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Episcopal Church joins call for end to Gaza violence and measures to protect Palestinians

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 5:19pm

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who visited Gaza City days before protests began along the fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel, has added the Episcopal Church’s name to a joint statement protesting Israel’s deadly response to the violence.

The 15 denominations and Christian agencies say that they “cannot be silent” as Gazans have been killed or injured during the first two weeks of protests that are expected to occur until May 15. That is the day when Palestinians mark the “Nakba,” which is Arabic for “catastrophe,” and commemorates the estimated 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced off their land during the war that followed Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence from the British mandate of Palestine. That day is expected to be particularly fraught this year because it falls near the day when President Donald Trump plans to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a controversial shift in U.S. policy.

Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition into crowds of Palestinian protesters, killing 15 and injuring some 1,000 others during the first day of protests March 30, which was the eve of Passover. Some of those injured later died. Close to 30,000 Palestinians had gathered near the fence for what organizers call the “March of Return.”

A Palestinian hurls stones at Israeli troops during clashes, during a tent city protest along the Israel border with Gaza, demanding the right to return to their homeland, the southern Gaza Strip March 30. Photo: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

While the majority of protestors were said to have not engaged in violence, some reportedly used slingshots to shoot stones at Israeli soldiers, lobbed Molotov cocktails over the fence line and sent burning tires rolling to the fence. Israeli Defense Force spokesman Brig-Gen. Ronen Manelis said March 30 that Palestinians were attempting to cross or harm the fence and “IDF troops returned precise fire.” He added that live ammunition was used only against those attempting to harm the fence. The IDF has said Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, is exploiting the demonstrations as a cover to carry out terrorist attacks.

Violence broke out again a week later on April 6. Seven Palestinians were killed and about 1,400 injured, including nearly 400 with gunshot wounds, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said it  found that, in all, 26 people died, including three children, and 445 children were among the injured. OCHA said no Israeli casualties have been reported.

The churches and agencies said in their April 12 statement that they “support the Palestinian people as they courageously stand up for their rights.”

“We have worked in our own context in the cause of justice, peace, and equality, and continue to do so even as we recognize we have too often fallen short in these efforts. We reject the use of violence by individuals, groups or states,” they said. “In the wake of demonstrations that have resulted in tragedy and death, and anticipating the continuation of Palestinian protests over the coming weeks, we cannot be silent.”

The statement outlines a series of steps the groups would like to see taken:

  • An end to the use of deadly force by the Israeli military, and support for the call by B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, to Israeli soldiers to refuse orders to shoot.
  • An investigation into the deaths and injuries suffered resulting from the use of force.
  • A censure by the United States, and particularly Trump and members of Congress, of “the violent and indiscriminate actions of the State of Israel” and holding Israel “appropriately accountable, ensuring that U.S. aid isn’t used in ways that contravene established U.S. and international laws.”
  • U.S. support for the rights of refugees, including Palestinian refugees, based on international law and conventions.
  • A decision by the United States to resume its full funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which supports schools, hospitals and other essential services for Palestinian refugees. The U.S. recently announced that it would provide $60 million to UNRWA with no assurance of further funding for 2018, an 83 percent funding cut over the 2017 contribution of $365 million.
  • A call for the international community, including the U.S. government, to insist on an end to the blockade of Gaza, “which has resulted in uninhabitable conditions for the people there, including poverty and lack of sufficient access to clean water, food, medicine and medical supplies, electricity, fuel, and construction equipment.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, left, and Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani walk March 26 through the barren area between an Israel checkpoint and Gaza City. They were going to visit the Anglican Al Ahli Arab Hospital. Their journey took place five days before violence broke out along the fence that separates Israel and the Gaza Strip. Photo: Sharon Jones

The statement said the Palestinians’ efforts to call the world’s attention to their struggle to  “recover, their rights—rights as refugees, to demonstrate, and to live in dignity” were met with “an immediate and tragic rejection of those rights.” The denominations and agencies declare themselves as “people of hope” who in the Easter season believe that those rights will ultimately prevail.

“In this time, we pray fervently, speak clearly, and act diligently in support of peace, justice, and equality,” they conclude.

The signers include the Alliance of Baptists, American Friends Service Committee, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Mennonite Central Committee U.S., National Council of Churches, Pax Christi International, Pax Christi USA, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society and the United Church of Christ.

After the first violence on March 30 and the day before the second round, Churches for Middle East Peace, or CMEP, a coalition of 27 U.S. denominations and organizations of which the Episcopal Church is a member, said, “we fully affirm the right of the Palestinian people to engage in nonviolent resistance.”

The organization said, “resorting to live fire against unarmed demonstrators is a negligent and inexcusable response that failed to distinguish between those who came to protest peacefully and those with more malicious intentions.”

In a related move earlier this week, Curry signed onto a CMEP letter to Trump calling on the administration to “protect the vulnerable Christian communities in the Holy Land” and oppose official Israeli efforts that it said would financially harm churches.

The letter refers to Jerusalem Municipality’s plan to collect taxes on all church property not used exclusively as houses of worship. Including back taxes, the churches were told to pay approximately $186 million, according to the letter. The Israeli Knesset is also considering legislation that would permit Israel to retroactively expropriate land sold by the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches since 2010.

The Times of Israel recently reported that the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem has been hit with a bill of the equivalent of nearly $2 million. Curry learned during his Holy Week trip to the Holy Land that Muslim religious groups would owe $120 million. Even though the controversial plan was put on hold early in March, the diocese’s accounts are still frozen.

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

Seminary of the Southwest cites church’s racial reconciliation efforts in announcing black scholars partnership

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 5:01pm

[Episcopal News Service] The Seminary of the Southwest is working with the Black Religious Scholars Group on a five-year partnership that will bring black scholars to the Episcopal seminary as visiting professors to improve racial diversity on the faculty and strengthen clergy formation on racial reconciliation issues.

The partnership creates the Crump Visiting Professor and Black Religious Scholars Group Scholar-in-Residence, with the Rev. Melanie Jones selected as the first visiting scholar. Jones, a Baptist minister, will teach at the Austin, Texas, seminary for a year starting this fall.

“This is a kind of direct initiative in order to not only bring black voices into this space but also to enable these voices to shape the curriculum and also to shape the theological development,” Jones said in an interview with Episcopal News Service.

