and much more honest about the reality of those writings and the legacy they’ve had, particularly in Germany,” Lyle said.

“There’s a sense in which the railway lines to Auschwitz and other places went through the theological and ideological tradition of Wittenberg,” he said. “And so for me it’s very important, as I continue to claim myself as a Lutheran, to be aware of all of what that communicates, and not just the pieces of it that I’m comfortable with, or that I enjoy, that speak to me. And since I want to continue to identify myself as Lutheran, that means repentance: That means an honest acknowledgement of what Luther said and wrote, and it means that to be Lutheran is to not just ignore that, or try to move past it, but acknowledge it and repent of it for the sake of relationship with others.”

Rabbi Yehiel Poupko talks with the Very Rev. Dominic Barrington, dean of St. James Episcopal Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois, and Bishop of Olympia Greg Rickel, foreground, during a visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

For Stephen Ray Jr., president of the Chicago Theological Seminary, studying the Holocaust and how “othering” happens has helped him better understand African Americans’ experience in the United States. “It helped me understand the black experience in ways that I had not been able to understand before, in ways I could experience but didn’t understand,” said Ray while walking along the railroad tracks leading to the gate and out of Birkenau.

Understanding othering and the black experience, visiting Holocaust sites and gaining further insight are important to Ray as a Christian theologian.

“First and most important is my deep sense that we have a responsibility to not only our faith, but for those who come after us, to give them guidance in terms of how to live the faith in such a way that it does not bring dishonor to God,” said Ray. Unfortunately, he said, Christianity sometimes has been used to justify injustice. The two preeminent examples he cites are the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the Holocaust.

“And so,” he said, “if there was a way that I could use those, in my teaching, primarily, to help create a new Christian imagination, then it might be possible to pass along a faith that God will not regret that we held.”

— Lynette Wilson is a reporter and managing editor of Episcopal News Service. In August, she accompanied the Christian mission to Poland.

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New residents of Lambeth Palace are preparing to start their ‘Year in God’s Time’

Mon, 09/23/2019 - 11:32am

Members of the Community of St. Anselm. Photo: Kenyi Dube via ACNS

[Anglican Communion News Service] Young people who have chosen to join the Community of St. Anselm and spend “A Year in God’s Time” have arrived at Lambeth Palace.

The community members have traveled to London from South Sudan, Canada, China, Pakistan, Uganda, the U.S., Sri Lanka, Germany, Rwanda, India and the U.K. They each come from different religious backgrounds, including Anglicans, Lutheran-Evangelicals, Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals and Presbyterians.

The members of the Community of St. Anselm have left behind their jobs, colleges, families and countries to spend a year together in prayer, service and learning at Lambeth Palace, the home and office of the archbishop of Canterbury.

Read the full article here.

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Susan Haynes elected 11th bishop of Southern Virginia

Mon, 09/23/2019 - 11:17am

[Diocese of Southern Virginia] The Diocese of Southern Virginia elected the Rev. Susan B. Haynes as its 11th Bishop at its Special Council in Dinwiddie on Sept. 21.

One of six nominees, Haynes was elected on the eighth ballot. Haynes, the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Mishawaka, Indiana, received 94 votes in the clergy order and 148 votes in the lay order. Seventy-four clergy votes and 128 lay votes were necessary for election on that ballot.

Haynes earned her Master of Divinity degree at Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is married to the Rev. Thomas Haynes, and they have two grown daughters.

“I am really excited and looking forward to making the transition to Southern Virginia,” Haynes said, addressing council via Zoom after accepting the election. “Until I can get there I’m going to be saying my prayers and immersing myself in scripture and I would like to ask everyone in Southern Virginia to do the same so that when I get there we can all hit the ground running, doing the work of Jesus Christ and making him present in the Diocese of Southern Virginia.”

The other nominees were:

The Rev. Harold J. Cobb, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Norfolk, Virginia;

The Rev. J. Derek Harbin, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Portsmouth, Virginia;

The Rev. Canon John T. W. Harmon, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.;

The Rev. Canon Victoria Heard, rector of Redeemer Episcopal Church in Irving, Texas;

The Rev. Sven vanBaars, rector of Abingdon Episcopal Church in White Marsh, Virginia.

Pending consent of a majority of the church’s bishops with jurisdiction and the diocesan standing committees, Haynes will be ordained and consecrated on Feb. 1, 2020, with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry as the chief consecrator. Haynes will succeed the Rt. Rev. Herman Hollerith IV, who served the diocese since 2009 and retired in January 2019.

The Diocese of Southern Virginia encompasses 102 congregations from Virginia’s Eastern Shore to the Dan River.

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New bishop tasked with training leaders for Ethiopia’s fast-growing churches

Mon, 09/23/2019 - 9:42am

Bishop Mouneer Anis and Bishop Rajan Jacob at the consecration in Gambella. Photo: Diocese of Egypt via ACNS

[Anglican Communion News Service] A new area bishop for the rapidly growing churches in the Gambella region of Ethiopia has been given the important task of training up Christian leaders.

Speaking at the consecration of Rajan Jacob as area bishop for Gambella, the bishop of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, Dr. Mouneer Anis, said raising up and training Christian leaders would be the bishop’s most important job.

Read the full article here.

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House of Bishops’ fall meeting grapples with range of issues, from reconciliation to innovation

Fri, 09/20/2019 - 6:26pm

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry joins nearly 100 bishops outside the House of Bishops meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Sept. 20 to express solidarity with climate change strikes around the world. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Minneapolis, Minnesota] The House of Bishops wrapped up its fall meeting here on Sept. 20 after spending four days studying, discussing and, in some cases, acting on many of the most important issues facing The Episcopal Church.

