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Goats hired to clear Utah church’s weedy lot become unexpected evangelism tool

Fri, 06/02/2017 - 12:16pm

St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in West Valley City rented a flock of goats to tame an overgrown field of weeds on church property. Within days, the goats had made impressive progress. Photo: The Rev. Mary Janda

[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Mary Janda has new perspective on Matthew 25:33. If God is to separate the righteous from the cursed like sheep from goats, Janda’s recent experience at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in West Valley City, Utah, has gotten her thinking Matthew was a bit unfair to the goats in destining them for eternal punishment.

“I mean, give the goats a break,” said Janda, the vicar at St. Stephen’s.

Janda is not alone in her newfound affection for these biblically maligned animals. She, her congregation and its neighbors spent nine eventful days in May getting to know a flock of 108 goats – give or take a few, due to one death and three births. The goats proved surprisingly useful in taming the church’s field of weeds, when they weren’t escaping and getting into mischief in the neighborhood.

St. Stephen’s, a mission congregation of the Diocese of Utah, chose to rent the flock as a less expensive and more environmentally friendly way of clearing about an acre and a half of vacant church land, Janda said. In the process, the goats became an unexpected tool for evangelism.

“People stopped and took pictures, and we made the evening news,” she said by phone. The goats “just did a fantastic job.”

Churches have long incorporated animals of all kinds into their ministries, from pet-blessing services to farming projects. St. Peter’s Church in Malvern, Pennsylvania, even has maintained a flock of sheep in the church cemetery since 2003.

The goats provided by 4 Leaf Ranch had plenty to eat when they arrived at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church’s overgrown field. Photo: Mary Janda

A flock of goats may not be the best fit for many other congregations, but St. Stephen’s found it uniquely suited to its needs. Years ago, the diocese provided extra land for St. Stephen’s and other churches in Utah with the hope that it would be useful to expanding congregations. Instead, the land in West Valley City has remained vacant – “just a collection of weeds,” Janda said.

This year, when church leaders were discussing the need to hire a contractor or rent equipment to mow the land, someone said it was too bad they didn’t have goats to do the job for them. Someone else mentioned that farms rent goats for jobs like that.

The church took the idea seriously and discovered a flock for hire at 4 Leaf Ranch in Kamas, Utah. The diocese agreed to pay the ranch $1,250 to rent the goats long enough to eat the weeds in St. Stephen’s lot, and Janda said goats munch so close to the roots that their services likely are only needed once a season, rather than hiring someone to mow several times over the summer.

On May 17, the 108 goats arrived by truck and were unloaded at St. Stephen’s. The ranch set up an electric fence around the church lot to keep the flock contained and provided a water trough. One of the ranch’s goat herders was assigned to remain with the flock, sleeping in a small camper that he parked on the property.

The congregation delighted at the visitors, especially when some of them walked up to the church window and stared in at worshipers during Sunday service before returning to their meal of weeds.

The congregation also learned that a lot can happen when you invite a flock of goats over for nine days. In addition to eating virtually nonstop, the goats staged a couple of “breakouts,” in one case getting under a chain-link fence and venturing into a neighboring school yard before they were caught again.

Another time, some of the goats got out and made a snack out of a nearby resident’s flowers. Two joggers stopped to help the goat herder corral the animals back onto church property, and 4-Leaf Ranch covered the cost of the neighbor’s damaged plants.

“All in the life of the goat-herding business,” Janda said.

Life sometimes is mixed with death in this business. One elderly goat died after arriving at St. Stephen’s, a case of old age, Janda said. Two other goats had been pregnant upon arrival and gave birth in the church’s lot, one single birth and one case of twins. The mothers and newborn kids then were taken back to the ranch.

Mostly, though, the goats just ate and ate, paying little attention to the bands of onlookers who gathered now and then at the edge of the lot to watch.

“They’re so busy eating,” Janda said. “They’ll notice your presence, and then they’re continue eating.”

The goats are seen in a corral shortly before leaving St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. Photo: Mary Janda.

St. Stephen’s is working on a plan to turn part of the vacant lot into a community garden by next year, but the congregation still may need the services of the goats to clear any remaining weed-filled land.

“I just think anything we can do to show how we’re not just your institutionalized church, we’re trying to do things that are environmentally conscious and just have some fun doing it,” Janda said.

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

Episcopal Church Foundation announces 2017 fellows

Fri, 06/02/2017 - 10:53am

[Episcopal Church Foundation press release] The Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) has named five 2017 Fellows – Jennifer Adams-Massmann, Stewart Clem, Ashley Graham-Wilcox, Renee McKenzie-Hayward, and David Peters.

The Fellowship Partners Program is ECF’s longest running program and has supported emerging scholars and ministry leaders across the Episcopal Church for more than fifty years. Established in 1964 to identify academicians who intended to teach in seminary classrooms, the program continues to support emerging scholars and ministry leaders who have a passion for forming the next generation of leaders in the Episcopal Church. A full list of past recipients is available here.

ECF President Donald Romanik extended his congratulations to the 2017 Fellows saying, “The Fellowship Partners Program embodies ECF’s vision for the future of the Church, fostering theological formation and ministerial leadership, while supporting innovative scholars and leaders as they bring their passionate vision to life. This year’s Fellowship recipients are involved in a variety of initiatives that will help the Church move into exciting, new directions. We look forward to partnering closely with them over the next three years.”

The five recipients’ scholarship and ministry projects demonstrate a Church that is actively engaged with the world. The 2017 Fellows are addressing the value of truth-telling in an age of fake news, developing an understanding of congregational life through the lens of trauma, strengthening veterans’ ministries, researching the role of women in ecumenical history, and expanding key Episcopal institutions’ access to and interest in a more diverse Church. Read more about each of their projects below.

The 2017 Fellows are:

Jennifer Adams-Massmann: Jennifer is a Ph.D. candidate in American religious history at the University of Heidelberg in Germany and an Episcopal priest. Jennifer’s dissertation project deals with the first Protestant women missionaries: the Moravians. Memoirs, mission records, and travel diaries reveal their unprecedented leadership roles and influence, but also other gendered aspects of early Moravian missions including female networks, piety, and discourse which shaped the nature of early missions. Jennifer plans to share her research with the church and wider public through various media: a book publication, academic journals, popular magazines or radio podcasts, conferences, or teaching. Her goal is to help Christians engage appreciatively but critically with our past in order to address today’s challenges. Jennifer received her B.A. in English literature and political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her M.Div. from Duke Divinity School, with studies abroad in Germany and Switzerland. Ordained in 2007, she worked in university and parish ministry in the U.S. and Germany before beginning doctoral studies. She has taught courses in American religious history at the University of Heidelberg and church history with the Cambridge Theological Federation in the UK. She recently moved to England, where she lives with her husband Alexander, a German theologian and ethicist, and their son.

