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Sexuality working group recommends services of blessing without changing formularies

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 1:06pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] A working group established by the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia is recommending that bishops should be able to decide whether to authorize a service of blessing for same gender couples, using provisions already within the province’s canons for “a non-formulary service.” But it says that there should be no change to “the Church’s teaching on the nature of marriage [which] is to affirm marriage as between a man and a woman.”

Read the entire article here.

Interfaith Power & Light welcomes Susan Hendershot Guy as new president

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 5:24pm

[Interfaith Power & Light] Interfaith Power & Light (IPL) announced that Rev. Susan Hendershot Guy will serve as its new president, ending a year-long search for the successor to founding president the Rev. Sally Bingham, who is retiring after leading the organization for 18 years.

“I am excited to continue to grow this vital organization and its critical mission to mobilize a religious response to global warming and to act as good stewards of our planet for future generations,” said Hendershot Guy, a minister ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) tradition, who has led this work in Iowa for seven years. “I deeply respect the work of Rev. Bingham and hope to build on the solid foundation she created. The need for people of faith to lead the movement to protect Creation has never been greater.”

President Emeritus Bingham will remain involved on IPL’s board of directors. “It is with delight and my strong support that I leave IPL not only with a strong board of directors, but also in the capable hands of the Rev. Hendershot Guy who will carry IPL well into the 21st Century,” said Bingham.

IPL has an unparalleled track record of educating millions of “people in the pews” about the call to care for Creation and mobilizing them to action, achieving clean energy policy wins from the local to international level. Mobilizing people of faith to be advocates for climate protection is more important than ever, as the Trump administration continues its reckless attempts to roll back urgently needed climate policies. Maintaining the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and keeping congregations all over the U.S. moving forward with emissions reductions to show that “We are Still In” the Paris Accord are important priorities for IPL. Hendershot Guy will be speaking in support of the Clean Power Plan at the upcoming hearing in San Francisco.

“Rev. Hendershot Guy will bring a valuable new perspective to our San Francisco-based team from her experience leading one of our successful Midwest affiliates,” said Doug Linney, chairman of the board of directors, which conducted the nationwide search for the new president. “I am more confident than ever in our stability, strength, and the urgency of our mission. I believe we are in a great position for growth and innovation,” Linney continued.

Hendershot Guy will step into her new position this month. She will lead IPL from its national headquarters in San Francisco.

Follow social media coverage of Presiding Bishop headlining Georgia revival

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 12:22pm

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Diocese of Georgia and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry are hosting a revival Jan. 20 on the theme “Fearless Faith, Boundless Love.”

The event will feature preaching by Curry. It was postponed from its original date September after Hurricane Irma damaged the diocese’s Honey Creek Retreat Center Intracoastal Waterway on the Georgia southeast coast where the event was due to be held. Downed trees have since been removed and the events will go on as planned. The revival is set to be livestreamed here.

Because of Hurricane Irma, the diocese also had to postpone a celebration to mark the new feast day of Deaconess Anna Alexander, the first black female deacon in the Episcopal Church. The event will now take place on the morning of Jan. 20 at Good Shepherd Church in Brunswick, Georgia, about 25 miles north of Honey Creek. That celebration will be livestreamed here.

The presiding bishop’s office has teamed up with local leaders to organize Episcopal revivals across America. The next event is scheduled for April in Honduras.

You can find social media posts from the Georgia event using the hashtags #PBinGA and #GArevival2018 or by checking the feed below.

How Episcopal churches embrace ‘radical welcome’

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 9:59am

Church member Linda Tarnay, center, cuts the ribbon of the new ramp as her caregiver, the Rev. Winnie Varghese and the Rev. Anne Sawyer watch. The Dec. 2 ramp blessing ceremony celebrated a challenging five-year project to make the historic New York’s St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery more accessible to people with mobility disabilities. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] Linda Tarnay used to leap across the hardwood floors in the nave of St. Mark’s Church in-The-Bowery in Manhattan’s East Village.

A member of the historic Episcopal church for more than 25 years, she also taught dance at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts for 35 years, owned a dance company and earned many accolades. These days, even crossing the threshold of her church is a challenge since her Parkinson’s diagnosis. Tarnay uses a wheelchair to get around, and St. Mark’s is a historical landmark building, which like many old church buildings was not built with access for those with disabilities.

“I try to come as much as I can,” Tarnay said recently at a church reception, as her caregiver brought her a bite to eat.

As the Episcopal Church’s worshippers age along with its buildings, needs rise for more disability accommodations. Plus, the welcoming, inclusive vibe churches strive for can be made more tangible with accommodations for people of all abilities, regardless of age.

Money for building-access renovations or technology for the hearing or vision impaired is often not in congregational or diocesan budgets, say advocates who’ve sought funds. And building maintenance often gets priority.

Because grant money is severely limited, projects such as ramps and lifts for handicap accessibility aren’t always eligible for grants, but in the Diocese of New York they are eligible for loans on a case-by-case basis, said Michael Rebic, director of the diocese’s property support committee.

There can also be less motivation to do these renovations because churches are often exempt from federal accessibility requirements.

But for the Rev. Winnie Varghese, the temporary, rickety wooden ramp that Tarnay had to use was unacceptable. She wanted St. Mark’s to practice what she calls “radical welcome.” As interim rector at St. Mark’s, she pushed hard to get a ramp installed at the front entrance. Today, Varghese is the director of justice and reconciliation at Trinity Church Wall Street in lower Manhattan, about 2.5 miles south of St. Mark’s.

“This church learned that it has many more values besides this historic site and this building: the people in this place, the mission that has been developed here together over the years, its fine commitment to the arts, to social justice, to radical inclusion,” Varghese told the crowd at a Dec. 2 Blessing of the Ramp ceremony.

The Revs. Winnie Varghese and Anne Sawyer sing along to the St. Mark’s ramp blessing song, adapted from the “This Land Is Your Land” song by Woody Guthrie. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

“And actually, this place … has found a way to preach its values through its site,” she said. The ramp is now a visual symbol of the church’s mission to be radically welcoming and inclusive, she added.

Historic Preservation

Many Episcopal churches are more than a century old. When maint­aining the buildings, some conflicting values can butt heads: preserving the original historical structure and ensuring everyone — regardless of ability — can enter the building.

That conte­­ntion was especially true for St. Mark’s, which had members of the church and community opposed to adding an access ramp in front of the prominent landmark.

With the property’s roots as a church starting in 1651 and Episcopal ownership in 1793, St. Mark’s is the oldest place of continuous Christian worship in New York, according to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Walter B. Melvin Architects was the preservation architect for the portico restoration and access ramp installation, which took five years to complete from design to construction. Much of this time was devoted to integrating the design with the historic site, obtaining the permits and approvals required from several city agencies and the community board, as well as an extended fundraising campaign to accomplish the whole project.

“Finally done,” said David van Erk, project manager. “I’m glad they were able to achieve their goal. Their persistence helped them through the obstacles they ran into with obtaining permits and financing. All in all, a successful project, and it fits in with its surroundings.”

More than a month after the ramp concrete dried, Tarnay said the new ramp makes it easier for her to attend church.

“There’s a more welcome feeling when I am there,” she said.

Linda Tarnay, left, pushed by her caregiver, proceeds up the access ramp at the Blessing of the Ramp ceremony at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery in New York. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

Founded more than 300 years ago, Trinity Church Wall Street is also exploring a renovation that includes installing wheelchair-accessible ramps around the building’s perimeter, said Nathan Brockman, communications and marketing director.

In Newark, New Jersey, the House of Prayer Episcopal Church still lacks easy access from the church to the parish hall, said the Rev. Joyce Bearden McGirr, the priest-in-residence. Built before 1725, the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

“To get to the parish hall from the sanctuary requires climbing steep stairs, which is difficult for both congregations worshipping there,” McGirr said. “Also, the entrance to the parish hall from the street requires climbing stairs.”

The priest said she isn’t aware of past accessibility discussions, but she’d like improvements.

Before the Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows became the bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis, she worked as a religious property preservation consultant for 10 years, among other roles. She studied architecture and earned a master’s degree in historic preservation, completing her thesis on how churches and preservation communities can work together.

The state of Indiana, as well as New York, have sacred places programs, which can assist with fundraising, Baskerville-Burrows said. United Thank Offering grants can sometimes help fund accessibility projects too, when the request is tied to a mission.

