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Episcopalians say faith and fitness can unite to strengthen spiritual and physical muscles

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 1:48pm

Yoga students learn the crescent pose, as well as receive the Eucharist at YogaMass, an idea created by the Rev. Gena Davis and run with Rev. John K. Graham, in Houston, Texas and beyond. Photo: Jonathan Dow/YogaMass

[Episcopal News Service] Something happened when the Rev. Gena Davis balanced on one leg for tree pose and reached her arms skyward while squatting for chair pose in yoga class. Something transformational.

“It starts as a physical practice, and it can move into a spiritual practice. And that’s when the real question comes: What is this, and how can I make sense of this as a priest?” said Davis, who was vicar of Grace Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, at the time. She did her yoga teacher training then, too.

“In church, some people feel they’re worshipping in their head. This is a way to bring the body into worship. We totally recognize the mind-body-spirit connection. They’re integrated. It’s really a movement toward wholeness.”

Many Episcopalians are recognizing that Christians and other spiritual seekers often need a more holistic approach to practicing their faith, fellowship and worship.

Fitness is one way. Faith and fitness can go hand in hand in many types of exercise, be it mediation while running, taking a boot camp class or practicing yoga.

Davis’ personal yoga practice inspired her to co-create YogaMass, which incorporates the Eucharist. Partnering with the Rev. John K. Graham, president and CEO of the Institute for Spirituality and Health at the Texas Medical Center and interim priest at Grace Church, she received approval from Texas Bishop Andy Doyle to create a liturgy for the YogaMass. The yoga worship services began in January 2016.

Davis leads the yoga flow; she and Graham take turns sharing the gospel; they both celebrate Eucharist; and sometimes they have someone else lead the meditation portion. While the ritual and practice started at Grace Church, they now move to different locations throughout Houston, and have plans for spots in California. Davis wants to share this experience with as many people in as many places as possible.

(Left to right) Cyrus Wirls on dgembe drum and Stuart Nelson on sitar play music while the Rev. John K. Graham and the Rev. Gena Davis lead the class up front near the altar during YogaMass. Davis started the program in 2016, at Grace Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, and now takes it across the area, as well as California, to spread awareness of its fusion of ancient yoga practices and Christian principles. Davis and others provide classes that also act as a worship and meditation service. Photo: Jonathan Dow/YogaMass

She wrote a book, “YogaMass: Embodying Christ Consciousness,” published by Balboa Press in April, detailing how yoga’s ancient principles are complementary with Christian values. The book’s first line, “This is my body,” is what Davis says every time she celebrates the Eucharist.

“As Episcopalians, we know those are the words Jesus spoke on his last night. Those are Eucharistic words. Those are our words as faithful Christians, and to bring it home and say it yourself, that brings up all sorts of possibility for exploration,” Davis said. “I think that’s too powerful to pass up. We can’t ignore the body. It’s our way of experiencing life.”

Practicing yoga has opened up Christianity for Davis. It’s a perspective that’s deepened her faith. The practice can broaden the boundaries as well. People in their 20s have told her they’re not comfortable in traditional church settings, but they still want to worship. YogaMass is their answer.

“There’s this huge fitness craze out there. I see people get on their mats and feel so good, but what they’re longing for is that connection with other people, and the Divine, and that’s God. Sometimes they can’t name that,” Davis said.

 Fitness as outreach

Drawing people from the community who might not otherwise go to church is a big motivator for churches to host fitness classes.

“Big churches in the Baby Boomer generation saw their fitness centers as a type of YMCA, a tremendous outreach,” said the Rev. Hillary Raining, who teaches yoga at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. “Taking care of your body is a Christian value. Paul tells us our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit; and I don’t think you’d leave your church temple in disarray.”



People seeking martial arts might find themselves at St. Thomas in New Windsor, New York. The Hudson Valley church has a tai-chi-wushu kung fu fusion fitness class on Saturdays through mid-December.

Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Memphis, Tennessee, has a Parish Life Center open to parishioners and the community. The center offers sports, group-fitness classes, personal training, an indoor track, basketball court, weight machines, recovery groups, small-group meetings, neighborhood gatherings and dinners. Today’s group fitness classes include tai chi, yoga, Pilates, post-pregnancy classes, mother-and-child stroller fitness and a diverse fitness adventure-oriented class.

