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Church of England helps win ExxonMobil shareholder battle over climate change

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 11:20am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Shareholders of the oil giant ExxonMobil pushed through a resolution on climate change at the company’s AGM on May 31 despite strong opposition from the board of directors. The motion, tabled by the Church Commissioners, the financial arm of the Church of England, with the New York State Comptroller, will require the company to provide annual reports on showing how the business will be affected by global efforts to reduce climate change.

Full article.

Editor’s note: While the Episcopal Church did not participate in the shareholder action at the Exxon Mobile meeting, the Executive Council has instructed that the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s investment shares should be voted in support of resolutions that encourage reduction of climate risks and stewardship of the environment.

Religious leaders emphasize interfaith harmony for peace in Pakistan

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 11:17am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Interfaith and religious harmony is essential to bring about “guaranteed long-term peace and stability” in Pakistan, senior faith leaders said at a peace conference organized by the Diocese of Peshawar. Bishop Humphrey Peters, who has since been elected as the new Primate and Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, convened the meeting, which brought together leaders of minority faiths, including Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, with leaders of the majority Muslim faith.

Full article.

Rev. Ross Kane to Join VTS faculty as director of doctoral programs

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 10:56am

The Rev. Ross Kane. Photo: Virginia Theological Seminary

[Virginia Theological Seminary] The trustees of the Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS), at their May 17 board meeting, unanimously approved the appointment of the Rev. E. Ross Kane as the new director of the doctoral programs at VTS. Kane, who currently serves as senior associate rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia, will join the VTS community on July 1.

“Ross is an exceptional appointment,” said the Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, dean and president of VTS. “He has already proven himself a good colleague, having served as an adjunct for both master’s and doctoral courses here at VTS over the last several years.”

Kane inherits strong doctoral programs from the Rev. David T. Gortner, who has successfully shepherded the programs since 2008. Last year Gortner was appointed associate dean of church and community engagement.

Before receiving his Master of Divinity degree from Duke Divinity School, Kane received his bachelor’s degree in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia. He returned to the University of Virginia for his doctorate in religious studies, concentrating in theology, ethics and culture. A Virginia native, Ross was ordained in 2009 in the Diocese of Virginia.

His vocation joins a heart for parish ministry with rigorous scholarship that builds up the church.

Having earned his Ph.D. while serving full-time in the parish, his scholarship and publications explore the lived experience of faith communities, particularly the incorporation of new and unfamiliar expressions of belief and practice into the Christian tradition. Ross also brings an international perspective to his scholarship and priestly vocation, having served in the Anglican Communion in East Africa before entering parish ministry. His publications appear in academic and popular presses alike, such as Christian Century, Journal of Religion in Africa and Anglican Theological Review.

As senior associate rector of St. Paul’s, he crafted innovative adult education offerings and played a leading role in launching and sustaining new efforts to serve Alexandria’s most vulnerable citizens. In recognition of these efforts, Kane was a 2016 honoree in Alexandria’s inaugural 40 Under 40 awards.

“The doctoral programs at VTS have a rich legacy of building up clergy, transforming ministry and training dynamic leaders for tomorrow’s church,” Dr. Kane said. “They offer a rare nexus of scholarship, practical ministry, and prayerful reflection. It is a great privilege to lead these exceptional programs in the years ahead.”

Kane and his wife, Liz Doughty Kane, have two sons, Stephen and Philip.

St. John’s Episcopal Church in Roanoke, Virginia, hires communications director

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 4:52pm

[St. John’s Episcopal Church] Cara Ellen Modisett has joined the staff of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Roanoke, Va., as director of communications.

She has worked in music and communications in a range of settings. She served as minister of communication for Church of the Holy Communion (Episcopal) in Memphis, Tennessee, and prior to that as communications adviser for the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia.

She is a contributing editor for the Episcopal Cafe and was curator and writer for the Prayers of the People for General Convention 78, working with the Society of St. John the Evangelist. She also serves as music director for St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal, also in Roanoke.

In her secular roles, Modisett was editor of Blue Ridge Country magazine and a reporter/producer for WVTF public radio. She has taught English at Ferrum College and is currently staff collaborative pianist for Radford University.

She is originally from Harrisonburg, Va., and holds a bachelor’s degree in English and a bachelor’s degree in music from James Madison University and a master’s degree in creative nonfiction from Goucher College. Her writing has been published in The Living Church, Memphis Magazine, Still: The Journal, The Roanoker magazine and other periodicals.

Guatemalan woman facing deportation receives sanctuary at North Carolina Episcopal church

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 4:21pm

Juana Luz Tobar Ortega, center front, poses with her family for a photo released by American Friends Service Committee, which is helping her resist a deportation order.

[Episcopal News Service] An Episcopal church in North Carolina is sheltering a Guatemalan woman as she defies federal orders to leave the country after failing to receive a stay of her deportation.

The Guatemalan woman, Juana Luz Tobar Ortega, first came to the United States in the mid-1990s to escape violence in her home country, the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina said in a news release.

In April, she was told by federal immigration authorities that she had until May 31 to return to Guatemala, potentially leaving behind her husband, who is an American citizen, and her four children, as well as her job of eight years as sewing machine operator, the diocese said.