Still, the cost of maintaining old churches can be insurmountable, not to mention the spiritual and social cost to those who can’t participate in church activities because of lack of access.

One of the last parishes where Baskerville-Burrows served was on the National Registry of Historic Places. She has watched so much money goes to minimal upkeep of buildings like these, at the sacrifice of the mission of the churches.

“As much as I love historic buildings and have worked decades to keep them upright, I think sometimes there are better caretakers of them, and it’s best to let them go,” she said. “We’re not about our buildings. We’re about our people, our faith and our ministry. It’s about reconciling people and being reconciled to God.”

Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows of the Diocese of Indianapolis.

“Those are some hard choices in terms of other losses in our church these days,” Baskerville-Burrows said.

Complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life.

That includes jobs, schools, transportation and all public and private places that are open to the general public. But the ADA exempts religious organizations and entities controlled by religious organizations, so in many cases, churches don’t have to be accessible. Access can mean many things.

With roots in the 1849 Gold Rush, Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, seat of the Diocese of California, today has elevators and three wheelchair-accessible ramps. At Sunday services, the liturgy and order of worship are printed out for the hard of hearing.

That helps Karma Quick-Panwala. She’s a special-education advocate for families of children with disabilities,  and she’s also severely hard-of-hearing. Trained as a child in lip-reading, Quick-Panwala is not fluent in sign language.

Since 2011, she’s used Community Access Realtime Translation services, or CART services, at the annual Diocese of California conventions.

“But the benefits of real-time captioning could help everybody, not just me, and it could help record-keepers and provide transcriptions,” Quick-Panwala said.

All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Pontiac, Michigan, began as a parish called Zion Episcopal Church in 1837 and its current building was completed in 1950, according to the website’s historical timeline. Between 2000 and 2007, the church became a universally accessible building with ramp access to the sanctuary and parish hall, elevator access to all floors and front pews with space for wheelchairs.

Former House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson attends All Saints’ along with her husband and their adult son who uses a wheelchair.

“For me, at least with a son that needs accessibility, it’s all about the baptismal covenant. We promise, with God’s help, to respect every person’s dignity,” Anderson said. “As churches, I think we have a responsibility to people who need extra help. We have ‘The Episcopal Church Welcomes You’ on our signs. Everyone is welcome. We say that, don’t we?”

Providing equal mobility access goes beyond the entrances.

When an older church has difficult chancel steps and doesn’t have an accessible altar, sometimes communion is brought to people sitting in the pews who need help. “Some people don’t mind that, and other people don’t like it at all. It singles you out from the congregation and makes your disability more visible,” Anderson said.

Some people would prefer to take communion at a standing station at the bottom of those chancel steps, where the priest and lay eucharistic minister stand, she said. The church bulletin can spell out the options.

Churches that have parish schools are legally required by the ADA to be accessible, said the Rev. Paul Feuerstein, a multi-vocational priest who assists at St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery and is president and chief executive officer of Barrier Free Living. The multi-service agency helps disabled victims and survivors of domestic violence and homelessness.

Because there are resident arts organizations at St. Mark’s, there are often public poetry and dance events onsite, so the church is legally required to make reasonable accommodations, Feuerstein said.

“But it really came out of a passion for social justice and to make a statement of radical welcome,” he said of the ramp project. “I would hope other churches do it, not because they have to, but because they want to.”

Feuerstein was a founding member of an access committee in the Diocese of New York, but the committee hasn’t been active in several years. He’s done disability work since 1978.

Whatever the legal requirements are for a particular church building, event or activity, it’s really about parishes taking up that mantle, Feuerstein said.

Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, California, offers accessibility for people with mobility, hearing and sight disabilities. Photo courtesy of Bobak Ha’Eri

“All too often, people who end up with disabilities, aging people, don’t like to use the ‘d’ word. I get it. There’s a reminder of vulnerability that impacts people’s embracing the issue.”

Resolving to change on a larger scale

Quick-Panwala’s request for CART services at the 78th General Convention in 2015 was received shortly before the start of the 78th General Convention and was unable to be accommodated with the limited time and resources available, according to Lori Ionnitiu, director of meetings and convention in the church’s Office of the General Convention.

Because Quick-Panwala can’t read sign language, the Diocese of California helped with funding remote captioning over Skype on her laptop. It’s not her preferred method because internet service is restricted and spotty, and it requires using a microphone. But she made it work.

CART services will not be available when the General Convention meets in Austin this July because there are no funds to provide complete services in English and Spanish in both houses, worship, all legislative committee meeting rooms, and the meeting of the Episcopal Church Women.  Analysis by the Office of General Convention estimates the equipment and staff costs to be close to a half of a million dollars.

Quick-Panwala’s frustration with getting accommodations to participate in church activities inspired her to write a General Convention resolution encouraging the church to renew its commitment to provide full and equal access for all people with disabilities to any church program or activity. The 2015 resolution was sponsored by the Rev. Eric Metoyer, and it passed.

“Our church tends to have an aging population, and disability is almost a normal part of the aging process,” Quick-Panwala said. “Many people already have vision, hearing and mobility challenges. We want everybody to be able participate in church activities just the same.”

Although the resolution recommended that the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance budget $80,000 in the 2016-2018 triennium to fulfill accommodation requests at the 79th General Convention and at ancillary meetings and events, no money was allocated in the budget that PB&F presented and convention passed.

“It appears that there was little more done on the resolution than the formality of the church saying ‘Yes, we will provide more accessibility.’ That’s one reason why I pushed so hard for money to be attached,” Quick-Panwala said. “Somehow, there wasn’t any money in the Episcopal Church budget to allocate to it.”

It’s unfortunate, Quick-Panwala said, that General Convention resolutions often ask for money to be allocated in the next three-year budget but PB&F cannot always fund all those requests.

The resolution also calls for the General Convention Office to work with the Episcopal Disability Network and the Episcopal Conference of the Deaf to develop a set of best practices for providing disability accommodations at all official and ancillary church events. Such guidelines would help dioceses and churches when someone asks for a disability accommodation, Quick-Panwala said.

The Rev. Michael Barlowe, the secretary of General Convention, told ENS the Executive Office of General Convention continues to work with the Conference of the Deaf to provide and coordinate interpreters for the deaf at General Convention and also offer enhanced listening devices for those that are hard of hearing.

“It is important for us to work closely with those organizations specifically connected to the deaf, hard of hearing and related communities to consider best practices for all attending General Convention and other meetings of the Episcopal Church,” Barlowe said. “These historic connections go back over a century, and the differing opinions about best practices within these communities is ongoing.”

Besides following Jesus’ example, providing more accommodations for people with disabilities can be a self-interested cause, Feuerstein said.

“Chances are, we’re going to end up there ourselves,” said Feuerstein, 70. “And the older we get, the more limitations we may end up with.”

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


El Obispo Presidente Curry en materia de trata de personas: ‘la trata de personas es un crimen que va en contra de los principios más básicos de nuestra fe’

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 7:04am

El Obispo Presidente y Primado de la Iglesia Episcopal Michael B. Curry ha emitido la siguiente declaración sobre la trata de personas.

Mientras conmemoramos a nivel nacional el mes de la concientización sobre la trata de personas de 2018 es importante reconocer que el tráfico de personas es un crimen que va en contra de los principios más básicos de nuestra fe. Desafortunadamente, es también muy común y pone a millones [de personas] en riesgo cada día.

La trata de personas se manifiesta en una variedad de formas y en una variedad de industrias desde la servidumbre personal [involuntaria] hasta la agricultura, en los hoteles e industria hostelera o en el comercio sexual. Lo que sí sabemos con certeza es que para que este crimen ocurra los responsables deben devaluar y deshumanizar a otra persona.

Hemos de tener claro que todos los seres humanos están hechos a imagen de Dios y cada uno merece una vida libre de violencia y de la amenaza de violencia, de explotación y de coerción. Debemos también condenar las estructuras y sistemas que hacen muy fácil que este mal ocurra. 

Elogio la labor de las diócesis, las congregaciones y las personas en toda la Iglesia y la comunión anglicana que colaboran para crear conciencia, apoyar a los sobrevivientes y proteger contra la trata de personas. Exhorto a todos los que siguen a Jesús que se comprometan a seguir desarrollando una relación amorosa, liberadora y vivificante con Dios y con nuestros semejantes.

