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Glitter Ash Wednesday takes ritual, adds glitter, mixes in meaning, sparks debate

Tue, 02/28/2017 - 5:37pm

Glitter ashes for Glitter+Ash Wednesday have a distinctly different look than traditional ashes used to remind people about their mortality on the first day of Lent. Photo: Glitter+Ash Wednesday via Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] Ashes on the forehead are arguably the most conspicuous mark of a Christian during the year. Signifying mortality and repentance, they are a visible sign to the world on Ash Wednesday that a believer is preparing for the season of Lent.

It is the conspicuousness of the ashes that the Rev. Elizabeth Edman, an Episcopal priest in the New York City area, saw as an opportunity to convey additional meaning. This Ash Wednesday, with the help of an ecumenical faith-based LGBT advocacy group called Parity, she is starting what she hopes will become an annual tradition for Christians who support gay, lesbian and transgender rights.

Introducing Glitter Ash Wednesday.

The concept behind Glitter Ash Wednesday is exactly as it sounds. Parity has been distributing ashes mixed with purple glitter for free to any clergy member or lay person who requests them for use this Ash Wednesday, March 1. As of last weekend, at least 139 orders had been shipped, Edman said, including to several Episcopal priests around the country.

“I didn’t want to do something that could be interpreted as frivolous and disrespectful,” Edman said, though she understands not everyone will embrace the idea.

Wearing glitter is about more than celebration for the gay community, Edman said. Like ashes for Christians, it is a conspicuous symbol of one’s identity, and she sees that as an appropriate parallel to draw on Ash Wednesday.

“It’s not just about inclusion and tolerance. It’s about more than that,” Edman said. “It’s about upending power structures that do violence to people, and particularly that do spiritual violence to people.”

The Rev. Joseph Wood, assistant rector at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, is among the clergy participating in Glitter Ash Wednesday, which has its own Facebook page and is generating headlines around the country.

“I’ll be very curious what the response will be tomorrow when people are faced with the reality of glitter ashes,” Wood said in an interview Feb. 28.

He ordered glitter ashes from Parity because he thought it was “a clever idea” that built upon the “ashes to go” ministries that are common on Ash Wednesday. By imposing ashes on street corners, congregations can connect with people where they are, including people who never set foot in a church, he said, and he is bringing the same spirit to glitter ashes.

And although the Episcopal Church has made strides toward welcoming people regardless of sexual orientation, Wood said, “I think it can be easy to kid of rest on our laurels” in the push for “queer equality.”

Wood will offer regular ashes or glitter ashes at the noon and 5:30 p.m. Ash Wednesday services at Emmanuel. The Rev. Karen Coleman plans to do the same at St. James Episcopal Church in Sommerville, Massachusetts, where the congregation holds “ash and dash” hours from 3 to 6:30 p.m.

“We’ve always been a parish that that’s been open and affirming” of gay and lesbian Christians, Coleman said.

Whether worshipers choose traditional ashes or glitter ashes, they won’t have to dash afterward. The church offers a meditation station and encourages people to stay, pray and reflect on the beginning of Lent.

Parity’s website further highlights some of the symbolism that organizers have in mind. Glitter “is like love” as well as “a sign of hope” and a “promise to repent, to show up, to witness, to work. Glitter never gives up – and neither do we.”

The website also notes how glitter has been “an inextricable element of queer history,” particularly because it makes the wearer conspicuous.

Parity offered the ash-glitter mix for free, or for a suggested donation of $10, and the website notes that the glitter ashes have sold out. People looking to receive glitter ashes can check the site’s map of locations. They’re then encouraged to post to social media using the hashtag #GlitterAshWednesday.

The site also emphasizes the religious significance of participation: “Glitter+Ash is an inherently queer sign of Christian belief, blending symbols of mortality and hope, of penance and celebration.”

But that blending of symbols may become spiritually “problematic” and “confusing,” said the Rev. Ruth Meyers, dean of academic affaris and professor of liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California. She would advise clergy against incorporating glitter into their Ash Wednesday rituals.

“It’s an ancient symbol of repentance, of regret … our mortality,” Meyers said. “To try to combine that symbol with glitter, which seems to be about a celebration and an affirmation of a particular group of people, seems to confuse the symbols in a way that doesn’t allow either symbol to work.”

The Book of Common Prayer only specifies that ashes should be imposed, without elaborating on the method or mixture, Meyers said. Traditionally the ashes come from the burnt palm fronds from the previous Easter, but even that aspect of Ash Wednesday is merely a custom for Episcopalians.

“People have to make their own well-informed decisions how to do that,” Meyers said. “There isn’t a rule that says, ‘Thou shall use only this for the ashes.’”

Even so, she suggested that people interested in showing solidarity with LGBT causes can take that on as a Lenten discipline without changing the traditional symbolism of the ashes.

For most people, this Ash Wednesday will go on like any other. There does not seem to be widespread adoption of glitter ash in its first year, and participating Episcopal clergy members appear to be offering it in addition to traditional ashes, leaving it up to worshipers whether to add glitter to their observance.

The Rev. Amy Chambers Cortright learned about Glitter Ash Wednesday from posts on Facebook.

“It really caught my attention, and I wanted to learn more, said Cortright, the priest-in-charge at St. John’s Episcopal Church-Tower Grove in St. Louis, Missouri. “I wish I’d thought of it before.”

Glitter is a substance that clings to you no matter what you do, Cortright said, like “hope that will not fade.”

She ordered the glitter ash and will impose it, as well as traditional ashes, at the church and at an “ashes to go” site on a street corner nearby.

Although most people she has talked to have been supportive, Cortright said she has heard some snarky comments questioning the use of glitter ash.

“I would really ask colleagues to pause and think about what a profound statement it is to our LGBTQ family and reconsider,” she said.

Wood sees in Glitter Ash Wednesday a symbol of solidarity in both the ashes and the glitter.

“We’re all being united in recognition of the bounds of our faith,” he said.

Edman, who also is author of the book “Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity,” said she too has heard people express concern that Glitter Ash Wednesday sets the wrong tone. The use of glitter in this context doesn’t convey joy, she said, “it is serious business for us.”

It shows courage in maintaining a deep sense of identity in an often hostile world, she said, and “in the same way, I’m hoping glitter can be a public witness to a very deep faith.”

On Ash Wednesday, she plans to join with the Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen, Parity’s executive director, and distribute glitter ashes in Manhattan at Stonewall National Monument, site of the 1969 Stonewall riots, which galvanized the early gay rights movement.

Meyers, despite her reservations about glitter ash, supports the Episcopal Church’s efforts to open its doors fully to gays and lesbians. She serves on the steering committee of the Chicago Consultation, a group of Episcopal clergy, bishops and lay people who support those efforts toward inclusion.

