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Diocese of Alaska backs grassroots climate efforts as it prepares to welcome Episcopal bishops

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 12:04pm

Members of the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition pose for a photo Jan. 9 after rallying at the federal building in Fairbanks in opposition to climate change deniers in the Trump cabinet. Photo: Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition, via Facebook.

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Diocese of Alaska is working with a grassroots group called Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition to educate communities about renewable power sources and to empower native Alaskans and other residents to speak out on issues related to climate change.

The Episcopal Church’s United Thank Offering, or UTO, program awarded the diocese a $5,000 grant this year to support the coalition and its efforts, which still are gaining momentum three years after a small group of activists began collaborating on these issues.

“In the last year, they have just had some incredible energy in sort of developing this ecumenical community organizing around the issue of sustainable energy and sustainable environment,” Bishop Mark Lattime said in a phone interview with Episcopal News Service.

The diocese’s office in Fairbanks has just three staff members so Lattime said the way for the church to live out its baptismal vow to care for God’s creation is to rally behind the good work of active citizens and Episcopalians at the local level.

Members of the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops will learn about these and other related efforts when they meet in Fairbanks, beginning Sept. 21. As host, Lattime is emphasizing the themes of creation care and racial justice for indigenous people. Those two themes are closely related, he said.

“My vision of this was to be honoring our Native folks and their concerns for the care of creation. They’re the ones – folks who live closest to the land, folks who have depended on a subsistence lifestyle for centuries – those are the ones who are effected by climate change most significantly,” he said.

Lattime spoke about the challenges and joys of ministry in Alaska in a series of videos here.

The bishops, who meet from Sept. 21 to 27, will spend a day visiting Native villages in the Interior. They will listen to villagers’ stories and then bless the land, water and other natural resources.

The House of Bishops meeting also will feature a presentation on indigenous Alaskan culture. One of the presenters will be Princess Johnson, a Fairbanks resident of Gwich’in heritage who was one of the founders of Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition. She also was a member of the Episcopal Church’s delegation that traveled to Paris in December 2015 for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP21.

“We need to recognize our connection to our Mother Earth and our role in being really protectors, and also that we can’t live without clean air and water and land and we need to ultimately transition off fossil fuels,” Johnson told ENS.

She said the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition originated in conversations she had with other Alaskans she met in September 2014 at a Fairbanks rally in solidarity with the People’s Climate March in New York City. Those conversations turned to the concrete steps they could take locally to fight climate change, and in November 2015, the coalition was born.

It further gained steam after a climate accord was reached at COP21. Local activists felt an additional sense of urgency this year after President Donald Trump said he would withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord, Johnson said.

The coalition has created several working groups to lead efforts such as renewable energy and interfaith collaboration. Coalition meetings and training sessions now typically draw several dozen environmentally minded residents of the Fairbanks area. Education is a big emphasis, and the coalition is eager to expand that work with the help of the $5,000 UTO grant.

“There’s been a long history, I think, of the Episcopal Church being ahead of the curve and forward-thinking in terms of really being caretakers and emphasizing that we are all caretakers of God’s creation,” Johnson said.

Some of the trainings offer guidance for using solar, wind and other renewable resources for energy. The coalition also is training residents of the Fairbanks area to be politically active on these issues in the face of some distinctly Alaskan hurdles.

Alaska’s great size – that vast expanse of northern forests, mountains and far-flung cities and villages – poses political challenges, especial for Alaskans living in native villages. Adding their voices to debates on oil drilling, clean water and wilderness preservation isn’t as easy as hopping in a car and driving to the statehouse. Alaska’s capital, Juneau, isn’t even reachable by road, and flights across the state can become cost-prohibitive.

The Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition has found success in organizing trips to Juneau for members. Last year, it cobbled together enough donations to fly a 14-person delegation more than 600 miles to the state capital to meet with lawmakers and voice their opposition to a state resolution supporting opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

Johnson said such face-to-face interaction is effective in conveying to lawmakers how environmental issues have a direct impact on indigenous people’s ability to live off the land and protect their way of life. The coalition hopes to be able to organizer more such trips in the future.

The coalition and the diocese also are careful not to vilify the oil industry. The economic reality is that the oil industry dominates the state economy. The coalition instead talks of a “just transition” toward a new economic model and away from the use of fossil fuels that is making climate change worse.

“Their hope is slowly, bit by bit, to get interior Alaska transitioned to using alternative forms of energy production, even at the village level,” Lattime said.

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

Volunteers pitch in to clean up Georgia’s Honey Creek Retreat Center

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 3:25pm

Thirty volunteers from the Diocese of Georgia spent Sept. 16 to 17 at the Honey Creek Retreat Center clearing debris left by Hurricane Irma. Photo: Frank Logue

[Episcopal Diocese of Georgia] Some 1,300 people were scheduled to arrive on Honey Creek Retreat Center’s grounds on Sept. 17 for a revival featuring Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Instead, 30 volunteers from the Diocese of Georgia spent the weekend clearing debris left by Hurricane Irma.

The Rev. Alan Akridge, rector of St. Mark’s Church in nearby Brunswick, cuts a downed tree in front of the Chapel of Our Saviour at Honey Creek. Photo: Frank Logue

There were “five worksites focusing on yard and tree debris cleanup and a kitchen team working to feed everyone,” said executive director Dade Brantley. To give an idea of the scope of the clean-up, last year with Hurricane Matthew there were 23 trees down which equaled 100 metric tons of debris. This year, 67 trees were down with double the tonnage, he said.

“It was grace, straight up grace” that there wasn’t more damage to buildings, Brantley said. He pointed toward the chapel and the remains of two trees which he said “grew up in tandem and died in tandem next to the chapel.”

One could have hit the chapel but it didn’t. He pointed out similar examples at Jonnard Dormitory and the kitchen garden, trees that just missed landing on buildings.

The Revival: Fearless Faith, Boundless Love has been rescheduled for Jan. 20 at Honey Creek. “Good planning, great vendor partnerships and a little bit of luck enabled us to identify an alternative day for the revival,” said Katie Willoughby, canon for administration. “We look forward to an exciting and spiritual event — now with a little cooler weather.”

Canadian partnership strengthens lay training in Cyprus and the Gulf

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 2:38pm

[Anglican Communion News Service]  The Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf has partnered with a Canadian theological college to accredit its lay training course. The Exploring Faith course is part of the diocese’s commitment to lifelong learning and can lead to qualifications at diploma or degree level. The diocese has been using the course for the past five years. Currently, some 15 students are enrolled on the course and a further nine are expected to sign up from January.

Read the entire article.

Australian Anglicans ‘sorry’ for complicity in domestic violence

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 2:36pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Anglican Church of Australia has issued a “heartfelt apology” to victims of domestic violence for failures in teaching and pastoral care to support victims and hold perpetrators to account. The province’s General Synod last week approved a motion that committed the church to study the prevalence of domestic violence inside the church. The synod also agreed to look at professionally designed and independent research into the nature and extent of domestic violence amongst Anglicans.

Read the entire article.

Archbishop Justin Welby joins new UN advisory board on mediation

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 2:35pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has joined 17 other global leaders and experts on a new United Nations High Level Advisory Board on Mediation. The board was established by António Guterres, nine months into his tenure as UN secretary-general. It is part of a “surge in diplomacy for peace” that Guterres has called for. The new board “brings together an unparalleled range of experience, skills, knowledge and contacts,” the UN said, and “will provide the secretary-general with advice on mediation initiatives and back specific mediation efforts around the world.”

