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Church leaders reaffirm need for mental-health crisis training after NYPD officer acquitted in killing of Episcopalian

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 6:16pm

Deborah Danner, a lifelong Episcopalian, died in a police shooting in October 2016. Photo courtesy of Church of the Heavenly Rest

[Episcopal News Service] A judge ruled Feb. 15 that New York Police Department Sgt. Hugh Barry was not guilty of all charges related to the death of Deborah Danner, a lifelong Episcopalian.

Barry shot and killed a bat-wielding Danner, who has a long history of mental illness, in her Bronx, New York, apartment in October 2016. His three-week bench trial at Bronx Criminal Court was on charges of murder, manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

Danner, 66, attended several Episcopal churches throughout Manhattan over the years. She suffered from diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia for decades with repeat hospitalizations, and was having an episode that prompted security guards to call the police.

At the time of the shooting, she was holding a baseball bat, and Barry testified Feb. 13 that he feared for his life. “I just see the bat swinging and that’s when I fired,” he said, according to the New York Times. Then he added: “I’m looking at this bat that can crack me in the head and kill me.”

Prosecutors had argued that she was not enough of a threat, and Barry did not follow police procedure. On cross examination, the Times said, lead prosecutor, Wanda Perez-Maldonado, elicited that Barry had not followed his training and appeared to ignore many of the department’s protocols. For instance, he left a shield and restraining straps for dealing with disturbed people in his car. She suggested that Barry had rushed to subdue Danner instead of isolating her and waiting her out.

Justice Robert A. Neary of State Supreme Court said that the prosecution failed to prove that Barry was “not justified in the use of deadly physical force,” the Times reported.

Since the trial began Jan. 30, Episcopalians, those who knew Danner and those who did not, have been attending the trial and focusing on what they can do to help change police procedures and training for handling people with mental illness.

Lucas Pershing, program manager for action and advocacy at Trinity Church Wall Street, one of the churches Danner attended, was one of the leaders in the effort to show support for Danner and anyone who has mental illness. Members of Church of the Heavenly Rest and St. Mary’s in Harlem were among the churches who had representatives. This is not only a New York issue, but an issue for Episcopalians across all of the communities in the United States and beyond, church leaders said.

Rt. Rev. Andrew Dietsche, bishop of the Diocese of New York, other Episcopalians and supporters attended the Bronx criminal trial of St. Hugh Barry, who was acquitted Feb. 15, 2018, on all charges in the October 2016 death of Deborah Danner, a lifelong Episcopalian. Photo courtesy of Trinity Church Wall Street

Trinity Church’s Chapel of All Saints planned a Service of Comfort Feb. 15, regardless of the verdict. The service was to provide a moment to remember Danner and pray for everyone involved in this tragedy: “her family and friends, the officers, emergency medical technicians, attorneys, court personnel and the judge,” according to an announcement on Trinity’s website.

On Feb. 9, Diocese of New York Bishop Andrew Dietsche met with the New York City’s Mayor’s Office to formally request Crisis Intervention Team training for all NYPD officers by the end of 2018, according to a story on the Trinity website.

“We have asked Mayor de Blasio to implement crisis intervention training for all New York City Police Department officers. We believe that if the officers who engaged Deborah fifteen months ago had received this training, Deborah might have been spared, and the officer himself, now facing charges of murder, might have been spared,” Dietsche said in the story.

Dietsche attended the trial along with more than a dozen other Episcopalians. Black Lives Matters activists attended too.

After the verdict, Dietsche wrote that Danner’s tragic case has raised significant and troubling questions of how the city and its institutions deals with people who have a mental illness, especially in times of emotional and mental crisis.

Barry’s acquittal should not be taken as a vindication of his actions, the bishop wrote in a statement. “Again, and with urgency, we ask that every officer be trained and ready to engage the mentally ill with compassion, patience and understanding when our police engage our most troubled people in the highly charged moments of a police call,” he said. “The mentally ill cannot be expected to act in reasonable or rational ways in those conflicted encounters, so the police must be.”

