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Blue Christmas services offer comfort on longest night

Tue, 12/19/2017 - 1:32pm

[Anglican Journal] For those experiencing grief, loss or hardship, the Christmas season is far from the most wonderful time of the year. Typical holiday festivities—merry carol singing, decorating, gathering with family and purchasing gifts—emphasize joy and cheer, leaving little room for pain and grief.

In response, some churches offer special services leading up to Christmas that accommodate those for whom the season is trying and difficult.

These services, called Blue Christmas or Longest Night services, emphasize the pain of loss felt by many at this time of year, and offer a somber, gentle space to gather. Symbolically, many of these services are held on or around December 21, the date of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year.

St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Jarvis, Ontario, has been holding Blue Christmas services for the past decade. “This is designed specifically for people for whom Christmas is not a happy time,” says Canon Richard Moorse, who began the services 10 years ago after adapting the idea from a United Church minister he had worked with. The service, he says, is meant as a way to acknowledge the birth of Christ without the joyful, celebratory trappings of a typical Christmas service, which can be painful for those coping with loss.

“The constant refrains on radio and television, in shopping malls and churches, about the happiness of the season, about getting together with family and friends, reminds many people of what they have lost. The anguish of the death of a loved one can make us feel alone in the midst of the celebrating and joy,” the liturgy for St. Paul’s service reads. “We need the space and time to acknowledge our sadness; we need to know that we are not alone. We need encouragement to live the days ahead of us.”

St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Ponoka, Alberta, began holding a Blue Christmas service about 15 years ago in collaboration with the local United Church, says the Rev. Donna Willer, who has been with the church since 2013. Willer has continued the tradition, and sees the service as an important expression of grief. “The service is very important, as it gives them [attendees] permission to grieve openly, offers hope and comfort—consolation that they are not alone in their grief—and that others care, most especially Christ.”

Maxine Jonson, a parishioner at St. Mary’s, had never attended the Blue Christmas service, as it fell on her wedding anniversary, December 21. Last year, her husband passed away after a two-decade battle with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She attended the service for the first time that year, and is looking forward to attending again. “Our secular world is so busy and noisy all year round,” she wrote in an email. She praised the quiet, reflective nature of the service: “The service is simple and focused on our Lord…We light candles and focus on our personal needs in an atmosphere of quiet contemplation.” This quietness “restores our hearts and enables us to carry on.”

Another parishioner, George Crowhurst, will be attending the service this year and lighting a candle for his wife. A volunteer with Victim Services for many years, he has encouraged individuals to attend the service, which he says offers a “quiet time for meditation [and] reflection.”

The service is open to anyone, and often non-church-goers and even those who practice other religions attend.

At St. Paul’s, the service is meant to be ecumenical in nature and open to any worshipper who needs it, regardless of denomination. “We don’t get that many people out,” says Moorse, noting that it is typical to have only around a half-dozen attendees. But, he says, the numbers don’t matter. “I just do it because I think it’s important.”

While attendees are often coping with the loss of a loved one, Moorse says, there are many types of grief that are expressed in these services. “It could be the loss of a child, it could be the loss of a marriage…any sort of substantial loss. Any loss like that creates a hole in our life.”

The service at St. Paul’s includes a candle lighting ceremony done in memory of those who have been lost, which in turn symbolizes resilience and hope. Congregants are invited during the service to come forward, light a candle and place it in a bowl of water. While the bowl symbolizes feelings of loss and pain, the liturgy states that the candles act as a reminder that loved ones’ “presence is still with us…A symbol of what they meant to us, how they loved us, and formed us, and can never be taken away.”

“Grieving with others is so valuable because one will be offered empathy, comfort, prayer, Scripture and temporary or long-term relationship,” Willer wrote, in an email. “The Church of Christ is relational.” While Willer believes it is important to face pain and sadness, “and not tuck it away on a shelf, hoping someday it will go away,” she believes that Christ offers hope.

“Christ suffered for us once on the cross, [and] he suffers with us in our sorrow.” She cites Matthew 11:28 as an important Scripture to this service: “Come to me, all who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

“In all this darkness, there’s light at the end of the tunnel—and it’s not another train coming. There’s the light of comfort that’s coming down,” says Moorse. “I think more than anything else, that’s the heart of it.”

Moorse likens the pain of losing someone to a physical scar, saying, “It never really goes away.” But in a season dense with emotion, a recognition of that pain brings some hope and comfort to those who mourn.

Read more about it

Many Episcopal Church congregations host Blue Christmas or Longest Night services. Episcopal News Service wrote about the trend in 2007 and again in 2010.


Anglican Communion secretary general discusses Indonesian religious liberty

Tue, 12/19/2017 - 1:25pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The secretary general of the Anglican Communion, Josiah Idowu-Fearon, has raised the issue of religious freedom during discussions with officials from the Indonesian government. Idowu-Fearon met professor Din Syamsuddin, the special envoy for Interfaith & Inter-civilization Dialogue & Cooperation for Indonesian President Joko Widodo, and diplomats from Indonesia’s London embassy, for talks at Lambeth Palace this week. They discussed a range of topics, from freedoms for Christians in Indonesia, to the nature of the Anglican Communion.

Read the entire article here.

Anglican Women in Malawi receive training to tackle gender-based violence

Tue, 12/19/2017 - 1:22pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Women in Malawi have been urged to open up and discuss issues that relate to gender-based violence (GBV), regardless of the environment they are in. The call was made by the Guilds’ Coordinator in the Anglican Diocese of Upper Shire, Yasinta Mtambo, during the closure of a four-day training workshop for women in leadership positions in the diocese, which was held in Liwonde, Machinga, Dec. 11-14.

Read the entire article here.

RIP: Raymond Glover, Hymnal 1982 editor

Tue, 12/19/2017 - 1:21pm

Raymond Glover conducts a class in 1999 at Virginia Theological Seminary. Photo: Glover Family

Church musician Raymond Glover, 89, who influenced millions of Episcopalians by being the general editor of The Hymnal 1982, died Dec. 15 in Alexandria, Virginia.

Glover was born in Buffalo, New York, and began his musical life as a young chorister at St. Paul’s Cathedral there. Later, he sang in the choir at St. Mary Magdalen, when he was an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, studying composition with Healy Willan, who became his mentor and friend. His next move was to Union Theological Seminary to earn a Masters of Sacred Music. He returned to Buffalo as cathedral organist and choirmaster and met Joyce MacDonald (1923-2013), who was director of Christian education. They were married on Easter Monday 1957 and remained partners in so many ways throughout their life together.

From Buffalo, they moved to the cathedral in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1962, where Glover built a vibrant music and arts program that reached deep into the urban community on the church’s doorstep and beyond into the surrounding suburbs. The highlights of those 11 years at Christ Church Cathedral included numerous organ recitals and flower shows, performances of Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors, Britten’s Noye’s Fludde and St. Nicholas, and a professional recording of the choir to assist the fundraising for their two-week tour of England in 1971.