Read the entire article.

Episcopalians find and give grace in the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 2:16pm

Diocese of Texas Assistant Bishop Hector Monterroso joins members of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, on Sept. 16 as they help a family from Holy Spirit Episcopal Church in Houston. Photo: Episcopal Diocese of Texas

[Episcopal Diocese of Texas] As the Diocese of Texas continues an energetic response to relief efforts after Hurricane Harvey’s punishing rains, churches and volunteers from across the country have offered help. Within the diocese, congregations have sent teams to muck out homes and church buildings, helping both neighbors and strangers.

The Ven. Russ Oechsel, diocesan disaster coordinator, met Crystal while he served as chaplain at one of Houston’s emergency shelters. A day later, Crystal called him desperate for help, and Oechsel met her in a parking lot to give her a couple of gift cards to meet her immediate needs. Her gratitude mixed with tears.

Thom’s sister called the Diocesan Center because someone at a Houston Christian radio station told her she could find help for her elderly brother there. Episcopalians moved Thom’s flooded personal belongings to the curb so the landlord could begin cleaning out the apartment. The relief in Thom’s voice was palpable.

Yet, there are many areas of Houston that have yet to see work crews, or find hope in the silt on their buckling floors or in the mold growing up their walls. And, in many towns to the south and east of the city, flood waters are still draining.

The Rev. Stacy Stringer offered space at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Dickinson to the local United Way agency when its food pantry and offices were submerged in Harvey’s rains. The agency was up and running within a few days after the storm, with church members helping to crew the area’s much needed food pantry. Two dozen U.S. Coast Guard members from out of state found a place to sleep for the night in the parish hall before they were released to go home, and Stringer even found them rides to the airport. There isn’t a rental car to be found for hundreds of miles. Dickinson’s Lutherans will worship alongside Episcopalians at Holy Trinity until their church can be repaired.


In southwest Houston, Iglesia Episcopal San Mateo flooded, as did the homes of many of their members. No one can enter the sanctuary; it’s just too toxic and will require professional remediation to finish what faithful parishioners began to clear out.

San Mateo’s rector, the Rev. Janssen J. Gutierrez, his wife Mariely and two teenagers, lost everything in their ground floor apartment to flood waters. Today they are living on the second floor of their complex, ministering to parishioners and contending with insurance adjusters to repair the church building and offices.

Gutierrez said many of his members are undocumented and therefore have no access to state or federal relief. He has been rector of San Mateo for little more than a year. Christ Church Cathedral, Houston, covered the cost of a tent under which the San Mateo congregation will worship for the next month or so, and Christ Church, Cranbrook, Michigan, has offered to strike up a long-term relationship.

Emmanuel Episcopal Church in far western Houston was under water for more than a week, so nearby Holy Spirit Episcopal Church offered office and worship space to the staff and congregation. The two congregations shared a potluck supper during the weekend.

Mission teams from St. Alban’s, Waco, traveled four hours to help clean out Holy Comforter in Spring and rector Jimmy Abbott’s home as soon as the rain subsided. Abbott was able to turn his attention to parishioners and neighbors who were dealing with the same huge losses.


“We are supporting our clergy and our churches so that they are able to do local ministry,” said the Rt. Rev. Andy Doyle. This isn’t his first rodeo. Hurricane Ike hit the Diocese of Texas in the months between Doyle’s election and consecration. He sees a robust rebuilding response over the next year, tapering through the following two to three years as needs are met.

“This is our mission field,” said Karen Wynn, indicating the neighborhoods around Good Shepherd, Friendswood. With debris piled high in front of homes on streets radiating away from Good Shepherd, Wynn, the rector’s wife, was upbeat about helping the community. They had water in the offices and the Sunday school rooms, but the parish hall and church remained high and dry. Volunteers already had a white board up and had triaged almost 20 parishioners’ homes to clean out and had five teams working within a day of the storm.


Members of St. Andrew’s, in Houston’s Heights, sent teams of people into the neighborhoods to “listen” and check in on their neighbors. They fielded several parishioners to unload $50,000 in donations from McMath Construction in Louisiana. Asked why he brought so much, Don McMath said: “Honestly, we were so busy during Katrina working, we couldn’t do any of this, and it’s bothered me for 12 years. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to pay back.” The McMath company also brought jambalaya for 500 people and fed people at Gallery Furniture and Iglesia Episcopal San Pablo before returning home.


Northeast of Houston in Atascocita, members of Christ the King Episcopal Church helped six families in the congregation clean up their houses after they flooded. The work included gutting interiors and doing laundry.

“On the first Sunday after the storm I was going to drop off supplies to one of our families,” said the Rev. David Nelson, Christ the King rector. “As an afterthought, I asked if the family wanted Communion. The mother responded by tearing up, which was all I needed to know.”

They celebrated Eucharist on a cooler full sandwiches and water set on the back porch of the house that was flooded with more than 3 feet of water. “The symbolism was powerful. We were feeding people spiritually on top of a cooler, the contents of which literally feed people,” Nelson said. “The participants were also struck by how it reminded them of God’s presence even in the midst of the mud and muck, tragedy and loss.”

The Rev. David Nelson, rector Christ the King Episcopal Church in Atascocita, join a family for Eucharist on the family’s back porch. Photo: Christ the King

Local diocesan response to Harvey is supported by Episcopal Relief & Development with funds and expertise. “Their extensive experience has been invaluable,” Oechsel said. Many clergy expressed gratitude for video training during the immediate aftermath of the storm. The diocese had spiritual care teams at shelters and neighborhoods almost before the five days of relentless rain stopped.

The Rev. Lacy Largent continues to coordinate lay and clergy who are interested in joining teams who will listen to flood victims and offer gift cards and further help where needed, connecting people to resources in the church and community. Some churches have sent teams into their neighborhoods just to listen to people affected by the flooding.

The scene on Jan and Susie Bromley’s street in Orange could have been in Katy, Richmond, Bellaire, Beaumont or Vidor. Breakfronts that once held heirloom china piled atop soaking carpet and stacks of bent hardwood or parquet flooring piled at the curb. Leather recliners tilted over dining room chairs and dressing tables, children’s stuffed animals and piles of clothing already covered with mold. Then the wet sheetrock lay on top of it all — a varmint’s dream condominium on street after street.

Jan is fighting liver cancer and is in a wheelchair. As the water rose to the windows, Susie called her grandsons to help move Jan upstairs at the house next door. “I didn’t know if we were even doing the right thing,” Susie said. “He collapsed when we got there finally, and we had to be rescued by boat.” The Bromleys lost both cars in the flood so the rector of their church loaned them his truck to get to Jan’s chemo treatments.

Standing in Susie’s living room, the exposed studs revealed the hall and bedrooms beyond. Fans and a dehumidifier created a din. Tears streaming down her face, Susie hugged Bishop Suffragan Jeff Fisher, who came to visit and pray with the family.

Moments of grace abound. They take the form of a circle of prayer or a truck from Pennsylvania filled with pallets of water, food and diapers. There’s the perfect pair of jeans for the man who has no clothes but the ones on his back.

The Rev. Steve Balke, rector of St. Stephen’s, Beaumont, carried his son’s air mattress to his car, the superhero sheet flapping in the breeze. Balke has been sleeping on the floor in his office for a few days.