The Rev. Winnie Varghese, Trinity’s director of justice and reconciliation, wrote a Feb. 7 letter to Trinity’s staff and congregation about the trial and how people could be involved.

“Our attendance is prayerful and a witness to the humanity of Deborah. She was a 66-year-old black woman who was sick. The call that resulted in her death was a call for health care, not to report a crime,” Varghese wrote. Her letter ended with: “Mental illness touches all of our lives, and we know we can be a better support to our neighbors in crisis.”

Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill said in an email to the police department that the verdict does not “make Deborah Danner’s life any less tragic.” The Sergeants Benevolent Association posted the statement on its Twitter feed.

The department and officers individually must be held accountable for their actions, he wrote. And, the department is responsible for training and equipping its offers to handle these kinds of challenges in a measured and appropriate way.

“The NYPD’s disciplinary review of the tactical and supervisory decisions leading to the discharge of a firearm in this case will now proceed,” O’Neill said.

— 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

‘Welcome to the Circle’

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 3:36pm

Ciara Lillie, site manager, and Kathy Bogie, executive director, sit on the front porch swing at Magdalene House Kerrville, a two-year residential post-incarceration aftercare program for women who have been victimized by human trafficking, prostitution, addiction and/or abuse. Photo: Laura Shaver, Diocese of West Texas

[Episcopal Diocese of West Texas] As Kathy Bogie started to ponder how she could best serve God in her retirement, Bishop David Reed, then bishop suffragan of the Diocese of West Texas, announced that an engaging speaker was coming to Diocesan Council 2014 who works with women. “I knew I would be going to council, and I was hoping I would get something – some inspiration – while I was there,” said Bogie.

What she received was the personal story of the Rev. Becca Stevens and her founding of the Magdalene program in Nashville, Tennessee, which serves women survivors of trafficking, prostitution and addiction, and empowers and employs them with the social enterprise, Thistle Farms.

“That’s it,” said Bogie in 2014 with her heart full of service and tears in her eyes. Almost four years later, Magdalene House Kerrville, in Kerrville, Texas, a sister organization of Stevens’ original program, opened in December 2017 and welcomed its first resident on Dec. 28.

“Magdalene House Kerrville is evidence-based and community-informed,” said Bogie. In her work as a nurse practitioner, Bogie saw several women that would come in for a very quick women’s medical exam and to be tested for sexually transmitted infections. “They were homeless women who had been employed as housekeepers for a low-end motel at the time. The motel manager gave them a place to live and expected them to prostitute. If they didn’t follow his demands, according to the women, he would hurt them,” said Bogie.

Desiring more education to build a sustainable program for Kerrville, Bogie returned to school and earned her doctorate in nursing practice. “I knew I needed more education to put together our program. To really transform women’s lives, this had to be research based and what the community said would work.”

With an established board of directors for Magdalene House Kerrville, Bogie studied the literature, conducted research throughout the city and developed the two-year program.

Both of the two bedrooms in the Magdalene House Kerrville have been furnished by various churches and organizations around the Kerrville, Texas, community. Photo: Laura Shaver/Diocese of West Texas

Magdalene House Kerrville is to serve as a two-year residential post-incarceration aftercare program for women who have been victimized by human trafficking, prostitution, addiction and/or abuse. The program is based on the concept of caring, and the first priority is incorporating scripture and Jesus’ command to “take care of my sheep” (John 21).

Bogie said, “Caring is an attitude experienced in action when acceptance toward others is evolving through relationships.”

In her research, 100 percent of the women she studied had experienced trauma by age six. “So they never developed in a trusting, healthy way; some couldn’t even remember their trauma because it was so severe.”

The Magdalene House Kerrville Healthy and Whole Model of Care incorporates wellness – attending to the resident’s medical needs after acceptance into the program; followed by health education; trauma-specific care – an evidence-based psycho-educational program; healing through the arts – finding one’s voice again; peer support; and education and employment training.

