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‘Welcome Movement’ calls on Christian families to show love to Chile’s most vulnerable children

Wed, 05/02/2018 - 4:38pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Churches in Chile are working together to create a network of host families to help provide shelter for vulnerable children. The Welcome Movement, which is supported by the Diocese of Chile, part of the Anglican Church of South America, held a conference in April as they sought to recruit “Families of Specialized Shelters.” The overarching message from the conference was that “it is time we loved, not only in words, but with concrete actions for our children.”

Read the entire article here.

Police officer-turned-antiques dealer discovers heart for prison ministry

Wed, 05/02/2018 - 3:00pm

Antiques dealer Jon Felz, center, appraises an icon for Joanne and Sal Torrisi during an April 21 fundraiser for Diocese of Newark Prison Ministry programs, held at St. James Episcopal Church in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. Photo: Sharon Sheridan

[Episcopal News Service] For 20 years, Jon Felz helped send people to prison as a New York police officer. Today, he’s volunteering his time to help those behind bars as a member of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark’s Prison Ministry.

“I have over 1,200 felony arrests,” he said. “But when you lock somebody up, you spend three hours with them processing them, and then you rarely see them again unless the case goes to trial. Ninety percent of the cases don’t go to trial. You don’t get to focus on them as human beings.”

But Felz’s faith journey has lent him new perspective and purpose. Now an antiques dealer and certified appraiser, Felz led an “Antiques Roadshow”-style event on April 21 at the Episcopal Church of St. James in Upper Montclair, New Jersey, to raise money for the diocese’s programs for inmates and their families. Looking ahead, he hopes to join ministry members in leading Bible studies for inmates.

“When God opens your heart, you really take this stuff to heart,” he said.

Jon Felz in his New York Police Department days.

Felz, 60, began his New York police career during the “drug wars” of the 1980s. At age 22, he was assigned to Washington Heights, which set a precinct record with 137 homicides in 1984. During his career, he survived three gun battles and engaged in New York-to-New Jersey car chases to arrest suspected drug dealers.

“As I got older, I started to study the Bible – first from a historical point of view, because I love history,” said Felz, the son of an antiques dealer. His retirement from police work to enter the antiques business in 2001 gave him more time to reflect. “The years went by, my faith started to get stronger.”

A lifelong member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Montvale, New Jersey, Felz began bringing donated pastries each Sunday to the men’s shelter located at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Paterson. Then he began bringing men’s clothing and toiletries from estate sales he ran and donations from members of his church. He started to get to know the shelter’s men, some of them just out of prison.

“I saw that even [with] the toughest ex-con … there is a bond,” Felz said. “When I go there Sunday, they know my name.”

He began thinking about the circumstances that led people to commit crimes. “I’m not making excuses for them,” he said, but “I look at them as victims.”

Reflecting on the people he’d helped lock up, he said, “I felt that I didn’t help anyone. These are human beings. They’re not just numbers.”

And when he heard about the diocesan prison ministry, he thought: “Maybe I could go in and give hope.”

John Felz says people in prison “are not just numbers.” Photo: Sharon Sheridan

He wants to join diocese members who lead Bible studies in the state prison in Newark and in jails in Hudson and Essex counties. First, however, he will need to complete the institutions’ required paperwork and background checks.

For more than three decades, the diocese also has supported children and their incarcerated parents through the PATCH (Parents and Their Children) program. PATCH transports children for monthly visits with their parents at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark and provides camp scholarships, school supplies and annual Christmas parties for the children. PATCH previously included a mentoring component for children, which the diocesan prison ministry would like to restart.

Other programs include a pen-pal program and a holiday choir that leads a carol service at a county jail.

The ministry makes PATCH a priority because “our children are an at-risk population for prison, mental health issues, dropping out of school,” said the Rev. Pamela Bakal, prison ministry president and rector of Grace Episcopal Church, Nutley. The program costs more than $22,000 annually because of transportation, insurance and other costs – a funding need that prompted Felz to donate his antique-appraisal skills for the April 21 event.

Jon Felz, far left, poses with other police officers in New York in 1998. Felz served 20 years as a police officer but says he now is called to try to help inmates as a volunteer with the Diocese of Newark Prison Ministry. Photo courtesy of Jon Felz

His police days showed him the impoverished circumstances that led some into lives of crime.

“When these young guys are in the street … if you’re getting high every day or drunk … you’re not thinking straight, and you’re going to do stupid things,” he said. “The sad thing is, a lot of these guys do such stupid things, their life is over. If someone could tell them that their life isn’t over, that there is a God … that loves them, that cares about them.”

“It has nothing to do with liberal or conservative,” he adds. “Some poor kids have nothing. … It’s not a political issue. It’s a human being issue. Now it becomes our job to show them the love that they never had.”

— Sharon Sheridan is a postulant in the Diocese of Newark and a member of the Diocese of Newark Prison Ministry.

More landmark churches charging admission fees during week while keeping worship free

Tue, 05/01/2018 - 1:48pm

Visitors tour Boston’s Old North Church, which soon will begin charging tourists up to $8 a person for admission. Photo: Old North Church

[Episcopal News Service] Planning for a half million people a year to step foot in your church may seem like a rector’s foolish pipe dream. In reality, though, Old North Church is one of Boston’s most popular tourist destinations, and it doesn’t maintain itself.

“That’s a lot of wear and tear on the building,” the Rev. Stephen Ayers said. His church, while remaining free for all who come to worship and pray, soon will begin charging admission to most of its hundreds of thousands of annual visitors. “We’ve managed as long as we can by cutting corners, but that’s not enough to keep the place going.”

Boston is a city steeped in Revolutionary War history, and Old North Church is one of its most treasured historical landmarks. Its stature stems from its pivotal role in Paul Revere’s famous ride on April 18, 1775, as the site of a poetic advance in lantern-based messaging – “One if by land, and two if by sea.”

Old North Church, 243 years later, is still home to a small but active Episcopal congregation. Its list of Christian ministries ranges from Bible studies to a feeding program, but historic preservation isn’t a central theme. “We want the congregation to have its own identity,” Ayers said, though there’s no denying that Old North Church’s connection to the past puts it in rare company. “It’s a pretty small group of churches that find themselves as being historical attractions as well.”

A guide leads tourists on a tour of Old North Church, which is both a popular historic site and an active Episcopal congregation. Photo: Old North Church

Landmark Episcopal churches make up an even smaller group, and some already have set up ticket counters for the paying public. Trinity Church in Boston, popular for its architecture, art and central location on Copley Square, has charged admission for more than a decade, except on Sunday mornings and other worship times.