The 1960s were a time of great change, and Glover played his role in musical response to liturgical reform as a member of what was then known as the Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission on Church Music. During this decade, he taught at Berkeley Divinity School and found time while on the Yale campus to study organ with the university’s organist, Charles Krigbaum. Then in 1966, Glover joined Jim Litton and Gerre Hancock to found the Association of Anglican Musicians (AAM) and served as president from 1969-70.

Jack Spong, who was then rector of St. Paul’s in Richmond, Virginia, and later became bishop of the Diocese of Newark, called Glover to become director of music. During his time there, Glover oversaw the building of new choirs, music and arts programs and a new organ. He continued to travel extensively as chair of the church music commission’s hymnal committee, preparing the way for the new hymnal, which he was appointed to edit in 1980.

The Hymnal 1982 was dedicated at Washington National Cathedral in 1985, and Glover went on to edit a four-volume companion. In 1986, he was granted an honorary doctorate from Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS), where he later joined the faculty as professor of music and organist (1991-2000). With Marilyn Keiser and Carol Doran he was instrumental in the development of the Program for Musicians Serving in Small Congregations. Following his retirement, Glover continued to teach and develop new courses in collaboration with VTS colleagues.

In addition to his decades of service to the Episcopal Church, he also taught music and conducted choirs for independent schools in each of the cities where he was organist and choirmaster – Nichols in Buffalo, Kingswood-Oxford in Hartford and St. Catherine’s in Richmond.

Glover will be buried at Virginia Theological Seminary, following a funeral in the seminary chapel at 10:30 a.m.on Dec. 28. Donations will be gratefully received by VTS and AAM. He is survived by his daughters, Margaret and Katie, and grandchildren Sarah and Simon Lasseron and Rachel and Susannah Mahon.

Christmas Message from Jerusalem Archbishop Suheil Dawani

Tue, 12/19/2017 - 1:19pm

[The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East] My dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

In this period of Advent, we wait expectantly for the joy and peace that we celebrate with the coming of Christ. We wait in the knowledge that God as Emmanuel is already alongside us, within us, and encircling us, as we journey together on our pilgrimage through life. Sadly, we, as one human race, encounter suffering on a daily basis; suffering manifesting itself in deplorable acts of hatred within communities, between nations, and between neighbours; and suffering that we experience through loss and pain as human beings in a broken world.

It is this pain that calls us as Christians to prayer, and to fall to our knees before the infant Christ. We cry out for change in our world, for nations to act towards other nations as friends; for neighbours to reach out to neighbors as sisters and brothers; and for a whole community that cares, respects and responds to the needs of the other, particularly to the needs of the vulnerable and the marginalized. We are reminded that in Christ’s commandment that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our mind, all our strength and all our soul, and that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, that the change we pray for in our communities must start with a change from within ourselves. We know that we must always seek, however hard it may be, to become people who love our neighbours more deeply, revering them as an embodiment of Jesus Christ.

As I write to you from Jerusalem, I am more aware that again we are in a time of uncertainty, conflict and fear across the Middle East. Families and individuals this Christmas will again be concerned and worried about the future; yearning for signs of light and hope. As conflict continues in Syria and Yemen; as acts of terror are perpetrated in Egypt and Iraq; as millions flee their homes, as people suffer the world over, we are called back to that simple faith revealed in the mystery of the Christmas story.

Into this broken world we believe was born Hope and Love, revealed to us not in a grand palace surrounded by the trappings of power and prestige, but revealed to us in a lowly manger, surrounded by people of simplicity – shepherds – with Mary as his mother, a woman of immeasurable courage and strength. The incarnate one – Christ – came to us, to give us faith that God is with us whatever we face, that God will comfort and heal us and lead us into new pastures.

I am always confident and inspired by what we as Christians have the capacity to do. Those who travel to our Province that they learn so much through our witness, and through our mission, how to live faithful Christian lives. We may be small in number but Christ’s love in our hearts gives us a tenacity in our ministry to transform the lives of those we come into contact with and support, whether that be in our congregations, schools, hospitals and other institutions, or in our ministry to those outcasts of society. I want to thank all of you who are involved in building God’s Kingdom on earth, reconciling communities and being the salt and light in this world. I want to encourage you in the task at hand, and pray God’s Holy Spirit comforts and strengthens you in all you do.

Let us be inspired by the shepherds, who, casting off fear, rushed to see Jesus, and returned praising and glorifying God. Let us worship God, and through him, be his hands and feet in this world. I wish you all a very blessed advent, happy Christmas and peaceful New Year.

Grace and Peace.

The Most Rev. Suheil S Dawani
Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem
President-Bishop (Primate) of the Episcopal Church in Jerualem & The Middle East

New African National Congress leaders will receive support – if they establish ethical and moral leadership

Tue, 12/19/2017 - 12:56pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, has said that faith leaders in the country will support the new leadership of the African National Congress (ANC), but only if they work together to re-establish values-based, ethical and moral leadership. Speaking on behalf of the National Church Leaders’ Forum, he said that he was looking forward to “critical engagement” with South Africa’s deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, who was elected ANC leader at a party conference Dec. 18. The conference saw new people appointed to a number of senior ANC leadership positions. “The country is looking to them to work for the common good, to promote equality of opportunity and to uphold the highest ethical standards,” Thabo said.

Read the entire article here.

El Cuerpo de Servicio de Jóvenes Adultos de la Iglesia Episcopal: acepta solicitudes para plazas para el periodo 2018-2019 

Mon, 12/18/2017 - 3:46pm

Los jóvenes adultos (entre 21 y 30 años de edad) tienen la oportunidad de transformar sus propias vidas realizando trabajo de misión y ministerio en la Comunión Anglicana al unirse al Cuerpo de Servicio de Jóvenes Adultos. El periodo de solicitud para las asignaciones para el ciclo 2018-2019 está abierto para el Cuerpo de Servicio de Jóvenes Adultos, comúnmente conocido como YASC (por su sigla en inglés).

En la actualidad, miembros del Cuerpo de Servicio de Jóvenes Adultos, en conjunto con socios, prestan servicios a lo largo de la Comunión Anglicana en las áreas de administración, agricultura, comunicaciones, desarrollo y educación en Brasil, Costa Rica, Inglaterra, Nueva Zelanda, Filipinas, África del Sur y Tanzania.

Entre los posibles lugares de asignación para el periodo 2018-2019 se encuentran (entre otros) Brasil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Inglaterra, Honduras, Hong Kong, Italia, Japón, Jerusalén, México, Panamá, Filipinas, África del Sur, Taiwán y Tanzania.

“El Cuerpo de Servicio de Jóvenes Adultos ofrece a los jóvenes adultos la oportunidad de vivir su fe de distintas maneras y en diferentes contextos”, comentó Elizabeth Boe, funcionaria de la oficina de Personal de Misión de la Iglesia Episcopal. “Ellos se comprometen por un año a aprender, a trabajar, a vivir y a orar con otros episcopales y comunidades anglicanas alrededor del mundo”.