“I remember hearing Becca Stevens say it takes some women three to four months just to get settled in the Magdalene home,” said Bogie. “I just couldn’t fathom that because there was so much work to get started. But we have found it’s so true. They are absolutely physically exhausted from all they have been through.”

Carolyn, Magdalene House Kerrville’s first resident, is still in phase one of her care. She is attending 12-Step meetings, working to quit smoking and is resting.

The Magdalene Pathway begins with “Welcome to the Circle,” which lasts three to six months. Every morning, Carolyn sits with Bogie and Ciara Lillie, site manager, at the kitchen table and they pray and reflect together, read scripture from the Live Recovery Bible, and work through a book entitled “Shadows of the Neanderthal,” a book to change mental models.

Kodak, the Magdalene House Kerrville therapy dog, stands in front of the laundry facility that sits just behind the house on the Magdalene House property. Photo: Laura Shaver/Diocese of West Texas

During her days, Carolyn may enjoy a walk through a local park with the home’s therapy dog, Kodak, a 90-pound American bull dog with a heart full of love and a paw always ready to shake. She has also enjoyed outings with Bogie to pick up their orders from the San Antonio Food Bank.

The pathway at Magdalene House Kerrville continues with Blossoming Wisdom (six – 12 months); Flourishing Independence (12-18 months); The Unbroken Circle (18-24 months); and Sisterhood for Life.

While in the two-year program a resident is not allowed to have visitors until they have completed Blossoming Wisdom. This is to protect the resident and so that Bogie and Lillie can learn who the resident’s “safe” people are, such as Carolyn’s mother, with whom she shares a brief phone call every evening.

Bogie has secured partnerships across the community of Kerrville for Magdalene House, including with the Christian Women’s Job Corps, which provides employment training and job security. The organization has also partnered with free health clinics and denominational thrift stores. Numerous church relationships supply endless donations and in-kind gifts.  “If we didn’t have these partnerships and had to pay for all of their services, we wouldn’t be open today,” said Bogie.

As a parishioner of St. Peter’s, Kerrville, Bogie set Magdalene House into motion with the church’s support and resources. Various parishioners serve on the home’s board of directors, and for three years Bogie had her office at St. Peter’s. Board meetings and fundraisers are held at the church, and the St. Peter’s Episcopal Church Women (ECW) has given generous monetary donations to the home. The church also gives to the home as part of its outreach ministry. The Rev. Bert Baetz, rector of St. Peter’s, blessed and dedicated the home on Jan. 13.

“It is so important for us to maintain connections and continue to hope they will increase,” said Bogie. She was delighted to receive in-kind donations from the Diocese of West Texas and the diocesan Commission for Women’s Ministry.

Carolyn is scheduled to start employment training at the Christian Women’s Job Corps this summer, and she is already participating in healing through the arts. “We discovered Carolyn is quite the painter,” said Bogie. “Her work brings tears to my eyes.”

The application process for Magdalene House Kerrville is quite simple. An incarcerated or post-incarceration woman must submit the written application and be available for a personal interview. The acceptance review committee then makes the final decision. Two applicants are scheduled to start in March.

Bogie said she receives two applicants per week, and so the discussion on how to expand in the future is underway. Many inquiry calls are taken each day; some women are just seeking shelter, and so Bogie directs them to other services in town, all based on relationships she has formed in the community.

Lillie, the site manager, lives on the Magdalene House property full-time in a mobile home that was purchased with a grant from the Sisterhood for Good in Kerrville. The Magdalene House home is 80 years old, quaint and simple in décor and welcoming. Bogie’s husband, Art, handcrafted a wooden front door, and he is digging up original stone pavers that lead from the house to the laundry facility.

“He has done so much and continues to do so much. I could not do this work without the support from Art,” said Bogie.

Lillie began full-time at Magdalene House Kerrville after she served as an intern for the non-profit in 2017. “I wanted to be somewhere where people loved me for loving,” she said. And with Kodak by her side, that is exactly what she gets to do.

