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New primate elected in Anglican Province of the Indian Ocean

Tue, 08/29/2017 - 1:12pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Bishop James Wong of the Seychelles has been elected as the new archbishop and primate of the Church of the Province of the Indian Ocean. He succeeds Archbishop Ian Ernest who served for 11 years. The election took place on Aug. 26 at the Provincial Synod in Mauritius. Archbishop James has committed himself to the fostering of links within the communion.

Read the entire article here.

‘Our brothers and sisters in Texas and Louisiana need our help’

Tue, 08/29/2017 - 11:17am

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] Long ago the prophet Malachi taught that we are all children of God by virtue of our creation by the same God. “Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us,” he asked (2:10). Jesus taught the same thing when he told a story about a Good Samaritan. We are indeed all the children of God. And if we are all God’s children, then we are all brothers and sisters.

In our recent days, we have watched and witnessed the devastation in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.  Our brothers and sisters in Texas and Louisiana need our help.

Episcopal Relief & Development reminds us not to send food, clothing or other items because affected dioceses have limited or no capacity to receive, store or distribute goods. It is more efficient and better for the local economy to make a donation.

Episcopal Relief & Development already has actions in place for first-line aid.

  • To donate to the Hurricane Harvey Response Fund to support impacted dioceses  as they meet the needs of their most vulnerable neighbors after this event, check here.
  • Sign up on the Ready to Serve page to register as a possible volunteer in the future. Episcopal Relief & Development staff share these lists with dioceses when they are ready to recruit external volunteers.
  • Bulletin insert for use this Sunday is available here.
  • The latest Episcopal Relief & Development program updates are available on Facebook, Twitter (@EpiscopalRelief) and on here on the website.
  • Check the Episcopal Church website for updates and important information.

As our fellow Episcopalians minister to those in need they need our help not just now or in the short term, but for the long haul. Our support of Episcopal Relief & Development is a tangible, practical, effective and reliable way to do that. Keep in your prayers for the people in Texas and Louisiana whose lives have been forever changed by Hurricane Harvey.

Together we are the human family of God and our efforts in times like these truly help bring daring grade to our sisters and brothers in great need.

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

A video version of this message is here.

From Episcopal Relief & Development: Gulf Coast dioceses prepare for response to Hurricane Harvey

Mon, 08/28/2017 - 6:56pm

[Episcopal Relief & Development] Episcopal Relief & Development is partnering with dioceses throughout the affected areas in Texas and Louisiana as they assess the ongoing impact of Hurricane Harvey and prepare to respond.

Tropical Storm Harvey strengthened into a Category 4 hurricane with 130 mile hour winds and made landfall in Texas on the evening of Friday, August 25th. It hit the Texas coast with devastating rains and flooding in the most powerful storm to hit the state in more than 50 years.

The National Weather Service called Harvey’s flooding unprecedented and “unknown and beyond anything experienced.” To date, there have been seven deaths reported and more than a dozen people have been injured. Hurricane Harvey has dropped more than 25 inches of rain on Houston, Galveston and the surrounding areas with heavy rains and flooding expected to continue for the next several days. Torrential rains and catastrophic flooding have destroyed towns along the coast and left thousands without shelter and access to emergency medical services. A total of 50 inches of rain is expected to fall by the end of the week throughout the area.

Episcopal Relief & Development staff is coordinating with the dioceses of Texas, West Texas and Western Louisiana on potential response efforts. Local church partners are checking on leaders and members and planning the use of church facilities and resources where available. Currently, assessments are limited due to safety concerns.

“Hurricane Harvey is not over yet,” said Katie Mears, director of Episcopal Relief & Development’s U.S. Disaster Program. “Heavy rains are expected throughout the week. Our team is in touch with affected dioceses while praying, gathering information and assessing potential local needs. Members of the dioceses are sheltering in place.”

Episcopal Relief & Development has partnered with the Episcopal Diocese of Texas to pilot the AlertMedia mass messaging system that was used successfully after the flooding in the Diocese of Louisiana last year. This platform has enabled the dioceses  to communicate with staff and congregational leaders to share information and assess needs. “Obtaining the status of church leaders and their properties will allow the diocese to focus on those with the greatest needs and move more quickly and effectively in planning their response,” Mears said.

“Leaders in Texas and Louisiana have extensive and valuable experience with responding to disasters,” Mears continued. “While it is certainly a challenging time, this wealth of experience allows diocesan leaders to develop an effective response to present needs and compassionately provide critical information in the days and months to come.”

In response to the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said, “Long ago the prophet Malachi taught that we are all children of God by virtue of our creation by the same God. ‘Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us,’ he asked (2:10). Jesus taught the same thing when he told a story about a Good Samaritan. We are indeed all the children of God. And if we are all God’s children, then we are all brothers and sisters,” he continued. “As you know, our brothers and sisters in Texas now need our help. Our support of Episcopal Relief & Development is a tangible, practical, effective and reliable way to do that, not just in the short term, but for the long haul. Thank you for whatever you can do for together we are the human family of God.”

To enable Episcopal Relief & Development to provide critical support after the storm, please donate to the Hurricane Harvey Response Fund.

Please continue to pray for those impacted by storms and flooding, for first responders who are conducting search and rescue operations and for church communities who are reaching out to care for their members and neighbors.

A Prayer from the Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle, the Episcopal Diocese of Texas

Heavenly Father, in your Word you have given us a vision of that holy city where the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea: Behold and visit, we pray, the cities of the earth devastated by Hurricane Harvey. Sustain those displaced by the storm with food, drink, and all other bodily necessities of life. We especially remember before you all poor and neglected persons it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them; that, among all the changes and chances of this mortal life, we may ever be defended by your gracious and ready help; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Episcopalians face into ‘catastrophic and life-threatening’ Hurricane Harvey

Mon, 08/28/2017 - 6:41pm

Interstate highway 45 is submerged during widespread flooding Aug. 28 in Houston. Photo: REUTERS/Richard Carson

[Episcopal News Service] As Hurricane Harvey stalled over the Houston area causing catastrophic and deadly flooding, Episcopalians across south Texas are assessing the unprecedented storm’s damage while finding ways to help their neighbors.

Episcopal Relief & Development staff is coordinating with the dioceses of Texas, West Texas and Western Louisiana on potential assessment and response efforts.

“Our brothers and sisters in Texas now need our help,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in an update on the organization’s website. “Our support of Episcopal Relief & Development is a tangible, practical, effective and reliable way to do that, not just in the short term, but for the long haul. Thank you for whatever you can do for together we are the human family of God.”

Katie Mears, director of Episcopal Relief & Development’s U.S. Disaster Program warned that “Hurricane Harvey is not over yet.”

“Leaders in Texas and Louisiana have extensive and valuable experience with responding to disasters,” Mears continued. “While it is certainly a challenging time, this wealth of experience allows diocesan leaders to develop an effective response to present needs and compassionately provide critical information in the days and months to come.”

Various media outlets are reporting that between two and five people have died because of Harvey. That toll is expected to rise.

“It’s absolutely mind-boggling,” Carol Barnwell, Diocese of Texas director of communications, said of the situation in Houston on Aug. 28.

Diocesan spiritual care teams are heading to the heading for George R. Brown Emergency Center at the Houston Convention Center where some of the thousands of evacuees are being sheltered, she said.

Most every freeway running around and through the city of six million is flooded and thus, Texas Bishop Andy Doyle Aug. 28 warned potential Episcopalians who might want to answer the center’s call for volunteers to “check your route for water hazards before you go.”

Flood waters have reached the top of single-story homes and people could be heard pleading inside, the Associated Press reported.

At midday Aug. 27, a U.S. Coast Guard incident commander urged residents to avoid sheltering in their attics to escape the rising flood. Instead, Capt. Kevin Oditt urged people to head to their rooftops and wave sheets, towels or anything else to attract the attention of helicopter crews.

Jack Beven, senior hurricane specialist, said in his Aug. 28 morning Tropical Storm Harvey Forecast Discussion on the National Hurricane Center website there have been reports of close to 30 inches having already fallen in the greater Houston area. With more on the way, rainfall totals could reach 50 inches in some locations, “which would be historic for the area,” he said.

 

Conditions are changing by the hour. The rains are “currently producing catastrophic and life-threatening flooding over large portions of southeastern Texas,” according to the National Hurricane Center’s Aug. 28 afternoon advisory. Forecasters said Harvey is “drifting erratically” toward the east-southeast. They predicted the center of Harvey will linger just offshore of the middle and upper coasts of Texas through Aug. 29.

The storm could produce an additional 15 to 25 inches rain by Sept. 1 over the upper Texas coast and into southwestern Louisiana, the advisory said.

Houston is all too familiar with hurricanes and tropical storms but, Barnwell said, typically the storms crash in and, after a few hours, the sun is back out and people can start picking up the pieces. Not so with Harvey.

“This is basically a week-long hurricane,” she said.

“You can’t imagine the noise of the rain falling straight in big, giant drops. It’s like someone poured a huge pitcher of water,” Barnwell said. “The sound is thunderous from the water coming down. That will go one for an hour or so and get you really nervous and then it will slack off.”

Doyle told Episcopalians on Aug. 27 that “we need to wait until the danger has passed to make our response so as not to complicate further the ongoing rescue operations.”

Doyle said “put on your church T-shirt and take care of your neighbors. Have a potluck supper if you can. If you’ve got power, invite people to come and charge their phones,” according to Barnwell.

The diocese activated its AlertMedia app, which it is running as part of a nine-diocese pilot project with Episcopal Relief & Development, to collect information about people and places in the diocese. AlertMedia sends a message to congregational leaders asking for a status report. Barnwell said she was compiling that information and attempting to contact people on the afternoon of Aug. 28.

AlertMedia is a cloud-based disaster communications tool that sends and receives messages to large groups of people via SMS, email and voice calls.

The diocesan staff is scattered around the Houston area because the diocesan office has been closed since noon on Aug. 25.

Most are working from home. However, the Rev. Kai Ryan, the diocesan canon to the ordinary and chief operating officer, has “feet of water in her house,” Barnwell said, and was evacuated with her family from their home Aug. 27 by rescuers in a Humvee.

Rescuers, official and volunteer, have been working all over the city in a variety of water-worthy vehicles and vessels. It is gratifying, Barnwell said, “watching strangers helping their neighbors; it’s amazing.”

Barnwell contacted ENS from her home in the University West section of Houston where her street had flooded and receded five or six times since Harvey’s arrival. The street fills up and the water begins to cross the sidewalk and creep up the grass. “It’s been draining really well, but at some point, it’s going to stop draining because there’s no place to go,” she said.