And as chair of the Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music from 2009 to 2015, she oversaw the commission’s drafting of rites for same-sex marriages. Based on the commission’s work, General Convention in 2015  made canonical and liturgical changes to provide marriage equality for Episcopalians.

“I see people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer as part of God’s wonderfully diverse humanity,” Meyers said. “I am delighted that the Episcopal Church has moved more and more into a welcoming stance.”

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

 

English diocese assisting with urgent relief funding in Kenya

Tue, 02/28/2017 - 2:54pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Anglican Diocese of Chichester in southern England is assisting with urgent relief efforts in the drought-hit Kenyan Diocese of Nakura. An emergency grant of 5000 pounds is being sent directly to the diocese, which, in partnership with the Anglican Church of Kenya’s Development Services, will buy and distribute food and other essential supplies in the most affected areas.

Full article.

Episcopal Church weighs renewed aid efforts in South Sudan after famine declared

Tue, 02/28/2017 - 1:13pm

Six thousand people at Kuda, South Sudan, were among those displaced by violence last year in the region of the country where famine has since been declared. A U.N. team visited the area in September to assess the humanitarian and security situation. Photo: United Nations

[Episcopal News Service] The relief agencies of the Episcopal Church and its Anglican partners are considering a possible expansion of their support of relief efforts in South Sudan after the United Nation’s recent famine declaration, which has drawn increased international attention to the growing crisis in the country.

The famine declaration on Feb. 20 was the first by the United Nations since 2011 in Somalia. It blamed war and a collapsing economy for leaving 100,000 people at risk of starvation in the north-central part of South Sudan, and 1 million more people were said to be on the brink of famine.

The U.N. uses a technical classification to determine whether a food security crisis has escalated into a famine. A declaration is issued when at least 20 percent of the population faces a food shortage, at least 30 percent is suffering from malnourishment and at least 2 people out of 10,000 are dying from starvation each day.

In the affected parts of South Sudan, as in all famine-stricken sites, the declaration indicates that people already have begun to die from lack of food. The situation in South Sudan is further complicated by the fact the crisis is largely man-made, and years of violence have challenged relief efforts.

“There is only so much that humanitarian assistance can achieve in the absence of meaningful peace and security, both for relief workers and the crisis-affected people they serve,” Joyce Luma, the director in South Sudan for the U.N.’s World Food Program, said in the U.N. news release.

Episcopal Relief & Development has been active for more than two years supporting local efforts to provide food aid in South Sudan, through its partners in the Anglican Alliance and by working with relief agencies and diocesan leaders in the country. The organization has a continuing presence in areas that, while not meeting the definition of famine until now, have long been dealing with extreme food shortages, said Nagulan Nesiah, senior program officer for disaster response and risk reduction.

The famine declaration “has sort of caught up to what has been a reality for the (local) church for the past few years,” Nesiah said. He welcomed the move by the U.N., which will draw needed attention to the crisis.

The Episcopal Church is one of several partners within the Anglican Communion that coordinate relief efforts under the umbrella of the Anglican Alliance, which recently held a conference call with Episcopal Relief & Development and other agencies to discuss the worsening situation in South Sudan.

Episcopal Relief & Development plays a leading role in the Anglican Alliance’s work with the Sudanese Development and Relief Agency, or SUDRA, and through those efforts, food packets have been provided to 58,400 people in a dozen dioceses in the country since December 2014, Nesiah said. Episcopalians can still support these efforts by donating online, and a new fundraising appeal is being discussed.

Top religious leaders, too, have begun speaking out about the conflict and the resulting famine.

“We stand prayerfully alongside the South Sudanese people and their leaders – particularly those in the Church who are providing emotional, physical and spiritual support,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said Feb. 20 in a statement released while he was on a tour of four African countries near South Sudan. “We pray for those on the ground who are delivering humanitarian assistance, that there will be an opening up of humanitarian corridors for the aid that is so desperately needed.”

Province of Central Africa Archbishop Albert Chama, who chairs the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, or CAPA, issued a statement Feb. 22 condemning the violence in South Sudan.

“CAPA will work with willing leaders from the region and further afield, to try to urge the warring parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire,” Chama said. “They must realize that Almighty God will require everyone to account for their actions here on earth.”

Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, which handles humanitarian outreach for the Anglican Church of Canada, announced on Feb. 24 a $25,000 grant to provide relief in South Sudan, as well as another $25,000 grant for Kenya. That money was given to Act Alliance, a relief partner that is separate from the Anglican Alliance.

The United Nations, in announcing its famine declaration, called it the “worst hunger catastrophe” in the three years of fighting between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, which supports President Salva Kiir, and a rival group that backs Riek Machar, a former vice president.

South Sudan isn’t the only country facing a food crisis. The World Food Program said three more are at risk of famine this year: Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen.

“The specter of simultaneous famines in four countries poses an unprecedented challenge to the humanitarian community as well as a personal tragedy for hundreds of thousands of people,” the WFP said Feb. 23 in a blog post.

Burundi is another country where the threat of famine has mobilized the Anglican Church and its relief partners. Distribution of food and other items has begun in part of the country, Anglican Communion News Service reported Feb. 27.

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

 

Anglican Church in Burundi takes action to help families threatened by famine

Mon, 02/27/2017 - 1:18pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Anglican Church of Burundi, in conjunction with Christian Aid and its partners, has initiated an emergency effort to support some of the many vulnerable people facing severe famine across the country. Local emergency committees have now been set up in the regions of Makamba and Rumonge to identify the most vulnerable people and distribute food and other items.

Full article.

Jennifer Brooke-Davidson elected bishop suffragan of Diocese of West Texas

Mon, 02/27/2017 - 11:06am

The Rev. Jennifer Brooke-Davidson was elected Feb. 25 as the sixth bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas. Photo: Diocese of West Texas

[Episcopal Diocese of West Texas press release] The Rev. Jennifer Brooke-Davidson was chosen bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas during the 113 annual Diocesan Council on Feb. 25.

She is the first woman to be elected bishop in the Diocese of West Texas. Brooke-Davidson, 56, is currently the vicar of St. Elizabeth Episcopal Church in Buda, Texas, and was one of seven nominees. Now as the sixth bishop suffragan of the diocese, she will serve alongside diocesan Bishop David M. Reed.

In order to be elected, a candidate needed to receive a simple majority of votes from both the clergy and the lay delegates, voting separately as orders on the same balloting round. Brooke-Davidson secured election on the sixth ballot, receiving 55 number of clergy votes and 153 number of lay votes, with 49 and 151 needed, respectively, for election.