“A lot goes into greeting the public and welcoming them,” said the Rev. Patrick C. Ward, associate rector at Trinity Boston. The costs of maintaining the building add up, and “the only people taking care of it are the people in the parish.”

In New York, Trinity Church Wall Street, a wealthy congregation founded in 1697, keeps its historic church, cemetery and nearby St. Paul’s Chapel open to the public for free, while Cathedral of St. John the Divine created a $10 admission fee in September. It had promoted a suggested donation for decades and also charges for guided tours of the 125-year-old building, one of the world’s largest cathedrals.

“We do not, nor will ever require a fee from anyone coming here for private prayer, attending a worship service or seeking respite or sanctuary,” Isadora Wilkenfeld, St. John the Divine’s programing and communications manager, said in an email. “However, we’ve always relied on the contributions of visitors, supporters and the wider community as a major source of revenue.”

St. John the Divine, through a long period of research and discussion, found that an admission fee was in line with the policies at other cathedrals in the United States and Europe, including Washington National Cathedral, which began charging tourists and sightseers $12 each in 2014.

If you cringe at the notion of making anyone pay to enter a house of worship, consider what it takes for that small group of landmark churches to invite the public inside on days of the week when many other churches around the country are closed to the public.

“We wouldn’t be able to keep our doors open on a daily basis if it weren’t for people paying a nominal fee,” said Patricia Hurley, Trinity Boston’s director of communications. The church’s $7 fee helps cover the estimated $35,000 a week it costs to keep the lights on and staff the building during the week, including security.

The congregation is much larger than Old North Church – about 750 people attend the five Sunday services at Trinity – and though lacking Old North’s historical pedigree, it still draws up to 100,000 visitors a year. Trinity is known as one of the most significant buildings in the country because it represents the birth of a now commonplace architectural style, Richardsonian Romanesque, pioneered by H.H. Richardson.

“It’s not merely about surface prettiness. Beauty draws us out of ourselves,” Ward said, noting the connection between art and spirituality. “People coming into it from all faiths, or no faith, will say things to me like, ‘I feel embraced by this building.’”

And if faith has called someone to a church, whether the building is historic or not, church leaders are committed to removing financial barriers to entry.

“Sundays and worship services are always free, as is private prayer,” said Kevin Eckstrom, communications officer at Washington National Cathedral. “If someone comes to the front desk and says they want to light a candle or say a prayer, they can come in.”

National Cathedral draws about 275,000 visitors a year, typically attracted by its historical connection to the nation’s capital, its Gothic architecture and its spiritual significance as “a place where people can encounter the sacred in a very secular city,” Eckstrom said.

It costs an estimated $40,000 a day to keep the building open and running. After an initial adjustment period, Eckstrom said, visitors have grown accustomed to paying the admission fee, which includes a half-hour, docent-led tour of the facility.

“Part of our mission is to open the space to whoever wants to come in and hopefully have a transcendent experience that you would not get in any other place in the nation’s capital,” he said.

And whether it’s a quarter million people visiting National Cathedral or a half million people visiting Old North Church, those kinds of numbers are “great problem to have,” he said.

Old North Church is one of the most popular tourist stops in Boston because of the two lanterns hung in its town signaling that British were advancing by sea on April 18, 1775. Photo: Old North Church

Old North Church plans to launch its new fee policy as soon as its ticket booths arrive, possibly this month.

“We’ve done a good bit of local PR about it. Most of the response has been good,” said Ayers, whose congregation typically numbers 80 to 90 people at Old North’s two Sunday services.

Adult visitors will pay $8, with discounts for military members, seniors and students. Kids under 5 will still get in free, as will anyone who lives in Boston.

The historic site is set up as a separate nonprofit organization, with support from the Episcopal congregation, and during the height of the summer tourist season, Old North Church has about 50 people on its staff catering to visitors. Many of them are graduate students studying history who spend the season as educators or first-person interpreters dressed in Colonial costumes.

Old North Church prides itself on offering a comprehensive experience detailing Colonial life, Revolutionary War history and even 18th century chocolate making. “It’s not just come and recite ‘one if by land and two if by sea’ and leave,” Ayers said. “Freedom was not just kicking the British out of North America.”

If there has been any objection to the new fee, it’s come from the tourism companies that now will have to pay to stop at Old North Church on their bus tours and cruises. Ayers doesn’t expect them to change course. Old North conducted a study that concluded an admission fee would not dramatically decrease the number of annual visits.

If you only have time for a few stops while visiting Boston, “you’re going to pick the ones on your bucket list,” he said. “The Old North is on everybody’s bucket list.”

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

Informal group of Anglican – Roman Catholic theologians discusses ‘new layers of unity’

Tue, 05/01/2018 - 10:38am

[Anglican Communion News Service] An informal but officially-sanctioned ecumenical dialogue between Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians has met to consider “the difficult question of Anglican orders.” The Malines Conversation Group was originally established in the early 1920s by Cardinal Désiré-Joseph Mercier, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Malines-Brussels; some 24 years after Pope Leo XIII declared that Anglican orders (the ordination of men and women in the Anglican Communion) were “absolutely null and utterly void.” The 1920s Malines Conversations Group envisioned the restoration of communion between Anglicans and Roman Catholics in the phrase l’Église Anglicane unie non absorbée – united, but not absorbed.

The group’s communique, along with commentary by Church of England Diocese of Europ Bishop David Hamid, is here.

Read the entire article here.

Three-fold increase in young people on Church of England ministry-discernment placements

Tue, 05/01/2018 - 10:31am

[Anglican Communion News Service] A record number of people are taking part in a Church of England scheme which provides a practical year in a parish to young people considering a call to ministry. The Ministry Experience Scheme is a nationwide initiative which developed from ad-hoc programs run by individual parishes and dioceses. It offers young people, aged between 18 and 30, the opportunity to spend a year working in a parish alongside a vicar in what some have dubbed “apprentice vicar” posts.

Read the entire article here.

R.I.P.: Bishop Emilio Hernández of Cuba

Mon, 04/30/2018 - 3:15pm

[Diocese of Southeast Florida] A faithful servant and devoted bishop has passed from us. Bishop Emilio Hernández of Cuba died on April 19. He served the church bravely and sacrificially during a turbulent and costly era of his country’s history. His commitment to the Gospel was indeed unwavering.