Obispo presidente Michael B. Curry
La Iglesia Episcopal

La oficina de Relaciones Gubernamentales alienta a los episcopales a tomar acción en la lucha en contra de la trata de personas a través de la Red Episcopal de Políticas Públicas, aquí. La Alerta de Acción sobre la trata de personas incentiva al Congreso a pasar el Acta de Protección a las Victimas de la Trata de Personas (TVPA, por su sigla en inglés). Escriba al Congreso aquí.

Puede encontrar información adicional sobre como brindar apoyo y otras maneras de combatir la trata de personas aquí.

All Our Children conference envisions path to education equity through church-school partnerships

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 3:10pm

Kenita Williams, director of the Racial Equity Leadership Network at the Southern Education Foundation, speaks Jan. 17 at a panel discussion as part of the All Our Children conference held at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Columbia, South Carolina. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Columbia, South Carolina] Bishops, priests, deacons and lay leaders at the forefront of the Episcopal Church’s advocacy for equity in education joined this week with educators and advocates from several other Christian denominations for a three-day conference in South Carolina’s capital.

The Jan. 16 to 18 gathering was hosted by All Our Children,  an ecumenical network of church-school partnerships with roots in the Episcopal Church. More than 100 people attended the conference’s wide range of workshops and presentations at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral – across the street from the South Carolina statehouse grounds, where Confederate war generals and fallen Confederate soldiers are still honored prominently with stately monuments.

The Civil War’s legacy of segregation, discrimination and racial injustice was an underlying thread through much of the conference, as several speakers detailed how educational disparity is interwoven with economic and racial disparity – both across the United States and dramatically across South Carolina, from the rural communities along the Interstate 95 corridor to the poor neighborhoods of Columbia, the state’s second-largest city.

The Rev. Stephanie Spellers, canon the the presiding bishop for evangelism, reconciliation and stewardship of creation, delivers the keynote speech Jan. 17 at the All Our Children Conference. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

And although conference attendees were disappointed to learn early on that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry had been forced to cancel his keynote address due to illness, the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, Curry’s canon for evangelism, reconciliation and stewardship of creation, delivered a rallying speech in his place.

“God is working out a new salvation story for this whole nation, and it starts with our children, all our children. It starts with you,” Spellers said Jan. 18 to the crowd gathered that evening in the cathedral.

All Our Children’s executive director is Lallie Lloyd, a lay leader in the Episcopal Church who founded the organization in 2012 to build bridges between churches and under-resourced schools. She and others at the conference emphasized how Christians can bring a moral and spiritual authority to the debate on education equity.

Lloyd, in her welcoming remarks Jan. 16, called education equity as a “common good” – “that core American principle that we hold some things in common because we all benefit from them. And we all benefit when our neighbors’ children are well educated.”

South Carolina was chosen to host the conference, All Our Children’s first, partly because of the stark contrast in how “our neighbors’ children” are educated around the state. One of the five lawsuits that were combined into the desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education was filed in South Carolina, but many schools in South Carolina, as in other parts of the United States, are said to be just as segregated today as they were before the case’s landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling.

Diocese of Upper South Carolina Bishop Andrew Waldo, in his welcoming remarks, cited the 2005 documentary “Corridor of Shame” for raising awareness of the alarming reality of education in the poor, majority-black school districts along the I-95 corridor of South Carolina. Thirty of those school districts were plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in 1993 arguing that chronic underfunding by the state had left the schools, staff and students in conditions resembling third-world countries.

The state Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that students in those districts were not receiving even a minimally adequate education, and it ordered the state legislature to develop an improvement plan. But after two new justices were elected to the five-member bench, the Supreme Court reversed itself, saying in November 2017 that it was up to the Legislature, not the courts, how to set funding levels for education.

Diocese of Upper South Carolina Bishop Andrew Waldo has pushed for church-school partnerships through the ecumenical Bishops’ Public Education Initiative. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

“We have a long way to go,” Waldo said, alluding to the 2017 decision.

Waldo also touted an ecumenical collaboration he helped kick off in 2014, another reason South Carolina was chosen to host the All Our Children conference. Known as the Bishops’ Public Education Initiative, its partners now include the state’s Episcopal, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, United Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion and  Christian Methodist Episcopal churches.

“Our work has been to engage our congregations and raising up ways of being connected with our local schools,” Waldo said.

Church-school partnerships, such as tutoring and mentoring programs, form the core of All Our Children’s efforts, through the work of volunteers like Betty Hudgens, a member of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral who has served as a tutor for four years through the initiative’s Reading Matters program for children through third grade.

“We commit to one hour a week, which isn’t whole lot,” Hudgens told Episcopal News Service, but sometimes just having a conversation with the children she tutors seems to make a difference. “I walk away from there humbled.”

Building relationships with students

Lloyd’s goals for the conference included building relationships between church leaders and educators, turning up the spotlight on the issue of education equity, highlighting ways churches already are making a difference and providing resources for advocates and volunteers to help the movement grow.

Some of the workshops and presentations were intended to quantify the problem by mining data on educational disparities and surveying the latest research on the best teaching practices. The conference’s first keynote speaker, Jeff Duncan-Andrade, set the tone for much of what was to follow.

Jeff Duncan-Andrade, an education professor at San Francisco State University, delivers his keynote presentation Jan. 16 on the first day of the All Our Children conference. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

“The school is the single biggest influential factor in child development. It’s not the family. It’s not the media,” said Duncan-Andrade, an education professor at San Francisco State University. “They spend more time in school than anywhere else, between 5 and 18. If we get that right, in one generation we can transform communities.”

But many statistics show we are not getting it right. High school graduation rates remain low for low-income students, who struggle to learn while suffering from the stress and trauma of poverty, Duncan-Andrade said. At the same time, the gap between wealthy and poor Americans is growing. He also cited the United States’ high incarceration rate and its low ranking on the Global Peace Index, which compares countries based on an analysis of crime, wars, diplomatic relations and other factors.

Duncan-Andrade also underscored the difference between equality and equity. Spending equally on affluent and low-income school districts is not equitable if the needs are exponentially greater in those poor districts, he said.

The message that perhaps resonated most among those attending the conference was the importance of building positive relationships with students. All successful teachers are ethnographers, he said, meaning they get to know their students and develop trust before classroom learning can blossom.

“We will not policy our way out of this,” he said. “We will people our way out of this.”

Other events at the conference were intended to confront racial bias and systemic racism. And several presenters provided advice on how to effectively advocate for changes in government policy that will move society closer to education equity.

Much of the rest of the schedule was devoted to discussing examples of existing church-school partnerships and how congregations can learn from those examples and start their own partnerships. Such partnerships have been endorsed by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention as “a path for following Jesus into the neighborhood, addressing educational inequity, and rejuvenating congregations.” Its 2015 resolution on the topic also backed the All Our Children network.

A participant in one of the workshops Jan. 17 described how her church Greenville, South Carolina, reached out to a nonprofit called Greenville Literacy Association asking how church members could get involved. That led to volunteer opportunities teaching English-as-a-second-language classes.

Leave your preconceived notions of what’s needed at the door, said another workshop participant, a priest from North Carolina.

One of the churches she served reached out to the local school, thinking volunteers might be needed for tutoring. Instead, school officials said a teacher’s lounge hadn’t been painted in years. The church volunteers grabbed some paint brushes.

And while a majority of the conference attendees were white and described themselves in an early conference activity as being on the “have more than enough” end of the economic spectrum, the Episcopal Church’s emphasis on racial reconciliation was echoed in many of the discussions.

Racial justice needs to be part of the conversation, because it is inseparable from the issue of education equity, said Kenita Williams, director of the Racial Equity Leadership Network at the Southern Education Foundation. She and other speakers noted that the victims of the broken education system are disproportionately children of color.

“We just have to have these tough conversations, and we are clear up front you might be uncomfortable,” Williams said during one of the Jan. 17 panel discussions. At the same time, the goal is not to assign blame or dwell on the negatives, but rather to serve the children. “Keep it asset-based rather than deficit-based.”

Hudgens, the Reading Matters tutor, does her part every Thursday morning at Columbia’s Hyatt Park Elementary School, where she reads with two third-grade girls, a half hour each.

Her first job after graduating from college in 1962 was as a high school teacher in Columbia, where the schools were just starting to be integrated. She later worked in public relations and then as executive assistant to the dean of the cathedral. Now in retirement, she still feels passionate about public education as one of her “soapbox” issues.

