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‘Unholy Trinity’ serves as call to action on poverty, racism, gun violence

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 1:24pm

From left, Diocese of Chicago Bishop Jeffrey Lee, Diocese of Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas, Diocese of Newark Bishop Mark Beckwith, Diocese of Maryland Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton and Diocese of Washington Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde carry an “Unholy Trinity” conference banner as they lead a procession April 21 on the streets of Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Chicago, Illinois] Eager to work toward solutions to the problems of poverty, racism and gun violence, Episcopal bishops, clergy members and lay people gathered for three days last week for a conference in Chicago, the American city that recorded the most homicides in 2016.

The city’s recent surge in deadly violence provided a grim backdrop for Bishops United Against Gun Violence’s “Unholy Trinity” conference held April 20-22 at the Lutheran School of Theology in the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood. But speakers regularly emphasized that the problem is not isolated to one city, nor is the outlook as bleak as many news headlines suggest.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, a Roman Catholic priest and activist in Chicago, speaks from a podium at the midpoint of the Unholy Trinity procession April 21. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

The conference drew about 150 attendees from 37 Episcopal dioceses, including 25 bishops and one bishop-elect. The attendees were predominantly Episcopalians, though other Christian denominations also were represented, including Lutheran and Presbyterian, and a Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, preached at the halfway point of a public procession on April 21.

An underlying theme of the conference was how the Episcopal Church and Christians, in general, have a unique ability to be a force for change in the country despite daunting challenges. Among those challenges is the belief of some Christians that social justice causes should not be the church’s causes, a stance that the Rev. Julian DeShazier picked apart in the conference’s centerpiece “three-note” presentation on April 21.

“When did it become revolutionary for Christians to care about justice?” DeShazier posed rhetorically to the conference attendees in the School of Theology’s chapel.

DeShazier, senior pastor of University Church at the University of Chicago who also is a hip-hop musican known as J.Kwest, said too many Christian churches have become “think tanks” when they should be “action centers.” He drew on his congregation’s experience working with activists on Chicago’s South Side in pressing the university to open a trauma center. The surrounding neighborhoods, despite high rates of violence, have no trauma center close by.

The other two presenters were Natalie Moore, a WBEZ-FM reporter who covers the South Side, and the Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, a professor of religion at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, and canon theologian at Washington National Cathedral.

Honored to be part of the 3-note this morning w/ @natalieymoore and Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown-Douglas. Amazing sisters #unholy3 #kwesting pic.twitter.com/QJNouDfoEw

— J.Kwest (@PureKwest) April 21, 2017

Moore argued that racism is partly behind the national focus on Chicago’s violence, and she also suggested a political motive to criticisms of the city, former President Barack Obama’s hometown. She urged listeners to look beyond the stereotypes, such as the inner city as a war zone, as they work to end gun violence.

.@natalieymoore .@natalieymoore: If we talk about cities as war zones, it's young black men who are the enemy. Deeply unhelpful. #Unholy3

— The Cross Lobby (@TheCrossLobby) April 21, 2017

Douglas, in her presentation, detailed racism’s roots in Colonial-era America before outlining an indictment of white supremacy in the U.S. The higher rates of poverty and incarceration that blacks face today, she argued, are continuing effects of a “violent anti-black narrative that helps to define American identity.”

Given such historic and systemic oppression, why is it surprising that blacks face a greater threat of violence, Douglas asked.

“The system has been structured to lead to their death, not to their life,” she said.

If the words of the three speakers were meant to confront the conference attendees with the hard, historical realities of racism, poverty and gun violence, much of the rest of the conference was aimed at teaching ways to transcend that history and change the oppressive system that persists today.

Activism against gun violence has long the backing of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, which has passed resolutions dating back to 1976 supporting various forms of gun control.

Workshops offered April 21 in the afternoon featured discussions of how to lobby legislators, how to engage with evangelical Christians on these issues and how to develop community organizing campaigns. In one session, the Rev. Carol Reese discussed her work as a chaplain in the trauma center of Chicago’s John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital, while in another session a delegation from the Diocese of Massachusetts explained the diocese’s successes working with youth in a program called B-Peace for Jorge, named after a young man who was murdered in 2012.

Diocese of Maryland Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton leads the crowd in chants and songs during the Unholy Trinity procession. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

The bishops who convened and hosted the conference echoed the call to action on its final day, April 22. Diocese of Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas of the and Diocese of Newark Bishop Mark Beckwith divided the attendees into four groups to share ideas on key areas of emphasis: public liturgy, communication strategy, political advocacy and community organizing. And Diocese of Chicago Bishop Jeffrey Lee followed up by speaking to the full conference about ways public liturgy can reach people beyond the walls of a church.

The conference demonstrated the power of public liturgy on the evening of the second day with a procession down the sidewalks of the streets that lead through the University of Chicago.

Diocese of Oklahoma Bishop Edward Konieczny kicked off the procession with a speech atop the School of Theology’s steps. Lee, Douglas and Beckwith, as well as Diocese of Maryland Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton and Diocese of Washington Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, then carried the conference’s banner as they led the crowd down 55th Street and Ellis Avenue to the Midway Plaisance Park, where Pfleger spoke.

Diocese of Oklahoma Bishop Edward Konieczny addresses the crowd before the procession April 21. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Each of the three days began with a contextual Bible study led by Dora Rudo Mbuwayesango, an Old Testament professor at Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury, North Carolina. Participants picked apart two obscure Old Testament passages and the well-known gospel parable of the Good Samaritan, mining them for deeper biblical meaning while also discussing them in the context of the conference.

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


One year after earthquake, Ecuador continues to rebuild

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 12:43pm

Vacant lots and ruined buildings in Portoviejo’s central business district are signs of the city’s slow recovery. Photo: Ernesto Chiran

[Episcopal News Service] It was nice out that afternoon, so Lidilia Alvarado, 71, was taking a walk near Tarqui beach with her niece. Suddenly, she saw something different in the sea: the water was getting further and further away from the shore as though emptying out through a drain. “I didn’t know what it was, but I told my niece that we should go home,” she said.

In a matter of seconds, the confusion had gotten worse, the ground was moving, people were shouting, while sirens and some alarms went off. “I made it home, but all I could hear and see were loud explosions and pieces of walls falling,” Alvarado recalled. Later she understood that there had been a 7.8-magnitude earthquake. Ecuador was in mourning.

On April 16, 2016, the tragedy hit the Ecuadorian coastal region. Data from the National Decentralized System of Risk Management indicate that 661 people died, 6,274 were injured, and 28,678 were sent to shelters after their homes suffered damage. A year has gone by since the quake, and in Manta, a coastal city in Manabí Province, the population still faces many difficulties. The Diocese of Ecuador Litoral has been a spiritual companion to the congregations of the four churches most affected by the earthquake and it has also worked with community members who lost everything and are still one year later trying to return to their normal lives.

“It’s still hard; things aren’t back to normal yet. That doesn’t happen overnight,” the Rev. Cristóbal León, Archdeacon of Manabí, told Episcopal News Service. Throughout the past year, the church has conducted many spiritual and social activities amidst devastation.”

The challenges have been many. The ruins of many buildings in downtown Manta are reminders of the tragedy, soldiers are still on the lookout for the looting of uninhabited houses and low economic activity prevents many families from emerging from a state of crisis, said León.

“We always tell the communities not to despair. There are other places that were also afflicted by earthquakes before us and they haven’t been able to move forward. Haiti, for example, still hasn’t recovered. Here at least already few shelters remain,” he said.

A year after the April 16, 2016, 7.8 magnitude earthquake, Portoviejo, Ecuador, is slowly beginning to revive its economy. Photo: Ernesto Chiran

In the case of Alvarado, her house sustained partial damage, but, because of the aftershocks, she and her family were forced to leave because of the risk. “We left for a while, but since the empty houses were starting to get broken into, we went back without anyone’s permission. We went in and we stayed. I spoke with the mayor later, I explained to him that, as a retired person, I have no money,” she said.

Alvarado is a retired lawyer, but her pension is small. With no possibility of renting out the rooms of her house, moving forward hasn’t been easy. “We’re trying to lead a normal life, putting our faith in God. I haven’t been able to completely rebuild my house, but where we live we’re safe,” she said.

Sharing the work

A year ago, the Ecuadorian faithful responded in solidarity toward the most affected areas. They sent food supplies and clothing to the shelters. International aid also come immediately, however, the hard part came months later, when it was time for things to return to normal.

“When the shelters closed down, the aid stopped too. At first, there was an immediate response with food supplies, clothing and medicine; but then the second phase came, of helping these people get their lives back,” said León.

The government offered up to $10,000 in aid to rebuild houses if certain requirements were met, and created three aid programs for that purpose through the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing. But in the communities, not all those affected met the requirements.

The Diocese of Litoral began an aid program to support some members of the community that were ineligible for state grants. The Rev. Jairo Chiran Guillén, a deacon, was in charge of coordinating the aid: he visited the affected houses with a construction foreman and compiled budgets [estimates], and then he sent them to the diocese for its approval.

“We tried to promote solidarity, the families worked together on reconstruction, we just bought the materials and paid the foreman that was supervising the work. The assistants were the community itself. It was a community job,” explained Chiran.

Ten houses were rebuilt with support from the Diocese in the communities of Las Pilas and Portoviejo, said Chiran. The diocese also created a solidarity loan program with the support of Episcopal Relief & Development. People applied for a moderate amount of money to start a small business and paid 50 percent of the amount in installments with no interest.

“There are people who lost their jobs and are still unemployed because the economy has barely been revived,” he said.