So much rain has fallen on the Houston area that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided Aug. 28 it needed to release water from two dams because of the rising waters. Those releases will aggravate flooding but the Corps said with the reservoirs rapidly filling, it must reduce their levels. Barnwell said one church, St. Catherine of Siena, could face flooding. Many of those parishioners were under a manadtory evacaution order as of the afternoon of Aug. 28 as are 90 percent of the members of Calvary Episcopal Church in Richmond.

Hurricane Harvey developed into a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico last week and made landfall as a Category 4 storm near Rockport, Texas, on the barrier islands beyond Corpus Christi shortly before 10 p.m. CDT Aug. 25. It then moved over Copano Bay and made landfall again, this time as a Category 3 hurricane.

Two small Diocese of West Texas churches were in its path: St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Rockport and Trinity Episcopal by the Sea just to the south in Port Aransas. It appears to diocesan officials that St. Peter’s sustained only minor damage, Communications Officer Laura Shaver said.

The Rev. Jim Friedel, St. Peter’s rector, has not been able to get into the town yet, so Shaver said the information is somewhat speculative. However, they’ve received reports that some siding is missing from the bell tower and from the north side of the building.

Trinity parishioners boarded up their church on Aug. 23 before they evacuated. “The Lord Bless You” was spray-painted on plywood covering one of the doors.

Trinity’s rector, the Rev. James Derkits, went with his family to College Station, north of Houston, where he led prayers for the church at St. Francis Episcopal Church, according to Facebook posts.

Derkits got into Port Aransas Aug. 28 to see the damage first-hand. The building withstood Harvey but Derkits reported that Trinity’s sanctuary is in “great shape.” The rectory and the exterior of the church sustained “significant damage.”

 

An Aug. 27 video on Trinity’s Facebook page show the church before and after Harvey, as well as the diocese’s Mustang Island Conference Center. Shaver said she is not certain who shot that video.

 

More than 20 Episcopal churches in the Corpus Christi area faced Harvey. “We’re still gathering information,” she said. “There are some of our coastal communities where even residents are not allowed to get back in yet. So, we don’t have a lot of information.”

The diocese has set up a new page on its website to host Harvey information and provide a donations link. The Diocese of Texas has done the same.

It appears that all Episcopalians in Harvey’s path are safe, Shaver added.

Inland in the diocese, Episcopalians are assembling hygiene kits that first-responders and others in the affected areas can give to Harvey survivors.

“Sooner or later, the big organizations are going to leave and that’s when we feel our church people will be able to go down there and help people rebuild their lives,” Shaver said.

Shaver spoke to ENS from the diocesan offices in Corpus Christi. She and her family left their home in Portland, north of the city across Corpus Christi Bay, the afternoon of Aug. 24. Their home is still standing, but the family lost their fence and some trees, she said.

It is unusual for West Texas to have to plan hurricane relief. The most-recent natural disaster occurred over Memorial Day weekend in 2015 when a flash flood struck the city of Wimblerly, located far inland between San Antonio and Austin. Diocesan officials are drawing on some of the resources they developed at that time, Shaver said.

“I cannot think of a time when our cities were a direct hit like this,” she said.

“We’re not encouraging anybody to go [to the affected areas] right now,” Shaver added. “We are in communication with the Diocese of Texas as they deal with the incredible amount of flooding, and our hearts and prayers are now with them. The situation is kind of flipped and I know that when the time comes, we’ll all work together and our people will be there for each other.”

Officials from the National Association of Episcopal Schools are surveying the area’s Episcopal schools to assess damage, check on closings and determine what resources they can provide storm victims, said Jonathan F. Cooper, the association’s communications manager.

Cooper said he wasn’t sure yet how many schools were affected so far by Hurricane Harvey, but the association has 58 member schools in Texas and Louisiana. Shaver estimated there are six schools affected in the Diocese of West Texas. In Houston, there are 19 member and nonmember Episcopal schools, including preschool, primary and secondary levels.

Although the start of the school year varies widely among private schools, at Southern schools, particularly those in Texas, the year usually starts earlier than in the North, Cooper said. Many Texas schools would have started their fall term within the last two weeks and many of those schools are now closed again until after Labor Day.

Trinity by the Sea parishioners boarded up their Port Aransas, Texas, church on Aug. 23 before they evacuated. “The Lord Bless You” was spray painted on plywood covering one of the doors. Photo: Trinity by the Sea via the Rev. James Derkits and Facebook.

Meanwhile, Louisiana is warily watching Harvey as residents there recall Hurricane Katrina that hit the state about the same time 12 years ago.

“The Diocese of Western Louisiana continues to prepare for what might be coming in the following days,” the Rev. Deacon Lois Maberry, Western Louisiana’s diocesan disaster relief officer, said in a statement. “We remain in communication with the dioceses of Texas and West Texas to provide resources as they are presented to us. Presently, our plan of action is to stay alert and continue pray for the safety of our neighbors.”

Members of the Diocese of Louisiana are watching and waiting as well.

“All it will take is for one of those rainbands to move over us and stall out in order to experience disastrous flooding,” said Karen Mackey, Louisiana’s diocesan communications coordinator.

Fourteen of New Orleans’ 120 drainage pumps remain inoperative. Nearly half of the city’s pumps broke in torrential rains in recent weeks and caused flooding.

The Rev. Deacon Elaine G. Clements, Louisiana’s diocesan disaster coordinator, said she can’t predict how the water pumps will hold up, but the diocese is cautiously optimistic that the predictions of 4 to 10 inches of rainfall — not an unusual amount for the area — will be accurate. So, Clements and other Episcopalians have turned their attention to helping neighbors in Texas, and if it becomes necessary, to Western Louisiana.

“We stand ready to help but know that the Episcopal Church is there for the long haul, there when everyone else is gone,” Clements said. “We have walked in these shoes so many times ourselves and know how much we must depend on one another during them.”

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service. Amy Sowder is a special correspondent for the Episcopal News Service, as well as a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, New York.

‘All Saints’ movie details how refugees saved struggling Episcopal church

Fri, 08/25/2017 - 7:18pm

Besides Ye Win’s starring role, all the Karen parishioners in “All Saints” were real parishioners at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee. Photo: “All Saints” via Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] After a split over theology in the 1990s, there were only 12 members of the congregation left at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee, a suburb south of Nashville. The church couldn’t pay its mortgage. By 2007, the church was in danger of closing.

Today, 130 to 150 parishioners attend Sunday services. Many worshipers filling those pews –barefoot after leaving their flip-flops at the door – are Karen refugees, an ethnic minority from Burma (called Myanmar by the military government). The church’s mortgage is paid off. It even has a community farm now.

At All Saints’, it was the refugees who saved the Americans.

Los Angeles director Steve Gomer found the transformation of this struggling Southern congregation so inspiring, he moved his family to Nashville to create a fictionalized film about it. The Sony Pictures movie “All Saints” comes out Aug. 25 in 800 theaters nationwide, starring John Corbett (“Northern Exposure,” “Sex and the City” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) as the real-life Rev. Michael Spurlock, Cara Buono (“Mad Men” and “Stranger Things”) as Spurlock’s wife, Aimee Spurlock, and Nelson Lee (“Law & Order,” “Oz” and “Blade: The Series”) playing Ye Win, a Karen leader.

Inspired by the Karen refugee story at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee, the Sony Pictures film “All Saints” releases nationwide Aug. 25 and in Europe and United Kingdom the week afterward. Photo: “All Saints” via Facebook

“The real story is remarkable. We had to change very little to make it dramatic,” Gomer told The Episcopal News Service. “You have these extraordinary people who went out of their way to say, ‘Yes, we’re here. Let’s form this community.’ I think the picture is moving but honest. It’s not saccharine.”

A lifelong Anglican, like many Karen, Ye Win and other refugees showed up at the church in 2007, asking to farm some of the church’s 20 acres to feed their families. More than 100,000 Karen live in a refugee camp on the border of Thailand and Burma. The ongoing civil war has earned them refugee status in the U.S., and they receive government support for three months after arrival. Then, they’re largely on their own.

The Trump administration’s temporary refugee ban makes this film even more timely, said the Rev. Robert Rhea, part-time vicar at All Saints’ since June 2016 and a full-time emergency-room physician. This is his first appointed post since graduating from Nashotah House Theological Seminary.

“The film has a broader impact for all Christians and faith communities. What do we do with the refugees and immigrants in our midst? How do we reach out and welcome them as God wants us to?” Rhea asked.

In the film, as in life, businessman-turned-pastor Spurlock had arrived recently at the church when Ye Win showed up. Spurlock had planned to close the struggling church. But the Karen’s farming of spinach, sour leaf and other foods not only fed their families, it helped the congregation. They were able to sell the extra crops at nearby markets to help pay the church’s bills. Yet everyone had to pitch in.

“Nobody knew what we were getting in for, as far as labor,” the real Spurlock said in a clip. “It is back-breaking work.”

The film crew shoots a church service for “All Saints,” a feature film out Aug. 25 in theaters across the United States. Photo: “All Saints” via Facebook

To research the film, Gomer attended services and family dinners. He participated in pastoral duties, such as transporting Karen people to doctor’s appointments and tutoring. Gomer is Jewish and active in synagogue, but he’d been interested in doing a film that he cared about, something showing the difficulties clergy members experience.

“At dinner at Ye Win’s house, my wife and I realized we were sort of in a time machine. We were sitting with our great-grandparents from Russia, who had a very similar experience in the 1890s as refugees and immigrants,” Gomer said. “That’s who the United States is. Building community. This is our story, and it’s any refugee’s story, although there are special circumstances in this story to make it even better.”

These days, there’s one Sunday service with the homily preached in both languages, as are the prayers and hymns.

Lisa Lehr moved to Smyrna in 2013. She wasn’t Episcopalian but decided to join the church after a Karen woman from All Saints’ hugged her on Palm Sunday in 2014.

“They made me feel like I was there with them, that they were my community, or they could be my community if I accepted it, and I did,” said Lehr, a volunteer Christian educator and now a member of the All Saints’ Mission Council.

The Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee, led by Bishop John Bauerschmidt, is sponsoring a special free showing Aug. 26 for members of the diocese. At the premiere on Aug. 3, all the stars showed up on the red carpet, with cameras and hoopla. During the film’s credits, viewers can see clips of the real congregation and what they’re doing today.

“People, not particularly Christian, I hope they will see it and be moved,” Rhea said. “This story is very, very appropriate for these times.”