“This has truly become everything we hoped for,” said Bogie, “an incredible community partnership.”

Ideas are in place for a pet washing micro-business for the women to maintain and promote while staying at Magdalene House Kerrville. The board hopes to initiate the business as one year after opening. “I am just so blessed by all the enthusiasm and support,” said Bogie.

— Laura Shaver is the communications officer for the Diocese of West Texas.

Young Polynesian Anglicans put disaster training into action as Cyclone Gita hit Tonga

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 1:04pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] As Cyclone Gita headed towards Tonga last weekend, a group of young Anglicans gathered at All Saints Church in Fasi, Nuku’alofa, to prepare their response. They had received training in geographic information systems – or GIS – and knew how to use it to carry out Community Integrated Vulnerability Assessments to work out who would be most at risk from the impending winds.

Read the full article here.

South African president’s resignation is ‘opportunity to start anew,’ archbishop says

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 1:02pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The resignation Feb. 14 of President Jacob Zuma provides South Africa with “a golden opportunity to start anew,” Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba said.

“President Zuma’s resignation is an acknowledgement that public power is to be exercised on behalf of and in service to the people of South Africa, rather than for the self-service of the incumbent,” Archbishop Thabo said.

Read the full article here.

Jerusalem’s new municipal tax measures threaten ministries, church leaders say

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 12:59pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Education and health ministries provided by the Diocese of Jerusalem could be at risk if the municipality goes ahead with plans to make churches pay Arnona, or municipal taxes. For centuries, religious bodies in the city have been exempt from such taxes, but the Jerusalem Municipality is now demanding millions of pounds from religious groups as part of an ongoing dispute with Israel’s finance ministry.

Read the full article here.

‘Stations of the Cross’ art exhibition follows Jesus’ path to crucifixion at sites across Manhattan

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 9:57am

The artwork “Stations” is made up of 14 columns of oil barrels painted different shades of red and two metal beams that appear to form a cross. It is on display at Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City as part of the “Stations of the Cross” exhibition across Manhattan. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] Churches around the world will welcome Christians this Lent as they pray the Way of the Cross, following Jesus’ final path to crucifixion through 14 stations. In New York City, that path of prayer will stretch the full length of Manhattan.

A public art exhibition opened Feb. 14 on Ash Wednesday and will continue through Easter on April 1 that traces the Stations of the Cross from “Jesus Is Condemned” near the northern tip of Manhattan to “Entombment” at the National September 11 Memorial. At each stop, people of all faiths are invited to view works of art chosen to reflect on ways the Passion of Christ speaks to contemporary struggles against injustice.

Trinity Church Wall Street is the 13th station in the “Stations of the Cross” exhibit across Manhattan. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

The exhibition, titled simply “Stations of the Cross,” is sponsored by Trinity Church Wall Street and follows similar exhibitions in London in 2016 and Washington, D.C., in 2017.

New York City is a great place to host this year’s edition, Trinity leaders said, suggesting that the metropolis is a greater hub of religious activity and reflection than it usually gets credit for.

“I think that New York upsets the American religious imagination,” the Rev. John Moody said this week at Trinity. “It makes us search and go deep for meaning that the general culture doesn’t give us.”

Moody, a retired priest who attends Trinity, was co-curator of “Stations of the Cross” with Aaron Rosen, a professor of religious studies at Rocky Mountain College who helped create and assemble this and the two prior versions of “Stations.” Although the subject matter is drawn from Christianity’s most solemn and foundational story, this “Stations of the Cross” is presented as an explicitly interfaith experience.

Could aspects of Jesus’ story also speak to a Muslim or Jew or atheist? “I wanted to explore that sense of friction and tension for myself,” said Rosen, who is Jewish and married to an Episcopal deacon.

To represent each station, Rosen selected from existing artworks, some that were hundreds of years old, while others were commissioned specifically for “Stations of the Cross.” In some cases, works created for the London or Washington exhibitions were brought to New York, with slight modifications.