So, when she was asked to be a reading to be a reading tutor, “it was a chance to put my money where my mouth was.”

The reading sometimes takes a backseat to conversation, she said, as some of the students she tutors are eager to talk. Others are not so open.

One second-grade boy never seemed to enjoy the reading sessions, Hudgens said, and she could never figure out why. Late in the school year, she asked him what he liked, and he said basketball. She confided that she, too, was a basketball fan, and they began talking about the NBA star Stephen Curry.

“I said, how would you like to read something about basketball? He said, ‘Well, maybe.’”

The school library didn’t have any books about Curry, so Hudgens went out and bought one to take to her next session with the boy. They read it together.

The tutors are advised not to give any gifts to the students, so Hudgens instead donated the book to the school library. Now it is available to be checked out by the boy, or by any other student who might need help with reading.

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

Review proposes law change to improve governance of English cathedrals

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 12:27pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] A major review of the governance of the 42 cathedrals in England has recommended a change in the law to improve their governance. The review recommends the retention of chapter as the governing body of a cathedral, but with a clearer emphasis on its governance role. It says that the dean should chair the chapter alongside an independent lay vice-chair nominated by the diocesan bishop. The report recommends that at least two-thirds of the non-executive members would be laity.

Read the entire article here.

Melbourne bishop defends ‘fine’ South Sudanese over ‘African-gangs media-frenzy’

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 12:24pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The assistant bishop in the Diocese of Melbourne, Philip Huggins, has come to the defense of the South Sudanese migrant and refugee community in the Australian state of Victoria, after a local “media frenzy” about African gangs. There have been a number of high-profile crimes blamed on groups of young African men, including assaults and vandalism, mainly in Melbourne’s western suburbs. Some matters are now before the courts, and politicians have been quick to weigh-in with their thoughts. Coalition MPs in Victoria say that African gang crime is out of control, and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said that “people are scared to go out at restaurants of a night time because they’re followed home by these gangs.”

Read the entire article here.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s visit encourages hurricane-weary Virgin Islanders

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 3:00pm

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry hugs and greets Episcopalians after leading a packed Eucharist service Jan. 11 at All Saints Cathedral on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. The service and following reception were part of his pastoral visit to provide encouragement to those affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria in September. The church is committed to helping throughout the long-term recovery process, Curry said. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service — St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands] George Sebastian crouched in the hallway with his wife while he witnessed Hurricane Irma rip the roof from their home in St. Thomas, the U.S. Virgin Islands on Sept. 6.

“I was watching. I was hoping. I was praying,” said Sebastian, a parishioner from All Saints Cathedral, as he pointed to his house on a distant hillside. “I was stressed. I lost everything in a few minutes.”

About four months later, Sebastian has a new roof, and he’s driving Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and his contingent around his island during a Jan. 10-12 pastoral visit to the Diocese of the Virgin Islands. Curry listened to Episcopalians share their post-hurricane struggles and stress. He discussed how the church can bolster spirits and communities.

Since the horrendous 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, stories like Sebastian’s are many among the Diocese of the Virgin Islands. Curry strove to encourage parishioners.

“If you follow Jesus, you are not alone,” Curry told a packed house at All Saints Cathedral. “The truth is, it’s easy to forget that because life has a way of overwhelming you.”

George Sebastian, member of All Saints Cathedral on St. Thomas of the U.S. Virgin Islands, lost the roof of his home and much of what was inside. Photo courtesy of George Sebastian

Besides the logistical problems caused by the physical distance between the islands and the U.S. mainland, there’s the stress of emotional disconnection. Many islanders say they feel far away from the thoughts of mainlanders and the benefits they enjoy. The seemingly endless onslaught of natural and human-made disasters can cause people to suffer from compassion fatigue too.

“When you leave, don’t forget us,” urged Derek Gabriel, an All Saints Cathedral parishioner.

The long-term effects on the Virgin Islands

On Sept. 6, Hurricane Irma hit the Virgin Islands, and on Sept. 20, Maria gave the islands a second beating, both as Category 5 tropical cyclones. Irma pummeled St. Thomas and St. John the most. Then Maria targeted St. Croix, the largest of all the Virgin Islands.

Four months later, cruise ships have returned, but some buildings still sit faceless with no walls and exposed beams, and corrugated metal roofs remain rolled up, evidence of the storms’ ferocious winds. Much of the Virgin Islands remains in disrepair with blue tarps coloring the landscape, although 90 percent of power has been restored.

All Saints Cathedral men’s club president George Sebastian’s house on St. Thomas is now repaired, and he and his wife are able to live there again. Photo courtesy of George Sebastian

The Episcopal Diocese of the Virgin Islands consists of 14 congregations across five islands, some governed by the United States, some by Great Britain. The U.S. islands with Episcopal churches include St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John. The British islands have Anglican churches on Virgin Gorda and Tortola.

As the only full-time person on staff, diocesan Bishop Ambrose Gumbs leads four services in three locations every Sunday. When Curry asked how he was doing, Gumbs replied: “Surviving. Sometimes you wish you could go away and when you come back, it’s like it was before.”

Several older people have died since the hurricane, Gumbs said. “A lot of people are stressed. A lot of them don’t have insurance. There’s still chaos, and labor costs are through the roof.”

Curry and his contingent met with U.S. Virgin Islands Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter, who said it will take a long time to recover.

“Our next fight is to get power lines underground,” Potter said.

Left to right: Bishop Todd Ousley of the Episcopal Church Office of Pastoral Development, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, U.S. Virgin Islands Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter and Virgin Islands Bishop Ambrose Gumbs discuss hurricane recovery and the church’s role in helping the community at a Jan. 10 meeting at the Government House on St. Thomas. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

The exodus of more than 4,000 people has caused all sorts of problems. Police officers and teachers are gone. Hotel employees have also left or are unemployed, as many hotels might not reopen until summer, Potter said. The U.S. territories lost four schools, so either families have moved to the mainland, or they’ve sent their kids to live with mainland family members.

Episcopal Relief & Development’s efforts

 “If we did not know about Episcopal Relief & Development before, we certainly do now,” said Rosalie Simmonds-Ballentine, diocesan chancellor and lay representative on Anglican Consultative Council.

“They really stepped up to the plate and helped us,” said Simmonds-Ballentine, who also serves on the organization’s board of directors.

Workers from Episcopal Relief & Development have inspected all the diocesan churches and other properties on all five islands, said Jay Rollins, the organization’s disaster relief consultant who lives in St. Croix.

The organization assessed what volunteer teams can do immediately, in the mid-term and then long-term, Rollins said. He helped create a diocesan disaster response committee that includes a representative from each island, plus a youth representative.

“We’re looking at not only recovery, but disaster preparedness. Not just for hurricanes,” Rollins said.

Rob Radtke, president of Episcopal Relief & Development, joined Curry’s pastoral tour to guide and learn how diocesan members are handling their long-term recovery efforts.

“I think in times of trouble, everyone comes together,” Radtke said.

Churches of the Virgin Islands

Donnalie Cabey bounced and squealed with delight as she stood at the back of the nave of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on St. Thomas. “We just got power this afternoon. The presiding bishop brought the power,” said Cabey, wife of the Rev. Lenroy K. Cabey, rector.

The water was about 2 ½ feet high inside the church, so the carpet had to be pulled out, and there was no electricity for four months. The first few weeks after Hurricane Irma, Episcopalians met in the dark in the parish hall, using flash lights. Then, a generator powered their services.

On Jan. 10, representatives from the diocese’s three deaneries reported on the state of their buildings and membership.

“We call them ‘Irmaria,’” said deputy dean Leroy Claxton about September’s one-two punch of Irma and Maria.

Representatives from the Diocese of the Virgin Islands three deaneries gave hurricane-damage reports to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and his contingent Jan. 10, at St. Andrews on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

Episcopalians described Tortola as a bomb site after Irma. At St. Mary’s in Virgin Gorda, besides the roof damage, pavilion destruction and rectory flooding, the bell tower fell directly onto graves, cracking headstones.

“We need help. I’m not going to paint a rosy picture here,” said St. Mary’s dean Denise Reovan.

St. Croix residents cleared out stores to help St. Thomas after Hurricane Irma, but then Maria came and hit St. Croix barely two weeks later when its supplies were depleted.