Working with a Quaker group called the American Friends Service Committee, St. Barnabas in Greensboro agreed to serve as a sanctuary church and take in Tobar Ortega while she fights deportation. She appeared with her family at a news conference held at the church on May 31, as seen in a video that was streamed live on Facebook.

“I want to thank the members of this church and the pastors for their support and their help,” Tobar Ortega said in Spanish. “I hope to not spend much time here. I hope to return to my home soon, to hug my children and grandchildren and to be with my family.”

The congregation had spent more than a year in a process of discernment before choosing to become a sanctuary church.

“There’s absolutely no reason for this woman to be torn away from her family and her community,” the Rev. Randall Keeney, rector at St. Barnabas, said in a news release from American Friends Service Committee. “She’s a child of God and we will give her shelter until ICE drops her deportation order.”

The modern sanctuary church movement dates to the 1980s, when some churches began opening their doors to immigrants fleeing wars in Central and South America. It has returned to the national spotlight and picked up steam this year in response to the immigration policies of the Trump administration. Some immigrant communities are on edge amid reports of deportation raids in various cities, with critics accusing the new administration of increasingly targeting immigrants who pose little or no threat to public safety.

Numerous Episcopal congregations across the country have been researching whether to offer sanctuary for such immigrants, and some, like St. Barnabas, have committed to provide that haven if needed.

The news release from the Diocese of North Carolina says the vestry at St. Barnabas voted unanimously to take in Tobar Ortega after the congregation completed its process of discernment on the sanctuary issue.

“Our prayers and our companionship with the immigrant community led us to this place,” Keeney said in the diocese’s news release. “Our simple hope is to support Juana and her family as they so bravely cling to the dignity given to them by God.”

The congregation has the backing of the diocese, the Rt. Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple, bishop diocesan pro tempore for the Diocese of North Carolina, said in the news release.

“The Diocese of North Carolina is eager and ready to assist our worship communities as they navigate the call to offer sanctuary to persons subject to the harsh realities of a broken immigration system,” Hodges-Copple said. “I have full confidence that each congregation has the capacity to be guided by prayer, research, theology and practicality to make their own decisions about how best to use its resources, including its buildings to the glory of God and in love and service of neighbors in need.”

More than 1,900 people have signed an online petition against Tobar Ortega’s deportation order. Her supporters rallied May 31 outside the High Point office of U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, asking him to intervene on her behalf.

When Tobar Ortega first arrived in the United States, her initial request for asylum was denied, but she received a work permit and was allowed to stay for six years while she appealed the decision on asylum, the diocese said. She went back to Guatemala in 1999 to care for her ailing oldest daughter, and when she returned to the United States, her work permit was revoked. She remained in the United States, and in recent years, she had been checking in with federal authorities regularly while she sought a stay of removal, according to the diocese.

That changed last month, when she was told by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to prepare for voluntary deportation.

“We’re only asking them to continue to grant her a stay of removal, as ICE has done for the past six years,” Lesvi Molina, Tobar Ortega’s eldest daughter, said in American Friends Service Committee’s news release. “My mom has spent about $17,000 over the last 23 years trying to adjust her status. We would like there to be a path for her to get permanent residency, but ICE just seems to want to punish, not to work with us.”

In addition to her husband, two of her children are U.S. citizens, according to American Friends Service Committee. She has two additional children who have been allowed to remain in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a policy that gives preferred consideration to immigrants who arrived in the country as children and who meet certain conditions.

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

First Native American woman in Wyoming ordained to Episcopal priesthood

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 10:12am

The Rev. Roxanne Jimerson-Friday became the first Native American woman from the Wind River Indian Reservation, in the state of Wyoming, ordained to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church on May 26 by Bishop of Wyoming John S. Smylie. Photo: Diocese of Wyoming

[Diocese of Wyoming] On May 26, the Rev. Roxanne Jimerson-Friday became the first Native American woman from the Wind River Indian Reservation, in the state of Wyoming, ordained to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church. The ceremony took place at Our Father’s House Episcopal Church in Ethete, with the Rt. Rev. John S. Smylie, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming, presiding. The Rev. Tommy Means gave the sermon. Jimerson-Friday is the first woman Shoshone tribal member to be ordained to the Episcopal priesthood.

Jimerson-Friday is part of the Seneca Nation of New York, on her father’s side, and part of the Shoshone Tribe of Wyoming, on her mother’s side. She was born in Lander, grew up in New York until she was 10, and then moved back to Wyoming. She currently lives in Ethete with her husband, Aaron Friday.

Her interest in becoming ordained started when she realized she had always been the person that people turn to when they are in need. More recently, she witnessed a miracle when her grandson almost died. She and her family were told he wouldn’t make it, but through the power of prayer, God healed her grandson. Because of that experience, along with a life of living in relationship with God, she made a promise to God that she would serve Him and bring people to Him. She says, “I made that promise with my whole heart and then everything seemed to fall into place like a path was made just for me.”

Jimerson-Friday has been thinking about her goals. “I am really in God’s hands. Wherever He is leading me, that is the path I am taking. When I look into the future I feel that I am going to bring peace and a sense of healing.”

When asked how she felt about her accomplishment, she said she is very proud. “It’s a matter of uplifting all the Native American women, that you can do whatever you want to do.”