An Episcopal Relief & Development Partners in Response team meets at St. Steven’s Episcopal Church in Beaumont with members of the Diocese of Texas. Partners in Response team members are experts who travel to impacted communities in the United States and help diocesan and congregational leaders through the stages of long-term disaster recovery. Photo: Eric Moen/Episcopal Health Foundation

The distribution center at St. Stephen’s is capably run by parishioners, several whom have nothing left to go home to. Their sofas are submerged, their photos are still floating somewhere between the bookshelves and the hall bathroom, the pots and pans collect silt beneath the toxic water in the kitchen corner.

As supplies continue to ebb and flow, one truck arrived with water, another with more diapers, the water slowly, slowly draining in the surrounding fields. Another truck from Lampasas arrives. Donations gathered by Hoffpauir Auto Group in Lampasas.


The sun is out, and Texans watched the news from Florida as they continue to respond as the Gospel would have us do.

— Carol E. Barnwell is Diocese of Texas director of communication.

Virgin Islands churches banding together to care for their Irma-hit neighbors

Fri, 09/15/2017 - 4:47pm

Storm damage is seen from the air Sept. 11 after Hurricane Irma passed Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. Photo: Capt. George Eatwell, RM/Ministry of Defence handout via Reuters

[Episcopal News Service] Yvonne O’Neal believes that she crossed paths with more than one angel in the last week in Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, complete strangers helped her leave the decimated island and get back to her home in New York.

O’Neal, who was born on Tortola to parents from Virgin Gorda and grew up in Puerto Rico, had been in the Virgin Islands since July, when she came for an extended stay. In early August, she had gotten drenched in a massive rain storm during an Emancipation Day parade, but that experience was nothing like what was to come with Irma a month later.

She had decided, just before the Category 5 hurricane arrived, to relieve a family member who had been taking care of their elderly, bedridden aunt in Spanish Town. O’Neal rode out the storm with her dying aunt.

When Irma came ashore, “the wind came from north to south and there was debris flying,” she said, describing the scene in a Sept. 15 phone call with Episcopal News Service.

Some of that debris Irma propelled through the air were jagged pieces of galvanized metal from a nearby building. “I thought to myself, if this comes in here we are dead,” recalled O’Neal, who will be a first-time deputy to the Episcopal Church’s General Convention next year.

She watched the storm strip bare all the nearby trees and snap their trunks. “The wind was very, very high. They say it was more than 185 mph. The saving grace for us was that, even though the wind was as high as can be, Irma did not bring a lot of rain with it. It did not bring a lot of water,” she said.

Had Irma drenched the island, “I would not be talking to you. I would have been dead. I am convinced of that,” said O’Neal.

Then, suddenly the wind stopped and the sun came out. People went outside in wonder but were soon forced back inside as the wind began again, O’Neal recalled, this time coming from the south.

A video posted on Facebook by Caribbean Buzz Helicopters show damage on Virgin Gorda, from its airport to the town of Baths

After Irma had fully passed, O’Neal wanted to get out and see what had happened to the town. That’s when the angels began appearing. They helped her find her way down familiar streets made unrecognizable by debris. A man offered to walk her to her house when she wanted to see what had happened to it. Other people told her she could not get there because of the surrounding damage.

She went with the man because she sensed she could trust him, that he only wanted to help. Once he helped her get inside her house, he turned to leave and O’Neal realized she did not know his name. “Benjamin,” he replied. She told him that he was an angel, thanking him and telling him that God would bless him.

Her aunt died Sept. 8, two days after Irma made landfall on the Virgin Islands, and O’Neal had to take her body to Tortola and report the death to the police.

By Sept. 10, she could use Facebook to tell friends that she was safe. “I have never seen such devastation in my life,” O’Neal wrote. “Irma razed these islands to the ground. Rich and poor are homeless. Many are hungry. We thank God for life.”

On Sept. 11, O’Neal knew she had to get off the island. More angels appeared. They told her about a man who anticipated two private boats arriving at the Spanish Town Yacht Harbor. The harbor, O’Neal said, was “a graveyard of boats” that Irma had shoved and stacked against each like fallen dominos. The man told her to pack her belongings, prioritizing them in case she had to leave things behind. They agreed on a time for her to be at the harbor.

While she was waiting for the boats, she saw other large and small boats bringing in supplies from Puerto Rico. A couple who skippered one of the small boats offered to take her back with them. The angel who had told her about the other boat urged her to leave when she could.

So, she agreed to get on the strangers’ boat. They, too, were angels, O’Neal said, taking her to Farjardo, in Puerto Rico. This was late afternoon on Sept. 12. From there she got to a house she owns. There was no food in the house “but I had a roof over my head” and dry clothes.

The next day she flew to Atlanta and then back to New York, landing at JFK airport late that night.

About 36 hours later, O’Neal said: “The number one thing I think about is that I am alive and that there wasn’t more loss of human life.”

The second thing O’Neal wants the rest of the church to know is that there are Episcopalians on all the Virgin Islands. “They’re faithful Episcopalians and they should not be forgotten,” she said.

Despite Hurricane Irma’s efforts, tiny St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, is still standing, albeit with damage. Photo: Yvonne O’Neal

The Episcopal Diocese of the Virgin Islands consists of 14 congregations on five islands, some governed by the United States, others by Britain. The U.S. islands with Episcopal churches are St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas. There are Anglican churches on Tortola and Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. Working with government officials from two countries, plus coordinating with other aid organizations, makes providing relief to a series of islands even more of a challenge than it would be when a region is hit by a Category 5 hurricane.

Irma is a “complicated disaster,” Abagail Nelson, Episcopal Relief & Development senior vice president for programs, told a webinar briefing on Sept. 14. She said organization staff members have been in texting contact with Bishop Ambrose Gumbs and others, including Rosalie Ballentine, a board member who lives on St. Thomas.

“They are so damaged,” Nelson said of the islands. “Our normal response is to send funding so that food and water can be procured locally.” However, the Virgin Islands, typically dependent on outside provisioning of normal daily supplies, are struggling to find available food and water, she said.

In addition to coordinating relief efforts being organized by the U.S. and British governments, including their militaries, and related agencies such as the Red Cross, Episcopal Relief & Development is also working with the Anglican Alliance.

“Given the catastrophic situation there, we are going outside the box a little in how we respond,” Nelson said. “We’ve been working with the different militaries on how we can get resources in.” There are strong ecumenical networks that are mobilizing. “We’re working with the Adventists, the Mormons, Baptists, all with an eye toward getting stuff in there,” she added.

Many of the Episcopal churches in the diocese have windows blown out, holes in their roofs and shutters torn off. However, Nelson said churches are saying their communities need tarps to keep the rain out of homes and mosquito nets. And, of course, there’s no power, she added.

Copies of The Hymnal 1982 lay amid broken glass outside St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. Photo: Yvonne O’Neal

“The churches are damaged but not destroyed. They’re old churches, so it is a miracle to me that they’re still standing,” said the Rev. Judy Quick, a deacon from the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama. She’s the Diocese of Alabama‘s co-coordinator for Episcopal Relief & Development and is also chairperson for the companion diocesan commission.

What does Alabama have to do with the Virgin Islands? Since early 2016, the two dioceses have been building a companion diocese relationship. That partnership means Quick could connect with clergy from each of the diocese’s affected islands through texting, Facebook and email — at least with those who were able to find temporary Wi-Fi service.

“Communication is terrible, horrible,” Quick said. After Alabama’s devastating tornadoes in 2011, Episcopalians learned that when cell phones don’t work, texting can. It’s another way the partnership has helped.

As she reached people she heard stories of churches already helping their neighbors. St. George’s Episcopal Church on Tortola could shelter more than 100 people, Quick found.

