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Disability advocates call for inclusive action by UN for refugees

Fri, 08/09/2019 - 5:26pm

Migrants waiting to cross the border between Greece and Macedonia carry a woman in a wheelchair in a camp near the village of Idomeni, Greece, in March 2016. Photo: Marko Djurica / Reuters via ACNS

[Anglican Communion News Service] Church disability advocates from various countries have called for further action from the United Nations to protect people with disabilities in areas of conflict.

Eighteen leaders from the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (WCC-EDAN), met in Beirut, Lebanon, in July, to address concerns in the region and to evaluate the strategic plan.

Executive secretary for the WCC-EDAN Anjeline Okola Charles said all delegates saw firsthand the difficulties facing those with disabilities in refugee camps and zones of conflict in the Middle East.

Read the entire article here.

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Episcopal diocese joins Mississippi churches offering support for families affected by raids

Fri, 08/09/2019 - 5:08pm

Federal authorities conduct a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement worksite enforcement operation in Canton, Mississippi, on Aug. 7. Photo: Immigration and Customs Enforcement

[Episcopal News Service] The Diocese of Mississippi is mobilizing Episcopalians in the state to assist families affected by federal immigration raids this week as Bishop Brian Seage joined other religious leaders in condemning the raids, in which nearly 700 workers were taken into custody at seven Mississippi chicken processing plants.

A joint statement signed by Seage and four Catholic, Methodist and Lutheran bishops in Mississippi called on the Trump administration to end immigration enforcement tactics that they say are spreading fear in local communities and threatening to cause “unacceptable suffering” for families and children.

“Within any [political] disagreement we should all be held together by our baptismal promises,” the bishops said. As followers of Christ, “we are his body and, therefore, called to act in love as a unified community for our churches, and for the common good of our local communities and nation. … Of course, we are committed to a just and compassionate reform to our nation’s immigration system, but there is an urgent and critical need at this time to avoid a worsening crisis.”

Seage also spoke briefly at an immigrant rights rally Aug. 8 in Jackson and issued a written statement that raised specific concerns about the effects of the raids on families living in Mississippi.

“We don’t know how many children have been affected at this time, but I am asking for churches and individuals willing to help with caring for the children to contact local officials,” Seage said in his online statement. “Likewise, we are exploring avenues through which support, financial and otherwise, may be extended.”

Agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement targeted several plants in central Mississippi on Aug. 7 that were suspected of employing workers who lacked proper immigration documentation. The raids were said to be the largest conducted so far under President Donald Trump, whose hardline approach to immigration has been a cornerstone of his campaign and presidency.

The Department of Justice announced the day after the raids that 300 of those detained already had been released.

“That’s not enough,” Seage said at the rally in Jackson (starting at about the 36:00 mark here). “And it won’t be enough until all those families are reunited – and likewise, [until] others who dare to have the American dream and dare to go to work can go to work and not worry whether or not they will be coming home at night.”

Seage told the crowd he was horrified by the news of the raids. “Horrified to imagine children being separated from their parents,” he said. “And children coming home to an empty house.”

Federal authorities said they took precautions so children were not left without a parent’s care due to the raids. A Justice Department statement said those detained “were asked when they arrived at the processing center whether they had any children who were at school or child care and needed to be picked up,” and cellphones were provided to help them make arrangements for child care as needed, according to the Justice Department. The department said some parents were released to ensure “all children were with at least one of the parents.”

But some of the families were “traumatized,” Bishop Joseph Kopacz of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jackson told the Jesuit magazine America. His diocese’s Catholic Charities is among the agencies reaching out to those families now to offer assistance.

“This is a man-made disaster,” Kopacz said, noting also that the raids happened on the first day of school in these communities. “These folks are our neighbors. They’re not criminals, the vast majority of them. They’re hardworking people.”

Family separations under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies sparked intense controversy last year, prompting federal officials to back down from those measures, though conditions at detention facilities on the southern border remain a contentious issue.

The Episcopal Church, at its General Convention in July 2018, passed a resolution decrying and urging a halt to “the implementation and intensification of inhumane and unjust immigration policies and practices such as detaining and separating children from parents.” It was adopted after more than 1,000 bishops, deputies and other Episcopalians participated in a prayer vigil held outside an immigrant detention facility near the convention center in Austin, Texas.

Another resolution approved last year affirmed the church’s support for “respecting the dignity of immigrants” through immigration policies and reforms.

More recently, church leaders expressed alarm in June when the Trump administration threatened a large-scale roundup of immigrants facing deportation orders in 10 cities. Those threats mostly fizzled.

“We are called as people of faith to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being,” Seage said at the Aug. 8 rally in Jackson.

Seage, in his follow-up statement, asked members of his diocese to contact the Mississippi Department of Child Protective Services if they know of a child affected by the raid who is in need of care. That agency put out its own statement saying it was ready to assist children whose parents were detained.

Federal authorities did not alert the state to any child care needs, but the state agency began preparing an emergency response after learning about the raids through local news reports.

“We have foster homes that have been carefully inspected and licensed, and foster caregivers who have been well trained and have passed criminal background checks,” Child Protective Services spokeswoman Lea Anne Brandon said in a news release. “We know we can provide safe and secure placements and trauma-informed temporary care for these children – but we have not been asked to do so.”

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

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Maori trip to South Dakota reservation highlights unity of indigenous Anglicans

Fri, 08/09/2019 - 5:04pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] To mark International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on Aug. 9, Anglican Communion News Service spoke with Isaac Beach, a youth representative on the Anglican Consultative Council from the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.

Beach is a Maori of Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Rangitihi decent. He is is Kaikarakia (prayer leader) at Saint Luke’s in Paki Paki, a village on Aotearoa, New Zealand’s North Island.

“Recently, six indigenous youth from my diocese visited Pine Ridge Reservation in the Diocese of South Dakota, where we spent two weeks in cultural exchange and indigenous mission with the Red Shirt community of Lakota-Oglala Nation,” Beach said. “I strongly believe exposing our young people to international experiences through indigenous exchange is critical to informing how they can live a Christ-centered life. It is a wonderful tool for intentional discipleship.”

Read the full story here.

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ELCA declares itself a ‘sanctuary church body,’ marches to ICE building in Milwaukee

Thu, 08/08/2019 - 5:11pm

Hundreds of attendees at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly march to the ICE building in Milwaukee for a prayer vigil in support of migrant children and their families on Aug. 7, 2019. Photo: Emily McFarlan Miller/RNS

[Religion News Service – Milwaukee] More than 500 years ago, a monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 theses outlining his grievances with the Roman Catholic Church to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany.

On Aug. 7, members of the mainline Protestant denomination bearing Luther’s name taped 9.5 theses — expressing their concern for immigrants and refugees — to the door of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Milwaukee.

The action was part of a prayer vigil for migrant children and their families during the ELCA Churchwide Assembly this week at Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Center.

It took place on the same day the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America declared itself a “sanctuary church body,” signaling its support for immigrants.

Both came in response to President Trump’s policies at the United States border with Mexico and his pledge to deport millions.

“It just keeps getting worse and worse in terms of unaccompanied children, separated families, detention centers that are just horrific, and so what we wanted to say as a church body, as the Lutheran church, we wanted to now act with our feet and take action,” said Evelyn Soto Straw, director of unit operations and programs for the ELCA’s Domestic Mission.

More than 570 voting members of the churchwide assembly signed up to participate in the prayer vigil at the ICE building. They were joined by staff from the ELCA and its AMMPARO (Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities)  ministry, as well as members of the Greater Milwaukee Synod, the New Sanctuary Movement and Voces de la Frontera, a local grassroots organization.

The group marched nearly a mile from the Wisconsin Center to the ICE building, carrying signs with messages like “We put the protest back in Protestant” and chanting “This is what the love of God looks like.”