Churches mobilized as Sri Lanka floods death toll passes 200

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 10:00am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Clergy in Sri Lanka have been urged to prepare their churches and church halls to provide refuge for people displaced by serious flooding in the country’s Southern and Sabaragamuwa regions. On May 31, Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Center said that 202 people had died as a result of the devastating floods and landslides caused by severe rains that have hit the country since May 26, when Cyclone Mora hit the island.

Full article.

Costa Rican Anglicans urged to live their faith naturally

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 9:57am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Anglicans in Costa Rica are being encouraged to live their faith naturally – Vive tu fe naturalmente – in a new campaign designed to encourage environmentally sustainable lifestyles.

The Diocese of Costa Rica, part of the Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de America (the Anglican Church in Central America), adopted the campaign at its recent National Convention, the diocese’s first “Green Convention.”

Full article.

RIP: Sister Margaret Cook, 85, of Community of St. Mary

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 4:13pm

Sister Margaret Cook, 85, of Knoxville, Tennessee, died peacefully in her sleep on the Eve of the Ascension, May 24.

Cook entered the Community of St. Mary on May 1, 1990, and was in her 22nd year of profession when she died. She was a cradle Episcopalian and was always very active in the Church.

Before coming to the Community she had served in her church, especially with the Daughters of the King. She, likewise, served at the University of Tennessee in the Graduate Studies Program, and for a time, she actively managed a Girl Scout Camp.

Cook was especially known for her great sense of humor and her love of music, animals, hiking and canoeing. She lived a vibrant life of prayer and hospitality and expressed her care for family, young people and nature in her daily life of service.

Within the Community she ministered over the years, both in the Philippines and in Sewanee, Tennessee. She served with cheer and energy in multiple capacities as sacristan, sister-for-associates and sister-in-charge and expressed her care for sisters, guests and associates through those roles.

Her death ends her five-year struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, for which we give thanks. She will be missed, but she has left the world with blessing.

Cook is survived by her sisters of the Community of St. Mary, her nieces, Teresa Butler and Margaret Evans, and her nephew, Phillip Cook, and their families. Her life and ministry will be celebrated with a Requiem Mass in the convent chapel, located at 1100 St. Mary’s Lane, Sewanee, Tennessee, on June 3, at 11 a.m., followed by the interment and a reception.

‘River of Life’ pilgrimage down Connecticut River offers 40 days of prayer, paddling

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 1:13pm

The Connecticut River is a popular place for paddling by canoe and kayak. Starting May 31, it also will become a place of prayer through the River of Life pilgrimage organized by the Episcopal dioceses of New England. Photo courtesy of Kairos Earth

[Episcopal News Service] New Hampshire Bishop Robert Hirschfeld has rowed on the Connecticut River for years. It once was a sort of industrial “sewer” but has since been cleaned up and restored to “a place of stunning beauty,” he said. Hirschfeld intends to show it also can be a place of worship and an inspiration for prayer.

The bishop is preparing to lead a 40-day pilgrimage on the river, from source to ocean. In our sound-bite culture, Hirschfeld’s message can be reduced to this: Put down that cellphone, and pick up a paddle.

“This is a way to experience God’s love for us, God’s grace, God’s desire to flow in us and around us,” Hirschfeld told Episcopal News Service in a phone interview. “And in our forming a community of pilgrims, my desire was to slow down and put aside our electronic devices, all the busy-ness of our life, and just be fully present with God and each other in the midst of God’s creation.”

The River of Life pilgrimage, which launches May 31 near the Canadian border, is a collaboration of all Episcopal dioceses in New England, as well as the New England synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and several conservation groups. More than 50 people signed up in advance to canoe or kayak multi-day segments, camping overnight, and others are invited to join the group for day paddles. Daily segments average 10 to 12 miles.

Pilgrims without a paddle or who live far from the Connecticut River still are encouraged to participate in the pilgrimage by following along as a “pilgrim in prayer” with the River of Life prayer book.

The Connecticut River is New England’s longest river, passing through New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut before emptying into Long Island Sound. Paddling the length of the river isn’t unusual, and a speedy paddler could cover its 410 miles in about a week. But Hirschfeld sees this as a unique faith-based journey, offering a slower, more contemplative experience.

The choice of 40 days was intentional – think Noah’s 40 days and nights of rain, or Jesus in the desert. Organizers also wanted to challenge the notion that Christian pilgrimages must lead to traditional destinations, like the Holy Land.

“Why is it that we’ve never considered doing such things at home in our own sacred landscape, the places we actually live?” asked the Rev. Stephen Blackmer of Church of the Woods in Canterbury, New Hampshire. He has worked closely with Hirschfeld and Jo Brooks, their logistical coordinator, in planning the River of Life pilgrimage.

“Part of the joy for me of exploring this is to say we can have similar experiences … right here,” Blackmer said. “And in that, we both bring ourselves closer to God and we restore our connections with the very places we live.”

Blackmer, who began canoeing as a child, said he had about 30 years of experience in environmental advocacy before being called to the priesthood a few years ago, around the same time Hirschfeld was being considered for bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire.