The Rev. Sandra Malone, priest-in-charge at St. Paul’s Mission on Tortola, lost the roof from her home, but she was out helping the congregation and British communities. “That’s powerful to me, to be the rock for the communities and to show that compassion,” Quick said.

Nelson told the ERD webinar that Episcopal and Anglican churches on the islands are “holding together and slowly consolidating for a wider relief response.”

“We’re very committed there and to the long-term recovery,” she said.

The Rev. Esther Georges, who ministers at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda, emailed Episcopal News Service on Sept. 15 to report that she was headed to what she called “the command center” to collect vouchers for her congregation to get food and water.

Hurricane Irma’s winds blew out nearly every window in St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. Photo: Yvonne O’Neal

O’Neal visited St. Mary’s before she left Virgin Gorda. Irma toppled the stone church’s bell tower. It crashed into the cemetery, crushing some tombstones. The storm also blew out nearly every window in the church, and damaged the rectory and a building where, among other things, the congregation held an annual “Jazz on the Hill” concert.

The churches on St. Thomas are struggling, especially St. Andrews Episcopal Church, which had a lot of flooding, Quick said. Yet, while church leaders are still trying to check on their congregations, there have been no reports of serious injuries or deaths. But the devastation is sure to have an emotional toll, she said.

The connection between Alabama and the Virgin Islands is even more layered because there are partnerships from parish to parish. The diocesan partnership has always been a two-way relationship, with youth visits in both directions and other programs.

“It’s really a God thing that we can be there for them in this time in desperation,” Quick said. “It’s about walking with friends in good and bad times. That’s what this is all about.”

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service. Amy Sowder is a special correspondent for the Episcopal News Service, as well as a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, New York.

‘Get serious’ about climate change, Anglican Church in Australia tells government

Fri, 09/15/2017 - 11:43am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The federal government should act with a “deepened sense of urgency” over its commitment to the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, according to a motion passed by the Anglican Church’s General Synod last week.

The motion also called for the Church to “get its own house in order by actively seeking to reduce its carbon footprint” and “be a more active participant in the climate change debate.”

Full article.

Cincinnati cathedral drafts plan to study removing memorials to Confederate figures

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 3:26pm

Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, is depicted as receiving a blessing from Virginia Bishop William Meade in this stained-glass window at Christ Church Cathedral, Cincinnati, Ohio. Photo: Sarah Hartwig/Christ Church Cathedral

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal cathedral in Cincinnati plans to launch a discernment process as it considers removing memorials to Confederate figures after the dean called for their removal in a sermon last month.

Christ Church Cathedral’s vestry, which discussed Dean Gail Greenwell’s request at its Sept. 13 meeting, agreed to study the memorials’ historical significance, engage in conversations with parishioners on the issue and consider ways of memorializing abolitionists and heroes of racial justice.

“The vestry believes that a proper response requires an active period of discernment,” Senior Warden Don Land and Junior Warden Julie Kline said in a statement dated Sept. 14. The statement did not provide a timeline for the discernment process.

The latest development comes a month after a white supremacist rally on Aug. 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned violent and deadly, fueling a national conversation about the appropriateness of Confederate monuments in public spaces, including Episcopal institutions.

Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and other hate groups chose to rally in Charlottesville to oppose the city’s plan to remove its statue of Robert E. Lee. The Confederate general also is depicted in a stained-glass window at Christ Church Cathedral, a fact that Greenwell highlighted in her Aug. 20 sermon.

“The church itself has been complicit in enshrining systems and people who contributed to white supremacy, and they are here in the very corners of this cathedral,” Greenwell said.

The cathedral’s stained-glass window, a gift from a Lee descendant, shows Lee receiving a blessing from Virginia Bishop William Meade. Greenwell also pointed to the cathedral’s plaque honoring Leonidas Polk, who was consecrated in 1838 in Cincinnati and served as the missionary bishop of the Southwest.

This plaque honoring Leonidas Polk, an Episcopal bishop and Confederate general, is displayed in Christ Church Cathedral. Photo: Sarah Hartwig/Christ Church Cathedral

Polk, one of the founders of Sewanee: The University of the South, was bishop of Louisiana when he served as a Confederate general. He was known to wear his Episcopal vestments over his military uniform, “a thoroughly offensive merge of his professed faith and his fervor to see the institution of slavery endure,” Greenwell said.

She called for the vestry to re-examine the two memorials in the cathedral with the hope they will be removed.

“We need to be very careful, very thoughtful about what we choose to revere on a plaque or put on a pedestal,” she said in her sermon.

The vestry responded this week with its three-part plan. For the first part, it “will host an educational event to explore the contextual historical significance of these memorials and discern their impact on present day members of the Cathedral Community,” the wardens’ statement said.

That will be followed by conversations within the congregation, which should offer “the input necessary to make final determinations.”

The third step comes in response to Greenwell’s additional challenge to the cathedral to replace the Confederate symbols with tributes to those who fought for racial justice, with special consideration for Cincinnati’s role as a stop on the Underground Railroad helping slaves find freedom in the North.

Washington National Cathedral announced last week it was removing two stained-glass windows featuring Lee and fellow Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson, installed in 1953.

That decision abruptly ended the Washington cathedral’s own lengthy process of discernment, which began in the aftermath of the June 2015 massacre of nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Gunman Dylann Roof had shown a fondness for the Confederate flag.

“These windows are not only inconsistent with our current mission to serve as a house of prayer for all people, but also a barrier to our important work on racial justice and racial reconciliation,” Episcopal leaders in Washington said in a written statement. https://cathedral.org/press-room/announcement-future-lee-jackson-windows/ “Their association with racial oppression, human subjugation and white supremacy does not belong in the sacred fabric of this Cathedral.”

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

Darvin Darling named Episcopal Church Director of Information Technology

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 3:09pm

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] Darvin Darling has been named the Episcopal Church Director of Information Technology, a member of the Presiding Bishop’s staff.

Darvin Darling

Smith, Episcopal Church Chief Operating Officer, in making the announcement. “He’s smart, thoughtful and at least three steps ahead when thinking about what the church needs from technology to build up the Jesus Movement.”

“At my core, what has always mattered most to me are the values of kindness, compassion and being in service to others,” Darling said.  “When I decided to move on to a new opportunity, I felt that the Episcopal Church best modeled the ideals of what I felt would continue to advance that commitment. It has been and continues to be a beacon of hope and an organization which provides services to the least among us.”

In his new position, Darling will report to the Chief Operating Officer and will be responsible for all the information technology operations for the Episcopal Church Center and the staff located in NYC and remotely.

Meet Darvin Darling
Darling is a native of Brooklyn, NY, and at age 15 he began designing computer systems and programs for his high school robotics competitions at Brooklyn Technical High School.

Most recently Darling was the Director of Information Technology and Technical Services at The Riverside Church in NYC. In this role, Darling was charged with providing the design, implementation, rollout, training and support of all technology systems and technical teams, including live event and post-production of audio, video and lighting.

Prior to joining Riverside, Darling was the Senior IT Manager & Application Developer at City Harvest Inc. where he was responsible for the implementation, management and direct hands-on administration of all IT systems as well as the development of systems which were core to the delivery of food to hundreds of shelters and soup kitchens around the city

In his spare time Darling volunteers helping many small not-for-profits embrace the cloud and open source for infrastructure.

He is a graduate of the New Jersey Institute of Technology with degrees in Computer Engineering and Industrial Engineering.

He begins his new position on September 18. Darling’s office will be located at the Episcopal Church Center in New York City; as of September 18, he can be reached at ddarling@episcopalchurch.org.