There, Bishop Paul Erickson of the Greater Milwaukee Synod opened the vigil in prayer to “Jesus Christ, immigrant and savior.”

“Marching is fun, words are great, but action makes a difference,” Erickson told the crowd gathered in the street.

The Rev. Erin Clausen of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod said she joined the vigil as a pastor, a mother and a spouse. Christians are supposed to bring the good news to everyone — “especially to those who are hurting and fearful,” Clausen said.

She thinks of the children separated from their families and of what she would want others to do if that were her child, and her heart breaks, she said.

Clausen marched alongside Iván Pérez, who is lead organizer and trainer on the Metropolitan Chicago Synod’s Antiracism Team.

Pérez, who is Puerto Rican, said his faith gives him boldness to speak out in support of immigrants.

He was “very happy and proud” of the ELCA after the vigil, he said as he marched back to the Wisconsin Center with the group.

Hundreds of attendees at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly march to the ICE building in Milwaukee for a prayer vigil in support of migrant children and their families on Aug. 7, 2019. Photo: Emily McFarlan Miller/RNS

The ELCA Churchwide Assembly — the primary decision-making body of the ELCA — meets through Saturday.

With more than 3.3 million baptized members, the ELCA is one of the largest Protestant Christian denominations in the United States. Its churchwide assembly includes 927 voting members from more than 9,100 congregations across the U.S. and the Caribbean.

The assembly is considering several immigration-related resolutions this week.

On Wednesday afternoon, after the lunchtime vigil, it passed a resolution declaring the ELCA a “sanctuary church body.” That term was proposed by Christopher Vergara, a voting member from the Metro New York Synod.

“We continue to do God’s work with our hands in language the world understands,” Vergara said.

Other measures approved so far this week by the assembly include a resolution recommitting to “being an advocate and justice seeker for immigrants,” advocating for Temporary Protected Status extensions and reaffirming its work with AMMPARO and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service to call for immigration policies and practices that keep families together.

Another resolution, calling on congregations, synods and other church organizations to speak out against the “inhumane policies of harassment, detention and deportation implemented by the U.S. government,” also passed.

Next, the assembly will consider a resolution requesting ELCA staff develop a plan for additional tools providing education and discernment “specifically directed to political rhetoric and the accurate portrayal of migrants and refugees.”

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RIP: Robert Stevens, founding director Dominican Development Group

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 11:45am

[Diocese of Southwest Florida] Robert “Bob” Stevens, the founding director of the Dominican Development Group, died July 29, 2019, at age 76.

“We have lost in the Diocese of Southwest Florida a great saintly asset in the life and mission purpose of Dr. Bob Stevens,” said Bishop Dabney Smith, in a statement. “His sudden death is a shock and great sadness for many, both in this diocese and particularly in the Diocese of the Dominican Republic.”

Read the full obituary here.

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Clergy protest outside Mitch McConnell’s office, demand action on gun violence

Tue, 08/06/2019 - 4:19pm

Episcopal Bishop Mariann Budde of Washington, D.C. speaks to a crowd protesting outside Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office in Washington on Aug. 6.. Photo: Jack Jenkins/Religion News Service

[Religion News Service] A group of clergy protested outside Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office on Tuesday (Aug 6), calling on the Republican Senate majority leader to take action to address gun violence in the wake of two mass shootings over the weekend.

The band of around two-dozen faith leaders, who called themselves the Coalition of Concerned Clergy, prayed and challenged what they said was the Senate’s inaction on the issue of gun violence.

Helping lead the event was the Rev. Rob Schenck, who serves as president of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute, a nonprofit organization that addresses social issues from a Christian perspective. He listed a number of possible policies lawmakers could pass to address gun violence, such as universal background checks or “extreme vetting” for citizens wishing to purchase an assault rifle, but stressed the issue is a moral one.

“As a Christian … we are required to rescue those who are perishing, to come to their aid, and the Bible says if you fail to do it God will hold you to account,” Schenck, who is also a founding signer of an evangelical Christian pledge to take action on gun violence, told Religion News Service. “That’s our message to the senator today. Maybe he fears the NRA more than God. He shouldn’t.”

Also in attendance was Bishop Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, D.C. A longtime advocate for gun violence prevention, Budde said Congress could pass a number of laws to prevent future bloodshed.

“I am among those who believe weapons of war don’t belong in the hands of civilians,” she said. “We’ve just been lulled into this sense of false helplessness that I find to be one of the greatest manifestations of sin that we need to fight against.”

Speaking to the crowd a few minutes later, Budde compared the scourge of gun violence to the rash of lynchings in America’s past, expressing hope that future generations will recollect mass shootings with disdain and disbelief.

“We will look back on these days and wonder how it was that we could have been so collectively aligned to such a needless proliferation of weapons meant to take human life,” she said.

As they stood outside McConnell’s office, faith leaders read the names of those recently felled during mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

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Elizabeth Eaton re-elected presiding bishop of the ELCA

Tue, 08/06/2019 - 4:09pm

[Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — Milwaukee] The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton was re-elected presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or ELCA, on Aug. 6 at the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. On the first ballot, 897 votes were cast and 670 votes were needed for election. Eaton received 725 votes, which is 81.19% of the vote.

Eaton is the first ELCA presiding bishop to win re-election on the first ballot. She was elected to a first term as presiding bishop at the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh.

The first ballot for presiding bishop was cast during the first plenary Aug. 5. The vote was declared invalid because of an unconstitutional early vote on the amendments to the bylaws of the ELCA constitution. This included an amendment that gave the ELCA Church Council the right of vote at a churchwide assembly, which included the election of the presiding bishop.

“Thank you, Vice President Horne. And thank you to all of you, and thank you to the voting member who rightly brought to our attention that we were not following our own procedures,” said Eaton, addressing the assembly after the election results were announced. “The law is in place for a reason, but I’m really happy for the gospel part right now.”

“We’re church, church first,” Eaton said, recalling the first of the four emphases she introduced after her election in 2013. “Our lives are not only supported but our lives are surrounded, and our lives have their basis and meaning in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And especially as we experience that in our lives and are changed by that in word and sacrament. That’s where we get any authority or certainly any integrity to do works of love and justice, because we’re church.”

The 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly is meeting Aug. 5-10 at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. The assembly – the highest legislative body of the ELCA – will participate in plenary discussions to decide how to go about God’s work as a church. The assembly will also spend time in worship and Bible study.

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Bishops United repudiates Christian nationalism, systemic racism

Tue, 08/06/2019 - 3:40pm

[Bishops United Against Gun Violence] Since last weekend, three young white men—all American citizens, all in legal possession of assault rifles—have murdered more than 30 people in cold blood. Most of the precious children of God who are dead and injured are people of color.

When gun violence makes headlines, politicians supported by the National Rifle Association are quick to call white shooters “mentally ill,” while characterizing black and brown shooters as “criminals” and insisting that guns are not the problem. They choose to remain loyal to the gun lobby and its campaign contributions while denying the incontrovertible evidence that more guns mean more deaths.

Common sense measures like universal background checks, assault weapons bans, handgun purchaser licensing, and restrictions on gun ownership by domestic abusers point the way toward sane gun policy that is well within any sensible interpretation of the Second Amendment. They are necessary and long overdue, but they are not sufficient.

This latest sickening cluster of mass shootings has thrust into the headlines the deadly mix of white supremacy and gun violence that is coming to define our era of American history. Anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise and our government holds asylum-seekers on our southern border in inhumane conditions. The president of the United States uses racist tropes and inflammatory language to incite crowds against people of color, refugees and immigrants; and hate crime reports have increased for three consecutive years. The hatred and fury that drives mass shootings can also be turned inward, where it fuels the invisible and growing death toll of gun suicides.