In Manta, it wasn’t until December 27, 2016, that the shopping center known as “New Tarqui” opened. The shopping center has 1,800 small commercial spaces, offering everything from food to clothing and footwear. “The shopping center turned out very well; it has given life to the area that was very deserted for a long time. Now there’s more movement,” said León.

Hope for the future

Just as in the rebuilding of the houses, the communities affected by the earthquake have learned that their lives can also be rebuilt with patience and with faith, brick by brick. “Personally, I saw a revival of faith. In the midst of the tragedy emerged hope and full faith in God,” said Chiran.

Chiran has requested an additional $20,000 to continue offering solidarity loans; he recognizes that up to now the loans offered have been small. He also shared enthusiastically that Episcopal Relief & Development has offered an education program in microfinance and how to manage a household economy. “We see that as a blessing because in the communities where we serve people don’t have many opportunities and it’s not just about offering a loan, but providing guidance about how to manage the small amount of money that can be lent to them,” he said.

— Clara Villatoro is a freelance journalist based in San Salvador, El Salvador.

Le Magazine Anglican : pourquoi tant de monde à Pâques et à Noël ?

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 9:48am

Pour écouter l’émission cliquer sur : http://frequenceprotestante.com/emission/magazine-anglican

Les chrétiens de toutes traditions ont fêté Pâques, le même jour, cette année. Temples et églises ont fait le plein, ce dimanche pascal.

Le Magazine Anglican s’interroge sur les raisons de cet afflux les jours de fête et plus largement, pourquoi on va à l’église.

Pour répondre à cette interrogation six témoignages ont été recueillis auprès de paroissiens de la Cathédrale Épiscopale de Paris. Ils expliquent comment ils sont venus à la Cathédrale et pourquoi ils continuent d’y venir régulièrement.

Face aux statistiques qui soulignent la baisse continue de fréquentation des églises en Europe et aux Etats-Unis, Anne –Marie Reijnen propose une approche qualitative de ce qui attire encore et toujours à l’église. Pour elle, c’est la possibilité de rencontrer autrui et de vivre pleinement sa Foi dans la liturgie, le dimanche et lors de périodes exceptionnelles comme le Carême.

Une liturgie magnifiée par la musique indique Denis Le Moullac, paroissien et choriste de longue date à la Cathédrale. Une liturgie diversifiée grâce aux trois services du dimanche que nous font découvrir Harriet Rivière, membre du Vestry et Laurence Moachon, animatrice de l’émission.

Mais de nos jours, exprimer sa Foi, peut aussi suivre d’autres voies que celle de la liturgie. La voie des œuvres caritatives pour les membres de la Junior Guild ou celle du culturel, comme l’explique Joanne Dauphin qui a créé le service des guides bénévoles à la Cathédrale, avant de prendre le chemin du diaconat.

Deux témoignages montrent à quel point l’église peut impacter des moments importants de la vie personnelle. C’est le cas de Jocelyn Phelps, épiscopalienne de souche, mais aussi de Mary Ellen Dolan, issue d’une famille irlandaise catholique.

Tous montrent, au delà de l’habitude, l’expérience profonde qui pousse à venir et revenir à l’église. Il n’en reste pas moins que l’église doit s’adapter à la vie actuelle et proposer de nouvelles manières « d’être église ».

Pour écouter l’émission cliquer sur : http://frequenceprotestante.com/emission/magazine-anglican

Le Magazine Anglican est diffusé, le 4e samedi du mois, à l’antenne parisienne de Fréquence Protestante. Via la radio numérique, chaque émission est accessible pendant six mois, aux auditeurs francophones d’Europe, d’Amérique, d’Afrique et d’Océanie.

Animé depuis 2012, par Laurence Moachon, paroissienne de la Cathédrale de la Sainte Trinité à Paris, le Magazine Anglican a pour objectif de mieux faire connaître la tradition anglicane / épiscopale.

L’Évêque Primat Michael Curry annonce la conclusion d’un Pacte pour le diocèse d’Haïti

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 7:12pm

[Le 24 avril 2017] Avec nos sincères remerciements à Dieu tout-puissant et une profonde gratitude pour les prières d’un si grand nombre de fidèles de toute l’Église, Michael B. Curry, l’Évêque Président et Primat de l’Église épiscopale, annonce un Pacte conclu entre l’Évêque d’Haïti, Mgr Jean Zaché Duracin, l’Évêque suffragant, Mgr Ogé Beauvoir, le Comité permanent et lui-même.

Le Pacte « vise à traiter et à résoudre un grand nombre de questions conflictuelles qui ont pesé sur le Diocèse », met fin à la pause sur les collectes de fonds de l’Église épiscopale et ouvre de nouvelles possibilités pour un avenir uni alors que le Diocèse se prépare à élire son prochain évêque diocésain en 2018.
Comme indiqué dans la lettre de l’Évêque Président aux parties (lettre partagée avec l’Église): « Le Pacte a entièrement réglé l’affaire du Titre III qui impliquait la relation entre Mgr Beauvoir et le Comité permanent du Diocèse. En outre, le Pacte, tout comme le Protocole d’accord [qui donne des directives aux partenariats de mission]… a entièrement réglé l’affaire du titre IV qui était en instance contre l’Évêque Duracin ».

L’Évêque Président célébrera la Sainte Eucharistie avec le clergé et les fidèles à Port-au-Prince le 23 mai. La liturgie comprendra la signature officielle du Pacte qui est maintenant en vigueur, ayant été signé par toutes les parties.

Dans sa lettre à Mgr Duracin, à Mgr Beauvoir et au Comité permanent, l’Évêque Président Curry a déclaré : « Ce Pacte vise à traiter et résoudre un grand nombre de questions conflictuelles qui ont pesé sur le Diocèse et ouvrir une voie à suivre saine et positive pour le Diocèse et la relation entre le Diocèse et l’ensemble de l’Église. Je suis reconnaissant à mes deux frères évêques ainsi qu’au Président et aux membres du Comité permanent pour leur volonté de parvenir à ce Pacte qui, je pense, sert la cause de notre Seigneur et Sauveur Jésus-Christ en Haïti dans la poursuite de la reconstruction et du renouveau suite au tremblement de terre et alors que le Diocèse d’Haïti se prépare à élire son nouvel Évêque diocésain ».

Il a ajouté : « Je suis satisfait de ces mesures car elles reflètent un engagement de la part de toutes les parties en faveur d’un travail continu de guérison et de réconciliation. Ceci n’aurait pas été possible sans les prières constantes des fidèles épiscopaliens d’Haïti et de toute l’Église. Et je sais que nous continuerons tous à prier pour le peuple haïtien, le Diocèse d’Haïti et le ministère du Seigneur Jésus-Christ ressuscité en Haïti et dans tous les pays de l’Église épiscopale.

Le Pacte en anglais et en français figure ici

Voici la lettre intégrale de l’Évêque Président :

Lundi de Pâques

Le 17 avril 2017

Mes frères et sœurs dans le Christ,

En cette semaine sainte commémorant la résurrection de notre Seigneur Jésus Christ, c’est avec sincère reconnaissance que je suis en mesure de partager avec vous la bonne nouvelle suivante. L’Évêque d’Haïti, l’Évêque suffragant d’Haïti, le Comité permanent du Diocèse d’Haïti et moi-même, votre Évêque Primat, avons conclu ensemble un Pacte.

Ce Pacte vise à traiter et résoudre un grand nombre de questions conflictuelles qui ont pesé sur le Diocèse et ouvrir une voie à suivre saine et positive pour le Diocèse et la relation entre le Diocèse et l’ensemble de l’Église. Je suis reconnaissant à mes deux frères évêques ainsi qu’au Président et aux membres du Comité permanent pour leur volonté de parvenir à ce Pacte qui, je pense, sert la cause de notre Seigneur et Sauveur Jésus-Christ en Haïti dans la poursuite de la reconstruction et du renouveau suite au tremblement de terre et alors que le Diocèse d’Haïti se prépare à élire son nouvel Évêque diocésain.

Le Pacte a entièrement réglé l’affaire du Titre III qui impliquait la relation entre l’Évêque suffragant Beauvoir et le Comité permanent du Diocèse. En outre, le Pacte ainsi que le Protocole d’accord (tous deux ci-joints) convenus entre l’Évêque Duracin et moi-même l’année passée, et les conversations pastorales entre l’Évêque Duracin et moi-même, ont entièrement réglé l’affaire du Titre IV qui était en instance contre l’Évêque Duracin. Je suis satisfait de ces mesures car elles reflètent un engagement de la part de toutes les parties en faveur d’un travail continu de guérison et de réconciliation.

Permettez-moi de vous dire comment nous sommes parvenus à ce point. Comme je l’ai annoncé le 1er décembre 2016, j’ai nommé un panel de trois personnes (le rév. Stephen T. Ruelle, Évêque du Maine, le rév. P. Roger Bowen et Paul B. Nix, Jr., conseiller juridique interne de DFMS à New York) pour étudier la situation (voir http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2016/12/01/presiding-bishop-releases-letter-about-the-diocese-of-haiti/). À la suite d’entretiens minutieux et d’écoute des deux évêques, du Comité permanent et d’un groupe du clergé identifié par l’Évêque Beauvoir comme ayant des préoccupations majeures, le panel a indiqué dans son rapport ce qui suit :

Ils ont tout d’abord signalé que quasiment toutes les personnes impliquées étaient profondément blessées par les choses que d’autres avaient dites et leur douleur était réelle et profonde. Malgré tout, les relations au sein du clergé sont généralement considérées comme « fondamentalement saines » . Le clergé a connu de graves tensions mais il semble qu’il y ait une volonté, voire même un fort désir de la part de bon nombre de membres du clergé d’essayer de parvenir à un règlement entre eux. Les membres du clergé travaillent entre eux depuis longtemps et leur engagement envers le Diocèse était évident.  Il y avait un sens général que de bonnes relations au sein du clergé pouvaient être restaurées avec un travail courageux et prudent. Il y avait également un sens partagé qu’il y a une tâche beaucoup plus importante à accomplir dans le Diocèse à laquelle il n’était pas prêté attention du fait de l’énergie dépensée par les litiges en cours et il y avait un empressement à s’attaquer à cette tâche.