Episcopal racial reconciliation event draws large crowd in Lee’s Lexington

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 11:48am

Wornie Reed, director of the Race and Social Policy Research Center and a professor of sociology and Africana studies at Virginia Tech, speaks Sept. 13 about race and civil discourse to community members in Lexington, Virginia. Southwestern Virginia Bishop Mark Bourlakas, whose diocese coordinated the event, can be seen standing at the back of the audience. Photo: Connor B. Gwin

[Diocese of Southwestern Virginia — Lexington, Virginia] More than 150 community members crowded a middle school cafeteria in Lexington, Virginia, Sept. 13 to hear a lecture on race and civil discourse presented by Wornie Reed, director of the Race and Social Policy Research Center at Virginia Tech and professor of sociology and Africana studies there.

The event was coordinated by the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia and co-sponsored by 10 community groups and ecumenical faith partners.

Reed’s lecture covered his work studying racial bias by police in Montgomery County, Virginia, as well as his proposed framework for discussing race.

“There is a great need to have productive conversations about race and … quite often these dialogues are uncomfortable,” Reed said. In fact, he argued, merely talking about racism is “supremely unproductive.”

Instead, Reed called for a focus on the institutionalized practice of racism. Using such an approach means “we can discuss these issues quite freely and across racial lines,” he said.

The talk was the first of a three-part series hosted by the diocese entitled “Pursuing the Beloved Community: A Continuing Conversation on Race.”

Plans to facilitate a conversation on racial division in southwest Virginia began after the last General Convention when then newly elected Presiding Bishop Michael Curry announced he would make racial reconciliation a focus of his term. The release in May of this year of the church’s “Becoming Beloved Community” resources, as well as the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, reinforced the importance of these events.

Southwestern Virginia Bishop Mark Bourlakas recently told the diocese that diocesan staff had planned a series of events across the diocese on the topic of racial reconciliation. “The tragic events in Charlottesville have strengthened our resolve to be the hands and feet of Christ in our communities, urging one another onward in the mission of God,” he wrote. “The work of reconciliation is very hard, very necessary, and our duty as followers of Jesus Christ.”

The white supremacist rally and violence in Charlottesville Aug. 12 brought more attention to the issue of racial reconciliation and the rise in racist rhetoric in the past several years. The debate is not only about city parks and statues, but also the sanctuaries of churches across the United States.

One such church is R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church in Lexington, which has been in a heated debate for two years over the future of the parish’s name.

Curry highlighted the new urgency that has emerged following the events in Charlottesville in a meeting with Episcopalians in that city last week. “The bitter, painful reality of what we have called and known to be racism, which never went away, was like a scab was ripped off Aug. 12, and the whole country saw it,” he said during his visit.

This harsh reality was the focus of Reed’s lecture as he appealed to the facts of institutionalized racism over a conversation about individual actions.

“There is a widely held assumption that individual prejudice leads to racism. … But where does prejudice come from? No one is born prejudiced,” Reed said. “I would argue that we have racist orientations, activities and policies [in this country] that lead people to think a certain way.”

The next lecture, which will focus on racial profiling and police use of force, is scheduled for Oct. 25 at the Northwest Community Center in Roanoke, Virginia. More information will be posted here.

The unedited recording of Reed’s lecture is here. All the events will be edited into smaller portions for use in parish formation classes.

— The Rev. Canon Connor B. Gwin is the canon for social engagement and Christian formation in the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia.

EPPN: Pray, fast, act to protect school meals and SNAP funding

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 10:17am

[Episcopal Public Policy Network policy alert] This month we urge prayer, fasting and action to protect funding for school meals and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Food Stamps. Pray, Fast and Act each month on the 21st.

On Sept. 21, join The EPPN and the presiding bishops of The Episcopal Church and The ELCA as we:

PRAY for our nation’s elected leaders to stand with those who struggle to receive their daily bread.

“Give us openness of soul and courageous, willing hearts to be with our sisters and brothers who are hungry and in pain. We ask for your intercession on behalf of every person hungry for earthly food and hungry for the taste of the Spirit of God. We give thanks that we can be part of that intercession.” -from Sharing Abundance, Episcopal Relief and Development

FAST to call attention in our own minds and actions to the plight of hungry children in our nation.

Share on social media using #PrayFastAct and @TheEPPN. On the 21st post a picture of a dinner place setting with the reason you are fasting this month.

ACT by urging our elected representatives to support strong funding for school meals and SNAP.

Prepare yourself for action on the 21st by reading the Office of Government Relation’s one-pager on School Meals and Snap Funding.

Religious leaders file Supreme Court brief against Trump travel ban

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 10:15am

[Diocese of Washington] Six Episcopal bishops and a wide-ranging group of other Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh leaders filed an amicus brief this week in the Supreme Court case challenging President Trump’s Executive Order No. 13780, known as the travel ban. The executive order, which the faith leaders claim discriminates against Muslims on the basis of religion, is being challenged in court by the state of Hawaii and the International Assistance Refugee Project.

In the brief, the faith leaders argue that religious tolerance is “critical to the safety and well-being of our local and national community,” and that because the travel ban “selectively burdens Muslim-majority countries while exempting comparable Christian-majority countries,” the executive order “is anathema to this core tenet that all members of our coalition share.” The brief concludes that the order violates the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment, which prohibits the establishment of religion by Congress.

“The Episcopal Diocese of Washington and I believe our nation’s security is imperiled, not secured, by policies that discriminate solely on the basis of religion,” said the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of the Diocese of Washington and one of the signatories of the brief. “I’m proud to join this interfaith effort to urge the Supreme Court to overturn the travel ban, so that visitors to the U.S. and refugees, once fully vetted, may enter the country without discrimination on the basis of religion.”

The interfaith coalition includes the Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, bishop of California; the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of Washington; the Rt. Rev. Andrew Dietsche, bishop of New York; the Rt. Rev. Mary D. Glasspool, assistant bishop of New York; the Rt. Rev. Lawrence C. Provenzano, bishop of Long Island; and the Rt. Rev. Allen K. Shin, bishop suffragan of New York, as well as the National Council of Churches; United Methodist Church Women; Jewish congregations in New York, Washington, and Maryland; the Sikh Coalition; seven U.S. Franciscan provinces; United Church of Christ clergy; Union Theological Seminary; and the Muslim Public Affairs Council, among others.

After Montana church vandalized with swastika, parish responds with pink hearts, messages of love

Wed, 09/13/2017 - 5:17pm

The congregation at St. James Episcopal Church in Bozeman, Montana, covered up swastika graffiti on a church sign with messages on pink paper hearts. Photo: St. James, via Facebook.

[Episcopal News Service] Hate symbols showed up seemingly overnight as graffiti on the sign in front of St. James Episcopal Church in Bozeman, Montana. By the next morning, on Sept. 10, parishioners had reclaimed their sign with messages of love.

The center of the sign, where someone scribbled a swastika in black, is now covered with hope-filled words scrawled on pink paper hearts that were stuck to the sign as the congregation poured out of the Sunday service at St. James.

“We respond to hate with love,” St. James Episcopal Church proclaimed in a Facebook post on Sept. 10 that shows the sign blanketed with the hearts.

“We commit to resist racism and bigotry,” reads one of the hearts.

Police are investigating, but it remains unclear why St. James was targeted for the vandalism, the Rev. Connie Campbell-Pearson, a deacon at the church, told Episcopal News Service in an interview. The congregation is known for its progressive stances on social justice issues, she said, so it could have drawn the unwanted attention of hate groups. But the graffiti also could simply have been the work of a disgruntled homeless person.