It’s basically a free gym behind the church connected by a covered driveway, operated with Christian values that anyone can use, as long as they follow the rules of conduct, said Marietta Haaga, director of recreation. Of course, donations are accepted.

Parishioners raised the money to build the center in 1999, as a recreation outreach ministry. Some instructors start off their classes with prayer. “Keeping people on track, physically, mentally and spiritually is what we’re about,” said Haaga, who is also a personal trainer. “Really, our philosophy and ministry is to make sure people stay healthy in mind, soul and body.”

Providing a place for people to exercise in a good, clean, safe and Christian environment accomplishes that goal. Sometimes people tell Haaga they went to a church service because they heard about it at the Parish Life Center. The center also offers speakers, health fairs and blood drives.

Fitness as worship

You don’t have to tell Paige Lollis that faith and fitness can be intertwined. She was the catalyst of such a combination at her church, St. Philips Episcopal Church in Frisco, Texas. It began when Lollis took Pilates with Christi Price, a certified instructor and fellow woman of faith. They transformed their private Pilates session into a worship workout, incorporating faith-based music and scripture.

The Faith and Fitness ministry at St. Philips Episcopal Church in Frisco, Texas, offers Pilates and Holy Yoga classes, a program begun by church member Paige Lollis. Photo: Christi Price

Lollis liked it so much, she talked to Kelley Prahl, then the church’s director of adult discipleship. They started offering six-class sessions of yoga every season. Bible verses are read and Christian music is played in each class. This past season, they added Holy Yoga taught by Maureen Beville, an instructor certified in the gospel-centered yoga with its own training certification.

“When you come to church, you meet God on your pew, whereas with this, you meet God on your mat,” Lollis said. “Instead of the instructor telling you to lift your hands to the ceiling, it’s raising your hands to the Lord. We’re very intentional. We want to center our minds on the Word of God and integrate it into our muscle memory.”

Class fees range from $10 to $15, and a portion of proceeds go to a charitable organization, most recently, the Redeemed Women ministry.

Stevi McCoy, the church’s director of community life, loves taking the Pilates class. “This is another way to worship; we’re trying to offer the biggest selection of ways to worship and fellowship and grow as disciples,” McCoy said.

“I feel like any other kind of exercise classes focuses on you; in these classes, you focus on God. That’s the biggest difference. You have thanksgiving for your life.”

Fitness as meditation

In Gladwyne, Raining teaches an ancient type of yoga called ashtanga at her Pennsylvania church. The free classes are twice a week and available to all members of the community. She starts class with a meditation that blends Christian and yoga principles, gives a mini sermon, instructs students in their yoga poses and closes with a meditation.

“What I found in yoga is a beautiful blend of inward change that has an outward catalyst,” Raining said.

Yoga instructor and spiritual leader Amy Dolan and the Rev. Hillary Raining, who teaches yoga at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, are co-authoring a book, “Faith with a Twist: A 30 Day Yoga Journey.” Photo: HillaryRaining.com

Other kinds of exercise can be meditative too. The priest loves to run and hike. She usually listens to music, but she can decide to spend 10 minutes of that time as a meditation by setting the playlist to hymns. As a Lenten discipline, she once fasted from listening to music while running and listened to the silence instead.

“Yoga has the advantage because it’s built into the aura of the practice. But any fitness practice done with intention can bring you closer to God,” Raining said.

With fellow yoga instructor and spiritual leader Amy Dolan, Raining is also writing a book, “Faith with a Twist: A 30 Day Yoga Journey,” which she hopes to offer at the 79th General Convention in July in Austin, Texas. She’s also in the process of building a woman’s spiritual and wellness website, called The Hive.

You don’t have to be scared that you’re following Buddhism or Hinduism when practicing yoga, these Christian yoga teachers say. The parallels are a natural fit. For example, yoga’s drishti technique uses a specific gazing direction for the eyes to control attention, according to Yoga Journal.

It’s a Sanskrit term for your focal gazing point, which helps you concentrate, stay balanced and go deeper into the posture.

“If your eyes are on something moving, you will fall down,” Raining said. “I think that’s a really Christian thing to think too: Whatever you’re keeping your gaze on that’s true and holy, not the temptations and distractions, when your gaze is focused on Christ, that’s where you’re heading. I can practice it on my mat, and I can practice it in my life.”