After thanking the other six nominees and saying what a privilege it was to walk with them on this journey, Brooke-Davidson said, “We will be good friends forever.”

She then quoted a passage from the second chapter of 1 Corinthians, saying, “Your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” Brooke-Davidson said, “With God, anything is possible, and I suppose it is possible that God can make me a bishop.”

Pending consent of a majority of the bishops with jurisdiction and the diocesan standing committees, Brooke-Davidson will be ordained and consecrated as bishop suffragan during a worship service held on July 29, at The Episcopal School of Texas in San Antonio. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will preside.

Brooke-Davidson was ordained a priest in 2009 after graduating from Fuller Theological Seminary and has served as vicar of St. Elizabeth since 2011. She served as the assistant rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Wimberley, Texas, from 2009-2011. Prior to ordination, Brooke-Davidson practiced commercial financial law for 12 years. She is married to Carrick Brooke-Davidson, and they have two grown daughters, Emma and Kate.

The other nominees in the election that took place at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Texas were:

  • The Rev. Christopher Caddell, rector, Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, Dripping Springs, Texas;
  • The Rev. Chris Cole, rector, Church of the Resurrection, Windcrest, Texas;
  • The Rev. John Hill, rector, St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, San Antonio, Texas;
  • The Rev. Lisa Mason, rector, St. David’s Episcopal Church, San Antonio, Texas;
  • The Rev. Jonathan Wickham, rector, All Saints Episcopal Church, Corpus Christi, Texas; and
  • The Rev. Robert Woody, rector, Church of Reconciliation, San Antonio, Texas.

Diocese of Maryland’s Trail of Souls uncovers hidden history of churches’ ties to slavery

Fri, 02/24/2017 - 1:59pm

A balcony once used as the “slave gallery” is still a feature of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kingsville, Maryland, as detailed on the Trail of Souls website.

[Episcopal News Service] Slavery is a thread stitched indelibly throughout the early history of the Episcopal Church in Maryland, where congregations to varying degrees enabled, benefited from or fought against the enslavement of Africans until slavery was outlawed by the state in 1864.

In the capital, Annapolis, St. Margaret’s owned a plantation in the mid-18th century where up to 100 enslaved laborers worked, and slaves likely built most of the congregation’s early structures.

Over on the west end of the state, Emmanuel Church in Cumberland is well known today for once being a stop on the Underground Railroad, helping slaves escape north to freedom.

Nearly two dozen congregations across Maryland have researched and recorded a multitude of stories like these as part of a racial reconciliation project called Trail of Souls that is now in its third year. In addition to an annual pilgrimage to some of the sites, the Diocese of Maryland project’s focal point is a website offering a digital tour through the history of the 23 churches and their relationships to the institution of slavery.

It isn’t always a comfortable topic for Episcopalians.

“Not everyone likes to deal with the history of slavery,” said Reba Bullock, who leads the diocese’s Research and Pilgrimage Working Group. The group works with congregations to uncover such historical details, and it now is recruiting more churches to join the effort.

“Sometimes there is a little reluctance, but once they get on board they get excited because they find out things about the history of the church that they didn’t know,” Bullock said.

In one congregation, Bullock said, a local professor volunteered to do the research and discovered that slaves once attended Sunday worship services in a balcony apart from the white members of the congregation, and some slaves had been buried in the church’s graveyard.

This tunnel under Emmanuel Church in Cumberland was said to have been used to hide slaves escaping north to freedom as part of the Underground Railroad. Photo: Emmanuel Church.

The Trail of Souls website also includes information on Emmanuel Church, which likely became a stop on the Underground Railroad after the arrival of the Rev. David Hillhouse Buel, who was active in the effort to free slaves. The congregation may not even have been aware at the time that the church was being used by the Underground Railroad, according to its Trail of Souls page.

Middleham and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Lusby on Chesapeake Bay notes in its Trail of Souls history that many priests owned slaves before the Civil War. And at St. Margaret’s in Annapolis, the congregation took the additional step of dedicating five historical markers at the church, acknowledging the range of ways the church took advantage of slaves but also ministered to them.

Michael Winn was part of a team that already had been researching the history of St. Margaret’s when the diocese called on congregations to join the Trail of Souls. Some of what the St. Margaret’s team found was shocking, such as records showing the vestry in the early 1800s considered buying and selling slaves to support the church financially. (The church never acted on the proposal.)

“What we’ve kind of done is open the door to understanding that what happened in the past is not the past that we want,” Winn said, but it serves as a challenge, to re-examine and reaffirm our beliefs in the context of that history.

The Diocese of Maryland has been on the leading edge of the Episcopal Church’s dialogue on racial reconciliation. It formed an anti-racism committee and reparation task force in the early 2000s, and in 2010, Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton dissolved those bodies to refocus the diocese’s efforts by forming a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said the Rev. Angela Shepherd, who initially chaired that commission.

Race has become a regular topic in recent decades at the Episcopal Church’s triennial General Convention. Shepherd, the Diocese of Maryland’s canon for mission, said the diocese has been active in those efforts because of Sutton’s leadership and that of his predecessors.

More than 600 people have completed the diocese’s anti-racism workshop, Shepherd said, and the discussion on issues of race has continued through film screenings, interactive theater and adult forums.

The launch in 2014 of the Trail of Souls website and its inaugural pilgrimage was timed for the 150th anniversary of Maryland outlawing slavery, and the project took its cue from a 2006 resolution from General Convention that called on all dioceses to research and document the church’s complicity with slavery and history of segregation and discrimination.

“The research has led to local interest. It has gone beyond a historian creating a document that’s posted,” Shepherd said. She described a conversation she had with a white parishioner who said he knew his church had been built by slaves but didn’t fully appreciate the significance until the congregation identified those slaves by name and read them out loud during a service.

It is such moments of awakening that the diocese hopes to foster through the Trail of Souls, a project that Shepherd said could be replicated in dioceses around the country.

“I would advise people not be afraid,” she said. “I think people are afraid of discovering the truth of the past, but I think the call to reconciliation is a call to be reconciled to our past.”

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

Anglican Communion Office appoints its first chief operating officer

Fri, 02/24/2017 - 11:55am

[Anglican Communion News Service] In a newly-created role, the Anglican Communion Office in London has appointed a chief operating officer, David White –  a senior manager with a wealth of experience leading U.K. and international charities.

The new role includes executive support to Secretary General Josiah Idowu-Fearon, primary responsibility for the management and administration of the Anglican Communion Office — the permanent secretariat serving the Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates Meeting and the Lambeth Conference. It also includes support for the work of the Anglican Communion across the world and liaison with the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Full article.