Par opposition aux relations au sein du clergé, il est apparu aux yeux du grand nombre que la rupture de la relation entre les deux évêques était irrécupérable, pour le moins en ce moment crucial. Il y avait des preuves d’un profond manque de confiance entre les évêques, manifesté en partie par les nombreux rapports de leur échange ouvert d’insultes. L’état de leurs relations avait donné lieu à beaucoup de tristesse, de frustration et de colère, non pas seulement entre les évêques mais également entre les membres du clergé, certains d’entre eux ayant une allégeance vis-à-vis d’un évêque ou de l’autre, qui ressentent que cette lutte entre les évêques a jeté une ombre malsaine sur le fonctionnement du Diocèse.

Enfin, chaque groupe du clergé a fait part de ses profondes inquiétudes concernant l’exercice du pouvoir de l’un ou l’autre des évêques que chaque groupe pense ne pas servir les meilleurs intérêts du diocèse. Il y avait certaines préoccupations que l’Évêque Beauvoir, avant de prendre son congé, avait exercé son rôle d’Évêque suffragant sans pleinement apprécier les limites des pouvoirs de sa charge si bien que ses actions sapaient le bon ordre de l’Église. D’un autre côté, il y avait des preuves que l’Évêque Duracin n’avait pas apporté son soutien à l’épiscopat suffragant de l’Évêque Beauvoir, sur le plan financier et autre. Il y avait également des inquiétudes concernant le fait que l’Évêque Duracin exerçait son pouvoir de transfert du clergé au sein du Diocèse d’une manière qui était largement perçue comme récompensant ou punissant de façon indue ceux qui avaient ses faveurs ou ceux qui ne les avaient pas. Il y avait également une crainte que le processus à venir de l’élection d’un successeur à l’Évêque Duracin allait manquer d’intégrité en excluant les voix du clergé qui n’étaient pas en tous points alignées avec l’Évêque Duracin.

À la lumière de cette situation compliquée et navrante et avec toutes les meilleures espérances et prières en faveur d’une solution positive et tournée vers l’avenir pour la santé du Diocèse d’Haïti, j’ai proposé de conclure un Pacte entre l’Évêque Duracin, l’Évêque Beauvoir, le Comité permanent du Diocèse et moi-même. J’avais espoir que ce Pacte allait servir de base pour résoudre les procédures du Titre III et du Titre IV alors en instance et engager le Diocèse sur une voie saine pour l’élection épiscopale prochaine.

Après de profondes conversations et négociations, nous sommes maintenant parvenus à un Pacte avec lequel toutes les parties sont à l’aise et qui a à présent été signé par tout un chacun. Le texte du Pacte figure ci-après, tout comme le texte du Protocole d’accord qui offre un modèle pour nos partenariats caractérisé par l’égalité dans la prise de décision et la relation, par la transparence financière, par la responsabilité et la mutualité dans la mission, que ce soit en Haïti ou ailleurs dans l’Église épiscopale et au-delà. Grâce au Pacte et au Protocole d’accord à présent convenus et en place, la pause que j’avais placée sur la collecte de fonds pour Haïti est levée.

En dernier point, nous sommes convenus et avons signé le Pacte mais nous allons tous nous rassembler pour la signature liturgique officielle du Pacte dans le contexte de la Célébration de la Sainte Eucharistie le mardi 23 mai 2017 à 10h00 au Séminaire théologique épiscopal de Port-au-Prince en Haïti.

Je suis véritablement reconnaissant envers l’Évêque Duracin et l’Évêque Beauvoir, le clergé et les leaders laïcs du Diocèse d’Haïti et envers vous tous dans l’Église épiscopale qui avez prié et œuvré pour ce moment.

Que les bénédictions de notre Seigneur Jésus crucifié et ressuscité soient avec nous tous alors que nous avançons ensemble pour proclamer la Bonne Nouvelle dans le nouvel avenir de Dieu.

Votre frère,


Presiding Bishop announces covenant agreement for the Diocese of Haiti

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 7:08pm

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] With profound thanks to Almighty God and with deep gratitude for the prayers of so many throughout the church, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop and Primate Michael B. Curry announces a covenant into which he, Bishop Jean Zache Duracin of Haiti, Bishop Suffragan Ogé Beauvoir, and the Standing Committee have entered.

The covenant “seeks to address and resolve many of the issues of conflict that have been burdening the Diocese,” brings an end to the pause on fundraising by the Episcopal Church and opens new possibilities for a united future as the diocese prepares to elect its next bishop diocesan in 2018.

As noted in the presiding bishop’s letter to the parties and shared with the Church, “The Covenant has entirely resolved the Title III matter that involved Suffragan Bishop Beauvoir’s relationship with the Standing Committee of the Diocese.  Further, the Covenant, together with the Memorandum of Understanding [providing guidance for mission partnerships]…fully resolved the Title IV matter that has been pending against Bishop Duracin.”

The presiding bishop will celebrate the Holy Eucharist with the clergy and people in Port-au-Prince May 23. The liturgy will include a formal signing of the covenant, which is now in effect, having been signed by all parties.

In his letter to Duracin,  Beauvoir, and the Standing Committee,  Curry said, “This Covenant seeks to address and resolve many of the issues of conflict that have been burdening the Diocese, and sets the stage for a healthy and positive way forward for the Diocese and the Diocese’s relationship with the larger Church.  I am grateful to both of my brother bishops and also the President and members of the Standing Committee for their willingness to reach a Covenant which I believe serves the cause of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in  Haiti for the continued rebuilding and renewal after the earthquake and as the Diocese of Haiti  prepares to elect its next Bishop Diocesan.”

He added, “I am pleased by these measures, as they reflect a commitment by all parties to the ongoing work of healing and reconciliation.  This would not have been possible without the steadfast prayers of faithful Episcopalians in Haiti and throughout the wider church. And I know we will all continue to pray for the people of Haiti, the Diocese of Haiti, and the ministry of risen Lord Jesus Christ there and in all of the countries of the Episcopal Church.”

The Covenant in English and French is here.

The Presiding Bishop’s letter in full follows:

Monday in Easter Week
April 17, 2017
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

During this holy season commemorating the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ it is with genuine thankfulness that I am able to share the following good news with you.  The  Bishop of Haiti, the Bishop Suffragan of Haiti the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Haiti and I as your Presiding Bishop have entered into a Covenant with one another.

This Covenant seeks to address and resolve many of the issues of conflict that have been burdening the Diocese, and sets the stage for a healthy and positive way forward for the Diocese and the Diocese’s relationship with the larger Church.  I am grateful to both of my brother bishops and also the President and members of the Standing Committee for their willingness to reach a Covenant which I believe serves the cause of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in  Haiti for the continued rebuilding and renewal after the earthquake and as the Diocese of Haiti  prepares to elect its next Bishop Diocesan.

The Covenant has entirely resolved the Title III matter that involved Suffragan Bishop Beauvoir’s relationship with the Standing Committee of the Diocese.  Further the Covenant, together with the Memorandum of Understanding (both attached)  reached by Bishop Duracin and myself last year, and pastoral conversations between Bishop Duracin and myself have fully resolved the Title IV matter that has been pending against Bishop Duracin.  I am pleased by these measures, as they reflect a commitment by all parties to the ongoing work of healing and reconciliation.

Let me tell you how we got to this point.  As I announced on December 1, 2016, I appointed a three-person panel (the Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane, Bishop of Maine; the Rev. P. Roger Bowen; and Paul B. Nix, Jr., Esquire, In-house Counsel for the DFMS in New York)  to investigate the situation. (See). After careful interviews and listening to both bishops, to the Standing Committee, and to a group of clergy identified by Bishop Beauvoir as having important concerns, the panel reported the following:

First, they reported that nearly everyone involved was deeply wounded by things that others have said, and their pain was real and deep.  Despite this, relationships among the clergy are generally regarded as “fundamentally sound.”  While the tensions among the clergy have been severe, there appeared to be a willingness and perhaps strong desire among many of the clergy to try to achieve resolution among them.  The clergy have worked with each other for a long time, and their commitment to the Diocese was evident.  There was a general sense that good relationships among the clergy can be recovered with courageous and careful work.  There was also a shared sense that there is much important work to do in the Diocese that is not being attended to because of the energy taken up by current disputes, and an eagerness to get on with that important work.

In contrast to the relationships among the clergy, it appeared to many that the brokenness of the relationship between the two bishops was not retrievable, at least at this crucial time.  There was evidence of a profound lack of trust between the bishops, manifested in part by multiple reports of their openly trading insults.  The state of their relationship had given rise to much sadness, frustration, and anger, not just between the bishops, but also among the clergy, some of whom may have loyalties to one bishop or the other, but who also sense that the struggle between the bishops has cast an unhealthy overlay to the functioning of the Diocese.