The Rev. Melanie Jones. Photo: Seminary of the Southwest

Jones grew up in the Chicago area and now serves as associate minister of the South Suburban Missionary Baptist Church in Harvey, Illinois. She studied economics and political science at Howard University, earning a bachelor’s degree, because she initially wanted to become a lawyer, but she grew to believe she could do more for social justice by focusing on spiritual development and community involvement.

While earning a Master of Divinity degree at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, Jones worked with faith-based programs there aimed at helping prison inmates successfully re-enter society, and she began teaching at the nearby American Baptist College, which has a history of engagement on social justice issues.

The Episcopal Church’s emphasis on racial reconciliation is one of the reasons Jones is looking forward to teaching at Seminary of the Southwest.

“If we’re calling for an inclusive world, if we’re calling for black lives to matter, if we’re calling for there to be valuing of bodies, human beings, then we ought to have a multitude of voices at the table, in the room, at the lectern,” Jones said, “and not only for moments, but for significant ways of shaping the development and the formation of its students and leaders.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has made racial reconciliation one of his top priorities, most notably through the “Becoming Beloved Community” initiative. As he was elected in 2015, General Convention supported his call to that ministry. Convention has passed more than 30 resolutions on the subject since 1952, and some dioceses have taken up their own efforts to confront hard truths about their complicity with slavery, segregation and lynchings.

Seminary of the Southwest, in announcing the partnership with Black Religious Scholars Group, cited an increased sense of urgency in the wake of recent episodes of racial hostility around the country.

“This past year has shown how important the work of racial justice and reconciliation is in the United States,” the Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, dean and president of Seminary of the Southwest, said in a news release. “Seminary of the Southwest believes that this work must include our own community of learning.

“It is our sincere hope that this partnership and what we learn from it will be a model for other seminaries to collaborate with aligned organizations to foster racial and ethnic diversity in their institutions, the church, and the world.”

Jones and subsequent visiting scholars will teach two courses each academic year at Seminary of the Southwest, one core course in the seminary’s curriculum and a second course that each visiting scholar will develop. The visiting scholars also will have opportunities to preach during worship services at the seminary and help shape and contribute to other aspects of campus life.

This also is a new venture for Black Religious Scholars Group, which in the past has connected its scholars with congregations in the black church tradition for symposiums that offer a mix of academic and spiritual enrichment. Stacey Floyd-Thomas, the organization’s executive director and co-founder, said he hopes the partnership with Seminary of the Southwest “serves as a hopeful beacon of great promise and wonderful possibility to other likeminded institutions.”

“The Black Religious Scholars Group acknowledges this partnership as an exemplary way in which theological education and the church can live into the promises of our ideals during an era that may otherwise suggest that all hope is lost in a church and society in deep crisis,” Floyd-Thomas said in the seminary’s news release. “The work that we are embarking upon is built on a steadfast belief that our shared Christian witness is far stronger than persistent economic insecurity, rising cultural intolerance, growing political divisions, and increased anti-immigrant attitudes.”

Seminary of the Southwest has one black professor on its faculty, Awa Jangha, though most of its 18 full-time faculty members are white.

The visiting professor program “will increase the diversity of our faculty and enrich the conversation around theology, race, and the church,” Kittredge said in an emailed statement to ENS. “The partnership will be a learning opportunity for the members of our ongoing community, faculty and students alike, and for the visiting professor.”

She added that the seminary looks forward to welcoming Jones in the fall.

“Living fully into the promise of diversity is an opportunity not only for Seminary of the Southwest but for the Episcopal Church as a whole,” Kittredge said. “We hope that what we learn will be of benefit to the wider community of the academy and the church.”

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

Archbishop of Kenya speaks out against politician’s polygamy suggestion

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 3:16pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The primate of the Anglican Church of Kenya, Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit, has said the church would resist moves to promote polygamy in the country. The subject hit the headlines in Kenya after Kiambu Woman Representative Gathoni Wamuchomba called for men to marry several women to ensure children in single-parent families had a father-figure. “We give birth to these children, and we do not want to own up to them,” she is reported as saying. “If you are a man from the Kikuyu community, and you can sustain five wives, have them; and if you are a man and you are in a position to bring up [many children], do it.”

Read the entire article here.

Young English adults still value church weddings, survey shows

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 3:11pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Research conducted for the Church of England suggests that almost three-quarters of unmarried adults younger than 35 still dream of getting married. The figure is taken from a survey conducted by 9Dot-Research for the Church of England’s Life Events team. It would appear to contradict statistics for the actual number of weddings, which show a continuing decline in both absolute numbers and in the rate: figures for opposite-sex marriage in 2015 show that there were 21.7 marriages per 1,000 unmarried men and 19.8 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women – the lowest rate on record.

Read the entire article here.

Bishop welcomes New Zealand government announcement on offshore oil drilling

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 3:08pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, has announced a ban on new permits for offshore oil and gas exploration. In a move that has been welcomed by the bishop of Wellington, Justin Duckworth, Ardern said that existing exploration and mining rights would be protected but that the new restriction was part of a “just transition to a clean energy future.” She said that the coalition parties were “striking the right balance for New Zealand – we’re protecting existing industry, and protecting future generations from climate change.”

Read the entire article here.

Nigerian university investigating ‘sex for pass’ claims against Anglican professor

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 11:32am

[Anglican Communion News Service] A university in Nigeria on April 11 set up an investigation into claims that an Anglican priest who works as a university professor demanded sex from a female student in order to guarantee she passes the course. Nigerian media has named the man as a priest in the Anglican Diocese of Ife.

Read the full article here.

‘Service of cleansing and celebration’ to be held following nerve agent incident in Britain

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 11:30am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Sites across the center of Salisbury remain cordoned off more than a month after Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found unconscious on a bench in the city center. They were later found to have been poisoned by Novichok, a nerve-agent linked to the Russian government.

On April 15, Bishop of Salisbury Nicholas Holtam will lead a “service of cleansing and celebration” in the parish church of St. Thomas’, not far from where the Skripals were found.

Read the full article here.

Nigeria’s president meets Archbishop of Canterbury in London

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 11:27am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, held a meeting April 11 with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Secretary General of the Anglican Communion Josiah Idowu-Fearon. The two Anglican leaders were received by Buhari at Abuja House in London, Nigeria’s High Commission. A presidency spokesman had earlier said that Buhari would be discussing “inter-religious harmony in Nigeria and the world” with the archbishop, who was described as the president’s “good friend.”