At St. Andrew’s, membership dropped from more than 300 to about 50, said Hilarie Baker, senior warden. Twenty-five members had homes billed as total losses.

“Many relocated because of illness, job loss or their kids’ school closed. We’re hopeful many members will return,” Baker said.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry offers encouragement and spiritual direction while also listening to the grief, pain and hopes of clergy from across the Diocese of the Virgin Islands at a meeting Jan. 11 at the diocesan office on St. Thomas. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

The next morning on Jan. 11, clergy from across the islands met at the diocesan office to share their pain, concerns and hopes with Curry.

“There may be no more difficult calling, in good times and in bad,” Curry told about 15 clergy members. “This is going to be long-term work, not quick fixes, and we’re committed to doing that.”

Reduced Episcopal schools

School enrollment is down all over the islands. Public school children are doubled up at the school buildings not destroyed, some attending morning session while others attend in the afternoon.

“Nothing is the same at school. Nothing is the same at home. It’s a challenge,” Gumbs said.

All Saints Cathedral School children ages 3 to 18 enjoyed a message by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry on Jan. 12. He told light-hearted anecdotes to remind the students that they have God’s strength with them at all times. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

Although classes have been in progress full-time since Oct. 2, excluding holiday breaks, there’s been a lot of damage at St. George’s Secondary School, which is part of St. George’s Anglican Church on Tortola, a British island, said principal Antoinette Rock. Enrollment dropped from 111 to 72 students after the hurricanes. That means less tuition money to pay teacher salaries and expenses.

“We did come together to clear the debris and have the trees removed, and without funding,” Rock said. “But I’ve reached a point where I’m becoming very frustrated. We had two hurricanes in September, and here it is January, and there have been no repairs to the school.”

At all Saints Cathedral School on St. Thomas, enrollment for students ages 3 to 18 dropped from 240 to 214 students after Irma, said school board chairwoman Lynette Petty-Amey.

Classes were going ahead at full-speed, however. Krishiv Amarnani, 10, stepped away from his class to share that half of his family’s Sugar Mill condominium roof blew off.

“A lot of my sports equipment is gone, but I did salvage my soccer and spelling bee trophies,” Krishiv said.

School officials created a hurricane recovery donation page on their website to fund roof repairs and purchase ceiling tiles, window screens, books and teacher supplies, said Ardrina Elliott, the school’s development director.

“We stay positive for the kids, because it’s so easy to stay depressed. A lot of stores have closed. People lost jobs, there’s not a fully-working hospital, there are damaged post offices. It takes three weeks to get mail.”

These Virgin Islanders urge the rest of the world to remember them as they rebuild their lives.

The Rev. Sandra Walters Malone, vicar of St. Paul’s Mission on Tortola, has a severely damaged home and congregation members who are homeless, some living in cars and receiving food weekly.

“After the immediacy of disaster, people go on with their lives, and they forget that we’re still in chaos,” Malone said. “Sometimes it helps just to know others are thinking of you.”

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

Florida Keys parishioners welcome Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to their hurricane-torn churches

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 3:00pm

Debris, especially large appliances, remains in some parts of the Florida Keys, which were hit by Hurricane Irma on Sept. 10. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service —Florida Keys] Four months after Hurricane Irma, refrigerators and washing machines rust along the roadside in the Florida Keys. Much of the debris flanking the main thoroughfare of U.S. 1 is gone, but the stench of decomposing trash is strong in some parts. Bedraggled, bent palm trees border turquoise waters near new palm plantings supported by lumber. Marinas are ghost towns with boat-less docks.

Once the initial crisis was over, both long-term weariness and gratefulness set in for Episcopalians in the Keys, part of the Diocese of Southeast Florida.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and his delegation visited island-torn congregations in the Keys Jan. 13 with a goal to solidify unity — with God, fellow parishioners, other congregations in diocese, the Episcopal Church and the mainland. Together, more recovery is possible, Curry said.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry listens to and looks at the photos of hurricane damage that Alison “Sonny” Cook shows him. Cook lives in a church-provided trailer sitting behind St. Columba Episcopal Church in Marathon, the halfway point in the Florida Keys. Her home was destroyed. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

“When I’m strong, you don’t have to be. When you’re strong, I don’t have to be,” Curry told members of St. James The Fisherman on Islamorada. St. James is one of the diocese’s five congregations on the Keys. There are 76 congregations in all, spanning 272 miles from north to south.

Irma’s long-term impact

Targeting the middle and lower Keys, Irma dropped 12 inches of rain and its 130-mph winds pushed a 10-foot storm surge ashore as it damaged more than 1,300 boats, many of which were people’s primary homes. While Cudjoe Key is where the storm made landfall, Big Pine Key was one of the other islands hit the hardest.

Throughout the Keys, more than 10,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. And those were primary residences of working class people, not secondary vacation homes, said Southeast Florida Bishop Peter Eaton. Many people were without power for three weeks to a month.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry comforts Episcopalians at St. Francis in the Keys, a tiny church on Big Pine Key. The island was drastically damaged by Hurricane Irma, but the church is still standing. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

Fishing is the leading industry in the keys, while tourism is second. The lobster and stone crab seasons are a bust, which means an economic hit because the harvest in the Keys supplies restaurants and companies nationwide, Eaton said. Besides the tourist mecca that is Key West at the southernmost tip, most of the islands are rural.

Keys residents are leaving because landlords aren’t repairing their uninhabitable homes, Eaton said. “The chief challenge is keeping people in the Keys, and keeping them working,” he said. Loss of workforce housing exacerbates the problem.

St. James The Fisherman’s Episcopal preschool on the northern key of Islamorada lost two families, took in four families and has a waiting list for enrollment at the school, which has a maximum capacity of 12 students, said administrator Michelle Lane. Across Monroe County, however, Irma made more than 300 children homeless, Lane said.

Lane and county leaders fear that the population of the Keys could drop by as much as 20 percent. Fishing guides and commercial fishers have no work. January and February are peak tourist and snowbird (wintering residents from the north) season, but people aren’t coming down. Many resorts are closed.

“Just for us to stay here, we both have to have two jobs,” said Victoria Kennedy, a 17-year member of St. James. “There aren’t a lot of middle-class people here.”

Once Keys residents were allowed to return to the area, retired registered nurse Shirl McAllister, who lived in Marathon for 30 years, discovered her home gutted by Irma. The doors, windows and walls: All gone. She received a $15,000 estimate just to knock down what’s left. She has to return to work. Still, she didn’t want to leave.

“People say, ‘Why don’t you pack up and go?’ But we’ve been here too long, and we’re old,” McAllister told Curry, as she teared up. She’s living in a FEMA trailer at the moment.

“Despite it all, the volunteers have shown so much love and compassion. It’s just incredible. It’s amazing,” McAllister said. “I’ve donated boxes to this church for years. I never thought it would come back to me. It’s made me a believer; I’ll tell you that.”

Florida Keys churches

Irma tossed St. James The Fisherman’s steeple from its parish hall and preschool onto the parking lot, across the street from a destroyed, empty mobile home park.  

“That neighborhood, all their debris, was in our parking lot. But they were flooded,” said church administrator Michelle Lane.

On the northern key of Islamorada, Hurricane Irma tossed St. James The Fisherman’s steeple from its parish hall and preschool onto the parking lot, across the street from a destroyed, empty mobile home park. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

Curry reminded the congregation that the more turbulent life gets, the deeper people need to reach for God’s help and the wider they need to reach out to others.

“When the rest of the world is spinning like crazy, that will anchor you. God’s got the strength that you don’t have,” he said.

Cling to the spiritual practices of prayer, study of scripture, gathering as a community and receiving communion, he said. “It works,” Curry said.

Transition is something that happens in all our lives, but especially after natural disasters, said Bishop Todd Ousley, of the Episcopal Church Office of Pastoral Development, who accompanied Curry on his visit here and to the Virgin Islands earlier in the week. Practicing self-care can mean not only maintaining your religious practices, but exercise, eating well and sometimes talking to a trained therapist. “When hurricanes come, it not only affects your landscape, it also affects your lives and your community.”

The Rev. Debra Maconaughey of St. Columba Episcopal Church on Marathon, the midpoint of the Keys, procured 19 mobile homes, some with Episcopal Relief & Development’s help.