We are pleased to offer this tribute, which includes a brief biography written by the Rev. Alejandro Hernández, one of Bishop Emilio’s children and rector of Todos Los Santos, Miami.

May Bishop Emilio rest in peace and rise in glory.

Bishop Emilio Joaquín Hernández Albalate was born in the city of Morón, province of Camagüey Cuba, on Dec. 7, 1925. He was a restless lover of justice from a very young age. His mother shared that she once discovered a steak hidden in his pocket. He had planned to offer it to his Afro-Cuban friend Chorizo, who was poor.

As a teenager, he was once walking with a friend when they met a beggar on the road. His friend began to push and mock the beggar. Emilio struck his friend to stop him. When his friend asked why he had hit him, he replied, “do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.”

All that said, Bishop Emilio was not perfect, just as no one is. He never believed himself to be perfect because he knew that he would be deceiving himself and not living in the truth.

Thanks to his mentor, teacher, and pastor, the Rev. Moreno, he discovered very early in life that he was radically loved by God. Convinced of God’s unconditional love for humanity and the need to proclaim this good news, young Emilio began to feel God’s call to ordained ministry. At the time however, his parents wanted him to become a physician. Desiring to please his parents, he entered the University of Havana to study medicine. The call continued tugging at his heart until, in his third year of medical school, he left and was soon admitted to the Evangelical Seminary of Theology in Matanzas.

At the time he left medical school, he was already dating Edivia Hilaria Mesa Miranda. She was a beautiful young woman. He met her at Trinity Church in Morón. Edivia had captivated him not only by her beauty, but for her fighting spirit. The couple got married, and Edivia left everything to follow her husband to the seminary and to begin a new life in the service of God.

Emilio and his wife had three children, Mayra Sara, Leonel Emilio and Alejandro Félix Hernández. After finishing his theological studies, Emilio was sent by Bishop Alexander Hugo Blankingship to pastor a small church in Florencia, Camagüey. He would travel through the fields on horseback to visit the farmers. He baptized hundreds in that community alone.

In Florencia, the Rev. Emilio, strengthened his connection with the July 26 Movement, which he had joined while in seminary with the ideal of ending the prevailing government corruption and restoring constitutionality to the nation of Cuba.

With the triumph of the rebels, the Rev. Emilio would begin a new phase of his life. After rejecting an offer by the mayor of the city of Morón, in order to continue proclaiming the Gospel, he was sent, by Bishop José Agustín González, to the cities of Santiago de Cuba and Palma Soriano to pastor the churches and colleges of both cities.

Shortly after the family had settled in the city of Santiago de Cuba, the Rev. Emilio, outraged by the Castro brothers’ betrayal of the principles of the July 26 Movement and the surrender of the country to international communism, joined the Revolutionary Movement of the People. He was betrayed by one of the members of his group and was arrested, imprisoned and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He might have been pardoned if he had just excepted the rehabilitation plan that required him to renounce his principles, but Rev. Emilio served the entire sentence as a form of protest.

While in prison the Rev. Emilio continued to preach the Gospel. There he gathered an ecumenical fellowship that included Roman Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and other Christians. His wife carefully passed him a Book of Common Prayer by using the BCP’s pages to wrap the food that she would deliver to him in prison on her visits.

After serving his sentence, although he would have been allowed to leave the country for the United States, he preferred to remain in Cuba and continue his pastoral ministry in the Episcopal Church.

He was soon sent to the city of Cárdenas to tend to the parishes in that city and the cities of Coliseo, Limonar and Itabo. He was later appointed by Bishop José Agustín González as archdeacon of the province of Matanzas and professor of the Evangelical Seminary of Theology.

With the announcement of the retirement of the Diocesan Bishop, the Venerable Emilio, along with the Venerable Juan Ramón de Paz and Prospero Mesa, became nominees at the synod that would elect the new bishop of the Diocese of Cuba. Venerable Emilio was elected bishop coadjutor of Cuba in 1980 and was consecrated as diocesan bishop in 1982.

The bishopric of the illustrious Emilio, which lasted a little more than a decade, was characterized by its simplicity and solidarity, and by its sensitivity to the problems and anxieties of clergy and lay people alike. His legacy also included the fruit of his substantial ecclesial work in the total renewal of the life of the Diocese.

Among his achievements:

  • The Cuban Mass sung poetically and with deeply native criolla tonalities.
  • The ordination of the first women to the diaconate and presbyterate in 1986.
  • The creation of a solid relationship named Fellowship in Mission with the Diocese of Jacksonville, Florida, which ended the isolation of the Cuban Episcopal Church.
  • The creation of the New Ministries movement and the ordination of worker-ministers who would no longer be obligated give up their secular work, in order to train as clergy for the church.
  • The revitalization of the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Matanzas and the long-needed commitment to supplying new professors and students.

After his retirement, Bishop Emilio and his wife resided in Havana for a time. They would later move to the United States to be with their children, who resided in Miami, Dade County and Broward County. Bishop Emilio had been widowed a few years at the time of his death. He lived with his daughter Mayra in Coral Springs.

The Acts of the Apostles, referring to King David, says: “dFor David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died.” To paraphrase this quote, we could say: “Bishop Emilio, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died.”

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, by the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

Korea agreement described as ‘beginning of a new history of reconciliation and peace’

Mon, 04/30/2018 - 12:27pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] A national ecumenical body which includes the Anglican Church of Korea has welcomed the April 27 historic agreement between the leaders of North and South Korea. The Panmunjom Agreement was signed at the 2018 Inter-Korean Summit by the Republic of Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. Amongst a range of peace-building initiatives, the Panmunjom Agreement includes a commitment to the denuclearization of the peninsula.

Read the entire article here.

Zambian President calls for church to ‘Christianize the nation’s politics’

Mon, 04/30/2018 - 12:23pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The president of Zambia, Edgar Lungu, has called for the church to “Christianize the nation’s politics”, as he expressed his hopes for a violence-free campaign for a parliamentary by-election next month.  Lungu made his remarks at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lusaka, at a service to mark the 40th anniversary of a companion link between the Church of England’s Diocese of Bath and Wells, and the Church of the Province of Central Africa’s five dioceses in Zambia. The by-election to return a new member of Parliament for the Chilanga Constituency is set to be held on June 5.  Lungu expressed his fear that the campaign may turn violent, despite the nation self-describing itself as a Christian country.