Read the full article here.

Church reopens in ‘joyful scramble,’ heralds reconciliation efforts with Los Angeles Diocese

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 3:16pm

The Rev. Cindy Voorhees receives an ovation April 8 during announcements at the first Eucharist held inside St. James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach, California, since 2015. Photo: Lissa Schairer

[Episcopal News Service] An Episcopal congregation in Southern California that had been barred from its church for three years amid a property dispute with the diocese has returned to St. James the Great Episcopal Church with a spirit of reconciliation and hope.

Families are inundating the church with requests for baptisms and weddings, the congregation is ramping up its outreach ministries and on April 8 worship services resumed at the Newport Beach church for the first time since 2015.

“It’s like a second startup, so we’re scrambling. But it’s a joyful scramble,” the Rev. Cindy Voorhees, vicar of St. James the Great, told Episcopal News Service. “We feel like we’re back home. It’s just time to thrive again, and we’re really just focusing on our mission and ministry of outreach.”

She got the keys to the church a couple weeks ago to inspect the structure for any maintenance requirements. Then last week, in preparation for the Eucharist on April 8, 25 to 40 volunteers showed up for five straight days to help clean the church, washing windows, vacuuming floors, scrubbing bathrooms. Voorhees and her staff are still working to get phone, internet and other services fully restored.

Many have described being back in the church as “surreal,” Voorhees said, and the mood among the 300 or so at the Eucharist was “extremely joyful.”

Diocese of Los Angeles Bishop John Taylor delivers a sermon April 8 at St. James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach, California. “Welcome home, people of St. James Episcopal Church,” he said. Photo: Lissa Schairer

Diocese of Los Angeles Bishop John Taylor preached the sermon. His episcopacy paved the way for the congregation to return to the church. He addressed the property dispute in the sermon, saying negotiations made it hard for him and other church leaders to fulfill their roles as pastors.

“We are reclaiming our pastorship this morning,” Taylor said, drawing a parallel between Jesus’ resurrection and the congregation. He repeatedly invoked a theme of reconciliation.

“We are inviting everyone in our diocese to come home to a new sense of belonging of being at home with one another in the diocesan family,” he said. “Reconciliation, my friends, is for any herder who has squabbled with another one.”

The property had been at the heart of disciplinary proceedings last year against Taylor’s predecessor, then-Bishop J. Jon Bruno, for his attempts to sell the church building. Members of St. James the Great had been forced to worship in a Newport Beach Civic Center community room while the property remained in dispute.

The disciplinary hearing panel found Bruno guilty of the St. James complainants’ allegations and said he should be suspended from ordained ministry for three years because of misconduct. Bruno retired at the end of November, and Taylor took over as diocesan bishop on Dec. 1.

In November, the Diocese of Los Angeles released a statement outlining a plan for future use of the church property, including the eventual resumption of worship services there by the St. James the Great congregation. The diocese plans to use part of the facility for its Redeemer Center for Diocesan Ministries.

The diocese also committed to helping St. James the Great regain mission status. For now, it is a mission station with Voorhees as vicar. She hopes the diocesan convention in December will consider granting mission status.

Until then, St. James the Great has plenty to do. Although it had continued to pursue outreach ministries while worshipping at the Civic Center, it now will be able to resume after-school programs and step up other initiatives serving children in the area.

About 300 people attended Eucharist on April 8 at St. James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach, California. The congregation had previously been barred from the church due to a property dispute with the diocese. Photo: Lissa Schairer

And Voorhees said the church has a backlog of baptisms to schedule – her own 2-year-old granddaughter among them. Not many families wanted to hold baptisms in the Civic Center, so they waited and hoped.

St. James the Great also is fielding a sudden barrage of calls about weddings. It is located next to a boutique hotel, which makes it something of a destination for engaged couples planning their ceremonies and receptions, Voorhees said.

This is a big change from just a couple weeks ago, when the congregation was forced to join with a local Baptist church to worship Good Friday, and it celebrated Easter with a Eucharist at the Civic Center. Things are starting to return to normal, though Voorhees said her congregation remains committed to reconciliation work with the diocese.

“There’s rebuilding that has to go on, and I think that everyone is willing and wanting to do that,” she said.

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

Anglican Communion to play active role in next week’s Commonwealth leaders’ meeting

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 11:48am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Preparations are almost complete for the biennial meeting of leaders from 53 countries in the Commonwealth of Nations, which will take place next week in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Lancaster House, the Commonwealth’s international headquarters. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is one of the world’s largest international summits, bringing together representatives from small and large nations across the globe. Representatives from a number of Anglican provinces within the Commonwealth will be taking part; and in a parallel event, the archbishop of Canterbury will host a high-level roundtable on freedom of religion or belief at Lambeth Palace, his official London residence.

Read the entire article here.

Bishop’s fear of ‘a government that has become a nightmare to the poor and the minorities

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 11:46am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The moderator of the united Church of South India, Bishop Thomas K Oommen, has accused the Indian government of being “a danger to the very fabric” of the country. In an open letter, he accuses the government of adopting “Hindutva supremacist ideology” – an extreme form of Hindu nationalism; in a country whose constitution “declares liberty, equality, and fraternity as its ideals; assures social, economic and political justice to the citizens of India; offers liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship; provides equality of status and opportunity to all the people; and strives to promote fraternity among all the citizens.”

Read the entire article here.

Archbishop of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island gives support to anti-fracking movement

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 11:43am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop Ron Cutler has given his support to a campaign against the lifting of a moratorium on fracking in Nova Scotia. Bishop Ron added his weight to a letter signed by representatives of 40 different community groups who oppose any lifting on the ban. Fracking is the extraction of oil or gas from subterranean rocks, through the use of high pressure liquid to force open fissures. It is opposed by environmentalists because of the damage it can cause to the environment.

Read the entire article here.

Anglican and Roman Catholic leaders in Ireland herald 20th anniversary of Belfast Agreement

Mon, 04/09/2018 - 1:33pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The leaders of the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches in Ireland have issued a joint statement celebrating “all that has been achieved in building peace” since the historic Belfast Agreement was signed 20 years ago. In a joint statement on eve of the 20th anniversary of the agreement, which is also known as the Good Friday Agreement, as it was agreed by political parties on April 10, 1998 – Good Friday – Archbishops Richard Clarke and Eamon Martin, say that the agreement “has continuing potential to transform society and life for all of us. Nothing remotely its equal has been outlined then or since.”