In 2011, Hirschfeld was serving as rector at Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst, Massachusetts, when he got a letter inviting him to interview for New Hampshire bishop. A veteran of rowing teams in high school and college, Hirschfeld needed to reflect on that invitation, so he got out his one-man sculling boat and headed down to the Connecticut River.

Rowing upstream, the idea came to him of a Christian pilgrimage on the river that would incorporate references to its natural history, human history and cultural history.

For several years, that idea remained just an idea. He was elected bishop coadjutor in 2012 and took the reins of the diocese the following January. Then, in 2015, while attending an annual Advent retreat with all the bishops from Province I, he remembered the river pilgrimage and mentioned the idea to the other bishops.

“They immediately got excited about it,” Hirschfeld told ENS. “It was like lightning had struck. … Even those not interested in kayaking or canoeing, they just saw a value to this as a way of doing public liturgy, as a way of bearing witness to the health of water.”

Blackmer, one of the first new priests Hirschfeld ordained in New Hampshire, has been at the forefront of the diocese’s environmental ministries, including through weekly outdoor worship services at Church of the Woods, on 106 acres of woods and wetlands in Canterbury.

“Steve makes things happen,” Hirschfeld said. Blackmer became an integral partner in developing the River of Life pilgrimage.

“When people ask me what they can do for the environment, the first thing I say is, go outside,” Blackmer said.

That, too, is a guiding principle of the River of Life pilgrimage. Hirschfeld and Blackmer expect eight pilgrims to make the journey to the headwaters pond of the Connecticut River, at the northern tip of New Hampshire. The first three days will be spent hiking from pond to pond in that region, until the nascent river becomes navigable. Then they will start paddling south in three canoes.

“The number of pilgrims will grow and swell just as the river does as it travels downstream over the next four weeks,” Blackmer said. Hirschfeld and Blackmer will miss certain segments of the trip, due to their individual schedules, but each plans to paddle more than half the distance. Two guides are the only paddlers expected to be on the river all 40 days.

For the northern half of the trip, most of the overnight stays will be at campsites chosen along the river. On the southern half, where outdoor campsites are harder to come by, most nights will be spent camping in churches. A support vehicle will follow by land with food and other supplies as needed.

Each day, prayers will be read from the pilgrimage’s prayer book, but “the large part of each day will be in silence, to reflect that part of it is simply being there,” Blackmer said.

They also have scheduled stops along the journey where community events will be held, typically on weekends. A list of events and day paddles is available on the pilgrimage website.

And by the time the journey reaches Essex, Connecticut, on July 8 for a concluding celebration, “who knows, we may have a flotilla of canoes and kayaks,” Blackmer said. The pilgrimage officially ends the next day, July 9, with a final six-mile paddle to Long Island Sound.

After that, any river in American could be ripe for the next pilgrimage, if another diocese wants to pick up the New England dioceses’ trailblazing oar.

“We’re taking extensive notes as we go through this,” Hirschfeld said. “It would be wonderful if other dioceses and other spiritual organizations could replicate this.”

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

RIP: The Rev. Carlson Gerdau, canon to Presiding Bishop

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 1:09pm

The Rev. Carlson Gerdau, second from right, died May 27 at age 84. He is seen here attending the installation and investiture of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in 2006. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold is second from left. Photo: Washington National Cathedral

[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Carlson Gerdau, who served for a decade as canon to the presiding bishop under the Most Rev. Frank Griswold and the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, died May 27 at age 84.

Gerdau’s work for Griswold dated to 1988, when Griswold as bishop of the Diocese of Chicago hired Gerdau as the diocese’s canon to the ordinary and director for ministry, deployment and communication. When Griswold was installed as presiding bishop in 1998, Gerdau joined him in New York.

After Jefferts Schori took over as presiding bishop in 2006, she asked him to stay on for the transition. Gerdau retired a year later.

The Rev. Carlson Gerdau is honored by the Executive Council in 2007 at his retirement. Photo: Episcopal News Service

“You never know what’s to be ahead of you, but it’s been a wonderful journey,” Gerdau told the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council in 2007 on his retirement.

Griswold will deliver the sermon May 31 at Gerdau’s funeral service (details below). “He cared deeply about the church and her institutions,” Griswold says in a copy of the sermon provided to the Episcopal News Service in advance.

In the draft sermon, Griswold compares Gerdau to the biblical Elizabeth, who reassures and encourages Mary after Jesus’ mother is visited by the angel Gabriel.

“I think of Carl as a similar minister of encouragement, who has helped countless men and women and young people, and certainly me as well, to be their best selves and sing their own songs,” Griswold says.

Fond memories of Gerdau have been pouring in from across the Episcopal Church since news of his death was received over the weekend.

“Carl was one of God’s enduring gifts, filled with surprises, and grounded on the Rock of Ages,” Jefferts Schori said in an email to the ENS. “His gruff manner shielded a heart of gold, and he was always thinking strategically about how better to love others. Like Jesus, he is reputed to have shown up more than once at a friend’s door, saying ‘I’m staying here tonight.’ And like Jesus, he remains in the hearts of all who knew him. Rest from your labors, dear friend.”

The Rev. Shawn Schreiner, former rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Oak Park, Illinois, described him as a “gentle giant” who helped her get her first job in the Chicago area. Her tribute to him on Facebook also noted his sense of humor, as well as their differences in height.