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

Episcopal climate-talks delegation plans to continue church’s advocacy

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 12:16pm



[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians from across the church are heading to Bonn, Germany, for the 23rd United Nations climate change conference, where they hope to continue the advocacy begun at the past two gatherings.

Officially known as the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Nov. 6-17 conference is an annual intergovernmental meeting to focus on global dialogue and action around the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Fiji is presiding over COP23 in Bonn with the support of the German government. More information on COP23 can be found here.

Previous meetings have produced the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement, which serves as the basis for standards on climate action and lowering carbon emissions.

Appointed by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, the 11-member COP23 delegation will share Episcopal Church resolutions on climate change and information about the church and its ministries centered on ecojustice. Led by Diocese California Bishop Marc Andrus, the delegation will offer a spiritual presence through daily interfaith prayer and worship, and by encouraging active churchwide participation by Episcopalians through virtual participation and social media.

“Our goals are to build on the work done at previous conferences by urging member states to implement the Paris Agreement and pay particular attention to developing nations and the poor,” said the Rev. Canon Charles Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond the Episcopal Church, in a press release.

Robertson said the delegation also hopes to “network within the accredited and public zones of the conference to spread the word about what the Episcopal Church is doing on climate issues.”

In addition, the delegation hopes its efforts will “raise awareness across the Episcopal Church of the importance of engaging on climate change as Christians,” according to Robertson, and “digitally engage Episcopalians in that work.”

This event marks the third Episcopal delegation to attend a COP meeting. A delegation attended COP21 in Paris in 2015, advocating for an agreement aligning with General Convention resolutions related to climate change. In 2016, a delegation traveled to Marrakesh, Morocco, for COP22, which focused on implementing the Paris Agreement and birthed the “We’re Still In [the Paris Agreement]” movement.

The Paris Agreement, which went into effect Nov. 4, 2016, calls on the countries of the world to limit carbon emissions, which will require a decrease in dependence on fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy sources; and for developed countries, those responsible for the majority of emissions both historically and today, to commit to $100 billion in development aid annually by 2020 to developing countries.

The agreement, which is a legally binding agreement, established specific actions and targets for reducing greenhouse gases emissions, mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change, and financing mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries. Signatory countries agreed to work to limit global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius and to make strong efforts to keep the rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Bonn meeting takes place against the backdrop of President Donald Trump’s oft-repeated promise to fulfill his campaign vow to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement and curb the country’s commitment to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. According to the agreement’s rule, the United States cannot actually withdraw until 2020.

He claimed in his initial June 1 announcement that the pact was bad for the U.S. economy but said he might be open to renegotiating its terms to be more “pro-American.” That conditional approach has continued.

Our position on the Paris agreement has not changed. @POTUS has been clear, US withdrawing unless we get pro-America terms.

— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) September 16, 2017

Trump has called human-caused climate change a “hoax” and the concept of global warming a Chinese plot.

The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012

The New York Times reported Nov. 2 that the Trump administration will promote coal, natural gas and nuclear energy as an answer to climate change at a presentation in Bonn.

How to join the delegation’s participation

* Follow the delegation via its website, via Twitter (#EpiscopalClimate @EpiscoClimate) and on Facebook.

*Pray for climate action.

* Share parish or faith community activities on climate action here.

* Send prayer requests, personal poems or prayers for consideration at the interfaith service in Bonn here.


The delegation brings together a range of environmental, liturgical and churchwide experience in their representation of the presiding bishop.

The members of the Episcopal Church delegation with accredited observer status are: the Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California; Jack Cobb, domestic and environmental policy advisor, Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations; and Lynnaia Main, Episcopal Church representative to the United Nations.

Observer status allows each of these team members the ability to brief U.N. representatives on General Convention climate resolutions and to attend a variety of meetings in the official zone. Additionally, Andrus has been invited to address the inaugural UN meeting of the “We’re Still In [the Paris Agreement]” movement.