Stewart Clem: Stewart is a John Templeton Foundation graduate scholar and doctoral candidate in moral theology and Christian ethics at the University of Notre Dame. His research focuses on the ethics of language, with a special emphasis on lying and truth-telling in contemporary society. His current project draws upon the thought of the scholastic theologian St. Thomas Aquinas to develop an account of the virtue of truth and its opposing vices. One aim of the project is to suggest ways in which faith communities can cultivate this virtue, arguing that a just community must also share a commitment to truthfulness. Stewart serves as Assisting Priest at St. Paul’s Church (Mishawaka, Indiana) and is a frequent contributor to Covenant, the weblog of The Living Church magazine. He is a graduate of Oklahoma State University (M.A., B.A.) and Duke Divinity School (M.Div.), and his essays in philosophy and theology have appeared in journals such as New Blackfriars, Religious Studies, and the Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics.

Ashley Graham-Wilcox: Ashley is director of communications for Episcopal Camps and Conference Centers, the nationwide network of the summer camps, retreat centers, and conference centers that serve as a front line of welcome of the world to the Episcopal Church. Ashley’s goal is for campers and retreat center guests to always feel themselves welcomed and see themselves reflected when visiting an Episcopal camp or conference center. The 86 sites and over 100 programs in Episcopal camping and retreat ministry serve incredibly diverse audiences, through summer camp, retreats, conferences, outdoor education, and teambuilding programs. This fellowship aims to expand, rethink, and empower how we welcome those diverse audiences and reflect our communities, through programming, training, and staffing. Ashley worked in high tech marketing and advertising, before finding her calling in the rad and radical hospitality of camping and retreat ministry.

Renee McKenzie-Hayward: Renee is the vicar of the George W. South Memorial Church of the Advocate located in Philadelphia PA within in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania; she has served this congregation as well as Temple University as the Episcopal Chaplain since 2011. Renee received her PhD from Temple University in 2005 with a concentration on Womanist Thought and the Philosophy of Religion. The Church of the Advocate sits at the center of a historically black community, adjacent to Temple University. As an established community hub offering a variety of social service programs, the Advocate is a central place for the community to organize for social justice. Generational and sudden trauma extracts a great toll on this community. Renee’s project will develop a Trauma Informed Ministry that understands the human cost of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome and informed by Womanist and Liberation Theologies. The proposed project will enhance the Advocate’s work by organizing the ministry under a framework of healing trauma. Trauma Informed Ministry will the lens that informs relationships and services offered with and among congregation members and community. Staff and congregational leaders will better understand the manifestations of trauma, allowing the traumatized to heal via a holistic approach to wellness addressing the needs of the mind, body and spirit.

David Peters: David enlisted in the Marine Corps in his teens, finished college and seminary, and went to work as a youth minister in a suburban church in Pennsylvania. Shortly after 9/11 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq, David volunteered to serve as an Army chaplain and deployed to Iraq in 2005. After Iraq, he was assigned to the amputee and psych wards of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. These experiences in war and the trials of homecoming led him to start the Episcopal Veterans Fellowship in the Diocese of Texas in 2014. The EVF equips the Church for ministry to veterans with moral injury and the spiritual and theological affects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This grant will enable David to travel to parishes and dioceses across the Church to nurture existing veterans ministries and coach parishes and dioceses as they start new ones. David is a graduate of Seminary of the Southwest and the author of two books on war and reconciliation. His most recent is Post-Traumatic God, published by Church Publishing in 2016. An engaging preacher, his 9/11 sermon, “Learning War and Reconciliation,” won the Reconciliation Preaching Prize from Trinity, Wall Street in 2015. If you would like David to come to your parish or diocese to share the work of EVF, please contact him at runnermonk@gmail.com

Shrine security increased ahead of Uganda’s Martyrs Day

Fri, 06/02/2017 - 10:41am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Security in and around the Namugongo district of Uganda has been increased ahead of the June 3 Martyrs Day commemorations. The district is home to two neighboring shrines to 23 Anglican and 22 Catholic converts to Christianity who were executed in the mid-1880s on the orders of Mwanga II, King of what was then Buganda.

Full article.

Church funding ends for Gaza mobile dental clinic

Fri, 06/02/2017 - 10:40am

[Anglican Communion News Service] A special fund established to pay for a mobile dental clinic in Gaza is being wound up – seven years beyond its original end-date.

The Church in Wales established its Jubilee Fund as a Millennium project in 2000. The mobile dental clinic in Gaza was the fund’s main beneficiary until 2007, when it became the sole project to be supported by the fund. The Jubilee Fund was originally planned to run for just a decade, but the bishops of the Church in Wales decided to continue funding the dental clinic after hearing about the important work it was undertaking.

Full article.

Presiding Bishop responds to Trump’s decision to pull U.S. out of worldwide climate accord

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 4:36pm

[Episcopal News Service] President Donald Trump announced June 1 that he would pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement, a 2015 pledge to limit climate change signed by 196 nations.

The agreement includes a plan to decrease carbon emissions and limit global warming to 2 degrees Celcius, and a commitment from wealthier nations to provide $100 billion in aid to developing countries. The agreement is the first-ever binding, international treaty in 20 years of United Nations climate talks.

The presiding bishop’s statement follows.

With the announcement by President Donald Trump of his decision to withdraw the commitment made by the United States to the Paris Climate Accord, I am reminded of the words of the old spiritual which speaks of God and God’s creation in these words, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” The whole world belongs to God, as Psalm 24 teaches us. God’s eye is ever on even the tiny sparrow, as Jesus taught and the song says (Luke 12:6). And we human beings have been charged with being trustees, caretakers, stewards of God’s creation (Genesis 1:26-31).

The United States has been a global leader in caring for God’s creation through efforts over the years on climate change. President Trump’s announcement changes the U.S.’s leadership role in the international sphere. Despite this announcement, many U.S. businesses, states, cities, regions, nongovernmental organizations and faith bodies like the Episcopal Church can continue to take bold action to address the climate crisis.  The phrase, “We’re still in,” became a statement of commitment for many of us who regardless of this decision by our President are still committed to the principles of the Paris Agreement.