Read the entire article here.

River of Life pilgrimage broadens to three, shorter New England canoe trips in second year

Fri, 04/27/2018 - 4:12pm

Pilgrims launch from a dock in Essex, Connecticut, on July 9, 2017, the final day of the River of Life pilgrimage. Photo: Kairos Earth, via Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] The paddle-carrying Episcopalians who created a church on the water for 40 days last summer are gearing up again to become pilgrims on the River of Life, this time with three shorter canoe and kayak trips in New England.

“The 40-day one was an enormous undertaking and something we couldn’t keep going every year,” said the Rev. Stephen Blackmer of Church of the Woods in Canterbury, New Hampshire. “We’re hoping and expecting that we’ll be continuing to do … more bite-size trips.”

When Blackmer says “bite-size,” he still envisions immersive natural experiences filled with fellowship, prayer and prayerful silence, as well as overnight stays in churches and at campgrounds. Last year’s Connecticut River pilgrimage has been shortened to nine days in July, with three segments for would-be worshipers to join and ending in western Massachusetts. The Diocese of Rhode Island also is hosting two weekend trips, one in May and the other in September.

Rhode Island Bishop Nicholas Knisely, who paddled a kayak for the final week of the 2017 River of Life pilgrimage, said the experience made clear to him how a river is like a natural cathedral, a “place where the sacred and secular intersect.”

“I was so touched by the response that people had, particularly young adults on the trip,” Knisely said, “that I immediately talked to the leaders and said, could we do something like this in Rhode Island?”

Replicating these waterborne pilgrimages always has been part of the plan for River of Life.

“It is taking that practice of prayer, silence, contemplative practice into the natural world around us and saying that we can encounter God directly there and appreciate the entry into God that happens in the natural world,” Blackmer said.

Blackmer, one of the River of Life organizers through his group Kairos Earth, hopes to produce by this fall a sort of wild pilgrimage guide to distribute to all dioceses of the Episcopal Church. The guide would help others to launch similar pilgrimages anywhere, whether on rivers or in other natural settings.

This year’s Rhode Island trips also will serve as training sessions for paddlers who are interested in learning how to recreate such pilgrimages on their own, Knisely said. Six leaders-in-training will be among the 15 paddlers on the first trip, from May 17 to 20 on the Wood River.

Knisely plans to join that trip, though he is still debating whether to take a kayak or canoe. He also is trying to convince his 24-year-old daughter to join him. The trip will include overnight stays at St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church in Hope Valley and Christ Church in Westerly, concluding there with a Eucharist on Pentecost Sunday and Knisely preaching.

Details, including location, are still being worked out for the second Rhode Island trip, from Sept. 5 to 8. Both trips will cover 20 to 25 miles, with water passages that aren’t too strenuous.

Paddling to exhaustion would defeat the purpose. These pilgrimages are slow enough for the pilgrims to pray and silently contemplate their surroundings – the homes along the riverbank, the mist rising off the water, wildlife all around. Knisely recalls the sound of water burbling under his kayak as an eagle flew overhead during the 2017 River of Life pilgrimage.

“What struck me was the joy of being disconnected for that week, leaving behind my electronic devices and keeping the Earth’s natural rhythms,” he said. “Being more aware of where the river was carrying us than what news story had broken.”

That first-year pilgrimage was a collaboration of all Episcopal dioceses in New England, as well as the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and several conservation groups. It covered more than 400 miles, from the source of the Connecticut River near the Canadian border to Long Island Sound.

Only the trip’s guides, Mark and Lisa Kutolowski from Metanoia of Vermont, journeyed the full 40 days. About 55 paddlers joined the trip during various segments. Another 50 to 60 signed on as “pilgrims in prayer,” following along with the River of Life prayer guide. Hundreds more participated along the journey by hosting the pilgrims or attending various celebrations.

One memory of the 2017 trip sticks with Blackmer. He was with a group of about 10 canoes and kayaks in the middle of one of the segments in Connecticut when they spotted some activity on land.

“There were two people standing on the bank maybe 50 yards away just waving madly,” he said. “They had heard about it and just wanted to come out and participate in that way.”

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

R.I.P.: The Rt. Rev. A. Theodore Eastman, retired bishop of Maryland

Fri, 04/27/2018 - 3:58pm

[Diocese of Maryland] Albert Theodore Eastman, 12th bishop of Maryland, died April 26, at the age of 89. Your prayers are requested for Mrs. Sarah Eastman and their family.

Bishop Eastman was elected Bishop Coadjutor in 1982 and became Bishop Diocesan upon the retirement of Bishop David Leighton in 1986. He retired in 1994.

Prior to coming to Maryland, Bishop Eastman served as a chaplain at California’s Soledad State Prison. He lectured at the Episcopal Theological School in Boston and also served churches in Tokyo and Mexico City. In 1973 he became the rector of St. Alban’s in Washington, D.C. serving until his election in 1982. Bishop Eastman’s ministry was marked by a continuing concern for the mission and unity of the Christian Church. He served as vice chair of the Standing Commission on World Mission, chair of the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief, and chair of the Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations.

Following his retirement, Bishop Eastman served in various capacities at Washington National Cathedral and in 2003 was appointed Vicar. He was awarded honorary doctorates from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Virginia Seminary and the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas.

Bishop Eastman was born in San Mateo, California in 1928. He was graduated from Haverford College in Pennsylvania in 1950, and Virginia Seminary in 1953. He married Sarah Tice soon after and they became parents to three children.

Funeral arrangements will be announced as plans are finalized.

For your servant +Theodore, O Lord, we pray: Rest eternal grant to him and let light perpetual shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Grant, O Lord, to all who are bereaved the spirit of faith and courage, that they may have strength to meet the days to come with steadfastness and patience; not sorrowing as those without hope, but in thankful remembrance of your great goodness, and in the joyful expectation of eternal life with those they love. And this we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Diocese of Missouri Bishop Wayne Smith announces plan to retire in 2020

Fri, 04/27/2018 - 3:39pm

[Diocese of Missouri] Bishop Wayne Smith released the following letter to the diocese on April 27, announcing his plans to retire in 2020 and outlining the process for electing his successor, the 11th bishop of Missouri.

