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Diocese of Bethlehem Names Two Priests to Stand for Election as Ninth Bishop

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 12:41pm

[Diocese of Bethlehem] The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem today released the names of two priests who will stand for election for the ninth bishop of the diocese.

The Rev. Kevin Nichols

The Rev. Canon Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

They are the Rev. Canon Kevin D. Nichols, 56, chief operating officer and canon for mission resources in the Diocese of New Hampshire, and the Rev. Canon Ruth Woodliff-Stanley, 55, canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Colorado. The search committee had chosen three nominees, but one withdrew shortly before the slate was presented to the Standing Committee, which oversees the election.

Nominees may be added to the slate through a petition process that opens today and closes on February 15. Public gatherings known as “walkabouts” will be held around the diocese, April 17-20, to give local Episcopalians an opportunity to meet the nominees. The election will be held at the Cathedral of the Nativity on April 28.

“We’re very excited to have such highly-qualified nominees,” said the Rev. J. Douglas Moyer, rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Stroudsburg, who chairs the Standing Committee. “Kevin and Ruth are people of deep faith and spirituality, and we have been moved by how both integrate their faith with their everyday lives. They also have experience working at the highest levels of their dioceses and extensive networks they can call upon thanks to their service to the wider Episcopal Church.”

Learn more about the nominees at the search committee’s website.

The diocese includes almost 12,000 members in 58 congregations in northeastern Pennsylvania. It has been led for the last four years by the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe, who is also the bishop of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. Rowe served as bishop provisional during a period of reorganization and renewal as the diocese determined its future.

Diocese’s call for ‘expansive language for God’ sparks debate on gender-neutral Episcopal liturgies

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 1:23pm

The Diocese of Washington holds its 123rd diocesan convention Jan. 27 at Washington National Cathedral. Photo: Diocese of Washington, via Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] The Diocese of Washington is calling on the Episcopal Church’s General Convention to consider expanding the use of gender-neutral language for God in the Book of Common Prayer, if and when the prayer book is slated for a revision.

He? She? Those pronouns aren’t preferred, the diocese says in a resolution it passed Jan. 27 at its convention, held at Washington National Cathedral in the nation’s capital city. Instead, the resolution recommends using “expansive language for God from the rich sources of feminine, masculine, and non-binary imagery for God found in Scripture and tradition.”

The diocese’s convention passed two other resolutions, voicing support for immigrants and the transgender community. But it was the call for more inclusive language in the prayer book that drew national attention, especially from conservative-leaning critics.

“What I see is a church that embraces literally any fashionable left-wing cause,” Tucker Carlson, host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox News, said in a segment Feb. 5 in which he interviewed the Rev. Alex Dyer, one of the resolution’s sponsors.

The Daily Caller, a news website founded by Carlson, reported on the resolution last week, as did Breitbart and The Blaze. Some of the reaction has been “vitriolic,” Washington Bishop Mariann Budde told Episcopal News Service in describing three negative emails she has received. All three emails were written in a similar tone, she said, describing her diocese alternately as aligned with Satan and at war with God.

“It’s clear they didn’t read the resolution,” Budde said.

The resolution’s push for more gender-inclusive language grew out of conversations around the diocese in congregations where topics of gender and transgender equality have resonated among the parishioners, Budde said. She sees it as a spiritual matter, not a cultural or political issue.

That view was shared by Dyer, priest-in-charge at St. Thomas’ Parish in Washington, D.C. He responded in the TV interview that the diocese had based its decision on prayer and discernment, not politics – and a belief in “a Jesus who calls us to reach out to people on the margins and to reach out to everyone.”

The resolution is worded to influence future revisions of the prayer book, understanding God as a higher being who transcends gender. It doesn’t mandate the elimination of gender-specific references to God, Budde said, despite what some reports suggest.

