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‘Church where it is’: Forma celebrates 20 years of grassroots support for Episcopal and other Christian educators

Tue, 02/07/2017 - 3:49pm

New York Times best-selling author, church planter and Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber speaks during the Jan. 25-27 Forma conference in Garden Grove, California. Photo: Bill Campbell

[Episcopal News Service] Sustainability, “scrappy” churches, funeral home churches, even cave churches, and New York Times best-selling author and church planter Nadia Bolz-Weber were all part of the recent 20th-anniversary celebration of Forma in Garden Grove, California.

About 300 Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian and other Christian educators from around the country joined the grassroots Episcopal-linked organization’s Jan. 25-27 celebration, unofficially themed “meeting the church where the church is,” according to Executive Director Bill Campbell.

“We are obviously closely tied to the Episcopal Church but consider it part of our mission to reach out in ecumenical fashion and offer resources for the Church,” said Campbell, who assumed his post in August. The organization has about 40 members in 60 dioceses. He said the theme emerged from a common concern of how to “get out beyond the walls of the church and encounter God’s people.”

The gathering offered a variety of workshops, networking opportunities, and a presentation by the Rev. Canon Eric Law, founder of the Los Angeles-based Kaleidoscope Institute. He described for conference-goers a “Stewardship-365” online curriculum to expand visions of yearly stewardship campaigns to include year-round explorations of, in addition to money, such currencies as relationships, truth, wellness, gracious leadership, time and place.

Guest speakers inspired the gathering with stories of “church in a funeral home” and “scrappy church” and Bolz-Weber, who offered a ‘don’t worry, be church’ message to the gathering.

Planting church in a funeral home: funeralhomechurch.com

Andrea McKellar told the gathering she lost her job at Old St. Andrew’s Parish and the building in Charleston, South Carolina, in a single vote, but rediscovered church in a funeral home and beyond.

McKellar, currently ministry developer for the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, had been volunteer director of Christian Formation when Old St. Andrew’s voted in 2013 to leave the Episcopal Church.

She and about 30 others opted to remain. “I chose to be an Episcopalian because the church accepts you for who you are right now,” she said. “What we do in the streets is as or more important than how we pray on Sunday morning” including standing up against racism, gun violence, discrimination and for environmentalism, she said.

Quickly, donations of money, hymnals, prayer books arrived and after meeting in living rooms, the newly-created St. Francis Episcopal Church “found our current location at Stuhr’s Funeral Home in Charleston. We began on Easter morning; it was quite fitting for a resurrection story,” she said.

St. Francis sets up and tears down every week. The altar is a folding table. Hymnals and prayer books reside on rolling carts and just about everybody has a job to do. McKellar, who blogs about the experience, said she jokes that she is the only church school director who deals with dead bodies on Sunday morning.

Church has evolved from worries about leaky roofs and mortgages to meetings in coffee shops, blessing animals at local dog parks, partnerships with other congregations and with the community.

“We adopted a school. We feed people. We do outreach projects with children and families and remember first responders and others on Christmas Eve and partner with other local churches to fight for justice,” she told the gathering. A traditional tithe, ten percent of the church’s income automatically is allocated for outreach “and then we do the rest of our budget,” she said.

One of the lessons learned was to embrace death and dying as part of life. “Now, it has been sterilized. We whisk the bodies away for others to prepare. We shield our children from these realities.”

Although not always easy, McKellar said the upside of founding St. Francis includes a deepened prayer life, a commitment to helping others, and that: “Every Sunday gets to be Youth Sunday” with a tenth to a third of the congregation typically being under age 18.

And one of the main lessons learned: “If you don’t exist for any reason than to serve those in your walls each Sunday, re-evaluate. Go into the community and find out what they think of you or if they know who you are.”

‘Scrappy,’ messy, chaotic but church all the same

Rather than incense or candles or holy oil, the Rev. Nancy Frausto told Forma conference-goers that her “scrappy” church smells like “the streets of New York City in the summer time.”

In other words, “the smell is not always pleasant,” according to Frausto, who serves the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual Trinity and St. Mary’s churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.

“Trust me, we have tried to clean up and beautify the outside and the inside but every time we try to plant some pretty flowers and rosebushes, the next day they get stolen and the empty holes are used as trash cans and/or urinals,” she told the gathering.

Rather than meditative silence or bells, her church sounds “like the emergency room at the county hospital,” she said. “It’s chaotic. It’s messy. There is so much suffering and not enough nurses or doctors to tend to all the patients that come in with shattered hearts and broken spirits and yet even with all the noise, if you are lucky enough to be paying attention, you can also hear the sighs of relief of all those who are being healed within its walls.”

Frausto described scrappy as “being the underdog, the unwanted, the discarded, the neglected, knocked down at every turn but refusing to give up.

“Being scrappy means that the world thinks that you don’t stand a chance and yet you defy the odds and you not only make it — oh no, baby, you thrive. Pushed down, stepped on, broken off, left bleeding in the streets and when the world tells you to stay down, you get up swinging,” she said.

For many congregations in struggling communities, church is much more than well-organized liturgy; but a testament to faith.