Faith bodies like the Episcopal Church occupy a unique space in the worldwide climate movement. In the context of the United Nations, the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, we are an international body representing 17 countries in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia and the Pacific. We also are a provisionally admitted observer organization to the UNFCCC process, empowered to bring accredited observers to the UN climate change meetings. Furthermore, the Episcopal Church is a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, the third-largest Christian tradition, and we remain committed to ensuring that Anglicans everywhere are empowered to undertake bold action on climate change mitigation and adaptation.

We know that caring for God’s creation by engaging climate change is not only good for the environment, but also good for the health and welfare of our people. The U.S. is currently creating more clean jobs faster than job creation in nearly every other sector of the economy, and unprecedented acceleration in the clean energy sector is also evident in many other major economies.

My prayer is that we in the Episcopal Church will, in this and all things, follow the way, the teachings and the Spirit of Jesus by cultivating a loving, liberating and life-giving relationship with God, all others in the human family, and with all of God’s good creation.

In spite of hardships and setbacks, the work goes on. This is God’s world.  And we are all his children. And, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry sermon for Episcopal Preaching Foundation 30th anniversary

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 4:19pm

[Episcopal News Service –Richmond Virginia] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, honorary chair of the Episcopal Preaching Foundation, preached May 30 during Eucharist at All Saints Episcopal Church in suburban Richmond, Virginia, to celebrate the group’s 30-year ministry of setting new preachers on a path to meaningful sermons.

Celebrating 30 years of ‘sweet preaching’ in the Episcopal Church

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 4:09pm

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is the honorary chairman of the Episcopal Preaching Foundation, which A. Gary Shilling started 30 years ago to improve preaching in the Episcopal Church. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Richmond, Virginia] A. Gary Shilling likes to joke that he began the Episcopal Preaching Foundation after he realized he was reading the back pages of the Book of Common Prayer or even balancing his checkbook during a sermon.

That was more than 30 years ago and Shilling decided to do something about it.

Having already founded an investment advisory firm in Springfield, New Jersey, Shilling created, and largely funded, the Episcopal Preaching Foundation. By this year, close to 5,000 Episcopal Church preachers will have been strengthened by the foundation’s work. On May 30, foundation supporters gathered to celebrate that achievement and its instigator.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached during Eucharist at All Saints Episcopal Church in suburban Richmond, Virginia. He later joined in the tributes during dinner at the nearby Diocese of Virginia’s Roslyn Retreat Center. The celebration took place during the foundation’s May 28-June 2 Preaching Excellence Program for seminarians and recent graduates, who attended the celebration.

From the beginning, Shilling said, he was convinced that excellent preaching is key to engaging all Episcopalians, especially those for whom a sermon during worship is their main point of contact, with the Church. Good preachers, he reasoned, were rewarded, so he decided to connect with preachers who were early in their lives in the pulpit. The foundation’s mission is based on the premise that strong and vibrant preaching will attract congregants and grow the Episcopal Church.

During his sermon and in his dinner remarks, Curry, a 1991 Preaching Excellence Program alum, praised Shilling’s instincts. He also argued that preaching in today’s world was not just about growing a church but, rather, growing hope in a weary and troubled world that has a skewed idea of Christianity.

Christians often look like anything but the compassionate, life-giving and liberating Jesus of the Bible, he said.

“We need some witnesses to a way of being Christian that actually looks something like Jesus of Nazareth,” Curry said. “The Jesus of Nazareth who said, ‘the spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor’” and who preached compassion and love, even for one’s enemies.

“My brothers and sisters who would preach the word, we need you in your preaching to point us to that Jesus and then for all of us to go out into this world as the Jesus Movement to bear witness to him,” Curry said to an applauding congregation. “That is a church that matters and that is a church that will have a future.”

Episcopal Preaching Foundation founder A. Gary Shilling may be an economist, financial analyst and commentator, but his avocation is beekeeping. His bees produced the wax that he used to make the candles that lit the dinner tables during the May 30 celebration of the foundation’s 30th anniversary. Each dinner attendee received a bottle of Shilling Apiaries honey commemorating “30 years of sweet preaching.” Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Later at the dinner, the presiding bishop spoke directly to Shilling, calling him “wise, gentle and courageous.”

Curry, who recently agreed to serve as the foundation’s honorary chair, compared Shilling to Mary. Shilling said yes to “the calling of the Holy Spirit,” he said.

“Yes, so that we would raise up new generations of preachers; yes, so that they would be trained and equipped,” the presiding bishop continued, adding that Shilling’s “yes” has also supported seminaries in their effort to train preachers and supported new graduates who are sent out to preach good news.

The Very Rev. Andrew McGowan, dean and president of Berkeley Divinity School, praised Shilling for epitomizing the ministry of the laity, as described in the back pages of the Book of Common Prayer (on page 855, specifically). The catechism says that ministry is to “represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.”

Shilling, who attends Christ Church in Short Hills, New Jersey, has also served at the local, diocesan and churchwide level.

An economist by training and vocation, Shilling told the dinner guests that the success of the foundation rested on “an uptrend” in interest in preaching, and on a “lot of luck.”

He said he decided early on that the organization should not work with experienced preachers who were already being recognized for their work but with new preachers as they embarked on their careers and as they grew into their ministry.

Episcopal Preaching Foundation founder A. Gary Shilling, left, and Diocese of Virginia Bishop Shannon T. Johnston listen as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry answers a question during a May 30 news conference at Roslyn Conference Center in suburban Richmond, Virginia. The small news conference marked the start of the day’s celebration of the foundation’s 30th anniversary. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Preaching, Virginia Bishop Shannon T. Johnston said during a press conference earlier in the day, good preaching is “absolutely critical” to a faith community. “There is no better organization to send people to who want to study the craft and the art and the faithfulness of a good sermon,” he said of the preaching foundation and its programs.

The foundation’s centerpiece is its annual Preaching Excellence Program, which offers seminarians and recent graduates an immersion experience in the art and practice of preaching. PEP gathers seminarians, homiletics professors and rectors for a week of lectures, worship, workshops and small groups in which the students preach sermons for discussion and feedback.

The tuition-free program began in 1988. More than 1,500 Episcopal clergy have participated in the program. Participants are nominated by their seminaries.