– Amy Sowder is a special correspondent for the Episcopal News Service, and a writer and editor living in Brooklyn, New York.

Episcopal Church joins federal lawsuit over breakaway group in South Carolina

Fri, 08/25/2017 - 5:17pm

[Episcopal Church in South Carolina] A federal judge has granted The Episcopal Church’s motion to intervene in a lawsuit over false-advertising and related claims against the bishop of a breakaway group that left the Church in 2012.

The federal case, known as vonRosenberg v. Lawrence, has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel, and currently is scheduled to proceed to trial in March 2018. Judge Gergel was assigned the case after the death of Judge C. Weston Houck in July.

The lawsuit was filed in March 2013, a few months after Mark Lawrence and a breakaway group announced they were leaving The Episcopal Church. The suit involves a claim of false advertising under the federal Lanham Act. At that time, Bishop Charles vonRosenberg was the only bishop recognized by The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. By continuing to represent himself as bishop of the diocese, Mark Lawrence is committing false advertising, the lawsuit says.

Bishop vonRosenberg retired in 2016, and his successor, Bishop Skip Adams, was added as a plaintiff in the case earlier this year.

This month, The Episcopal Church filed a motion to join the case as a plaintiff, saying it has an interest in the litigation because of Bishop Lawrence’s “misuse of marks owned by the Church.”

On Thursday, Judge Gergel ruled in favor of the motion. Bishop Lawrence’s attorneys had argued the motion should be denied, in part because it wasn’t timely. Since the onset of the litigation in 2013, Lawrence’s attorneys twice moved to delay the case. Both times, Bishop vonRosenberg appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which agreed and sent the case back to federal court in Charleston to be heard.

“Defendant’s vehement objections to the timing of the motion for leave to intervene must be taken with a grain of salt,” Judge Gergel wrote. “The four years of delay preceding his answer to the complaint occurred on Defendant’s motion. He cannot now claim he is prejudiced by the delay he requested.”

The federal case is key to resolving trademark issues that were not addressed by the state courts in the lawsuit that the breakaway group, calling itself the “Diocese of South Carolina,” filed against The Episcopal Church and its local diocese in 2013. That case went to the South Carolina Supreme Court, which ruled August 2 in favor of The Episcopal Church and its diocese, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

On the issue of service marks, the five state Supreme Court justices were divided, and the opinions noted that these should be determined in the pending federal proceeding.

Attorneys for all parties attended a scheduling hearing Thursday with Judge Gergel in preparation for trial in 2018.

WCC leaders meet Pope Francis in Rome

Fri, 08/25/2017 - 5:09pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] In an audience with Pope Francis in the Vatican, World Council of Churches Central Committee moderator Agnes Abuom and WCC General Secretary Olav Fykse Tveit discussed how Christian unity is vital in bringing a true sense of justice to issues the world is facing today.

Full article.

Pressure mounts to remove Confederate symbols from Episcopal institutions

Fri, 08/25/2017 - 10:28am

This plaque honoring Leonidas Polk, an Episcopal bishop and Confederate general, is displayed in Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, Ohio. Dean Gail Greenwell says it should be removed or relocated. Photo: Sarah Hartwig/Christ Church Cathedral

[Episcopal News Service] Parishioners who attended Sunday worship at Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Aug. 20 should not have been surprised that Dean Gail Greenwell’s sermon addressed the issue of racism, given the national outcry over a large white supremacist rally in Virginia the weekend before.

Those hate groups had gathered in defense of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville. What may have surprised some Cincinnati parishioners is the Confederate symbols in their own cathedral.

Greenwell used her sermon to draw their attention to part of a stained-glass window honoring Lee and a plaque dedicated to Leonidas Polk, an Episcopal bishop and Confederate general. She called for both to be removed.

“The church itself has been complicit in enshrining systems and people who contributed to white supremacy, and they are here in the very corners of this cathedral,” Greenwell said in her sermon.

The growing secular debate over Confederate statues and monuments, amplified by the violence in Charlottesville, also is fueling renewed scrutiny of the numerous Confederate symbols that long have been on display at the Cincinnati cathedral and other Episcopal churches and institutions around the country.

Crew working with the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island saw into one of the plaques commemorating Robert E. Lee at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Brooklyn, New York. Photo: Episcopal Diocese of Long Island.

Two plaques honoring Lee had long stood outside a New York City church where he once worshiped and served on the vestry, until a bishop hastily ordered them removed last week.

At Sewanee: The University of the South, a school with Episcopal roots and Confederate connections, administrators say the school has been engaged in an ongoing discussion of Confederate symbols on campus, where a monument to a Confederate general still stands.

Washington National Cathedral in the nation’s capital is deliberating over whether to remove its stained-glass windows honoring Confederate generals Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Depictions of the Confederate battle flag already have been removed from the windows.

Such scrutiny even extends to an Episcopal church’s name. The congregation in Lexington, Virginia, decided in April it would remain as R.E. Lee Memorial Church, but the vestry faces new pressure to reverse that decision.

Vestry members, at their Aug. 21 meeting, approved a joint statement condemning racism and the deadly violence in Charlottesville. They also defended Lee’s reputation as a Christian and his five years as a parishioner after the Civil War. The vestry took no action toward removing Lee’s name from the church, a stance senior warden Woody Sadler supports.

“We would love to be all things to all people, and unfortunately we can’t. And I don’t think any church can,” Sadler told Episcopal News Service in a phone interview.

Just as Episcopal clergy members rallied Aug. 12 in nonviolent solidarity against hatred and bigotry in Charlottesville, Episcopal leaders are turning the focus inward and seeking opportunities for racial reconciliation churchwide in the debate over the legacy of the Confederacy.

“There’s nothing simple about this discernment,” Stephanie Spellers, canon to the presiding bishop for evangelism, reconciliation and creation, said in an emailed statement to ENS. “Removing church windows, statues and plaques that honor and valorize the Confederacy may be necessary. I would say they so deny the spirit of Jesus Christ that they have no place in his house.”

But true reconciliation requires more than simply removing Confederate symbols from view, Spellers said.

“Removing them doesn’t change the reason they were originally installed,” she said. “It doesn’t change the way certain groups practically worship those figures. It doesn’t change the fact that our schools are now rife with revisionist history books that whitewash the evil perpetrated against indigenous, black, Asian, Latino and some whites who weren’t white when they got here.”

Charleston massacre was earlier catalyst

Even so, an unprecedented dialogue has occurred in America in the two years since Dylann Roof opened fire June 17, 2015, at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine people. After Roof’s arrest, details of his fondness for the Confederate flag prompted some Southern leaders to order an end to displaying the flag at statehouses and other public places, a sudden and dramatic reversal after years of resistance to calls for the flag’s removal.

The Episcopal Church’s General Convention also weighed in, passing a resolution in 2015 condemning the Confederate battle flag as “at odds with a faithful witness to the reconciling love of Jesus Christ.” The resolution also advocated the removal of the flag from public display, including at religious institutions.

That resolution’s scope was limited to the flag, but racism has been a regular focus of General Convention for at least four decades. Through its resolutions, the church has committed to “addressing institutional racism inside our Church and in society,” ending “the historic silence and complicity of our church in the sin of racism,” and researching the historic ways the church benefited from slavery.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has identified racial reconciliation as one of three priorities during his primacy, and this year, his staff issued guidelines under the title “Becoming Beloved Community” intended to help congregations succeed in their local efforts.

This emphasis on racial reconciliation has aligned the church with people who oppose display of Confederate statues, monuments and other symbols. They argue the Confederacy cannot be absolved for leading the country into a brutal civil war with the goal of preserving slavery, and they say Confederate symbols now are inextricably linked to the racism espoused by the hate groups that rally behind them.

Others, while disavowing white supremacist groups, have cited history and heritage in arguing against removing Confederate monuments. They note slavery is a stain on the lives of many heroes of American history, not just Confederate generals, adding that removing statues succeeds in obscuring the past, not eliminating racial hatred.

Attempts by congregations to bridge such a divide can be painful, but the process also can be healing. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia, is a case study.

St. Paul’s, located in the former Confederate capital, was once known as the “Cathedral of the Confederacy.” Lee worshiped there, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis was a member. Until recently, a plaque hung on a wall in the church honoring Davis and featuring the Confederate battle flag.

St. Paul’s Episcpoal Church in Richmond, Virginia. Photo: Courtesy of St. Paul’s.

After the 2015 Charleston shooting, the Rev. Wallace Adams-Riley, St. Paul’s rector,  challenged the congregation to think deeply about whether Confederate symbols belonged in their worship space. That challenge grew into the History and Reconciliation Initiative, and through an invitation to discernment, the congregation decided to remove all battle flags but keep family memorials to fallen Confederate soldiers.

“We Southerners have often made it an either-or thing,” Adams-Riley recently told the Daily News Leader in Staunton, Virginia. “That we either recognize our ancestors for their bravery or we get honest about all that was so dark, so terribly dark, about our culture that rested on the back of enslaved men, women and children. But the truth should set us free. We can afford to tell the whole story. What we want is more history, not to erase history.”

Plaques still mark the pews at St. Paul’s where Lee and Davis once sat, and the pair are featured in stained-glass windows.

Stained glass fabricator Dieter Goldkuhle, who worked with his late father to install many of the stained glass windows at Washington National Cathedral, replaces an image of the Confederate battle flag after cathedral leaders decided in 2016 that the symbol of racial supremacy had no place inside the cathedral. Photo: Danielle E. Thomas/Washington National Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral, like St. Paul’s, chose to remove all depictions of the Confederate flag from its stained-glass windows after the Charleston massacre. But the cathedral is only halfway through two-year process of discerning whether to remove the Lee and Jackson windows, too, Dean Randy Hollerith said in a June 30 letter to the congregation.

“These windows, and these questions, have exposed emotions that are raw and sometimes wounds that have not yet healed,” Hollerith wrote. “They have helped to reveal how much we still have to learn as we work toward repairing the breach of racial injustice, and building the beloved community.”

A cathedral spokesman said this week the events in Charlottesville have added a sense of urgency to the process.

‘What we choose to revere’

Greenwell, the Cincinnati dean, was more direct in calling for the vestry to re-examine two memorials in the cathedral with the hope they will be removed.

One of them depicts Leonidas Polk, who was consecrated as missionary bishop of the southwest in Cincinnati in 1838. Polk, one of the founders of Sewanee, was bishop of Louisiana when he served as a Confederate general. He was known to wear his Episcopal vestments over his military uniform, “a thoroughly offensive merge of his professed faith and his fervor to see the institution of slavery endure,” Greenwell said.

Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, is depicted as receiving a blessing from Virginia Bishop William Meade in this stained-glass window at Christ Church Cathedral, Cincinnati, Ohio. Photo: Sarah Hartwig/Christ Church Cathedral

The other memorial, a stained-glass window showing Lee receiving a blessing from Virginia Bishop William Meade, was a gift from a Lee descendant, Greenwell said.

“We need to be very careful, very thoughtful about what we choose to revere on a plaque or put on a pedestal,” she said in her sermon.

The vestry is scheduled to discuss the memorials at its Sept. 13 meeting.

Sewanee, too, embodies the complex task of bridging this divide, given how its heritage, like that of the South, is interwoven with Confederate history.

The university in Sewanee, Tennessee, known in the Episcopal Church for its seminary, was founded in 1857 by several Episcopal dioceses under Polk’s leadership, though the Civil War delayed its opening until 1868. (Polk was killed 1864 as he and other generals scouted Union positions near Marietta, Georgia.)

Should Polk be honored at Sewanee? Even the relocation of a historic portrait of the school founder sparked debate in 2016, though university’s efforts to re-examine Confederate symbols extend beyond Polk and date back more than a decade.

A 2005 New York Times article reported on ways Sewanee and other Southern universities were trying to appeal more to students outside the South. In Sewanee’s case this meant removing controversial symbols, including Confederate battle flags in the chapel and a ceremonial mace given to the university and dedicated to a Ku Klux Klan founder.

Such moves alienated some of the school’s alumni, though traces of the Confederacy remain on campus, such as its monument honoring Edmund Kirby-Smith, a Confederate general who later taught math at Sewanee.

Edmund Kirby-Smith was a Confederate general who later taught mathematics at the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee, where this monument to the general is located. Photo: Caroline Carson

Sewanee has removed “many of the most visible and controversial representations of the Confederacy,” Vice Chancellor John M. McCardell Jr. said in a written response to an ENS inquiry.

“It is too easy, however, to get consumed with the metaphor that the Confederate symbols represent and thereby miss the real need to combat hate, bigotry, and racism,” he said. “The University of the South has made intentional and effective strides in the past several years to address these very issues and will continue to do so.”

But what should a church do when its very name is associated with the Confederacy?

The sign in front of R.E. Lee Memorial Church in Lexington, Virginia. Photo: Doug Cumming

Lee had been dead for 33 years when the church in Lexington was renamed R.E. Lee Memorial Church, and some members of the congregation see its identity closely tied to its most famous parishioner.

“Some say he even saved the parish,” Sadler, the senior warden, said.

Changing the name would alienate many members of the congregation, Sadler said, and he dismissed arguments that the name has become a distraction and makes the church less welcoming to those in the community who find Lee offensive.

“I feel that if the congregation wants to keep the name, then that’s what we want to call ourselves,” he said. “And we should not have other people who will never worship in our church … demand that we change what we call ourselves.”

Southwestern Virginia Bishop Mark Bourlakas is among those who warn the name is distracting the congregation from its gospel mission. He plans to discuss the issue during a visit to the Lexington church on Aug. 30.

But Bourlakas, who attended Sewanee in the 1980s when Confederate flags still were displayed in All Saints Chapel, also thinks it is important for Americans everywhere to open their minds to the pain such symbols can bring.

“People, especially white people, go along thinking, what’s the harm? It’s just a monument. What’s the harm of this flag? Big deal. It’s been up there forever,” he said, and unfortunately, it takes an outbreak of violence, as in Charleston and Charlottesville, for some people to consider a different perspective.

Spellers hopes the conversations underway in places like Cincinnati, Sewanee and Lexington will be steps on a longer journey toward racial reconciliation.

“Removing the symbols from their current places of honor and using them elsewhere for education and repentance has to be one part of a comprehensive effort to tell the truth, proclaim the dream of God, practice the way of love, and repair the breach in society,” Spellers said, “all of which are necessary to move toward Beloved Community.”

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

Manhattan Episcopal church and community protect, fight for Guatemalan mom

Thu, 08/24/2017 - 4:39pm

At an Aug. 17 press conference at Holyrood Episcopal Church, Iglesias Santa Cruz in New York, Guatemalan mother Amanda Morales Guerra, an unauthorized migrant, stands next to her three children, Dulce, Daniela and David. She announced her determination to fight deportation with the help of the Rev. Luis Barrios (speaking), local politicians and members of the community. Photo: Radhames Morales/Holyrood Episcopal Church, Iglesias Santa Cruz

[Episcopal News Service] Amanda Morales Guerra might be ripped from her children’s lives and returned to the violent country she fled 14 years ago. That real fear drove Morales, 33, a Guatemalan native in danger of deportation for entering and living in the United States illegally, to seek sanctuary more than a week ago at Holyrood Episcopal Church-Iglesias Santa Cruz in the Washington Heights neighborhood of northern Manhattan. Her three children were born in the United States and, thus, are American citizens.

Since the Morales family arrived at the church, parishioners, neighbors of several faiths and politicians have joined her in solidarity, providing for her family’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

On Aug. 21, supporters also climbed the steps of the Jacob Javits Federal Building in downtown Manhattan to provide the Immigration Court with two petitions: to request a stay of removal and to reactivate an asylum petition she had previously filed, said the Rev. Luis Barrios, the priest of Holyrood church. In a minor victory for the Morales family, the court agreed to review her appeals and announce a decision after 90 days, Barrios said.

An interfaith prayer vigil is planned at 7 p.m. Aug. 28, on the steps outside Holyrood church. “I don’t think God created us to suffer, so we need to fix this wrong,” said Barrios, who is also a forensic psychologist and professor of Latina/o studies at the City University of New York. “I’m going to pray to God to help me fix this injustice in society.”

Morales fled Guatemala in 2004 because MS-13, an international gang known for kidnapping and trafficking drugs, arms and humans, made violent threats to her and her family. The United States grants asylum to people fleeing from persecution based on race, religion, nationality, social group membership or political opinion in their native countries, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“MS-13: This is organized crime, so how can you send this woman back there? And as a woman, it’s a double issue; there’s the issue of being raped,” Barrios said. “It’s a very traumatic situation for this young woman and her children. I see her anxiety and trouble sleeping. The children are starting to have this anxiety that their mother will disappear.”

Guatemalan native Amanda Morales Guerra, mother of three children who are U.S. citizens, sought sanctuary from deportation at Holyrood Episcopal Church, Iglesias Santa Cruz in northern Manhattan in New York, where at the Rev. Luis Barrios is the priest. Photo: Radhames Morales/Holyrood Episcopal Church, Iglesias Santa Cruz

Authorities learned of her undocumented status in 2014 — when she couldn’t produce a driver’s license after a traffic incident — and alerted immigration officials. Since then, Morales, who worked in a factory making strings for cellos, has regularly checked in with an immigration office at appointed times, Barrios said. She pays taxes and has no criminal record, so deportation was a low priority until President Donald Trump’s administration began calling for stricter enforcement.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement performed close to 40 percent more enforcement and removal arrests in the first 100 days of Trump’s term than in the same period last year, according to ICE. That means deportation officers administratively arrested 41,318 individuals on civil immigration charges, compared to the 30,028 people arrested in the same time in 2016. Administrative arrests are made by a government official, in this case an ICE officer, without a warrant that has been reviewed and authorized by a judge. It’s a non-criminal removal warrant.

“ICE agents and officers have been given clear direction to focus on threats to public safety and national security, which has resulted in a substantial increase in the arrest of convicted criminal aliens. However, when we encounter others who are in the country unlawfully, we will execute our sworn duty and enforce the law,” said ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan in a first 100 days feature on ICE’s website.

Even so, churches, schools and hospitals have long been considered “sensitive areas” that authorities usually don’t enter.

Churches in the Diocese of New York are free to make their own choices about what sanctuary means and how they will provide it, said Bishop Andrew ML Dietsche, in a statement a day after Morales went public. He encouraged parishes to protect their members and to provide legal and pastoral help to undocumented people, all the while understanding the risks for the parish and sanctuary family.

“Yet in the changing landscape regarding immigration and deportations in which we find ourselves, I believe this is a well-considered choice marked by integrity and faith. The clergy and people of Holyrood Parish have my full support, the support of this diocese, and this imperiled family has my prayers,” Dietsche said.

Dietsche’s colleague, Bishop Mary Glasspool, compiled a list of resources for churches to use when encountering sanctuary issues.

After Morales was told to purchase a one-way ticket to Guatemala and show up at her next immigration appointment, she left her job and almost all her belongings at home in Massapequa, a hamlet near Amityville on Long Island. The Rev. Juan Carlos Ruiz, co-founder of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, helped Morales find Holyrood church. Formed in 2007, the coalition is an interfaith network of congregations, organizations and people that helps families and communities resist detention and deportation in order to stay together. Barrios has been a coalition member for six years.

Amanda Morales Guerra, shown here praying in Holyrood Episcopal Church, Iglesias Santa Cruz, fled threats of violence in Guatemala and has been living in the United States without authorization and faces deportation. Photo: Radhames Morales/Holyrood Episcopal Church, Iglesias Santa Cruz

While Morales has been enclosed within the church’s Gothic walls, parishioners and people from all over have helped the family, including members of other churches, university students, grade-school teachers, hospital personnel, seminary students, synagogue members and even people who regularly eat at Holyrood’s soup kitchen.

“This woman in her 80s with a walker comes to the soup kitchen we have here, and she came to give Amanda $5. You share what you have. Amanda was crying all over after that,” Barrios said.

Members from Fort Washington Collegiate Church in Washington Heights, part of the Reformed Church of America, donated sleeping bags to the Morales family.

“We recognize that opening your doors to help a family takes a village,” said the Rev. Damaris Whittaker, senior minister of Fort Washington. “We preach about loving our neighbor and welcoming the stranger, and this is our opportunity to live the gospel. We all have to step up to make sure we support them.”

While churches across the United States provide sanctuary to people quietly, Morales decided to go public, not only to pressure the government for her cause, but also to put a face to the plight of many immigrants like her, living in terror that their families will be torn apart, Barrios said.

The sanctuary concept is even bigger than immigration issues, Barrios said.

“It’s to create to a safe space for groups that are marginalized or oppressed, such as people of color, LGBT groups. We have to respond,” Barrios said.

– Amy Sowder is a special correspondent for the Episcopal News Service, as well as a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, New York.