“When you serve a scrappy church, you know this might be the month where you might have to close up shop because the bills have been piling up for too long,” she said. “And yet somehow you make it through. I believe you make it through because of the scrappy people in your church with faith and love for God, who are so strong and amazing.”

Scrappy churches survive and thrive “thanks to the love and dedication of all the immigrant families who work so hard to save their church,” she added. “Scrappy churches are made up of a bunch of oddballs that … have been told by society and even by other churches they don’t belong. They have been dealt a crappy hand by an unjust society but they are not victims. They are survivors. They are warriors.”

She described a “God, slapping me back to reality” encounter after spending early Sunday morning worrying about the number of people who’d show up, and the shape of the worship. A visitor entered during worship, lit every candle in the back “and she danced.”

Afterward, “Shakida” told Frausto she was sleeping outside in the alley “and heard this beautiful music. I knew I had to put on my Sunday best and come in.”

Like a lot of transgender women of color, Shakida “had been living on the streets for many years,” Frausto said. “She makes an appearance every so often and every time she comes in, she reminds me that God doesn’t need a perfect choreographed performance. God just needs you to show up and share your joy.”

Scrappy church can teach “the big C” church so much, Frausto added.

“Lately everyone has been going crazy with this whole the church is dying and, yeah, the numbers are going down, but the population is not going down. People are around. And maybe where churches are dying, we are too afraid to venture outside our doors and come face to face with scrappiness,” she said.

While most people just need and want a place to love and be loved, those deemed less desirable, less worthy by society are often outcast. Scrappy churches, she said, are the product of benign neglect and the values of institutional racism and classism that plague the institutional church.

While churches often excel at applauding themselves for all their great works, “if the poor, the homeless, the immigrant, the mentally unstable, the person of color, the LGBTQ person, were seen as worthy as middle-class churches, the one I serve would never have been allowed to happen.”

Sometimes, when angry or weary she considers throwing in the towel but scrappiness won’t let her, she added. “We are called to action. We are called to speak out against injustice and stand up against the indignity to all people,” she said. “A lot of work has to be done. So much work that you are going to want to give up. But don’t. Find your scrappiness, change the church … change the world.”

Bolz-Weber to the church: ‘Don’t worry, be church’

Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor,  told the gathering the church she founded while in seminary, House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, initially met at an Episcopal Church. It now has a full-time Episcopal priest as pastor, as she spends much of her time traveling and speaking to groups like Forma.

House for All Sinners and Saints has about 250 members, mostly aged 22 to 42, single, Lutheran, post-Evangelical, Methodist, agnostic, Reformed, Episcopalian and with no denominational affiliation. Experiences from that church inspired Bolz-Weber to pen two best-selling memoirs,  “Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint” (Jericho Books: 2014), and “Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People” (Convergent Books: 2016).

She said encouraged the church to tell its own positive stories of faith in the midst of “this other narrative being that is being told around us about what’s happening. Not that it isn’t true, but other things are also true.”

“It sounds as if, at this point in time, it is our holy responsibility to tell these stories of the beautiful redemptive things that God is still doing among us, sot hat we cannot be pulled into despair and fear. We can’t afford it; the world can’t afford it.”

Addressing worries about dying churches, Bolz-Weber described a trip to Cappadocia, Turkey, several years ago, and witnessing Byzantine Christian iconography carved in caves formed by volcanic rock in what is now a Muslim country.

“That is to say we are not the first group of Christians to worry about the decline of Christianity,” she said, amid laughter. “The big, impressive, successful Byzantine Empire fell and yet the church of Christ did not die.”

Seeing the iconography prompted her to break into song the song “Christ is Risen,” “a song that, no matter what, will continue to be sung. Because worry or not, the tomb is empty and God will be praised.”

Of the worry about declining mainline churches, born of fear in a scarcity-driven society and economy, she said: “The thing is, is that buildings, numbers, money and power and other aspects of worldly success may be signs of a kingdom … but not necessarily signs of the kingdom.”

Instead, she suggested the church focus on its true mission.

“Society will still have Fortune 500s for profits and nonprofits for services and day care centers for children and Elks Clubs for socializing and Starbucks for over-priced coffee and many other things we may never be … but you know what the culture around us will never do? Preach the Gospel. Administer the sacraments. Proclaim forgiveness of sins. Ever. You know why? That’s our job, our main job. No one else is going to do it.”

A parishioner’s Facebook post about finding a way not “to mentally eviscerate” tailgaters and the irritating and challenging people he encountered every day offered a perspective. His struggle ended “when I served somebody communion at House of All,” she paraphrased the Facebook post. “I looked at you and said, ‘Child of God, the body of Christ, broken for you.’”

He, “like so many of us, is changed by the word of grace he hears in church,” she said. “He has a frame of grace through which to see even the people he can’t stand. I argue this wouldn’t happen alone. This is why we have Christian community, so we can stand together under the cross and point to the Gospel, a gospel that Bonhoeffer said is hard for the pious to understand.”