Ann Hallisey to retire, Andrew Hybl to become new CDSP dean of students

Fri, 02/24/2017 - 10:56am

[Church Divinity School of the Pacific] The Rev. Andrew Hybl (CAS ’1) will become Church Divinity School of the Pacific’s dean of students in May when the Rev. L. Ann Hallisey (DMin ’05) retires from that position, the Very Rev. W. Mark Richardson, president and dean, announced Feb. 24.

Hybl has served as director of admissions and recruitment at CDSP since 2014. In his new role, he will serve as pastor to CDSP’s students, foster student community on campus and among low residence students, and oversee initiatives to connect CDSP students with students across the Graduate Theological Union. He will also oversee admissions and recruitment strategy.

Hallisey, who has been CDSP’s dean of students since 2011, is an executive coach, a spiritual director and retreat leader, and a licensed marriage and family therapist. She plans to focus on her coaching practice and organizational consulting work. Hallisey lives in Davis, California, with her husband, the Rt. Rev. Barry Beisner, who is the bishop of Northern California.

“I’m extraordinarily grateful to Ann for her dedicated years of service to CDSP and for the care she has shown our students, especially in their transitions from seminary to ministry around the wider church,” Richardson said.

“We will miss her faithful presence, but we are delighted that Andrew Hybl, whom Ann has mentored for nearly a decade, will step into her role. He has been an excellent director of admissions, and his lively ministry has already made CDSP a better place. I look forward to seeing his sense of fun and passion for faithful leadership at work in this new role.”

Before joining CDSP, Hybl was curate and associate at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Conway, Arkansas. He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas, Pacific School of Religion, and CDSP, and is a Navy veteran who served in the Iraq War. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife, Julie, and their children, Oliver and Alice.

When Hybl takes on his new role, Jamie Nelson (MTS ’15), who has been CDSP’s admissions and hospitality coordinator since 2015, will become manager of admissions. He will oversee the administrative and organizational aspects of the admissions process, working closely with Hybl.

Nelson, a native of Washington and graduate of the University of Idaho and CDSP, is CDSP’s first out transgender employee. Prior to enrolling at CDSP, he was a newspaper reporter for the Wahkiakum County Eagle in his hometown.

“Jamie’s thoughtful diligence and attention to each applicant’s strengths are a great boon for our admissions effort,” Richardson said. “I am very glad to have this opportunity for him to assume more responsibility for our recruitment and build even stronger relationships with our prospective students.”

Melanie Mullen named Episcopal Church director of reconciliation, justice and creation care

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 5:20pm

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] The Rev. Melanie Mullen of Richmond, Virginia, has been named the Episcopal Church director of reconciliation, justice and creation care, a member of the Presiding Bishop’s staff.

In this new full-time position, Mullen will lead the church’s work on domestic poverty and Jubilee Ministries, and shepherd the work of Episcopal Church staff in relation to racial reconciliation and justice, domestic poverty, stewardship of creation, and the United Thank Offering. She will also partner closely with the Advisory Council on Stewardship of Creation to develop and support eco-justice sites and networks.  She will report to the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, the presiding bishop’s canon evangelism, reconciliation, and creation.

“The Rev. Mullen brings a unique blend of experiences and gifts to this position,” Spellers said. “She’s a trained community organizer with a heart for building teams and leading communities to make a difference. She has a demonstrated passion for environmental justice and economic justice. She knows parishes, she knows Capitol Hill and she knows the trenches, and she’s ready to work with our already strong team to take the Episcopal Church’s engagement around reconciliation, justice and creation care even deeper.”

The director of reconciliation, justice and creation care is based in Washington, D.C.

“It is an honor to be called to this the new position for the church,” Mullen said.  “The work of reconciliation, justice and creation care is vital to our life together, as we further the vision of equipping the people of God to be Christ’s hands and feet on the earth.”

Mullen begins her new position on March 1 and at that time she will be available at mmullen@episcopalchurch.org.

Mullen currently serves as the downtown missioner at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond. Prior to that, she was the interim missioner for youth ministries for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington; assistant director of community for Camp Richmond Hill; and the director of communications and development for Lutheran Volunteer Corps. During her years in the nation’s capital, she also worked in campaign fundraising and development and raised more than $10 million for leadership PACs, the Congressional Black Caucus, and U.S. congressional and gubernatorial races from Louisiana to Connecticut; and she served as development associate for the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, with a focus on poverty advocacy.

She is a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity; and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, with a Bachelors degree in history.

 

A ‘Day of Pentecost moment’ at lunch on the LSU campus

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 3:15pm

More and more international students at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge have been coming to the Lunch with C.S. Lewis program offered by St. Alban’s Episcopal Chapel. Photo:Diocese of Louisiana

[Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana] “At St. Alban’s Chapel, we focus our energy on hospitality, preaching the Gospel, and music,” remarked the Rev. Andrew “Drew” Rollins on a recent Wednesday afternoon. “If we are strong in those areas, we will do well. But if we falter in any of those areas, nothing else will make up the difference.”

Rollins is the chaplain of St. Alban’s Episcopal Chapel located on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He and 15 volunteers had just served a meal of red beans and rice to 200 students. For the past 10 years, after the end of Wednesday morning classes, LSU students have found their way to the warm hospitality of the chapel for a free lunch and a message about what C. S. Lewis, the much-loved Anglican theologian, termed “mere Christianity,” those beliefs that almost all Christians at almost all times have held in common. The ministry is called Lunch with C.S. Lewis.

Lately, though, the ministry has changed in a way that challenged how the people of St. Alban’s lived out their call to be fully open to all God’s people. This challenge came in the form of a language barrier because international students have begun finding their way to St. Alban’s.

Over the past few semesters, the number of international students has grown. They now make up half of the lunch ministry participants.  “We did not intend for our C.S. Lewis lunch to be a ministry to international students,” said Rollins. “But we are opening our doors and adjusting to receiving students from across the world.”

A map on the wall is dotted with about 25 pins showing the home countries of the students. During lunch, you can hear many languages being spoken. Spanish, English, Chinese, Italian, Russian, Sinhala, Portuguese and German are just a few of them. Rollins jokes, “For 45 minutes, each Wednesday, I guarantee our parish is one of the most culturally diverse spaces in any Episcopal campus ministry anywhere.”

“At first, the international students attending the lunch would eat their meal and politely sit through the teaching,” said Rollins. “However, we began noticing a murmur in the hall that just grew louder over time. I realized we were not connecting with these students and that was not acceptable to us.”

Rollins went on to say, “I read a statistic that something like 70% of international students will never be invited into an American home. What if St. Alban’s is their only exposure to an American church? We had to change the way we ministered to these students.”