Virginia congregation deeply divided over church’s name honoring Robert E. Lee

Wed, 08/23/2017 - 5:13pm

The sign in front of R.E. Lee Memorial Church bears the name of the church and, therefore, also the Confederate general who was a parishioner there. Photo: Lee Memorial Church via Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] Was Robert E. Lee an American hero or a traitorous defender of slavery? The Confederate general has been called both in the ongoing debate over whether statues, monuments and plaques in his honor should be remain on display in public places, from parks to churches.

At least one aspect of Lee’s biography is undisputed: He was a prominent parishioner at the Episcopal church that now bears his name, R.E. Lee Memorial Church in Lexington, Virginia.

And that name now threatens to tear the congregation apart.

“Change is hard, and this is about change that goes right down to our identity,” vestry member Doug Cumming told Episcopal News Service. He supports removing Lee from the name of the church.

Turmoil has grown since 2015, when the vestry first considered but failed to approve a proposal to change the name back to the original Grace Episcopal Church. Members began leaving the congregation in protest, and such exits continued this year after the vestry in April chose not to act on a consultant’s recommendation for a name change.

Then violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, a city barely an hour northwest of Lexington, accelerated a national re-examination of the Confederacy’s legacy. Defense of a statue of Lee became a rallying point for white supremacist groups, who descended on Charlottesville this month and clashed with anti-racism counter-protesters, leaving dozens wounded and one counter-protester dead.

On Monday, the Lee Memorial Church vestry held its first monthly meeting since the melee in Charlottesville. Again, it decided against taking steps toward a name change, instead unanimously approving a statement that began by condemning white supremacism, racism and violence in Lee’s name.

The vestry members said they “object strenuously to the misuse of Robert E. Lee’s name and memory in connection with white supremacy, anti-Semitism and similar movements that he would abhor. Lee was widely admired in both the North and the South as a man of virtue and honor and as among the leading reconcilers of our fractured land.”

The statement defended Lee’s reputation as a Christian, though not as a Confederate.

“We do not honor Lee as a Confederate,” the statement reads. “Nor do we subscribe to neo-Confederate ideas in honoring him. We honor Lee as one of our own parishioners, a devout man who led our parish through difficult years in post-Civil-War Virginia.”

Anne Hansen, who helped craft the statement Monday, resigned from the vestry afterward because church leaders would not commit more definitively to pursuing a name change.

“My hope had been that if we could make a unified statement, say something unanimously … that we would be able to move from there into further action in a consensual way,” Hansen said in an interview with ENS. “At the vestry meeting, that became apparent to me that was not going to happen.”

The vestry’s inaction on the issue is fueling tension inside and outside the congregation, creating an unnecessary distraction for the church, Southwest Virginia Bishop Mark Bourlakas told Episcopal News Service.  He favors the name change.

“The name has become not only a distraction to their Gospel mission, but … it’s dividing parishioners and causing all kinds of rancor,” said Bourlakas, who plans to visit the congregation this month to assist in reconciliation efforts. “My priority is to heal the congregation, and I don’t believe that that healing can occur while the name stays the same.”

Church renamed for Lee in 1903

The church’s history dates to 1840, when it was known as Latimer Parish. Its name had been changed to Grace Church by the Lee joined the congregation in 1865, after the Civil War, according to a 2015 church news release.

The sign in front of R.E. Lee Memorial Church in Lexington, Virginia. Photo: Doug Cumming

While serving in Lexington as president of Washington College, later renamed Washington and Lee University, the former Confederate general spent the last five years of his life, until his death in 1870, helping the struggling congregation survive.

He served as senior warden at one point agreed to pay the pastor’s salary from his own pocket, according to a report this week by the Washington Post.

There is no record, however, of why the congregation chose to rename the church for Lee in 1903. It may, as some suggest, have been part of the “Lost Cause,” a campaign across the South to rehabilitate the image of the Confederacy and its leaders at a time when racism and segregation also were on the rise. Or, changing the name may simply have been a way to honor the congregation’s most famous parishioner.

Those who favor changing the name back to Grace note that few Episcopal churches are named after deceased parishioners. They also worry the church is failing to send a welcoming message by hanging a sign out front featuring the name of a slaveholder who was willing to go to war against the Union to preserve slavery.

The debate over the church’s name came to a head in 2015 after a white supremacist with a fondness for the Confederate flag shot and killed nine people at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. That massacre prompted a nationwide re-examination of how the Confederate flag had come to represent racist ideologies.

Members of Lee Memorial Church spent several months discussing the church name in light of the Charleston shooting. After surveying the congregation and hearing a range of opinions for and against, the vestry voted, 9-5, in November 2015 in favor of changing the name back to Grace Episcopal, but because it chose to require a supermajority for passage, the measure failed by one vote.

Then in 2016, the congregation spent $16,000 to hire an outside consultant and formed the Discovery and Discernment Committee to more carefully pursue reconciliation among parishioners and decide what actions to take.

The committee and consultant issued a 15-page report in April 2017 that summarized the various perspectives on the church’s name. “The committee discerned from its work in discovery that a significant number of parishioners remain quite uneasy with the name of the church,” the report said.

It warned that those parishioners felt marginalized, and they may withdraw from the congregation, or conflict over the name could continue to escalate.

The report contained several recommendations, including the creation of a committee to seek new ways to honor Lee’s historic ties to the parish. It also recommended this: “That the name of the church be officially restored to its former name of Grace Episcopal Church.”

The vestry met the same month to review the report. It accepted all the recommendations, except the one urging a name change.

‘A different moment since Charlottesville’

ENS left messages seeking comment from senior warden Woody Sadler, as well as a vestry member, A.W. “Buster” Lewis, who has been a vocal opponent of changing the name. Neither had responded at the time of publication, though Lewis told ENS in a March story that he felt he and his parish were being “attacked.”

After the April vestry meeting, “there’s certain members of the vestry that felt with relief that the discussion was over,” vestry member Cumming said. “But I really think on some level they weren’t paying attention.”

The discussion didn’t resume in a significant way until the violence in Charlottesville raised concerns again about how Lee had come to be a symbol of white supremacist ideology.

“We’re in a different moment since Charlottesville,” Bourlakas said. “These symbols have become too toxic. We’re a church that cares deeply about sacrament and symbols, and this symbol, whatever you might think of it or what it represented, has been co-opted and has become toxic.”

Hansen, though, fears it may be too late. “We had already missed our opportunity to change the name of the church in a deliberative proactive way on our own terms,” she said.

Although he doesn’t intend to impose his preference on the congregation, Bourlakas said it is important to for him help guide the two sides to reconcile. He thinks that the statement the vestry issued Monday alluded to the path forward, with its concluding reference to the church’s commitment “not to Lee, but to that gospel which is his hope and ours.

“We invite all to share in it, and we aim to let nothing stand in the way of our proclaiming it with integrity,” the statement ends.

To let nothing stand in the way, Bourlakas said, would seem to include a name.

“For me this is an easy fix, because the original name of the church was Grace Church. That’s the name of the church when Lee was a parishioner,” the bishop said. “If it’s about honoring Lee, that’s the church he worshiped in. If it’s about history, that’s the historical name.

“But most important, it’s a fine name of a church. And Lexington and our country could use a lot more grace.”

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

Western North Carolina: A follow-up letter on Charlottesville

Wed, 08/23/2017 - 12:30pm

[Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina] Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Last week I wrote a letter in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Charlottesville.

I want to be clear that as Christians, we must meet everyone with the love of Christ in our hearts — no matter their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or country of origin. We are all God’s children. Likewise, the ideologies espoused by any hate group, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists, are the antithesis of the teachings of Jesus.

But I want to do more than just make pronouncements. In the past, I’ve watched many times as our leaders spoke out against overt and systemic racism, bigotry and oppression. Too often, their good words were not followed by concrete actions. Now that I am in a position to make these statements myself, I hold myself accountable to initiate a collaborative process for moving forward.

First, I want you to know that I am meeting with the Diocesan Commission to Dismantle Racism this week. This commission exists in our diocese to equip all of us to name, confess, resist and confront the sin of racism through prayer, education, advocacy and action. I want to use their expertise to begin a dialogue in our diocese about how we can take the next steps; we must move beyond verbal support to wholehearted, concrete practices that cultivate systemic change. I will communicate the results of our conversation in the coming weeks

Second, I ask that all congregations begin having intentional conversations about how they can address hate and bigotry in their communities. I believe this is an important time to come together, to talk, to pray, and to look deep in our hearts for solutions. As I visit your parishes, I want to hear about these conversations.

Last, I invite every church to include in your worship the Collect for the Human Family during the next four Sundays. It is my hope that this will help give us guidance as we move forward:

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

As bishop, it is my mission to find ways for us to collaborate on programs, education and ministries so that we can continue to lead the charge towards unity and reconciliation in Western North Carolina. Together, we must walk with Jesus and participate in God’s own mission to redeem the world.
In Christ,

The Rt. Rev. José A. McLoughlin
VII Bishop of Western North Carolina

Alabama judge dismisses ex-Episcopal Church official Stacy Sauls’ lawsuit

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 10:42pm

[Episcopal News Service] An Alabama judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the corporation of the Episcopal Church, called the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS), by former Chief Operating Officer Bishop Stacy Sauls after he was let go from his post.

Mobile County 13th Judicial District Judge Ben Brooks said in his Aug. 22 decision that Alabama was not the proper place for Sauls to bring such a suit.

The former chief operating officer said that because the Episcopal Church is present in Alabama, he ought to be able to file suit there. The church had argued that the case did not belong in the Alabama courts but, instead, in New York where Sauls was based.

The judge agreed with the church, saying all the actions described in the suit took place in New York, where Sauls still lives and where the church maintains its denominational office.

“The only potential Alabama witnesses are the lawyers [Sauls] hired,” Brooks noted.

Neva Rae Fox, the church’s public affairs officer, said late on Aug. 22 that “we believe this to be a just and proper decision.”

“We will continue to keep everyone involved in our prayers,” she said.

Brooks’ decision came about two months after he had ordered Sauls and church representatives in June to engage in state-mandated mediation. He took that action after he had heard oral arguments on the church’s request that he dismiss the lawsuit.

The judge appointed Michael Upchurch, an Alabama lawyer and mediator, to lead that process. Upchurch was ordered to finish the mediation and report to Brooks by Aug. 18. Upchurch attends St. James Episcopal Church in Fairhope, Alabama, according to his profile on the website of the Mobile law firm Frazer, Greene, Upchurch, and Baker.