Las solicitudes para las asignaciones durante el periodo 2018-2019, además de información adicional e instrucciones está disponible aquí. La fecha límite para solicitar es el viernes, 12 de enero de 2018. 

El Rdo. David Copley, Director de Alianzas Globales y Personal de Misión señalo “El Cuerpo de Servicio de Jóvenes Adultos construye sobre una base de fe, conocimiento, educación y experiencia que los jóvenes adultos traen consigo cuando sirven y que constituye un desafío a ser transformados al estar plenamente presentes en otra parte de este mundo de Dios. El servicio de misiones es primero que nada y principalmente un acto de fe y un modo de “hacer Iglesia”.

Para más información comuníquese con Boe en eboe@episcopalchurch.org.

Un blog del Cuerpo de Servicio de Jóvenes Adultos está disponible aquí.

Videos e información adicional sobre el Cuerpo de Servicio de Jóvenes Adultos están disponibles aquí.

With Christmas Eve on a Sunday, churches faced unavoidable ‘conundrum’ in scheduling Advent

Mon, 12/18/2017 - 1:45pm

Members of All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills California light the Advent wreath during a Dec. 3 service. Photo: Colleen Dodson-Baker/All Saints

[Episcopal News Service] What to do about Dec. 24?

It’s a liturgical debate that has been brewing in congregations and clerical forums all season, based on a church calendar that this year has Christmas Eve landing on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Every parish in the Episcopal Church must answer the question, as a matter of scheduling, and there are strong views on both sides.

“It’s the Episcopal Church. Everything we do leads to debate,” said the Rev. Keith Voets, a New York City priest who helps moderate a Facebook discussion group on Episcopal liturgy.

The conundrum for parish leaders goes something like this: If they load up on Christmas Eve services while maintaining their full Sunday morning schedule, they risk burning out their clergy and volunteers. But to reduce or eliminate the morning services could be seen as curtailing Advent.

The potential solutions churchwide are as plentiful as Advent candles, though the scenarios playing out at Episcopal churches across the country generally fall into a few categories. Episcopal News Service surveyed more than a dozen congregations by phone and email and found that church leaders were basing their scheduling decisions on tradition, local needs and, in some cases, a bit of experimentation.

For large congregations like All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, California, the plan is to offer something like a marathon of services.

“If you’re preaching one service, you might as well preach two,” the Rev. Nat Katz, associate rector at All Saints, said.

All Saints won’t stop at two services. In addition to worshiping at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the congregation is expecting big turnout at its four Christmas Eve services, at 11:30 a.m., and 4, 8 and 11 p.m.

Average Sunday attendance at All Saints is around 300, but Katz predicted an overflow crowd of about 800 at its 4 p.m. family service. It helps to have three priests sharing the burden, though Katz, who is in charge of scheduling volunteers, said he still was working to line up acolytes and Eucharistic ministers for the church’s seven services, including one Christmas Day service.

“When we sat around a table and talked about our community, we thought … there are enough folks in our community that would want to observe both Advent IV and Christmas Eve,” he said. “On a spiritual and liturgical sense for us, it is absolutely and fundamentally important that the Advent journey be completed to come and observe the Feast of the Nativity.”

At the other end of the spectrum are small parishes like Church of the Messiah in Chester, New Jersey, which moved its Advent calendar up by a week to avoid any overlap on Dec. 24.

“If the Advent police have a problem, I’ll respond to it, but the calendar is a challenge this year,” the Rev. Margaret Otterburn told ENS.

As rector at Church of the Messiah, Otterburn realized back in early October that with Christmas Eve falling on a Sunday, she might not get many people attending church that morning. The congregation’s 4 p.m. pageant service for Christmas Eve, on the other hand, is one of the biggest of the year, drawing about 130 people.

So, while the Fourth Sunday of Advent will be celebrated on Dec. 24 in most churches, it was celebrated on Dec. 17 at Church of the Messiah. Parishioners who want to attend a morning service Dec. 24 will have that option, but it will be a very simple Christmas Eve service.

“Advent is a very important time for us,” Otterburn said. “So, the reason for moving was for all of us to experience Advent.”

For the record, the Episcopal Church has no Advent Police, but it does have the Book of Common Prayer, which establishes a four-week Advent schedule, the same one followed by other Christian denominations.

“We don’t get to adjust the liturgical calendar for our own needs,” Voets said.

Voets, priest-in-charge at Church of St. Alban the Martyr in Queens, New York, has been a moderator for the past few years of the Facebook group Rubric: Dissecting the Episcopal Liturgy.  The group, with more than 1,000 members, many of them Episcopal clergy, discusses interpretations of the prayer book. Voets sees it as a resource, not a forum encouraging tense debate.

But discussion of Advent scheduling picked up in November, in reaction to the decision by some churches to move up Christ the King Sunday to make way for an earlier Advent, as Church of the Messiah did. One group member called the Dec. 24 question a “fabricated conundrum,” one easily solved – Eucharist in the morning, Eucharist in the evening.

Several members noted this is nothing new. Christmas Eve falls on Advent IV every six years or so, though by 2017 it hadn’t happened for 11 years because of how leap years affected the calendar.

Voets leads a mostly West Indian congregation with about 150 average attendance on Sunday. He describes it as “Anglo-Catholic,” and members are comfortable with the expectation that they attend an Advent service in the morning and the church’s one Christmas Eve service, at 11 p.m. The only change he made was to combine the two regular Sunday morning services into one.

“As a priest, I took a vow to conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church,” he said. “And the doctrine, discipline and worship allow for a four-week Advent.”

The Book of Common Prayer says “the Sundays of Advent are always the four Sundays before Christmas Day, whether it occurs on a Sunday or a weekday.” That would seem to not leave a lot of wiggle room, though Ruth Meyers, a liturgics professor, said churches still have some flexibility with Sunday scheduling.

“I think the question is what do you do with your Sunday morning schedule, and I think that’s very much dependent on the particular context, what the expectation is in your particular congregation,” said Meyers, who teaches at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California, and serves as dean of academic affairs.

The compact schedule could even serve to enhance the Advent experience, Meyers said. It is a season of preparation, and the final Sunday leads directly into the story of Jesus’ birth.

She also is intrigued by a movement to extend the season of Advent from four to seven weeks, as St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Knoxville, Tennessee, did this year.

Think Dec. 17 was the Third Sunday in Advent? At St. John’s, it was the Sixth Sunday of Advent.

Jason Overall, who helped develop the expanded Advent program as the cathedral’s director of music, said the aim was “reclaiming Advent” through a more meaningful observance of the season, bucking a popular culture that immerses itself in Christmas immediately after Thanksgiving.

He and other cathedral leaders had discussed expanding Advent for the past three years, and their justification invokes centuries of church history, when Advent’s length fluctuated, and sometimes varied from community to community. A four-week Advent hasn’t always been the norm.

“As Episcopalians, we feel like if something has been done twice, that’s how it’s always been done,” Overall said. “We were trying to free ourselves from that.”