The Rev. Andrew “Drew” Rollins speaks during a recent lunch at St. Alban’s. Photo: Diocese of Louisiana

Last semester, the Lunch With C.S. Lewis planning team gathered to come up with a strategy on how they could better connect with and minister to all students who walked through their doors. The changes were implemented this month.

“I am doing a series of short talks titled First Meetings with Jesus based on episodes from the gospels,” said Rollins. “Last week, for the first time, we had the Bible passage on which I was teaching read in English, Chinese and Spanish by students from those cultures. A student from China read a passage from Matthew into the microphone to the whole group. When he finished, the students spontaneously erupted in applause. It was so moving. It was a Day of Pentecost moment.”

Indeed, the Holy Spirit has been moving. Rollins recalls recent activity on campus. “Last Wednesday, many of the international students walked over to our lunch from the student quad where they had been attending a protest of the immigration ban,” he said. “We did not need to make any statement about the politics. We simply did what we always do, which is to welcome these students into the church and feed them. That speaks volumes.”

St. Alban’s is also giving away copies of the Bible in Spanish, Chinese and English. “We had several students go out of their way to request a copy in their native language,” said Rollins. “We want the students to know we are paying attention to their needs by providing lessons and scripture in their native tongue. We want to build trust with the students, not just allow them to be present.”

Rollins said international musicians will soon be a part of the lunch program and clergy from the diocese and the pastor of Baton Rouge Bethel AME Church will also teach sessions this spring.

“Teams of volunteers from other Episcopal churches often help serve the meals. Many of the churches in the diocese sponsor a meal,” he said. “We encourage everyone to come see what makes this ministry so special and to show the students, who will eventually return to their home country, what it means to be the church in America.”

Founded in 1928, St. Alban’s Chapel was the first Episcopal chapel in the United States to be built on the campus of a state university. Under the terms of a lease signed by Huey P. Long, St. Alban’s cannot operate on any basis except that of ministering to students. For 88 years, the congregation has pursued that mission of hospitality to the students, faculty and staff of Louisiana State University. Rollins has served as St. Alban’s chaplain since 2004.

— Karen Mackey is the communication coordinator for the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana.

 

Interfaith gathering rededicates St. Saviour’s Church in northern Israel

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 12:06pm

[Diocese of Jerusalem] Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem Suheil Dawani on Feb. 21 re-dedicated St. Saviour’s Church in the northern Israel town of Acre.

the Rt. Rev. Musa Haj, bishop of the Maronite Church in the Holy Land (left) and His Beatitude Theophilos III, the Greek Patriarch (right) participated in the Feb. 21 service led by Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem Suheil Dawani.

His Beatitude Theophilos III, the Greek Patriarch; the Rt. Rev. Musa Haj, bishop of the Maronite Church in the Holy Land; Samir Asie, imam of Al-Jazzar Mosque, and representatives from the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities joined an estimated 700 people for the service. Many of the attendees had longed for the re-opening and reviving of the church since the majority of its congregation, concerned about their security situation, left Acre in 1948.

Acre is an extraordinary corner of the Holy Land, with one of the best natural harbors in the region. It has been a prominent city since it was mentioned in the tribute list of Pharaoh Thutmose III in the 16th century BCE. Before its capture by the crusaders in 1104, it had been held by the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, Persians, the Greeks and the Ummayads. St. Paul visited it (cf. Acts 21.7), referring to it as Ptolemais and within 150 years it had a bishop.

Acre became the port where pilgrims disembarked. The Crusaders built a complex fort with tunnels, churches and hospitals. It was captured by the Muslim commander Saladin and re-taken by Richard-the-Lion-Heart, before being re-captured by the Mamelukes, the Ottomans, the Egyptians, the Turks and the British.

The Anglican presence in Acre is more recent. The Church Mission Society opened schools in 1874 and 1887, and developed a small hospital. In 1946 Archdeacon Campbell McInnes (later archbishop) with the Rev. Najib Cubain (later the first Palestinian to become an Anglican Bishop) were present when the foundation stone was laid. Bishop Stewart dedicated the church in 1947.

St. Saviour’s Church in the northern Israel town of Acre had been closed since 1948.

The church quickly thrived, and although a small building, the congregation was said to number 500. However, in 1948 the Christians in Acre became increasingly worried about their safety and that of their families. Many left the city, with a large number going to Lebanon. Over the next 40 years, St. Saviour’s, without a regular priest or congregation, fell into a state of disrepair.

For the diocese, the re-dedication of St. Saviour’s marks an extraordinary moment – this is the second church to be rededicated by Archbishop Duwani. In 2011 St Paul’s in Jerusalem, closed in 1948, was re-dedicated. The diocese is now focused on re-dedicating St. Peter’s in Jaffa, which has been closed since 1948.

Such ministry shows the dedication and the tenacity of the Diocese of Jerusalem, while small in number – there are between 5,000 and 7,000 Anglicans spread over the five countries: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Israel. The diocese continues to minister in some of the most difficult places and with enormous obstacles, whether that be its hospitals in Gaza and Nablus or reviving closed churches.

The re-opening of St. Saviour’s points to one of the central missions of this Church in the Holy Land: to foster ecumenical and inter-faith relationships which are at the heart of the ministry of reconciliation and peace towards which the Diocese of Jerusalem works.

During the rededication, the Greek patriarch spoke warmly of the renewed Anglican presence in Acre. The imam expressed his excitement that a new place of worship in the community was now open. And, the archbishop noted in his sermon that for Christians communities in the Holy Land “there [must be] resurrection after death, light after darkness, and hope after sadness.”

He went on to say that: “[i]f the church of today does not carry this message of the resurrection and hope then our ministry is in vain. Our land needs the spirit of the resurrection… and any thinking that does not present hope for our people in the Holy Land will not be a theology either for the present time or for the future.”

There is a real hope, he said, that St. Saviour’s can create a worshipping community that leads “leads us to goodness, security, justice, peace, and prosperity for all.”

The diocese has a new confidence that Anglicans in Acre can once again thrive, according to the Very Rev. Hosam Naoum, Dean of St George’s Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem. Here in the Holy Land where stories of pain and suffering are a daily reality; St. Saviour’s is a genuine story of “Good News,” he added.

Modern theological education mustn’t lose sight of final goal, warns Canada primate

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 11:16am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has said that as Anglican educators, bishops and clergy debate how theological education should be adapted to meet the needs of the 21st century church, they should not lose sight of the fact that the final goal is to produce ministers with a “Christ-like character.”

Full article.

Episcopal dioceses to test variety of approaches to racial reconciliation with grant money

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 3:07pm

[Episcopal News Service] A “peace camp” for children in New Mexico, translated into a new program for adults.

American cultural assimilation classes for women who recently arrived in Dallas as refugees.