Evangelism? Declining church membership? The bishops spent nearly the full day on Sept. 18 listening to the Rev. Adam Hamilton, a renowned Methodist pastor, discuss his successful growth strategies and leadership advice.

Racial reconciliation? A draft report on white supremacy was circulated by the Theology Committee on Sept. 19, prompting a lively and, at times, even tense discussion.

Care of creation? The bishops gathered briefly on the final day outside the Courtyard by Marriot hotel near downtown Minneapolis to stand in solidary with youth-driven climate change strikes around the world. (Coverage of the climate strike, including comments from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, can be found here.)

“Our house here has been blessed for a long time to be moving in that direction of becoming that to which we aspire, that beloved community,” Minnesota Bishop Brian Prior said in his sermon during the final morning’s Eucharist.

Prior referenced Mark 8:34-38 in which Jesus commanded his disciples to “take up their cross” and follow him. “We continue to have work to do,” Prior said. “We’re working at moving into that place in this house where we have experienced sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, where we experience all those things still today and lots of ways folks feel marginalized.

“All of those things for us are things that we need to set down, so we can collectively pick up our cross.”

About 130 bishops were registered to attend this House of Bishops meeting for some or all of the four days. Four bishops-elect also joined the meeting, as did a bishop from Tanzania, who was a guest of the Diocese of New York bishops.

The bishops typically meet twice a year as a house, in spring and fall. The next meeting is March 10-13, 2020, at Camp Allen in the Diocese of Texas.

Same-sex marriage, often a central topic for debate at past gatherings of churchwide bodies, was taken up only indirectly in Minneapolis, partly reflecting the fact that General Convention 2018 had virtually settled the matter of making marriage rites available to all couples who request them in all domestic dioceses.

The Diocese of Albany remains the one exception, and news broke on Sept. 18 at the House of Bishops meeting that Albany Bishop William Love had been referred to a hearing panel to face possible disciplinary action under the church’s Title IV Canon because he continues to block same-sex marriage in his diocese.

“I greatly appreciate the Reference Panel’s decision to expedite the process by referring this matter directly to the Hearing Panel, where I will have the opportunity to address the concerns raised,” Love said in a message to his diocese.

Same-sex marriage also figured into the bishops’ discussions of the upcoming Lambeth Conference 2020, a gathering in England of all active bishops in the Anglican Communion. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby chose to invite openly gay and lesbian bishops but not their spouses, so part of the Episcopal bishops’ planning has involved deciding how to respond to that exclusion.

Welby’s decision is expected to affect at least three Episcopal bishops with same-sex spouses:  New York Assistant Bishop Mary Glasspool, Maine Bishop Thomas Brown and the Rev. Bonnie Perry, who will be consecrated bishop of Michigan in February. All three attended the House of Bishops meeting in Minneapolis with their spouses.

Brown told Episcopal News Service on the first day of the meeting that he and his husband, the Rev. Thomas Mousin, were still deliberating over whether to go to England for the Lambeth Conference.

“We continue to be in prayer as a family, along with other bishops in the world … who have reached out arms of support and encouragement,” Brown said.

The House of Bishops spent part of the afternoon Sept. 19 in closed session so bishops and spouses could discuss how they planned to respond individually and collectively to Welby’s decision. That discussion produced a message that was approved Sept. 20 by the bishops that said the Lambeth Conference had “become the occasion for a mixture of joy and sorrow, hope and disappointment.”

“The community of bishops and spouses supports and stands together in solidarity with each of our brothers and sisters in this Episcopal Church as they make these decisions according to their conscience and through prayerful discernment and invite the siblings of The Episcopal Church to join us in that solidarity,” the message said. It was addressed to The Episcopal Church and approved with most, but not all, bishops voting in favor. The text of the approved message was expected to be released later in the day.

While talk of the Lambeth Conference loomed over the House of Bishops meeting from the first day, another two words – sometimes spoken, otherwise only alluded to – were on the minds of the Episcopal bishops from the start as they pondered the future of the church, its size, makeup and mission.

Parochial reports.

Those are the surveys completed by Episcopal congregations that provide The Episcopal Church’s official count of active members, average Sunday attendance and other metrics for gauging church vitality. The latest numbers were released this month. Year after year they have shown a denomination in decline, mirroring a story being told at other mainline Protestant churches in an increasingly secular United States.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, in his sermon at the House of Bishops’ opening Eucharist on Sept. 17, acknowledged the numbers have not been good, and he nurtured no expectations for a sudden rebound. Instead, he sought reassurance in the immutable Christian values embedded in Scripture.

“I don’t know why everybody goes crazy every year,” he said. “Yeah, the numbers are going down. So what? Look to the rock!” Curry said, quoting from Isaiah. “We’re all followers of Jesus!”

The declining numbers provided sober context for the bishops’ sessions Sept. 18 with Hamilton, the Methodist pastor, who leads Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, Missouri. Membership at Resurrection has grown to top 20,000 across five campuses, and Hamilton offered insights from his successes centered on the theme “Leading Beyond the Walls.”

Some of Hamilton’s practical advice verged on the obvious. Thriving congregations have effective pastoral leadership, skilled preaching and missional outreach to the community, he said. He also pressed the bishops to coach clergy to become better leaders in their congregations and their communities.

“I’d guess at least half of all clergy are introverts,” he said at one point. “Except the job requires us to be extroverts.”