He also acknowledged that the difficulty of scheduling services on Dec. 24 was at least one catalyst to experimenting with an earlier Advent this year at St. John’s. The cathedral will offer six services that day, all of them for Christmas Eve.

And Overall agreed with those who would call it “regrettable” that by expanding and moving Advent this year, St. John’s was going against the “common” in the Book of Common Prayer. That was a consideration, but he and other cathedral leaders felt that the positives of the plan outweighed the negatives. It was the right move for St. John’s, he said, and they aren’t trying to persuade other congregations to do the same.

Most of the other congregations who responded to ENS’ inquiries have made more modest changes to their schedules.

St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis, Maryland, and Trinity Parish in Bayonne, New Jersey, chose to move their Sunday morning services to Saturday, so Advent IV wouldn’t compete with Christmas Eve. Numerous churches are reducing but not eliminating their Sunday morning services, including St. John’s Episcopal Church in Saginaw, Michigan; St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church in Keller, Texas.

“We planned earlier than ever before because we saw all the conflicts and compression of the season, and made adjustments in scheduling activities,” said Susan Kleinwechter, communications director at St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

All Saints in Beverly Hills, despite its marathon of services, has reduced its normal three Sunday services to two, as has All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California.

Other churches are planning simple services for Sunday morning and saving their congregations’ collective energy for their Christmas Eve services. St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Georgia, opted for a said service Sunday morning and Christmas Day, while the Christmas Eve services will have full music. And St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is offering Morning Prayer for its Advent service at 9:30 a.m. followed by a family service at 4 p.m. and a festive Eucharist at 11 p.m.

“Every decision struck me as sort of having a downside,” said the Rev. Ian Burch, rector at St. Mark’s, but he didn’t want to mix up the schedule for the 90 to 120 people who normally attend on Sundays.

“I’m allergic to changing service times. … It’s sort of Kryptonite to church growth,” he said. “At the same time, I didn’t see a way that three Eucharists for a parish my size made a lot of sense.”

He and other church leaders began planning for Advent and Christmas back in early October. An expanded schedule isn’t just taxing on a congregation’s priests, he said. It also requires a lot from the volunteers, from the altar guild and flower guild to the musicians.

“It doesn’t just happen. There are no elves in the church. It’s not magic,” he said. The congregation also spends a lot of time planning because Christmas Eve is “an amazing evangelism opportunity, so don’t miss it and don’t be sloppy.”

With many Americans feeling crunched for time by jam-packed schedules, it may be too much to expect parishioners to attend two or three services in a 30-hour period, but Burch also doesn’t want to forget the parishioners who are likely to be in church every day it is open. He wants to give them that option, especially around Christmas.

“Removing choices is asking the church to shrink. If there are 15 people there in the morning, that’s a really beautiful number,” he said. Having more services at significant times is a lot of work, but “it’s worth it.”

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

Former chief nursing officer of England named as next Bishop of London

Mon, 12/18/2017 - 12:31pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The former chief nursing officer for England, Sarah Mullally, who was first ordained to serve as a non-stipendiary minister, has been named as the next Bishop of London. When she is enthroned in the new year, she will become the most senior female bishop in the Church of England, and will become a member of the House of Lords, the upper house of the UK Parliament; and the Privy Council, the ancient body which formally advises British sovereign on the exercise of the Royal Prerogative.

Read the full article here.

EPPN: #PrayFastAct for the Sustainable Development Goals

Mon, 12/18/2017 - 11:55am

[Episcopal Public Policy Network policy alert] In his new video, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminds us to pray, fast and act this Advent and Christmas, in support of good policies that provide opportunities for and respect the dignity of people struggling with poverty.

This month, we focus on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to end poverty and hunger, reduce inequalities, ensure quality education, create opportunities for decent work, care for creation, and promote a peaceful and just global community.

During the Advent and Christmas season, we focus on the praying aspect of this campaign, and encourage all to pray for each of the SDGs using the resource below.

On Dec. 21, join the EPPN and presiding bishops of the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American as we pray, fact and act. Share on social media using #PrayFastAct and @TheEPPN. On the 21st, post a picture of a dinner place setting with the reason you are fasting.

Read the one-pager on the Sustainable Development Goals.

Pray for each of the goals using these prayers from the World Council of Churches.

Church of England says sorry for its response to child abuse allegations against Bishop George Bell

Fri, 12/15/2017 - 2:00pm

[Anglican Communion News  Service] An independent review has been carried out into the way the Church of England handled allegations that the former bishop of Chichester, George Bell, sexually abused a young girl in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In October 2015, the Church of England issued a statement in which it announced that the complainant had received compensation and an apology. The statement also said that Sussex police had confirmed “that the information obtained from their enquiries would have justified, had he still been alive, Bell’s arrest and interview, on suspicion of serious sexual offenses.” The Church asked senior human rights lawyer Lord Carlile to undertake a review of their handling of the case, after supporters of Bell accused it of unfairly deciding Bell’s guilt.

Read the entire article here.

Australia commission into response to child sexual abuse makes recommendations

Fri, 12/15/2017 - 12:19pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The final report of Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse sets out 189 individual recommendations in a range of areas, in addition to other recommendations on issues including checks on those working with children, redress and civil litigation and criminal justice. Some 58 of those recommendations are targeting towards religious institutions; with five of them directed specifically at the Anglican Church.

Read the full article here.

Dr. Garwood Anderson named Interim Dean and President of Nashotah House

Fri, 12/15/2017 - 11:16am

[Nashotah House] The Board of Directors of Nashotah House is pleased to announce that Garwood Anderson, Ph.D. has been appointed to the position of Interim Dean and President, effective January 1, 2018. Dr. Anderson is a long-time and well-known leader at Nashotah House, joining the faculty in 2007 as Professor of New Testament studies. Dr. Anderson accepted the role of Acting Dean and President on September 1, 2017 following the resignation of Dean Steven Peay.

For over a decade, Dr. Anderson has demonstrated outstanding leadership at Nashotah House. Not only is he a widely respected New Testament scholar, recently publishing a significant work on Pauline soteriology, he has also been influential in updating and expanding the Seminary’s academic offerings and programs while serving as Academic Dean. Along with an outstanding faculty, he has helped Nashotah House distinguish itself as an exceptional center for Anglican theology, liturgics and biblical studies in the United States.

With recent changes in the House’s administration, Dr. Anderson brings much needed stability to the Seminary’s leadership. His tenure as Acting Dean has been marked by transparency and collaboration, priorities that will continue during his leadership as Interim Dean. In the months ahead, Dr. Anderson and the faculty will work with the Board of Directors and Corporation of Nashotah House to strengthen the identity and future direction of Nashotah House.