Finally, each clergy group expressed deep concerns about the exercise of authority of one or the other of the bishops, which each group believed is not serving the best interests of the Diocese.  There were concerns that Bishop Beauvoir, before taking his leave of absence, exercised his role as Suffragan Bishop without a full appreciation of the limits of the authority of that office, such that his actions undermined the good order of the Church.  On the other hand, there was evidence that Bishop Duracin has failed to support Bishop Beauvoir’s suffragan episcopate, financially and otherwise.  There were also concerns that Bishop Duracin exercises his authority to transfer clergy around the Diocese in ways that are widely perceived as improperly rewarding or punishing those he favors or disfavors.  There was also a fear that the upcoming process to elect a successor to Bishop Duracin will lack integrity by excluding the voices of clergy who are not in all ways aligned with Bishop Duracin.

In the light of this complicated and heartbreaking situation, and with all the best hope and prayers for a positive, forward-looking outcome for the health of the Diocese of Haiti, I proposed a Covenant to be entered into by Bishop Duracin, Bishop Beauvoir, the Standing Committee of the Diocese, and myself.  It was my hope that this Covenant would provide the basis for resolving the Title III and Title IV proceedings then pending, and would set a course for a healthy Diocese and upcoming episcopal election.

After deep conversations and negotiation, we have now reached a Covenant with which all parties are comfortable, and that everyone has now signed.  The text of the Covenant is found below, as is the text of the Memorandum of Understanding which provides a template for our partnerships characterized by equality in decision making and relationship, financial transparency, accountability and mutuality in mission whether in Haiti, elsewhere in the Episcopal Church or beyond.  With the Covenant and the Memorandum of Understanding now agreed to and in place the pause that I placed on fund raising for Haiti is lifted.

Lastly, while the Covenant has been agreed to and signed by us all, we will all come together for the formal liturgical signing of the Covenant in the context of the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist on Tuesday, May 23, 2017, 10:00 am  at the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Port Au Prince, Haiti.

I am truly thankful for Bishop Duracin and Bishop Beauviour, the clergy and lay leaders of the Diocese of Haiti and for all throughout the Episcopal Church who have prayed and worked for this moment.

May the blessings of the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus be with us all as we go forward together to proclaim the Good News into God’s new future.

Your brother,


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

Women’s mentoring is focus of Thailand gathering

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 12:09pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Eighteen women theologians from Africa and Asia began a journey of reflection and action around the theme “Women’s Mentoring for Ecumenical Leadership” in a consultation April 20-22 in Bangkok, Thailand. The meeting was convened by the World Council of Churches Department on Ecumenical Theological Education and supported by the Foundation for Theological Education in Southeast Asia.

Full article.

Former Virginia Tech chaplain looks to massacre’s aftermath for lessons in healing

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 5:04pm

The Rev. Scott Russell, an Episcopal chaplain at Rutgers University, speaks April 21 about his experience as a campus minister during the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech. He spoke at a workshop at the Bishops United Against Gun Violence conference in Chicago. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Chicago, Illinois] When a gunman opened fire killing 28 fellow students, four professors and himself 10 years ago on the campus of Virginia Tech, word of the massacre reached the Rev. Scott Russell through a news broadcast.

Terrifying details were being reported on the TVs at JFK International Airport in New York City. Russell, in airport customs after returning from vacation in Germany, was paralyzed as he learned of developments in Blacksburg, Virginia, where he was the associate rector at Christ Episcopal Church and campus minister.

“I’m standing there frozen in front of the TV screen,” Russell recalled. He canceled plans to visit an uncle in New York City and instead drove several hours home to be with students and parishioners, helping them cope with the aftermath of unthinkable tragedy.

Russell, 49, shared those experiences April 21 with attendees of “Unholy Trinity: The Intersection of Racism, Poverty and Gun Violence,” a three-day conference held by Bishops United Against Gun Violence at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. His workshop also focused on how communities recover from such tragedies and the role of faith leaders in helping survivors and victims’ families and friends heal.

“There was much confusion and panic,” Russell, now a chaplain at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, told the handful of people who attended his first workshop at the conference.

When he arrived back in Blacksburg, Christ Episcopal Church parishioners welcomed him in tears. He met and prayed with the students who frequented the congregation’s Episcopal student center, and he began helping them process their thoughts: What do we do now? Where do we go from here? The university’s candlelight vigil, held the day after the rampage, helped unite the campus community.

“What a way to say to these people in shock, don’t isolate yourself. Come together,” Russell said during the workshop, noting that the large crowd attending the vigil at one point erupted spontaneously in the school’s football chant.

But emotions were still raw. One of the Episcopal students knew five classmates and two professors killed in classrooms. “She was just beside herself, just thinking she easily could have been in one of those classes,” Russell said.

The nonstop news coverage didn’t help the grieving process, he said. Many of those affected by the massacre grew to resent the media presence, finding it intrusive, and they were relieved when, in time, coverage of one of the country’s deadliest mass shootings dropped off the front pages.

Even out of the national spotlight, Blacksburg faced challenges in coming to grips with what had happened, and one of the underlying messages of Russell’s presentation was that some of the hardest lessons for him and the 30 or so other chaplains focused on how survivors deal with grief at their own pace. That is something chaplains and ministers need to consider when providing pastoral care, Russell said.

The university canceled classes the week after the massacre, and some students traveled home to be with their families. When they returned, many of them were ready to move on, but others who had stayed were still in the deepest stages of grief, Russell said.

“As a pastor, I have to help where they are,” he told Episcopal News Service in an earlier telephone interview.

He also learned to appreciate that some people grieve in ways that may at first seem shocking. He told of confronting one student at the Canterbury House next to the church who could be heard playing a first-person shooter video game. Another student told Russell he was having a hard time sleeping because he still felt pressure in his graduate studies but was preoccupied with the massacre.

In both cases, Russell said, he talked with the students about how they were dealing with the trauma and made sure to follow up with more conversation so they knew they weren’t alone.

Russell and other chaplains also learned that mass shootings can bring a thicket of opposing views to navigate. Some students and faculty members who hadn’t been comfortable with the prevalence of guns before the Virginia Tech massacre felt their opposition to guns hardening, Russell said, but a few students’ views moved in the opposite direction, in favor of concealed carry permits and allowing students to take guns to class for protection.

The Rev. Scott Russell describes tensions in Blacksburg, Virginia, over whether to include Cho Seung-Hui when listing the victims of the massacre. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

As in other mass shootings, another polarizing subject was the gunman himself. Cho Seung-Hui, 23, was a Virginia Tech senior with a history of mental illness who had made suicidal remarks to roommates in the past.

At Christ Episcopal Church after the shooting, the names of the victims were read at services. Cho had been a student of one of the parishioners, and she asked that his name be included. At one service, that spark strong objections from another parishioner, who was appalled that Cho would be memorialized in the same way as his victims, Russell said. Some survivors prefer to never mention the gunman, while others want to understand why he turned violent.

Russell was careful to acknowledge these individual differences but also tried to frame the question as one of faith values.

“In the Episcopal and Anglican tradition, we pray for those who have died,” Russell said during his presentation. “Do we discriminate for what they have done?”

Tension over that question continued that year. Russell preached a sermon in the fall about forgiveness, alluding to Cho and the massacre. A student approached him afterward outraged, but it is a message that Russell wanted parishioners to hear.

Clergy, too, need support in the aftermath of such high-profile shootings. Russell said he and fellow ministers were provided counseling, including through assistance from Episcopal Relief & Development.

The scars of April 16, 2007, may never heal fully. The memories of that day came flooding back for Russell when he learned of the shooting last year at an Orlando nightclub, where a gunman killed 49 and injured 53.

Russell left Blacksburg in 2013 and became a rector at a congregation near Pittsburgh, the city where he was ordained in 2002. He still felt called to campus ministry, though, and eagerly accepted the chaplain job at Rutgers last year. This week, he attended services at Virginia Tech to mark 10 years since the massacre.

Russell attended ceremonies this month in Blacksburg, Virginia, marking 10 years since the killings. Photo: Scott Russell

His experience at Virginia Tech has left him sensitive to potential threats, aware that senseless violence could break out at any time. It also has helped define his sense of mission as a Christian and as a university chaplain

“I encourage people to never forget to look to those who are being left out, those who are on the margins – not just because they might become violent, but because that’s where, I believe, in many ways our primary work is,” Russell told ENS. “I’m always reminded Christ preached to the margins.”

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

Task group developing deeper links and wider understanding

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 10:47am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Task Group set up by last year’s Primates’ gathering has been meeting in London this week with the emphasis on understanding diversity within the Anglican Communion – and recognizing the many areas of unity.

Full article.

Rev. John Floberg to receive honorary degree at Bexley Seabury convocation

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 12:01pm

[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. John Floberg, a member of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, will be one of three guest faculty at Bexley Seabury Seminary’s Convocation 2017, where he is scheduled to receive an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.

Bexley Seabury alums, faculty, staff and supporters will gather April 26 in Chicago, Illinois, to learn from and be inspired by Floberg, the Rev. Gayle Fisher-Stewart and Kenji Kuramitsu. The three will share their experiences working to reform the criminal justice system, to preserve human life and the environment and to replace racial, ethnic and gender privilege with equality for all.

Floberg is supervising priest for three Episcopal congregations at Standing Rock Sioux Nation and canon missioner for the Diocese of North Dakota. He has played a prominent role in the demonstrations in support of the Standing Rock Sioux in opposition to part of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Fisher-Stewart is associate rector at Calvary Episcopal Church, Washington, D.C., founder of the Center for the Study of Faith in Justice and a former captain with the District’s Metropolitan Police Department.