“I remember him telling me to call him once a month about (job openings). If I called more often I would be pestering him and if I called less frequently he would forget about me,” she wrote. “I also remember him reminding me that we would pass the peace by me standing on a pew or chair. That always made him smile.”

The Executive Council passed a resolution at the time of his retirement honoring him for his “considerable influence, often gentle, on every aspect of the church’s governmental, legislative and diplomatic life.”

The resolution further described him as a man “whose sometimes gruff exterior inadequately conceals a soul of extraordinary kindness, wisdom and humor, a soul deeply in love with the Church his entire life, and wide enough to embrace everyone from those in high places to those in need, unknown, unacknowledged and known only to him and them.”

Gerdau was born Feb. 22, 1933, to the late Kathryn Schaefer Gerdau and Carl Gerdau of New York City. “He found his vocation in the church in 1949 by serving as a counselor to the Brantwood Camp in Peterborough, New Hampshire,” a family obituary says.

He graduated from General Theological Seminary in 1959 and was ordained to the diaconate and the priesthood the same year. Gerdau served for 20 years as vicar and rector at several churches in Michigan until he was appointed archdeacon of the Diocese of Missouri in 1979.

In 1986, Gerdau spent a year on sabbatical studying Spanish in Guatemala and theology at the University of Chicago. He then served from 1987 to 1988 as interim rector at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Deerfield, Illinois, before joining Griswold’s staff at the Diocese of Chicago.

Gerdau was superior general of the Oratorio of the Good Shepard, a religious order he joined in 1964. He also served on the boards of the Episcopal Church Pension Fund, Bexley Hall Seminary, Bexley Seabury Seminary Foundation, Auburn Seminary, the Church Historical Society and Friends of Canterbury Cathedral in the United States.

He is survived by four nieces and their children.

A funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. May 31 at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan, his family’s church. A private burial will take place at Woodlawn Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Brantwood Camp, P.O. Box 3350, Southborough, NH 03458, or NAACP, of which he was a lifelong member, at NAACP Development, 4805 Mt. Hope Drive, Baltimore, MD 21215.

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

USPG chief Janette O’Neil to step down

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 11:21am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The international Anglican mission agency USPG has announced that its chief executive, Janette O’Neil, is to retire at the end of August. O’Neil has been at the helm of the organization for the past six years. USPG’s trustees have now begun a search for “an effective leader with strong links to the Anglican Communion” to succeed her.

Full article.

Church Pension Fund plans major revisions for greater flexibility in a changing Episcopal Church

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 11:15am

Garth Howe, a Church Pension Group assistant vice president in its Integrated Benefits Account Management Services office, talks to Diocese of Pennsylvania clergy in Philadelphia May 24 about planned changes to the Church Pension Fund. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] The biggest changes to the Church Pension Fund in the past 60-some years are due to go into effect next year. They are designed to better serve a changing Episcopal Church and its clergy and lay employees while sustaining the fund and maintaining the value of retirement benefits.

That’s the message Church Pension Group officials are taking to every diocese to explain the breadth and depth of the changes that are expected to go into effect Jan. 1, 2018. (The pension fund is one of five companies that make up CPG).

The plans are being revised, according to Mary Kate Wold, pension fund chief executive officer and president, to “create more modern plans that address the realities of a changing Episcopal Church, while ensuring that each pension plan remains financially sustainable.” Those realities include providing for emerging, non-traditional types of ministry, as well as the changing needs of interim ministers, bi-vocational priests, part-time clergy, and clergy who experience longer breaks in service.

Moreover, Garth Howe, a CPG assistant vice president in its Integrated Benefits Account Management Services office, told one of two gatherings in the Diocese of Pennsylvania May 24, the changes will provide more flexibility for clerics, promote consistency across the plans, simplify communication about the plans, and improve their administration while maintaining the overall value of the benefits.

Two important aspects of the clergy plan will not change. It will remain a defined-benefit plan and the mandatory assessment a cleric’s employer pays will remain at 18 percent. However, the formula for calculating that percentage will be simplified and the timeframe for paying the assessment will change.

“We knew we had to react and adjust to the changing Church,” Howe said, explaining that CPG staffers spent three and a half years traveling around the Church to hear from more than 1,500 Episcopalians how the pension fund ought to react to such change. Some of the suggested changes that emerged were incorporated into the revisions, he said. Some tweaking of the revisions still may occur as CPG staff members listen to feedback during the diocesan sessions.

As CPG was listening to the Church and discussing possible revisions, General Convention in 2015, via Resolution A177, approved the effort. In Resolution A181, it also told CPG to study compensation and the cost of benefits for clergy and lay employees in the dioceses of Province IX, the Diocese of Haiti, the Episcopal Church in Cuba, and with its covenant partners. The Church’s canons authorize the pension fund to provide retirement and disability benefits to eligible clergy. The fund is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

Source: Church Pension Group Annual Report for 2016. Graphic: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

The revisions represent a deep dive into the intricate mechanics of the pension plans. Many are interconnected. Below is a summary of some of the larger changes, followed by links to additional information and schedules of CPG presentations on the revisions.