Curator Aaron Rosen and artist G. Roland Biermann stand in front of Biermann’s work “Stations” at Trinity Church Wall Street. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Trinity, which Rosen called “sort of the radiating center” of the exhibition, was chose for the 13th station, “Jesus Is Taken Down From the Cross.” Just outside the church, next to its renowned cemetery, stand 14 tall columns of stacked oil barrels. The red columns are intersected by two steel beams that, when viewed from a certain angle, form a large cross. The artwork, titled “Stations,” was created by G. Roland Biermann, who painted the barrels in 14 different shades of red, signifying the color of blood.

Standing with Rosen and church leaders in front of his artwork this week, Biermann said he also saw oil as a kind of blood of the Earth, and he noted its connections to the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity. And oil can be a kind of currency, he said, a connotation that resonates even greater with the artwork planted in the heart of New York’s financial district.

One value of art is to provoke new perspectives on something we think we already know well, said the Rev. Winnie Varghese, Trinity’s director of justice and reconciliation. So, for Christians who are used to praying the Stations of the Cross every Lent, following the path of Jesus through these artworks is an opportunity to re-examine what the gospel story means for their faith and for the world around them.

Varghese also sees something magnificent in turning this faith journey outward, as a public experience that brings people outdoors.

“I love the idea of the city filled with prayer and intention in the way of the stations,” she said, and New York, especially, is suited for such an experience.

“New York is a very religious city,” Varghese said. “We’re so religious, and we’re so diversely religious.”

Rosen and his team found examples of that religious diversity while they were setting up the exhibition. At City College of New York, which is hosting the second station, “Jesus Takes Up the Cross,” the artwork “Hope” by Aithan Shapira features oversized life preservers made of concrete. Immigration is one of the themes of the exhibition, and Rosen saw in this station a connection to the plight of Syrian refugees braving dangerous sea voyages to make it to Greece.

The concrete life preservers also were heavy, about 50 pounds each, and a couple of City College students helped move them into place. Both Muslim, they took a break to pray before finishing the work, Rosen said.

Another highlight is the Chapel of the Good Shepherd at St. Peter’s Church, which is the eighth station, “Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem.” The chapel itself is a work of art, designed by Jewish artist Louise Nevelson in 1977 – another interfaith connection that Rosen hopes will resonate with visitors.

“She could be one of the women of Jerusalem,” Rosen said.

Trinity’s St. Paul’s Chapel, which was unscathed by the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks, served as a respite center for rescue and recovery workers laboring just a five-minute walk away at ground zero, where the September 11 Memorial now is located. The curators, in choosing the memorial as the final station, were sensitive to the complicated and deeply felt emotions still connected to that site more than 16 years after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

“The traditional Stations of the Cross intentionally ends in sorrow,” it said. “It is important to take time to dwell in this moment, not to recoil too quickly from grief. But it is also important to reflect—as a religiously and culturally diverse community—about how to re-enter life, to find meaning again after suffering.”

Set within the footprints of the Twin Towers, the #911Memorial consists of two reflecting pools, each about an acre in size. https://t.co/qEwdJvz7ok pic.twitter.com/0MNb6X6XaM

— 9/11 Memorial (@Sept11Memorial) January 24, 2018

Trinity will host an opening program for the exhibition from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 15, featuring the curators, some of the artists and representatives from some of the locations chosen for the stations.

If you are in Manhattan, you are invited to visit one or all of the 14 stations this Lent, or you can follow a virtual Way of the Cross with a podcast that provides commentary on each stop. To listen to the podcast, download the Alight: Art and the Sacred app for your phone on iTunes or Google Play.

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

U.S. Supreme Court asked to review South Carolina property decision

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 2:16pm

[Episcopal News Service] The leaders of a group that broke away from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina have asked the United States Supreme Court to review a state court ruling that property, assets and most of the diocese’s parishes must remain with the Episcopal Church.