Kuramitsu is a writer and Master of Divinity student at Chicago’s McCormick Theological Seminary who serves on the national board of directors of the Japanese American Citizens League and the Reformation Project.

The convocation kicks off at 2 p.m. April 26 with a forum led by Bexley Seabury President Roger Ferlo. Full information on the convocation can be found at bexleyseabury.edu/2017-convocation.

Chicago hospital chaplain guides violence victims, families through spiritual crises

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 9:59am

The Rev. Carol Reese is a chaplain and violence prevention coordinator at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Chicago, Illinois] John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County operates one of the busiest trauma centers in the country. The Chicago hospital has hundreds of physicians, medical residents and fellows on its staff but only one employee with the title of violence prevention coordinator and the word “chaplain” on her name badge.

Many of the patients the Rev. Carol Reese sees face a crisis of faith as much as a medical crisis, especially teenagers injured by gunfire.

“These kids are just trying to hold on to whatever bit of hope in life that they can,” Reese, 60, an Episcopal priest said in an interview last month at the hospital. “For some of them, their faith helps. For some of them, it gets pretty shaken in the midst of all of this.”

Reese will share her insights into communities traumatized by gun violence and public health approaches to violence reduction at a conference this week in Chicago held by Bishops United Against Gun Violence. “Unholy Trinity: The Intersection of Racism, Poverty and Gun Violence” is being held at the Lutheran School of Theology from April 20 to 22 in Hyde Park.

Reese sees firsthand the unholy trinity’s intersection in the hospital and as program director for Healing Hurt People-Chicago, a hospital-university partnership that studies ways of keeping teens safe while working with young victims as they recover and return to their neighborhoods.

Gun violence has surged in Chicago in recent years. The city, the nation’s third largest, recorded more than 4,300 shootings in 2016 and the most homicides in the U.S.

“Gun violence is an issue that cuts across all kinds of boundaries,” Diocese of Chicago Bishop Jeffrey Lee told Episcopal News Service in a phone interview. Seeing this as more than an urban or rural issue, a white or black issue, a conservative or liberal issue, Lee said the bishops want to engage people on all sides of the debate in establishing common ground.

“We wanted to bring people from a variety of viewpoints around what we can agree on,” Lee said, pointing to potential areas of consensus in reasonable gun safety legislation and measures targeting illegal weapons.

Stroger Hospital’s trauma center treated 900 gunshot wounds in 2015, the latest year it tallied, and Reese said the unit treats about 10,000 children and adults a year.

Like medical care, spiritual care is needed around the clock. A typical case may involve a teenager clinging to life and family and friends dealing with their own emotional trauma and feelings of guilt, that they didn’t do more to protect the victim, Reese said. She guides victims and their loved ones as they grapple with existential questions: Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this?

“At the very core of it I think it is how people make meaning of what has happened to them, particularly in the light of a traumatic event,” Reese said. “It’s really letting people explore those questions in a safe kind of environment.”

In one such case, two teenage cousins were shot and wounded in separate incidents less than a year apart, Reese said. As they were receiving outpatient treatment in the aftermath of the shootings, tragedy struck again. A house fire killed a sister of one of the boys.

“I remember talking to those boys about their coping with all of that,” Reese said. “And one of the boys said … he almost lost his faith in God because he couldn’t quite understand why all these things happened to them.”

What can a health care professional say to a boy in need of that depth of spiritual care?

“I say, I understand and we’re with you to get you through this,” Reese answered. “Because that’s where I think people of faith can make a huge difference. You may feel like God has abandoned you, but we stand with you.”

There is no easy answer to why violence has swelled recently, cautioned a University of Chicago Crime Lab report, but it noted that in the five neighborhoods with the largest increases in homicides, 37 percent of residents lived below the poverty line, compared to 23 percent citywide.

“Chicago’s homicide increase was disproportionately concentrated in neighborhoods that have historically been among the city’s most disadvantaged,” the report said.

The large majority of victims in Chicago are black men, and police Superintendent Eddie Johnson has said much of the violence is rooted in “impoverished neighborhoods.”

“You show me a man that doesn’t have hope, I’ll show you one that’s willing to pick up a gun and do anything with it,” Johnson told reporters last September after a violent Labor Day weekend. “Those are the issues that’s driving this violence.”

Reese, a Kentucky native, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work before starting her first, five-year providing pastoral care at Stroger in 1986. She returned to the trauma center at Stroger in 2005 at a time when the hospital was responding to the results of focus groups held with young men who had been treated in the trauma center. They had been asked what factors aided in their recovery.

“Almost to a person, those young men told the interviewers that the thing that helped them get through their violent injury was their faith,” said Reese, who was ordained in 2010 in a move to bring more liturgical and sacramental pieces to her work.

She’s conscious, however, that society – and the patients she typically sees – are becoming less and less religious, hence her preference for the term “spiritual care” over more religious language. Even patients without strong roots in a faith tradition grasp the underlying spiritual concepts.

She and her colleagues counsel victims and their families as individuals, but it is hard not to look at the big picture and wonder what can be done in society to stop the cycle of violence. Partly, this is an act of self-preservation, Reese said. “We get really tired of sewing people up and sending them out of here knowing that you may see them again in a year or two years or six months.”

Through their work with Healing Hurt People-Chicago, she and her team are developing ways to help these families before a crisis brings them to the trauma center. They may spend time studying data on gun violence prevention, or their approach may be as simple as a conversation with a teen about the safest way to get to school.

A few years ago, Reese was listening to a presentation by a member of the group CeaseFire, which enlists formerly incarcerated men who have turned their lives around to work with young people at risk of following the same path. The presenter said when he was young, he was always told by family members not to do all the bad things he was doing or he’d end up in jail or dead. He kept doing them anyway.

Reese asked him what would he have wanted those people in his life to tell him.

“I’m glad you’re here,” was his response.

“My takeaway from that is that people need to feel loved, valued, treated with respect and know that somebody is glad that they’re here,” Reese said.

The black boys and young men she sees at the trauma center have something to offer the world, Reese said, “I just have to believe that, and that we’re so much worse off for them not being here. And that’s the message that they need to hear, I’m glad you’re here. I want to know what you bring to the world.”

And if we really are glad they are here, we need to be ready to show it in how we work to change society for the better, she said, such as ensuring equal access to quality education, addressing racial bias in incarceration rates and developing job opportunities.

“The solution seems so dauntingly complicated that it paralyzes us,” Reese said. “It just seems way too big to take on. And it is big to take on. But I think for me, as a person of faith in this setting, if I say I’m glad you’re here then it means I have to do some things to demonstrate that.”

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

Missionaries complete 28-year project to publish Bible in Kurdish Sorani language

Wed, 04/19/2017 - 11:45am

[Anglican Communion News Service] A team of Bible translators in Kurdistan, northern Iraq, working against the backdrop of civil unrest and religious persecution, has completed the first translation of the Bible into the Central Kurdish Sorani language.

For the last eight years, Church Mission Society partners have worked alongside indigenous Kurds and other foreign nationals drafting text, checking names, terminology and style, and finally checking both the Old and New Testaments so they could be published together for the first time as the complete Bible.

The whole translation of Old and New Testaments took 28 years to complete and will enable six million native speakers of the Sorani language to hear and read the Bible in their own language for the first time.

Full article.

RIP: The Rt. Rev. Robert Hibbs, retired Diocese of West Texas bishop suffragan

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 3:53pm

[Episcopal Diocese of West Texas] The Rt. Rev. Robert (Bob) Hibbs died peacefully in his home surrounded by family on April 17. He was 84.

Retired Bishop Suffragan Bob Hibbs celebrates the 50th anniversary of St. Matthew’s, Universal City (Diocese of West Texas), in September 2015.

Bishop Hibbs was born on April 20, 1932, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was baptized April 30, 1933, confirmed April 9, 1942, ordained deacon on June 24, 1957, ordained priest Dec. 21, 1957, and consecrated bishop on Jan. 6, 1996.

As bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas, he served alongside then-Diocesan Bishop Jim Folts until Hibbs’ retirement in December 2003.

Hibbs was ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church after graduating from General Theological Seminary. After some graduate work in Canada, Hibbs served on the faculty of St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary in Quezon City, Philippines, for 15 years as sub-dean and later dean. He then served on the faculty of the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin. For five years, Hibbs served in the Diocese of Northwest Texas as vicar of St. Peter’s, Borger, and vicar/rector of St. Stephen’s, Lubbock. In 1993 he arrived in the Diocese of West Texas and served as rector of St. Barnabas, Fredericksburg, from 1983 to 1988; and assistant rector of Church of the Good Shepherd, Corpus Christi, from 1988 to 1996.

As bishop suffragan, Hibbs’ passions included Recovery Ministries, both in the diocese and the national church, and the Cursillo movement. In his retirement, Hibbs loved to spend time reading, listening to classical music and cheering for the San Antonio Missions baseball team.

Hibbs is survived by his wife, Nancy Joane (Alexander), whom he married in 1957. Together they had three children, one of whom is deceased.

Prayers and condolences poured into the diocese as news of Hibbs’ death was shared. Many expressed their love for the “gentle man, who was a source of strength and comfort,” and for “an amazing man, who will be greatly missed.” Some shared memories of their time with Bishop Hibbs, including a time at Camp Capers, when he stood in front of the campers and in his deep voice said, “You can hear the cry of the chinchilla,” a camp joke. A shared favorite teaching by Bishop Hibbs was of “ephphatha,” whispered loudly, filling a sanctuary. Ephphatha means to “be open.”