The gospel, she said, confronts us with the truth: “You are a sinner, a great desperate sinner. Now, come as the sinner you are, so that God can bless you. God wants you and your imperfect shimmering glory. We have to hear again and again who God is for us and what God has done on our behalf.”

Offering a way to measure success she said: “If at your church the word is preached and Eucharist shared and water poured and forgiveness of sins is received, then congratulations, your congregation is a success.”

The church will only die when “we forget what the definition of church is and when we forget whose the church is.”

She added that “no matter what happens, people will still continue to gather in the name of the triune God, and to talk about the night Jesus was betrayed, to hold up bread and say it is his body, for forgiveness for you and give it to their friends.”

She is a Christian, she said, because the gospel helps her to see herself differently, to see the world differently and to see others differently.

“At House for All Saints and Sinners, the absolution we all use in the liturgy is, ‘God who is gracious and merciful and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, loves you as you are … and by his authority, I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all of your sins.’

“No one says that — to me in yoga class. I need to hear it.”

And secondly, “I’m Christian because I need the gospel so I can see the world differently … and because I have seen the way God makes us into agents of what we’ve received.

“In the same way that hurt people hurt people, it is also true that forgiven people forgive people, loved people love people and grateful people are generous people. To be receivers of God’s grace and mercy is to see the world differently and I need this desperately.”

Thirdly, “Grace is a double-edged sword. It pushes me to places I don’t want to go. A place where grace and mercy are true for me and for those I can’t stand. You know, those who don’t deserve it. Which means God’s grace is for me and everyone who’s ever hurt me and I hate that and I resist that and yet how could it be true for me if it’s not true for them?”

–The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. She is based in Los Angeles.

New co-ordinator for the International Anglican Family Network

Tue, 02/07/2017 - 12:30pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The International Anglican Family Network has appointed a new co-ordinator, Deacon Angela Morrison, who will be taking over from Sally Thompson, recently retired from the role after a quarter of a century.

Full article.

Archbishop of Cape Town speaks out about water ‘inequality’

Tue, 02/07/2017 - 12:22pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba has said the problem of water supply and sanitation illustrates why South Africa “is one of the most unequal countries in the world.” The archbishop also described the problem of drought as one of the biggest risks facing South Africa’s businesses – causing food shortages, price increases and the loss of jobs for casual workers.

Full article.

South Sudan bishop calls for urgent food and medical supplies

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:57pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Bishop Emmanuel Murye Modi of the Diocese of Kajo-Keji has made an appeal for practical assistance amid ongoing security concerns. Modi says that the situation locally has calmed after a recent spate of violence, but over 90 percent of people in several districts had fled to Uganda for refuge. Over 70 percent of the people in other local districts sought safety within internally displaced camps.

Full article.

Stuart Hoke receives Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church’s Samuel Shoemaker Award

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 2:27pm

The Rev. Stuart Hoke was honored with the Samuel Shoemaker Award at the annual meeting of the Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church last November.  In a recent telephone interview, Hoke mentioned the words of Bill W., founder of Alcoholics Anonymous:

“Showing others who suffer how we were given help is the very thing which makes life seem so worth while to us now. Cling to the thought that, in God’s hands, the dark past is the greatest possession you have—the key to life and happiness for others….” (Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism {Fourth Edition}, page 124.)

Hoke uses those words to describe his own focus over the past 30 years as a teacher, pastor, priest, mentor and spiritual guide. Since moving to North Carolina in 2008, Hoke has worked as a supply priest throughout the Dioceses of North Carolina and South Carolina, and currently serves as the part-time vicar at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Hamlet, North Carolina. Committed to “spreading the word” about recovery and grace, he is a frequent guest preacher and conference and retreat leader.

Hoke became affiliated with Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church in the early 1990s. “I consider addiction to be one of the most significant pastoral issues facing the Church. Bridging the gap between the church and recovery has been my crusade since 1987,” he continued. “In both Amarillo and Houston I led Sunday school classes called ‘Spiritual Awakenings.’ The goal of these classes was to illustrate the strong connection between the tenets of Christianity and the principles of 12-step spirituality.

“I have been personally involved in recovery for the past 30 years,” he said, calling his involvement redemptive. “This is it. I have received an outpouring of grace, a connection with a fellowship of recovering people, and an opportunity to become the priest that I was called to be in the first place.”

“As I travel around the country, as soon as I say the words ‘Episcopal recovery,’ the response I hear is ‘Do you know Stuart Hoke?’ Stuart is traveling all over the country ministering to those who need to hear the good news of recovery for all God’s children,” said the Rev. Deacon Lisa Kirby, president of Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church. “I delight in Stuart’s wisdom and humor and can think of no more worthy person to receive this year’s Sam Shoemaker Award.”

For the past 12 years, Hoke has pioneered the teaching of two recovery-related courses at The General Theological Seminary. The Very Rev. Ward B. Ewing, D.D. was dean of The General Theological Seminary when those classes were introduced. “When we began the course, General was the only seminary in the Association of Theological Schools to have a course on addiction,” he said. “The class has always received the highest evaluation from the students who recognize the importance of understanding addiction in their pastoral ministries.”