The petition for a writ of certiorari asks the court to consider “whether the ‘neutral principles of law’ approach to resolving church property disputes requires courts to recognize a trust on church property even if the alleged trust does not comply with the state’s ordinary trust and property law.”

The breakaway group said Feb. 13 that the majority of the South Carolina Supreme Court justices “unquestionably did not take this ‘neutral’ approach.” Because, the group said, at least eight states have adopted what it calls “the less than neutral interpretation,” the U.S. Supreme Court ought to consider the case.

The group said it anticipates the court will decide before the end of its current term in June whether to accept the petition for review.

Episcopalians in South Carolina have been reorganizing their common life since late 2012, after then-Bishop Mark Lawrence and a majority of clergy and lay leadership said that the diocese had left the Episcopal Church. They disagreed with the wider Episcopal Church about biblical authority and theology, primarily centered on the full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church.

The Episcopal Church in South Carolina noted on its website that the petition had been filed with the U.S. Supreme Court but offered no comment.

A writ of certiorari asks the Supreme Court to review a lower court ruling. Filing a writ does not mean the high court will agree to take the case. The court receives more than 7,000 petitions and accepts between 100 and 150 cases, according to information from the federal court system. The Supreme Court usually agrees to consider cases that could have national significance, might harmonize conflicting decisions in the federal circuit courts and/or could have precedential value.

Litigation surrounding the 2012 break has been multi-leveled and very contentious. The Episcopalians chose to call themselves The Episcopal Church in South Carolina in early 2013 in response to a temporary restraining order that prevented them from using the diocesan seal and the names “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina,” “The Diocese of South Carolina” and “The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.”

That issue has not yet been settled and the breakaway group calls itself the Diocese of South Carolina.

The breakaway group filed suit in January 2013 against the Episcopal Church. The diocese entered the lawsuit later. After a three-week trial in July 2014, Circuit Court Judge Diane S. Goodstein ruled in February 2015 that the breakaway group had the right to hold onto the diocesan name and property, including individual church buildings.

The state Supreme Court agreed in April 2015 to consider the case. The remaining Episcopalians offered in June 2015 to let 35 parishes keep their church properties, whether or not they choose to remain part of the Episcopal Church.

In exchange, the proposal required the breakaway group to return the diocesan property, assets and identity of “The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina” to the diocese that is still affiliated with the Episcopal Church. The breakaway group rejected the offer the day it was made public.

The court took more than two years to issue its ruling, which came Aug. 2, 2017, and was against most of the breakaway group’s claims. The justices said 29 of the congregations specifically agreed to abide by the Episcopal Church’s “Dennis Canon” (Canon 1.7.4), which states that a parish holds its property in trust for the diocese and the Episcopal Church. That agreement means they cannot retain church property. However, they said that eight congregations had not agreed to the canon and thus could keep those properties.

The diocesan St. Christopher Camp and Conference Center on Seabrook Island must also be returned to the Episcopal Church.

On Nov. 17, 2017, the court denied the breakaway group’s request that it reconsider its ruling. The group said Nov. 21 that it would ask the nation’s highest court to review the state high court’s decision.

That same day, the group also filed a new lawsuit in the same county court in which it began its original lawsuit. The new filing in Dorchester County cites a “betterments statute” to seek compensation from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina and the Episcopal Church for the cost of improvements made to the properties over the years, according an announcement from The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

The Episcopalians in December asked the state court in Dorchester County to dismiss the new action.

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

Women tell #MeToo stories of life in the Episcopal Church

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 11:31am

[Episcopal News Service] Sexual harassment and exploitation in the church are being highlighted in a series of reflections, essays and meditations, some of them explicit in their descriptions, that began Ash Wednesday on the House of Deputies website.

“The examples you read are from real women who shared instances of sexual harassment and abuse in real church settings. Any woman who wears a collar has these stories, seething just underneath the skin,” wrote the authors of the first post, the Rev. Laurie Brock and the Rev. Megan L. Castellan. “For most of us, we have so many they blur together into a giant mass of discomfort and scarcely-remembered sweeties, honeys, and forced grins at comments about our breasts.”