Despite the many changes in on-campus leadership, the students and faculty of Nashotah House are united behind Dr. Anderson’s vision for the future. Second-year student, Jesse Lassiter, observed that “Everyone here at the House is happy and thankful for Dr. Anderson’s leadership right now. The vibe on campus is very positive.”
The Board of Directors joins the students and faculty in their enthusiasm. Board of Directors member, The Rev. John Jordan, commented, “Dr. Anderson has been an outstanding leader at Nashotah House for many years and brings a level of expertise and commitment that is exactly what Nashotah House needs right now.”

Dr. Anderson’s leadership as Acting Dean has already brought renewed vigor to the House’s recruiting strategy for prospective students. “I hope to continue attracting the brightest and most gifted individuals to the faculty so that the House can lead a renewal in the Church in the years ahead,” he recently told the Board of Directors.

The Board thanks Dr. Anderson for leading the charge into another fruitful era in the life of the Seminary. The unique mission of Nashotah House to train lay and ordained ministers in the catholic tradition of Anglicanism will continue steadfast in this calling under the leadership of the Board of Directors and Dr. Anderson serving as Interim Dean and President.

Full press release available here.

On the anniversary of Sandy Hook, a mother’s gratitude for her child’s faith

Fri, 12/15/2017 - 10:47am

Tain Scott wears pictures on his vest of his godbrother, Ben, who was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary when a gunman blasted his way into the building. Tain’s mother, Sophfronia Scott, printed two photos of Tain and Ben playing in a pile of leaves in her yard after Tain requested to wear them to Ben’s funeral. She fastened them with paper clips to Tain’s vest. Photo: Sophfronia Scott

[Religion News Service — Newtown, Connecticut] Five years ago my son, Tain, was sitting in his third-grade classroom in Sandy Hook Elementary when a gunman blasted his way into the building and killed 26 adults and children — including Tain’s godbrother, Ben — whose mother is Tain’s godmother.

I barely have words for the grief that washed over us. I wasn’t sure how to help Tain deal with the life-shattering effects of such a horrific tragedy. Eventually I sensed I had to walk through it with my son — and sometimes let him lead the way.

Only Tain knows the depth of his loss and the shock of realizing a child even younger than himself can die. He has few words for the magnitude of what happened but I knew he had to work his own grief, and the way he did so would determine the way in which he walked through the world — whether he could live in faith and not fear.

All I could do was listen. My own grief overwhelmed me, though, and I wanted, needed, to feel in faith that I could grasp a sense of my own hope and positivity again. But in a season when the worst had happened, how could I summon such faith? Muscle memory or, more accurately, heart memory came into play.

Our pastor, Kathie Adams-Shepherd, said faith is people showing up for you. She would reiterate it many times in those days. Perhaps this is what Tain experienced. I now see I was holding fast to faith when I stood with him in his pain. And this is what he needed. I suppose God had worked on me, opening my eyes and ears to what Tain was telling me.

Here’s what I mean. Tain was getting dressed for Ben’s funeral, looking at himself in the mirror. He was quiet. Then he said this: “I want to wear pictures of Ben.”

“Well, remember we’re all wearing pictures of Ben.”

I showed him the square badges a friend had made so we could tell who was family and to make sure we were all seated together at Newtown’s Trinity Episcopal Church. We knew it would be packed.

“No,” Tain said. “I want pictures of me and Ben.”

“OK,” I said slowly. Time was getting short. I was responsible for driving a van of family members to the church. But I knew this was a request that had to be honored.

I went to the kitchen computer with photos my husband, Darryl, and I had put aside for the wake. I printed up two of Tain and Ben playing in a pile of leaves in our yard. I cut them into squares and fastened them with paper clips to Tain’s vest.

“Is that good?”

He nodded and smiled.

At the church, whenever anyone asked Tain about the pictures he talked about Ben, who was his godbrother, and how much fun they had playing in the leaves. In the months to come he surprised me by how quick he was to talk about Ben. When we met strangers and they’d find out where we’re from, they’d ask the inevitable questions. I would deliver a simple answer that I hoped would end the conversation quickly: “Yes, close friends of ours lost their child.” But Tain would interject pointedly: “Mama, he wasn’t just a friend. He was my godbrother.” He held and still holds his grief strong, but lightly, as though he were holding his friend’s little hand.

One night, not long after the tragedy, I was putting Tain to bed and I asked how he was doing, how he was feeling about Ben. I wasn’t sure if this was the right thing to ask or what he would say. But he looked at me, his brown eyes wide with wonder.

“Mama, I just have the feeling I’m going to see Ben again. He’s going to come down from heaven and he’s going to be here with all of us.”

In our church we recite the Nicene Creed, which says, “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” I’ve read “Surprised by Hope” by the theologian N.T. Wright, who describes how branches of the Christian faith have downplayed the concept of bodily resurrection. The idea of leaving earth for a better place gained traction and the idea of God’s kingdom being right here, right now, faded. I believe in the bodily resurrection. Tain’s words that night told me he does, too, but he knows it without having read N.T. Wright. He knows it in a deeper way than I can ever comprehend.

“Yes,” I told him. “I think you’re right.”

Tain’s words gave me hope and I realized this is what faith does. It provides buoyancy, allowing you to rise to the surface. I’m grateful Tain has these feelings. I’m grateful for the voluminous tears we’ve all cried. I’m enormously grateful that I had not been in a mind so thick and clouded with grief that I couldn’t see or hear Tain’s needs. Instead, my heart found its muscle memory and acted from a familiar place. It whispered a reminder to take his hand and walk through the darkness with him.

— Sophfronia Scott co-authored with her son Tain Gregory the book “This Child of Faith: Raising a Spiritual Child in a Secular World,” published by Paraclete Press. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.

Tiny Wisconsin church moves services toward sunset seeking new dawn for congregation

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 12:36pm

The Rev. Dave Mowers presides over the 3:30 p.m. Sunday service at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Portage, Wisconsin. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Portage, Wisconsin] Streets were mostly deserted, errands temporarily shelved on this gray day. Sunday afternoons in December are reserved for the Packers in most parts of Wisconsin, and no exception is made for this small, Rust Belt city with its downtown sandwiched between the Wisconsin River and the railroad tracks.

On TVs beaming inside warm homes and bars around Portage, the beleaguered Green Bay team was snagging an overtime win from an even-worse Cleveland team. Outside St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church, a man in a clergy collar parked at the curb and hustled in through the church’s side door, his thoughts not on football but on the worship service that was about a half hour from starting.

For the Rev. Dave Mowers, the Second Sunday of Advent at St. John the Baptist was also the sixth Sunday of an experiment in afternoon worship, the most dramatic component of Mowers’ survival plan for this 164-year-old congregation.

“We were all clear, I think, that even the changes we were making might not keep us open for years and years,” Mowers told Episcopal News Service. “But I think the new thing about this congregation is they were willing to give it a go.”

Congregations across the Episcopal Church are touting Sunday afternoon and evening services as more convenient, intimate and relaxed. Sunday morning still dominates schedules, but later-day services in places like Baltimore, Maryland; Houston, Texas, and Folsom, California, are broadening the range of options for busy Episcopalians.