Wesley Morris, a seminarian from the Diocese of North Carolina who attends Union Seminary in New York, gets a snapshot with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry after a May 30 Eucharist at All Saints Episcopal Church in suburban Richmond, Virginia, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Episcopal Preaching Foundation. Morris is one of 39 current and just-graduated seminarians attending the foundation’s annual Preaching Excellence Program May 28-June 2 at the nearby Roslyn Conference Center. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Beginning in 2014, thanks to a generous grant from the Robertson Foundation, “PEP II” has gathered recently ordained priests for a similar experience. This year’s session runs June 13-16 at Drew University, in Madison, New Jersey.

Since 2012, the foundation has also helped thousands of priests, deacons and lay preachers improve their skills through other conferences at the diocesan, national and international level.

This year the Episcopal Preaching Foundation partnered with the John Templeton Foundation to integrate studies on forgiveness into the practice of preaching. Forgiveness will be the focus at the Preaching Excellence Program and PEP II.

Everett Worthington, a professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University and a clinical psychologist, will lead preachers through his work on forgiveness. He told Episcopal News Service that he plans to discuss how preachers and pastors can incorporate “forgiveness education” into their preaching and into the lives of their congregations.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is senior editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

Church of England helps win ExxonMobil shareholder battle over climate change

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 11:20am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Shareholders of the oil giant ExxonMobil pushed through a resolution on climate change at the company’s AGM on May 31 despite strong opposition from the board of directors. The motion, tabled by the Church Commissioners, the financial arm of the Church of England, with the New York State Comptroller, will require the company to provide annual reports on showing how the business will be affected by global efforts to reduce climate change.

Full article.

Religious leaders emphasize interfaith harmony for peace in Pakistan

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 11:17am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Interfaith and religious harmony is essential to bring about “guaranteed long-term peace and stability” in Pakistan, senior faith leaders said at a peace conference organized by the Diocese of Peshawar. Bishop Humphrey Peters, who has since been elected as the new Primate and Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, convened the meeting, which brought together leaders of minority faiths, including Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, with leaders of the majority Muslim faith.

Full article.

Rev. Ross Kane to Join VTS faculty as director of doctoral programs

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 10:56am

The Rev. Ross Kane. Photo: Virginia Theological Seminary

[Virginia Theological Seminary] The trustees of the Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS), at their May 17 board meeting, unanimously approved the appointment of the Rev. E. Ross Kane as the new director of the doctoral programs at VTS. Kane, who currently serves as senior associate rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia, will join the VTS community on July 1.

“Ross is an exceptional appointment,” said the Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, dean and president of VTS. “He has already proven himself a good colleague, having served as an adjunct for both master’s and doctoral courses here at VTS over the last several years.”

Kane inherits strong doctoral programs from the Rev. David T. Gortner, who has successfully shepherded the programs since 2008. Last year Gortner was appointed associate dean of church and community engagement.

Before receiving his Master of Divinity degree from Duke Divinity School, Kane received his bachelor’s degree in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia. He returned to the University of Virginia for his doctorate in religious studies, concentrating in theology, ethics and culture. A Virginia native, Ross was ordained in 2009 in the Diocese of Virginia.

His vocation joins a heart for parish ministry with rigorous scholarship that builds up the church.

Having earned his Ph.D. while serving full-time in the parish, his scholarship and publications explore the lived experience of faith communities, particularly the incorporation of new and unfamiliar expressions of belief and practice into the Christian tradition. Ross also brings an international perspective to his scholarship and priestly vocation, having served in the Anglican Communion in East Africa before entering parish ministry. His publications appear in academic and popular presses alike, such as Christian Century, Journal of Religion in Africa and Anglican Theological Review.

As senior associate rector of St. Paul’s, he crafted innovative adult education offerings and played a leading role in launching and sustaining new efforts to serve Alexandria’s most vulnerable citizens. In recognition of these efforts, Kane was a 2016 honoree in Alexandria’s inaugural 40 Under 40 awards.

“The doctoral programs at VTS have a rich legacy of building up clergy, transforming ministry and training dynamic leaders for tomorrow’s church,” Dr. Kane said. “They offer a rare nexus of scholarship, practical ministry, and prayerful reflection. It is a great privilege to lead these exceptional programs in the years ahead.”

Kane and his wife, Liz Doughty Kane, have two sons, Stephen and Philip.

St. John’s Episcopal Church in Roanoke, Virginia, hires communications director

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 4:52pm

[St. John’s Episcopal Church] Cara Ellen Modisett has joined the staff of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Roanoke, Va., as director of communications.

She has worked in music and communications in a range of settings. She served as minister of communication for Church of the Holy Communion (Episcopal) in Memphis, Tennessee, and prior to that as communications adviser for the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia.

She is a contributing editor for the Episcopal Cafe and was curator and writer for the Prayers of the People for General Convention 78, working with the Society of St. John the Evangelist. She also serves as music director for St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal, also in Roanoke.

In her secular roles, Modisett was editor of Blue Ridge Country magazine and a reporter/producer for WVTF public radio. She has taught English at Ferrum College and is currently staff collaborative pianist for Radford University.

She is originally from Harrisonburg, Va., and holds a bachelor’s degree in English and a bachelor’s degree in music from James Madison University and a master’s degree in creative nonfiction from Goucher College. Her writing has been published in The Living Church, Memphis Magazine, Still: The Journal, The Roanoker magazine and other periodicals.

Guatemalan woman facing deportation receives sanctuary at North Carolina Episcopal church

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 4:21pm

Juana Luz Tobar Ortega, center front, poses with her family for a photo released by American Friends Service Committee, which is helping her resist a deportation order.

[Episcopal News Service] An Episcopal church in North Carolina is sheltering a Guatemalan woman as she defies federal orders to leave the country after failing to receive a stay of her deportation.

The Guatemalan woman, Juana Luz Tobar Ortega, first came to the United States in the mid-1990s to escape violence in her home country, the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina said in a news release.

In April, she was told by federal immigration authorities that she had until May 31 to return to Guatemala, potentially leaving behind her husband, who is an American citizen, and her four children, as well as her job of eight years as sewing machine operator, the diocese said.

Working with a Quaker group called the American Friends Service Committee, St. Barnabas in Greensboro agreed to serve as a sanctuary church and take in Tobar Ortega while she fights deportation. She appeared with her family at a news conference held at the church on May 31, as seen in a video that was streamed live on Facebook.