Good leaders also bring about “chaos and change,” he said. Moving a congregation or diocese forward requires a leader to make hard, uncomfortable decisions, to engage in “discernment by nausea.”

“Change, innovate, improve or die,” Hamilton said, again emphasizing that this is the job of faith leaders. “We set the tone for what happens. … You can’t lead people to where you’re not going.”

The bishops returned to the question of church vitality on Sept. 20 as they welcomed members of the House of Deputies’ State of the Church Committee. Part of the committee’s work, based on a 2018 General Convention resolution, is to help “design a simplified parochial report relevant to the diversity of The Episcopal Church’s participation in God’s mission in the world.”

But the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, House of Deputies president, also asked the committee to seek new ways the church can experiment, innovate and adapt to its 21st century context. For that purpose, the committee members introduced themselves to the bishops and then fanned out to sit at tables around the ballroom to foster discussions, share ideas and record the results.

That morning session set the tone for a particularly busy final day, which included an afternoon business session and small group discussions on a range of topics, including refugees.

Minneapolis has a large Somali refugee community, and some of the bishops spent part of their afternoon meeting with the head of a Minneapolis agency that helps to resettle refugees in the area through Episcopal Migration Ministries, or EMM, one of nine agencies with federal contracts to do that work on behalf of the U.S. State Department.

The Trump administration has cut sharply the number of refugees admitted to the United States for resettlement each year, and reports have suggested that number will be cut further in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Also in the afternoon, a group of nearly 100 bishops gathered outside the hotel and offered words of support for the global climate change strikes. Curry, California Bishop Marc Andrus and Western Massachusetts Bishop Douglas Fisher spoke of the call as Christians to care for God’s creation.

“We are committed to this work. It is our hearts, our hands and our lives,” Andrus said.

This meeting of the House of Bishops highlighted the changing face of a body that is slowly adding more women and people of color. Several new members attended their first meeting this week, and one of them, West Tennessee Bishop Phoebe Roaf,  preached at the Sept. 18 Eucharist.

Roaf admitted sometimes feeling overwhelmed in her new role as bishop, but she urged her fellow bishops not to let the pressures of the world immobilize them.

“There are so many silences, in our church and in our country, in need of being broken,” Roaf said. And while the numbers in the parochial report data may be down, she said, “I’m actually energized”

“I’m kind of fired up about this, brothers and sisters. I mean, what an amazing opportunity for our church in this moment, to get real, to engage in fierce conversations, to create a safe space where people can come as they are and be engaged in open and honest dialogue.”

That spirit carried through to the discussion of white supremacy on Sept. 19. In addition to receiving the draft report produced by the Theology Committee, the bishops heard from the Rev. Altagracia Pérez-Bullard, a theology professor at Virginia Theological Seminary who joined the bishops’ committee this year.

“White supremacy is a false narrative,” Perez-Bullard said. “But it’s the false narrative of our United States context. And we didn’t invent it, and we didn’t keep it to ourselves. So it’s broader. It is something that impacts the whole of The Episcopal Church, which is not just the U.S.” She said it was important for bishops and other church leaders, as people of privilege, “to be able to recognize this thing and to talk about it in a sustained way, recognizing our own complicity.”

The Theology Committee, however, faced criticism from some bishops who questioned why the draft report’s focus appeared to be limited to white supremacy in the United States. Southern Ohio Bishop Thomas Breidenthal, the committee chair, also acknowledged and apologized for the committee’s failure to translate the document into Spanish, a standard procedure for all official church documents.

“It pisses me off,” Honduras Bishop Lloyd Allen said English, punctuating his pointed remarks. He questioned whether The Episcopal Church would ever fully embrace the dioceses of Province IX, most of which are in predominantly Spanish-speaking territories and countries.

“There’s not love in this community,” Allen said through an interpreter. “And I’m sad that you always have to apologize. For how much longer?”

Breidenthal told ENS later that he took responsibility for not having the draft report translated, though he also noted that the feedback from the bishops will help the committee produce a more complete final report. The draft report has not been released publicly.

Colorado Bishop Kym Lucas, who is African American and attending her first House of Bishops meeting as a bishop, spoke forcefully on the floor about the need to engage fully in such tough conversations, using as an example her 11-year-old son’s experience with racism at school.

“My children’s lives depend on us having this conversation,” she said. “So thank you to the committee for the hard work. And thank you, to all of you, for leaning in to this very uncomfortable, very painful, very real place.”

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

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Episcopalians bring spiritual urgency to youth-led climate strikes

Fri, 09/20/2019 - 5:17pm

 

The Rev. Deborah Warner, rector of the Church of the Messiah, speaks at a climate strike event in Falmouth, Massachusetts, on Sept. 20, 2019. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Falmouth, Massachusetts] A wave of youth-led protests against political inaction on the climate crisis that drew hundreds of thousands to the streets of cities around the world rolled into this usually quiet Cape Cod town when about 160 people gathered on the village green for a boisterous rally on Sept. 20.

Participants hold creative signs at a climate strike event in Falmouth, Massachusetts, on Sept. 20, 2019. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

The participants, from toddlers to senior citizens, waved signs with messages like “DECLARE A CLIMATE EMERGENCY” and “THERE ARE NO JOBS ON A DEAD PLANET.” They beat drums and sang songs. They delivered impassioned speeches through a megaphone as passing cars honked in support. And when the clock struck 11 a.m., the bells of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, which overlooks the green, began to ring. St. Barnabas, along with over a dozen other churches across Cape Cod, tolled its bells for 11 minutes, signifying that it is now “the 11th hour” and urgent, swift action is needed to avert catastrophe.

https://www.episcopalnewsservice.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/P1030485.mp4

The cacophony was inescapable – and that was exactly the point.