“I don’t believe that the way we understand gender is applicable when we imagine who created Heaven and Earth,” Budde said. At the same time, the diocese’s emphasis is on expanding the church’s liturgies rather than eliminating masculine descriptions of God, such as God the father.

“I’m all for expanding our understanding of God and how we pray to God, but I feel no need to take anything away,” she said.

The difficulty in describing God may reside in language itself.

“No language can adequately contain the complexity of the divine, and yet it is all we have to try to explain God,” the diocese said in an explanation of the resolution contained in the convention materials. “By expanding our language for God, we will expand our image of God and the nature of God.”

The Episcopal Church is not the only Christian denomination grappling with the inadequacy of language to explain God. The Roman Catholic Church’s Catechism, for example, discusses references to God as “Father” while also noting that the image of motherhood is also appropriate.

“We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God,” the Catechism says.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America addresses the question of gendered language in a 2013 liturgical resource: “Because language is created and used by humans, it reflects the imperfections and limitations of humanness. Therefore, no use of language can ever totally describe or represent God.”

Under “Language Describing God,” the document cites some examples – “eagle,” “rock,” “light,” among others – before offering a caution about pronoun use: “Assigning male pronouns to human occupations (such as judge, teacher, potter, guard) or to objects (fortress, rock, shield) should be avoided when they are used as metaphors for God.”

More recently, the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden announced last year that it would update its liturgical handbook with “more inclusive” gender language. That move sparked some complaints that the church was eliminating masculine references to God, a reaction similar to what the Diocese of Washington now faces.

“We are not going to give up our tradition,” Church of Sweden Archbishop Antje Jackelén told PBS NewsHour. “God is beyond our human categories of gender. … We need help to remind us of that, because due to the restrictions of our brains, we tend to think of God in very human categories. We are not worshipping political correctness. We are worshipping God, the creator of the universe.”

The Episcopal Church, too, has a history of emphasizing inclusiveness.

“This is a conversation that we have been having internally in the Episcopal Church for decades,” the Rev. Emily Wachner, a lecturer in practical theology at General Theological Seminary in New York, told ENS.

Examples of the church’s evolution on gender and power dynamics include the approval of ordination of women in 1976, but it didn’t start or end there, Wachner said. She noted the creation of “Voices Found,” a 2003 supplement to the Hymnal 1982 that featured all women composers.

“I’ve never had a parishioner leave or join the church for concern about gendered language for God,” she said. “At the same time, this entire conversion around God and gender is so important.” In some ways it parallels the secular conversations now underway on gender issues in society, such as sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement, she said.

Of all the work the church could be doing for gender equity – Wachner mentioned disparity in clergy pay as one example – re-examining descriptions of God in Episcopal liturgies may be just one small step. Wachner is particularly supportive of the first half of the Diocese of Washington resolution, calling for “expansive language.”

She was less impressed by the second half of the resolution, which called on prayer book revisions that, “when possible,” would “avoid the use of gendered pronouns for God.” Limiting language seems counter to the intent of the resolution, she said.

“I believe the real conversation we should be having is around the vitality of the church itself,” Wachner said. “I’m not sure God’s pronouns are a vital part of that conversation.”

The Diocese of Washington also has received attention for its resolution on immigration, which committed it to “becoming a sanctuary diocese” and “offering sacred welcome to immigrants.” Certain congregations in the diocese already have offered sanctuary to immigrants facing deportation, Budde said, and this was a chance for the diocese to show its support for those efforts.

The same was true of the third resolution, “on inclusion of transgendered people.” Budde said the diocese wanted to stand with congregations that have been at the forefront of welcoming transgender people and fighting violence and hatred against them.

The resolution regarding gendered language for God was approved by a hand vote, with a solid majority in favor, though it was not unanimous, Budde said.

“There was very little debate in the convention itself, and I don’t think it’s because they didn’t want to have the conversation,” she said. If Episcopalians didn’t feel comfortable debating the question on the convention floor, she would welcome such conversations in other settings.