Lifelong Episcopalian Alison “Sonny” Cook, 88, is living in a church-provided trailer sitting behind St. Columba. Her mobile home about 2 miles east of the church was destroyed. “I just got here at New Year’s. I’d been staying with friends until then,” Cook said as she gave a tour of her new home for now, which she decorated with a parrot tablecloth and on the bed, a teddy bear in a “give thanks” T-shirt.

Lifelong Episcopalian Alison “Sonny” Cook, 88, lives in a church-provided trailer sitting behind St. Columba Episcopal Church in Marathon, the halfway point in the Florida Keys. Her home was destroyed. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

Including the church buildings, Maconaughey houses about 100 people at any given time, with the city’s permission.

“We’ve had Episcopalians from all over the United States helping us,” Maconaughey said. “We have really felt like we are the church.”

Before the storm, Rick Kidwell lived on a sailboat with his two daughters. His family and more than a dozen friends hunkered down at St. Columba. Now, they’re living in a trailer, and he’s helping unload supplies from trucks, clear debris from yards and homes, and yank out moldy drywall as the church’s disaster project coordinator.

Kidwell sees helping others as the same as helping himself. “The Keys are small, so everything is my backyard,” Kidwell said.

St. Francis in the Keys is a tiny church amid a torn landscape on Big Pine Key, one of the islands that took the brunt of Irma. The Rev. Chris Todd and his wife, Julia, are living in one room of their home. Just this past week, a crew removed the appliances and other debris lining the streets in his neighborhood, four months after the storm. “But there’s still a boat on our street. Maybe the claw wasn’t big enough,” the priest said with a laugh.

Julia Todd, wife of the Rev. Chris Todd of St. Francis in the Keys, a tiny Episcopal Church on Big Pine Key, bakes cookies with church children for Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and diocesan Bishop Peter Eaton’s visit. Big Pine Key was one of the Florida islands that received the brunt of Hurricane Irma on Sept. 10. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

St. Francis parishioner Judee Lyon found gratitude in the midst of the destruction. “I have the best mangoes in the Keys, and our tree is still there.”

At the southernmost tip of the Keys, members of St. Paul’s and St. Peter’s churches on Key West met together to talk to Curry.

St. Paul’s parishioner Sherri Hodies lived on Sugarloaf Key, 1,000 feet from the hurricane’s landfall and had eight tornadoes tear through her home. Yet, she helped coordinate the donation of quilts from an Ohio church, and gave a remaining one to Curry to help someone in Houston, Texas, which suffered from Hurricane Harvey. “I feel blessed, yet fragile,” Hodies said.

Despite the mandatory evacuation order, St. Peter’s parishioner Esther Whyms rode the storm out at home and was amazed at the influx of help afterward. “We had help from people all over,” Whyms told Curry. “I’ve never seen so many people get together.”

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


Cathedrals vie for chance to exhibit International Space Station’s Soyuz capsule

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 11:32am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Two English cathedrals have been shortlisted as contenders to host an out-of-this-world exhibition of a Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft. The spacecraft was used in December 2015 to transport an international crew of astronauts from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to their six-month expedition on board the International Space Station: Russian Yuri Malenchenko, American Timothy Kopra and Briton Tim Peake. Peterborough and Worcester cathedrals will find out in March whether the rocket will go to them, or to the other contenders: Millennium Point in Birmingham, The Forum in Norwich, or TR2 in Plymouth.

Read the entire article here.

‘Green-ing my habitat’ – young Angolan Anglicans commit to renewing the Earth

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 11:29am

[Anglican Communion News Service] More than 100 young people from the Diocese of Angola have met to discuss ways of connecting spirituality with practical life issues such as marriage, entrepreneurship and the environment. The discussions took place at the third national conference for young Anglicans at Cuanza Norte from Jan. 10 to Jan. 14. Angola is greatly impacted by climate change and deforestation, as well as very high levels of littering, and sessions on the environment were taken up “with great enthusiasm.”

Read the entire article here.

Lambeth Palace event to showcase Anglican primates’ views on the environment

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 11:27am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Lambeth Palace, the official London residence and offices of the Archbishop of Canterbury, is to stage an event showcasing Anglican primates’ views on the care of creation. Archbishops, presiding bishops and moderators from Australia to Zambia, representing the 39 provinces of the Anglican Communion, are being asked to make a written submission, illustrated by photographs, paintings or videos, for the event which will take place during the Season of Creation (Sept.1-Oct.4). The primates’ views will be displayed at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco on Sept. 12, for the launch of the Global Climate Action Summit; and displayed online in the run-up to the 2020 Lambeth Conference.

Read the entire article here.

The Rev. Fred Brown: a study in prayer, faith, courage and strength

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 1:08pm

The Rev. Fred Brown says he was once mad at God, but now has made his peace.

[Episcopal Diocese of West Texas] In April 1963, nearing the end of a 10-day leave from his U.S. Navy SEAL team unit stationed in the Mediterranean Sea, Lt. Fred Brown swung into Rotterdam to buy a diamond engagement ring to slip on his fiancée’s finger when he returned to the states in a few weeks.

He didn’t get a ring but he did find a reconditioned World War II Harley-Davidson he had to have. “I should have bought a ring instead,” he said.

Setting out for Barcelona to meet his ship, he “made it only to the Belgium border with France. That’s where I hit the fog bank. I couldn’t see and was trying to get off the road. Well, a guy in a car couldn’t see me either.”

The car T-boned him, sending the motorcycle and Brown into a fiery explosion. A bystander pulled Brown from the wreckage, wrapped him in his overcoat and extinguished the flames.

Three days later, Brown regained semi-consciousness in a Belgium hospital, suffering from near blindness and third-degree burns covering half his body. “That was pretty much a death sentence in those days,” he said.

Now vicar of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Blanco, Texas, Brown’s story of recovery is a story of the power of prayer, faith, personal courage and the physical strength required for his rehabilitation.

Brown remained in and out of a coma for six weeks and lost 60 pounds, going from a fit Navy SEAL weight of 155 pounds to a bag of bones weight of 95 pounds. His injuries were so severe that the doctors planned to transfer him to the burn unit at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. His flight made it only to the East Coast.

“They thought I’d die before I got to Fort Sam,” he said. “They stopped the plane and put me in the hospital at St. Albans.”

As he drifted in out and out of consciousness, “I’d reflect on the liturgy, bits and pieces of it. The liturgy was a source of strength for me.”

For spiritual strength, he especially relied on the 23rd Psalm. “That was something I recited quite a bit, ‘the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.’ It was funny how those things came out of my subconscious mind.”

Meanwhile, in Houston, his mother enlisted her interdenominational prayer group of some 200 women. They were also part of a larger chain, which multiplied the numbers praying for Brown’s recovery. “They were real prayer warriors,” he said. “I could feel their power. I think it had a very large influence in my ability to withstand six weeks of 105 degree temperature and finally come out of it.”

His mother even sat beside him for hours in the hospital. At one point, she asked if he would like her to read from a novel. He shook his head and pointed to the Bible. There he found inspiration from Biblical characters who overcame their own hardships, such as David facing Goliath and Samson asking for a last ounce of strength.

Fighting the infection which ravaged his body also called upon the physical strength and mental toughness Brown had developed as a track and swimming athlete at the University of the South and his grueling training as a Navy SEAL.

What about his bride-to-be?

Sue Parker lived in Roanoke, Virginia, and frequently visited him in the hospital over the weekend. When they decided to proceed with a wedding, a hospital chaplain approached Brown.

“Has she seen you?” the chaplain asked, referring to his burn injuries.

“’Well, yeah,’ I said. ‘She’s been visiting me in the hospital. When she first saw me, I looked worse than this.’”

They were married almost a year to the day of his accident. “I had to check out of the hospital to go to Roanoke for the wedding,” he said.

He was discharged from the hospital a year later and retired from the Navy.

Although he considered entering the ministry, “I was still pretty beat up” and figured it would be easier “to go to law school and ease myself into law practice with my dad. I just didn’t feel ready to take on a church. I was still in recovery.”

So the son of a Houston attorney entered law school though “the doctors had warned me not to do because of the head injury and operations I’d had. They said it would take about five years to get recovered enough to go to any kind of graduate school.”

But his “grades kept drifting to the level of probation. I ended up finally at St. Mary’s University law school in San Antonio in 1968” but started using a tape recorder to capture lectures. Severe injuries to his hand made it hard for him to take notes and seared tear ducts continually blocked his eyes and impaired his reading.