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, and raised across the river in northeast Arkansas, Hoke

graduated from Southern Methodist University in Dallas before attending the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he received the Master of Divinity degree.

Ordained in 1972, Hoke spent the greater part of his ministry serving congregations in Arkansas and Texas. After completing the Master of Sacred Theology degree and the Doctor of Theology degree at New York’s General Theological Seminary, he served as executive assistant to the rector of Trinity Wall Street from 2000-2008, and also as missioner to St. Paul’s Chapel at Ground Zero following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in September 2001. Hoke moved to North Carolina in 2008.

The Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church was originally known as the National Episcopal Coalition on Alcohol and Drug Abuse. RMEC is now a separate 501(c)(3) organization of clergy and laity, led by an all-volunteer board. It has been instrumental in bringing the issues of addiction and recovery to the attention of the General Convention, most recently the 2015 resolutions regarding alcohol use and abuse in church settings.

“Stuart has educated a generation of clergy to recognize and respond appropriately to the cunning, baffling, and powerful diseases of addiction. His work has a significant impact for the health and vitality of our church,” said Ewing, now retired from GTS and currently serving as non-alcoholic trustee of the General Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous and past chair of the board. “I cannot imagine a more appropriate recipient for this award.”

The Samuel Shoemaker Award is given on an occasional basis. Previous honorees receiving the award include: Betty Ford, the Rev. David Works, The Rt. Rev. David Richards, and Pia Mellody, all major contributors to the spiritual healing of addictions.

-Karyn Zweifel is a freelance writer and author living in Birmingham, Alabama. She is a member of St. Andrews Parish in historic Southside.

Episcopalians in Baltimore ‘walk in prayer’ for refugees

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:27pm

Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton, second from right, leads a three-mile march for refugees from downtown Baltimore to the Cathedral of the Incarnation. More than 300 took part. Photo: J. Jason Hoffman/Diocese of Maryland

[Diocese of Maryland] For many of the more than 300 people who marched through downtown Baltimore on Feb. 4 to support refugees, the issues at play are not personal.

But for Amer Omar, 22, the issues are real and painful.

When he describes the day in 2009 when the police stormed into his family’s home in Sudan, he cries. They arrested his father and two brothers. They destroyed his home. They even killed his cat. Only Omar and his mother, Makka, escaped.

Their odyssey took them to Libya, then to Turkey, where they came under the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  Omar, who now lives in East Baltimore, was in Turkey for three years before arriving in America in 2014. Complications kept his mother in Turkey.

“She is the last person I have now,” said Omar, who is Muslim. He has not seen his father or brothers since their arrest.  “I don’t want to say they’re alive. I say they are passed away. If they were alive, I would see them on Facebook.”

Omar told his story at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Baltimore, the final stop of the three-mile march. The Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, described the march as a walking prayer and a chance for people to express their faith.

“We are here because Jesus is at the gate, waiting to be welcomed,” said Sutton. “We are here because we have been commanded to respect the dignity of every human being.”

Anger over President Donald J. Trump’s executive order has sparked nationwide protests and judicial action by federal courts. The temporary ban on travel to and from seven mostly Muslim countries prompted the State Department to cancel visas for about 60,000 people and left hundreds stranded throughout the world.

Gerry Cohee, one of the marchers, said he protested against the ban last weekend at Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport.

“As difficult as times are, I’m pleased to see that this is happening,” said Cohee. “I’m sad about the situation, but I’m putting myself out here as a gesture of hope.”

All along the route, people sang, “This little light of mine,” and chanted,  “No hate. No Fear. Refugees are welcome here.” Drivers in passing cars honked their horns in support. Merchants waved and shouted as the march passed their shops.

“A lot of these people are my customers and friends. How could I not support them,” said Kevin Brown, who owns the Station North Arts Café.

Medora and Chris Boyle’s two children, ages 3 and 1, were among the dozens of youngsters who joined the march. Some walked, some rode in strollers. Boyle carried her 1-year-old daughter in a holder strapped to her chest. She said she wanted to give her son a simple way to understand the turmoil swirling around him.

Fear and uncertainty is rife in the immigrant and refugee communities. Omar said two of his Sudanese friends have gone to Canada. The Rev. Wong Hong Lee, who serves a Korean congregation, said some of his parishioners are frustrated by what has happened and are thinking about leaving the United States. Lee, who came to America in 2005, said he is encouraging them to stay. The Rev. Margarita Santana, Hispanic Missioner for the diocese, said many of her parishioners were afraid to march.

“They told me: ‘No. I am in fear. I’m not coming,’” she said. “This is the time to say we stop the fear. America is a welcoming country.”

 However, Sutton said he had received comments from many who do not support what they described as his political stance regarding refugees.

“I’m not here for political reasons,” Sutton explained. “I’m here because I’m trying to follow Jesus Christ.”

Curry, Jennings support advocacy against Texas ‘bathroom bill,’ noting General Convention planned 2018 meeting in Austin

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 12:18pm

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, have written to the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives to praise his opposition to a so-called “bathroom bill” in that state.