“I want to thank the members of this church and the pastors for their support and their help,” Tobar Ortega said in Spanish. “I hope to not spend much time here. I hope to return to my home soon, to hug my children and grandchildren and to be with my family.”

The congregation had spent more than a year in a process of discernment before choosing to become a sanctuary church.

“There’s absolutely no reason for this woman to be torn away from her family and her community,” the Rev. Randall Keeney, rector at St. Barnabas, said in a news release from American Friends Service Committee. “She’s a child of God and we will give her shelter until ICE drops her deportation order.”

The modern sanctuary church movement dates to the 1980s, when some churches began opening their doors to immigrants fleeing wars in Central and South America. It has returned to the national spotlight and picked up steam this year in response to the immigration policies of the Trump administration. Some immigrant communities are on edge amid reports of deportation raids in various cities, with critics accusing the new administration of increasingly targeting immigrants who pose little or no threat to public safety.

Numerous Episcopal congregations across the country have been researching whether to offer sanctuary for such immigrants, and some, like St. Barnabas, have committed to provide that haven if needed.

The news release from the Diocese of North Carolina says the vestry at St. Barnabas voted unanimously to take in Tobar Ortega after the congregation completed its process of discernment on the sanctuary issue.

“Our prayers and our companionship with the immigrant community led us to this place,” Keeney said in the diocese’s news release. “Our simple hope is to support Juana and her family as they so bravely cling to the dignity given to them by God.”

The congregation has the backing of the diocese, the Rt. Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple, bishop diocesan pro tempore for the Diocese of North Carolina, said in the news release.

“The Diocese of North Carolina is eager and ready to assist our worship communities as they navigate the call to offer sanctuary to persons subject to the harsh realities of a broken immigration system,” Hodges-Copple said. “I have full confidence that each congregation has the capacity to be guided by prayer, research, theology and practicality to make their own decisions about how best to use its resources, including its buildings to the glory of God and in love and service of neighbors in need.”

More than 1,900 people have signed an online petition against Tobar Ortega’s deportation order. Her supporters rallied May 31 outside the High Point office of U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, asking him to intervene on her behalf.

When Tobar Ortega first arrived in the United States, her initial request for asylum was denied, but she received a work permit and was allowed to stay for six years while she appealed the decision on asylum, the diocese said. She went back to Guatemala in 1999 to care for her ailing oldest daughter, and when she returned to the United States, her work permit was revoked. She remained in the United States, and in recent years, she had been checking in with federal authorities regularly while she sought a stay of removal, according to the diocese.

That changed last month, when she was told by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to prepare for voluntary deportation.

“We’re only asking them to continue to grant her a stay of removal, as ICE has done for the past six years,” Lesvi Molina, Tobar Ortega’s eldest daughter, said in American Friends Service Committee’s news release. “My mom has spent about $17,000 over the last 23 years trying to adjust her status. We would like there to be a path for her to get permanent residency, but ICE just seems to want to punish, not to work with us.”

In addition to her husband, two of her children are U.S. citizens, according to American Friends Service Committee. She has two additional children who have been allowed to remain in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a policy that gives preferred consideration to immigrants who arrived in the country as children and who meet certain conditions.

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

First Native American woman in Wyoming ordained to Episcopal priesthood

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 10:12am

The Rev. Roxanne Jimerson-Friday became the first Native American woman from the Wind River Indian Reservation, in the state of Wyoming, ordained to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church on May 26 by Bishop of Wyoming John S. Smylie. Photo: Diocese of Wyoming

[Diocese of Wyoming] On May 26, the Rev. Roxanne Jimerson-Friday became the first Native American woman from the Wind River Indian Reservation, in the state of Wyoming, ordained to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church. The ceremony took place at Our Father’s House Episcopal Church in Ethete, with the Rt. Rev. John S. Smylie, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming, presiding. The Rev. Tommy Means gave the sermon. Jimerson-Friday is the first woman Shoshone tribal member to be ordained to the Episcopal priesthood.

Jimerson-Friday is part of the Seneca Nation of New York, on her father’s side, and part of the Shoshone Tribe of Wyoming, on her mother’s side. She was born in Lander, grew up in New York until she was 10, and then moved back to Wyoming. She currently lives in Ethete with her husband, Aaron Friday.

Her interest in becoming ordained started when she realized she had always been the person that people turn to when they are in need. More recently, she witnessed a miracle when her grandson almost died. She and her family were told he wouldn’t make it, but through the power of prayer, God healed her grandson. Because of that experience, along with a life of living in relationship with God, she made a promise to God that she would serve Him and bring people to Him. She says, “I made that promise with my whole heart and then everything seemed to fall into place like a path was made just for me.”

Jimerson-Friday has been thinking about her goals. “I am really in God’s hands. Wherever He is leading me, that is the path I am taking. When I look into the future I feel that I am going to bring peace and a sense of healing.”

When asked how she felt about her accomplishment, she said she is very proud. “It’s a matter of uplifting all the Native American women, that you can do whatever you want to do.”

Churches mobilized as Sri Lanka floods death toll passes 200

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 10:00am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Clergy in Sri Lanka have been urged to prepare their churches and church halls to provide refuge for people displaced by serious flooding in the country’s Southern and Sabaragamuwa regions. On May 31, Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Center said that 202 people had died as a result of the devastating floods and landslides caused by severe rains that have hit the country since May 26, when Cyclone Mora hit the island.

Full article.

Costa Rican Anglicans urged to live their faith naturally

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 9:57am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Anglicans in Costa Rica are being encouraged to live their faith naturally – Vive tu fe naturalmente – in a new campaign designed to encourage environmentally sustainable lifestyles.

The Diocese of Costa Rica, part of the Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de America (the Anglican Church in Central America), adopted the campaign at its recent National Convention, the diocese’s first “Green Convention.”

Full article.

RIP: Sister Margaret Cook, 85, of Community of St. Mary

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 4:13pm

Sister Margaret Cook, 85, of Knoxville, Tennessee, died peacefully in her sleep on the Eve of the Ascension, May 24.

Cook entered the Community of St. Mary on May 1, 1990, and was in her 22nd year of profession when she died. She was a cradle Episcopalian and was always very active in the Church.

Before coming to the Community she had served in her church, especially with the Daughters of the King. She, likewise, served at the University of Tennessee in the Graduate Studies Program, and for a time, she actively managed a Girl Scout Camp.