She was more certain of the Bozeman community’s ability to rally together after attacks like this, and that is what has happened at St. James.

A neighbor was the first to put a pink paper heart on the sign that was vandalized at St. James Episcopal Church. Photo: St. James, via Facebook.

Campbell-Pearson was helping to lead a diocesan school for deacons at St. James on Sept. 9 when she learned of the vandalism outside. Some neighbors had noticed it earlier that morning and began calling and leaving messages with church leaders, who then notified police.

One of the neighbors who saw the graffiti decided to put up the first pink heart, which bore a single word: “Unafraid.”

“They just warmed my heart,” the Rev. Greg Smith, assisting priest, told ENS.

As TV crews responded to report on the vandalism, neighbors and parishioners added more hearts to the sign, Smith said. The media attention may have helped drive up attendance at the next day’s Sunday service, which already was expected to be one of the biggest of the year because it coincided with the parish’s annual ministry fair.

Building on the previous day’s spontaneous show of support, some members of the congregation brought pink hearts and markers to the service and handed them to worshipers on their way out of the church so they could add their messages of love to the sign.

“It gave people a real sense of being able to do something that was right and proper without being angry,” Campbell-Pearson said.

As of Sept. 13, the graffiti remained on the sign – a swastika over the words “The Episcopal Church” and the number “666” on the sign post. The congregation expected to remove the symbols sometime in the next week.

The church has been hit by vandalism in the past, though there wasn’t any immediate indication the recent attack was related.

Flowers in a barrel planter outside the church were damaged about two months ago. And last month, when the church added a new sign out front with the message “We’re here for you,” the sign was stolen mere days later.

That sign was replaced about a week ago before it was vandalized over the weekend.

“Pray that the very confused perpetrator may be delivered of their anger and confusion,” the church posted on Facebook in the afternoon on Sept. 9.

Smith said if the graffiti can’t be removed, donors have offered to pay for another new sign.

Diocese of Montana Bishop Franklin Brookhart issued a statement condemning the vandalism.

“I also applaud the people of Bozeman who graciously displayed their support for the parish and their disdain for statements of hatred,” Brookhart said. “As people who have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, we need to die to racism, hatred, bigotry, and rise in newness of life to love of God and love of neighbor.”

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

Irma’s destruction forces postponement of Georgia revival

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 5:26pm

A tree narrowly missed a dormitory at the Diocese of Georgia’s Honey Creek Retreat Center where an Episcopal revival was set for Sept. 17. Photo: Frank Logue

[Episcopal News Service] A planned Sept. 17 Episcopal revival in the Diocese of Georgia, featuring Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, has been postponed in the wake of Hurricane Irma’s sweep over that state.

Fearless Faith, Boundless Love,” planned as old-fashioned Sunday afternoon tent meeting at the diocese’s Honey Creek Retreat Center, is now set for Jan. 20 at the same venue. About 1,300 people were expected to attend.

Anna Iredale, diocesan director of communications, said the decision to postpone the gathering was made to help congregations and Honey Creek to focus cleaning up after Hurricane Irma. There are many trees down on the Honey Creek property on the Intracostal Waterway on the Georgia south coast. Buildings there are being assessed for structural damage, although none was immediately apparent, according to a post on Facebook.

Damage to churches is still being assessed as it is safe to venture outside. Some residents are only now allowed to venture into their neighborhoods. Thousands of evacuees from what is now Tropical Storm Irma won’t be able to return to coastal Georgia due to possible damage to two bridges, according to reports. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said the massive storm touched every corner of the state.

The diocese has also postponed a celebration to mark the new feast day of Deaconess Anna Alexander, the first black female deacon in the Episcopal Church. The event will now take place on the morning of Jan. 20 at Good Shepherd Church in Brunswick, Georgia, about 25 miles north of Honey Creek.

Deaconess Anna E.B. Alexander is shown with a group of her students in front of the Good Shepherd School which she founded in Pennick, Georgia, near Brunswick. Photo: Diocese of Georgia

Many Georgia schools will be closed until at least Sept. 13. A youth event scheduled for the weekend and connected to the revival and Curry’s visit has been rescheduled to the weekend of Jan. 19-21.

And, the Sept. 17-9 clergy conference will not go on as planned, Iredale said. Curry will meet with the clergy during his January visit.

The September Georgia revival was supposed to be the third of six scheduled around the United States and the world this year and next. The remaining four revivals are now set for:

  • 17-19: Diocese of San Joaquin (California)
  • 20, 2018: Diocese of Georgia
  • April 6-8, 2018: Diocese of Honduras
  • July 2018: Joint Evangelism Mission with the Church of England

Curry has said he prays that the Episcopal revivals, which included gatherings in Dioceses of Pittsburgh and the Diocese of West Missouri earlier this year, will be the beginning of “a way of new life for us as this wonderful Episcopal Church, bearing witness to the love of God in Jesus in this culture and in this particular time in our national history.”

To do that, a revival must channel the emotions of the moment toward something bigger and lasting, Curry says. Thus, the planning for each revival begins with the diocese answering the question: “What does the good news of Jesus Christ look and sound like where you are?”

Once the diocese has discerned the answer to that question, members of the church-wide staff come to the diocese to help the diocese discern how to work to achieving that sense of good news in their communities, as well as with revival organizational details.

“It’s actually a campaign to grow the evangelism capacity of Episcopalians in an area,” according to the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, canon to the presiding bishop for evangelism, reconciliation and creation. That campaign includes training Episcopalians in the skills needs to enact good news in their diocese, before, during and after the event.

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

Editor’s note: Previous versions of this story contained two errors. One incorrectly reported that the celebration of Deaconess Alexander’s feast day would take place Sept. 17. It has been rescheduled to Jan. 20. Another version also incorrectly reported tha the diocese’s fall clergy conference would continue as planned for Sept. 17-19. That gathering will not happen.

Northern California Bishop Barry L. Beisner announces retirement plans

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 4:44pm

[Episcopal Diocese of Northern California] The Rt. Rev. Barry L. Beisner, seventh bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California since 2007, has announced his intention to retire and will call for the election of a new bishop during diocesan convention on Nov. 3 to 4.

The tentative timetable calls for the election of the next bishop in February 2019 and consecration in late June 2019, at which time  Beisner will retire upon the consecration of his successor.

“What a blessing it has been to be bishop of this diocese! It’s been such a great joy and privilege, and I thank God for it. This decision is in response to God’s call, discerned after months of prayer and consultation.”

“I don’t feel a need to go; I feel a call, having discerned with family, friends, the presiding bishop, spiritual directors and colleagues. I’m clear that this is something that I am called to do,” Beisner said.

Beisner served as canon to the ordinary to the previous bishop, Jerry Lamb, from 2002 to 2006. Before that, he was the rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Davis from 1989 to 2002. He and his wife, the Rev. L. Ann Hallisey, are the parents of six grown children.

The Diocese of Northern California includes 14,000 members in 69 parishes and missions in the Northern California region.


Reflection from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry on post-hurricane relief

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 3:58pm


“It may be that we cannot solve everything, and we cannot do everything. But we can do something, no matter what,” Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop and Primate Michael B. Curry offers in a reflection.

A video of the Presiding Bishop’s reflection here.