“The need for voices of conscience is urgent at this moment, because laws like the one proposed in Texas target some of the most vulnerable people in our communities,” Curry and Jennings said in their Jan. 30 letter to Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, that was released Feb. 6.

General Convention is scheduled to meet July 5-13 in Austin, Texas. The two told Straus they hoped the Episcopal Church would not face the “difficult choice” of rethinking that choice.

“No one wants to move General Convention,” Jennings told Episcopal News Service. “But, we do want to offer our support to Speaker Straus and the growing number of Texans, including many Episcopalians, who are opposed to discrimination in their state. We’re committed to assisting the coalition working to defeat Senate Bill 6 when it reaches the House so that in 2018 all Episcopalians can enjoy Texas hospitality in Austin.”

The Senate Bill 6 would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on what the bill calls their “biological sex” as stated on their birth certificate. The bill would also overturn local nondiscrimination ordinances in cities like Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio. State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst introduced that bill on Jan. 5 and it has the support of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, among others.

The bill echoes a similar law North Carolina passed in early in 2016 that survived a repeal attempt late last year. The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council said in June 2016 that it opposed that state’s “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act” as well as “all legislation, rhetoric and policy rooted in the fear-based argument that protecting transgender people’s civil rights in the form of equal access to public accommodation puts other groups at risk.”

Shortly after council acted in June, Curry and Jennings wrote to the Episcopal Church explaining their opposition to the bill and saying that they had written to the North Carolina governor and members of the state’s General Assembly, calling on them to repeal the bill.

Curry and Jennings link such bills to those of the Jim Crow era aimed at people of color. They also reminded Straus about the impact on transgender people of the harassment they face, citing a 2011 survey tracking those effects.

The Episcopal Church is “proudly diverse: racially, economically, and in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Curry and Jennings said. “We are duty-bound to ensure that all of our people are treated with respect, that their safety is guaranteed, and that our investment in the local economy of our host city reflects our values” during meetings of General Convention.

The letter notes that the Church moved General Convention from Houston to Honolulu in 1955 because the Texas city could not offer sufficient guarantees of desegregated housing for its delegates.

“We would not stand then for Episcopalians to be discriminated against, and we cannot countenance it now,” Curry and Jennings wrote. “We would be deeply grieved if Senate Bill 6 presented us with the same difficult choice that church leaders faced more than 60 years ago.”

They urged Straus to “remain steadfast” in his opposition to the bill, which is expected to pass the Senate.

The complete text of the letter follows

January 30, 2017
The Honorable Joe Straus Speaker of the House
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, Texas 78768

Dear Speaker Straus:

Thank you for your stand against Senate Bill 6. As the presiding officers of the Episcopal Church, we are firmly opposed to this legislation and condemn its discriminatory intent. We reject the notion that transgender people do not deserve equal civil rights and protection under the law. We affirm the dignity of all of God’s people, for we are all equally children of God, as the prophet Malachi declared when he wrote: “Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?” (Mal. 2:10)

As you are no doubt aware, this is not the first time that the segregation of bathrooms and public facilities has been used to stigmatize minority groups. “Bathroom bills,” as they are sometimes called, were passed during the Jim Crow era, and the bogus rationale advanced then is the same bogus rationale being advanced now: the safety of women and children who are no way under threat. The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church has stood against fear and in support of God’s love by passing a resolution that reaffirms the church’s support of local, state and federal laws that prevent discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression. The resolution also states our opposition to any legislation that seeks to deny the dignity, equality, and civil rights of transgender people.

The need for voices of conscience is urgent at this moment, because laws like the one proposed in Texas target some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. In a 2011 survey, 78 percent of transgender people said that they had been bullied or harassed in childhood; 41 percent said they had attempted suicide; 35 percent had been assaulted and 12 percent had suffered a sexual assault. Almost half of transgender people who responded to the survey said they had suffered job discrimination, and almost a fifth had lost housing or been denied health care due to their gender identity or expression.

For us, as Episcopalians, the proposed Texas law is of particular concern. We are currently scheduled to hold our triennial General Convention—a nine-day event that includes as many as 10,000 people—in Austin in July 2018. Our church is proudly diverse: racially, economically, and in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity. At our conventions, we are duty-bound to ensure that all of our people are treated with respect, that their safety is guaranteed, and that our investment in the local economy of our host city reflects our values.

In 1955 we were forced to move a General Convention from Houston to another state because Texas laws prohibited black and white Episcopalians from being treated equally. We would not stand then for Episcopalians to be discriminated against, and we cannot countenance it now. We would be deeply grieved if Senate Bill 6 presented us with the same difficult choice that church leaders faced more than sixty years ago.

We urge you to remain steadfast in your opposition to Senate Bill 6 and any similar bill that might be introduced in the Texas House, and we thank you for your commitment to keeping Texas a welcoming state for all of God’s children.