Cook was especially known for her great sense of humor and her love of music, animals, hiking and canoeing. She lived a vibrant life of prayer and hospitality and expressed her care for family, young people and nature in her daily life of service.

Within the Community she ministered over the years, both in the Philippines and in Sewanee, Tennessee. She served with cheer and energy in multiple capacities as sacristan, sister-for-associates and sister-in-charge and expressed her care for sisters, guests and associates through those roles.

Her death ends her five-year struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, for which we give thanks. She will be missed, but she has left the world with blessing.

Cook is survived by her sisters of the Community of St. Mary, her nieces, Teresa Butler and Margaret Evans, and her nephew, Phillip Cook, and their families. Her life and ministry will be celebrated with a Requiem Mass in the convent chapel, located at 1100 St. Mary’s Lane, Sewanee, Tennessee, on June 3, at 11 a.m., followed by the interment and a reception.

‘River of Life’ pilgrimage down Connecticut River offers 40 days of prayer, paddling

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 1:13pm

The Connecticut River is a popular place for paddling by canoe and kayak. Starting May 31, it also will become a place of prayer through the River of Life pilgrimage organized by the Episcopal dioceses of New England. Photo courtesy of Kairos Earth

[Episcopal News Service] New Hampshire Bishop Robert Hirschfeld has rowed on the Connecticut River for years. It once was a sort of industrial “sewer” but has since been cleaned up and restored to “a place of stunning beauty,” he said. Hirschfeld intends to show it also can be a place of worship and an inspiration for prayer.

The bishop is preparing to lead a 40-day pilgrimage on the river, from source to ocean. In our sound-bite culture, Hirschfeld’s message can be reduced to this: Put down that cellphone, and pick up a paddle.

“This is a way to experience God’s love for us, God’s grace, God’s desire to flow in us and around us,” Hirschfeld told Episcopal News Service in a phone interview. “And in our forming a community of pilgrims, my desire was to slow down and put aside our electronic devices, all the busy-ness of our life, and just be fully present with God and each other in the midst of God’s creation.”

The River of Life pilgrimage, which launches May 31 near the Canadian border, is a collaboration of all Episcopal dioceses in New England, as well as the New England synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and several conservation groups. More than 50 people signed up in advance to canoe or kayak multi-day segments, camping overnight, and others are invited to join the group for day paddles. Daily segments average 10 to 12 miles.

Pilgrims without a paddle or who live far from the Connecticut River still are encouraged to participate in the pilgrimage by following along as a “pilgrim in prayer” with the River of Life prayer book.

The Connecticut River is New England’s longest river, passing through New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut before emptying into Long Island Sound. Paddling the length of the river isn’t unusual, and a speedy paddler could cover its 410 miles in about a week. But Hirschfeld sees this as a unique faith-based journey, offering a slower, more contemplative experience.

The choice of 40 days was intentional – think Noah’s 40 days and nights of rain, or Jesus in the desert. Organizers also wanted to challenge the notion that Christian pilgrimages must lead to traditional destinations, like the Holy Land.

“Why is it that we’ve never considered doing such things at home in our own sacred landscape, the places we actually live?” asked the Rev. Stephen Blackmer of Church of the Woods in Canterbury, New Hampshire. He has worked closely with Hirschfeld and Jo Brooks, their logistical coordinator, in planning the River of Life pilgrimage.

“Part of the joy for me of exploring this is to say we can have similar experiences … right here,” Blackmer said. “And in that, we both bring ourselves closer to God and we restore our connections with the very places we live.”

Blackmer, who began canoeing as a child, said he had about 30 years of experience in environmental advocacy before being called to the priesthood a few years ago, around the same time Hirschfeld was being considered for bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire.

In 2011, Hirschfeld was serving as rector at Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst, Massachusetts, when he got a letter inviting him to interview for New Hampshire bishop. A veteran of rowing teams in high school and college, Hirschfeld needed to reflect on that invitation, so he got out his one-man sculling boat and headed down to the Connecticut River.

Rowing upstream, the idea came to him of a Christian pilgrimage on the river that would incorporate references to its natural history, human history and cultural history.

For several years, that idea remained just an idea. He was elected bishop coadjutor in 2012 and took the reins of the diocese the following January. Then, in 2015, while attending an annual Advent retreat with all the bishops from Province I, he remembered the river pilgrimage and mentioned the idea to the other bishops.

“They immediately got excited about it,” Hirschfeld told ENS. “It was like lightning had struck. … Even those not interested in kayaking or canoeing, they just saw a value to this as a way of doing public liturgy, as a way of bearing witness to the health of water.”

Blackmer, one of the first new priests Hirschfeld ordained in New Hampshire, has been at the forefront of the diocese’s environmental ministries, including through weekly outdoor worship services at Church of the Woods, on 106 acres of woods and wetlands in Canterbury.

“Steve makes things happen,” Hirschfeld said. Blackmer became an integral partner in developing the River of Life pilgrimage.

“When people ask me what they can do for the environment, the first thing I say is, go outside,” Blackmer said.

That, too, is a guiding principle of the River of Life pilgrimage. Hirschfeld and Blackmer expect eight pilgrims to make the journey to the headwaters pond of the Connecticut River, at the northern tip of New Hampshire. The first three days will be spent hiking from pond to pond in that region, until the nascent river becomes navigable. Then they will start paddling south in three canoes.

“The number of pilgrims will grow and swell just as the river does as it travels downstream over the next four weeks,” Blackmer said. Hirschfeld and Blackmer will miss certain segments of the trip, due to their individual schedules, but each plans to paddle more than half the distance. Two guides are the only paddlers expected to be on the river all 40 days.

For the northern half of the trip, most of the overnight stays will be at campsites chosen along the river. On the southern half, where outdoor campsites are harder to come by, most nights will be spent camping in churches. A support vehicle will follow by land with food and other supplies as needed.

Each day, prayers will be read from the pilgrimage’s prayer book, but “the large part of each day will be in silence, to reflect that part of it is simply being there,” Blackmer said.

They also have scheduled stops along the journey where community events will be held, typically on weekends. A list of events and day paddles is available on the pilgrimage website.

And by the time the journey reaches Essex, Connecticut, on July 8 for a concluding celebration, “who knows, we may have a flotilla of canoes and kayaks,” Blackmer said. The pilgrimage officially ends the next day, July 9, with a final six-mile paddle to Long Island Sound.