“Church bells have historically been a clarion call to action, a way to bring attention to situations,” said the Rev. Will Mebane Jr., rector of St. Barnabas. “We have a crisis here. Ringing church bells for 11 minutes on a Friday morning as people drive by, walk by – [they go,] ‘What? What’s going on?’ So it’s a way to get attention and to just elevate the consciousness of people.”

The Rev. Will Mebane Jr., rector of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, speaks to a participant at a climate strike event in Falmouth, Massachusetts, on Sept. 20, 2019. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

Falmouth is especially aware of the threat it faces from climate change, not only because of its coastal location but also because it is home to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, one of the world’s most renowned marine science centers, and several other scientific institutions which together have produced some of the most important research on climate change.

A group of high school students speak to the crowd at a climate strike event in Falmouth, Massachusetts, on Sept. 20, 2019. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

Speakers at the rally included scientists who have contributed to that research, a group of students from local high schools – some of whom had risked a three-day suspension by attending – and the Rev. Deborah Warner, rector of the Church of the Messiah, another Episcopal parish in town.

Participants wore life jackets and other flotation devices to symbolize the urgent threat of sea level rise at a climate strike event in Falmouth, Massachusetts, on Sept. 20, 2019. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

“There is no more crucial issue facing the entire world than this,” Warner told the strikers, many of whom wore life jackets and other flotation devices to symbolize the urgent threat of sea level rise. “People like to say it’s either economics or it’s the environment. That’s the same conversation.”

Warner borrowed an image from the theologian Sally McVeigh to illustrate the importance of respecting creation.

“We can look at the Earth as a hotel, where everything is disposable, or it is our home,” Warner said. “For the sake of the children and the young people that we hear, and their children and their grandchildren, we need to stand up and speak out and raise hell!”

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, the House of Bishops interrupted their schedule for a moment of solidarity with the strikers. About 100 bishops gathered outside their hotel to pray and sing, having released a statement in support of the strikes the day before, and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry spoke about the Christian responsibility to protect the Earth.

“We are bishops of The Episcopal Church. And we are leaders who share leadership with other clergy and lay people in the church. But we are not here today as leaders. We’re here as followers. We’re here to follow the youth mobilization on climate change. We’re here to follow and support what they are doing to stand in solidarity with them,” Curry said. “[Jesus] said, ‘God so loved the world’ – not just part of the world, but the whole world. This is God’s world, and we must care for it and take care of it and heal it and love it, just as God loves it.”

In New York, Lynnaia Main, The Episcopal Church’s representative to the United Nations, was one of the tens of thousands who marched through the streets of Manhattan.

“The climate strikes happening worldwide today are an important opportunity for people to mobilize and raise their voices to demand that we all take action to address the climate emergency that is upon us,” Main told the Episcopal News Service. “Notice that I did not say that people are striking to mobilize governments. That is true, but people are also mobilizing to mobilize each other.”

Sixteen year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg takes part in a demonstration as part of the Global Climate Strike in New York on Sept. 20, 2019. Photo: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

The crowds in New York – where the United Nations will hold a special climate summit starting on Sept. 23 – were full of young people who had been given excused absences from the city’s public schools. Young people – inspired by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, who was scheduled to speak at the New York event – led the charge at many of the rallies and marches, from major cities to small towns.

Students and staff at the Rock Point School in Burlington, Vermont – affiliated with the Diocese of Vermont – participated in that city’s strike, as did young parishioners at All Saints Church in Pasadena, California.

Proud of our @ASCpas youth participating in today’s #ClimateStrike #episcopal #ClimateAction #ClimateStrikes #ClimateActionNow pic.twitter.com/h6yTimITSD

— Susan Russell (@revsusanrussell) September 20, 2019

Students at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin, Texas, organized their own walkout on the school’s campus.

And students from Trinity Episcopal School in Charlotte, North Carolina, walked to Charlotte’s Government Center with a large cutout of Thunberg and their homemade signs.

Though some were too young to spell correctly, their message was clear.

“Act like parins [sic] or we will for you!” read one Trinity student’s sign.

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org. David Paulsen contributed reporting to this story from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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United Methodists float plans to split denomination after LGBTQ vote

Fri, 09/20/2019 - 9:48am

[Religion News Service] The United Methodist Church’s deadline for petitions for its next global meeting passed Sept. 18, setting the terms for a final reckoning with LGBTQ issues that have divided the denomination for more than 40 years.

The UMC’s General Conference 2020, to be held in May in Minneapolis, will consider the structure of what church leaders hope can be an amicable, and orderly, breakup of a worldwide church that is the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States. The various plans come in response to a vote earlier this year by the church’s decision-making body to strengthen language barring LGBTQ United Methodists from ordination and marriage.

That decision came in February at a special session of the General Conference that approved the conservative Traditional Plan, which centrists and progressives in the church have rejected and adamantly resisted. The resulting chaos has led some churches to withhold money from the denomination or to call for schism.

Bishops in areas that are growing within the denomination and widely seen as conservative, such as the Philippines and African countries, have urged unity in recent statements, even as moderates, most of whom are based in the United States, are optimistic about the prospect of formal separation.

“It’s not a divorce. It’s giving life to expressions of the church that are now in conflict,” United Theological Seminary President Kent Millard told Religion News Service last month.