As Christians, we must work actively to dismantle the systemic racism that is part of our country’s founding narrative and that continues to fuel mass shootings and urban gun violence today. We must insist that both our fellow Christians and our elected leaders repudiate white supremacy and white nationalism and embrace humane immigration policies that follow God’s command and the Biblical imperative to welcome the stranger in our midst. And we must refuse to participate in scapegoating people with mental illness, a ploy too often used to distract from the urgent yet simple need to enact common sense gun safety measures.

Seven years ago yesterday, six people were murdered by a white supremacist at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. That massacre, one of two events that galvanized the creation of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, (the other was the shooting at Sandy Hook in Connecticut) brought us together across our differences to demonstrate that we believe in a God of life in the face of death. Today we are weary of witnessing the slaughter gripping our country. But we are no less determined to continue speaking, even when it seems our words make no difference; to continue praying in order to gather our strength to act; and to follow Jesus in speaking truth, especially when it seems that truth is out of season.

Bishops United Against Gun Violence is a network of nearly 100 Episcopal Church bishops working to curtail the epidemic of gun violence in the United States. Learn more at bishopsagainstgunviolence.org and follow Episcopalians United Against Gun Violence on Facebook.

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Sewanee workshop to guide priests grappling with Confederate symbols in their parishes

Tue, 08/06/2019 - 3:04pm

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. A year later, the cathedral also removed depictions of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Photo: Danielle E. Thomas/Washington National Cathedral

[Episcopal News Service] A Confederate battle flag depicted in stained glass.

A pew labeled as the one where the president of the Confederacy once worshiped.

A cathedral plaque honoring an Episcopal bishop who fought for the South in the Civil War.

Should such symbols remain on display at a time when the nation is increasingly alert to violence fueled by white supremacists who see the Confederacy as a validation of their racist hatred? With statues, plaques, artwork and other representations of Confederate figures found in Episcopal churches across the country, how should a parish priest respond?

“This is not just a historical question or a question of the political moment, but these are questions of theological issues that all Episcopal churches face in one way or another,” said Woody Register, a history professor at Sewanee: University of the South who is leading a six-year project intended to tell the full story of the Tennessee university’s ties to slavery and segregation.

The answers to those questions are the focus of a pilot workshop at Sewanee in November that was developed by two Sewanee seminary graduates, the Rev. Hannah Pommersheim and the Rev. Kellan Day. Pommersheim and Day have assisted Register with Sewanee’s Project on Slavery, Race and Reconciliation.

The workshop from Nov. 5 to 7 will provide “tools for leading change,” guiding Episcopal priests in discernment about the Confederate symbols in their parishes. The workshop’s three parts will examine the theological underpinnings of such symbols, equip the priests with context for understanding art and symbols and provide best practices for local action.

One core theological issue is the sin of racism. Some early Episcopal leaders, including the founders of Sewanee, promoted the myth that slavery was morally defensible and defended the myth even after slavery was abolished. It was a “story built on the subjugation of a lot of human beings,” Day told Episcopal News Service.

“I think the legacy of that racism is widespread and rampant, and one of the ways we can repent is by naming the story and sort of naming the ways it affects our built structures and sanctuaries,” she said.

Day is now a transitional deacon serving at Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Highlands, North Carolina. Pommersheim has signed on for another year with Register’s project team as a research associate. The two developed the workshop because they sensed that, while the nation debated Confederate symbols in public spaces, “these symbols have different meanings in a church space,” Pommersheim said.

This plaque honoring Leonidas Polk, an Episcopal bishop and Confederate general, was removed in 2018 from display at Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, Ohio. Photo: Sarah Hartwig/Christ Church Cathedral

For example, Day said a Confederate figure might be seen as sanctified when depicted in stained glass, such as the Confederate generals in windows that were removed two years ago at Washington National Cathedral. The cathedral’s decision was hastened by the national uproar over a deadly standoff in Charlottesville, Virginia, between white supremacists and counter-protesters. The hate groups had gathered there for a rally in support of a Confederate statue that was the focus of a legal battle.

Sewanee and Washington National Cathedral were among the Episcopal institutions that reassessed their own Confederate symbols in the wake of the Charlottesville clashes. Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, Ohio, removed a plaque honoring Bishop Leonidas Polk, a Sewanee founder who served as a Confederate general in the Civil War. In Lexington, Virginia, an Episcopal church that had been named for Robert E. Lee, dropped the Confederate general from its name.

In deciding what to do about those symbols, it is critical to understand what motivated communities – and churches – to erect tributes to Confederate history decades after the end of the Civil War, Register said. Often their motivation had less to do with preserving history than with promoting the myth of the Lost Cause, which claimed the Confederacy was a failed but noble campaign.

“These memorials and monuments tend to say as much or more about the moment in which they were installed than they do about the period or persons they memorialize,” he said.

A pew known as the Jefferson Davis pew is seen among newer pews at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Photo: David Berenguer

The so-called Jefferson Davis pew was a longtime icon at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Montgomery, Alabama, until its removal last year. Church leaders researched the pew’s history and found that its ties to Davis were false and that a dedication ceremony in 1925 was a political act steeped in racism.

The Rev. Jamie Osborne, associate rector at St. John’s, was one of 13 bishops and clergy members whom Pommersheim and Day interviewed to build a curriculum for their workshop. Osborne will be leading one of the workshop’s sessions, along with Sewanee art professor Shelly MacLaren and the Rev. Molly Bosscher, who spent four years as associate rector at Richmond, Virginia’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, once known as the Cathedral of the Confederacy.

This initial workshop received a $5,000 grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund and is only open to Episcopal clergy grappling with Confederate symbols at their churches. Pommersheim and Day hope to recruit up to 15 participants, and afterward, they will assess what worked and what changes would make the curriculum stronger.

Gathering face to face has the advantage of creating a support network of clergy members grappling with the same questions, they said. One of the intended lessons of the workshop is that it is helpful first to create a space for the parish to talk openly and respectfully about these issues.

“How can you pastorally make the best decision but also bring people along with you while you’re making that decision?” Pommersheim said.

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. It was moved in 2017 from this location to the university cemetery. Photo: Caroline Carson

The workshop also serves as a milepost for the work of Register’s project team, which already has completed substantial research into the history of the university and the 28 Episcopal dioceses that still own and govern it today. Some of that research is informing how Sewanee’s administrators handle Confederate symbols on campus, such as the decision two years ago to relocate a monument honoring Edmund Kirby-Smith, a 19th century Sewanee professor who previously served as a Confederate general.

As part of the Slavery, Race and Reconciliation project, the team has spent the last six months launching an oral history campaign to record old stories of African American life in the community of Sewanee. The university received $12,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to purchase electronic equipment to scan historic photos and produce audio recordings.

The team is considering how to maintain such collections and research after the project winds down in three years. Whatever the outcome, Register says the research is about more than local history.

“Sewanee’s story is not just a mountain top story, and it’s not just an Episcopal story, though it certainly is that,” Register said. “Its history is the history of race and religion and higher education throughout the United States.”

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

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Episcopal task force educates New Yorkers on what’s at stake in decriminalizing prostitution

Tue, 08/06/2019 - 12:18pm

The Port Authority Bus Terminal served as the first station on April 6, 2019, for Stations of the Cross for Sex Trafficking Survivors, an event of the Episcopal Diocese of New York Task Force Against Human Trafficking. The task force is now working to educate the public on a bill introduced in the New York State Assembly that would decriminalize prostitution. Photo: Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] At least three U.S. states and the District of Columbia have introduced legislation that would decriminalize the buying and selling of sex, forcing a long-simmering debate on prostitution into the national dialogue.

Legalization proponents, religious or not, often cite biblical references to prostitution dating back to ancient Israel, telling the Genesis story of Judah and Tamar, and falling back on the well-worn phrase, the “world’s oldest profession.” Opponents tend to argue the “profession” leads to an increase in violence against women and girls and reflects men’s power over women.