Read the entire article here.

 

South Africa will ‘stop and reflect’ for funeral of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

Mon, 04/09/2018 - 1:04pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The funeral of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, which will be held at Soweto’s Orlando Stadium April 14, will cause South Africa to “stop and reflect,” the archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, said. Speaking to the Anglican Communion News Service, Thabo said: “the nation – like we did with Albertina Sisulu – will stop and reflect on the democratic values that Winnie Mandela and the people she worked with stood for. The nation will cry, the nation will reflect deeply, and the nation will say ‘how do we move forward?’ in terms of who we are, particularly around the issues of the value of one-another, the respect for one-another, and inter-racial harmony and equality.”

Read the entire article here.

RIP: First Bishop of El Camino Real Shannon Mallory

Fri, 04/06/2018 - 3:17pm

[Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real] The Rt. Rev. Charles Shannon Mallory, 81, first bishop of the San Jose, California-based Diocese of El Camino Real, died peacefully in Monterey, California, on April 4. Mallory, who led El Camino Real from its founding in 1980 through his retirement in 1990, had recently returned to Monterey County and was preceded in death last November by his wife Marti.

Born Sept. 9, 1936 in Dallas, Texas, Mallory grew up in Van Nuys, California, completing his education at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the General Theological Seminary in New York. He entered the mission field after his ordination to the diaconate in the Diocese of Los Angeles. In 1961, he was ordained priest in Africa where he exercised his ministry first as a missionary in Namibia, South Africa, and Uganda, and then as the first bishop of Botswana. In 1978, after 18 years in Africa, he and his family returned to the United States where Mallory served as assistant bishop in the Diocese of Long Island.

He was elected the first bishop of El Camino Real in 1980 and his installation took place that October in San Juan Bautista. The Rt. Rev. John Allin, then-presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, presided over the service in the plaza of the historic California mission.

“We are a pilgrim Church on the King’s Highway,” Mallory noted at the time. “This new diocese is an optimum size for rediscovering and experiencing some of the dynamic qualities of the early Church.” His vision for the diocese included “a more effective and supportive quality of fellowship among clergy and laity,” less hierarchy, and “more of a collegial relationship among bishop, clergy and laity.”

Following his retirement, Mallory served in the Diocese of Oklahoma and then lived and served in Indian Wells, California, as a member of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church. He authored two books: “Blacklisted!,” his memoirs of 18 years of traveling throughout Africa, and “Other Roads Less Traveled,” a collection of sermons and meditations that ask and answer a range of provocative questions about God, death, the value of prayer, the common thread of religions and more. He continued to write and inspire until his death.

“Bishop Shannon was able to support the Diocese of El Camino Real in its call to be a missional diocese with a collaborative mode of ministry among lay and clergy leaders,” said the Rt. Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves, current bishop of El Camino Real. “His interest in people, their spiritual journeys, and his sense of adventure were gifts to our diocese in its earliest days, nurturing it as a place where the Gospel could always flourish amidst a very diverse and rapidly changing context. He will always be a critical part of the story of El Camino Real and will be missed.”

Mallory was predeceased by Martha (“Marti”), his most recent wife, and before that Antonia (“Toni”). He is survived by his brother William Lee Mallory and his first wife Mondi, mother of his five children, plus nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. His memorial will be at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, California, to be announced at a later date.

Texas Court of Appeals judgment favors Episcopal Church parties

Fri, 04/06/2018 - 3:08pm

[Episcoapl Diocese of Fort Worth] The Fort Worth Court of Appeals issued a 178-page opinion April 5 in favor of the loyal Episcopalians of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. In a decision authored by the Chief Justice, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s 2015 judgment for the breakaway parties and held that Episcopalians are entitled to control both the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and its corporation.

Noting that the parties agreed that the corporation held legal title to all of the property in dispute, the Court of Appeals also analyzed two examples of the many deeds at issue. The Court of Appeals rendered judgment in favor of the Episcopalians on those two deeds, both of which relate to property occupied by All Saints Episcopal Church (Fort Worth). The Court of Appeals then remanded the many other, similar deeds to the trial court so it could rule on those deeds using the same analysis.

“We are very grateful for the care taken by the Fort Worth Court of Appeals in reaching its decision,” said Bishop Scott Mayer of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth said. “As this unfolds, the people and clergy of our diocese will, as always, carry on our work as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. We continue to hold all involved in our prayers.”

The Episcopal parties and congregations look forward to the resolution of this matter and the trial court’s enforcement of the Court of Appeals’ opinion.

The opinion is available here.

Anglican bishops join other faith leaders to criticize British ‘two-child’ welfare cap

Fri, 04/06/2018 - 3:01pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] A group of 60 Anglican bishops have been joined by other faith and charity leaders to criticize a British government cap on the number of children in a family who count for welfare purposes. Tax credits and universal credits are two welfare benefits paid to unemployed people and those on low-incomes. Since last year, calculations of the amount families receive have been restricted to count no more than two children. In a letter published in The Times newspaper April 6, faith leaders say it risks tipping “an estimated extra 200,000 children into poverty.”

Rained out at anti-racism rally, Presiding Bishop vows ‘we will act now for our future’

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 4:09pm

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, both of whom were bumped from the A.C.T. to End Racism Rally line-up due to weather delays, prepare to record a video message from the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Photo: Neva Rae Fox

[Episcopal News Service] Looking back on the horrific assassination 50 years ago of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and looking forward to the end of racism, Episcopalians came with thousands of others to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. April 4 for the A.C.T. to End Racism Rally.

The day began cold and windy, and just before noon organizers delayed the rally for nearly 45 minutes out of concern for what one unidentified woman at the microphone called “a rapidly moving weather front” approaching the capital. She asked rally marshals to help attendees find cover in nearby museums, including the Smithsonian Institute.

That weather delay caused the organizers to reshuffle the line-up of more than 60 speakers. Both Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton were bumped from the list. Curry was scheduled to lead off the rally’s last section, which formed a call to action and next steps.

Instead, as the rally went on, he recorded a video message for the National Council of Churches, organizers of the event, to use.