Often, those afternoon and evening services are celebrated in addition to the congregations’ morning services, catering to different groups of worshipers. Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, as one example, added a 5 p.m. Sunday service several years ago to accommodate University of Virginia students and faculty members. And in Seattle, the Compline service on Sunday evenings at St. Mark’s Cathedral dates to 1956 and now draws up to 300 people.

But for Episcopalians in Portage, there is only one service at St. John the Baptist. By the time Mowers was named vicar of this mission parish in March, average attendance at that 11 a.m. Sunday service had dwindled to about a dozen people – sometimes even fewer.

The congregation, rather than expanding its options, was looking for a lifeline, so starting Nov. 5, the service was moved to 3:30 p.m. Mowers roped off all but the front three rows of pews to encourage people to sit closer together. The altar sits high and back from the pews, so Mowers also moved the liturgy forward by setting up a table between the lectern and the pulpit for the Eucharist.

Those and other changes form what Mowers calls the congregation’s “reboot.” For the inaugural afternoon service, attendance reached 22 people, not blockbuster turnout by most standards but a strong showing given the previous trend at St. John the Baptist.

“At this point, anything that looks like momentum is a good thing,” Mowers said.

Dorothy Rebholz and Jim Hibbard rehearse before the service. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Whatever the numbers, the congregation still shows unmistakable signs of life. Entering the sacristy on Sunday afternoon, Mowers was greeted by the sound of organ music and singing courtesy of Dorothy Rebholz and Jim Hibbard, who were rehearsing before the service.

Hibbard, the hymn leader, started attending services here about 20 years ago. “I love this place,” he said, adding that he and his wife, Barb Hibbard, first met at the church.

Rebholz is a member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Portage and plays the organ there. She had spent two decades as the regular organist at St. John the Baptist, too, but on this afternoon, she was filling in as a substitute. When the services moved to the afternoon, she chose to end her tenure at the Episcopal church, though she is supportive of Mowers’ efforts.

“Father Dave came here very enthused and energetic and young, so I’m hoping he’ll be successful,” she said.

The congregation at St. John the Baptist is proud of its stained-glass windows, apart from which the small church is mostly unadorned. Light fills the space with a muted glow as it bounces off the white walls above the dark wood wainscoting, austere pews and red carpet – a glow that seems to only intensify as night falls.

Walter Gjavenis serves as crucifer as he and the Rev. Dave Mowers process into St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church at the start of the Sunday service. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

As Rebholz and Hibbard finished rehearsing, the service’s crucifer, Walter Gjavenis, lit candles in front of the alter as Mowers made sure there were enough bulletins for … a dozen people? Twenty? Fifty? How many would attend today?

The pews recently had proven they still were capable of supporting dozens. Dee Hoel estimated about 50 people turned out on Oct. 28 for the funeral of her son, who died of cancer at age 47. That was a bittersweet surprise.

“Being in the correctional system, I didn’t know who would come,” she said.

Her son, Jeffrey Hoel, was an inmate serving a life sentence for murder after being convicted in 1988 of killing a gas station employee during a robbery. He was 18 at the time of the robbery, which Dee Hoel described as “drug influenced.”

It has been years since the regular Sunday service drew that many people, and Hoel, who has been a member for 20 years and serves as vicar’s warden, initially was skeptical about the move to afternoons. It also took her a while to see the benefits of reducing the worship space roughly by half.

“I didn’t like it at first – I thought it was really awkward – but now I do,” she said, adding she especially appreciates how gathering close affects the hymns and prayers. “We sound better.”

Path set for ‘reaching new people for Jesus’

Congregation members who spoke with ENS suggested the change in service time had generated mixed reactions so far, and competition with Packers games doesn’t help. At least two regular churchgoers have been noticeably absent this NFL season but would be expected to surface in the pews again come January (or later, if the Packers find a way to make the playoffs).

Mowers, though, is counting on more than the worship schedule to rejuvenate St. John the Baptist. Even more important are his efforts to reverse years of erosion in clerical consistency.

“I think for this congregation, it’s been five years since they’ve had a dedicated, permanent priest who was really committed to being there more often than not,” he said.

The Second Sunday of Advent was the sixth Sunday in an experiment with afternoon services at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Mowers, 32, lives with his wife and two children about 20 minutes away in the slightly larger city of Baraboo and splits his time between Portage and Baraboo, where he also is rector of Trinity Episcopal Church. The Diocese of Milwaukee worked out this partnership between the two churches about three years ago, but at that time a rotation of supply priests still presided over many of the services at St. John the Baptist.

When Mowers, after finishing his curacy in Minnesota’s Twin Cities region, was hired this year to lead the two churches, he said he didn’t want to be the priest hired to help St. John the Baptist shut down gracefully. He wanted to seek a path of growth and now commits to leading at least three Sunday services a month in Portage. On the fourth Sunday, a single supply priest fills in each month, adding further stability.

Trinity in Baraboo has an average Sunday attendance topping 60, and its vestry has been supportive of the partnership, as has Milwaukee Bishop Steven Miller, who sees ministry opportunities in Portage.

“We want to keep being in that community, because the need is so great,” Miller said in a phone interview. “There’s a lot of people in Portage that need to know Jesus and need ministry.”

Portage, the county seat, is home to about 10,000 people, more than 90 percent of them white. Median household income is $44,000 year, and an estimated 16.6 percent of people live in poverty, compared to 12.7 percent statewide, according to 2016 census data.

Beyond the statistics, the needs of the community are evident in the ministries already underway at St. John the Baptist. An Alcoholics Anonymous group meets regularly in the church’s parish hall. Free meals are served there once a month through a partnership with other churches in the city, and about 60 people typically come. The church also recently began leasing basement space to a social service agency.

Miller also thinks the church is ideally located, next to the police station in the heart of the city’s downtown. And he said Mowers’ creativity and energy are well suited to the task. Miller sees a broader mission for the Episcopal Church than propping the door open for aging congregations.

“I think we’re at a time where there’s going to be new opportunities and new and creative ways for lay leadership and providing clergy support across the church,” he said. “The key is that It needs to be reaching new people for Jesus.”

Examples incorporating nontraditional service times abound across the Episcopal Church. The Church on the Square is an Episcopal-Lutheran partnership formed several years ago in Baltimore to reach out to its surrounding neighborhoods. Services are held Saturday afternoons and take a contemporary approach, mixing popular music and a message of community engagement.

Other churches have added contemplative evening services to their worship schedules. Trinity Episcopal Church in Folsom, California, offers three Sunday morning services, then ends its day with a short candlelight service at 7 p.m. The liturgy’s structure is similar to Evening Prayer and includes Eucharist – but with 10 minutes of meditation instead of a sermon.

In Houston, Christ Church Cathedral follows a similar Sunday schedule, with a 5 p.m. Celtic-influenced Eucharist called “The Well.” The service features “the presence of many candles” and music played on the harp and cello.

“The Well provides a prayerful and peaceful way to center oneself in God at the end of the day and the outset of a new week,” Dean Barkley Thompson says on the cathedral’s website.