Faithfully,

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President, House of Deputies

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

‘Don’t be afraid to be people of love,’ presiding bishop tells Pittsburgh revival

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 9:43am

“Don’t be afraid to be people of love. Don’t be afraid to stand up for the name of Jesus. Don’t be afraid to reclaim this faith again. And don’t you be ashamed to be an Episcopalian,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry tells the congregation Feb. 4 during an Absalom Jones Day Eucharist at Church of the Holy Cross in the Homewood West section of Pittsburgh. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Editor’s note: A photo gallery of scenes from the Pittsburgh revival is here.

[Episcopal News Service – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania] The old church tradition of the revival received new life in the Diocese of Pittsburgh Feb. 3-5 with a distinctly Episcopal feel.

The emphasis was on both sparking individuals’ faith lives and a commitment to show the love of Jesus beyond the four walls of their churches. Anchoring Episcopal revivals in the needs of the world was a constant theme of the weekend.

“Episcopal Church, we need you to follow Jesus. We need you to be the countercultural people of God who would love one another, who would care when others could care less, who would give, not take,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said during his Feb. 5 sermon at Calvary Episcopal Church in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

For those who think the words Episcopal and revival don’t go together, the size of the crowds, the depth of their emotion and Curry’s insistence begged to differ.

His prayer for this and subsequent revivals, he said during one of his four sermons, is that they will be the beginning of “a way of new life for us as this wonderful Episcopal Church, bearing witness to the love of God in Jesus in this culture and in this particular time in our national history.”

Curry’s Pilgrimage for Reconciliation, Healing and Evangelism in Southwestern Pennsylvania is the first of six revivals being planned with diocesan teams in different cities around the country and the world this year and in 2018.

“I want to suggest this morning that we need a revival inside the church and out – not just in the Episcopal Church. For there is much that seeks to articulate itself as Christianity that doesn’t look anything like Jesus,” Curry said in his Feb. 4 sermon during an Absalom Jones Day Eucharist at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross. “And if it doesn’t walk and talk and look and smell like Jesus, it’s not Christian … and if it’s going to look like Jesus, it’s got to look like love.”

Curry said the revival of the church, centered in God’s love, is not about a church rejuvenated for its own sake. The church’s revival must spill God’s love out into the world “until justice rolls down like a mighty stream,” he said, echoing Micah.

Marianne Novy, foreground, and John Welch pray together Feb. 3 in Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s Hicks Chapel after a sermon in which Presiding Bishop Michael Curry called for Episcopalians to help heal the world’s divides. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

To do that, a revival must channel the emotions of the moment toward something bigger and lasting, Curry said during a news conference. “It is about claiming new and authentic and genuine life. That’s true for our nation, true for our world. We must find better ways to live together, to care for each other, to care for our society and to care for our global communities,” he said.

“We who are followers of Jesus believe that the way of love and the way of Jesus is the key to doing that. But, we join hands with people of other faiths and people of goodwill – anyone who wants to help us end what so often is a nightmare of poverty and injustice and bigotry and wrong and violence, and realize God’s dream of true harmony and peace and justice for everybody.”

The six revivals will vary in design, according to a recent press release, but most will be multiday events that feature dynamic worship and preaching, offerings from local artists and musicians, personal testimony and storytelling, speakers, invitations to local social action, engagement with young leaders, and intentional outreach with people who aren’t active in a faith community. Pittsburgh Episcopalians were encouraged to bring with them neighbors who were not part of a faith community.

The next five revivals are:
May 5-7: Diocese of West Missouri
Sept. 23-24: Diocese of Georgia
Nov. 17-19: Diocese of San Joaquin (California)
April 6-8, 2018: Diocese of Honduras
July 2018: Joint Evangelism Mission with the Church of England

The Rev. Stephanie Spellers, canon to the presiding bishop for evangelism, reconciliation and creation, is organizing those efforts, along with a team including Consulting Evangelist for Revivals Carrie Headington and Evangelism Associate Emily Gallagher. The planning for each begins with asking diocesan members what the good news of Jesus looks like in their communities. Pittsburgh Episcopalians discerned that the good news would help them cross the divides of their area, build relationships with neighbors of different traditions and start reconciling with each other, Spellers said during the news conference. Thus, that was the theme of the Pittsburgh gathering.

She and others will return to the dioceses after the revivals to work with Episcopalians to cultivate a group of leaders who have new abilities, new relationships and a new common purpose to further enact Jesus’ love in their communities.

“Hopefully, Pittsburgh – not just the diocese but the city and surrounding communities – will look different. And they’ll feel like there was a church that showed up, not only to talk about good news but to be good news,” she said, describing the hoped-for outcome.  Episcopalians will understand that they have grown into being new leaders of the Jesus Movement, she added.

Curry’s call for reconciliation and healing first rang out Feb. 3 during the opening event, an ecumenical service of repentance and reconciliation at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s Hicks Chapel.

“I am more and more convinced that Jesus came among us to show us how to become more than simply the human race,” Curry said. “He came to show us how to become the human family of God. And, my brothers and my sisters, in that is our hope and in that is our calling.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preaches Feb. 3 at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

God is calling Christians to a deep and radical sense of repentance, Curry said. The world needs such a manifestation of Christianity, he contended, because it will lead to a desperately needed reconciliation among a litany of ethnic groups and even among “red folk and blue folk,” referring to the nation’s political divisions. Finding ways for Republicans and Democrats to discover common ground echoed through Curry’s sermons.