Ecumenical outreach in the black community by a half dozen predominantly white churches in east Texas, where hate groups have been reported in alarming numbers.

The Episcopal Church’s Province VII is pursuing racial reconciliation ideas as varied as the province’s 12 dioceses, and these efforts are getting an added boost this year through an initiative by the province called Building Bridges: Reaching Across the Lines. The province’s Anti-Racism Network lined up seven projects this spring and summer, and the Episcopal Church announced this month that Building Bridges was awarded one of its 2017 Constable Grants.

Ayesha Mutope-Johnson

“Sometimes people live just across the street, across the train track, across the way by just a couple miles, and culturally they don’t see each other,” said Ayesha Mutope-Johnson, who leads the Province VII Anti-Racism Network.

Building Bridges, then, is a metaphor for crossing those racial and cultural divides, she said, noting racial reconciliation is a priority identified by the Episcopal Church at General Convention and emphasized by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

Racial reconciliation is a theme found in several of the seven initiatives that received $380,000 in Constable grants this year. Episcopal Migration Ministries was awarded $60,000 to train Episcopalians to be “agents of reconciliation” for refugees in their communities. Province IX will receive $40,000 to develop a Spanish-language youth event. The grants are named after Mary Louise Constable, who left money after her death in 1951 to pay for religious education programs not already included in the church’s budget.

Building Bridges will receive just under $30,000 to support programs from Louisiana to New Mexico and Texas to Kansas. Mutope-Johnson has recruited 24 people from across the 12 dioceses to take the lead locally as part of the Anti-Racism Network.

“Network members have identified myriad program needs in our area, where issues of race, privilege and reconciliation have been neglected for a very long time,” Province VII said in its grant application. “It is the goal of the Network to take aggressive steps to begin the process of reconciliation.”
Some of the money will be used to expand existing efforts, while other projects are new and will be launched this spring or summer:

Kansas City, Diocese of West Missouri: St. Augustine’s is one of the only historically black Episcopal churches in the region, but with gentrification changing the demographics of its community, the church is working with the Anti-Racism Network to hold welcoming events that will draw people of all races.

Kansas City, Diocese of West Missouri: St. Andrew’s has participated for many years in a local MissionPalooza youth outreach program. This year the predominantly white congregation will invite youths from a local African Methodist-Episcopal church to take part with them.

New Mexico, Diocese of the Rio Grande: The diocese will receive money to bring back a multicultural interfaith camp offered in July in Roswell. The peace-focused camp also will be adapted for adults in a separate retreat in Taos, likely with an emphasis on storytelling exercises.

Dallas, Diocese of Dallas:  The diocese will build on the work of Gateway of Grace, an organization formed by a former Iranian refugee.  Grant money will support efforts to teach cultural assimilation, English and other skills to refugee women who are new to this country.

Diocese of Texas: The Anti-Racism Network is coordinating with six predominantly white congregations in east Texas, a region where the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported activity by the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups. With the province’s support, the congregations plan to hold community events that will bring people of all races together.

Diocese of Western Louisiana: Province VII is working with Episcopal leaders in Louisiana to schedule three anti-racism training sessions this year to accommodate 150 lay and clergy leaders in the diocese. Such efforts mirror the racial reconciliation work in other dioceses around the country.

“Many of our dioceses and quite a few of our provinces are in various stages of getting this done, and some have not even started,” Mutope-Johnson said.

Some of the plans underway this year in Province VII are ambitious, she said, but since they mostly rely on volunteers, none of the money from the Constable grant will be spent on personnel.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Anglican women to make case for economic empowerment at meeting of United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 1:41pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Women from more than 20 countries around the Anglican Communion will be at the United Nations in New York next month to press for greater economic empowerment for women across the globe.

Delegations from the Anglican Communion and the Mothers’ Union will be attending the 61st session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. There will also be 20 delegates from the U.S.-based Episcopal Church.

Full article.

Archbishop of Canterbury in Kenya on last leg of African whistlestop tour

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 1:31pm

[Anglican Communion News Service]  The Archbishop of Canterbury has spent the day in Kenya as he concludes his visit to a number of countries in the region. He met the Primate of the Anglican Church of Kenya,  Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit, who was elected last year as well as provincial staff. He also met the chair of CAPA (the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa), Archbishop Albert Chama; themes under discussion included the drought situation in Kenya, strife in South Sudan and radicalisation of youths in the region. Welby then visited the All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi where he was briefed on preparations for centenary celebrations later this year. The archbishop and Caroline Welby then spent time with the primate at his official residence.

Full article.

Priest in America’s ‘murder capital’ brings public-health approach to gun violence prevention

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 1:58pm

The Rev. Marc Smith, at an Easter service in 2016, was vicar at Church of the Ascension in St. Louis before being named the Diocese of Missouri’s deputy for gun violence prevention. Photo: Church of the Ascension.

[Episcopal News Service] St. Louis has been called America’s “murder capital” after a recent spike in gun violence that resulted in more killings per capita than any other major U.S. city.

Chicago recorded the most total homicides in 2016 at 762, but for a smaller city like St. Louis, its 188 killings last year are part of an alarming local trend that has prompted a renewed focus – including by the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri – on the causes and possible solutions of such violence.

“One death is too many,” the Rev. Marc Smith said, but developing a plan of response to 188 deaths defies easy answers. “Looking for the elegant, simple solution is wrong,” he said. “It is an incredibly complex problem.”

Smith is the Diocese of Missouri’s point person in the search for answers. Last year, he was named by Bishop Wayne Smith to the newly created position of deputy for gun violence prevention, and this year, the diocese and community are beginning to see some of the early fruits of his efforts.

One of his tasks is to help 36 community organizations coordinate more effectively on the issue of gun violence, but he’s also trying to mobilize Episcopalians at the parish level to work toward a tangible first goal: giving away gun locks to gun owners.

Accidental shootings and suicides often are overlooked in the debate over gun violence, Smith said, but this danger is “probably the easiest to solve.” He sent a letter to clergy in the diocese earlier in February outlining the diocese’s new partnership with Washington University’s School of Medicine and a group called Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice to support the group’s Lock It for Love initiative.

Barbara Finch of Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice demonstrates a gun lock at a Lock It for Love booth in October. Photo: Women’s Voices Raised

Lock It for Love aims to reduce the frequency of suicides and accidental shootings by children by distributing gun locks for free. Since April 2015, Women’s Voices Raised has given out about 1,500 gun locks to families, mostly at health fairs and similar events, president Lise Bernstein said.

“Sometimes the issue of gun violence can just seem overwhelming and frustrating and depressing,” Bernstein said. The focus on gun locks was a way to rally the community around a hands-on solution to one slice of the larger problem.