The Rev. Dave Mowers has been vicar at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Portage, Wisconsin, since March, when he also took over as rector at Trinity Episcopal Church in Baraboo. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

The services at St. John the Baptist in Portage, on the other hand, remain traditional. The only candlelight is what you would expect on the altar for Eucharist. The musical instruments are limited to pipe organ or keyboard. The sermon Mowers delivers is roughly the same that he delivered hours earlier in Baraboo.

It’s a service that could happen in any church, except for little details like the Eucharist, which was pieces of bread that Mowers broke off a small loaf. As the congregation stepped up to receive it, Mowers greeted each person by name.

“Jim, the body of Christ keep you in everlasting life.”

That personal touch is one of St. John the Baptist’s strengths, but it is made possible partly by the decline Mowers is trying to reverse. This Sunday’s attendance didn’t quite reach a dozen – priest, crucifer, organist, hymn reader, reporter and six other worshipers. After the service, in the register under “number present,” Mowers wrote “11.”

Committed to a church and a community

Mowers acknowledges there is a cost to keeping aging church facilities open, and a tiny congregation is in no position to meet that cost. But history suggests St. John the Baptist isn’t a hopeless cause.

A dynamic previous rector oversaw a period of growth in the 1990s that increased Sunday attendance to about 80, Mowers said. That rector was a retired Madison police chief, able to devote more time to the church than his part-time salary required, and church members today still remember him fondly. But what followed was a series of clergy mismatches, internal conflict and financial pressure that eroded the congregation’s gains, Mowers said.

Today, the brightest sign of hope may be found not in the church but in the parish hall after services. The congregation gathers afterward for a light meal every first Sunday of the month and for coffee every other Sunday. Of the 11 people at the Dec. 10 service, all but two stayed for coffee and fellowship.

From left, Dorothy Rebholz, Jackie Martin and Tony Bortz gather in the parish hall after the 3:30 p.m. Sunday service at St. John the Baptist. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

“Everybody’s been ridiculously welcoming,” Jackie Martin said, to the amusement of the group seated at a table in the parish hall. She had just attended her second service at St. John the Baptist, and she plans to return.

Martin, 36, grew up in Portage and moved back to the city a year ago after living in Milwaukee. The afternoon service works well for her, but what impressed her was the people.

“From Day 1 walking in here, everyone has personally greeted me,” she said.

Martin found the church through its website, but that is an exception. Most people find churches through connections with members, Mowers said, and his outreach so far has been limited to people he meets in Portage. A family with small children is among the recent visitors he hopes will become regular members, drawn by the addition of volunteer child care.

The church also has the unbreakable loyalty of longtime members like Tony Bortz, 81. His late wife was confirmed at St. John the Baptist, and he started attending services with her around 1960.

“I can’t leave this place, because she’s here,” he said.

Walter Gjavenis, 82, was 16 when his foster mother first took him to the 7 a.m. service at St. John the Baptist. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Gjavenis, the crucifer, is 82 and has been attending St. John the Baptist since he was 16. At that time, he lived on a farm outside of town with his foster parents. When his foster mother first brought him to church, it was a 7 a.m. service.

He’s still adjusting to the afternoon service, and he said his wife isn’t too fond of the change: “I said, you got to give it a try.”

He thinks attendance will increase in the spring. The sun now sets before the end of the services, and some of the older members prefer not to drive home in the dark.

Portage is rich in history, Mowers said, but today it is a city that “doesn’t love itself well.” Its downtown is in decline. Its blue-collar residents often struggle with financial and personal challenges. “It’s a town that’s glory days might have been 125 years ago or more.”

Much like St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church, perhaps. But every Sunday afternoon is proof that the Episcopal Church hasn’t given up on Portage.

“This is the sort of place that Jesus would be doing ministry in,” Mowers said, “and the sort of people Jesus would be doing ministry with and for.”

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

Laos Church women commit to combat violence against women and gender inequality

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 9:33am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Women from Christian churches in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic have committed themselves strengthen ecumenical women’s networks in the country and to work with local community organizations in a bid to combat gender-based violence. The commitment came in the closing session of a two-day workshop organised by the Christian Conference of Asia, a regional ecumenical body, and the Lao Evangelical Church. The 60 women from different churches and areas of Laos heard about the impact of immediate and long-term consequences of increasing violence against women and gender inequality.

Read the entire article here.

Archbishop of Canterbury: The Church of England ‘is very confident in its faith’

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 9:30am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The entire episode of the Dec. 14 Today Programme on BBC Radio Four, Britain’s flagship national radio news breakfast program, was broadcast live from Lambeth Palace, the London home and office of archbishops of Canterbury for nearly 800 years. And Archbishop Justin Welby used an interview in the key 8:10 a.m. slot, usually reserved for the key political interview of the day, to say that the Church of England “is very confident in its faith.”

Read the entire article here.

As fires rage, Episcopalians help neighbors with the basics by expanding ministries

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 5:22pm

The Thomas Fire decimated parts of the neighborhood around St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Ventura. Photo: Melissa McCarthy

[Episcopal News Service] As wildfires rampage through Southern California for a second week, Episcopalians are finding basic but also innovative ways to help their neighbors.

In many cases, they are doing so by way of ministries they have always done. For instance, Episcopalians in Ojai and Ventura, two hard-hit communities, have ongoing Laundry Love ministries. Laundry Love brings together congregations and homeless guests in laundromats where anyone who needs some help getting their laundry done and having something to eat. Now with ash and smoke permeating everything, the need is even greater.

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Ojai and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Ventura help run Laundry Love ministries in their towns. They, along with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Santa Paula, also have other ministries to homeless and undocumented people, the populations of most concern to the diocese in the midst of the fires.

The Rev. Michael Bamberger, a member of Episcopal Relief & Development’s Partners in Response team and the diocesan disaster coordinator for Los Angeles, said understanding that the Laundry Love ministries need to get back in business soon was a good example of using as assets-based community development approach to discerning a congregation’s potential ministries.

On Dec. 12, Bamberger was preparing to travel to the burning areas with Bishop John Taylor and the Rev. Melissa McCarthy, the canon to the ordinary, to deliver money from an Episcopal Relief & Development grant and a diocesan appeal to expand those ministries. The grant will also help with gift cards and spiritual care for homeless and undocumented people.

For those existing ministries, “all it took was a little bit of money to amp up their programs,” he said. “It’s an existing program that meets a great need, but with this disaster, it’s even more important.”

Los Angeles Bishop John H. Taylor, second from left, and the Rev. Michael Bamberger, a member of Episcopal Relief & Development’s Partners in Response team and Los Angeles disaster coordinator, farf left, meet Dec. 12 with Laundry Love folks in Ventura. Photo: Melissa McCarthy

The fires, the first of which began the evening of Dec. 4, have now burned more than 263,000 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Close to half of that acreage is being burned by the first fire, the so-called Thomas Fire that burned down the hills from between Ojai and Santa Paula into the city of Ventura.