After that, any river in American could be ripe for the next pilgrimage, if another diocese wants to pick up the New England dioceses’ trailblazing oar.

“We’re taking extensive notes as we go through this,” Hirschfeld said. “It would be wonderful if other dioceses and other spiritual organizations could replicate this.”

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

RIP: The Rev. Carlson Gerdau, canon to presiding bishop

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 1:09pm

The Rev. Carlson Gerdau, second from right, died May 27 at age 84. He is seen here attending the installation and investiture of Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop in 2006. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold is second from left. Photo: Washington National Cathedral

[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Carlson Gerdau, who served for a decade as canon to the presiding bishop under the Most Rev. Frank Griswold and the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, died May 27 at age 84.

Gerdau’s work for Griswold dated to 1988, when Griswold as bishop of the Diocese of Chicago hired Gerdau as the diocese’s canon to the ordinary and director for ministry, deployment and communication. When Griswold was installed as presiding bishop in 1998, Gerdau joined him in New York.

After Jefferts Schori took over as presiding bishop in 2006, she asked him to stay on for the transition. Gerdau retired a year later.

The Rev. Carlson Gerdau is honored by the Executive Council in 2007 at his retirement. Photo: Episcopal News Service

“You never know what’s to be ahead of you, but it’s been a wonderful journey,” Gerdau told the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council in 2007 on his retirement.

Griswold will deliver the sermon May 31 at Gerdau’s funeral service (details below). “He cared deeply about the church and her institutions,” Griswold says in a copy of the sermon provided to the Episcopal News Service in advance.

In the draft sermon, Griswold compares Gerdau to the biblical Elizabeth, who reassures and encourages Mary after Jesus’ mother is visited by the angel Gabriel.

“I think of Carl as a similar minister of encouragement, who has helped countless men and women and young people, and certainly me as well, to be their best selves and sing their own songs,” Griswold says.

Fond memories of Gerdau have been pouring in from across the Episcopal Church since news of his death was received over the weekend.

“Carl was one of God’s enduring gifts, filled with surprises, and grounded on the Rock of Ages,” Jefferts Schori said in an email to the Episcopal News Service. “His gruff manner shielded a heart of gold, and he was always thinking strategically about how better to love others. Like Jesus, he is reputed to have shown up more than once at a friend’s door, saying ‘I’m staying here tonight.’ And like Jesus, he remains in the hearts of all who knew him. Rest from your labors, dear friend.”

The Rev. Shawn Schreiner, former rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Oak Park, Illinois. described him as a “gentle giant” who helped her get her first job in the Chicago area. Her tribute to him on Facebook also noted his sense of humor, as well as their differences in height.

“I remember him telling me to call him once a month about (job openings). If I called more often I would be pestering him and if I called less frequently he would forget about me,” she wrote. “I also remember him reminding me that we would pass the peace by me standing on a pew or chair. That always made him smile.”

The Executive Council passed a resolution at the time of his retirement honoring him for his “considerable influence, often gentle, on every aspect of the church’s governmental, legislative and diplomatic life.”

The resolution further described him as a man “whose sometimes gruff exterior inadequately conceals a soul of extraordinary kindness, wisdom and humor, a soul deeply in love with the Church his entire life, and wide enough to embrace everyone from those in high places to those in need, unknown, unacknowledged and known only to him and them.”

Gerdau was born Feb. 22, 1933, to the late Kathryn Schaefer Gerdau and Carl Gerdau of New York City. “He found his vocation in the church in 1949 by serving as a counselor to the Brantwood Camp in Peterborough, New Hampshire,” a family obituary says.

He graduated from General Theological Seminary in 1959 and was ordained to the diaconate and the priesthood the same year. Gerdau served for 20 years as vicar and rector at several churches in Michigan until he was appointed archdeacon of the Diocese of Missouri in 1979.

In 1986, Gerdau spent a year on sabbatical studying Spanish in Guatemala and theology at the University of Chicago. He then served from 1987 to 1988 as interim rector at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Deerfield, Illinois, before joining Griswold’s staff at the Diocese of Chicago.

Gerdau was superior general of the Oratorio of the Good Shepard, a religious order he joined in 1964. He also served on the boards of the Episcopal Church Pension Fund, Bexley Hall Seminary, Bexley Seabury Seminary Foundation, Auburn Seminary, the Church Historical Society and Friends of Canterbury Cathedral in the United States.

He is survived by four nieces and their children.

A funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. May 31 at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan, his family’s church. A private burial will take place at Woodlawn Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Brantwood Camp, P.O. Box 3350, Southborough, NH 03458, or NAACP, of which he was a lifelong member, at NAACP Development, 4805 Mt. Hope Drive, Baltimore, MD 21215.

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

USPG chief Janette O’Neil to step down

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 11:21am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The international Anglican mission agency USPG has announced that its chief executive, Janette O’Neil, is to retire at the end of August. O’Neil has been at the helm of the organization for the past six years. USPG’s trustees have now begun a search for “an effective leader with strong links to the Anglican Communion” to succeed her.

Full article.

Church Pension Fund plans major revisions for greater flexibility in a changing Episcopal Church

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 11:15am

Garth Howe, a Church Pension Group assistant vice president in its Integrated Benefits Account Management Services office, talks to Diocese of Pennsylvania clergy in Philadelphia May 24 about planned changes to the Church Pension Fund. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] The biggest changes to the Church Pension Fund in the past 60-some years are due to go into effect next year. They are designed to better serve a changing Episcopal Church and its clergy and lay employees while sustaining the fund and maintaining the value of retirement benefits.

That’s the message Church Pension Group officials are taking to every diocese to explain the breadth and depth of the changes that are expected to go into effect Jan. 1, 2018. (The pension fund is one of five companies that make up CPG).

The plans are being revised, according to Mary Kate Wold, pension fund chief executive officer and president, to “create more modern plans that address the realities of a changing Episcopal Church, while ensuring that each pension plan remains financially sustainable.” Those realities include providing for emerging, non-traditional types of ministry, as well as the changing needs of interim ministers, bi-vocational priests, part-time clergy, and clergy who experience longer breaks in service.

Moreover, Garth Howe, a CPG assistant vice president in its Integrated Benefits Account Management Services office, told one of two gatherings in the Diocese of Pennsylvania May 24, the changes will provide more flexibility for clerics, promote consistency across the plans, simplify communication about the plans, and improve their administration while maintaining the overall value of the benefits.