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Bishops step up preparations for Lambeth Conference amid anxiety over spousal invitations

Thu, 09/19/2019 - 6:58pm

New York Assistant Bishop Mary Glasspool speaks Sept. 19 during a small group discussion about the Lambeth Conference at the House of Bishops meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Minneapolis, Minnesota] Diocese of New York Assistant Bishop Mary Glasspool left no ambiguity about her plans to attend the Lambeth Conference 2020. She is going, even if her wife was specifically denied an invitation.

“The Diocese of New York needs to be represented. We need to be at the table,” Glasspool said Sept. 19 during an informal group discussion about Lambeth during the House of Bishops’ fall meeting.

The question of whether to go to Lambeth or to stay home has fueled anxiety this week among some of the Episcopal bishops and spouses gathered at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel in downtown Minneapolis. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s decision to exclude spouses of gay and lesbian bishops from next year’s Lambeth Conference sparked an uproar within The Episcopal Church and in some other corners of the Anglican Communion.

Should Episcopal bishops skip the conference in protest? Should they go and make their objections clear while in England? Should the spouses who were invited take their own principled stands, and what would that look like? Should the House of Bishops agree on a unified response to what some see as an injustice?

Such questions were to be raised during an afternoon session Sept. 19 in which the spouses accompanied the bishops. That session was closed to reporters, to allow for open and honest conversations, but earlier in the day, Episcopal News Service was able to sit in on the smaller group discussion and listen to about 15 of the bishops share their thoughts, sometimes conflicted, on the best paths forward.

Glasspool opened the discussion with a pragmatic approach.

“Let’s prepare ourselves as best we can, whether we’re making our witness at home or in England,” Glasspool said. She plans to travel to England with her wife, Becki Sander, even if Sander won’t be able to attend official Lambeth gatherings.

Glasspool also cautioned her fellow bishops not to let this one issue dominate discussions at Lambeth, especially if doing so might provoke a conservative reaction, such as a new statement opposing same-sex marriage.

“If you take away all the fear and all my anxiety and all everybody else’s anxiety and ratchet it down, it’s a two-week conference. … My hope for us is that we can prepare as best we can, that we don’t go in blind,” she said.

All active bishops of The Episcopal Church were invited to the Lambeth Conference 2020, along with their counterparts in the Anglican Communion’s 39 other provinces. Spouses typically are invited to the Lambeth Conference, which is held about once every 10 years. The 2020 conference starts July 22.

Maine Bishop Thomas Brown, center, and his husband, the Rev. Thomas Mousin, left, speak to Christopher Probe, husband of Central New York Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe, on Sept. 17 at the House of Bishops meeting. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Glasspool received a letter from Welby in December 2018 saying Sander was not invited. At the time, Glasspool was the only Episcopal bishop with a same-sex spouse. After Maine Bishop Thomas Brown was consecrated in June, he too received an invitation to Lambeth and a letter from Welby, which said Brown’s husband, the Rev. Thomas Mousin, was not allowed to come.

Brown attended the small group discussion on Sept. 19, as did the Rev. Bonnie Perry, who will be consecrated bishop of Michigan in February. Perry has not yet received an invitation, but her wife, the Rev. Susan Harlow, presumably would become the third Episcopal spouse excluded from the Lambeth Conference. Brown and Perry are still deliberating over how they and their spouses will respond.

Diocese of Western Michigan Bishop Whayne Hougland told the group that he was interested in talking about how all bishops and spouses can support each other in their decisions.

“How can we provide appropriate pastoral concern for those who are not going as members of this house for reasons of conscience and those who are going but aren’t invited to participate?” Hougland asked. “How can we be proactive and acknowledging the needs that might be there?”

El Camino Real Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves, who serves as vice chair of the House of Bishops, suggested that the bishops discuss such questions and other strategy matters at their tables during the closed session later in the day. With an estimated 134 bishops attending this week’s House of Bishops meeting, the larger group isn’t always conducive to strategic planning, Gray-Reeves said, but individual bishops can form smaller planning groups that could report to the full House of Bishops at its next meeting, in March.

The Rev. Bonnie Perry, left, bishop-elect of the Diocese of Michigan, talks with her wife, the Rev. Susan Harlow, on Sept. 17 at the House of Bishops meeting. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Some of the bishops noted that the 10 months until the start of the Lambeth Conference doesn’t leave much time to spare. Aside from the spouse issue, they discussed a range of points about preparation for Lambeth.

Several suggested that the bishops schedule a session at their March meeting focused on restorative justice and reconciliation, to equip the bishops for developing relationships with Anglican bishops despite any theological differences.

They also suggested studying 1 Peter, since that Scripture will be a central text at Lambeth 2020. Ohio Bishop Mark Hollingsworth, who attended the last Lambeth Conference in 2008, said he found the Bible studies to be powerful experiences that helped break down barriers between the participating bishops.

“That was the place where people, at least I heard over and over, people’s hearts were softened and arms were opened,” Hollingsworth said.

Security for the bishops was another concern raised. They also suggested discussing communications strategy at the House of Bishops’ March meeting, with a more intensive breakout session on how to interact with the news media, for those bishops who expect they will need such training at Lambeth.

Some bishops and spouses already have decided they will not attend Lambeth 2020 as a matter of conscience, and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, in his sermon during the opening Eucharist on Sept. 17, urged the bishops to respect individual decisions. He confirmed he will attend. “I’m going as a witness to the way of love that Jesus has taught me,” Curry said.

But even those thinking of skipping Lambeth have made clear they aren’t breaking with the Anglican Communion and want to find ways to show support for maintaining relationships across the Anglican Communion.