Sauls’ suit against the DFMS and an unspecified number of unnamed defendants associated with the church claimed that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s decision to replace him as chief operating officer had damaged his reputation and made it difficult, if not impossible, for him to be employed elsewhere in the church.

Sauls filed suit in early February, nearly a year after Curry relieved him of his job. In announcing the lawsuit, the presiding bishop said that, in consultation with legal counsel, he had “tried his best to negotiate a severance with Bishop Sauls.” Curry said he made “a good faith and compassionate offer, but that offer was not accepted.”

The presiding bishop also said that “as a steward of church resources” he could not go beyond that offer and explain it in good conscience to the church.

The presiding bishop had announced April 4, 2016, that Sam McDonald, deputy chief operating officer and director of mission, and Alex Baumgarten, director of public engagement and mission communications, were terminated after an investigation found they “violated established workplace policies and have failed to live up to the church’s standards of personal conduct in their relationships with employees, which contributed to a workplace environment often inconsistent with the values and expectations of the Episcopal Church.”

At that time, Curry said Sauls would not continue as chief operating officer even though he had “operated within the scope of his office,” did not violate workplace policy and was unaware of the policy violations by McDonald and Baumgarten (both of whom reported to Sauls). The three senior managers had been on administrative leave since Dec. 9, 2015, pending an investigation into formal complaints and allegations from multiple members of the presiding bishop’s staff that the three had violated personnel policies.

Bishops of Companion Links Dioceses come together in Diocese of Wyoming

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 12:25pm

[Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming] In February of 2014 the bishops of Kiteto, Leicester, Mount Kilimanjaro, Trichy-Tanjore, and Wyoming, met in Trichy-Tanjore, South India, to discuss existing links between their  dioceses and how they may go about furthering their relationships.

The Rt. Rev. Isaiah Chambala (Kiteto), the Rt. Rev. Tim Stevens (Leicester), the Rt. Rev. Stanley Hotay (Mount Kilimanjaro), the Rt. Rev. Gnanamuthu “Paul” Vasanthakumar (Trichy-Tanjore), and the Rt. Rev. John Smylie (Wyoming) studied Scripture, reflected, worshipped, and experienced life in Trichy-Tanjore through visits to churches, temples, schools, and hospitals.

The bishops issued a joint statement from the 2014 gathering, which reads in part, “All of these ingredients helped forge strong working relationships in an atmosphere of generous hospitality from the Trichy-Tanjore diocese. This landmark meeting of Bishops from four continents was found, by all participants, to be enriching, inspiring and, by turns, challenging. [It was] a time of sensing the movement of the Holy Spirit and a model in microcosm of the Anglican Communion at work across widely varied cultures and contexts.”

They also developed affirmations, commitments, and resolutions detailing their hopes, plans, and steps in nurturing the Companion Links relationship. The list of these items is below.

The bishops met again in April and May of 2015 in Jerusalem, their focus being the continued development of their relationships and the connections between their dioceses. Their coming together also functions to model the idea of embracing “difference without division” within the Anglican Communion.

The joint statement issued from the 2015 meeting expresses the bishops’ pledge to work together and disallow differences to inhibit their common goal to spread faith through ministry.

In May of 2016 the bishops came together for a third time in Leicester, England, for the installation and seating of the Rt. Rev. Martyn Snow, who succeeded the Rt. Rev. Tim Stevens, as the bishop of Leicester.

This year, the Diocese of Wyoming will host all the bishops of the Companion Links Dioceses at the end of August and into September. They will reunite in Casper, Wyoming, and travel together to Cody, Wyoming. Bishop Hotay will give a presentation at the Diocese of Wyoming’s annual clergy spouse conference regarding the strong growth experienced within the Diocese of Mount Kilimanjaro.

While in Cody, the group will stay at Thomas the Apostle Center, a diocesan retreat facility. The Rev. Dr. Suresh Kumar of the Diocese of Trichy-Tanjore and the Very. Rev. Lori Modesitt of the Diocese of Wyoming will be facilitators for the group.

The group will attend a local rodeo and visit Yellowstone National Park, but the primary objective for their gathering includes discussion of a formal covenant between the Companion Links Dioceses. The hope is to further clarify the connection and build a better understanding of the Companion Links relationship so the relationship is not entirely dependent on the Bishops, but carried on by other members of the dioceses. If possible, the hope is for the group to come to a determination on the covenant, which can be presented and voted upon during the Diocese of Wyoming’s annual convention in October.

The Rev. Roxanne Jimerson-Friday, the first Native American woman from the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming to be ordained to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church, will speak to the group about Native American experiences in the church. The Rev. Warren Murphy, author of On Sacred Ground: A Religious and Spiritual History of Wyoming, will speak about environmental stewardship, which is a concern for all of the dioceses, especially Tanzania, where they are experiencing severe draught.

Each visiting bishop will attend a service at a local parish and participate as a member of the congregation; they won’t be preaching or presiding, but experiencing the services, the people, and church life specific to that church as if they are a member.

The visiting bishops will be introduced to Mutual Ministry, a unique model that is not seen in many other parts of the world beyond North America. It is a model that focuses on the inclusion of entire congregations to support, promote, and advance ministry.

Wyoming was one of the first dioceses to use the contemporary version of Mutual Ministry, as its recognition that all baptized individuals are responsible for ministry has helped small, rural congregations grow their ministry and leadership. The Rt. Rev. Bob Jones (bishop of Wyoming, 1977-1996) started thinking about adopting the model and the Rt. Rev. Bruce Caldwell (bishop of Wyoming, 1997-2010) made that vision a priority for the diocese. Bishop Smylie, has worked to strengthen the diocese using the model with the formation of clergy and laity.

Visit www.wyomingdiocese.org or follow the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming in Facebook to keep apprised of Companion Links happenings.

Companion Links Relationships
 
Affirmations:
1. Joy in the partnerships already shared between dioceses, a continuing honoring of agreements already in place and commitment to more fully realizing the promise these global links hold for future mission and ministry
2. The contribution of each other to God’s mission in the world
3. The continuing need to listen, learn and be enriched by each other through a deepening process of engagement
4. At diocesan, church community and individual levels affirming the significance of mutual support, encouragement and challenge in nurturing relationships across cultures as an expression of our communion in the Body of Christ and our openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit.
5. The developing of processes at diocesan and local level to enhance local mission (e.g. in growth of the church, depth of discipleship and engagement with the wider community) through our interactions and mutual resourcing.

Commitments:
1. A spiritual and theological pilgrimage together of intensifying relationships, modeling a microcosm of the Anglican communion through mutual trust, sharing and cooperation in furthering God’s mission.
2. Continually asking how we partner together in ways which keep Jesus Christ as our focus and center, exploring how we understand Jesus Christ and our following of Christ in our different cultures.
3. Exploring in our own lives and that of our dioceses through these relationships how to develop greater transparency, honesty, mutual accountability, self-critique and openness to transformation.
4. Strengthening bi-lateral and other linkages between the five dioceses as the Holy Spirit leads, taking seriously the work of prayerful discernment and missional experimentation.
5. Extending the present partnering more widely to leaders and Christian communities within our dioceses.
6. Take seriously one another’s challenges (e.g. corruption, clergy training, growth, poverty, wealth etc.) and collaborate practically, prophetically and persistently on addressing such challenges.
7. Take seriously the differences in modes of communication between our cultures and endeavor to be mutually understanding, flexible and responsive in communicating.

Resolutions:
1. Meet between April 27th and May 4th 2015 in Jerusalem in a spirit of pilgrimage to continue conversations on the affirmations and commitments above, exploring doing so with at least one other senior leader from each of our dioceses as we seek to widen the circle of conversation and participation in partnership.
2. Be in quarterly contact (May, July, Oct & Jan) with one another as bishops between face-to-face meetings through coordinated communications (via Rev. Dr. Suresh Kumar and Canon Mike Harrison) and so forge a sense of on-going relationship and journeying together.
3. Share this statement with the relevant church bodies of our dioceses, inviting consideration of the affirmations and commitments outlined above with a view to deeper relationships in Christ between one another’s dioceses.

— Kate Miller is the Diocese of Wyoming’s  director of communication.

Ohio: Bishop of Ohio issues statement on Charlottesville

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 10:54am

[Episcopal Diocese of Ohio] Sisters and brothers in Christ,

In my prayers since hearing of the violence in Charlottesville on Saturday, these words of the Pledge of Allegiance have come up repeatedly: “…one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  Written in 1892 by the Rev. Francis Bellamy and amended by Congress in 1954 to include the words “under God,” they articulate with clarity what it means to be American, describing our most basic priorities: unity, freedom, justice, and equality. They remind us that we are, as a nation, both divinely inspired and ultimately accountable to God.

At the same time, they describe well for me the vocation to be Christian, reflecting some essential tenets of our faith: that we are made whole by our unity, not our uniformity; that we are each made more complete by the rich differences that are brought to us by others; and that we become the body of Jesus by our sacrificial inclusivity and in protecting the rights and responsibilities of the other, indeed of all others. Like our nation’s motto, E pluribus unum, they echo Jesus’ prayer that we all may be one. “Out of many, one.” Indeed, we model the very nature of God’s triune self when we let God make us whole in the diverse body of Christ.

Nationalism is a useful principle, not as an expression of pride, but as an expression of purpose. It focuses our commitment and accountability as a people organized around common values. In the United States of America there is no “white nation,” there is only “one nation.” In the United States of America, there is no place for “white nationalism” or any other such limited nationalism. Our national indivisibility is not gained by exclusion or derision or violence. Those are not the characteristics of a nation under God; rather they are manifestations of the power of evil.

A nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, will stand up against the power of evil that strives through hatred and the violence of words and actions to separate us from one another and from God. A nation under God will abide no supremacy but the supremacy of love. A nation under God is one whose citizens will hold one another and our elected servants accountable for a liberty and justice available to all, indeed that unite us as one.

It is our vocation as Americans and as Christians, in the face of violence, degradation, and fear, to work and pray for the unity for which Jesus petitioned God, in our own nation and around the world. It is our vocation as Americans and as Christians to stand with courage, to speak with love, and to hold ourselves and one another accountable for the liberty, security, and justice for all that God dreams for all of God’s children.

I join your prayers for open hearts, level minds, civil discourse, and peace.

The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio

Eclipse-watching Episcopalians see a glimpse of the holy in celestial display

Mon, 08/21/2017 - 6:32pm

The Rev. Ken Brannon, rector at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Sun Valley, Idaho, wears protective glasses and looks to the sky with his wife, Rachel Brannon, and son, 16-year-old Isaac, as they await the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21. Photo courtesy of Ken Brannon

[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Ken Brannon chose to close St. Thomas Episcopal Church for the morning on Aug. 21, because when you live in Sun Valley, Idaho, or any other point along the path of a total solar eclipse, no one wants to spend peak viewing hours indoors.