Eligibility for the clergy pension plan

Currently, participation in the plan is mandatory if a cleric works three or more consecutive months and is paid at least $200 per month. The revision will make participation mandatory regardless of pay level for ordained clergy who meet eligibility criteria. It will also require a cleric be “regularly employed” by the same Church employer for five or more consecutive months. The change, says CPG, will provide flexibility for short-term service and give lower-paid clergy access to the plan.

More information, including the “regularly employed” definition, is here.

Total Assessable Compensation

Total Assessable Compensation, upon which employers pay an 18 percent assessment, is currently the sum of cash salary, other cash compensation (e.g., bonus, overtime, employer-paid tuition for dependents, employer contributions to retirement saving plans, and other taxable income), Social Security tax reimbursements, utilities allowance, housing (depending upon how it is provided) and, in certain cases, severance. The calculation will be simplified to include most items reported on a Form W-2 (or equivalent), as well as any cash housing allowance and the value of employer-provided housing. The change in the treatment of housing will allow clergy whose only compensation is employer-provided housing access not only to the Clergy Pension Plan but also to the other pension fund benefits. That change might impact the budgets of those congregations that provide their clergy with housing but not salary because they are currently not required to pay an assessment.

More information is here.

Paying Assessments

Employers currently can choose to pay assessments quarterly or monthly. Next year all assessments must be paid monthly. Currently, the pension fund charges interest on assessments that are more than two years overdue. The 2016 fiscal year interest rate is 4.125 percent. Beginning in 2019, employers will be charged interest on assessments that are three months or more overdue. The annual interest rate will be consistent with CPG’s annual investment objective. That rate is currently 7 percent.

More information is here.

Credited Service

Credited Service is an important key component of a cleric’s pension benefit calculation and is also important for determining eligibility for other benefits, such as the fund’s life insurance benefit and the Medicare Supplement Health Plan (MSHP) subsidy. Currently, clergy receive one full month of Credited Service for one month of work if they earn at least 1/12th of the Hypothetical Minimum Compensation, now set at $18,200 per year. His or her employer must have made timely assessments payments; if those assessments are not fully paid, the Credited Service amount is prorated.

The revision will allow Credited Service for pension and life insurance benefits at any level of compensation if assessments are fully paid for that month. There will be no proration. Clerics will still have to meet the Hypothetical Minimum Compensation ($18,000 for 2018) to earn Credited Service to be eligible for the Medicare Supplement Health Plan subsidy. Also, clergy who have a break in service for any reason may make personal assessment payments for up to 24 months, instead of the current 12 months.

CPG says these and other details of the Credited Service revisions will allow lower-paid clergy and clergy with interrupted service to accrue a more meaningful pension benefit as well as help to maintain their eligibility for other benefits.

More information is here.

Highest Average Compensation

A major change involves the Highest Average Compensation (HAC), another important number in the calculation that determines the amount of a person’s retirement benefit.

Currently, the HAC (“hack”), as it is known, is the average of the highest-paid seven out of eight consecutive 12-month periods during which the person has earned “Credited Service.” Such service is earned by being eligible for the pension plan and having his or her employer pay the required assessments. Some people who want to maximize their monthly pension check seek ever-higher paying calls to increase their HAC. The current calculation method, however, may not provide flexibility to those who, for instance, feel called to take a lower-paying job because the mission and ministry of that job appeals to them.

Under the new plan, those seven highest-earning 12-month periods will not have to be consecutive. The new formula will apply to participants who earn what is called Credited Service after the revisions go into effect. If a cleric has already established his or her HAC as of Dec. 31, 2017, and still earns Credited Service after the revisions, the new calculations will never lower that number.

More information is here.

 

Pension fund participants receive a booklet to help guide them through the Church Pension Group’s diocesan presentations on the revisions coming next year.  Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Retirement benefits beyond monthly pension check

The current early-retirement provision for clerics who turn 55 and have 30 years of service will continue. The revision changes some other early-retirement provisions and adds more options. More information is here.

The revisions simplify the eligibility requirements for the resettlement benefit provided to help clergy move when they retire, as well as how the amount is calculated. There will be a new minimum of $2,000 and a maximum of $20,000. More information, including changes regarding eligibility, is here.

The Christmas benefit, or so-called 13th check, will continue and will no longer be subject to the 40 years of service cap. More information is here.

The revision includes a new lump-sum payment provision to any cleric whose retirement benefits have a present value equal to or less than $20,000 at the time of retirement. More information is here.

The fund’s rules about working while pensioned are being revised to offer more flexibility to deploy retired clergy. More information is here.

Fact sheets and presentation schedules

Details about changes to the clergy plan, including the international plan and retirement benefits, are available via a series of fact sheets here. Many of the individual fact sheets are linked to above.

The calendar of CPG diocesan presentations and webinars is here.

Fact sheets outlining changes to the lay employees’ defined-benefit and defined-contribution plans, along with the Episcopal Church Retirement Savings Plan, are available here. Changes to the lay plans will ensure a consistent definition of compensation and Highest Average Compensation across all plans.