“We will act now, and we will act for our future, joining our brothers and sisters so that the future for our children will be a future worthy of them,” Curry said as he stood on the mall with the U.S. Capitol in the background.

Curry said people gathered for the rally to “act now to engage in the work of seeking to eradicate racism and its vestiges in our country, and in our world.

“We do so not simply to remember the past, but we do so to learn from the past in order that we might live and enter a transformed future.”

Pointing over his shoulder to the Capitol, the presiding bishop said the building symbolizes “hope for our children – for generations of children yet to be born.” It is a hope, he said, “that there is equal opportunity for education no matter who they are, that there are voting rights for all citizens of this great country because all of us have been created in the image and likeness of God, as it says in the first chapter of Genesis, so that America will truly be America: a land of liberty, a land of justice, a land of equality.”

Curry pledged the Episcopal Church’s commitment to making that hope a reality. “On this day and the days going forward, we as Episcopalians join with our fellow Christians and other people of goodwill and of all faiths and types who seek to make this world something that more closely resembles God’s dream and not a human nightmare,” he said.

The rally’s speakers, each of whom were given a short amount of time at the microphone and many of whom ran over their time, included Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Islamic and Zoroastrian leaders. Secular activists spoke as well, including actors, singers, doctors and Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of Ben & Jerry’s.

Cohen told the crowd that if he and Greenfield had been black, the ice cream company would not exist. “The deck would’ve been just too stacked against us,” he said.

We’re proud to have our cofounders Ben and Jerry speaking about systemic racism in America at #Act2EndRacism in DC. https://t.co/WNjrBZnv3Y

— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) April 4, 2018

The NCC said earlier that the rally “is part of a movement to change the horror of the assassination into a strong witness for ending racism.”

The NCC, to which the Episcopal Church and nearly 40 other Christian traditions belong, vowed to “pick up the torch and carrying on with a multi-year effort to finish the work Dr. King began.” The effort is also endorsed by an ecumenical group of religious organizations.

A.C.T. stands for awaken, confront and transform, and the NCC says its goal is to remove racism from the nation’s social fabric and bring the country together. The night before the rally, many participants met at Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Washington, D.C., to pray for an end to racism. The service took place on the Greek Orthodox Church’s Holy Tuesday, a day with a liturgy that is noted for its theme of repentance, according to the cathedral’s website.

The rally and surrounding events will be followed April 5 by a National Day of Advocacy & Action. The day will include training in how to organize effective legislative visits and other aspects of such advocacy work, as well as actual visits to congressional offices.

Curry’s planned participation in the rally was part of the Episcopal Church’s larger pledge “to act faithfully on its long history of honorable General Convention and Executive Council intentions but imperfect and fragmentary practical actions in matters of poverty, racism, sexism, and economic justice,” as the church’s Executive Council said in a resolution it passed at its January meeting. That resolution called for the church to develop an official relationship with the 2018 Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

Diocese of Milwaukee Bishop Steven Miller, right, and the Rev. Chuck Wynder, the Episcopal Church’s officer for social justice and advocacy engagement, listen to speakers April 4 at the A.C.T. to End Racism Rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Photo: Neva Rae Fox

The Episcopal Church is in the midst of a season of justice engagement, the Rev. Chuck Wynder, the church’s officer for social justice and advocacy engagement, told Episcopal News Service. That season has already included Episcopalians’ participation in the March 24 March for Our Lives.

“One of our goals is to be in the public square on this 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr.  King,” Wynder said. “And, as a member church of the NCC, to participate actively in this long-term initiative to end racism by engaging in work and ministries of racial justice, racial equity and racial reconciliation both inside the church and in our communities.”

By being involved in the A.C.T. rally, the Episcopal Church can “be in the public square and to state publically on this very important day where we’re going and where we hope to go.”

Wynder said the church’s involvement is also a way for Episcopalians to live into the Becoming Beloved Community effort that offers the Episcopal Church ways to organize its many efforts to respond to racial injustice and grow a community of reconcilers, justice-makers and healers. Getting involved in the 2018 Poor People’s Campaign is a significant step in that direction, he said.

The 2018 campaign echoes King’s plan in 1968 for a Poor People’s campaign, a plan he announced in a sermon on March 31, 1968, from the pulpit of Washington National Cathedral.

Four days before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached his last Sunday sermon at Washington National Cathedral. “There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right,” King said. Photo: The Archives of the Episcopal Church

“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will,” King said in what would be his last Sunday sermon before his death.

“In a few weeks some of us are coming to Washington to see if the will is still alive or if it is alive in this nation. We are coming to Washington in a Poor People’s Campaign.”

King assured the congregation that this would not be a “histrionic gesture” or one meant to cause violence. “We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. We read one day, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’ But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists,” he said.

“We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago. And we are coming to engage in dramatic nonviolent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible.”

Those demonstrations had been tentatively set for June 15, 1968. King was gunned down on April 4 by an assassin in Memphis, Tennessee, four days after his sermon at Washington National Cathedral. Thousands of people spilled out of the cathedral on April 5 to mourn his assassination.

The cathedral will commemorate King’s sermon on April 4 with a choral evensong that will include scripture and music associated with the recognition of King. Following the service, the cathedral will play the sermon, titled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” A non-downloadable audio recording is here.

The cathedral will participate in a worldwide tolling of church bells the evening of April 4. The toll will begin with the bells at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis at 6:01 p.m. CDT, followed by bells throughout that city, and then across the country and the world. The cathedral’s bells will sound at 7:05 p.m. EDT. Many Episcopal churches plan to join the tolling.

The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of the cathedral, recently noted that King was invited to preach in the cathedral to “explain ‘to the white clergy and the people of Greater Washington’ that his planned Poor People’s Campaign was intended to be ‘non-violent’ and not ‘disruptive of life in Washington.’” However, some Episcopalians protested the invitation. “It appears obvious that King’s purposes are definitely racist (one group only) and whose goal is to stir up more racial tension and anxiety, which can only lead to disaster,” one woman wrote.

The cathedral will also commemorate King’s last sermon during its 11:15 a.m. Eucharist on April 8. The service will include recorded excerpts of King’s sermon along with music and prayers from the March 31, 1968, service.