Nebraska Bishop Scott Barker raised the question of what he would do if he chose to stay home, and whether other bishops who make similar decisions can gather in an intentional way behind a positive message. That prompted a discussion of what such a gathering might look like and where it could be held.

Kentucky Bishop Terry White offered a lighthearted response, playing off the name of a small city in his diocese.

“I’m willing to host something in London, Kentucky,” White said, prompting laughter from the group. “They have a great chicken festival.”

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

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Diocese of Massachusetts celebrates 20 years of volunteer-run summer day camp

Thu, 09/19/2019 - 5:22pm

Young volunteers from St. Andrew’s Church in Wellesley get plates full of carrot sticks ready for the tables of hungry kids that will soon fill the room. Photo: Bridget K. Wood/Diocese of Massachusetts

[Diocese of Massachusetts] The difference that the Boston-area B-SAFE summer program makes in the lives of the children and teens it serves becomes quickly apparent during a visit to a host site in full swing. What may be less obvious is the impact that the program has on the many volunteers from Episcopal churches across the diocese whose members give up some of their time and resources each summer to participate.

B-SAFE (Bishop’s Summer Academic and Fun Enrichment Program) is a five-week, full-day program serving young people from first grade through high school at Episcopal school and church sites in Boston’s South End, Roxbury, Mattapan and Dorchester neighborhoods, as well as Chelsea. This summer marked 20 years of the B-SAFE program, and with that, 20 years of Episcopal partner parishes making it all possible. On Friday, July 26, nearly 800 people who are connected to B-SAFE gathered at Carson Beach for the program’s 20th Anniversary Carnival .

On a Monday morning at the St. Stephen’s Church, Boston B-SAFE site this summer, lunch was being provided by St. Andrew’s Church in Wellesley. The St. Andrew’s volunteers carried in crates of food to serve. Pasta casserole, carrot sticks and sweet potato fries were on the menu — with popsicles for dessert.

As Nancy Echlov and Cam McCormick placed casseroles into the oven to warm up, McCormick explained that parishioners who were unable to take a weekday to go into Boston and serve food could still participate in B-SAFE by preparing one of the casseroles and bringing it to St. Andrew’s ahead of time.

Part of the St. Andrew’s volunteer crew for the day included Karen Pekowitz and her two daughters, Julia, 13, and Alexa, 12. They have all been volunteering with B-SAFE for the past six years.

Alexa has been helping out with B-SAFE since the age of six, and said that her favorite part is seeing her actions make a positive impact on someone else’s day.

“I just like to see that I can make someone’s afternoon or day, just by doing something simple,” Alexa said after the meals were served and the clean-up finished.

Family friends of the Pekowitzes were also on hand to help set up the tables for lunch. Though not St. Andrew’s parishioners themselves, they have regularly joined the Pekowitz family in helping out with B-SAFE over the years.  One of those friends, who is 14, told a visitor that he likes helping out with B-SAFE because he gets a chance to interact with other kids his age whom he likely wouldn’t otherwise meet.

Nancy Echlov from St. Andrew’s in Wellesley shares a conversation with a young B-SAFE participant during lunch. Photo: Bridget K. Wood/Diocese of Massachusetts

“It’s fun to connect with the other kids,” he said after lunch was over. “It’s fun to just spend time with other kids our age, serving them food and having a connection with them.”

B-SAFE partners prepare and serve lunches, provide afternoon snacks, read with children and organize Friday field trips. Through these interactions between partners and the children in the program, relationships are built across differences that might otherwise separate people.

Debbie Terry is a parishioner at Grace Church in Norwood, which has been participating in the B-SAFE program for the past 13 years. Since Grace is a smaller parish, it partners with the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mattapan each summer to share a week at the B-SAFE site there. Terry said that after all of these years, and with many repeat volunteers, everyone seems to fall right back into their roles, both from Grace Church as well as from the Church of the Holy Spirit.

“I think we enjoy each other’s company,” Terry said in an interview. “We love working with Holy Spirit, they’re just so supportive. They are always so welcoming and we have found that we work really well together as two church groups coming together.”

In addition to building relationships between parishes, Terry said that, ultimately, the children who attend the B-SAFE program are the reason that volunteers keep coming back year after year.

“When kids come up to you and just give you a big hug around your waist, I think that’s what we all do it for,” Terry said. “We have found that the kids are happy we’re there, and we are definitely happy to be there with them. For those of us who have been doing it every year, it’s just so wonderful to see what this program is all about.”

In an email thanking the partners for a successful summer, the director of youth programs at St. Stephen’s, the Rev. Liz Steinhauser, provided some numbers from this summer’s B-SAFE program:  37,000 meals served (with 17,500 being lunches provided by partners); about 300 volunteers from partner organizations (including nearly 50 partner churches and two interfaith networks); 55 full-day field trips organized (most thanks to partners); as well as more than 100 half-day field trips. In the email, Steinhauser thanked the partners for making the summer program a success.

“You helped us build community together,” Steinhauser wrote. “In these times when stories of separation and divisiveness are lead news reports, you created ‘Good News’ stories of connection through B-SAFE.”

Many volunteers who return year after year, such as Nancy Marshall from Sudbury, expressed joy in seeing young children in the program mature into the teens and adults staffing the program.

“It’s amazing to me now, having done it for so long, to see all of these adults who were youths in the program come full circle and actively dive into this ministry themselves,” Marshall said. “I think that’s wonderful.”

Marshall and her family have been involved with the B-SAFE program since the very beginning, 20 years ago, first through St. Anne’s-in-the-Fields Church in Lincoln and now as parishioners at St. Elizabeth’s Church in Sudbury.