Brock is the rector of The Episcopal Church of St. Michael the Archangel in Lexington, Kentucky, and a General Convention deputy. Castellan is currently the assistant rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Kansas City, Missouri, and by the end of Lent will be the rector at St. John’s, Ithaca, New York.

Some of the articles will be difficult to read, warned the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, in announcing the series.

Among the examples Brock and Castellan give are:

  • “My bishop told me I would be more approachable as a woman priest if I looked more ‘feminine.’”
  • “A parishioner told me I would be more approachable as a woman priest if I looked less ‘feminine.’”
  • “A rector used to enjoy telling me how my breasts really filled out my clergy shirt. He usually did this in a meeting or around other parishioners. When I complained, I was told I’d need to develop a thicker skin if I wanted to be a ‘real’ priest.”
  • “When I shared explicit acts of sexual harassment I’d endured at the church where I served, the bishop told me, ‘Well, good luck getting another job if you make a big deal out of this.’”

The next article in the series is due to post Feb. 16.

The House of Deputies project follows a Jan. 22 letter from Jennings and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry calling on Episcopalians to spend Lent and beyond examining its history and how it has handled or mishandled cases of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse.

Jennings and Curry called in their letter for an Ash Wednesday Day of Prayer on Feb.14, during which Episcopalians should meditate on how the church has “failed to stand with women and other victims of abuse and harassment.” They added that a Lenten discipline for the church would be to “consider how to redouble the church’s effort to build “communities of safety that stand against the spiritual and physical violence of sexual exploitation and abuse.”

When she announced the letter during the opening session of the winter meeting of Executive Council, Jennings said that many Christians might think that the exploitation and abuse surfacing via the #MeToo movement happen only in Hollywood or in business and industry “but not in the holy work we do.” However, she said, “those problems have been endemic in our culture in the church for far longer than Hollywood, or tech culture, or corporate journalism have existed.”

The New York Times has described the #MeToo movement as a “mass mobilization against sexual abuse, through an unprecedented wave of speaking out in conventional and social media.” Social activist Tarana Burke created a movement more than 10 years ago to help survivors realize they are not alone. Last fall actress Alyssa Milano encouraged women to tweet it to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem” and added #MeToo. She later credited Burke for her efforts.

The House of Deputies website on Feb. 8 offered a Litany of Penitence written by the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego’s Task Force for the Compassionate Care of Survivors of Sexual Misconduct in the Church.

The litany, which is a modification of the Book of Common Prayer’s Ash Wednesday Litany of Penitence, can be downloaded here. Brock and Castellan built their article around this litany.

In addition to posting the series of articles, Jennings is appointing a special House of Deputies committee on resolutions regarding sexual harassment and exploitation. The committee will have five subcommittees to draft resolutions on inclusive theology and language; disparities in pay, hiring, leave and pensions; changes to the Title IV disciplinary process and training; truth and reconciliation; and systemic social justice beyond the church.

The House of Deputies’ Rules of Order (Article X beginning on page 214 here) give the president the authority to appoint special committees for the “work of the House of Deputies at or between sessions of the General Convention.” The committee will meet electronically before General Convention officially begins July 5 in Austin, Texas. The committee will submit resolutions to be considered by convention’s legislative committees. The committee roster will be posted on the House of Deputies website after Jennings completes her appointments.

Curry and Jennings said in their Jan. 22 letter to the church that they wanted General Convention to discuss these issues because they “want to hear the voice of the wider church as we determine how to proceed in both atoning for the church’s past and shaping a more just future.”

They placed their letter and the effort it describes in the context of recent “compelling testimony from women who have been sexually harassed and assaulted by powerful men [that] has turned our minds to a particularly difficult passage of holy scripture.” The story of the rape of King David’s daughter Tamar by her half-brother Amnon (2 Samuel 13:1-22),  they said, “is a passage in which a conspiracy of men plots the exploitation and rape of a young woman. She is stripped of the power to speak or act, her father ignores the crime, and the fate of the rapist, not the victim, is mourned.