The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, the presiding bishop’s canon for evangelism, reconciliation and creation care, is interviewed in the media tent April 4 during the A.C.T. to End Racism Rally. Photo: Neva Rae Fox

And, in Memphis on April 7, St. Mary’s Cathedral in the Diocese of West Tennessee will host a commemoration of the April 5, 1968, Ministers March, during which about 300 clergy gathered at the cathedral the day after King was killed about two miles away.

“After prayer and soul-searching discussion,” the Very Rev. Andy Andrews, cathedral dean, said in a recent letter, they adopted a statement favoring the striking city sanitation workers whom King had come to the city to support. Approximately 150 ministers then marched from St. Mary’s to the mayor’s office to present their demands. Then-Dean Bill Dimmick led the march with the cathedral cross.

“The cathedral congregation has never been the same,” Andrews said in his letter.

St. Mary’s is hosting an all-day interfaith event that will include a block party and a worship service featuring some of the clergy who were at the original march. The march will also be re-enacted, and marchers are scheduled to meet with current Mayor Jim Strickland, whom Andrews said will “welcome us in a different fashion that Mayor [Henry] Loeb 50 years ago.”

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

General Convention will again grapple with same-sex marriage questions

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 12:57pm

“Liturgical Resources 1: I Will Bless You, and You Will Be a Blessing” was one of the rites General Convention authorized in 2015 for trial use. Photo: Church Publishing Inc.

[Episcopal News Service] On June 26, 2015, when a U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, the 78th General Convention was in its second day.

A few days later, convention authorized two new marriage rites for trial use (Resolution A054) by both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. The bishops and deputies also made the canonical definition (via Resolution A036) of marriage gender-neutral.

Indie Pereia asked her priest, who was at convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, if this meant she and her then-fiancée could finally get married at their parish in Tennessee.

It wasn’t until November 2015 that the answer to Pereia’s question became clear. Diocese of Tennessee Bishop John Bauerschmidt told the diocese that he would not allow the use of the rites and that only marriages between men and women could be performed in the diocese. He said that same-sex couples could work with Diocese of Kentucky clergy, whose bishops said they could use the rites.

“From my perspective, I don’t really want to have a destination wedding in Kentucky, not to insult Kentucky,” Pereia told Episcopal News Service.

Thus, “almost three years later we still haven’t had access to a church wedding, which we had been hoping for,” said Pereia, who attends St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Nashville. She and her partner had a civil marriage but, she added, “I still hope that I can have my marriage blessed in my parish.” And blessed by the priest who, she said, “has walked with me through some of the most difficult moments of my life.”

When convention authorized the liturgies in 2015, bishops and deputies said individual diocesan bishops had to approve their use.  And convention directed diocesan bishops to “make provision for all couples asking to be married in this church to have access to these liturgies.”

General Convention’s Task Force on the Study of Marriage has since monitored the use of the trial liturgies and is aware of concern about unequal access to the trial use liturgies. Its Blue Book Report, released April 3, says it found that eight diocesan bishops in the church’s 101 domestic dioceses have not authorized the trial liturgies.

The Episcopal Church includes 10 dioceses in civil legal jurisdictions that do not allow marriage for same-sex couples. Since church canons require compliance with both civil and canonical requirements for marriage, convention did not authorize the trial liturgies for use in those dioceses. The task force received a statement that was signed by five Province IX diocesan bishops and one retired bishop representing the dioceses of Ecuador Littoral, Ecuador Central, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Honduras. Their statement criticized the task force’s recommendations and threatened that approval would “greatly deepen the breach, the division and the Ninth Province will have to learn to walk alone.” The bishops of Colombia and Puerto Rico did not sign the statement.

The task force is proposing that convention require bishops in authority to “make provision for all couples asking to be married in this church to have reasonable and convenient access to these trial rites.” It also would have convention say that bishops will “continue the work of leading the church in comprehensive engagement with these materials and continue to provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church.” The reference to “generous pastoral response” echoes Resolution 2009-C056, which forms part of the history of the church’s move towards marriage equality.

In the General Convention worship hall before the daily Eucharist on June 26, 2017, the Rev. Susan Russell, a longtime advocate for the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church, past president of Integrity and senior associate at All Saints Church in Pasadena, California, celebrates that day’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. With her is the Rev. Michael Sniffen, now the dean of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, New York, and a self-described “straight ally.” Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Essentially, the task force is saying that, in the words of the Rev. Susan Russell, a task force member who helped research the acceptance and use of the trial liturgies, “it shouldn’t depend on your ZIP code to have access to the rites.”

The eight bishops who have prohibited same-gender marriage in their dioceses are Albany Bishop William Love, Central Florida Bishop Greg Brewer, Dallas Bishop George Sumner, Florida Bishop John Howard, North Dakota Bishop Michael Smith, Springfield Bishop Dan Martins, Tennessee’s Bauerschmidt and Virgin Islands Bishop Ambrose Gumbs, according to the task force.

Love, Brewer, Sumner, Martins and Bauerschmidt prohibit clergy canonically resident in those dioceses to use the liturgies inside or outside of the diocese, the report said.

“At this point it’s very unclear whether canonically resident clergy could actually use the liturgies [anywhere] without the permission of their own bishop,” Bauerschmidt told ENS before the report was released “So, that’s not so much my idea, but I think it’s implied by the 2015 resolution.”

The bishops in Albany, Central Florida, Dallas, Florida and Tennessee have told same-sex couples who wish to be married to go to a neighboring diocese, according to the report. Smith has provided Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) for a parish that asked to use the liturgies. The task force said it could not determine whether Gumbs has made provisions for Virgin Islands couples to access the liturgies.

“I was honestly quite surprised to find that the liturgies were being so overwhelmingly received and overwhelmingly authorized with so few restrictions,” Russell, a longtime advocate for the full inclusion of LBGTQI people in the life of the church, told Episcopal News Service.

“I couldn’t have imagined those numbers 10 years ago,” she added.

Task Force Chair Joan Geiszler-Ludlum agreed. She told ENS that the group found that the restrictions some bishops have placed on their use are “fairly innocuous” and include such things as approval of both the rector and the vestry or use after a congregational discernment process.

The overwhelming majority of task force members agreed to call for the whole church to have equal access to the rites, Geiszler-Ludlum and Russell said.