For Marshall and her family, working with different parishes through B-SAFE over the years has been a way for them to get to know and experience other communities around the diocese, and to feel like part of the larger diocesan community.

“We feel like we’re part of the bigger picture,” Marshall said. “[Our children] have gotten great exposure to the breadth of this diocese and the different communities, ministries and approaches to worship and liturgy.”

Marshall said that B-SAFE has simply become a part of the rhythm of her life, and is something that has blessed her with incredibly meaningful relationships and memories.

“It is ministry, it is seeing God in these children,” Marshall said. “It’s also, for me, a connection with a lot of great memories and a lot of relationships that I don’t want to see end.”

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Young Episcopalians bring back stories from U.S.-Mexico border

Thu, 09/19/2019 - 4:50pm

Massachusetts pilgrims hike part of a migrant trail in the desert to leave jugs of water for those who might need it. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Massachusetts

[Diocese of Massachusetts] With the migrant crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border so often in the news, a group of seven high school-aged Episcopalians, along with three adults, set off in August for a week in Nogales, Arizona, to hear the stories of people who are experiencing it firsthand.

Their trip was part of Las Fronteras: Faith in Action, a yearlong diocesan program that helps young people from different congregations get to know one another and explore together issues relating to the border such as: security and hospitality; stranger and neighbor; privilege and disadvantage; and discipleship and servant leadership. The goal is for those in the program to participate in community service projects across eastern Massachusetts and develop a community of faith and support among themselves, before ending the program with the week-long trip to the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. For four of this year’s seven young pilgrims, crossing over the border into Mexico was their first time traveling out of this country.

Las Fronteras pilgrims, from left: Charlie Ives, Emily Chafe, Kieron Sharwood, Freddie Collins, Kaitlyn von Ehrenkrook, Mikayla von Ehrenkrook and Helen Bradshaw. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Massachusetts

The trip was organized by the diocesan youth missioner, the Rev. H. Mark Smith, who said in an interview that he hopes that the program allows young people to see that the Gospel is a call to action, by providing an opportunity to form real human connections. Smith said that the trip allows the young people to engage the world by engaging each other.

“We can’t love each other across differences until we know each other across differences,” Smith said. “Those of us who are more privileged need to be willing to put ourselves in situations where we are leaving all of our privileges behind, and suddenly we’re the ones who don’t know the language and customs, and we don’t know where we’re going and we’re the ones sort of thrown off balance and unsure.”

The trip was organized in partnership with the Diocese of Arizona, specifically with the Rev. Rodger A. Babnew Jr., who serves as deacon at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Nogales and is the convener and director of Cruzando Fronteras, an Episcopal ministry for border immigration and asylum seekers in ecumenical partnership with the Grand Canyon Synod of the Lutheran Church and the Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ. The ministry of Cruzando Fronteras is in Mexico, offering shelter, food, clothing, medical care and English classes for asylum seekers and migrants while they wait for a credible fear interview — a screening procedure toward applying for asylum that requires establishing a credible fear of persecution or torture if returned to their home country.

Pilgrims Helen and Freddie work on puzzles with young migrant children. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Massachusetts

In an interview, Babnew explained the importance of trips like these, saying that it is a mutual learning experience for both the young people who visit as well as for the migrants in the shelters.

“The news [the migrants] get in their travels is that America doesn’t want them,” Babnew said. “But when they meet all of these people who want to be with them… it really makes them understand that we do love them, they are our neighbors and we care about them.”

The pilgrims had the opportunity to visit migrant shelters during their time and visit with migrants staying there. Despite the language barriers, the pilgrims played games like soccer with the migrant children and formed connections that stuck with them.

At a post-pilgrimage dinner where the young pilgrims shared stories and pictures with Bishop Gayle Harris and family members, Kaitlyn von Ehrenkrook from St. Chrysostom’s Church in Quincy told the story of how a young migrant girl named Lupita gave both Kaitlyn and her sister Mikayla one of her stuffed toys to hold.

“I thought that was moving because those are probably one of the few possessions she has,” von Ehrenkrook said, “She gave them to us to hold, and we’re strangers.”

Throughout the trip, the Massachusetts high schoolers heard from multiple sides of the border story. They were able to go to a “Border Patrol 101” presentation to hear directly from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, and they sat in on court hearings for Operation Streamline, a joint initiative of the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Justice that adopts a zero-tolerance approach to unauthorized border crossing and pursues criminal prosecution.

At the Nogales point of entry into the United States, those coming from Mexico are greeted with a welcome wrapped in barbed wire. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Massachusetts

Helen Bradshaw, a young parishioner at the Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, shared her experience visiting the court proceedings.

“As [the migrants] were leaving, I saw their legs were chained together and their hands were in handcuffs and chained at their waist, and it almost made me cry,” Bradshaw said at the dinner. “It was insane to imagine that our country can treat people that are just looking for asylum like legitimate criminals.”

Freddie Collins, a young pilgrim from St. Elizabeth’s Church in Sudbury, told the story of a migrant the group met in one of the shelters who was in fear for her life. A young graduate student, she was filmed being part of student protests on her school campus, and because those protesters were having their homes targeted and burned as a consequence, she had no choice but to flee her home country.

Collins shared with those at the dinner what she wanted people in the U.S. to know: “‘Most people don’t want to leave, but when the only safe place that you have — your home — is no longer safe, where else do you have to go?”

While on the trip, the pilgrims were able to do a water drop in which they hiked three miles of a migrant trail in the desert in 103-degree heat to leave water for the migrants who might go along that same trail.