“I consider prostitution not the oldest profession, but the oldest oppression,” said the Rev. Adrian Dannhauser, a longtime sex and labor trafficking victims’ rights advocate who leads the Episcopal Diocese of New York’s Task Force Against Human Trafficking. “I think this decriminalization issue is a backlash against women’s rights and progress we’ve made in terms of equality. It’s a power issue and an entitlement issue.”

In late June, at the close of the New York State General Assembly’s 2019 legislative session, three New York City lawmakers introduced a bill that would decriminalize prostitution and legalize the sale of consensual sex. Massachusetts, Maine and Washington, D.C., have introduced similar bills.

During Lent, the Episcopal Diocese of New York Task Force Against Human Trafficking led a Stations of the Cross for Sex Trafficking Survivors event in New York City. 

Writing in the summer 2019 issue of The Episcopal New Yorker, Dannhauser said: “Sex workers’ rights organizations claim that consenting adults should be allowed to do whatever they want with their own bodies – ‘my body, my choice.’ But in most cases, prostitution is more aptly described as ‘my body, his choice.’ It’s not sexual liberation but sexual exploitation. According to Sanctuary for Families, New York’s leading service provider and advocate for survivors of gender violence, 90% of people in prostitution in the U.S. are trafficking victims. This means that only 10% of prostituted people have any real choice in what happens to their bodies in the sex trade.”

Both sides find common ground in calling for the decriminalization of people bought and sold in the commercial sex industry and for the ability of trafficking survivors to vacate their convictions. Opponents of the decriminalization of prostitution typically favor an “equality” model that focuses more on decreasing demand and preventing exploitation, similar to those adopted in Nordic countries, where cultural attitudes have shifted and it’s becoming no longer socially acceptable to purchase people for sex and it’s seen as a barrier to gender equality.

In the United States, the decriminalization conversation has shifted in the context of the #MeToo movement; alongside an awareness of sexual violence on college campuses; and amid the backdrop of high-profile sex crime cases, like those involving New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who allegedly paid for sexual services at a Florida massage parlor, and financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who stands accused of trafficking underage girls and paying them to perform sex acts.

“It’s not about legislating morality, it’s about social context,” said Dannhauser, in an interview with Episcopal News Service in her office at the Church of the Incarnation on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. “It’s a backlash against women’s rights, and it’s an empowerment and entitlement issue … the whole idea of rape culture on college campuses. “It’s finally coming into the light.”

In late July, the Church of the Incarnation, where Dannhauser serves as associate rector, hosted a Tuesday evening panel discussion to educate the public on the bill. As the Episcopal church’s sanctuary filled with some men but mostly women from diverse backgrounds, a small group of bill supporters gathered in protest on the sidewalk outside, as police officers stood watch nearby.

The four-person panel of opponents – two sex trafficking survivors, an activist and educator, and an activist lawyer – shared personal stories and talked about the bill’s specifics. New York Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried, a bill co-sponsor whose district includes Incarnation, had agreed to participate but later rescinded saying the venue wasn’t “neutral.” Toward the end of the event, the protesters from outside entered the sanctuary and disrupted the gathering.

Legalization advocates say that decriminalization would protect people who “do sexual labor by choice, circumstance, coercion,” and they call for legislation that would protect people in the sex trade from economic exploitation and interpersonal violence. They also call for people imprisoned on sex-trade related offenses to be freed and for the de-stigmatization of the sex trade.

Bill opponents, however, say it would thwart prosecution of sex and child traffickers, pimps who prostitute children and pimping in general; permit pimping of anyone 18 years of age or older; allow traffickers to vacate convictions; inhibit prosecutors’ trafficking investigations; and make it harder for law enforcement to identify victims. They are also concerned that the bill would legalize the purchase of sex, brothels and commercial sex establishments, and encourage sex tourism.

“We [New York residents] have to ask ourselves, Why do we need people buying sex? What is that all about?” said Yvonne O’Neal, a task force member. “Personally – and it does keep me up at night sometimes – I’m wondering when I go to church on Sunday, as a person of faith, as an Episcopalian, and I look around in the congregation, my question is, Who are these men that are buying sex? And obviously, they have to be some of them sitting in the pews. Who are they? We don’t know, and why is that necessary?”

Proponents of decriminalization say that “if we need to,” people should be able to sell their bodies, and that legalization will lead to safer working conditions and industry regulations. Opponents say it will lead to higher demand and an increase in child sex trafficking as men look to purchase sex from younger and younger girls.

“There are some people in the trade who say, ‘Well, you, know, this is what I choose,’ and I don’t doubt that, but the vast majority of women who have to sell their bodies, I don’t think they are doing it voluntarily,” said O’Neal, who also represents The Episcopal Church at the United Nations as a member of the NGO Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons. “We should be able to find ways to help them to make a different kind of living and not have to subject their bodies to this.”

During the panel discussion at Incarnation, Iryna Makaruk, a sex trafficking survivor challenged the theory that sex work is work.

“It’s not work; you’re not selling yourself, you’re sold,” she said.

“There are girls being sold all over in run-down apartments, and they are being raped like I was,” said Makaruk, who was 19 and living in Brooklyn when a trafficker lured her in. “Shame on us if that’s how are girls are making money.”

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

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Church leaders urge Episcopalians to strive for peace in wake of massacres in Texas, Ohio

Mon, 08/05/2019 - 3:10pm

Mourners take part in a vigil Aug. 3 at El Paso High School after a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Photo: Reuters

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal bishops are speaking out in the aftermath of back-to-back mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, offering prayers, conveying the grief of their dioceses and hoping for a future when American life will no longer be plagued by such sudden bursts of deadly gun violence.

“Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers, and we in the church are called to make peace in our neighborhoods and with our young people,” Diocese of the Rio Grande Bishop Michael Hunn said in an online video reacting to the Aug. 3 massacre of 20 people at a Walmart in El Paso.

A 21-year-old man has been arrested in the killings and is suspected of posting a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto online before opening fire.

“My heart is heavy this morning with the tragic shootings yesterday in El Paso and last night in Dayton,” Southern Ohio Bishop Tom Breidenthal said in a Facebook post on Aug. 4, hours after a gunman opened fire in an entertainment district in Dayton. Police shot and killed the gunman, a 25-year-old man, whose motive wasn’t immediately clear.

Breidenthal, while offering prayers for the victims and those affected by the shootings, lamented that this was the second time in a year that his diocese was in mourning after a mass shooting in one of its cities. An attack in September left three victims dead and two others wounded in Cincinnati.

“Please join me in praying for an end to the epidemic of hate and violence that is sweeping our country,” he said.

Hunn and Breidenthal are part of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a network of nearly 100 Episcopal bishops that formed in the wake of two high-profile mass shootings in 2012, at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. The bishops’ mission has taken on a greater sense of urgency amid the growing national alarm at subsequent tragedies.

The Bishops United’s Litany in the Wake of a Mass Shooting was updated on Aug. 4 and now remembers the victims of 43 shootings since 2012.

Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas read the litany in a Facebook video after the El Paso and Dayton shootings, noting that Aug. 5 marks seven years since the Sikh temple shooting.

“This litany is a prayer offered for all the mass shootings, all the victims of mass shootings since Bishops United Against Gun Violence has come together,” Douglas said.

Douglas and other leaders of Bishops United planned to discuss a further response to the recent shootings later Aug. 5, after attention was focused in the morning on a statement read by President Donald Trump from the White House.

“We ask God in heaven to ease the anguish of those who suffer, and we vow to act with urgent resolve,” Trump said in his 10-minute remarks.

The president also forcefully denounced racism and hatred, saying neither has a place in America, and he enumerated four potential policy responses – their focuses included violent video games and mental illness – that could reduce the “barbaric slaughters” he said were carried out by “mentally ill monsters.”

Trump avoided calling for any substantial gun safety reforms, and it remains to be seen whether the shock of the recent violence will push the needle in Washington further toward such legislation. As the list of mass shootings has increased, legislative remedies have gone nowhere in Congress.