The Presiding Bishop’s reflection follows:

Whether it is the pain of the events of August 12 in Charlottesville, or Hurricane Harvey, or Hurricane Irma, or wildfires in the West, or an earthquake in Mexico, there’s been a lot of pain, a lot of suffering and hardship. In times like these, it’s easy to grow weary. It’s easy to be tired. And it’s easy to be downcast, and to give up. What can I do?

There’s a passage in the Book of Hebrews, in the Tenth Chapter, which says this:

Recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and sometimes persecution, and sometimes just being partners with those who were so treated. For you had compassion . . . so do not abandon your confidence; it brings great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.

It may be that we cannot solve everything, and we cannot do everything. But we can do something, no matter what. We can pray. We can give. If possible, we can sign up and go to work. We can pray for those who have been affected by Hurricane Harvey and Irma. The areas that have been affected as we pray include the Dioceses of Texas and West Texas, Western Louisiana and parts of Louisiana. We can pray for all of those who have been affected by Hurricane Irma. Episcopal dioceses that have been affected include the Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, Southeast Florida and Southwest Florida and Central Florida and Florida and parts of Georgia and Central Gulf Coast. We can pray for all of the peoples in these areas. We can pray.

And we can give. We can give to the Hurricane Fund of Episcopal Relief & Development, for our donations actually help, they help in strategic ways. They really make a difference. If possible, we can sign up. We can sign up to volunteer through Episcopal Relief & Development, again, all on their web site, we can sign up, and when there are volunteer opportunities, we can know about those and possibly participate.

We can’t do everything, but we can do something. We can pray. We can give. We can go to work. The one thing we cannot do, is to quit. The truth is, we don’t do it alone. Jesus in the Great Commission, said after calling His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, He ended that Commission by saying, “And remember, I am with you always.”

In the Presiding Bishop’s Office, there is a crucifix that has Jesus sacrificing His life for the cause of love on the cross. It’s a different kind of crucifix. On this one, the artist has sculpted Jesus on the cross, dying as an act of love, but even more than that, holding someone, someone deeply in need, that this Jesus who sacrifices and gives His life, gives His life for us, and for all who are in need. That’s the Lord we follow who has been raised from the dead. And we are not alone.

God love you. God bless you. And may God hold us all in the hollow of those Almighty hands. Amen.

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

Charlottesville congregations once divided by segregation now chart healing path together

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 2:21pm

An undated photo hanging on a wall inside Trinity Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, shows the 1919 church and members of its early congregation.

[Episcopal News Service – Charlottesville, Virginia] “Trauma” was the word Presiding Bishop Michael Curry chose in the aftermath of Aug. 12, the day white supremacists marched through Charlottesville.

“The bitter, painful reality of what we have called and known to be racism, which never went away, was like a scab was ripped off Aug. 12, and the whole country saw it,” Curry told the group of more than 100 who had gathered with him for lunch in the auditorium at Christ Episcopal Church, one of three Episcopal churches in Charlottesville.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry speaks during a luncheon Sept. 7 at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Curry spoke Sept. 7, nearly a month after the white supremacist march turned violent and deadly, thrusting the city unflatteringly into the national spotlight. Since then, speaking of “August 12” in Charlottesville invokes a grim shared reference point, especially among those who stood up and spoke out against the hate groups that came to town opposing removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

“This is an intimate, painful day for you, and for us all, but particularly you. And it’s almost like the same trauma when you just say the word ‘9/11,’” Curry said. “It’s trauma. It’s pain. It’s fear and anxiety. It’s all the demons that were unresolved at Appomattox Court House.”

Racism, that intractable demon that outlasted the Civil War, also turned “Charlottesville” into a national buzzword after Aug. 12. But the trauma wasn’t new. This Southern college town’s historic struggles with racism go much deeper, in ways that are interwoven with the city’s religious history and even the history of this church where priests, deacons and diocesan leaders had gathered with Curry at the midpoint of his daylong pastoral visit to the city.

When Curry opened the floor to questions and comments at Christ Church, a man spoke up and alluded to the history of violence, oppression and discrimination that have been a fact of life for blacks in the South for generations.

“You are witnessing what happened to us, still happens to us, every day … every single day as African-Americans,” he said. “Things are better, but they’re still the same.”

Journey back through Charlottesville’s history, and you’ll come across any number of dark mileposts. Slaves built the University of Virginia, starting in 1817. The city razed the black neighborhood of Vinegar Hill in the 1960s for redevelopment. In 2015, the beating of a black college student by state alcohol control officers made national headlines.

Charlottesville’s public schools took more than five years to integrate after the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, and segregation’s legacy is still lives in the city’s Episcopal churches.

Virginia in the 1950s was among the states that attempted a legal maneuver known as “massive resistance” to undercut the Brown ruling, including shutting down white schools rather than integrating them. Under that strategy, the governor closed Charlottesville’s Venable Elementary School and Lane High School in September 1958 in defiance of a court order to admit 12 black students.

The parents of white students who suddenly had no school to attend created emergency schooling plans. For elementary grades, this involved makeshift classrooms in parents’ basements, as detailed in a 1971 doctoral thesis by Dallas Crowe. (The black students pursued similar temporary schooling.)

Two parent groups agreed on a separate plan for emergency segregated education for the white high school students. “Space was provided by a private club, an industrial education institution, and various churches in the city,” according to Crowe.

One of those churches hosting whites-only classes was Christ Episcopal Church.

A church, a statue and a century of history

The racial divide between Charlottesville’s Episcopal churches goes back even further, at least to 1919, when Trinity Episcopal Church was founded by a group of black Episcopalians in the Vinegar Hill neighborhood.

The Rev. Cass Bailey is vicar of Trinity Episcopal Church in Charlottesville. Photo: Trinity Episcopal Church.

“The story as we know it now is that Trinity was started, not officially but certainly unofficially, by the sense that African-Americans who wanted to worship at Christ Church did not feel welcome,” the Rev. Cass Bailey, Trinity’s vicar, told Episcopal News Service.

Trinity formed in the middle of the Jim Crow era, a time of widespread segregation of public spaces in the South, from schools to lunch counters – and churches. At the same time, a movement was underway in the South, known as the “Lost Cause,” to recast the Confederacy as a doomed but noble fight for states’ rights rather than a brutal battle to preserve slavery. Many of the monuments to Lee and other Confederate generals were erected in this period. Plans for Charlottesville’s Lee statue began in 1917, and the statue was finished in 1924.

An undated picture hangs on the wall of Trinity Episcopal Church showing members of the early congregation standing in front of the first church, at High Street and Preston Avenue. Three crosses perch on the roof above the two dozen men, women and children shown outside their modest church standing tall in their Sunday best.

As the congregation grew, it moved from Vinegar Hill to a larger church building at 11th Street and Grady Avenue in 1940 before settling in 1974 at its present location a short distance northwest of downtown Charlottesville on Preston Avenue.

Trinity Episcopal Church moved to its present location in 1974. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

This historically black congregation now prides itself on being an “intentional, multicultural community” while emphasizing its outreach ministries, such as its signature Bread & Roses nutritional education program. Trinity’s single Sunday service now draws about 100 people on average, and Bailey estimates the congregation is split about evenly between black and white members. Its services cast the multicultural net even wider, incorporating Native American, Hispanic and other worship traditions.

And Trinity, still a mission parish, is now financially self-sustaining and on the path to becoming a full parish in two years. Its financial security is evident in one of its newest additions, a playground next to the church that will be dedicated this month.

The playground also pays tribute to two local heroes of desegregation: the Rev. Henry Mitchell, Trinity’s vicar from 1958 to 1977, and the Rev. Ted Evans, rector from 1947 to 1961 at St. Paul’s Memorial Church, which overlooks the University of Virginia campus.