Diocese of Missouri Bishop Wayne Smith

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is with a whirlwind of emotions that I write this letter, for no ministry have I loved more than serving as the Tenth Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. Even so, the time has come for me to set in motion a process for electing and calling the Eleventh Bishop. In a lengthy meeting yesterday, I announced this decision to the Standing Committee, who from this time forward will have complete responsibility for the process. The Rt. Rev. Todd Ousley, Bishop for the Office for Pastoral Development, was present to present a framework for this season ahead. I have called for the election of my successor during the 2019 meeting of Diocesan Convention, November 15-16. The ordination of the new bishop will be sometime in the spring 2020, probably in April. My resignation will become effective on that date.

I am young and healthy, and I am not at all certain that my active ministry will come to an end with my retirement from Missouri. I am indeed open to new possibilities. It is clear to me, nonetheless, that it is time for a transition in episcopal ministry in this venue. Conversation with my wife, Debbie Smith, and our family, consultation with colleagues in this Diocese and with other bishops, and extensive pondering and praying have brought me to this point. I am at ease with the decision.

It is usual and customary for a bishop, writing this sort of letter, to claim that his or her tenure as bishop is not over, that there is still time left (in my case, two years) for the ministry to continue. This much is true, and I pledge to remain faithful in my duties in providing oversight for the Diocese of Missouri, and to take my place in the councils of the wider Church. I realize, however, that this announcement alters the trajectory of our work together, and that emotionally, spiritually, and realistically, attention turns to the next chapter in the Diocese’s life, both in its continuities and its necessary changes. I pledge to honor that shift, and support your work in making it.

I write this letter with some sadness and some relief—but most of all with deep gratitude for the privilege of serving as your bishop these past sixteen years—with a couple more yet to come.

Ever faithfully, in Christ
The Rt. Rev. George Wayne Smith
Bishop of Missouri

Compass Rose Society confirm million-dollar Lambeth Conference scholarship program

Fri, 04/27/2018 - 11:33am

[Anglican Communion News Service] An international charity that supports the work of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Consultative Council has announced a sponsorship program to enable bishops from poorer countries attend the Lambeth Conference in 2020. The Compass Rose Society announced that $1 million will provide scholarships to bishops requiring financial aid to attend the decennial meeting, which will take place in Canterbury, Kent, from July 24 to Aug. 3, 2020.

Read the full article here.

Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil consecrates its first female bishop

Fri, 04/27/2018 - 11:30am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The first woman to be elected as an Anglican bishop in south America has been consecrated. Bishop Marinez Bassotto will lead the Diocese of Amazon in the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil. Thousands of people from Brazil and around the world attended the service at the sports court of St. Mary’s Anglican Cathedral compound in Belém do Pará.

Read the full article here.

Group of Episcopal Church bishops adds voices to Supreme Court case on Trump travel ban

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 2:49pm

[Episcopal News Service] More than 50 bishops of the Episcopal Church are among the hundreds of voices the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing as it considers the constitutionality of President Donald Trump’s travel bans.

The current and retired bishops have asked the court to rule that the ban violates the establishment clause of the Constitution, which prevents the government from establishing an official religion, acting in a way that unduly favors one religion over another or preventing people from exercising their faith.

The main question before the justices is whether any president can ban travel and immigration to the United States based on nationality if that ban contradicts the power over such immigration and travel given to Congress in Article I of the Constitution. The state of Hawaii and others asked the Supreme Court to review Trump’s ban. The court heard arguments in the case April 25 in the last scheduled hearing of its term.

Trump’s executive order suspends entry, subject to exceptions and case-by-case waivers, of certain categories of people from eight countries that do not share adequate information with the United States or that present other risk factors.

Protesters gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., April 25, while the court justices consider a case regarding presidential powers as it weighs the legality of President Donald Trump’s latest travel ban targeting people from Muslim-majority countries. Photo: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Other challengers have argued that Trump’s campaign speeches and tweets about Muslims were a clear indication that the ban was aimed at a particular religious group and not justified by security concerns. The ban sought to restrict travel from eight nations — Chad, Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Venezuela and North Korea — six of which are predominantly Muslim. Chad was recently removed by the administration.

The 57 bishops told the justices in an amici curiae (friends of the court) brief that among the central tenets of the Episcopal Church is a call “to welcome and assist strangers, especially those who are poor, sick, and most in need of help, to provide a safe haven for those seeking freedom from oppression, and to uphold the dignity of every human being.

“To those ends, the Episcopal Church has long supported a robust refugee resettlement program for those fleeing their countries to escape persecution, oppression, and war,” they wrote, referring to the church’s more than 75-year-old Episcopal Migration Ministries, or EMM.

The bishops said Trump’s travel ban has “significantly undermined the efforts of religious organizations in the United States, including the Episcopal Church, to render aid to those fleeing war and oppression. For many Americans, this type of refugee-assistance work is an expression of their faith and one of the ways in which they keep their covenant with God.”

The travel bans, they wrote, “have caused and will continue to cause significant harm to these religious organizations and to the very vulnerable people that they serve” and “have debilitated and will continue to debilitate the vital mission of religious organizations, and will deprive Americans of the opportunity to practice their faith through service to others in need.”

EMM is one of nine agencies that contract with the U.S. government to resettle refugees. The other resettlement agencies are Church World Service, Ethiopian Community Development Council, HIAS (formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), International Rescue Committee, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, and World Relief.

Diocese of Olympia Bishop Greg Rickel organized the amici brief effort, following his work on two similar actions when challenges to the travel ban were being heard at the federal court of appeals level. Rickel invited the church’s bishops to sign on to the brief.

The bishops were not the only Episcopalians who have raised their voices in the case. Thomas H. Kean, who was the Republican governor of New Jersey from 1982 to 1990 and chairman of the 9/11 Commission, and John Danforth, a Republican senator from Missouri from 1976 to 1995 and an ambassador to the United Nations, are among a group that filed their own amicus brief. Kean and Danforth, both of whom have ties to the Episcopal Church, signed the brief with other former Republican members of Congress or lawyers who have worked in previous Republican administrations.

Kean, Danforth and a third Republican in that group argued April 22 in the New York Times that the Constitution grants Congress the power to make immigration and foreign travel laws, and “Congress cannot give any president the power to dismantle our immigration statutes.”

As the Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments in the case April 25, the Washington Post reported that some religious freedom groups had avoided taking a stand on the constitutionality of the travel bans and “are more concerned about how the court will consider the legal issues than they are with the actual outcome.” The article notes that other groups, such as the group of Episcopal Church bishops, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Muslim Justice League and the Muslim Public Affairs Council, actively oppose Trump’s executive order.