The Episcopal Church’s General Convention has passed numerous resolutions over the years calling for tighter gun laws. A resolution passed in 2015 included calls for universal criminal background checks for gun purchases, a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, tougher enforcement against gun trafficking and requirements that gun owners be trained in gun safety. In 2018, bishops and deputies passed a new resolution recognizing gun violence as a public health issue.

With the recent focus on tragedies in El Paso and Dayton, Episcopalians churchwide have joined in mourning the victims of the recent shootings. Chicago Bishop Jeffrey Lee issued a statement on Facebook in which he prayed “for the strength and commitment to stand up against the corrosive power of hateful speech and the insanity of all too available guns.” Bishop Sean Rowe, who leads the dioceses of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York, sent a letter to both urging Episcopalians not to give up hope.

“I invite you to pray in response to these evil acts – not as a substitute for action, but as a precursor to it,” Rowe said.

Arizona Bishop Jennifer Reddall was among the speakers Aug. 4 at a vigil for gun violence victims in Phoenix.

“You cannot be a white supremacist and be a Christian,” Reddall said, according to Arizona Republic’s coverage of the event. “You cannot love Jesus and hate your neighbor. And if you say you do, you’re wrong.”

And while people of faith pray, Reddall called on politicians to do more than pray. “I want you to do your job, which is to act,” she said.

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

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Christian leaders, including Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, condemn Christian nationalism in letter

Mon, 08/05/2019 - 2:13pm

[Religion News Service] A group of Christian leaders has condemned Christian nationalism in a new letter, calling it a “persistent threat to both our religious communities and our democracy.”

The letter, published on July 29, comes from a coalition of largely liberal-leaning Christian leaders and thinkers. Entitled “Christians Against Christian Nationalism,” it calls on religious Americans to push back against fusions of religion and government they say are distortions of their faith.

“Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy,” the statement reads in part. “Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.”

The letter also suggests that Christian nationalism treats other religions as “second-class faiths.”

“As Christians, we must speak in one voice condemning Christian nationalism as a distortion of the gospel of Jesus and a threat to American democracy,” the letter states.

The letter was organized by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, a group dedicated to “protecting religious liberty for all and defending the separation of church and state.”

Amanda Tyler, the group’s executive director, said Christian nationalism is “not new” but that she and others at the BJC were inspired to pull the letter together in light of what she said was a spike in Christian nationalist rhetoric and efforts to pass state-level legislation that reflects Christian nationalist sentiment.

“Over the past several years, we seem to be stuck on high in Christian nationalism,” she said. “We’ve seen it in violent, even deadly ways. Christian nationalist views can inspire violence — even against houses of worship.”

Although the statement does not mention Donald Trump by name, the president and many of his evangelical supporters have been criticized by liberal Christians for promoting various kinds of Christian nationalism in speeches and public appearances throughout his first term.

One of Trump’s most vocal supporters, the Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, preached a sermon in June 2018 insisting that America is a “Christian nation.” The First Baptist choir also took part in a 2017 Independence Day celebration with Trump, debuting an anthem called “Make America Great Again.” The song, composed by a former minister of music at the church, repeatedly invokes Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan but does not mention God or religion.

Endorsers of the letter skew toward liberal-leaning mainline Christian voices and include prominent names such as the Most Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church; the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; Sister Simone Campbell, head of Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK; Tony Campolo, founder of Red Letter Christians; Jim Winkler, president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches; Melissa Rogers, former executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships under President Barack Obama; the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Office of Public Witness; and the Rev. Paul Baxley, executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Over the course of the past week, the statement has already received an additional nearly 6,000 signatories, which Tyler said hailed from all 50 states and more than 30 different denominations.

“This is a grassroots campaign,” she said.

Other religious critics of Christian nationalism include the Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. He has repeatedly decried the “false moral narrative of religious nationalism” during public appearances and has made opposing it one of five major issues at the center of the Poor People’s Campaign. During a candidates forum hosted by his group in June, Barber repeatedly asked candidates if they would advocate for a public debate on poverty as well as other subjects — including religious nationalism. (All nine candidates said yes.)

Polls show criticisms of Christian nationalism are likely to resonate with a broad swath of Americans. In April, a Morning Consult survey found that roughly half of registered voters (47%) view Christian nationalism as “a threat to the vital interests of the country,” and 63% of Democrats said the same. Among Republicans, only 35% felt similarly.

Conservative voices such as Washington Times opinion editor Cheryl Chumley have dismissed the statement, calling into question the faith of the signers.

“This is a campaign filled with self-proclaiming Christians whose Christian ideals and beliefs are, in strict biblical teaching, very un-Christian,” Chumley wrote, referencing signatories that include the heads of at least two historic Christian denominations.

Chumley criticized signers who have affirmed LGBTQ identities and relationships.

“If these CACN types see the Bible as their rally call to fight against borders — which is another way of bucking the rule of law — why can’t they see it’s this same Bible that makes clear homosexuality, to God, is an abomination?”

Tyler pushed back on the criticism.

“I don’t think anyone should be challenging the religious identity of the nearly 6,000 Americans who have said they agree with this,” she said.

As a followup, Tyler said she is working on podcasts focusing on the subject of Christian nationalism.

“We wanted to start somewhere and see what kind of resonance this would have with American Christians,” she said. “We’ve seen it has a lot.”

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Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang elected next bishop of Taiwan

Mon, 08/05/2019 - 10:47am

The Rev. Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang was elected bishop of the Diocese of Taiwan on Aug. 3, 2019, at a special election convention held at St. James’ Episcopal Church, Taichung. Photo: Diocese of Taiwan.

[Episcopal Diocese of Taiwan] The Episcopal Diocese of Taiwan elected the Rev. Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang, rector of Advent Church, Taipei, as its sixth bishop on Aug. 3, 2019, at a special election convention held at St. James’ Episcopal Church, Taichung.

One of three nominees, Chang was elected on the second ballot. Nine clergy votes and 19 lay votes were necessary for election on that ballot; Chang received 11 clergy votes and 28 lay votes.

The other nominees were the Rev. Lily Ling-Ling Chang, rector of St. James’ Episcopal Church, Taichung, and Rev. Joseph Ming-Lung Wu, vicar of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Pingtung. All nominees came from within the diocese.

Chang, 64, is married to Hannah Fen-Jan Wei, with two adult daughters and two small grandchildren. He graduated in 1975 with a diploma in industrial engineering from St. John’s and St. Mary’s Institute of Technology, the predecessor of St. John’s University, Taipei, where he was also baptized in 1970. Armed with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and later a Ph.D., he was associate professor of mathematics at St. John’s University from 1983-2016. Chang’s theological training was through the diocesan Trinity Hall Theological Program, and after ordination as deacon in 1995 and priest in 1999, he became chaplain of St. John’s University (1997-2016) and vicar, later rector, of Advent Church on the St. John’s University campus, which serves as both university chapel and parish church.

Chang is passionate about The Episcopal Church and the unique role of St. John’s University, with its Episcopal foundation and chaplaincy ministry. Leading students to Christ through the chaplaincy, nurturing them through discipleship, and leading them on short-term mission trips within Taiwan and overseas has been a blessing for the whole of the The Episcopal Church in Taiwan. He looks forward to continuing that ministry as bishop, focusing on mission and evangelization, leading the church forward in faith and witness. In his acceptance speech after the election, Chang said, “Building on the work of Bishop David J. H. Lai over the past 20 years, I will continue to go forth in the name of the Lord.” His inspiration and role model is Bishop James C. L. Wong (bishop of Taiwan, 1965-70, and founder of St. John’s University), whose motto was  “Transforming lives through the life of Christ.” Chang continued, “In the future, I will inherit Bishop James Wong’s legacy motto, to lead all of you to commit to this comprehensive mission.”