“We are very much interested in engaging as many people in the community as possible in addressing this issue of kids and keeping kids safe,” Bernstein said, “so the interest of the diocese is very welcome.”

Bernstein and Smith also share the belief that gun violence should be tackled as a public health issue, an approach that draws on Smith’s experience as a health care administrator, including more than a decade as president of the Missouri Hospital Association.

Smith, who grew up in the St. Louis area, left the health care industry to become an Episcopal priest and was assigned in 2011 to his first congregation, the Church of the Ascension on St. Louis’ north side. About six months into the job, he remembers attending the wake and funeral of a woman who was killed in a drive-by shooting. It was a somber scene he would witness again and again in the city.

“The sense of desperation and hopelessness and powerlessness is crippling,” he said.

The opportunity to tackle the issue directly for the diocese grew out of ongoing conversations he was having with Bishop Smith about gun violence and public health solutions. The bishop asked last year if Smith would work toward those solutions in a new role with the diocese, and Smith agreed to take it on.

“Preventing gun violence is a critical issue in the communities of Eastern Missouri, especially St. Louis City and County,” Bishop Smith said in a written statement to the Episcopal News Service. “I am glad that parishes in our diocese can find a focus for mission in this work, and Marc Smith, with his passion and experience, is well-suited to provide leadership for it.”

National concerns, local solutions

Much of the national attention has been focused on Chicago’s dramatic surge in homicides, which even prompted President Donald Trump to suggest he would send in federal authorities if the trend isn’t reversed.

But while Chicago may have outpaced the United States’ other largest cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Houston, smaller cities like St. Louis, Detroit and New Orleans have suffered from much higher rates of homicide per capita. St. Louis recorded nearly 60 homicides per 100,000 people last year.

The national murder rate, despite remaining under the elevated level seen in the 1990s, also has risen over the past two years, and the possible causes, from gang activity to policing policies, are hotly debated.

At the local level, gun violence prevention often emphasizes the practical. In St. Louis, for example, Smith said there is a group of black clergy known as “homicide ministers” who reach out to victims’ families, attend funerals and provide assistance as it is needed. The Episcopal diocese is developing a plan to partner with the ministers.

Smith also is looking for additional, simple ways for Episcopalians to get involved.

“So many people have expressed a desire to help, and yet most people are not inclined or well equipped to be homicide ministers,” he said.

He has asked each congregation to identify one parishioner to serve as a liaison to the diocese as it coordinates efforts. Each congregation can support Lock It for Love in its own way, such as by holding fundraisers for the money to buy the gun locks or by sending volunteers to help promote the campaign at health fairs.

Smith hopes this initial project will inspire Episcopalians in the St. Louis area to get active on the issue of gun violence and eventually help expand the diocese’s outreach in ways that will address some of the underlying causes.

“Regardless of the debate over gun safety and constraints on guns, young people are still going to kill young people,” he said. “And toward that end, I want our limited resources to try to minimize that from happening, to help families pick up the pieces and not get caught in a cycle of retaliation.”

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

Archbishop of Canterbury kicks off African tour

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 11:37am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Archbishop of Canterbury has been visiting Burundi and Rwanda over the weekend as part of a week-long visit to Africa. His first stop was Burundi, to pray with the new primate. Archbishop Justin Welby and his wife were greeted on their arrival at Bujumbura International Airport by all the bishops of the province and the permanent secretary of foreign affairs.

Full article.

London churches plant trees to make neighborhoods more ‘bee friendly’

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 11:33am

[Anglican Communion News Service] A tree-planting program for London’s churches supported by the mayor of London is aiming to make neighborhoods greener and more attractive for bees. The tree plantings will also offer an opportunity for churches to organize events and ceremonies that involve members of other faiths in their parishes to celebrate and help to enhance the environments that people of all faiths and no faith share. The project is supported by the diocesan bishops.

Full article.

National Cathedral continues to debate the Lee, Jackson windows

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 11:28am

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. The long-term fate of the windows honoring Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson remains under debate. Photo: Danielle E. Thomas/Washington National Cathedral

[Episcopal News Service] When sunlight shines through the Washington National Cathedral’s stained glass windows, colors disperse. Hues take flight from the visual stories that normally confine them to a framed, defined space. Illuminated, the freed colors alight on cathedral walls as patches of blue, shades of pink and splotches of purple, transformed from visual narratives into an ephemeral pastel version of a Rorschach test.

The aftermath of a hate crime brought two particular stained glass windows at the cathedral into sharp relief. On the evening of June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof shot 12 people, killing nine of them, during a Bible study at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The racially motivated violence prompted many institutions to take down Confederate flags. At Washington National Cathedral, then-Dean Gary Hall called for the removal of two windows – one commemorating Confederate General Robert E. Lee, the other memorializing Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Both are inlaid with a small Confederate flag, offering a clear acknowledgment of the Civil War-era South for which the generals fought.

Roof “surrounded himself in these Confederate symbols,” said Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, canon theologian at the cathedral and professor of religion at Goucher College. Acknowledging the modern-day violence associated with the symbols, the cathedral’s chapter (its governing body) formed a task force to recommend a way forward, rather than simply removing the windows.


A stained glass window dedicated to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee window was originally donated to Washington National Cathedral by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1953. Photo: Washington National Cathedral

In a report last June, the task force proposed leaving the windows in place for the time being: “The windows provide a catalyst for honest discussions about race and the legacy of slavery and for addressing the uncomfortable and too-often avoided issues of race in America. Moreover, the windows serve as a profound witness to the cathedral’s own complex history in relationship to race.” The report further urged the chapter to resolve the matter by June 2018.

Report in hand, the chapter decided that while the windows should stay, the inlaid Confederate flags could not, and swiftly replaced them with clear two clear glass panels, one blue and one red.  “The [Confederate] battle flag is a problematic, racist image that has no place in the cathedral,” said Washington National Cathedral Chief Communications Officer Kevin Eckstrom. Brown Douglas, who sat on the task force, agrees. “Whatever the Confederate flag meant historically, it has come to symbolize white supremacy,” a stance in conflict with “Christian values,” she said. Flags aside, Lee and Jackson “fought for the Confederacy, and in so doing, they were fighting to uphold the institution of slavery,” Brown Douglas added.

Cathedral leaders haven’t always believed that the Confederate legacy clashes with Episcopal principles. The cathedral accepted an offer from the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) to fund a memorial of Robert E. Lee, an Episcopalian, in 1931. UDC’s top goal is “to honor the memory of those who served and those who fell in the service of the Confederate states.” Twenty-two years would pass before the project came to fruition in the form of the stained glass windows. Cathedral archives included in the task force report show a friendly, supportive repartee between cathedral and UDC representatives. On paper, at least, no one seems to have questioned including the Confederate battle flag.