Many observers who listened to the oral arguments seemed to think that, in the words of SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe, “a majority of the court (and perhaps even a solid one) appeared ready to rule for the government and uphold the order in response to concerns about second-guessing the president on national-security issues.”

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

Regional ecumenical group prays for success of Korean peace summit

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 12:16pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Christians in Asia are praying for the success of talks involving the leaders of North and South Korea. The talks are due to take place April 27 in Panmunjom, a village in the demilitarised zone between the two countries. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will become the first leader from the north to cross into the south since the end of hostilities in 1953 when he arrives in Panmunjom for talks with the South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in.

Read the full article here.

Stolen heart of Saint Laurence O’Toole to be returned to Dublin cathedral

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 12:14pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] A priceless relic of the patron saint of Ireland’s capital city Dublin will be returned to the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral in the city April 26, six years after it was stolen. The heart of St Laurence O’Toole – also known as Lorcán Ua Tuathail – was stolen from the cathedral’s Saint Laud Chapel in March 2012. The heart, in a wooden heart-shaped box sealed within a small iron barred cage, had been in the cathedral for 800 years. It was recovered from Dublin’s Pheonix Park after a recent breakthrough in the police investigation, state broadcaster RTE reports. It was recovered undamaged.

Read the full article here.

Ugandan bishop lauds church-backed diocesan savings and credit cooperative

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 12:12pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] In the five years since it launched, a Savings and Credit Cooperative Society (SACCOS) launched by the Diocese of Ankole has continued to grow, Bishop Fred Sheldon Mwesigwa said. Writing in the New Vision newspaper, Mwesigwa said the Ankole Diocesan Millennium SACCOS, which was launched in December 2012, now has 6,084 members, 18 staff members and branches in Mbarara, Ibanda, Rugaaga, Kabuyanda, Kinoni and Bishop Stuart University.

Read the full article here.

Obispos de la Iglesia Episcopal suman sus voces al caso de la prohibición de viajes de Trump que examina el Tribunal Supremo

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 7:04am

[Episcopal News Service] Más de 50 obispos de la Iglesia Episcopal se encuentran entre centenares de voces que llegan hasta el Tribunal Supremo de EE.UU. mientras examina la constitucionalidad de las prohibiciones de viajar a este país impuestas por el presidente Donald Trump.

Los obispos, entre los cuales los hay en ejercicio y jubilados, le han advertido al alto tribunal que la prohibición viola la cláusula de la Constitución que le impide al gobierno el establecimiento de una religión oficial, al actuar de una manera que indebidamente favorezca a una religión en detrimento de otra o de prohibir a las personas el ejercicio de su fe.

La principal interrogante que enfrentan los magistrados del Supremo es si cualquier presidente puede impedir viajes e inmigración a Estados Unidos basándose en la nacionalidad y se esa prohibición contradice el poder sobre tal inmigración y viajes dada al Congreso en el Artículo I de la Constitución. El estado de Hawái y otros le han pedido al Tribunal Supremo que revise la prohibición de Trump. El tribunal oyó argumentos sobre el caso el 25 de abril en la última vista programada de este período.

El decreto de Trump suspende la entrada al país, sujeta a excepciones y dispensas en casos particulares, a ciertas categorías de personas proveniente de ocho países que no comparten adecuada información con Estados Unidos o que presentan otros factores de riesgo.

Un grupo de manifestantes se reúne frente al Tribunal Supremo de EE.UU. en Washington, D.C., el 25 de abril, mientras los magistrados del tribunal examinan un caso sobre los poderes presidenciales que sopesa la legalidad de la última prohibición de viajes del presidente Donald Trump que excluye a personas provenientes de países de mayoría musulmana. Foto de Yuri Gripas/REUTERS.

Otros  adversarios [de los decretos] han argüido que los discursos de campaña de Trump y sus mensajes en Twitter sobre los musulmanes eran un claro indicio de que la prohibición se dirige a un grupo religioso en particular y no se justifica con razones de seguridad. La prohibición busca reducir los viajes de personas provenientes de ocho naciones —Chad, Irán, Libia, Siria, Yemen, Somalia, Venezuela y Corea del Norte — seis de las cuales son predominantemente musulmanas. Recientemente, el gobierno quitó a Chad de la lista.

Los 57 obispos les dijeron a los magistrados en un memorial amici curiae (amigos del tribunal)  que uno de los principios centrales de la Iglesia Episcopal es un llamado “a acoger y asistir a forasteros, especialmente a los que pobres, enfermos y más necesitados de ayuda, a proporcionar un seguro asilo a todos los que buscan libertad huyendo de la opresión y a sostener la dignidad de todo ser humano.

“A esos fines, la Iglesia Episcopal ha sostenido durante mucho tiempo un sólido programa de reasentamiento de refugiados para los que huyen de sus países al objeto de escapar de la persecución, la opresión y la guerra”, escribieron ellos, refiriéndose al Ministerio Episcopal de Migración, o EMM, con más de 75 años de existencia.

Los obispos dijeron que la prohibición de viajar de Trump “socaba significativamente los esfuerzos de las organizaciones religiosas en Estados Unidos, incluida la Iglesia Episcopal, de prestarles ayuda a los que huyen de la guerra y de la opresión. Para muchos estadounidenses, este tipo de trabajo asistencial con refugiados es una expresión de su fe y uno de los medios por los que mantienen su pacto con Dios”.

Las prohibiciones de viaje, escribieron ellos, “han causado y seguirán causando un perjuicio significativo a las organizaciones religiosas y a las mismas personas vulnerables a las que sirven” y “han debilitado y seguirán debilitando la misión vital de las organizaciones religiosas, y privarán a los estadounidenses de la oportunidad de practicar su fe a través del servicio a otras [personas] necesitadas”.

El EMM es una de nueve agencias que tiene contratos con el gobierno de EE.UU. para reasentar refugiados. Las otras agencias de reasentamiento son el Servicio Mundial de Iglesias, el Consejo Etíope de Desarrollo Comunitario, la HIAS (anteriormente conocido como la Sociedad de Ayuda a Inmigrantes Hebreos), el Comité de Rescate Internacional, el Servicio Luterano de Inmigración y Refugiados, el Servicio de Migración y Refugiados de la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de EE.UU. y Ayuda Mundial.

Greg Rickel, obispo de la Diócesis de Olympia, organizó el empeño del memorial de amici curiae, siguiendo su propia labor en dos decisiones semejantes cuando se presentaron impugnaciones a las prohibiciones de viaje a la altura del tribunal federal de apelaciones.