Lai retires in March 2020, and pending consent of the majority of The Episcopal Church’s bishops and standing committees, Chang will be ordained, consecrated and installed as bishop of Taiwan on Feb. 22, 2020, with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry as chief consecrator. The Diocese of Taiwan is part of The Episcopal Church’s Province 8.

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Myanmar hosts summit on transforming churches and communities

Fri, 08/02/2019 - 12:32pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Representatives from 10 countries across Asia have taken part in a consultation affirming a new approach to whole-life transformation for local churches and communities, based on biblical principles and using local assets and talents to help bring about change.

Participants from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, as well as Australia and the U.K., gathered in July to share their experiences and look at next steps.

The consultation in Yangon, Myanmar, was hosted by the Church of the Province of Myanmar and organized by the Anglican Alliance, in partnership with Tearfund, Episcopal Relief & Development and the Anglican Board of Mission, Australia. Its aim was to enable the various countries to learn from each other and see how these approaches are shaped by their unique context.

Read the full article here.

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Archbishop of Canterbury will visit site of Indian massacre

Fri, 08/02/2019 - 12:18pm

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and his wife, Caroline, are featured on the home page of the 2020 Lambeth Conference. Photo: 2020 Lambeth Conference

[Anglican Communion News Service] Pilgrimage, prayer and pastoral concern will form the key elements of the archbishop of Canterbury’s visit to the United Churches of North and South India this September.

Archbishop Justin Welby will be joined by his wife for the 10-day visit, which will include taking part in 100th anniversary commemorations of the massacre in Amritsar.

Read the full article here.

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Minigolf installed in English cathedral to draw in younger visitors

Fri, 08/02/2019 - 11:59am

The nave of Rochester Cathedral in England has been transformed into a minigolf course. Photo: Rochester Cathedral via ACNS

[Anglican Communion News Service] A minigolf course has been installed in a Church of England cathedral at Rochester in Kent to help build bridges with young people.

Although worship services will continue as normal, the medieval nave has been transformed by a green and various bridges which visitors can send their golf balls through while being inspired by the architecture.

Read the full article here.

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All Our Children network’s end offers tough lessons for Episcopal work on education equity, poverty

Fri, 08/02/2019 - 9:52am

St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Boston worked with suburban churches to create a library at Blackstone Elementary School in 2011. St. Stephen’s has for years developed relationships with the school’s students, parents and teachers through its after-school program. Photo: St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church

[Episcopal News Service] Sixty-five years after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, the American public education system remains overwhelmingly separate and unequal. In February 2019, the advocacy organization EdBuild put a number on the problem: $23 billion.

That is the national funding gap between mostly white and mostly nonwhite school districts, despite comparable numbers of students, EdBuild found. Inequitable funding policies that prioritize where a child lives over communities’ financial resources have “led to an endlessly unfair system that is stacked against our most vulnerable children,” the report concludes.

For evidence, look no further than the library at Blackstone Elementary School in Boston. A decade ago, the school didn’t have one.

What Blackstone had back then was a growing partnership with the neighboring St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, a largely black and Latino congregation in Boston’s South End. For years, church volunteers had developed relationships with teachers, students and parents through St. Stephen’s after-school program. The church also welcomed volunteers from white suburban churches, who were appalled to learn Blackstone had no library. In 2011, the suburban church volunteers helped open a library at the school, and they continue today to staff it.

“When they understood more about education equity, they were ready [to act], because they knew the kids,” the Rev. Liz Steinhauser, the church’s youth programs director, told the Episcopal News Service.

Successful church-school partnerships start with listening and they grow through personal relationships, Steinhauser and other members of The Episcopal Church’s All Our Children network told ENS. But their local ministries weren’t enough to sustain a national network of dioceses and congregations championing education equity. After seven years, All Our Children is disbanding. In a July 10 email to supporters, network director Lallie Lloyd cited long-term financial uncertainty, limited churchwide support and challenges related to “our previously unexamined internalized white supremacy.”

Established education ministries interested in applying for one of All Our Children’s grants have until Aug. 8 to submit applications. Info is at allourchildren.org/grants.

All Our Children formed in 2012 as the churchwide successor to a Diocese of New York ministry of the same name. With significant startup funding from New York’s Trinity Church Wall Street, it held trainings, webinars and conferences for people, like Steinhauser and her team, who are driven by their faith to the work of eliminating systemic inequality in American public education.

The network’s greatest accomplishment, according to church leaders interviewed by ENS, was to bring together Episcopalians engaged in similar ministries to learn from and support each other. Despite those successes, however, All Our Children couldn’t overcome what even its top supporters now see were ill-fated blind spots, particularly those related to white privilege and the evolving social justice priorities of The Episcopal Church.

The network has $80,000 remaining in unrestricted donations that it is in the process of distributing as grants to diocesan and church ministries. Applications will be accepted through Aug. 8, with the grants to be awarded in September.

“We believe, and have from the beginning, the unequal educational opportunities have deep structural roots,” Lloyd said in an interview with ENS. The network’s grants will target established ministries that have demonstrated an understanding of that dynamic. “We have never wanted to be only about charitable service to the children in our communities.”

All Our Children Director Lallie Lloyd speaks at the network’s January 2018 symposium at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Columbia, S.C. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Examples of active church-school partnerships are plentiful, but the national network’s emphasis on systemic change generated only mixed results at the local level.

“We thought that if congregations partnered with local schools, their relationship would evolve from charitable direct service into public advocacy,” Lloyd said. “I think we would have to conclude that that doesn’t necessarily happen.”

Zakiya Jackson agrees. She is vice president of training and resources for The Expectations Project, an advocacy organization that works with faith-based groups to promote education equity, and for the past year she has served on the All Our Children board. She helped Lloyd organize the Episcopal network’s January 2018 symposium in Columbia, South Carolina.

Zakiya Jackson of The Expectations Project served for a year on All Our Children’s board after helping to plan its January 2018 symposium. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

“Something that starts off as service can pivot to advocacy. … But it can also stay service,” Jackson told ENS. “Without that intentionality from the beginning, I think it unintentionally sets people up to think that taking care of children is equity work, and that’s not the same thing.”

A church volunteer’s pivot to advocacy typically hinges on a “conversion experience,” Steinhauser said, such as when her volunteers learned Blackstone didn’t have a library. Conversions often happen locally, though inequity in education is a nationwide problem.

“Low-income students and students of color are often relegated to low-quality school facilities that lack equitable access to teachers, instructional materials, technology and technology support, critical facilities, and physical maintenance,” the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said in a 2018 report on public education funding.

Nearly one in four students in the United States attends what the U.S. Department of Education deems a high-poverty school, filled disproportionately with nonwhite students. The department’s latest Condition of Education report shows about 45 percent of black and Hispanic students went to high-poverty schools in 2016, as opposed to only 8 percent of white students.

“White supremacy wasn’t an accident, and inequity’s not an accident,” Jackson said. “We didn’t get here just because a few folks started neglecting kids. Everything was intentional.” Creating an equitable education system, then, “takes more study and more skill and more fervor than I think we often realize.”

Decade of growth in network of churches focused on education

The initial fervor behind All Our Children goes back to a book lent to Bishop Catherine Roskam in 2006: Jonathan Kozol’s “The Shame of the Nation.”

The book was an indictment of the resegregation of American public schools, and Roskam, who was bishop suffragan of the Diocese of New York at the time, found its contemporary portrait “absolutely shocking.” She began noticing Kozol’s themes playing out in the neighborhoods that were home to the diocese’s churches.

Many of the congregations had no relationships with their local schools. She started All Our Children to encourage connections between churches and schools, often bridging racial divides in the process.

“I’m a person that looks a lot at what people can do immediately,” Roskam told ENS. Parishioners may be easily discouraged, wondering what one person can do to make a difference. “I think the answer to that is, one person can do a lot. At least, one person can do something.”