She also underscored the imperfection of language and the ways that our understanding of language can change over time. “Mankind” once was an accepted catch-all term for men and women. “There wasn’t really much debate about that, until there was a lot of debate about that,” she said, and now it is more common to hear inclusive terms like “humankind.”

Her hope is that someday the church will be so confident in welcoming all people that such debates will no longer be necessary. Episcopalians may each see the world differently, she said, but they share a spiritual common ground, “that we’re part of a family trying to be true to the Gospel imperative to love your neighbor.”

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

Anglican mission agency USPG appoints London college leader as new chair

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 1:04pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] John Neilson, the secretary of Imperial College London, has been appointed as the next chair of trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG. He will succeed Chris Chivers, the principal of Westcott House Cambridge, whose six-year term will finish in July. “There is a big challenge to communicate the vision and purpose of a twenty-first century mission agency more widely, particularly in parishes,” Neilson said.

Read the full article here.

Joanna Udal honored for service to Anglican Communion

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 1:00pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Rev.  Joanna Udal, former secretary for Anglican Communion Affairs for the Archbishops of Canterbury, has been awarded the Cross of St. Augustine for services to the Anglican Communion by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Udal served both Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Willams and Welby, before stepping down in 2014. The award was in recognition of her “unparalleled service to the Anglican Communion.”

Read the full article here.

Newly appointed Anglican bishops attend induction week at Canterbury Cathedral

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 12:23pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] A group of 33 recently appointed bishops are spending a week at Canterbury Cathedral – the Anglican Communion’s mother church – as part of a global induction program. They are taking part in the new bishops’ course, which happens every February. It provides an opportunity for newly appointed bishops from around the world to meet each other for fellowship, prayer and learning. Today they are in London, visiting the Anglican Communion Office in Notting Hill, and then Lambeth Palace, the London home and offices of the archbishop of Canterbury.

Read the entire article here.

Good Book Club among diverse Lenten tools offered by the Episcopal Church

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 5:18pm

A worshiper receives ashes at St. Bart’s in New York City. Photo: Episcopal Church submission

[Episcopal News Service] Instead of seeing this Lenten season as a time to do without, you can approach it from a more plentiful perspective: an opportunity to grow closer to Jesus, with more resources than ever.

That’s how Presiding Bishop Michael Curry sees it. Lent can be a chance to deepen your intimacy with Christ, he said in a video about helpful Lenten tools, including the Good Book Club.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which falls on Feb. 14 this year – coinciding with Valentine’s Day – and it lasts through Thursday, March 29, when the Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday begins.

Typically, Lent involves fasting and abstinence of some sort, inspired by the 40 days and nights Jesus fasted in the wilderness, according to several Bible passages, including Luke 4:1-13. Christians are invited “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word,” according to page 265 of the Book of Common Prayer.

There are more ways than ever to accomplish these aspirations.

For the first time, the Forward Movement presents the Good Book Club to the Episcopal Church and other interested people as a comprehensive resource to observe Lent. The program is a partnership with more than 25 organizations in the church, Richelle Thompson told Episcopal News Service. She’s the Forward Movement deputy director and managing editor.

“One of the reasons we tried to build this is because in one way, it’s a choose-your-own-adventure; we have resources from so many different organizations,” Thompson said. “We really tried to add a lot of variety so people can find what best suits their needs, and so they can find it the way God is calling them to engage in scripture.”

The Good Book Club features everything from a podcast from Episcopal Migration Ministries to a downloadable booklet to encourage a spirit of gratitude created by United Thank Offering. Parents will find tools to engage their children.

Those interested can join simply by reading along. It begins Feb. 11, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, and continues through Pentecost, May 20. Forward Movement has created a set of daily readings to divide Luke and Acts into 50 days each. Each day, participants will read a few verses of Luke or Acts.

In addition to their prominent place in the New Testament, there’s another a good reason the two books will be studied together.