A stained glass window honoring Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in the nave of Washington National Cathedral features scenes from Jackson’s life and his death in battle. Photo courtesy Washington National Cathedral.

“It’s taken us a while to get here,” said Heidi Kim, the Episcopal Church’s staff officer for racial reconciliation. While Washington National Cathedral’s foundation was laid in 1907, decades after the abolition of slavery, Kim pointed out that slaves built many Episcopal churches. Many Episcopalians owned slaves and others, northerners among them, profited by trading slaves, a story told in personal terms in the documentary, “Traces of the Trade.”

“The degree to which almost anyone in the nation who had any economic privilege benefited from slavery, in the North and the South” was considerable, said Rev. Dr. Robert W. Prichard, a professor of church history at Virginia Theological Seminary and author of “A History of the Episcopal Church.”

In 2008 the Episcopal Church apologized for its role in slavery. The apology followed a resolution passed at the General Convention in 2006 urging the church “…to address systemic racial disparities and injustice in the church and the wider culture” deepened that sensibility. Opinion on what this means and how far it should go varies among Episcopalians.

Many think the windows should stay at the cathedral as a reminder of the Episcopal Church’s past. “There’s something about taking away those windows that seems a bit of a denial of where we’ve been,” said Danielle A. Gaherty, a member and lay leader at Trinity Lime Rock in Lakeville, Connecticut.

“I don’t think they should leave the building, especially at this time when there’s so much controversy in the world over race relations,” she said. “It just seems that it’s more important now than ever to remember.”

Retired parish priest William Thomas Martin of Williamsburg, Virginia, agreed. “By getting rid of the windows we [would] throw away the memory, and if we throw away the memory, we’re going to repeat [our mistakes]. The Confederate flag is a symbol of our original sin, I think. It reminds us of our own fallibility and our need for God’s grace.”

Doug Desper, an Episcopalian in Waynesboro, Virginia, thinks the Lee-Jackson windows should leave Washington National Cathedral. Like Gaherty, Martin and Riley Temple, he felt compelled to comment on a Religious News Service article about the windows posted on the ENS website in October. “I don’t think that battle flags of any sort belong” in a house of worship, he says. More importantly, he doesn’t like “the criminal South versus the virtuous North” feeling he gets from the discussion. That trope, he contends, ignores the complexities of mid-19th century American life. He advocates a reconciliation window to replace the Lee-Jackson windows, but “I don’t think we need to keep apologizing. I think what we need to do now is to look at how far we’ve come from where our ancestors were.”

As for a continued “we’re sorry” mantra, Brown Douglas agreed that’s not the answer. “Apologies are cheap grace,” she said. “The church should be talking about repentance. You have to name the sin, then turn around and go in a different direction.”

The point that Lee and Jackson were as complex as any men, the nuances of their life stories larger than stained glass windows, Rev. Delman Coates, senior pastor at Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Maryland, said that acknowledgment isn’t enough to put him at ease about the windows, even if their context is explained. “For me as an African-American, those are symbols of a very painful, horrific past,” said Coates, who participated in the cathedral’s panel discussion “What the White Church Must Do” last July. So much so, he says, that leaving the Lee-Jackson windows as-is would “make it difficult” for him to feel fully welcome at the cathedral.

Former cathedral task force member Riley Temple wants the cathedral to beef up its efforts around the windows now. He thinks the events to date have been intellectual to a fault; that they fail to address the array of emotions at play. He wants the cathedral to address this imbalance. “No one’s thinking about our level of discomfort and the continued injury and assault of the windows,” he said. “They don’t want to make white people uncomfortable. The truth is going to make us squirm, and we can’t get to reconciliation without squirming.”

But Brown Douglas cited another essential step in this process: “Before we can talk about reconciliation, we have to talk about justice.” To that end, she said the cathedral is creating programs and forming partnerships, including one with Coates’ congregation. During Lent, Brown Douglas will run a study program on social and racial justice. And on March 29, she will participate in the cathedral’s panel “Saints and Sinners: Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.”

Mobilizing a social justice and reconciliation movement within the broader Christian church makes sense to Coates. “Racism and structural racism in America were justified theologically,” he said. “In order to make progress on a range of social justice issues, we must reclaim and reimagine our own theology.” Willie James Jennings, associate professor of systematic theology and Africana studies at Yale Divinity School, author of “The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race,” agreed. “Racism has a deep Christian architecture to it, and there’s no way to reckon with that past without coming through Christianity,” he said.

The theological and ethical journey of reckoning for Episcopal churches and others with very few African-Americans must include an honest look within. “It does come down to a denomination having a sense of its own whiteness,” he says. “They don’t understand how their Christianity and their whiteness feed each other. [As Christians] it is always important for us to show people what it means to be living in the truth.”

The strong emotions unleashed when people talk about race warrant attention – they’re important. Jennings pointed to “deep frustration about how people just refuse to honor the horror of all this.” If there’s good news on this challenging path, it’s that “the church has a vital role in helping people come to terms with what they feel, not just what they think,” he said.

Right now, feelings about the windows seem inextricably linked to a pervasive concern not about this country’s past, but about its current interpersonal and political climate.  “We’re as divided a nation as we’ve ever been. We’re as divided racially as we’ve ever been,” Brown Douglas said. By calling its Lee-Jackson windows into question, the cathedral stepped squarely into that sensitive, uneasy space.

Whatever the outcome, Coates and Jennings credit cathedral leaders and community members for calling the question on their role in memorializing and glorifying a painful past with omnipresent fingerprints. “I want to acknowledge the courage it takes to see what others refuse to see,” Jennings said. “I’m thankful that they’re doing that. It’s really important.”

In its report, the task force recommended digging into the topic as a community with forums, an “audit” of the stories the cathedral close buildings tell and with art of all kinds. Brown Douglas hopes the process will answer the questions: “What are we suggesting about who we are? But more than that, what are we saying about who God is?” She also hopes it will uncover “the voices that have gone unheard, the subjugated history.” How to incorporate those voices into the National Cathedral and just how the Lee-Jackson windows will fit into a now-evolving narrative remains to be seen.

— Heather Beasley Doyle is a freelance journalist based in Massachusetts. 

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preaches at St. John’s in Hong Kong

Sun, 02/19/2017 - 7:58pm

[Episcopal News Service — Hong Kong] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached to a standing room only crowd that overflowed into the courtyard at St. John’s Cathedral in Hong Kong’s central business district on Feb. 19.

Curry is on his first official visit to Asia since his July 2015 election as presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church. Hong Kong was the second stop on a four-country tour that includes the Philippines, China and Taiwan.

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