“It was just gorgeous,” Brannon told Episcopal News Service by phone after watching the eclipse with his wife and son on a ridge near their home.

This was the rare solar eclipse in which, weather permitting, the moon could be seen blocking at least part of the sun across the whole continental United States. The most special viewing, however, was reserved for those in the narrow path of the total solar eclipse, across 12 states from Oregon to South Carolina. There, the peak eclipse, or “totality,” lasted mere minutes, though the memory will last a lifetime.

“It’s like you are looking at perfection. It’s just an amazing experience,” said the Rev. Alice Nichols, rector at Grace Episcopal Church in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

The city had marketed itself as “Eclipseville” because it was the point where the moon’s shadow took its most direct aim at the Earth during the total eclipse. The church, meanwhile, had marketed itself as a prime viewing site, and the Grace Episcopal viewing party drew about 35 people, including some from as far away as New York.

The weather was ideal, Nichols said, and the experience spiritual.

“It was like a moment of seeing the holy,” she said. “And you had nothing to do with it. It was just a gift.”

With Americans everywhere getting caught up in eclipse fever, Episcopalians joined the craze – grabbing protective glasses to gaze skyward individually or in faith gatherings and viewing parties.

The solar eclipse began midmorning in the Diocese of Oregon, where St. Edward’s Episcopal Church in Silverton hosted a viewing party at its outdoor labyrinth. Across the country, in the Diocese of Georgia, diocesan offices closed at noon “so that staff can enjoy the magnificence of God’s creation in the solar eclipse.”

Anticipation ran high even in the parts of the country outside of the path of totality. The Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Spokane, Washington, organized a viewing party. Holy Trinity Episcopal School in Houston, Texas, tweeted that it had bought its whole school eclipse-watching sunglasses to enjoy the show in the sky.

We've bought our whole school eclipse glasses to enjoy the partial eclipse we will see at 1 PM.

— Holy Trinity (@HTESHouston) August 19, 2017

Episcopal Service Corps in Baltimore organized a labyrinth walk during the eclipse.

St. Peter’s Church in the Great Valley, an Episcopal church in Malvern, Pennsylvania, reported that about 70 parishioners and neighbors attended the congregation’s viewing party.

“It was a great success,” said Charlene Hanbury, one of the organizers.

The group at St. Peter’s began dispersing shortly after the few moments of peak eclipse had passed. After helping to clean up, Hanbury said, the partial eclipse was still concluding, so she took a few minutes to stare up and marvel at the sight.

When organizers of the ecumenical Faith, Art and Creative Expression: A Liturgical Arts Conference saw their 20th anniversary conference this year would straddle eclipse day, they chose as their theme “Darkness Transformed Into Light.”  It  is being held in Hendersonville, North Carolina, at Kanuga, a conference and retreat center with Episcopal roots. Kanuga was out of the path of totality, but the 40 or so conference participants took a bus trip Aug. 21 to Greenville, South Carolina, to experience the total solar eclipse.

They gathered there at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church for prayer, music and a picnic lunch before the skies darkened as the moon began passing in front of the sun.

For about an hour leading up to the total eclipse, “it was a very sweet kind of meditative time,” conference coordinator Lark Howell said. Then as soon as totality ended, the group began a worship service and celebrated the Eucharist, the day getting brighter and brighter as the service progressed.

Some congregations held events leading up to eclipse day. St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Carbondale, Illinois, held a cosmic-themed hymn sing the evening before the eclipse. Members of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Madison Heights, Michigan, attended “Love Eclipses Hate,” a community event held Aug. 20 at a city park as a message against hatred and fear.

Alliance, Nebraska, was a prominent epicenter of eclipse-watching buzz this week. The small city on the Nebraska Panhandle was in the path of totality, promised good weather and is home to the Carhenge art installation.

Today's Great American Solar Eclipse as seen from CARHENGE. Shot for https://t.co/WW4Tx9Tnrw. #eclipse #solareclipse #astronomy pic.twitter.com/t2Y8iocGXR

— Harun Mehmedinovic (@SkyglowProject) August 21, 2017

For Dixie Nelson, parish administrator at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, it also was a successful fundraiser. Renting campsites on church property raised about $4,000 for the congregation, and the influx of about 150 to 175 visitors made for a communal atmosphere during the eclipse.

God’s show didn’t disappoint, Nelson said. As the sky grew darker, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped, but the wind seemed to halt during the brief total eclipse, when the sun created a halo-like corona around the moon.

“It’s just an awesome experience,” said Nelson, who had spent the last six months planning the church’s viewing party and makeshift campground. “This totally was worth every minute of it.”

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

 

EPPN: Pray, fast, act for environmental programs

Mon, 08/21/2017 - 12:52pm

[Episcopal Public Policy Network] Today, the 21st of August, we pray, fast, and act to protect funding for domestic and international programs that address the health effects of environmental degradation impacting the poorest among us.

PRAY for our nation’s elected leaders and for all who struggle with the impacts and effects of environmental degradation that result in hunger, poverty and death.

FAST to call attention to the needs and circumstances of those suffering from the impacts of air and water pollution, chemical exposure and natural disasters.

Share on social media using #PrayFastAct and @TheEPPN. Post a picture of a dinner place setting with the reason you are fasting this month.

ACT by urging your elected representatives to continue funding crucial programs that care for all of creation by addressing environmental degradation and its impact around the world.

Urge Congress to protect funding for domestic and international environmental programs!

Anglican Communion offers prayers for victims of Barcelona attack

Mon, 08/21/2017 - 12:47pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Spain Don Carlos Lopez-Lozano has expressed thanks for the support received from throughout the Anglican Communion in the wake of the deadly attack in Barcelona’s main tourist area on Aug. 17. Priests from the Spanish Episcopal Church have attended to the wounded in hospital and are offering support to families of the victims.

Full article.

Episcopal-supported intentional community in Charlottesville embodies radical discipleship — and permaculture

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 4:15pm

Claire Hitchins tends the food garden that supplements the diet of those living at the Charis Intentional Community, a mission of Grace Church, Red Hill, southwest of Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: Eze Amos/For Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] In the 95-degree heat, a young, bearded white man wearing a hat with a “Black Lives Matter” pin sprawls on a lawn chair past the graveled driveway of the house nestled in a valley off Monacan Trail Road southwest of Charlottesville, Virginia. A rainbow of origami cranes strung together like garland hovers between two posts behind him. When a visitor approaches, he stretches as he gets up and leads her through the front door, where young people huddle in a colorful living room packed with books and art.

Within the hour, the house and lawn will fill with more than 30 people, bringing chatter, singing, children’s laughter, a strumming banjo and serious conversations — along with the salads, enchiladas, quiches and cookies of a casual summer potluck party.

This is home base for the Charis Community. Pronounced kaar-is, Charis means “grace” in ancient Greek.

Cofounded in 2015 by Episcopal youth leader Grace Aheron and the Rev. Neal Halvorson-Taylor of Grace Church, Red Hill, the Charis Community is a gathering of people living together under the shared values of simplicity, prayer and hospitality. This intentional Christian community is housed at an unused Episcopal Church property. The eight acres owned by the Diocese of Virginia include a small cobblestone church, a ranch-style house, a food garden and a forest of tulip poplars and dogwoods. The Charis Community is a partnership with Grace Church, a nearby mission parish. This Charis mission is supported by the church’s vestry, and members keep in contact with Halvorson-Taylor weekly on an informal basis.

The Charis Community idea formed through a connection followed by discussions and prayer. Halvorson-Taylor is married to Aheron’s Hebrew professor at the University of Virginia, and they got in touch a year after Aheron graduated and was living in San Francisco. Halvorson-Taylor knew of this property no one was using.

“I felt like God was calling me to go and do this in Charlottesville. It took me a long time to figure that out. We were in conversations for months,” Aheron said.

Trusting in the transformation of the spirit, the young adults living at Charis are discerning their vocational call, sitting in the tensions of injustice and inviting others into the journey.

Charis cofounder Grace Aheron and partner Rowan Hollins chat at the potluck party in front of the garland of origami cranes created in support for people of color, hanging outside the intentional community’s home south of Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: Eze Amos/For Episcopal News Service

“We understand that all of what we do is interconnected, from the radical activism to the ecological,” said Claire Hitchins, 26, a musician and one of the five long-term residents.

These young adults share an explicit passion “to respond to our context of empire, capitalism, and alienation, along with the environmental and social destruction that those forces perpetuate,” according to the community’s official mission statement. They want to model Jesus’ vision of community, resist society’s violence and accompany each other on their individual journeys of discipleship and growth.

An intentional community can take many forms, but it always involves a group of people living together with a clear mission. While a commune usually means all individual resources are pooled and shared, other intentional communities share only some of their resources.

Charis housemates share chores posted on the refrigerator, including gardening, tending chickens and bees and general household upkeep. They contribute monthly to a fund for the house’s food and supplies, and they maintain an account at a credit union for house bills. Once or twice a week, they join for a morning prayer, also considered an open-faith meditation. There’s no discrimination based on religion, color, culture, race, ancestry, sexual orientation, disability, gender or gender expression. And they dine together at a weekly community meal, where they have a meeting to address projects — some ecological, others outreach-based.

A monastery is yet another type of intentional community. Monasteries are cloistered from the outside world to varying degrees and require members to take religious vows. But many kinds of intentional communities don’t fall along these lines. The Episcopal Service Corps helps develop and support a network of 26 intentional communities from Hawaii to New Hampshire, united by shared values of service, justice and prayer. Charis isn’t listed under this network but resembles this style.

Located on land where the Monacan Indian Nation lived centuries earlier, according to the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, the Charis Community comprises people in their 20s and early 30s who are devoted to radical discipleship. They share a belief in the importance of hospitality, outreach and permaculture.

Hospitality within and beyond

The friendly, generous reception of visitors to the Charis home is a Christian act, and it’s something members take seriously. This place is a refuge for people in need of moral support, safety from tenuous living situations and hope for a better future.

Friends, parishioners and fellow activists gather at the Charis Community home south of Charlottesville, Virginia, for a monthly potluck party. Photo: Eze Amos/For Episcopal News Service

People flock to their monthly potlucks, where it’s tradition to start the meal with a song. David Slezak, 70, arrived at the July potluck bearing his organic beef cabbage rolls, a family recipe. Slezak is a parishioner and singer at St. Paul’s Memorial Church at the University of Virginia and manager of Haven Kitchen, a homeless shelter kitchen. He also attended the Charis sunrise Easter service and brunch, along with about 75 other people.