Congregations of all sizes got involved, Roskam said. Parishioners served as chaperones on a Mount Vernon school’s field trips. They created a community garden at a Monroe school. The started an arts program at a school in Bronxville.

“We were transformed by what we saw, and when that happens you don’t go away and forget about that,” Roskam said.

By the time Roskam retired in January 2012, leaders of Episcopal education ministries around the country had begun networking on their own. In October 2012, their conversations spawned an inaugural conference, convened by Trinity Wall Street and hosted by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia, that launched the national All Our Children network. The Rev. Ben Campbell, a pastoral associate at St. Paul’s, detailed the church’s longtime partnership with Woodville Elementary School, which had grown into the citywide Micah Initiative, with 125 worshiping communities of all faiths sending volunteers into about 25 elementary schools. Other Episcopal leaders shared stories of their experiences, from Cleveland to Dallas. Such examples “gave me a new sense for what’s possible,” Steinhauser said.

The Rev. Liz Steinhauser is director of youth programs at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Boston. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

“I think my work [and] other people’s work is better, stronger and more creative when we’re connected to other folks,” she said, “being part of something larger than ourselves.”

Lloyd was there representing Trinity Church Boston, and she soon was tapped to lead the national network as director. Trinity Church Boston agreed to serve as fiscal agent for All Our Children, which never incorporated as a separate nonprofit.

After working as an education programming grants officer at Pew Charitable Trust, Lloyd had been providing consulting services for nonprofits in the Boston area and wanted to get more involved in faith-based efforts on the issue of education equity.

“I felt a very strong longing to be able to use the moral passion that I find in my faith to talk about these inequities as a moral and ethical issue,” she told ENS.

Trinity Wall Street remained the network’s largest financial backer, awarding about $850,000 in grants to All Our Children through 2019 that helped to cover staffing costs, travel to conferences and the regional and national gatherings of Episcopal leaders that kept up the network’s momentum.

“What I think Lallie and her colleagues were endeavoring to do was to make it a more national and less regional effort,” Massachusetts Bishop Alan Gates told ENS. He was a strong supporter of All Our Children, but the more effective networking seemed to happen locally, he said. “When we get together nationally, people’s contexts are so different.”

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral volunteer Beth Yon shows a student some of the finer points of sewing a hem during an activity in 2018 at W.A. Perry Middle School in Columbia, South Carolina. The Diocese of South Carolina has been active in education ministries and advocacy through the ecumenical Bishops’ Public Education Initiative. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

South Carolina Bishop Andrew Waldo echoed those sentiments. His diocese hosted All Our Children’s biggest gathering, a three-day symposium in January 2018. But the symposium, nominally backed by a General Convention resolution, barely drew more than 100 participants. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was scheduled to preach but canceled due to illness.

“They did a wonderful job of trying to connect across the country,” Waldo said in an interview, expressing gratitude for Lloyd’s hard work. “To be a resource to congregations over such a geography might have been the most difficult part.”

Lloyd alluded to that reality in her July 10 email to supporters. “Most people called to this work are called to serve their local communities and have limited capacity for the additional labor of building a national network,” she wrote.

The network also struggled to raise enough money to make up for discontinued grants from Trinity Wall Street, which chose to phase out its financial support this year, Lloyd told ENS. And despite General Convention’s support for equity work, Episcopal leaders churchwide did not always share the enthusiasm of Gates, Waldo and a handful of other bishops, Lloyd said.

Hope and caution for future of education equity work

Lloyd hinted at a more fundamental challenge with her reference to “white supremacy” in announcing the end of All Our Children. Lloyd told ENS she was acknowledging, as a white woman and a lay leader in a predominantly white Christian denomination, that she had not fully appreciated how All Our Children’s early development was hindered by power structures that privilege whiteness – through a lens that sees equity work as giving something of value to people in need.

“That feels like toxic charity. It feels patronizing,” she said. “The danger is the way we talk and behave – in that way, we keep ourselves separate from the community around us.”

All Our Children, from the start, lacked grounding in a coalition of diverse community partners, something that changed somewhat when Lloyd began collaborating with Jackson and The Expectation Project.

By then, it may have been too late.

Church-school partnerships are “not the same thing as creating an equitable school environment or creating an equitable school district,” Jackson said. “That requires a different sort of understanding of justice, a different understanding of whiteness.”

Getting congregations and parishioners to that understanding often requires a leader who is an “agitator,” she added, a role not many people are comfortable filling.

Steinhauser, for her part, has years of experience as a community organizer and is comfortable preaching on what might seem like thorny topics.

But agitator? She suggested looking no further than the Gospel.

The Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas picked up the theme in an interview with ENS about how education equity and race intersect with social justice issues, which she has elevated as dean of EDS at Union.

“Social justice work isn’t the extra. It’s the Gospel,” Douglas said. “That’s indeed why the presiding bishop has called us back into the Jesus Movement.” Social justice work shouldn’t be optional for Christians, she said. “This is what we call white privilege, the privilege of not doing it.”

But how to do it right? Even the word “advocacy” carries the wrong connotations if it doesn’t first empower communities who have been disempowered by an unjust system, she said.

“Before the church reaches out, the church needs to educate itself,” she said. “We don’t want to devolve into this old missionary model that The Episcopal Church was very good at, as if we were doing for a people what they can’t doing for themselves.”

Lloyd has attended a range of conferences to engage a broader spectrum of Christians and education advocates, from the Union of Black Episcopalians to something known as the Justice Conference. It was at the latter event, in 2016, that she met Jackson. The next year, they teamed up to lead a workshop at another conference, and Jackson agreed to help Lloyd plan the 2018 symposium in South Carolina.

Campbell, the Richmond priest, said he thought highly of the “incredibly valiant work that Lallie and her staff did.” He also thought it helped to bring The Expectations Project on board, but he questioned whether a broad coalition of partners was something that could be effectively added midstream.

“What would have happened if she had been able to be a part of a coalition like that from the beginning?” Campbell wondered. “I don’t know.”

With the official network closing down, All Our Children members hardly see this as The Episcopal Church’s final word on education equity. The Rev. Rainey Dankel is among the hopeful.

“I would not be surprised if individual relationships that came about as a result of that work do continue, because I think that we’re always trying to figure out better ways of doing what we’re doing,” said Dankel, who retired in March after seven years as associate rector at Trinity Church Boston.

Dankel said she grew to appreciate that in successful school partnerships and advocacy, “a lot of it has to do with, frankly, confronting white privilege and racism,” especially in Boston, where students of color are a majority in the public schools. It’s more than “just showing up with good intentions trying to fix some kids.”

“We’re actually engaged in confronting and trying to transform both ourselves and our communities of which we are a part,” Dankel said. “Which is a fundamental task of churches, that we are in the business of being transformed of God’s love and confronting our own complicity with the things that block people from experiencing that love.”

She told a story of Trinity Church Boston’s relationship with McCormack Middle School. The church helped create a library at McCormack, similar to St. Stephen’s partnership with Blackstone. When a teacher at McCormack brought a class into the library for the first time, Dankel recalled one boy looking around in awe.

“Wow,” the boy said. “This is so nice. What did we do to deserve this?”

“Which is just so heartbreaking,” Dankel told ENS, “that he didn’t know that he deserves that.”

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

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Lawsuit claims LA diocese knowingly accepted priest accused of sex assault; other dioceses’ background checks came up clean

Thu, 08/01/2019 - 3:19pm

[Episcopal News Service] A woman is suing the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, saying one of its priests sexually assaulted her and others in New York in the 1970s, and the diocese knowingly allowed him to serve as a priest there anyway. However, two other dioceses that have licensed the priest in question say their background checks never turned up any allegations of sexual misconduct.