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

Prayer and solidarity after another terror attack on Coptic Christians

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 11:12am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Anglican church leaders have expressed their prayerful solidarity with the Coptic Church after the latest terror attack in Egypt on May 26 left 29 Christians dead. A further 24 people were injured in the attack in the Minya region, which targeted pilgrims who were visiting the monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor. Daesh has claimed responsibility.

Full article.

Anglicans, Roman Catholics agree on ecclesiology statement

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 11:08am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Anglicans and Roman Catholics should see in each other “a community in which the Holy Spirit is alive and active,” the latest communiqué from the official ecumenical dialogue between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church says.

Full article.

German Protestant Kirchentag opens with call for renewal of global order

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 10:57am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Former U.S. President Barack Obama joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in front of tens of thousands of people on May 25, the first full day of Germany’s biggest Protestant gathering, the Kirchentag, or “church festival.” Obama and Merkel participated in a 90-minute podium discussion on democracy and global responsibility.

Full article.

Anglican agency pledges solidarity with Philippines church following bishop’s arrest

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 10:54am

[Anglican Communion News Service] United Society Partners in the Gospel, the Anglican mission agency, is standing in solidarity alongside the Philippines Independent Church following the arrest of a bishop on what it describes as “the spurious charge of illegal possession of firearms and ammunitions.”

The Rt. Rev. Carlo Morales, bishop of Ozamis – together with his wife, aide and driver – were arrested by police earlier this month.

Full article.

Anglican Church playing key role in tackling malaria in southern Africa

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 4:23pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The bishops of Angola, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe took part in recent World Malaria Day events along the shared borders between the four countries.

As Southern African countries move closer to malaria elimination, increased community and church involvement is needed to identify and treat every last case of malaria, and to provide trusted malaria education on how the disease is spread and how to prevent it. Ministers of health emphasized the important role of the Anglican Church in ending malaria for good.

Full article.

Christians condemn declaration of martial law in Mindanao in southern Philippines

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 4:20pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Christian Conference of Asia, or CCA, has expressed serious concerns about the declaration of martial law on May 23 in Mindanao in southern Philippines by President Rodrigo Duterte.

The CCA, a fellowship of churches and ecumenical councils in Asia, issued a statement calling on President Duterte to lift the martial law, which subjects the people of southern Philippines to curfews, checkpoints and other restraints on their human rights.

Full article.

California diocese hosts eco-justice conversation

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 3:39pm

California Bishop Marc Andrus, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, far right, canon to the presiding bishop for evangelism, reconciliation and creation care, pose with confirmands during an EcoConfirmation service at the Presidio of San Francisco on May 20. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – San Francisco, California] “The work of saving God’s creation is nothing less than the work of God.” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry spoke these words during a May 19 sermon framing creation care in terms of the Jesus Movement here at Grace Cathedral.

“This is God’s world,” he said, encouraging those present to affirm and to encourage one another in the care of God’s creation.

“I am convinced that God came among us in Jesus to show us the way to not just become the human family, but the family of God. And that’s why we’re here because the environment, no, the creation, is part of the family of God … God’s family is the entire created world and universe.”

The Episcopal Church has witnessed the presiding bishop’s thoughts on the Jesus Movement unfold in his dynamic preaching and speaking since he took office in November 2015. His May 19 sermon, put creation care and environmental justice squarely in that context.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached during a May 19 eco-justice Eucharist at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, California. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

The presiding bishop preached to an interfaith congregation in a packed cathedral as part of a larger eco-justice conversation on safeguarding climate, food and water hosted by the Diocese of California May 18-20. On May 18, the cathedral held a benefit conference for the St. Barnabas Center for Agriculture, an Episcopal college in northern Haiti, and two Bay Area environmental groups. A May 19 panel discussion explored climate change’s effects on agriculture and food security. Lastly, on the morning of May 20, Curry presided at an EcoConfirmation service.

The conversation came at a time when the Trump administration has sought to gut environmental regulations aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting air and water resources. The administration also is reviewing public lands and national monuments, considering opening them to oil and gas drilling, and has promised to revive the coal mining industry.

The Episcopal Church’s 78th General Convention prioritized evangelism, reconciliation and creation care; to address the latter it created an Advisory Council for the Care of the Stewardship of Creation and authorized the creation of liturgical resources for honoring God in creation.

The eco-justice conversation sought to further engage Episcopalians in environmental issues, including water- and food-security, and environmental justice, particularly following on the Episcopal Church’s solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in its opposition to the North Dakota Access Pipeline’s route through tribal lands and beneath the Missouri River at Lake Oahe. A reservoir, Lake Oahe provides water to the Standing Rock reservation and others downstream. Indigenous nations across the United States and worldwide came together in an unprecedented show of solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux, and along with climate activists, environmentalists and others, including many Episcopalians, in its challenge to the pipeline. Leaks have been detected along a feeder line and the main pipeline, which is scheduled to begin full operation June 1.

The Episcopal Church, through its Washington, D.C.-based Office of Government Relations and the Episcopal Public Policy Network, using Church policy as a guide, advocates for the care of creation at the local, national and international level.