The proposed new requirement of “reasonable and convenient access” is not the only recommendation on marriage that the task force is making to General Convention. The group is calling for continued trial use of the liturgies as additions to the Book of Common Prayer, as well as amendments to the prayer book’s other marriage rites, prefaces and sections of the Catechism to make language gender-neutral.

The task force would also have convention authorize two liturgies for blessing the relationships of couples who choose not to marry for legal or financial reasons. It also recommends that the church ponder new ways to minister to the growing number of people who cohabitate in committed and monogamous relationships rather than marry. ENS coverage of those recommendations can be found here.

Meanwhile back in Tennessee

Episcopalians who live in the eight dioceses and want access to same-sex marriage worry that the rest of the church does not grasp their situation. Connally Davies Penley, who helped form the advocacy group All Sacraments for All People, or ASAP, in the Diocese of Tennessee, says that when she travels to other dioceses and tells her diocese’s story “people are just astonished. They have no idea that this is happening. I think if people know, we can get somewhere, but they just don’t know.”

ASAP and five congregations submitted a diocesan convention resolution to have the diocese ask General Convention to allow clergy and churches to decide on access to the same-sex marriage rites, instead of bishops.

“I think the work before us is to learn how to speak to each other in a gracious way, not to engage in legislation. The trouble with legislative fixes is that in making them we create winners and losers,” Bauerschmidt said in his address to diocese convention.

In the end, the convention passed a substitute resolution to send a so-called “memorial” to General Convention asking that its 2018 deliberations “take into account the exclusions, competing convictions, and loss of community experienced by the members of this diocese under the current terms of authorization for these texts.”

ASAP supported the substitute resolution “because we thought it could pass and it did almost unanimously, and so to have something from the whole diocese with an almost unanimous vote seemed powerful,” said Davies Penley.

Pereia agreed. “It said that the way things are currently are not working well for our diocese, so we thought that was a good start,” she said.

We supported this substitute resolution which just PASSED! Only one vote against. It’s not everything, but it’s so much more than we have ever gotten before. Alleluia. pic.twitter.com/MVOd8WveDt

— All Sacraments for All People (@asaptn) January 20, 2018

“It was wonderful occasion of a diocese coming together in the face of the prospect of challenges to our unity,” Bauerschmidt told ENS.

Davies Penley and Pereia said theirs and ASAP’s goal is “to draw the circle bigger,” in Davies Penley’s words. “This has been drawn here as this black-and-white, either-or issue,” she said. “I’m not going to change Bishop Bauerschmidt’s mind and that’s not my job. I just want room for all of us.”

“And while I disagree with priests in this diocese who say it’s wrong, I’m not trying to change their minds and I trust their hearts. They’re trying to do their best but leave space for us, too.”

Geiszler-Ludlum and Russell said the resolution was a compromise that “was still a win for them.” Russell added that the history of the effort to allow all Episcopalians access to the sacrament of marriage has included other compromises along the way.

A push for equal access in Central Florida

The Rev. Alison Harrity, rector of St. Richard’s Episcopal Church in Winter Park, said some priests in the Diocese of Central Florida have considered what one called “a public act of canonical disobedience” after which they would face the consequences in order to draw attention to the disparity.

Harrity and others from St. Richard’s and elsewhere in the diocese attempted in late January to have their diocesan convention change a canon that restricts marriage to heterosexual couples and denies clergy the ability to solemnize same-sex marriages. They also asked the diocese to commit to “ending institutional and other forms of discrimination for LGBTQ+ people” and form a task force to study the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the sacramental life of the church.

Both resolutions were ruled out of order weeks before the Jan. 26-27 convention because, Brewer said in his convention address, they failed to measure up in what he called his grid for decision-making. The grid is based on the text of the examination (page 517 of the Book of Common Prayer) of a bishop-elect during his or her ordination and consecration. Brewer said it helps him balance coherence with the faith of the apostles with the impact of any action on the faith, unity and discipline of the church, and what he called “my global responsibility as a leader who shares that leadership with other bishops throughout the world.”

He called, instead, for a task force to reflect on the 2015 actions of General Convention on marriage, and their canonical and pastoral implications for diocesan congregations. The task force will also consider the biblical, theological and pastoral implications of convention’s actions.

Brewer’s remarks on the resolutions begin at the 27:03 mark in this video.

Geiszler-Ludlum called the proposed task force “a big step” because it means that there will be “some discussion within that diocese.”

However, Jim Christoph, St. Richard’s senior warden, told ENS that the goal of the proposed task force “is not to research how this diocese is treating gay people. It’s to react to the national church and their error.” Christoph also objected to what he called Brewer’s “denunciation” by name of the St. Richard’s vestry during his address.

“I felt very belittled,” said Stephen O’Connell, who is the secretary of St. Richard’s vestry. “I felt like I was a child being reprimanded in front of a whole group of people and shamed for something we felt was important.”

Brewer has not been available for comment.

Harrity said she “naively believed” that advocates of marriage equality would not have to resort to performing that act of canonical disobedience because they had a process available to them at diocesan convention to attempt to try to change the restrictive canon.

“But, the truth of the matter is this church allows bishops to make up rules along the margins of canon law, both national canon law and local canon law, that circumvent any process,” she said. “The only way that we are going to get anything done in regard to canonical rights for gay people in the church is to be disobedient to our bishops? I am not interested in getting spit on or having anybody that we’re connected to getting spit on when we have a process that would work for us if it was allowed to work.”

Touching on larger issues of authority

The question of access to marriage is part of a larger one about where a diocesan bishop’s authority ends.

“There is the question of whether or not the bishop actually has the authority, canonically, to prohibit clergy under their licensure from functioning outside the diocese with liturgies approved by the General Convention,” Russell said. “There are those who argue it is not within their authority to do that. That is, for many in the church, not a settled point.”

“There’s a wide divergence of opinion about how much control bishops have, and the bishops themselves have different views of that, too,” Geiszler-Ludlum said.

There are other questions about authority. Can a bishop deny a sacrament to a group of people based on their sexual orientation? And can dioceses enact canons that restrict access to sacraments in ways that conflict with the canons of the wider church? Albany, Central Florida and Dallas have canons that restrict marriage to heterosexual couples.