Los obispos no fueron los únicos episcopales que han alzado sus voces en el caso. Thomas H. Kean, que fue gobernador republicano de Nueva Jersey de 1982 a 1990 y presidente de la Comisión del 11 de septiembre, y John Danforth, senador republicano de Misurí de 1976 a 1995 y embajador ante las Naciones Unidas, forman parte de un grupo que también presentó su propio memorial de amicus.   Kean y Danforth, que tienen nexos con la Iglesia Episcopal, firmaron el memorial con otros republicanos ex miembros del Congreso o abogados que han trabajado con anteriores gobiernos republicanos.

Kean, Danforth y un tercer republicano en ese grupo arguyeron el 22 de abril en The New York Times que la Constitución le otorga al Congreso la potestad de hacer leyes migratorias y de viajes del extranjero y que “el Congreso no puede darle a ningún presidente el poder de desmantelar nuestros estatutos migratorios”

 

En tanto el Tribunal Supremo escuchaba los argumentos orales del caso el 25 de abril, el Washington Post informaba que algunos grupos defensores de la libertad religiosa habían evitado pronunciarse sobre la constitucionalidad de las prohibiciones de viaje y “están más preocupados de la manera en que el tribunal examinará los problemas legales que de los resultados efectivos”. El artículo destaca que otros grupos, tales como el de los obispos de la Iglesia Episcopal, la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de EE.UU. el Comité Judío Americano, la Liga Antidifamatoria, la Liga Musulmana de Justicia y el Consejo Musulmán de Asuntos Públicos, se oponen activamente al decreto ejecutivo de Trump.

Muchos observadores que escucharon los argumentos orales les parece creer, dicho en palabras de Amy Howe del SCOTUSblog , que “una mayoría del tribunal (y tal vez hasta una sólida mayoría ) parece dispuesta a decidir a favor del gobierno y sostener el decreto en respuesta a preocupaciones y conjeturas del Presidente en asuntos de seguridad nacional”.

— La Rda. Mary Frances Schjonberg es jefa de redacción interina de Episcopal News Service. Traducción de Vicente Echerri.

Pop music’s Beyoncé inspires Eucharist at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco

Wed, 04/25/2018 - 5:22pm

Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is a multiplatinum-selling, Grammy Award-winning recording artist and trendsetter. Her music, lyrics and life inspire the theme of a Eucharist at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

[Episcopal News Service] They liked it, so they created a Eucharist on it.

Sometimes controversial, often empowering, pop culture icon Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s music, lyrics and life have inspired faith leaders to organize an alternative church service April 25 at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

At Beyoncé Mass, churchgoers can learn about the formation of the wild (or not-so wild?) idea that this celebrated singer’s lyrics can be tied to biblical messages.

It’s a Wednesday evening service created by The Vine for faith seekers and fans to sing their Beyoncé favorites and “discover how her art opens a window into the lives of the marginalized and forgotten, particularly black women,” the cathedral’s event announcement says. Launched in March 2017, The Vine is both a service and an offer of community for city folks and spiritual seekers through contemporary worship with great music on Wednesday nights, or small “Grace Groups” throughout the city, according to the website.

The idea for this Eucharist originates from the “Beyoncé and the Hebrew Bible” class taught by the Rev. Yolanda Norton, assistant professor of Old Testament at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

The Rev. Yolanda Norton is assistant professor at San Francisco Theological Seminary, where she teaches a class called “Beyoncé and the Hebrew Bible.” Photo: San Francisco Theological Seminary

Norton plans to preach at the Beyoncé Mass at Grace Cathedral’s ecumenical service. She’s a Disciples of Christ minister who teaches at the Presbyterian seminary. Her scholarly work specializes in women in scripture, liberation and people of color. Norton was in high school when Beyoncé first came on the scene as part of the Destiny’s Child singing group.

“I mentor young black women watching [Beyoncé] come into her own, which has helped them come into their own. To me, to have these conversations allows women to examine how they fit in society,” Norton told Episcopal News Service two days before the mass.

“It’s a way of saying to dominant culture, ‘We’re here.’ Nobody’s ignoring Beyoncé, and because of that, you can’t ignore black women and our contribution to the church and to society,” she continued. “This is our reality: being called the angry black woman or being called too sexual or too black. All these issues are embodied in one figure.”

But is Beyoncé Mass just another gimmicky way to make lemonade out of lemons (see Beyoncé’s 2016 Lemonade album, a product of her personal pain) to get young people more active in church? Church of almost all denominations — you know, those places where couples walk down the aisle and put a ring on it, like Beyoncé suggests her paramour should’ve done if he liked her so much, in her song “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” — have had lagging attendance for years, but Episcopal naysayers on social media worry that this kind of themed service is a form of idolatry. They also say that Beyoncé should not be held up as a Christian example.

Addressing those concerns, organizers want to emphasize that the service’s focus of worship remains on the ultimate “survivor” long before Queen Bey: the one and only OG (original gangster) and superstar, Jesus Christ. (See her “Survivor” song when she was part of Destiny’s Child.)

“You may have heard criticisms from our fundamentalist brothers and sisters that Grace Cathedral worships Beyoncé rather than our Lord Jesus,” said the Very Rev. Malcolm Clemens Young, dean of Grace Cathedral, in an April 20 message to his congregation.

“As supporters of the cathedral, you know how important it is for us to be involved in the public life of our city and the world. A longing for justice lies at the heart of our identity. We have a tradition of engaging popular culture on issues of social justice that stretches back long before our controversial Duke Ellington Jazz Service in the mid-1960s,” Young said.

Ellington aside, this service is by no means one of the first pop-themed Eucharist or Episcopal services, says the Rev. Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement, who followed the Beyoncé Mass discussion on social media. His April 20 post on Twitter started: “Theme masses are all the rage!”

For example, Gunn pointed out, Episcopal and Anglican churches have hosted U2ucharist services with glow sticks and streamers across the United States since 2006 and earlier, a Dr. Seuss-charist in Canada (“That’s unfortunate,” Gunn quipped), rave dance party masses, a pirate Eucharist and a Zydeco mass on Shrove Tuesday in 2015 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in San Diego.

“St. Paul said that Jesus talked about being all things to all people, that we have to preach the gospel in the way that people can hear it,” Gunn told ENS. “If a themed Eucharist reaches more people, that’s fine. My concern is that the themed Eucharist should always be most focused on Jesus.”