The congregation greeted Curry’s words at the seminary with murmurings of assent, shouts of agreement and, soon, drum rolls and keyboard riffs from the Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church choir, whose members also sang during the service. That audience participation was hallmark of all four of Curry’s sermons during the weekend and it included the presiding bishop leading every congregation in song.

Curry sounded a theme that would echo throughout the weekend: Christians must be people of compassion, people of goodwill, people who dare to live the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ words in the Matthew 25:31-46. For instance, he said, people setting social policy or enacting legislation ought to measure it by the core Christian value of “love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Twelve leaders and senior pastors from local Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and African-American churches gathered with elected and civic leaders and members of the Diocese of Pittsburgh for the service that many called a historic commitment to ecumenical conversation. The revival began with a revival of the clergy’s commitment to their ministry. Roman Catholic Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik began a 10-part confession based on the Church of Scotland’s Ministerial Challenge of 1671, lamenting clergy’s attention to the business and accolades of the world. “We have been unfaithful to our own souls, and to our sisters and brothers; unfaithful in the pulpit, in fellowship, in discipline, in the Church,” Zubik said.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry makes the rounds in the undercroft of Church of the Holy Cross during a Feb. 4 breakfast meeting with youth of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Curry met the next morning with some of the youth of the diocese at Holy Cross in the struggling Homewood West neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Telling them that they were growing up in a time of complex change, he said technological progress is important but “progress as a way of love, progress in living, progress in learning how to live together in all of our differences and varieties may be the ultimate progress that will make the difference for us all.”

After the breakfast meeting, Curry went upstairs for a rousing Absalom Jones Day Eucharist in the packed nave. During his sermon, the presiding bishop continued his call for Christians to act out of the selfless love exemplified by Jesus on the cross rather than “unenlightened self-interest.”

Saying that the “way of love can save us all,” Curry asked the congregation to imagine how legislatures, corporate board rooms, schools and health care in America would be different if they were approached “not by what I can get out of it but how it serves the common good.”

“We are talking about a revolution of values,” he said, having left the pulpit to preach from the center aisle. “Revival means to give life; it’s resurrection. Imagine our country, imagine what we would say to the immigrant and refugee, imagine what American would say to the rest of the world, imagine what the rest of the world would say to us if that way of love became our way.”

Absalom Jones, the first African-American ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church, looks down above a black Jesus in a mural painted on the wall of the side chapel at Church of the Holy Cross in the Homewood West section of Pittsburgh. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Heading to the end of his sermon Curry told the congregation: “Don’t be afraid to be people of love. Don’t be afraid to stand up for the name of Jesus. Don’t be afraid to reclaim this faith again. And don’t you be ashamed to be an Episcopalian.”

As an Episcopal sort of altar call, Curry invited people to sing “There Is a Balm in Gilead” in which Christians are told that it does not matter if they are not good at preaching or praying. Instead, they should simply tell someone else about the love of Jesus. “As we sing, in your own way I invite you to recommit – or commit – yourself to following the way of Jesus, to being a part of his movement in this world,” the presiding bishop said.

Video of the entire Eucharist is here. The presiding bishop’s sermon begins at the 22-minute, 6-second mark.

Curry returned to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary that afternoon to welcome Episcopalians and others from across the diocese for a conversation billed as “Bridging Divides and Healing Communities” and aimed at beginning to form relationships among individuals and churches in hopes that they can work together to address hopelessness, poverty and addiction in local communities.

Kim Karashin, Pittsburgh’s canon for mission, told Episcopal News Service before the conversations began that the “best case scenario” for the gathering would be that people agree to meet again to talk about these issues but that this gathering was about getting to know each other. “We’re not going to move the needle without building relationships,” she said.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry listens Feb. 4 as Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto praises the Episcopal Church’s efforts to build bridges across the city’s divided neighborhoods. The mayor spoke at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary before a conversation aimed at forming relationships among individuals and churches in hopes that they can work together to address hopelessness, poverty and addiction in local communities. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who joined in welcoming people to the conversation, said later during the news conference that Pittsburgh is a divided community needing this sort of training in conversation to cultivate leaders who can step in during emergencies and try to move people into productive ways of acting.

“Pulling a community together only happens with things like this,” he said. “You have to be pro-active; you can’t wait until something happens. It’s taking these actions that will help build those bridges that we speak about.”

The last day of the Pittsburgh revival featured two Eucharists: the first at Calvary Episcopal Church, and the second 40 minutes away at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, McKeesport, in the economically struggling Monongahela River Valley south of Pittsburgh. Representatives of nearly three dozen Episcopal congregations gathered at St. Stephen’s to support “The Mon Valley Mission,” which is a new effort to revive the faith and well-being of the river communities.

Curry used the morning’s gospel story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well to tell the McKeesport congregation that God pushes people to build bridges between people who society says are enemies. In their conversations at the well, Curry said, both Jesus and the Samaritan woman learn something about each other and themselves. Moreover, the woman discovered within her the image of God and she experienced the love of God as being active in her life, he said.