“He was a bright star in our sky,” the Rev. Frank Fuller said. “The Lord won’t make pastors and scholars with his sense of pathos and deep humor anytime soon. 911 was one in a million.” Hibbs was number 911 in the American succession of Episcopal bishops.

The Rt. Rev. Gary Lillibridge, bishop of the diocese, said, “Simply put, Bob Hibbs was one of the finest men and clerics I have known. He mentored many, many clergy and laity and will be sorely missed for his grace, humor, and gentle humbleness, none of which impeded his direct frankness in truth telling. His extraordinary ministry reached people worldwide. I join many others in giving thanks for his life, as well as the partnership in ministry which he shared with Nancy, his wife of 59 years.”

A service will be held on April 22, at 11 a.m. at St. Mark’s, San Antonio. Clergy are invited to vest in white stoles. Memorial gifts may be made to the Diocese of West Texas Recovery Ministries or the diocese’s Cursillo Scholarship Fund.

New president inaugurated at Voorhees College

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 10:23am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Calling on his students and colleagues to “think differently,” W. Franklin Evans was inaugurated on April 7 as the ninth president of Voorhees College, exactly 120 years to the day when educator Elizabeth Evelyn Wright opened the school for children of former slaves that grew into the College.

“I will uphold the mission established by the founder,” Evans said at his inauguration, “as I work to make Voorhees a premier institution of excellence.” He has called Voorhees “the hidden jewel of South Carolina.”

Evans faces a number of challenges: Voorhees is a small college of 600 students in a small town. Of Denmark, South Carolina’s 3,300 residents, 86 percent are African-American and 35 percent live below the poverty line. Voorhees cannot pay faculty and staff salaries to match those of larger institutions. Enrollment has been declining. The last decade has seen shrinkage in federal scholarship funds for low-income students.

On the other hand, Voorhees may be able to benefit from the surge of interest in the country’s 107 historically black colleges and universities – those institutions of higher education established before 1964 to serve the African-American community. This primary focus is being broadened today to include other marginalized groups, including Hispanics.

Evans is well prepared for the challenge: His previous job was as interim president of South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, S.C., where he also had been provost and chief academic officer, responsible for faculty recruitment, strategic planning, and re-accreditation. He has declared boosting the enrollment and encouraging greater alumni support his two top priorities.

His inauguration took place before an audience of 500. Bishop Gladstone (Skip) Adams of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina preached, and Bishop Andrew Waldo of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina celebrated the Eucharist.

Full article.

Madagascar bishop visits parishes affected by cyclone

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 10:10am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Bishop Theophile Botomazava of the Diocese of Antsiranana in Madagascar has visited several parishes badly affected by cyclone Enawo. The cyclone made landfall in the northeast part of the island last month. About 10,000 people were forced to leave their homes because of the damage. Bishop Theophile has appealed for outside assistance.

Full article.

Faith-based refugee assistance, resettlement work focus of UN panel

Mon, 04/17/2017 - 4:37pm

The Rev. E. Mark Stevenson, director of Episcopal Migration Ministries, right, and the Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond the Episcopal Church, preceding a panel event on the role of faith-based organizations in refugee assistance and resettlement held at United Nations Headquarters in New York on April 13.

[Episcopal News Service] The American spirit of volunteerism, particularly it’s interfaith nature, is something that impressed Abdul Saboor when he first came to the United States as a refugee from Afghanistan, where he worked with the U.S. military in its operations there.

“The community is willing to help people in need,” he said during a panel on “Finding a New Home: The Role of Faith-based Organizations in Refugee Assistance and Refugee Resettlement Work” held April 13 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. “I saw Christians helping Muslims and Muslims helping Christians, I’d never seen anything like it.”

When volunteers from various congregations offered to help Saboor and his wife settle into their lives in Syracuse, New York, it made no difference to him, he said, what faith tradition they came from, it just mattered that they cared. The volunteers’ actions inspired him to do the same.

He started volunteering with Interfaith Works, an organization that provides resettlement and post-resettlement services to recent arrivals as they build a new life in the United States. Today he works for the organization as match grant program coordinator and he is a student at Syracuse University.

The six-member panel event, organized in partnership with LDS Charities, was part of the U.N. Focus on Faith series, which explores how the work of faith traditions and faith-based organizations worldwide aligns with its mission to protect human rights and support sustainable development.

During the 1930s in southern Ohio, the Episcopal Church began formally welcoming refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. In 1938, the Church created a poster depicting a well-known scene from the Gospel of St. Matthew. In it, Jesus is cradled in his mother Mary’s arms, as they along with Mary’s husband Joseph, flee their country after its government instituted an infanticide campaign.

Faith-based organizations began working with refugees in during and after World War II, explained Barbara Day, domestic resettlement section chief at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migrants. When refugees began fleeing Vietnam in 1975, a nationwide call for assistance went out to congregations who stepped up, she continued, in what was the start of modern-day resettlement program that was later formalized as a public-private partnership in 1980.

Episcopal Migration Ministries is one of nine agencies  – six of them faith-based — working in partnership with the State Department to welcome and resettle refugees. The agencies receive basic funding from the federal government to resettle refugees.

“It is one of the greatest honors of my life that the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, has asked me to serve as the director of a ministry that reaches so deeply into the core of what it means for me to be a faithful Christian,” said the Rev. E. Mark Stevenson, director of Episcopal Migration Ministries, during the event. “Our ministry among refugees brings hope to the hopeless every single day. It brings safety and opportunity to the vulnerable every day. It saves lives every day. As a person of faith, as a follower of Jesus, I have been blessed with no better work than this and I am thankful for it beyond words.”

EMM resettled 5,762 refugees out of 85,000 resettled in the United States in the fiscal year 2016. Through its affiliate network, EMM provides direct assistance to recent arrivals. It also offers ways for congregations to engage in refugee resettlement in their communities and encourages Episcopalians to join the Episcopal Public Policy Network and advocate for policies that protect the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.

In early April, in response to U.S. policy that will reduce by half the number of refugees resettled annually EMM announced that it will reduce the size of its 31-member affiliate network by six.

Episcopalians’ involvement in refugee resettlement, however, doesn’t stop with EMM’s affiliate network.

“All across this country our congregations work with affiliates of the other eight national agencies to welcome refugees,” said Stevenson, in places like The Woodlands, Texas; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Baltimore, Maryland; and Allentown, Pennsylvania. “Volunteers help their new neighbors find homes, launch or relaunch careers or embrace new educational opportunities. The Episcopal Church takes seriously the divine calling to love our neighbor as ourselves by welcoming [the stranger].”

EMM was the only refugee resettlement agency represented on the panel, but leaders of other faith-based organizations shared an overview of their work and partnerships.

Islamic Relief USA doesn’t resettle refugees in the United States, but it does work to serve the humanitarian needs of refugees worldwide with the help of partners including LDS Charities, said Anwar Khan, Islamic Relief’s chief executive officer. Through a partnership with Episcopal Relief & Development, Islamic Relief USA is working to prevent violence against women and girls, he added.

What started as assisting Ethiopians fleeing to Sudan led to helping Muslims in need around the world and eventually evolved into assistance “to everyone, everywhere,” said Khan.

In 2017, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 1.19 million refugees will need to be resettled.  Worldwide, war and persecution have forced a total of 65.3 million people from their homes. Last fall, the U.N. General Assembly hosted the first-ever meeting of heads of state and government to address the large movements of refugees and migrants, aimed at unifying countries behind a more humane and coordinated approach.

Since that meeting and following the election of President Donald Trump, the sentiment toward refugees, particularly Muslims, has begun to change. One of Trump’s first actions as president, for example, was to reduce the number of refugees admitted to the United States. And the wave of anti-immigrant, anti-refugee sentiment that began in Europe in recent years in response to the crisis in Syria, has continued.

When Saboor first arrived in the United States, people had “lots of images and perceptions of me and my family,” he said.

One way counter society’s preconceived and often negative notions of refugees and immigrants is to bring people together and encourage dialogue and in-depth, empathetic conversations, said Saboor.

-Lynette Wilson is managing editor of Episcopal News Service.

Preachers ponder their task in divided nation and, perhaps, divided congregations

Mon, 04/17/2017 - 1:43pm

Sermons grounded in Scripture, especially the lectionary readings of the day, can be a faith community’s touchstone in times of division, say many preachers.

[Episcopal News Service] The 2016 presidential election and the Trump administration have, depending on which pundits you listen to, exposed divides not so keenly seen in the United States since the Civil War or at least since protests wracked the country during the civil rights era and the Vietnam War.

People who generally agree with the direction of the current administration frequently encounter others who decry that direction. The relentless pace of the news cycle with its one scandal or debatable decision after another can feel like a bombardment no matter one’s stance.

Living a faithful life in the midst of such divisions is not easy. On Sunday morning, members of the same congregation come to church for different reasons. Some might seek respite from the debates raging around the country. Others might be seeking guidance or inspiration for their roles in the public square. Others might be bringing more intimate worries and joys to the nave.  What is a preacher to do?

Preachers alone with their Bibles and textbooks have pondered the question and it has been the subject of small clergy gatherings, Facebook discussions and diocesan clergy gatherings, including recently in Maryland and Minnesota.

“The gospel is inherently political but not American-partisan political,” says the Rev. Gary Manning, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

The Rev. Gary Manning, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, told Episcopal News Service, that knowing the congregation he faces is filled with all of those sorts of worshippers “tends to help me be a little more gentle,” Gentle, he said, but “not necessarily pulling punches.”