Other team members tasked with monitoring U.N. negotiations and networking are:

  • Sheila Andrus, ecological entomologist and science manager based in the Episcopal Diocese of California
  • The Rev. Andrew Barnett, associate for music and worship at the Washington National Cathedral and environmental scholar
  • Michael Coffey, an atmospheric scientist and professor at the University of the South, Sewanee
  • Nathan Empsall, Episcopal Church Global Partnerships/UN intern and communications specialist, and Yale Divinity School seminarian
  • Perry Hodgkins Jones, writer and member of the Episcopal Church Advisory Council on the Stewardship of Creation
  • The Rev. Melanie Mullen, Episcopal Church director for reconciliation, justice and creation care
  • Tom Poynor, Episcopal Church chaplain, University of California-Berkeley and scholar in theology and the arts, Diocese of California
  • Bill Slocumb, director of Episcopal Camps and Conference Centers and member of the Episcopal Communicators

For more information contact Lynnaia Main at lmain@episcopalchurch.org.

Episcopal News Service presenta nuevo sitio web

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 11:39am

[Oficina de Relaciones Públicas de la Iglesia Episcopal] Episcopal News Service (ENS), el galardonado servicio de noticias de la Iglesia Episcopal, acaba de inaugurar una nueva y avanzada página web en  www.episcopalnewsservice.org.

Visualmente atractiva, fácil de manejar y adaptada a dispositivos móviles, la nueva página web fue diseñada para mejorar la experiencia integral del usuario, crear conciencia del servicio de noticias y generar ulterior interés y participación en los ministerios transformadores de la Iglesia Episcopal.

ENS ofrece reportajes y análisis en profundidad de noticias locales, regionales, nacionales e internacionales para los episcopales y otras personas interesadas en la misión y ministerio de la Iglesia. Al ofrecer cobertura por escrito y en medios de difusión múltiples, es la fuente de noticias digital auspiciada oficialmente por la Iglesia Episcopal.

“ENS seguirá priorizando el reportaje sobre temas de justicia social, e inspirando a las personas a actuar, participar y conectarse para promover cambios significativos en el mundo”, apuntó la Rda. Mary Frances Schjonberg,  jefa de redacción interina de ENS. “ENS también proseguirá su confiable cobertura de la constante labor de la Iglesia a través de sus órganos de gobierno y sus prioridades de misión”.

Entre las muchas nuevas características y mejoras que ampliarán la experiencia del usuario se cuentan: contenido de noticias organizado en menor número de secciones con énfasis en temas y tópicos y una avanzada función de búsqueda.

Episcopal News Service es un ministerio periodístico bien establecido que es fundamental en la evangelización digital y en informar a los episcopales y a otras personas  acerca de cómo la Iglesia Episcopal vive en el Movimiento de Jesús y hace realidad el evangelio en el mundo”, apuntaba Matt Davies, encargado de la publicidad y administrador del servicio digital. “Con nuestro receptivo sitio web y nuestro continuo énfasis editorial en los problemas de justicia social, el equipo de ENS cree que ha fusionado ingredientes esenciales para satisfacer el apetito de activismo y participación sociales, y esperamos despertar el gusto de una nueva generación de activistas que anhelan hacer suya la fórmula por el cambio global”.

Elementos clave de www.episcopalnewsservice.org

  • El nuevo sitio web ENS incorpora las populares secciones de anuncios de empleos [Jobs & Calls], eventos [Events], libros [Books], comunicados de prensa [Press Releases] y artículos noticiosos sobre personas.
  • ENS sigue alentando a las diócesis y congregaciones a presentar artículos noticiosos sobre ministerios locales y acontecimientos importantes en la vida de la Iglesia. Las normas de presentación de artículos a ENS se encuentran aquí.
  • Se seguirán ofreciendo oportunidades de patrocinio y publicidad a agencias y organizaciones relacionadas con la Iglesia que deseen dar a conocer sus ministerios, servicios, eventos, marcas y productos.

Más información sobre oportunidades en ENS se pueden obtenerse de Davies en mdavies@episcopalchurch.org.

Para presentar información

ENS ofrece las siguientes vías para compartir sus noticias.

  • Para presentar un comunicado de prensa para su inclusión en Episcopal News Service, haga clic aquí.
  • Para publicar una nota sobre personas (por ejemplo, un nuevo cargo, una ordenación, un premio o un honor), haga clic aquí.
  • Para publicar un listado de empleo o de llamado, haga clic aquí.
  • Para publicar un listado de eventos, haga clic aquí.
  • Para publicar un listado de libros, haga clic aquí.