Theme masses are all the rage! As for me, because I’m always keen to be au courant, I’m getting a press release ready to trumpet my shiny new BCP-charist.

— Scott Gunn ن (@scottagunn) April 20, 2018

This is the third week in The Vine’s teaching series, “Speaking Truth: The Power of Story in Community.”

A historic symbol of the #MeToo movement if there ever was one, Mary Magdalene was the theme of a previous Wednesday night service. This independent, strong disciple of Christ was wrongly depicted as a reformed prostitute in religious art and interpretations for centuries, said Sam Lundquist, a seminary student taking Norton’s class. He’s interning at The Vine and helped the cathedral partner with the seminary to translate what was used as a 25-minute seminary chapel service into an hour-long Eucharist that will include liturgical dance.

Grace Cathedral in San Francisco is hosting a Beyoncé Mass as part of its The Vine series on Wednesday nights. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

“The church is in so much need of connecting people to the amazing Christian story in new and exciting ways. We’ve done that well for so many hundreds and hundreds of years, and this is no different. This is connecting people using something in culture. And this is just as spiritual as anything else,” Lundquist told ENS.

The class uses Beyoncé as a central figure for what black women face in society and in church; black motherhood and womanhood; the ways their bodies are judged or policed; and respectability politics, Norton said.

“We use her career and music to have those conversations to examine biblical text. It’s important to me as a biblical scholar and a minister to say to these students, ‘I want you to begin thinking what this means for the church, for your faith,’” she said.

Norton and Lundquist didn’t want to give away any surprises, but they did say one of the service’s central theme songs will be Beyoncé’s “Flaws and All” song. She might’ve written it for husband and rapper Jay-Z or for their children, but it easily translates to something intended for God, she said.

Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is the first female artist to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with her first five studio albums, according to Biography.com. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

“She talks about being a train wreck and when I need attention, I tend to nag. I neglect you when I’m working, and you see past all that. The chorus of that is ‘I don’t know why you love me, and that’s why I love you.’ It’s an intimate conversation we can have with God,” Norton said. “God sees us, flaws and all, and loves us anyway.”

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

Episcopalians offer prayers, support for Florida island hit by hurricane and now wildfire

Wed, 04/25/2018 - 5:16pm

A wildfire this week burned about 100 acres, mostly forestland, on Big Pine Key, Florida, about a mile from St. Francis in the Keys Episcopal Church. Photo: Chris Todd

[Episcopal News Service] Residents of a Florida island community still recovering from last year’s Hurricane Irma were rattled this week when a wildfire broke out a short distance from the Episcopal church on the island.

The fire has burned about 100 acres on Big Pine Key, about a half-hour drive east of Key West. No injuries or fatalities have been reported in the blaze, which has mostly spared residential neighborhoods since it started early April 22. Authorities told the Miami Herald that the fire appeared to be mostly under control by midday April 25.

The fire zone was about a mile southeast of St. Francis in the Keys Episcopal Church – not dangerously close, but “enough that we were concerned, because we just got through the hurricane,” the Rev. Chris Todd, priest-in-charge, told Episcopal News Service.

Todd also leads a nearby Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation, Lord of the Seas Lutheran Church, which is hosting a group of crisis counselors on May 1 to meet with residents who want to discuss the recent disasters. Life on Big Pine Key has yet to fully return to normal, and tensions returned with the recent fire, Todd said.

“First by water and wind, now by fire. It’s like the elements are taking up arms against us,” he said.

Hurricane Irma caused widespread destruction when it swept across the Florida Keys in September. The hurricane’s 12 inches of rain and 130-mph winds hit the middle and lower Keys hard, damaging more than 10,000 homes. And while Cudjoe Key is where the storm made landfall, the impact on Big Pine Key was severe.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, left, poses for a photo with the Rev. Chris Todd during a January visit to St. Francis in the Keys Episcopal Church. Photo provided by Chris Todd

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry visited the Keys in January to offer his support on behalf of the Episcopal Church. St. Francis in the Keys was one of the churches Curry visited.

Todd said the island’s Roman Catholic church likely will have to be rebuilt, while the United Methodist church was hit by severe flooding. Todd’s two churches fared better, but Irma damaged the roof of St. Francis in the Keys. Its title floor will need to be replaced because of flooding. For the first two and a half months, the congregation worshiped with the Lutherans at Lord of the Seas, which is built on stilts and sustained only damage to its gutters.

The congregation at St. Francis in the Keys grows to about 30 people at Sunday services during the winter, and services at Lord of the Seas draw up to 50 people in the same months, Todd said. They have continued to worship together but began alternating between the two churches, once conditions allowed it at St. Francis in the Keys.

Irma damaged the roof of St. Francis in the Keys Episcopal Church and flooding will require floor tiles to be replaced. Photo: Chris Todd

Todd and his wife fled the island before Irma hit, staying with family in northwestern Alabama. When they returned to their home, they found a hole in the roof and the basement flooded, which knocked out their air conditioning and other utilities. A tarp still is being used to patch the roof, but the rest of the damage has been repaired.

Others on the island weren’t so lucky.

“We know people who lost everything, or almost everything,” he said.

As for the fire, it mainly has affected forested areas of the island, Todd said, but it’s still “kind of scary, because down every dirt road somebody lives.”

The Florida Forest Service said on the first day of the fire that two homes had been destroyed. Authorities have not ordered evacuations, though there were reports of some displaced residents.

Power was cut to the island when the fire first ignited, but it has since been restored. The cause of the fire isn’t yet known. Authorities don’t think it was started by lightning or other natural causes, according to the Miami Herald.

The emergency response involves 46 firefighters and several bulldozers and fire trucks, as well as helicopters dropping water from above.

From the Rev. Chris Todd’s porch on April 22 smoke could be seen rising over the tree line where a wildfire had ignited earlier in the day. Photo: Chris Todd

The fire prompted Bishop Peter Eaton to send a message April 24 to the Diocese of Southeast Florida asking Episcopalians to pray for the community of Big Pine Key. “The fire is widespread and a real threat,” Eaton said. “It is also a further drain on an already challenged community that still has so much to do to recover from Hurricane Irma.”

Todd said he and his wife have watched the helicopters fly over their home as smoke rose on the horizon over the trees. He and others on the island are hopeful that the worst of the threat is behind them.

“The response has been amazing,” he said, “very fast.”

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

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