With the technical aid, however, “I finally started making good grades. I figured it out that it was exactly five years after my accident. Those doctors were right. It was five years before I could finally handle that load of work.”

In 1989, after practicing law with his father for 25 years, he entered a seminary program in Houston and soon found himself in a Harris County jail facility.

A friend suggested that he volunteer to lead chapel services there to learn how to relate to “people who are really down and out.” At first, he had lay members helping with the service but they quickly dropped out. “They didn’t like being crowded in there with that many criminals,” he said.

He ended up going by himself every week for six years. “Every Sunday when I’d go out there I’d sit in my car and spend a few minutes praying to get up the courage to go in. There were at least four doors that clanged shut behind you as you made your way to the chapel. That was always unnerving.”

The guards told him he was wasting his time trying to help the prisoners, but Brown got several into Episcopal rehabilitation programs and jobs after they had served their sentence.

The Browns joined St. John the Divine Church in Houston where he served 15 years as a mentor or leader of the Education for Ministry program offered by the University of the South. The EFM is a four-year distance learning certificate program in theological education based upon small group study and practice to help individuals discern their call to Christian service.

“The purpose of Education for Ministry was reflection and how do you relate your life to the lives you’re reading about in the Bible,” he said. “The first time I really got into looking at my accident and reflecting seriously on it was in Education for Ministry,” he said.

“I had made some reflective witnessing at church before that, but it was pretty limited. It was hard to talk about it. It was upsetting. But after reflecting on it theologically, I would talk about it at length and see the benefits of being able to reflect on it. “

The first exercise of the EFM program is “a reflection on your biography, on your past and what got you to this point. For some people they could not talk about it without bursting out in tears. So, I’d tell my story first in the goriest details possible.”

“I could really relate to guys from Vietnam or that I met in the hospital that had what we now call PTSD, what they called then shell shock. I could relate to that. How you deal with serious trauma is how the rest of your life is going to pan out,” he said.

“If you’ve got a strong person like Sue to help you deal with it you are very fortunate,” he said. “A lot of people don’t have that. I had a lot of strong family ties. That’s helpful, the ones who will listen to you anyway. You survive better with a group after a serious trauma. That’s what I was trying to impress on them in Education for Ministry.”

His sermons today are filled with vignettes of his own life and trauma and his own relationship to the struggles of Biblical characters, an obvious influence of his years in the Education for Ministry experience.

One Sunday morning, reflecting on Peter asking Jesus how many times should a sinner be forgiven, Brown declared “I was mad at God” following his accident. “But even more, I was mad at myself. I implored God for healing, but it wasn’t happening. I was getting weaker. Finally, I turned my anger at myself over to God. Suddenly, I was free to be healed, free to receive the forgiveness that I had been blocking out.”

After finishing seminary, he did extra year of graduate theological work at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California where he focused on Anglican studies. He was ordained as a deacon in 1996 and ordained as a priest in January 1997 at age 58. “I was a late bloomer,” he said.

Brown has served Episcopal churches in East Texas, three years in Northern California near relatives, served as assistant minister at St. Helena’s in Boerne and served as an interim at St. Elizabeth’s in Buda, Grace Episcopal in Llano, St. Christopher’s in Bandera, St. Andrew’s in Seguin, St. Margaret’s in San Antonio and a “few weeks in Corpus Christi.”

“He’s a remarkable man, a remarkable priest,” said the Rt. Rev. David Reed, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas. “He’s a kind and gentle person. His pastoral abilities run deep. It could be his own injuries and suffering that have given him that kind of heart” to be such a compassionate person.

Brown, 79, lives in Boerne, Texas. His wife, who stood by him throughout his recovery, died in October 2014. They had four children.

And once almost given up as dead, he has since run 11 marathons.

— Mike Patterson is a freelance writer, a frequent contributor to the Church News and member of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Blanco.

South African diocese rolls out program to get people talking about racial divide

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 12:41pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Diocese of Port Elizabeth is embarking on a programme to help people to tell their story in a bid to ease racial tensions in South Africa. The initiative has been dubbed a “story-telling” revolution, and follows a speech at the diocesan synod meeting last November by Trevor Jennings, of the Transformation Christian Network. “I believe the reason we’re in the state we’re in is simple: we’re not talking to each other,” he said. “We are becoming more and more polarised as we struggle to find solutions to the challenges we face.”

Read the entire article here.

Six decades after it closed, a Bristol church will re-open as youth mission resource center

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 12:39pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] A church in the center of the west of England port city of Bristol is to re-open 65 years after it was closed. Once it re-opens in the Autumn, St Nicholas’ Church will focus on engaging with young people who don’t currently go to church, and will act as what the diocese is calling a “Resourcing Church,” serving the wider city and assisting future church plants. It will be led by the Rev. Toby Flint, currently the lead pastor at London’s Holy Trinity Brompton, home of the Alpha Course and a significant participant in church plants.

Read the entire article here.

Canon Angela Shepherd called to Atlanta

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 9:53am

[Episcopal Diocese of Maryland] The Rev. Angela F. Shepherd, canon for mission in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, will be the new rector of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Atlanta.

“We at St. Bartholomew’s, Atlanta are joyful and beyond delighted to welcome Canon Shepherd as our seventh rector,” said Juliana Lancaster, senior warden. “We are looking forward to a rewarding and exciting future, building on our shared commitment to worship and action.”

“My season in Maryland has come to an end. Forever in my heart will be a special place for the people of St. Philip’s, Annapolis, who called me to be their Rector at the turn of the century. From then until now, working with others to bring God’s peace, hope, and love to the world has been a priority,” Shepherd said. Since 2010 she’s been canon for mission on the bishop’s staff and prior to that, rector at St. Philip’s for 11 years.

“Angela’s work has been outstanding in our Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Trail of Souls, and coordinating our unique Sutton Scholars program with Morgan State University,” said the Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, bishop of Maryland. “I will miss her commitment and passionate work toward reconciliation of all God’s people.”

Shepherd has served on many commissions, committees and boards of ministries in the Diocese of Maryland, including diocesan chaplain to the Daughters of the King. In the wider Episcopal Church she’s a member of the Executive Council Committee on Racism and the Disciplinary Board for Bishops. Since 2013 she has been a trustee of the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

“I look forward to moving further south where sweet tea isn’t hard to find,” Shepherd said. “More importantly, my longstanding commitment to social justice, pastoral care, Christian formation, environmental concerns, and stewardship will be brought to the forefront once again. The sheer anticipation of what God has in mind for me and St. Bartholomew’s brings great joy.”

Shepherd is a graduate of the former Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL receiving a master of divinity degree in 1996. She earned a doctor of ministry degree from McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago 2014. In 2016 she received an Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising from Indiana University, Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

Shepherd begins her new ministry March 1.

Episcopal church converted to emergency response hub after deadly California mudslides

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 6:37pm


A California National Guard humvee is parked outside All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Montecito, California, where the church was being used this week as a triage center for paramedics and as an evacuation site by the National Guard. Photo: All Saints

[Episcopal News Service] Sunday worship services at All Saints-by-the Sea Episcopal Church proceeded as scheduled on Jan. 7, as a storm loomed in the forecast.

Since then, deadly mudslides and flooding have turned life upside-down in Montecito, California. At least 17 people are dead, and this tight-knit ocean-side community next to Santa Barbara is under a mandatory evacuation order as emergency crews search for survivors and victims, restore utilities and beginning cleaning up the mud and debris that damaged and destroyed homes in their path.

All Saints was spared the worst of the damage but has no power or phone service, and the natural gas was shut off to allow repair crews to begin their work, said Sheri Benninghoven, a parishioner who has led communication efforts for the congregation. The parish’s school is closed, and worship services are canceled until further notice.

The work of the Lord continued this week, however, as the church grounds became a triage center for people injured in the disaster, and Benninghoven said church leaders estimated hundreds of people descended on the church during the heart of the emergency – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – seeking medical help and, eventually, evacuation assistance from the California National Guard, which staged operations from All Saints.

“I think we’re all somewhat in shock. I think a lot of people are doing things based on adrenaline,” Benninghoven told Episcopal News Service by phone.  “This is stunning and remarkable for everybody. This community has been hit really, really hard, and we will always think back to this week and no one will ever be the same.”