Admitting to a tension most preachers feel at one time or another, Manning said, “Quite frankly sometimes I just want to get up and wail away, and I think for whose benefit is that? Is that just because I’ve got the pulpit and I can do that? Well, that’s not what I am called to do; get up and give voice to my own frustration.”

The Rev. Bernard J. Owens, rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, agreed. “The most pastoral and prophetic thing we can do is speak honestly and truthfully,” he said in an interview with ENS. “And I don’t entirely mean we need to be the prophet Amos every Sunday but rather to be authentic” and grounded in the truth of Scripture.

Owens recently tried to debunk the notion that a sermon is “the moment in which a designated holy person tells us everything we need to know.” In “The Light of the World: Writing my first sermon for the age of Trump,”, an opinion piece he wrote for the online magazine Slate, Owens wrote that preaching must be rooted in study, prayer and relationships.

“A sermon is only one piece of the many-layered, lifelong process of building a community,” he wrote. “Even the most challenging events can also serve as opportunities to strengthen that community, but that requires equal measures of courage and humility.”

The Rev. Bernard J. Owens, rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Greensboro, North Carolina, says that simply preaching about discord in politics is not what is called for. Photo courtesy of Bernard J. Owens

Owens feels called to “build up a more sacred and loving community that really does include everyone within the congregation.” At the same time, he knows that “if we aren’t honoring that there’s some really upsetting things happening then we’re just ignoring it” and being inauthentic.

Yet, it is a balancing act, he said. To preach only about current events can degrade the relationships a preacher has forged in a congregation. It also contributes to the sense of exhaustion many people on both sides of the communion rail feel about keeping track of all the issues and their responses. Moreover, such preaching can simply affirm the fact that people are divided.

Besides, Manning said, it can backfire. “I think it’s important to tell the truth but I think it’s important to tell the truth in a way that people can hear it,” he said. “If you just use slogans, if you just use stuff that sounds like you’re recycling some political manifesto, people block up their ears pretty quickly to that.”

Manning said it is one thing to show how the gospel critiques the latest political decision or policy. “It’s another thing to ask how are we as gospel people to embody our lives now. How are we to enact gospel witness?”

Two preachers who teach the art of homiletics in Episcopal seminaries would agree.

In the face of what she called “a huge energy asking us to be reactive,” the Rev. Linda Clader said, “my advice to preachers, and to myself, is to take a big breath and back up a step and really remember that our job is to preach the gospel.”

The Rev. Linda Clader, professor emerita of homiletics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, says preachers needs to be faithful to the day’s readings and the call to build Christian community in the face of a divided culture. Photo: Church Divinity School of the Pacific

Clader, who is professor emerita of homiletics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, told ENS that preachers must be diligent about starting with the readings for the day. “That doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to respond to something that is crazy enough but our job is to build community, to build a Christian community and it’s a community that’s grounded in the gospel,” she said.

However, Clader said, preachers should not fall into the trap of pitting in their sermons what Donald Trump says against what Jesus says. Instead, preachers have to cast a larger vision of “justice, forgiveness and God’s love.”

Grounding their sermons in that gospel message gives preachers authority, she said. “That’s the platform of authority that you can stand on because you have studied it and studied it, and you do know something about what it says and what it means,” she said.

The Rev. Ruthanna Hooke, associate professor of homiletics at Virginia Theological Seminary, said it is easy for preachers to misuse the pulpit as their personal platforms. “So, Scripture becomes a kind of grounding that you have to keep submitting yourself to – to the claims of the text – so that you are staying in contact with God as the source of preaching.”

Clader and Hooke both said that the text, in Hooke’s words, is a crucial touchstone. “But, having said that, the text pushes us into some pretty uncomfortable places,” Hooke added.

The difference, in Manning’s words, it that “the gospel is inherently political but not American-partisan political.”

Manning said he believes what he is called to do is to remind people that “it is our theology and our baptismal convent that forms our understanding of the world and not the other way around, and that’s hard for people because they’re exposed to the American story all week and maybe the gospel story for an hour.”

The gospel, Hooke said, is indeed political in its implications and its applications, and the preacher’s challenge is to explicate it in a way that is “universally hear-able while at the same the time is really the gospel.”

The Rev. Ruthanna Hooke, associate professor of homiletics at Virginia Theological Seminary, says Scripture must be the touchstone from which preachers humbly approach their task. Photo: Shawn Evelyn/Virginia Theological Seminary

Hooke teaches her students that if they are going to preach a “political sermon,” they “really have to implicate themselves.” Preachers have to ask if they would do what they are asking of their listeners. “That’s an important measure of humility on the part of the preacher and helps with these very divisive questions,” she said, adding that outrage not followed by action does not lend itself to helping the community find solutions.

It helps, she said, to remember that any given sermon is part of the preacher’s relationship with the community. “If people really know that you care about them, they’ll be much more likely to listen to you say things that are challenging,” she said.

Diocese of Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton harkened to that care in a February pastoral letter. He urged preachers, among other things, to witness to the gospel and acknowledge that there are other witnesses. Remind your listeners, he said, that you want to keep talking with them, and then show a willingness to listen, change your mind and repent if needed.

“Show some courage,” Sutton said. “It’s easier in the long run for your pastoral ministry than cowardice.”

The bishop asked listeners to show the same willingness to listen, change one’s mind and repent, but also to study the Sunday readings and acknowledge Jesus as “both a spiritual and a political teacher.”

“Cut your preachers some slack,” Sutton said. “They really are trying to say and do the right thing.”

And, Manning noted, they are doing it during the 12 or so minutes that most Episcopal preachers devote to the sermon.

Hooke reminded preachers that the pulpit might not always be the best place from which to dive deeply into the issues of the day because the sermon is a monologue, not truly a conversation. It might be better, she said, to open up an issue while preaching and then host conversations at other times. The church, Manning and Hooke said, can be hospitable to difficult conversations among people with opposing viewpoints. Churches might be becoming one of the few places where non-like-minded people can gather for conversation, Hooke said.

Being Christian in times like these means finding common ground and core values, says Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Whether it is in the pulpit or during an adult education forum, the first step ought to be acknowledging that the divisions in the wider world exist within in a congregation. “It can be pastorally helpful to actually talk about something that everybody’s thinking about but afraid to voice,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said during a recent news conference when a reporter asked him about the challenges of preaching to and leading congregations during this season of division.

The next question, Curry said, is “how do you move forward and offer a word and help people navigate a context that is complex – morally complex?”

As a parish priest and then as bishop of North Carolina, Curry said, he learned that calling people to stand on common ground helped give everyone some navigational tools.

“I approached that by trying to first attempt to identify and articulate what are the core values reflected in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, that we as followers of Jesus, as Christians, believe,” he said.

“Claiming the space of the values and teachings of Jesus does not mean that we have all the answers to how to solve either the problem or the issue,” he warned. Rather, it means claiming the common ground at least for Christians and looking for people of other religious traditions and people with no religious traditions who nevertheless hold the same values.

That approach allows for the fact that “everybody’s got something to contribute and we’ll come out with something better when we do that.

Curry gave some examples. How, he asked, might a study of the parable of the Good Samaritan inform the health-care debate? Christians know of Jesus’ so-called Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12 in which he tells his followers to do to others as they would have others do to them. “Now, if you are a legislator, you have to ask yourself the social policy question of is this decision something I would want somebody else to do to me,” Curry said.

“To love your neighbor as yourself means not only to love the person whom the legislation was trying to help but it’s also about loving the person who disagrees with you,” he said. Republicans and Democrats must see each as neighbors, as defined by Jesus, “if you want to be a Christian,” he said.

“The truth is we are not the Republican Party at prayer and we are not the Democratic Party at prayer,” Curry said. “We are the Jesus Movement and that makes a difference.”

(Episcopalians can engage in policy discussions and advocacy at the federal (and in some cases state level) by joining the Episcopal Public Policy Network.)

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is Episcopal News Service’s senior reporter/editor.

Bishop Todd Ousley named bishop for Office of Pastoral Development

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 2:01pm

The Rt. Rev. Todd Ousley

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry has named Bishop Todd Ousley of Eastern Michigan as bishop for the Office of Pastoral Development, a member of the Presiding Bishop’s staff.

“Bishop Ousley is an experienced bishop with a depth of pastoral and leadership skills,” Curry said. “I am very thankful to him for his willingness to assume this particular ministry which is vital to the spiritual life and vitality of our bishops and, through them, the Episcopal Church. I have known and worked with him for several years and, like my brothers and sisters in the community of bishops and spouses, Bishop Ousley has my deep respect, affection and trust.”

“While it is difficult to cease being bishop in the Diocese of Eastern Michigan, I am honored to serve the Presiding Bishop, the House of Bishops, and the Episcopal Church in a vital role of sustaining the health of our bishops and dioceses,” Ousley said. “For almost 16 years I have had the privilege of serving the Diocese of Eastern Michigan as canon and as bishop, and through it all, we have been sustained by the power of deep relationships, trust in God and trust in one another. I look forward to working with my colleagues, the presiding bishop, and the churchwide staff in further enhancing healthy dioceses and healthy bishops.”

Ousley was appointed following a process in which a committee led by Bishop Jim Waggoner (Diocese of Spokane, resigned) interviewed and recommended finalists who were then interviewed by the presiding bishop and members of the committee working together.

Ousley begins his new position on July 5 and at that time, he can be contacted at tousley@episcopalchurch.org. He will be based in Michigan.