St. Paul’s Memorial Church in Charlottesville overlooks the campus of the University of Virginia. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

The white congregation at St. Paul’s also struggled in the 1950s with divisions over segregation, and Evans’ support for integration unsettled some members. The Rev. Bill Wood later recalled attending a Sunday service at St. Paul’s and witnessing ushers bar a black family from entering the church. Evans intervened and escorted the family to a pew.

“It was a traumatic moment, we all realized, that was to divide us,” Wood said in a Trinity newsletter article about Evans.

Evans sought better relations with Trinity and opposed providing space at St. Paul’s for segregated classrooms, saying in a letter to the vestry, “The church of Christ is not a social club to encourage us in our preconceived prides and prejudices.” But he ultimately chose to resign rather than fuel further division in the congregation, according to an online history of St. Paul’s.

Some at Trinity are old enough to remember those battles over desegregation, but “not all the people know that history,” Bailey said. Even so, Christ Church’s historic role as a classroom site for white students’ emergency schooling remained a source of bitterness long after Charlottesville schools finally integrated in September 1959.

Christ Church “has had a long and storied history, with lots of good, lots of bad,” the Rev. Paul Walker, rector at Christ Church, said in an interview with ENS. Like Bailey, he thinks many local parishioners are unaware of the painful history between the two churches.

In recent years, his congregation and Bailey’s have embarked on informal reconciliation efforts, and members of all three Charlottesville congregations stood together on Aug. 12 with other faith groups in opposing the white supremacist rally. They ended their day of counter-protest with a prayer service at Trinity.

‘Some painful periods’ for two Charlottesville churches

Christ Church in downtown Charlottesville is on the corner across from Emancipation Park, where the statue of Lee still stands but has been covered in plastic by the city while it fights legal challenges to its removal.

Charlottesville’s oldest Episcopal congregation formed in 1820, a year after the University of Virginia was founded in the city by Thomas Jefferson and at a time when most Christian worship services were held at the local courthouse.

“The absence of churches in the early town formation significantly affected the town’s urban identity and growth,” according to a city history article on the University of Virginia’s website. “The sole point of civic focus was the courthouse and its enclosing square of shops and taverns.”

Jefferson gave money to help build the original Christ Church, the city’s first church building when it was completed in 1826. A new Christ Church was built on the same site in 1898. The church’s website notes with pride the church’s Tiffany stained-glass windows, its towers and its carillon bells, which played for the first time in 1947. Today, with average Sunday attendance of about 600 over four services, Christ Church is still growing, thanks largely to an evening service that caters to the university crowd.

Christ Episcopal Church is the oldest and largest Episcopal congregation in Charlottesville. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Absent from the online history of Christ Church is any mention of Trinity Episcopal Church or the divide that widened between the two congregations over school desegregation. Walker and Bailey have begun navigating that past together as their congregations take steps toward reconciliation.

“We have a history together, and that history has evolved some painful periods and painful acts,” Bailey said.

This isn’t the churches’ first attempt at reconciliation. More than a decade ago, church leaders’ efforts fell apart before they even got off the ground. One reason cited by both Bailey and Walker was a certain Sunday pulpit exchange back then that generated sudden local news coverage before either congregation had fully committed to the work.

“I think it caught some people off guard because it hadn’t become a sustained process,” said Bailey, who became vicar several years later, in 2010.

This time, Bailey and Walker clearly understand the need to take one step at a time. Walker stressed the importance of developing “an organic and real relationship between the two congregations.”

Walker has previous ties to Trinity, which sponsored him to attend seminary in the early 1990s. He later spent six years as assistant rector at Christ Church, and after a stint in Birmingham, Alabama, he returned in 2004 to start the congregation’s evening worship service. He became rector in 2009.

The renewed reconciliation efforts began about three years ago with a joint celebration of Absalom Jones Day, which honors the first black Episcopal priest. Bailey preached at Christ Church on Maundy Thursday in 2016 and Walker preached at Trinity on Maundy Thursday this year.

Last fall, dozens of members of both congregations attended a presentation on racial reconciliation and the roots of racism, held at Christ Church and led by Charlene Green, director of Charlottesville’s Office of Human Rights.

“One of the things that I emphasized is how they wanted to move forward,” Green told ENS. “Knowing the history of your church could be one of those ways that you could bring your communities together more often.”

The Rev. Paul Walker, rector of Christ Episcopal Church speaks with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry on Sept. 7. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

The congregations and their leaders aren’t trying to make a grand statement out of reconciliation, Walker said, adding he has “no faith in statements.” His faith is in the personal relationships that are forming.

“As believers, we seek to know and love each other and understand each other,” Walker said. “To be in communion with one another requires honesty and repentance and humility.”

A reconciliation with no road map

Racial reconciliation is a top priority of the Episcopal Church and of Curry’s term. This year, the presiding bishop released “Becoming Beloved Community,” a guide for congregations navigating their parishioners through discussions of systemic racism, white privilege and other topics that sometimes pose challenges, especially for predominately white churches.

Such discussions may be even more challenging when they involve white congregations and neighboring black congregations that formed many years ago out of a feeling of racial exclusion. The Episcopal Church has given less institutional attention to this form of reconciliation, but its value is significant, said the Rev. Chuck Wydner, the church’s missioner for social justice and advocacy engagement.

“Conversations between Afro-Anglican and predominantly white congregations around social and racial justice in their communities and exploring ways of engaging in collaborative ministry to embody God’s work in the world is critically important,” Wydner said in an interview Sept. 7 while he was in Charlottesville for the presiding bishop’s visit.

But Bailey and Walker underscored there was no formal process or agreement.

“There’s no road map. We don’t have in mind a sequence of events,” Bailey said. “We have just kind of continued to be in conversation and continue to look for ways our ministries and our celebrations can interact with each other.”

And they continue to share a hope that time has changed Charlottesville for the better.

“Maybe Christ Episcopal is not the same place it was,” Bailey said. “Certainly, Trinity is not the same place it was.”

Curry takes questions Sept. 7 at Christ Church. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

The violent racism that struck Charlottesville on Aug. 12 unfortunately points to what Curry called the “resegregation” of much of American culture. “The end result of it is we don’t know each other.”

On his Sept. 7 visit to Christ Church, he called for “a revolution of relationships.”

“One of our tasks as the church is to dare to help us, in the church and in the wider culture, reclaim relationships with each other and with people who are other than we are,” Curry said. “And that other is racial, that other is religious, that other is political.”

In response to one woman’s plea for engaging in tough conversations about racism, Curry acknowledged: It’s not easy.

“This is awkward as hell. This is not comfortable, not for anybody,” he said. “And so, the truth is we’ve got to find – and I believe the church actually can find – ways to allow the truth to emerge.”

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

Anglican and Reformed/Presbyterian theologians meet in South Africa

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 2:08pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Theologians from the Anglican and Reformed/Presbyterian traditions gathered in the South African city of Durban last week for the third International Reformed-Anglican Dialogue (IRAD). Their focus was to seek ways to grow closer in unity and mission around the world.

Full article.

South Africa is sitting ‘on a powder keg’ of poverty, bishop says

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 2:02pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Bishop of Johannesburg Steve Moreo has warned that the high levels of poverty in South Africa pose a great danger to the country.

“This country is sitting on a powder keg of hopelessness,” he said, citing the figures recently released by Stats SA that showed that the number of poverty stricken people in South Africa had increased by 53.2 percent between 2011 and 2015.

Full article.