“Scholars tell us that the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts are part 1 and part 2 of the same story, probably by the same author,” Curry said in his video on the Good Book Club.

Luke tells about Jesus while he lived among us, and Acts describes what his followers did afterward, as they put his teachings into action, Curry said.

There’s a Good Book Club app for iPhones and Android phones with daily readings, a coloring page and a journal for those on the go.

“Reading scripture individually and collectively can change our spiritual life,” Thompson said. She laughed. “And only God knows how we will be all changed by the end of this.”

Other resources include:

  • “Set Free by Truth”: The ecumenical Lent devotions begin with Ash Wednesday, Feb. 14, and continue through Easter Sunday, April 1. Each segment of “Set Free by Truth” presents scripture citations, a reflection and a prayer. The book is available for free downloading here.
  • Episcopal Relief & Development Sunday: Falling on Feb. 18 this year, this church-wide tradition is marked with special prayers, materials and a dedicated offering to support the organization’s worldwide programs. Special resources and a planning guide for Episcopal Relief & Development Sunday are available at on the organization’s Sunday page. Churches can download copies Episcopal Relief & Development’s 2018 Lenten Meditations booklets in English and Spanish by visiting the organization’s Lent page here.
  • Lent Madness: The Rev. Tim Schenck created this ministry in 2010 to combine his love of sports with his passion for the lives of saints. It’s a fun way for people to learn about the Episcopal Church’s Calendar of Saints. The program starts with 32 saints placed into a tournament-like, single-elimination bracket. At the championship, the winner is awarded the coveted Golden Halo. The first round consists of basic biographical information about each of the 32 saints. Subsequent rounds include quotes, quirks, legends and more saintly kitsch. Learn more at Lent Madness here.
  • Art Stations of the Cross: Feb.14-April 1, visit the 14 stations for reflection, worship services and discussions in New York. Learn more at Art Stations here.
  • Glitter Ash Wednesday: As a congregation, a group or individual, combine glitter with ash to witness about the inclusive message of Christianity. It began in 2017 with a focus on the LBGTQ community. For services, gatherings and more information, visit Parity here.

For more Lenten tools and resources, visit here.

Amy Sowder is a special correspondent for the Episcopal News Service and a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn. She can be reached at amysowderepiscopalnews@gmail.com.

Latin America bishops call on US to ‘love the stranger’ in statement on immigration policies

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 5:03pm

[Episcopal News Service] Anglican and Episcopal bishops from six Latin American countries met in El Salvador last week to discuss what they warned were “anti-migrant, racist and discriminatory policies adopted by the United States’ authorities,” according to a joint statement released after the meeting.

The statement was signed by Bishop Juan David Alvarado, Diocese of El Salvador; the Most Rev. Francisco Moreno, Primate of the Province of Mexico; Bishop Lloyd Allen, Diocese of Honduras; Bishop Julio Murray, Diocese of Panamá y Costa Rica; Bishop Philip Wright, Diocese of Belize; Bishop Benito Juárez, Diocese of Southeast Mexico, and Bishop Silvestre Romero
Diocese of Guatemala.

The meeting, Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, focused specifically on the Trump administration’s decisions to terminate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and the Central American Minors refugee program and to end Temporary Protected Status for some populations, including those from Haiti and El Salvador. Though the bishops’ statement doesn’t reference President Donald Trump by name, it says the bishops have reached out to the president and the U.S. Congress, urging them to follow the biblical command to “love the stranger” as they search for just policies toward migrants.

The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations has information on Temporary Protected Status here and DACA here.

You can read the bishops’ full letter below.