Two important aspects of the clergy plan will not change. It will remain a defined-benefit plan and the mandatory assessment a cleric’s employer pays will remain at 18 percent. However, the formula for calculating that percentage will be simplified and the timeframe for paying the assessment will change.

“We knew we had to react and adjust to the changing Church,” Howe said, explaining that CPG staffers spent three and a half years traveling around the Church to hear from more than 1,500 Episcopalians how the pension fund ought to react to such change. Some of the suggested changes that emerged were incorporated into the revisions, he said. Some tweaking of the revisions still may occur as CPG staff members listen to feedback during the diocesan sessions.

As CPG was listening to the Church and discussing possible revisions, General Convention in 2015, via Resolution A177, approved the effort. In Resolution A181, it also told CPG to study compensation and the cost of benefits for clergy and lay employees in the dioceses of Province IX, the Diocese of Haiti, the Episcopal Church in Cuba, and with its covenant partners. The Church’s canons authorize the pension fund to provide retirement and disability benefits to eligible clergy. The fund is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

Source: Church Pension Group Annual Report for 2016. Graphic: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

The revisions represent a deep dive into the intricate mechanics of the pension plans. Many are interconnected. Below is a summary of some of the larger changes, followed by links to additional information and schedules of CPG presentations on the revisions.

Eligibility for the clergy pension plan

Currently, participation in the plan is mandatory if a cleric works three or more consecutive months and is paid at least $200 per month. The revision will make participation mandatory regardless of pay level for ordained clergy who meet eligibility criteria. It will also require a cleric be “regularly employed” by the same Church employer for five or more consecutive months. The change, says CPG, will provide flexibility for short-term service and give lower-paid clergy access to the plan.

More information, including the “regularly employed” definition, is here.

Total Assessable Compensation

Total Assessable Compensation, upon which employers pay an 18 percent assessment, is currently the sum of cash salary, other cash compensation (e.g., bonus, overtime, employer-paid tuition for dependents, employer contributions to retirement saving plans, and other taxable income), Social Security tax reimbursements, utilities allowance, housing (depending upon how it is provided) and, in certain cases, severance. The calculation will be simplified to include most items reported on a Form W-2 (or equivalent), as well as any cash housing allowance and the value of employer-provided housing. The change in the treatment of housing will allow clergy whose only compensation is employer-provided housing access not only to the Clergy Pension Plan but also to the other pension fund benefits. That change might impact the budgets of those congregations that provide their clergy with housing but not salary because they are currently not required to pay an assessment.

More information is here.

Paying Assessments

Employers currently can choose to pay assessments quarterly or monthly. Next year all assessments must be paid monthly. Currently, the pension fund charges interest on assessments that are more than two years overdue. The 2016 fiscal year interest rate is 4.125 percent. Beginning in 2019, employers will be charged interest on assessments that are three months or more overdue. The annual interest rate will be consistent with CPG’s annual investment objective. That rate is currently 7 percent.

More information is here.

Credited Service

Credited Service is an important key component of a cleric’s pension benefit calculation and is also important for determining eligibility for other benefits, such as the fund’s life insurance benefit and the Medicare Supplement Health Plan (MSHP) subsidy. Currently, clergy receive one full month of Credited Service for one month of work if they earn at least 1/12th of the Hypothetical Minimum Compensation, now set at $18,200 per year. His or her employer must have made timely assessments payments; if those assessments are not fully paid, the Credited Service amount is prorated.

The revision will allow Credited Service for pension and life insurance benefits at any level of compensation if assessments are fully paid for that month. There will be no proration. Clerics will still have to meet the Hypothetical Minimum Compensation ($18,000 for 2018) to earn Credited Service to be eligible for the Medicare Supplement Health Plan subsidy. Also, clergy who have a break in service for any reason may make personal assessment payments for up to 24 months, instead of the current 12 months.

CPG says these and other details of the Credited Service revisions will allow lower-paid clergy and clergy with interrupted service to accrue a more meaningful pension benefit as well as help to maintain their eligibility for other benefits.

More information is here.

Highest Average Compensation

A major change involves the Highest Average Compensation (HAC), another important number in the calculation that determines the amount of a person’s retirement benefit.

Currently, the HAC (“hack”), as it is known, is the average of the highest-paid seven out of eight consecutive 12-month periods during which the person has earned “Credited Service.” Such service is earned by being eligible for the pension plan and having his or her employer pay the required assessments. Some people who want to maximize their monthly pension check seek ever-higher paying calls to increase their HAC. The current calculation method, however, may not provide flexibility to those who, for instance, feel called to take a lower-paying job because the mission and ministry of that job appeals to them.

Under the new plan, those seven highest-earning 12-month periods will not have to be consecutive. The new formula will apply to participants who earn what is called Credited Service after the revisions go into effect. If a cleric has already established his or her HAC as of Dec. 31, 2017, and still earns Credited Service after the revisions, the new calculations will never lower that number.

More information is here.

 

Pension fund participants receive a booklet to help guide them through the Church Pension Group’s diocesan presentations on the revisions coming next year.  Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Retirement benefits beyond monthly pension check

The current early-retirement provision for clerics who turn 55 and have 30 years of service will continue. The revision changes some other early-retirement provisions and adds more options. More information is here.

The revisions simplify the eligibility requirements for the resettlement benefit provided to help clergy move when they retire, as well as how the amount is calculated. There will be a new minimum of $2,000 and a maximum of $20,000. More information, including changes regarding eligibility, is here.

The Christmas benefit, or so-called 13th check, will continue and will no longer be subject to the 40 years of service cap. More information is here.

The revision includes a new lump-sum payment provision to any cleric whose retirement benefits have a present value equal to or less than $20,000 at the time of retirement. More information is here.

The fund’s rules about working while pensioned are being revised to offer more flexibility to deploy retired clergy. More information is here.

Fact sheets and presentation schedules

Details about changes to the clergy plan, including the international plan and retirement benefits, are available via a series of fact sheets here. Many of the individual fact sheets are linked to above.

The calendar of CPG diocesan presentations and webinars is here.

Fact sheets outlining changes to the lay employees’ defined-benefit and defined-contribution plans, along with the Episcopal Church Retirement Savings Plan, are available here. Changes to the lay plans will ensure a consistent definition of compensation and Highest Average Compensation across all plans.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is senior editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

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