Then, Curry said, she became “the first evangelist in the New Testament” when she told her neighbors what happened at the well with Jesus.

Each person at St. Stephen’s received a small scallop shell with a red cross painted on it, an ancient symbol of pilgrims, to symbolize their pilgrimage to take the good news of Jesus into the world. The service ended with Curry commissioning all 320 people in attendance to be disciples sharing the good news of Jesus.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

Scenes from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Pilgrimage for Reconciliation, Healing and Evangelism in Southwestern Pennsylvania

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 9:29am

[Episcopal News Service – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Pilgrimage for Reconciliation, Healing and Evangelism in Southwestern Pennsylvania was the first of six revivals being planned with diocesan teams in different cities around the country and the world this year and in 2018. Here are some scenes from the Feb. 3-5 event.

Members of the Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church Choir sing Feb. 3 in Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s Hicks Chapel during the ecumenical service of repentance and reconciliation that kicked off the Episcopal Church’s first modern-day revival. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Judi Rogers, right, and Patrice Walters pray together Feb. 3 in Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s Hicks Chapel after a sermon in which Presiding Bishop Michael Curry called for Episcopalians to help heal the world’s divides. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry prepares to shoot a video on his cell phone of an altar frontal with some Diocese of Pittsburgh youth. The youth put paint and glitter on their feet and walked across a piece of material to make an altar frontal symbolizing the Jesus Movement. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

The Jesus Movement frontal adorned the altar at Church of the Holy Cross in Pittsburgh for the Feb. 4 Eucharist. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Detail of the Jesus Movement frontal on the altar at Church of the Holy Cross in Pittsburgh for the Feb. 4 Eucharist. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop Dorsey McConnell, right, embraces Presiding Bishop Michael Curry as he introduces him to a Feb. 4 breakfast meeting with youth of the diocese at Church of the Holy Cross in Pittsburgh. “This house has been waiting for you,” McConnell later told Curry. “In some way, this house has been waiting 300 years for you.” Absalom Jones, whose ministry was celebrated during Eucharist that day, became the first black American priest when he was ordained in the Episcopal Church in 1804. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Important African-Americans inside and outside of the Episcopal Church surrounding a black Jesus are in a mural that forms the reredos of a side chapel at Church of the Holy Cross in the Homewood West section of Pittsburgh. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

“If it doesn’t walk and talk and look and smell like Jesus, it’s not Christian … and if it’s going to look like Jesus, it’s got to look like love,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says in his sermon Feb. 4 at Church of the Holy Cross in the Homewood West section of Pittsburgh. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

The congregation at Calvary Episcopal Church in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh listens to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry during Eucharist on Feb 5. Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop Dorsey McConnell, right, sat in the pews for the sermon. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry makes a point during his sermon Feb. 5 at Calvary Episcopal Church in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop Dorsey McConnell, far left; the Rev. Lorena Ringle; Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, canon to the presiding bishop for evangelism, reconciliation and creation, helped close out the revival with Eucharist at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in McKeesport. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Video: Presiding Biship Michael Curry on countering religious extremism

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 9:20am

[Council on Foreign Relations] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reflected Feb. 3 on his recent trip to Ghana and discussed the role religious communities can play in countering radicalization and violent extremism during an event at the Council on Foreign Relations. 

The Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher dedicated to being a resource for its members, government officials, business executives, journalists, educators and students, civic and religious leaders, and other interested citizens in order to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries.

 

Video: Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at Absalom Jones Day Eucharist

Sat, 02/04/2017 - 2:10pm

[Episcopal News Service — Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached and presided Feb. 4 during an Absalom Jones Day Eucharist at Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross, in the Homewood area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Video of the entire Eucharist is here. The presiding bishop’s sermon begins at the 22 minute, 6 second mark.

The Eucharist was part of the presiding bishop’s Pilgrimage for Reconciliation, Healing and Evangelism in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Live streaming and on-demand video will be available Feb. 5 when Curry preaches and presides during the “Taking the Jesus Movement to the Mon” Eucharist beginning at 11 a.m. at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in McKeesport, which is in the Monongahela River Valley south of Pittsburgh. WMCK.FM, an internet radio station with studios at St. Stephen’s will live streamed the McKeesport service. The service will also be available live and on demand on the Episcopal Church website here.

The Pittsburgh pilgrimage is one of six events that the Episcopal Church is working with diocesan teams to organize as “Episcopal Revivals” in 2017 and 2018. Their goal, according to a recent press release, is “to stir and renew hearts for Jesus, to equip Episcopalians as evangelists, and to welcome people who aren’t part of a church to join the Jesus Movement.”

Complete Episcopal News Service coverage will follow the close of the Pittsburgh pilgrimage.

The revivals slated for 2017 and 2018 are:

May 5 – 7: Diocese of West Missouri

Sept. 23-24: Diocese of Georgia

Nov. 17-19: Diocese of San Joaquin

April 6 – 8, 2018: Diocese of Honduras

July 2018: Joint Evangelism Mission with the Church of England

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