Position of the Diocesan Bishops of the Anglican Episcopal Church of Central America, Belize and Mexico on the termination of the TPS, DACA and CAM programs

The bishops of the Anglican Episcopal Churches of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, North and Southeast Mexico, met in San Salvador, El Salvador, from January 31 to February 2, 2018, to meditate, pray and analyze the evident hardening of the anti-migrant, racist and discriminatory policies adopted by the United States’ authorities, and that are embodied in the termination of the following programs: the Temporary Protected Status (TPS); Central American Minors (CAM) refugee program, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

These policies will affect hundreds of thousands of migrants, for example, people from Haiti, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize, Mexico and other countries.

Faced with this unresolved migration crisis, the diocesan bishops participating in the meeting expressed their position to the administration of the President and to the Congress of the United States of America. Specifically, we urged the search for:

  • humanitarian and fair reception for migrants in the United States,
  • the reasonable opportunity to identify ways to legalize their stay,
  • particularly guarantee mobility and protection for children and adolescents, and
  • protection of family unity.

As previously expressed in the same spirit in the letter issued by the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church gathered in Phoenix in 2010:

1. We exhort the authorities of the United States to keep in mind that God has always commanded us to love the stranger: “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34).

2. We pray that the Holy Spirit will touch the hearts and minds of the authorities of the United States of America, so that they understand that migration is to the benefit of everyone.

3. We do not accept the re-victimization of these migrants, who in principle are good people and many have been victims of death threats, of harsh conditions of economic and social vulnerability, while others have been victims of violence from both gangs and agents of the State of their countries of origin.

4. We denounce that ending the adopted migration programs, without a possible alternative solution, violates human dignity and human rights, is discriminatory and racist.

5. We absolutely reject the manipulative assertions of certain politicians pointing to migrants as criminals based solely on their irregular migration status and their belonging to other cultures and races.

6. We ask the political authorities of the United States to refrain from expelling the migrants, since this act would be an affront against God, our churches and divine creation.

7. We give thanks to, and join the struggle of, the Episcopal churches of the United States and other denominations as well as groups of people who defend the human rights of migrants. We invite you to continue working together on regional and interprovincial projects to help resolve the migration crisis.

8. We recognize the support, solidarity and sensitivity of the people of the United States, who have made space in their hearts and consciences for migrants. To these noble and humane people belong the faithful of churches, legislators, senators and politicians sincerely concerned that this situation be regularized, seeking peace and social harmony.

9. We urge our political authorities in Central America, Belize and Mexico to coordinate and work on decent and humane proposals in favor of migrants and then present them in a negotiating dialogue with the United States’ authorities.

10. We demand the political authorities of our countries, regions and the United States, to work together to promote structural changes in their respective countries so that there are conditions of employment, health, education, security, housing, basic services and other conditions so that people abandon the idea of emigrating.

11. In the face of the migration crisis, the united voices of the bishops in this meeting remind all political authorities that it does not matter what was done incorrectly in the past or what was omitted to be done, but how beautiful we can build together hereinafter, cultivating in the present a fraternal dialogue, respectful and dignified among all, to attend to the migratory victims.

12. We must all remember that no one is a migrant, because although we come from one place and go to another, we are always within God’s creation. He has made us stewards of creation so that we live together in harmony, freedom, and with equality for mobility, equity and responsibility.

Finally, we express to our sister and brother migrants: we will continue working for you and we commit ourselves to work in pastoral care for migrants at the local, regional and interprovincial levels.

San Salvador, February 02, 2018.

Global prayer urged as tribal violence claims lives in Congo

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 2:29pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Anglicans around the world are being asked to pray for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo as tribal violence continues to claim lives in the Ituri Province in the north-eastern area of the country. The Ituri city of Bunia is home to one of the largest UN peacekeeping forces in Africa as international troops seek to intercede between the warring Lendu and Hema peoples. At the weekend, 26 people were killed when a Hema village 31 miles north of Bunia was attacked by Lendu tribes people. The Rev. Bisoke Balikenga, national youth co-ordinator of the Anglican Church of Congo is urging Anglicans to pray for the country.

Read the full article here.

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