The Thomas Fire has burned northwest into Carpinteria and Santa Barbara, and it is only 25 percent contained. It grew by 1,500 acres overnight Dec. 12 into Dec. 13, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Times reported Dec. 13 that firefighters think they have finally turned a corner on the Thomas Fire in Ventura County. The Rev. Anthony Guillen, the Episcopal Church’s missioner for Latino/Hispanic ministries, who lives in Ventura with his wife, Guadalupe Moriel-Guillen, was forced to flee the night of Dec. 4 when the fires started. On Dec. 10, they were allowed into their neighborhood for an hour to check on their house, which the flames spared. He recorded a video of the burned-out homes on the street over from theirs.

One of the other four major fires, the Rye, is listed as contained. However, contained does not mean the fire is extinguished, only that firefighters have established a perimeter and enclosed the fire within it. The center’s definitions of “contained,” “controlled” and “out” are here.

Containment on the Lilac 5, Rye, Skirball and Creek fire is at 90 percent or more. Nearly 9,000 firefighters and support personnel are fighting the blazes, the center said. The Los Angeles Times has maps showing the area’s major fires and the evacuation zones.

Air quality is a major issue “not only in the immediate area but all up and down the central coast area,” Bamberger said. “There’s ashes coming down as far north as San Luis Obispo and down into Ventura and Thousand Oaks and that area,” he added, describing a range of about 150 miles. People are being advised to stay inside.

Still looking for an N-95 mask? Free masks are available at several sites on Wednesday, Dec. 13. Visit https://t.co/bjEUdUoCpk to find the distribution site nearest you. The list includes the times to get one. #thomasfire pic.twitter.com/mhk4YP8X7X

— Santa Barbara County (@countyofsb) December 13, 2017

Unable to have Mass as St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Ojai on Dec. 11 because of air quality concerns, the Rev. Greg Kimura celebrated Holy Eucharist via Facebook Live. He included announcements about the Thomas Fire’s status (beginning at the 3:58 mark). “I am very wary of spreading rumors or ginning up undue fear and concerns,” he said, explaining that he was passing on only verified information from governmental sites. He cautioned viewers that some fires they might be seeing around Ojai were backfires lit to prevent the main blaze from burning into Ojai proper.

Discussing surrounding fires and the spread of the Thomas Fire and its accompanying expanded evacuations, Kimura said: “I want to remind folks that we are not out of the woods yet and that there are other communities that are at risk … that are going to go through exactly what we are going through right now.”

St. Andrew’s often livestreams its Sunday Eucharist, but this time, Kimura, the rector, streamed the service from a hotel room. The Eucharist has had 393 views, both live and on-demand, and 42 people responded with comments.

Kimura said that, despite occasional appearance of blue sky, air quality is still classified unhealthy. “Larger smoke particles and smoke will make air quality look worse,” according to a tweet on the Santa Barbara County Twitter feed, but it does not have the same health impacts as fine particulate. Tiny particulate can pass through breathing masks, Kimura warned.

#ThomasFire – The large particles in the air are concerning, but it is the fine particles you cannot see that greatly affect your health. Wear masks when the air quality is unhealthy. https://t.co/ZUQA1Myzzl pic.twitter.com/6St87HM2Pk

— Santa Barbara County (@countyofsb) December 12, 2017

Bamberger said the evacuations and, especially, the air quality warnings are impacting the area’s vulnerable populations even more than residents with greater access to resources. “The affected areas are heavily agricultural and then, closer to the coast, most of the area is tourist-driven. When the tourist industry suffers, the undocumented people are the people who run the kitchens and clean the rooms, they’ll be out of work,” he said. “And many of them are reluctant to access government services.”

That’s because of fears and rumors that federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents will detain undocumented people who ask for help.

Bamberger said there are no verified instances of ICE agents entering shelters. “We have a very vague letter from the ICE director saying that they’re not going out of their way to do anything more than their normal enforcement,” he said “But they’re not willing to commit to the fact that they’re not going to go into the shelters.

“We’ve not heard any stories of them going to the shelters but getting folks to commit to going to a shelter is hard enough and then if you add the issue of whether or not ICE might be present just makes it all the more complicated.”

Another population that worries Bamberger is people in addiction recovery who depend on churches of all denominations for the 12-Step meetings they host. With churches included in mandatory evacuation zones and people being warned to stay inside because of the bad air, he wonders how those folks are coping. “Sometimes we don’t think about who the vulnerable communities are,” he said.

All of the Episcopal churches in the paths of the fires are safe, albeit plagued by the smoke and ash effecting everyone. All Saints Episcopal Church in Montecito, near Santa Barbara, is in a voluntary evacuation zone and has cancelled all activities because of that and the air quality. “Our highest concern is the well-being of our parishioners and the safety of everyone in our community,” the Rev. Aimée Eyer-Delevett wrote on Facebook on Dec. 12. “We can each assist in ensuring public health and safety by cooperating with our public officials’ instructions.”

The All Saints rector advised parishioners to wear a N-95 mask for any “brief outdoor excursions.” She also reported that clergy outside of the fire zones were organizing their parishioners who were willing to take in evacuees.

Meanwhile, Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara has opened its parish hall to homeless people.

The Rev. Adam McCoy, prior of the Mount Calvary Monastery above Santa Barbara, reported Dec. 11 on Facebook that the evacuation zones around the city had nearly reached them. The monks of the Camaldolese Monastery of the Risen Christ in Los Osos, a little less than a two-hour drive away, are ready to take in the Order of the Holy Cross brothers if need be.

The brothers have lived through wildfires. In November 2009, a fire driven by 70-mph winds destroyed their 41-year-old Spanish-style monastery, which had hosted international conferences and retreat guests. Damages were in the millions.

“We remain on alert and are ready to go if we need to,” McCoy wrote. “Please pray for all who are impacted by the fire, particularly those who have lost their homes and livelihood.”

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.

Fijian bishop chooses corrugated tin roof shelter over cathedral for consecration

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 4:13pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] A new suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Polynesia has been consecrated under a makeshift shelter on the island of Vanua Levu, rather than the cathedral in Suva, on Fiji’s other main island, Viti Levu. Bishop Henry Bull, the new suffragan bishop of Vanua Levu and Taveuni, was consecrated on Sunday under a large corrugated tin roof, held up by scaffolding, in the playground of Saint Mary’s Primary School in Labasa, because the journey to Holy Trinity Cathedral in Suva would have been too difficult for his supporters.

Read the entire article here.

ExxonMobil concede defeat in climate change battle with Church of England

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 4:10pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The global oil giant ExxonMobil has caved in to shareholder demands – led by the Church of England’s church commissioners – to establish how the business will be affected by efforts to halt climate change. The announcement came two years to the day after the breakthrough Paris agreement on climate change. To mark the anniversary, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, brought together the president of the World Bank, the secretary general of the United Nations, international leaders and “committed citizens from around the world” to review its implementation and discuss new ways to “address the ecological emergency for our planet.”

Read the entire article here.