At the dinner after the trip, one of the adult pilgrims, Matt Miller from St. Elizabeth’s Church in Sudbury, shared with the group the impact that the water drop had on him personally.

“I realized that that activity of leaving water for people in the desert was the closest I had ever come to giving life to someone else,” Miller said. “The ability to have water or not have water in a desert when it’s 103 degrees out — it was really an eye-opening experience that that water I was leaving could save someone’s life potentially. It was sort of the most meaningful thing I feel like I’ve ever done that could have helped someone in a really significant, very sort of primal, basic way.”

On the trip, the pilgrims were also able to hear stories of racial profiling from U.S. citizens living on the Tohono O’odham Native American reservation, and they visited the place where the body of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez  was found. Jose was a 16-year-old boy who, while on the Mexican side of the border, was shot and killed by a border patrol agent who claimed Jose was throwing rocks at him.

During the dinner, the pilgrims also shared the story of a Mexican artist whom they met less than two weeks after the Aug. 3 shooting in El Paso, Texas, when a gunman killed 22 people.

Stories from the borderlands were shared at the post-pilgrimage dinner with Bishop Gayle Harris. From left: Charlie Ives from St. Paul’s Church in Newburyport; Harris; Helen Bradshaw from the Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham. Photo: Bridget K. Wood/Diocese of Massachusetts

“One thing that really stuck out to all of us, I think, is that [the artist] said every year he goes to San Diego to sell his artwork and to try to start making a name for himself, but he said that this year he might not even go,” one of the young pilgrims, Charlie Ives from St. Paul’s Church in Newburyport, explained. “He said, ‘Americans like shooting people who look like me.’”

Mikayla von Ehrenkrook of St. Chrysostom’s in Quincy said at the dinner that having the pilgrimage experience humanizes the issue in a new way.

“Hearing something on the news is kind of a general thing:  you hear it, and you go on with your day,” von Ehrenkrook said. “But if you meet the people that are experiencing that issue, it becomes more personal.”

In order to document their pilgrimage and share their experience, the pilgrims posted blogs online before, during and after the trip. In their final reflections, the young people wrote about all they had seen and heard and what it meant to them.

“One of the most basic teachings in religion is to love your neighbors. Unfortunately, migrants are being turned away by their closest neighbor, the U.S.,” Kaitlyn von Ehrenkrook said in her final reflection. “We have created boundaries and left them to face death as they struggle to cross the desert, traveling miles just to be met with a wall blocking their hope for a new life — a safe home to bring their families to.”

“It is my hope that every person I share these stories with can at least have more insight into the truths of the dangerous conditions that are causing these migrants to leave their homes, and that we may have compassion for these people,” Helen Bradshaw wrote in her final reflection. “The most powerful thing I can do to help is to share the stories and experiences I collected and keep them raw. No modifying, no sugar coating. These sacred narratives must remain how they were told by the people who lived them.”

At the end of the post-pilgrimage dinner, Bishop Gayle Harris asked the teenagers, “What should the church be doing about this issue that we’re not doing?  What should we do as a diocese or at your particular parish?”

“Keep doing this trip,” Freddie Collins replied.

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Episcopalians encouraged to take part in Sept. 20 climate strike

Thu, 09/19/2019 - 3:27pm

Don Robinson, a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Northampton, Massachusetts, and a trustee of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, lifts his hands during a moment of silence at the People’s Climate March on Sept. 21, 2014 in New York, two days before the United Nations’ Climate Summit commenced. Photo: Amy Sowder

[Episcopal News Service] On Sept. 20, adults and young people around the world will skip school and work to protest political inaction on the climate crisis, and dioceses and parishes across The Episcopal Church are inviting their members to participate.

The climate strike, which takes place three days before the United Nations Climate Summit in New York, consists of rallies and marches in over 2,500 locations worldwide, from big cities to small towns. Building on the momentum of youth-led school walkouts inspired by teenage activist Greta Thunberg – who will lead the New York march – organizers are expecting millions of people to join the strike.

Reflecting The Episcopal Church’s longstanding support for environmental protection and climate action, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and other bishops who are currently gathered in Minneapolis for their fall meeting expressed support for the strike and will take some time out of their schedule on the 20th in solidarity.

“We Green Episcopal Bishops resolve to support a network of young climate activists in The Episcopal Church, building up to an Episcopal youth presence at the important United Nations Climate Summit in 2020, most likely to be held in the United Kingdom,” the bishops said in a statement. “The Episcopal Church is already committed to action that will support a 1.5°C ceiling on global warming above pre-Industrial Revolution levels. We are working from the individual and household level up to regions and to the level of the whole Church to make the necessary transition to a sustainable life.”

Diocese of California Bishop Marc Andrus was among the Episcopalians who participated in the People’s Climate March on April 29, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Andrus also spoke at a Church World Service vigil before the march. Photo courtesy of Marc Andrus, via Twitter.

Western Massachusetts Bishop Doug Fisher and California Bishop Marc Andrus, who organized the bishops’ action and statement, have been especially vocal in advocating for climate action as part of the Christian mission.

“We are slowly waking up from our denial about climate change,” Fisher wrote on his blog, encouraging all to participate in their local strike or make the 20th “a day for personal climate action.”

Some parishes, like St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, are even organizing local strikes themselves.

“In the very first stories of our sacred texts of Scripture, we are commanded by God to be stewards of creation,” the Rev. Jared Cramer, rector of St. John’s, told the Grand Haven Tribune.

Go to strikewithus.org or globalclimatestrike.net to find an event near you.

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

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