California Bishop Marc Andrus moderated an eco-justice panel discussion at Grace Cathedral on May 19. Panelists included from left, Nicolette Hahn Niman, a writer and rancher; Aaron Grizzell, executive director of the Northern California Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Foundation; the Rev. Elizabeth DeRuff, founder of Honoré Farm and Mill in Marin County, California; Jayce Hafner, the Episcopal Church’s domestic policy analyst; and Grace Aheron, an activist and board member of Cultivate: The Episcopal Food Movement. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

“Policy and faith, it doesn’t seem like it’s a natural correlation at first. I find that as I work with members of the Episcopal Church and visit different dioceses and parishes I get questioned a lot, people will say ‘we have these incredible ministries at our church, we [our building] is energy efficient … why do we need to advocate on top of that, why do we need to get political,’” said Jayce Hafner, the Church’s domestic policy analyst during the May 19 panel discussion.

“I would say that there’s a difference between getting political and policy advocacy. Policy advocacy allows us to close the loop between the impactful programmatic work that we are doing to make sure that it reaches the halls of power. Because when you look at injustice in our country, especially in the environmental realm, policy is an incredible tool for promoting systematic injustice or spreading justice for our people and our planet.”

Curry framed it this way in his sermon: Humanity’s hope and salvation lies in a vision of God’s world that is not a nightmare. And he called on those present at the cathedral and the Episcopal Church to praise God not just in their worship but by safeguarding the water and the air.

“This is not secular do-goodism that we do, this is the Jesus Movement … Jesus came to show us how to become God’s family and in that is our hope and our salvation” said Curry. “This is the Jesus Movement and we are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement and nothing on Earth can stop that movement.”

The EcoConfirmation included a “Cosmic Walk,” a meditation on the history of creation beginning with the Big Bang 14 billion years ago and the formation of the Earth’s atmosphere, through the emergence of homo sapiens, the writing of the Bible and Jesus’s birth to the discovery of gold in California in 1848 and oil becoming a major industry in the state in the early 20th century to 1969, when humans first viewed the Earth from space. Alisa Rasera served as the cosmic walker. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

The following day, some 40 confirmands affirmed their Christian beliefs as full members of the Episcopal Church. The confirmands – many of them students at the Cathedral School for Boys – gathered with other Episcopalians among the cedar, cypress and eucalyptus trees at the Presidio’s Golden Gate Overlook. A dense fog made invisible the Golden Gate Bridge and fog horns sounded in the distance.

It was the fourth EcoConfirmation in the Diocese of California, set apart from a tradition confirmation by three additional words added to the Baptismal Covenant’s fifth and final question: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of the Earth and every human being?”

“As [California] Bishop Marc [Andrus] pointed out, there really is only one short change to the liturgy in the BCP [Book of Common Prayer], it emphasizes that we are in communion with all of God’s creation and in addition to the things we normally promise ourselves to,” said the Rev. Melanie Mullen, the Episcopal Church’s director of reconciliation, justice and creation care, in an interview with ENS during the EcoConfirmation.

“Overall, the work of the Jesus Movement includes creation care,” she said. By developing liturgical resources for honoring God in creation “we are learning how to pray the words of all of God’s creation into what we’re doing.”

It helps, said Mullen, to take the service outside.

It was Curry’s first outdoor confirmation, and it was “wonderful,” he said. “In the beginning of creation, it’s the spirit of God that broods over the chaos and brings order and creation, and to do confirmation out here in the wilderness, celebrating and giving God thanks for creation … confirmation is calling forth that same spirit that called forth the creation to call forth new life in those who are confirmed so that the risen Christ lives anew even in us. That’s awesome!”

Caren Miles, the Diocese of California’s associate for faith formation, takes a selfie following the EcoConfirmation. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

The Presidio of San Francisco, a former U.S. military fort, is part of the National Park Service. The site, at the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula, was chosen for the view (on a clear day) of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean. It was also chosen because it’s “an example of man carving into nature in preparation for a war that never came, and then nature reclaiming the land,” said Caren Miles, the diocese’s associate for faith formation, who planned the service.

The Diocese of California and Andrus have long been involved climate change and environmental justice advocacy; Andrus has represented the presiding bishop at the United Nations climate negotiations, both in Paris, France, and Marrakesh, Morocco, and at the signing of the Paris Agreement.

Gordon and Trillian Gilmore, members of St. Michael and All Angels Church/Holy Spirt Church in Concord, California, embrace while sharing a moment of wonder. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

During the EcoConfirmation service, California Bishop Marc Andrus asked the people present to contemplate wonder and the natural world.

“Wonder can guide us into deeper relatedness with nature, it is God’s gift from the beginning of the universe to help us become connected to each other, to the world and to God,” said Andrus, before inviting the congregation to contemplate a moment of wonder, what they experienced and how the moment changed them.

For Gordon Gilmore, his moment of wonder was when he first came to California. He was driving along Highway 37 and saw the sun setting on the pickleweed marshes. The road traces a crescent along the north shore of around San Pablo Bay north of San Francisco and through a national wildlife refuge created more than 40 years ago to protect migratory birds and wetland habitat.

Gilmore’s wife, Trillian Gilmore, also chose the sunset as her moment of wonder. For her, it was driving west through the Sierra Nevada mountain range and watching the sun set multiple times over 45 minutes as she rounded the mountain’s peaks.

“It was beautiful,” she said.

-Lynette Wilson is managing editor of Episcopal News Service.

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