Hopeful that we can find a middle way where all may, but none must. Radical hospitality means access for ALL to fullness of Christian life. Marriage included. #gc79 https://t.co/QCb0uxZ9KJ

— All Sacraments for All People (@asaptn) February 1, 2018

Bauerschmidt hopes that the Episcopal Church will “find a way to make room for those who hold the traditional teaching of the church on marriage,” and to acknowledge that those people are “loyal members of the Episcopal Church.” He hopes for a “robust” solution that lasts over time and doesn’t need to be renewed every three years.

“I think it’s going to require the creativity of a lot of people,” he said.

Bauerschmidt added that he hopes convention will also “preserve the traditional and canonical responsibilities of bishops,” adding, “I really don’t know what that looks like, but I think that’s important, too.”

The task force’s suggested solution to the access question is part of a proposed resolution outlining how convention might make “permanent additions and revisions to the Book of Common Prayer” of four marriage liturgies and specific gender-neutralizing word changes about marriage.

Those proposals could run in tandem with convention’s consideration whether and how to begin a process for revising the prayer book. Convention’s legislative committee that will review all prayer book revision resolutions will handle the task force’s proposals. The task force is not proposing that the prayer book would need to be reprinted but that the additional rites be published separately at first.

The task force also is proposing to change Book of Common Prayer’s “An Outline of the Faith,” also known as the Catechism, to state that Christian marriage involves “two people,” not “the woman and the man,” as it now says on page 861. It would also add a question about marriage to explain the canonical requirements for marriage, including instruction in the purposes of Christian marriage.

The task force’s report was summarized during a side gathering at the March 6-9 House of Bishops retreat. Bauerschmidt said any proposal to change the Catechism’s definition of marriage “would be of great concern to those who hold to the traditional teaching” about marriage both inside and outside of the Episcopal Church.

Although the March HOB meeting is traditionally largely private, Springfield Bishop Dan Martins blogged about each day’s sessions. On March 8, he wrote that he attended the gathering and rejected the proposal to consider the trial use liturgies to be part of the prayer book.

Martins noted that while a diocesan bishop can refuse to permit use of a trial liturgy, he or she cannot prevent clergy from using material deemed to be part of the Book of Common Prayer. He said the proposal “deserved a lot more consideration than it is getting at this meeting of the house.”

He added that it was “borderline dereliction of duty” not to have the entire house discuss the proposal. If the convention’s decision in 2003 to allow the Diocese of New Hampshire to have Gene Robinson, an openly gay partnered man, as its bishop was “an earthquake,” Martins wrote, “approval of anything like the Task Force on Marriage’s proposal would be a catastrophic aftershock.”

Gieszler-Ludlum and Russell said the task force members reached their conclusions by consensus. However, the Rev. Jordan Hylden, canon theologian of the Diocese of Dallas, filed a minority report, which begins on page 116 of the report, objecting to the make-up of the task force and its process, conclusions and their implications.

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

Convention’s marriage task force proposes non-marriage rites, ways to minister to cohabitants

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 12:56pm

General Convention’s Task Force of the Study of Marriage is proposing a number of changes and additions to the Book of Common Prayer’s marriage rites and definitions, as well as finding ways to minister to those who live in monogamous relationships outside of marriage. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] General Convention’s Task Force on the Study of Marriage has made significant recommendations that would expand the Episcopal Church’s decision to allow same-sex couples access to sacramental marriage, and it is also asking convention to look beyond marriage.

In its Blue Book Report, released April 3, the task force proposes to add to the “Enriching Our Worship” series two rites for blessing relationships. They are intended for couples that want to formalize their monogamous, unconditional and lifelong relationship but not get married.

“The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” would be for use in jurisdictions of the Episcopal Church in which the couple desiring marriage is of the same sex and when the civil jurisdiction in which the marriage would occur does not allow marriage of same-sex people, the task force said.

A second new rite, “The Blessing of a Lifelong Relationship,” is intended for couples who desire to formalize their monogamous, unconditional and lifelong relationships that are “something different than a marriage in that [they do] not include the merging of property, finances or other legal encumbrances.” It could also be used by couples for whom the requirement to furnish identification to obtain a marriage license could result in legal penalties including deportation, because of immigration status, the task force said.

The rite “shall not be used for mere convenience,” according to the proposed resolution.

Diocesan bishops would have to approve use of the rites and no member of the clergy would be required to officiate at such blessings.

A couple’s desire to use the second rite might be prompted, the task force said, by the needs and rights of children of a former marriage; a need to maintain individuals’ ability to uphold the financial obligations and commitments of their household; and a desire to maintain their ability to support themselves with shelter, food and health care, recognizing that a new marriage would cut off the benefits they receive from their former spouse, and if their subsequent marriage should end in death or divorce, they would be left without any pension or health care.

Younger members of the task force asked the group to consider how the church could develop pastoral resources that recognize the rising rate of U.S. adults who live in sexually intimate relationships other than marriage. The resources could include “spiritual practices, to aid individuals and couples in discerning their vocation to relationship, be it to singleness, celibacy, marriage and/or parenting,” according to the resolution.

The resolution’s explanation says that in 2016 approximately 18 million U.S. adults were in cohabiting relationships, a 29 percent increase over a nine-year period. About 4.1 million of those people were age 50 and older.

When it comes to nuanced and sensitive guidance and teaching regarding sexual intimacy, many people feel largely alone, the task force said it its report, “having found the church’s counsel to remain sexually abstinent outside of marriage insufficient and unreflective of their experience of the holy in relationship.”

The resolution says that development of the resources would be guided by this statement: “Qualities of relationship that ground in faithfulness the expression of sexual intimacy include:  fidelity, monogamy, commitment, mutual affection, mutual respect, careful and honest communication, physical maturity, emotional maturity, mutual consent, and the holy love which enables those in intimate relationships to see in each other the image of God.”

The Rev. Susan Russell, a task force member, told Episcopal News Service that passage of the resolution would be “a pretty radical step forward” but one that would acknowledge the couples who are involved in these sorts of relationships. “If the church has nothing to say to them, we’re increasingly irrelevant,” she added.

The presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies would appoint a new task force to develop the resources.

Task Force Chair Joan Geiszler-Ludlum said both the new rites and this latter proposal would be the church’s way to help couples “elevate” their relationships “from just being casual or temporary.”

“It’s not marriage and it’s not going to be marriage, but we want to recognize it for what it is, and then say that the couples need to be discerning about what they’re doing with their relationship. We want to help them do that discernment.”

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

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