Authorities issued the first of the evacuation orders for parts of Montecito on Jan. 7 anticipating the rains that posed a thread of mudslides from the water cascading down the mountainside on the northern edge of this unincorporated community of about 9,000 people. The threat of devastation was heightened this winter because of the damage done by the Thomas Fire, which last year grew to become the largest wildfire in California’s history.

The fire stopped short of Montecito, but with the ground cover in the higher elevations cleared and charred by the blaze, conditions were ripe for disaster when rain started falling Jan. 8 and early Jan. 9.

Before sunrise Jan. 9, authorities started receiving 911 calls from Montecito residents trapped in their homes by the mud flows, Benninghoven said, and since All Saints’ neighborhood was on the south side of Highway 101 and out of the path of the flows, it became a gathering place for first responders and victims.

“Those rescuers couldn’t get those victims outside the area, so they brought them down to All Saints,” she said.

First responders gather at All Saints-by-the-Sea, which served as a temporary triage center for residents of Montecito, California, who were injured in the mudslides. Photo: All Saints

The Rev. Aimee Eyer-Delevett, the rector, lives on the grounds with her wife, and they began early Jan. 9 assisting evacuees. They opened the parish hall as a place for residents to rest and clean themselves up. The church had some food in a fridge, and they boiled water for coffee.

The injured were taken to the nave of the church to be attended to by paramedics. Helicopters were able to land on church grounds and take those who were severely injured to a hospital in Santa Barbara.

Because people living near the church were isolated and could not get to safe places, the church became “a safe place and a rallying place” for those people, said the Rev. Michael Bamberger, a member of Episcopal Relief & Development’s Partners in Response team and the disaster coordinator for the Diocese of Los Angeles.

A doctor happens to live in a rental house on the church campus, and she was called in to help treat people.

“God puts people in the places that they’re supposed to be,” Benninghoven said.

#CAstorm– Aerial photos taken aboard Santa Barbara County Air Support Unit’s Fire Copter 308 showing mudflow and damage in Montecito. Photos by Matt Udkow/Santa Barbara County FD. pic.twitter.com/XfQo0NMD4o

— SBCFireInfo (@EliasonMike) January 11, 2018

Because the neighborhood was now surrounded by mud and Highway 101 was impassable, people could not get in or out, but church leaders conducted regular conference calls to coordinate efforts and communications. Benninghoven, safe at her home in Santa Barbara, took the lead in posting information and updates for the congregation on its website and Facebook page and through regular emails to parishioners.

She and other church leaders also reached out to residents in the neighborhood, asking them to help any way they could, and dozens of them showed up at the church with food, blankets and clothes.

“You just want to cry,” Benninghoven said. “It was really just remarkable. It touches your heart. … They were serving as God’s hands and feet. It’s what we learn about on Sundays, and they just knew it was what their job was on this particular day.”

The National Guard arrived late Wednesday to facilitate a new mandatory evacuation for the whole community, Benninghoven said.

Residents of Montecito, California, prepare to climb into a military vehicle as part of evacuations after mudslides devastated the community next to Santa Barbara. Photo: All Saints

Residents at All Saints loaded onto military transport vehicles and were taken about four miles northwest to a shopping center in Santa Barbara, from which they could then proceed to a Red Cross shelter at Santa Barbara City College or find their own temporary accommodations.

Eyer-Delevett and her wife left to stay at a home in Santa Barbara, and other church leaders also have followed the order to evacuation. They left the parish hall open for some neighbors who chose not to flee, but otherwise, church operations have shut down since the National Guard wrapped up its evacuations from All Saints late Jan. 11.

The evacuation order is expected to be in effect for one or two weeks, but the church is hoping to reopen sooner, once Highway 101 is cleared.

The congregation remains active from a distance. Parishioners are invited to attend Sunday services on Jan. 14 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara if they are on that side of Montecito. Any parishioners who are on the opposite side of Montecito are invited to a home church service hosted by All Saints’ associate rector, the Rev. Victoria Kirk Mouradian.

Church leaders also are looking ahead to providing pastoral care for victims of the mudslides, many of whom lost their homes. Of the 17 fatalities, none has been identified as an All Saints parishioner, though it was not yet possible to determine if parishioners are among the five unidentified people who authorities said were still missing as of Jan. 12.

Benninghoven said the congregation, with about 1,000 members, has been assembling lists with the location of as many as they can. The congregation is “cautiously optimist” that all will be confirmed alive, she said, but parishioners are still profoundly affected by the tragedy of so many dead neighbors. “That is hitting everybody very, very hard.”

Bamberger said the diocese, with the help of Episcopal Relief & Development, is supporting relief efforts in the area. And they are looking towards what will be a long recovery time. In late February, clergy and lay leaders in the fire- and flood-affected areas will meet for a day of “spiritual debriefing,” Bamberger said.

Diocese of Los Angeles Bishop Suffragan Diane Jardine Bruce, Episcopal Relief & Development Preparedness Training Coordinator Lura Steele and the Rev. Russ Oechsel, Diocese of Texas archdeacon and a member of Episcopal Relief & Development’s Partners is Response team, will help with the day. Participants will also discuss pastoral care during long-term recovery.

#CAstorm– Firefighters perform secondary searches Friday on homes damaged and destroyed by deadly rain and mudflow early Tuesday in Montecito. pic.twitter.com/Ka8VFnDlNA

— SBCFireInfo (@EliasonMike) January 12, 2018

Montecito is a wealthy community. The average annual income in 2016 was $138,872, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and it is home to such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres and actor Jeff Bridges. However, the Rev. Melissa McCarthy, Los Angeles canon to the ordinary, told Episcopal News Service via telephone early on Jan. 12 that disasters such as this touch everyone.

Some people have more resources, including insurance, but “nothing can spare them form the emotional trauma of this.”

Mud covers the yard and cakes the side of a home in Montecito, California, after rains sent rivers of dirt and debris down the mountain-side and into the community on Jan. 9. Photo: All Saints

And, Montecito has workers in its restaurants and residents’ homes who “when their town shuts down, they are the people who suffer.”

McCarthy said the diocese especially wants to help the most-vulnerable people in the aftermath of the floods. They include homeless people, the working poor (including some clergy members, she said) who live paycheck to paycheck, and “anybody who is afraid to go ask for resources and help, particularly undocumented people.”

Bamberger said the diocese is continuing to use an assets-based community development approach for discerning a congregation’s potential ministries to meet the needs of their surrounding communities, including after disasters. They ask, “where is the church already being the church, doing the work of the church, and how can we help them be even more effective?”

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service. David Paulsen is an editor and reporter and can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

Bishop of California response to President’s remarks on Haiti, other nations

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 4:55pm

[Episcopal Diocese of California] The Diocese of California has developed, since the Haiti earthquake of 2010, a close relationship with the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti. The Diocese of Haiti is a full and equal member of the Episcopal Church, every bit as much a member of this religious family as California and every bit as much a member of our hemisphere as the United States. I personally have made six trips to Haiti to come to know, understand and work together with Haitians for their own rebuilding after the earthquake.

Haiti, I have come to learn, is an admirable nation, a great people. The most lucrative slave colony in the Caribbean – so profitable because of the intense brutality used on first the Native Americans and then the African slaves brought in chains to work there – Haiti threw off its European overlords, the first successful slave rebellion since the classical Roman period. From that remarkable beginning in a crucible of revolution, Haiti has sought a path forward that inspired an African American priest to move to Haiti and become the first African American bishop in the Episcopal Church.

I speak personally about Haiti today in light of President Trump’s unacceptable remarks about Haiti, but of course he did not confine his comments to Haiti alone, but slurred and insulted several other countries by name and many others by implication. Since I have been bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California, I have been holding up the resonant goal of the Beloved Community, invoked by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who wrote:

Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and destroys. The aftermath of the ‘fight with fire’ method which you suggest is bitterness and chaos, the aftermath of the love method is reconciliation and creation of the beloved community. (1957)

The Beloved Community is the community of the whole, all of God’s people, all of life. The Beloved Community is our ideal and in the Beloved Community all find welcome in the arms of our Savior. In the shadow our President’s remarks have cast, I call on all people of faith and good will to shine the light of the Beloved Community.

Savior Christ, you pervade the whole world, your Father God contains the universe, the Holy Spirit holds all together with the power of love. Help us, we pray to live always in the light of this love and your presence, that the Beloved Community may be come to be for all of life. Give us the courage to stand against all that divides, degrades and dominates any and all of your children.

+Marc Andrus