He’s inspired by Aheron’s leadership and energy. “She’s an Episcopal powerhouse,” he said. “I’ve been just so moved by Grace and her work.”

Short-term residential guests at Charis may be experiencing housing insecurity because they can’t afford market-rate rentals, they recently arrived in the Charlottesville community, were released from the hospital or from prison, and or their family is in transition from divorce, domestic violence or ending foster care.

Charis housemates Rowan Hollins and Mark Heisey relax at the monthly potluck party outside the house where the Christian intentional community resides south of Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: Eze Amos/For Episcopal News Service

They could be anyone from single parents with low-wage jobs who experience a crisis to former refugees whose formal support has ended, said Mark Heisey, 29, the bearded guy from the front lawn, as he, Aheron and Hitchins gave a tour of the house.

Hospitality plays a role in a larger sense too — especially considering the violence and upheaval in the larger Charlottesville community after the summer’s white supremacy rallies protesting the removal of Confederate statues.

“We want to help Charlottesville become more hospitable to people for whom conditions have become inhospitable,” said Ann Marie Smith, a Buddhist-Christian and member of Grace Church who attended the potluck. She leads weekly meditation sessions in the Charis living room.

Outreach in times of peace and trouble

The property can feel like a secluded haven where tomato leaves rustle and crickets sing. But the swoosh of Route 29 traffic and the clunky hum of the parallel-running Amtrak train just beyond are tangible reminders that the outside is always near.

Most of the Charis residents have outside jobs to go to during the day. Maria Niechwiadowicz, 25, is a Charis resident who works as a program coordinator for Bread & Roses, a nutritional outreach ministry of Trinity Episcopal Church in Charlottesville. “I think we all went into this thinking permaculture would be our thing, but with the changing political landscape, we found racial justice and hospitality, which means inviting people here so conversations can happen in a deeper sense, and for people to feel safe,” Niechwiadowicz said.

A University of Virginia graduate in religious studies, youth minister and program manager at Restoration Village Arts in Charlottesville, Aheron, 26, has worked for social, environmental, racial and women’s causes on her own and through the Episcopal Church. For instance, she was on the Episcopal Church’s delegation to the 2015 meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. She participated in an eco-justice panel discussion at a Diocese of California event in San Francisco in her role as a member of Cultivate: The Episcopal Food Movement. She was also an adult member of the 2017 Episcopal Youth Event Mission Planning Team.

Aheron and the other Charis members joined counter-protesters at the July 8 Ku Klux Klan rally and at the Aug. 11 and 12 white supremacy rallies in downtown Charlottesville.

Tension was already thick after the July rally, before the more extreme violence of the second rally. Hours before the potluck, Charis members were still reeling from the first protest, the police reaction to it and all the implications.

A rainbow garland, created in support for people of color during the summer’s white supremacy rallies, is made of origami cranes, each of which contains a message, such as this one: “Don’t hurt my friends.” For a potluck party, the garland hung outside the Charis house, an intentional community south of Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

“Police tear-gassed people, and we were downwind of it, wiping our eyes. It’s a very emotional time right now,” Aheron said as she and other Charis housemates gathered in the living room anchored by a velvety silver couch and matching chair. A megaphone sat atop a piano. Three counter-protest signs leaned against the fireplace. Each of the small paper cranes on the garland outside had written intentions to eradicate white supremacy in Charlottesville. One message peeked out from pink paper crane: “Don’t hurt my friends!”

Then, at the Aug. 12 rally, one young woman was killed and 19 people injured when a man associated with white supremacy groups plowed his car into counter-protestors. No one from Charis was injured, but Aheron and Charis guest Rowan Hollins were standing on the corner of the street where the attack happened.

White supremacists have since protested by the vigils and memorial services, and Heisey has helped with security, Aheron said.

“Everyone’s physically fine, but not emotionally. We’re pretty traumatized,” said Aheron, who had a dream that a white supremacist drove into her mother’s house. “No one in Charlottesville has been able to get rest. It’s not over, by any means.”

Smith, 48, doesn’t live at Charis, but she’s there often as part of the larger community participating in outreach. “These guys are putting themselves on the front line of this, all in Christian discipleship, so I accompany them and help provide a meditative grounded space,” Smith said.

A permaculture of many layers

Charis had quieter beginnings and practices, namely, permaculture as a guiding principle. For many, permaculture means closed systems of production, efficiency and high-intensity homesteading. Charis wants to apply these principles plus more.

Permaculture in general focuses on letting the land speak for itself. Rather than simply extracting products from a space of land, Charis members pay attention to the soil composition, needs of the plants and natural curvature of the land, which is assessed for best use. In their permaculture, the land has so much more to say, and that land carries memory. They call it “listening permaculture.”

“You usually hear this whitewashed, like a homestead Disneyland,” Aheron said. “But a lot of what we learned in growing processes came from indigenous people.”

Martha Morris, 30, has lived in the Charis community off-and-on since it began. After earning her graduate degree in urban and environmental planning, she became a stewardship assistant at the Virginia Outdoors Association. “I do like the land-based part of it, and that’s part of what drew me here,” Morris said about the community. “It fits into the larger philosophy of Charis, including outreach activities.”

Charis cofounder Grace Aheron tends bees for honey farming, a sustainable practice that’s part of the permaculture values of this intentional community on Episcopal land. Photo: Eze Amos/For Episcopal News Service

For this community, that respect for the land means a plan to replace the lawn with a forest garden that will help them be as food self-sufficient as possible. Also called a food forest, a forest garden is a key part of permaculture. It’s a sustainable garden designed to produce the beneficial relationships that a natural plant-and-animal community has in that climate.

Morris is excited about what they can do: nurture indigenous, perennial plants including medicinal plants, herbs and fruit trees. They already have a garden yielding all sorts of produce: strawberries, Anaheim peppers, basil, large red tomatoes, little yellow pear tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, summer squash, parsley, prickly cucumbers, and summer squash. They have two beehives, and they’d also like to create a flower garden to serve the church’s cemetery.

In the basement, about a dozen 10-day-old fluffy heritage chicks hopped and pecked about in their wooden pen, warmed by a red light. These chicks aren’t fancy heritage breeds. “It’s about preserving the tradition of well-bred, healthy, old lines of animals, chickens not bred to get huge, lay tons of eggs and die young,” she said.

Behind the house, Heisey pointed to the ChickShaw, or mobile chicken coop, he built from wood and wire after the last flock was plucked off by predators. “Having chickens in one spot for only a limited time has an ecological benefit,” Heisey said. “By moving them regularly, they’ll have grubs to eat and fortify the soil.”

Other values
Integrated with permaculture are the values of simplicity, resilience, sustainable cultivation, responsible revenue generation, closed-loop systems and homesteading.

Composting is an easy example of a closed-looped system, using food waste to fertilize their food garden — instead of disposing of it. Worms found in compost are integral to the process.

“Worm poop is super good for nutrients, which is good for the soil,” Hitchins said as she riffled through the compost with gloved hands to expose the wrigglers. It’s a natural, and some say superior, alternative to store-bought fertilizer for gardening.

To some, living in this kind of community can seem idealistic. But it’s living with a deep awareness of the history of the earth and its people, in the spirit of Jesus’ teachings, Aheron said. That awareness transforms into action. And that action can have benefits expanding beyond these eight acres.

As the potluck party-goers tossed a Frisbee on the front lawn where lightning bugs pulsed in the darkening sky, Hitchins sat at the piano inside the house with a friend, creating a song:

“We are more than conquerors/
If we only believe another world is possible/
Victory is in our eyes/
I’m gonna stay on the battlefield until the day I die.”

— Amy Sowder is a special correspondent for the Episcopal News Service and a Brooklyn, New York-based freelance writer.

New York bishop gives ‘full support’ to church providing sanctuary to immigrant, child

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 1:27pm

[Episcopal Diocese of New York] A statement on sanctuary by the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, the Rt. Rev. Andrew ML Dietsche, and on the Aug. 17 widely-publicized announcement that Holyrood Parish in Manhattan had provided sanctuary to an undocumented immigrant.

August 18, 2017

The Episcopal Diocese of New York has numerous Latino/Latina congregations, and thousands of immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries who worship at our altars and live as our brothers and sisters in sacred communion. In April I wrote a letter to the diocese encouraging parishes to protect their members who may be in danger, and to provide legal and pastoral resources to assist undocumented people in the actions they may be facing.  I asked our parishes to explore the possibility of sanctuary, and the different forms that sanctuary might take. My colleague, Bishop Mary Glasspool, gathered resources for churches which may be found on our diocesan website.

It is our conviction that decisions made to offer sanctuary must be made at the local, parochial level, and we know that what “sanctuary” means will differ from community to community. I have made it clear that I will in every case respect the pastoral decisions and judgments made by the clergy and leaders of our parishes in their care of their people. Providing safe refuge inside the church is only one of those possibilities, but it has a long and noble history in the Christian church. In America, government agencies have generally respected the sanctity of the church threshold.

Yesterday, Holyrood Parish in Washington Heights held a press conference in which they announced that they were providing sanctuary refuge in the church to an undocumented immigrant and her American-born children. I am not unmindful of the risks that this means both for the parish and for the sanctuary family. Yet in the changing landscape regarding immigration and deportations in which we find ourselves, I believe this is a well-considered choice marked by integrity and faith. The clergy and people of Holyrood Parish have my full support, the support of this diocese, and this imperiled family has my prayers.

The Rt. Rev. Andrew ML Dietsche, Bishop of New York

Episcopalians, tell us your solar eclipse plans and share your stories

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 12:04pm

[Episcopal News Service] Has solar eclipse fever struck your Episcopal congregation? We want to hear about it.

A rare total solar eclipse will pass across the continental United States on Aug. 21, potentially offering an awe-inspiring display along its narrow path, from Oregon to South Carolina and 10 other states. But even communities who aren’t in the path of “totality” will get to see the partial eclipse as long as skies are clear.

Numerous Episcopal dioceses, congregations and institutions are advertising solar eclipse viewing parties. If your church is hosting a gathering on Aug. 21, email dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org so we’ll know to follow up with you after the eclipse. And we’re encouraging Episcopalians to share their experiences on social media with the hashtag #episcopaleclipse.

You can get more info on the solar eclipse, including a caution about proper eye protection, at NASA’s eclipse page.

 

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