Meet Bishop Ousley
Ousley has been bishop of Eastern Michigan since 2007, having been elected bishop coadjutor in 2006.  He was canon to the ordinary for five years prior.

Before his service in Eastern Michigan, he was rector in churches in Texas. Prior to ordination, Ousley was a therapist and business manager at a psychiatric hospital in Texas.

Among his extensive Episcopal Church activities, Ousley was

  • At the 78th General Convention in 2015, House of Bishops liaison with House of Deputies Committee on Confirmation of the Presiding Bishop and Vice-Chairperson for the HOB Legislative Committee on Ministry.
  • At the 77th General Convention in 2012, chairperson of the HOB Legislative Committee on Small Congregations.
  • Member of Bishops United Against Gun Violence.
  • Member of the HOB Planning Committee, chairperson since 2015 and co-chairperson 2012 – 2015.
  • Member of HOB Pastoral Development Committee since 2007; chairperson since 2016.
  • Member of the Court of Review for Trial of a Bishop 2007 – 2011.
  • Board member of Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, 1990 – 1991 and 2003 – 2005.

Ousley holds a Doctor of Ministry in congregational development from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary; Master of Divinity from the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest; Master of Science in Educational Psychology from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas; and a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from Baylor University. Ousley also holds various licenses, certificates and continuing education credentials.

Bishop for the Office of Pastoral Development

In this full-time position that reports directly to the Presiding Bishop, the bishop for the Office of Pastoral Development serves as chaplain to bishops and families as a pastoral point person for and with the presiding bishop.

Among the responsibilities for the bishop for the Office of Pastoral Development:

  • Provide confidential non-judgmental listening, counsel, guidance, direction and support in crisis and disaster intervention: bereavement counseling, as well as conflict resolution.
  • Participate with the Planning Committee for the House of Bishops gatherings and meetings in an ex officio
  • Responsible for the processes in the Title III canons on ministry development that pertain to bishops, including the pastoral functions such as pastoral guidance and training.
  • Responsible for the processes in the Title IV canons on clergy disciplinary that pertain to bishops, focus on pastoral and coordinator roles and ensure that the process moves in an appropriate and timely manner.
  • Provide oversight of the bishop search processes churchwide, which includes providing materials and support for the bishop election process.

Ousley assumes the position from Bishop Clay Matthews who is retiring.

“As chaplain to bishops and families and pastoral point person for and with the presiding bishop, I will continue the firm foundation laid by the current bishop for pastoral development, Bishop Clay Matthews,” Ousley continued. “His nearly two decades of service in this role have been marked by formational and relational work that have helped heal a divided House of Bishops and enabled us to be more responsive to significant challenges in the church and the culture.”

Archbishop to lead flotilla to reclassification of England’s largest parish church

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 1:52pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop of York John Sentamu will head towards England’s largest parish church on a lifeboat next month. He will be joined by a flotilla of boats from pleasure crafts to police launches for the reclassification of Holy Trinity Church in Hull as Hull Minster.

Full article.

RIP: Fifth Bishop of Los Angeles Frederick Houk Borsch

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 12:55pm

[Episcopal News Service] The Rt. Rev. Frederick Houk Borsch died early on April 11 from complications of myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of leukemia. He was 81 years old.

Borsch died in his sleep at his Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, home, according to a post on the Diocese of Los Angeles’ Facebook page. He served as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles from 1988 to 2002.

The clergy of the Diocese of Los Angeles learned of Borsch’s death as they gathered for the annual Holy Tuesday renewal of vows at the Cathedral Center on April 11.

Educated at Princeton, Oxford and the General Theological Seminary, his doctorate in New Testament studies was from the University of Birmingham in England, according to an announcement from St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church in San Marino. He held teaching posts in England, at Seabury-Western Seminary, and at General Theological Seminary prior to becoming dean and president of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, where he served until his 1988 election as bishop.

Borsch returned to academics after leaving the Diocese of Los Angeles, serving as professor of New Testament and chair of Anglican studies at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. The seminary honored him in 2014 by instituting the Frederick Houk Borsch Chair in Anglican Studies.

Contributor of essays, articles and poetry to a number of journals and newspapers, Borsch was the author or editor of some 20 books. A bibliography, along with more biographical information, is available here.

Memorial services are pending at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, and St. Augustine by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, Santa Monica, California.

A 47-minute interview with Borsch in 2014 about his life and work is below.

Little Rock cathedral to hold prayer service for seven death-row inmates on the eve of executions

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 11:49am

Inmates Bruce Ward (top row L to R), Don Davis, Ledell Lee, Stacy Johnson, Jack Jones (bottom row L to R), Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams and Jason McGehee are shown in these booking photo provided March 21, 2017. Seven are scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in Arkansas, beginning April 17, 2017. A federal judge stayed McGehee’s execution on April 6. Courtesy Arkansas Department of Corrections/REUTERS

[Episcopal News Service] Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock, Arkansas, is scheduled to hold a special prayer service at 8 p.m. on Easter Sunday, the eve of an 11-day period of planned executions, for seven of the state’s death-row inmates, for their victims and families and for the executioners.

“The cathedral will hold services if we reach the point when there is nothing left to do but pray,” said the Very Rev. Christoph Keller III, dean and rector, in an email message to Episcopal News Service. “Then we will pray for the men who are about to die, and those who love them; and for those who died and suffered in the crimes for which they have been convicted, and those who love them.”

Death penalty opponents have held daily demonstrations outside the governor’s mansion since the executions were announced in March. On April 12, clergy planned to hand deliver a letter signed by more than 200 clergy from across Arkansas to Gov. Asa Hutchison urging Hutchison to show mercy.

Two of the seven men are scheduled to die by lethal injection on Easter Monday, April 17, two more on April 20, another two on the 24, and one on April 27; the final execution is scheduled three days before the expiration date of the execution sedative midazolam. One hour before the scheduled executions, the cathedral will host a brief ecumenical service followed by a short walk to the Arkansas governor’s mansion for a candlelight vigil.

The state’s decision to execute an unprecedented number of inmates in quick succession and with controversial lethal injections has drawn international criticism, spawned lawsuits arguing the quick succession of executions raises the risk the inmates’ death will be “cruel and unusual,” and put Arkansas and its governor at the center of the nation’s death penalty debate.

Hutchinson, who set the execution dates, admitted to feeling “uneasy” about the need to schedule the executions in quick succession in advance of the sedative’s expiration date. (Drug companies, like Pfizer, have begun to impose controls over drugs they manufacture to ensure they are not used in lethal injections.)

The state originally had planned to execute eight inmates, but a federal judge last week stayed the execution of one of the men. All eight death-row inmates were convicted of murder between 1989 and 1999.

“The death penalty is driven by revenge – not justice,” said the Rev. Allison Liles, executive director of Episcopal Peace Fellowship, in a late March press release condemning the executions. “And a high price of this vengeful punishment is being paid by the prison workers forced to endure the reality of what it means to execute a human being.”

Arkansas hasn’t executed a prisoner in 12 years; when the governor scheduled the eight executions it came “out of the blue,” said Caroline Stevenson, a member of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Little Rock and a member of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship.

The ongoing protests outside the governor’s mansion indicate citizens’ outrage and “give them a way to try and influence the governor,” said Stevenson, in a phone call with ENS. “Is he moveable? Not that we can tell.”

The governor says he is carrying out the law, said the Rev. Mary Janet Murray, a retired deacon and a member of St. Michael’s and the EPF.

“He claims ‘it’s the law and if you want to change the law, you have to talk the legislature into doing that,’” said Murray, also in a phone call with ENS.

Stevenson is also a longtime member of the Arkansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty, which was formed in 1976 when the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty. (In 1972, the court had ruled the death penalty “cruel and unusual” punishment and in violation of the Eighth and 14th amendments.) She is also a member of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, which also advocates for ending the death penalty.

It’s a mistake, said Stevenson, to conflate justice and revenge and to think that executions will bring closure to the healing process for victims’ families.

“Executions don’t bring the kind of solace that people think will bring to families, it compounds the violence,” said Stevenson, whose college-age son, then a student at Syracuse University, was killed in the December 1998 terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Arkansas Bishop Larry Benfield called the unprecedented number of executions “at very least a discordant note to strike in a state that reports higher-than-average belief in God and church attendance.”

He went on to ask: “Are these planned executions where the teachings of the church have taken Arkansans? Or have the people of this state and their leaders chosen to ignore the very religious principles they proclaim?” Benfield has joined other Arkansas faith leaders in speaking against the executions.

Sixty-one percent of Arkansas residents expressed support for the death penalty in a recent poll. And the state ranks fifth among the most highly religious U.S. states the Pew Research Center’s 2016 religious landscape study.

“The bigger question to me is how can you be a Christian and support violence of so many kinds,” said Stevenson when asked how Arkansans square the Christian beliefs with support for the death penalty. She cited the elimination of programs that feed children, a federal budget that promotes military spending and weapons of mass destruction. “The bigger question for me is how do we square our following of Jesus with violence?

“Maybe this execution that we’re going through right now will cause people to question their own understanding of Jesus’ teaching about killings. It took me a long time to come to a better understanding. I didn’t question [the death penalty] growing up. I thought it was just here and I didn’t question the decisions of people in high places.”

In 2015, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church reaffirmed its longstanding call to end the death penalty. Thirty-one U.S. states allow the death penalty; Arkansas has executed 27 people since 1976.

— Lynette Wilson is managing editor of Episcopal News Service.