The Rev. Paul Kowalewski, 71, is retired but had been serving as an occasional supply priest at the Church of St. Paul in the Desert in Palm Springs, California, and his ministry has been suspended, the Rt. Rev. Susan Brown Snook, bishop of San Diego, told ENS. Though the church is in the Diocese of San Diego, he is canonically resident in the Diocese of Los Angeles, and served as the rector of a large Los Angeles parish from 2005 to 2013.

Patricia Harner, the plaintiff, says Kowalewski sexually assaulted her in 1971, when she was a 19-year-old parishioner at St. Amelia Catholic Church in Tonawanda, New York, and he was a seminarian preparing to be ordained in the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.

In response to questions from ENS, the Diocese of Central New York – the first Episcopal diocese in which Kowalewski served as a priest – said there is no record that indicates the diocese knew of any sexual abuse allegations against him when he was received or during his tenure there. The diocese conducted a background check on Kowalewski in 1990, which turned up no indication of sexual misconduct, according to their records.

Brown Snook also said her diocese also did a “thorough background check before licensing him to do occasional supply work, which did not turn up these allegations,” and the diocese had no knowledge of the allegations before the lawsuit was filed.

Harner’s law firm, Jeff Anderson & Associates, is also representing another woman who says Kowalewski molested her when she was 16 and a member of the same parish, The Buffalo News reported. The firm plans to file a separate suit on her behalf in New York, according to that report.

Kowalewski served as a priest in the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo from 1973 to 1977, and during that time, he was sent to a church treatment facility in Canada “in response to his abuse of children,” the lawsuit says. In the late ‘70s and 1980s, he earned a Ph.D. in communications and taught at several universities before returning to ministry in the United Methodist Church in 1985, according to The Buffalo News. He then entered the discernment process for the Episcopal priesthood in the Diocese of Central New York and was received in 1990. He  for bishop of the Diocese of Western New York in 1998.

The lawsuit, filed on July 22, claims the Diocese of Los Angeles knew of multiple accusations of sexual assault (including child sexual abuse) against Kowalewski, failed to report him to police, and presented him “as a priest in good standing who is safe to the public, safe to children, and safe to parishioners.” It also claims the diocese lied to parishioners, saying he had not been accused of sexual misconduct.

The lawsuit does not mention any allegations of misconduct during Kowalewski’s time in California.

“The Diocese of Los Angeles views each and every allegation of sexual misconduct with the utmost seriousness,” the Rt. Rev. John Harvey Taylor, bishop of Los Angeles, said in a statement in response to the lawsuit. “The Rev. Paul Kowalewski is not currently serving in our diocese. Nevertheless, once we have had the opportunity to review the details of this matter, we will take whatever appropriate steps we can to make sure that a fair and just outcome is achieved for all parties.”

Brown Snook also released a statement in response to the suit:

“We regret deeply the misconduct of any clergy person in any church,” she said in the statement. “We will cooperate fully with the investigation that will be conducted by the Diocese of Los Angeles and any other authorities. Clergy have a sacred position of trust. We take seriously all complaints, and research them thoroughly.”

Harner, the plaintiff, told The Desert Sun that she had not told anyone that Kowalewski assaulted her until two years ago, and that she is suing “to alert the community of the danger this man poses.”

“I thought he was out of the priesthood and any kind of ministry at all. And when I found out he wasn’t, I couldn’t let another person bear what I had gone through for so long,” she said.

Brown Snook said her diocese is “deeply shocked and saddened by any allegations of sexual abuse,” and has written a letter to the parishioners of St. Paul’s explaining the situation.

“Everyone who has been affected by this sad and shocking situation is in my prayers, and I hope for a just resolution to the lawsuit,” she said.

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

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‘Violent,’ ‘dehumanizing,’ ‘dangerous’: National Cathedral’s sharp criticism of Trump resonates across America

Wed, 07/31/2019 - 2:33pm

 

[Episcopal News Service] It’s not often that an official statement from the Washington National Cathedral – the most famous icon of The Episcopal Church, and site of many state funerals and inaugural prayer services – contains words like “savage,” “dangerous,” “violent” and “dehumanizing.”

But it’s also not often that a president of the United States calls an American city “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess … a dangerous and filthy place” and targets congressional representatives of color with racist insults.

In light of the escalation of President Donald Trump’s racially focused attacks, the clergy of the National Cathedral released a statement on July 30 that denounced Trump’s “violent, dehumanizing words.” The statement, which has spread rapidly around social media and news outlets, uses some of the strongest, most direct language used so far by American religious leaders:

“As faith leaders who serve at Washington National Cathedral – the sacred space where America gathers at moments of national significance – we feel compelled to ask: After two years of President Trump’s words and actions, when will Americans have enough?”

The statement, titled “Have We No Decency? A Response to President Trump,” is ultimately directed more at the American people than Trump himself, and draws a parallel between the present moment and Joseph Welch’s famous confrontation of Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1954.

“As Americans, we have had such moments before, and as a people we have acted. Events of the last week call to mind a similarly dark period in our history,” the statement reads. “McCarthy had free rein to say and do whatever he wished. With unbridled speech, he stoked the fears of an anxious nation with lies; destroyed the careers of countless Americans; and bullied into submissive silence anyone who dared criticize him.”

It took Welch’s bold questioning on national TV – “Have you no sense of decency?” – to “effectively [end] McCarthy’s notorious hold on the nation,” and Trump’s words and actions demand a similar response from the American people, the statement says.

“When does silence become complicity?” it asks. “What will it take for us all to say, with one voice, that we have had enough? The question is less about the president’s sense of decency [than] of ours.”

The statement is signed by the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of the Diocese of Washington, the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of the cathedral, and the Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas, the cathedral’s canon theologian.

Some of the statement’s firmest language focuses on racism and the erosion of common decency and moral values:

“We have come to accept a level of insult and abuse in political discourse that violates each person’s sacred identity as a child of God. We have come to accept as normal a steady stream of language and accusations coming from the highest office in the land that plays to racist elements in society.”

And although Budde, Hollerith and Douglas have individually criticized various policies of the Trump administration, this statement’s focus on Trump’s character, its frank description of racism and its warning of violent consequences make it unique:

“Make no mistake about it, words matter. And Mr. Trump’s words are dangerous. These words are more than a ‘dog-whistle.’ When such violent dehumanizing words come from the President of the United States, they are a clarion call, and give cover to white supremacists who consider people of color a sub-human ‘infestation’ in America. They serve as a call to action from those people to keep America great by ridding it of such infestation. Violent words lead to violent actions.”

As Donald Trump continues to shout dehumanizing, violent and racist words from the most powerful office in the land, we all must transform our silence into words and action. https://t.co/2E77iZmz09

— Kelly Brown Douglas (@DeanKBD) July 30, 2019

The statement was quickly picked up by national and international news outlets including The Washington Post, CNN, The Guardian and Bloomberg, and has been shared thousands of times on social media by influential figures like Chris Matthews, Mia Farrow, former CIA Director John Brennan, director Ava DuVernay and multiple current and former members of Congress.

“Never have I been more proud to call the Washington National Cathedral my home,” former National Security Adviser Susan Rice tweeted along with a link to the statement.

Never have I been more proud to call the Washington National Cathedral my home.

Have We No Decency? A Response to President Trump – Washington National Cathedral https://t.co/Fck61LL3dw

— Susan Rice (@AmbassadorRice) July 31, 2019

“This is a very big deal. Extraordinary step by National Cathedral,” said former Sen. Claire McCaskill.

This is a very big deal. Extraordinary step by National Cathedral. Have We No Decency? A Response to President Trump – Washington National Cathedral https://t.co/FAXVNDKfxT

— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) July 31, 2019

The statement ends with an excerpt from Trump’s inaugural prayer service at the cathedral on Jan. 21, 2017, during which the clergy “prayed for the President and his young Administration to have ‘wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties that they may serve all people of this nation, and promote the dignity and freedom of every person.’

“That remains our prayer today for us all,” the statement ends.

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

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