“It is a Bible story devoid of justice.”

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

Remember that you are dust … and that you are loved

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 8:57am

[Episcopal News Service] Ashes smeared on a forehead in the shape of a heart? Candy conversation hearts that proclaim, “Remember U R Dust?” Apparently, that’s what might happen when Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday fall on the same day.

How to manage this clash of calendar? Lean into it or lean away from what priestly blogger called “the precipice of the cute”? Find a way to connect romantic love and God’s love of creation? Find something in between?

First, how did Hallmark get pitted against holy this year? It’s by the coincidence of the secular calendar and the Christian church’s calculation of the date of Easter. And this year is a rare occasion. It last happened in 1945 (preceded by 1934 and 1923) and will happen again in 2029.

Here’s how it works: Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Lent is 40 days (to mirror the 40 days Jesus is said to have fasted in the wilderness) plus the six Sundays surrounding those days. Thus, Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins, is 46 days before Easter Sunday.

By all that is mathematical and calendrical this year that means Ash Wednesday is Feb. 14, that day known for celebrating romantic love with hearts and flowers and chocolates, the go-to substance that some people to give up for Lent.

This year Lent is bookended by the convergence of secular and religious holidays. Easter falls on April 1, April Fool’s Day. (For those thinking ahead, or looking behind, and calculating, note that when Easter falls on April 1 in leap years, Ash Wednesday falls on Feb. 15.)

While we are plumbing the depths of ancient church formulas, there is more history to consider. St. Valentine, a third-century bishop in Rome, is believed to have been martyred on Feb. 14. The rest of his story is so dim that ecclesiastical commemoration of him vary. He is not part of the Episcopal Church’s calendar of saints, but his martyrdom is remembered on Feb. 14 by members of the Church of England and by Lutherans. The Roman Catholic Church removed him from its calendar in 1969. Roman Catholics and Episcopalians mark Feb. 14 by honoring the monk known as Cyril and his brother, the bishop Methodius, for their conversion of Slavic people of Eastern Europe in the ninth century.

Geoffrey Chaucer is believed to have connected St. Valentine with romantic love in the Middle Ages. His poem, The Parlement of Foules, is thought to commemorate a royal marriage in 1382 by describing a conference of birds that meet to choose their mates on St. Valentine’s Day.

That’s how we got here. Now, what to do?

Among those who have leaned into the coincidence, at least early on, was Trinity Church, Copley Square in Boston. On Feb.1 its Facebook page offered seven “Valentines” that mashed up the two days. The post invited people who “might need to explain to your special someone why you’re spending the day in fasting and penitence rather than on a date” to share them.

They were shared 417 times but played to decidedly mixed reviews there and on other Facebook pages where they were discussed. They also generated strong discussion about what the intersection of the two days might mean. Some heartily endorsed them. Some saw them as a way to explain Ash Wednesday to what one person called “non-liturgical folk.” Others called them, in the words of one person, “too cutesy.”

Trinity replied to many of the comments, especially noting those who found them jarring on a day that speaks of death and grief. “We’re sorry if our lighthearted post has made things harder for you. Indeed, this is partly why we’re glad Ash Wednesday falls on the 14th this year: because we don’t know any better place to take our griefs and fears than to church. Wishing you and yours a peaceful and holy Lent,” said one of the replies.

Trinity recently announced its Ash Wednesday services on Facebook in a different way.

There will not be any heart-shaped ashes on the foreheads of folks who come to Trinity Church in Easton, Pennsylvania, says the Rev. Andrew Gerns, the rector and also the blogger who warned of the precipice of the cute in a post about the day’s challenges of the calendar. He told Episcopal News Service that he has talked about the shape of ashes to come the last two Sundays, while acknowledging “there will be people taking their true love out to dinner with a smudge of ash on their head.”

“This is no time to be cute,” was how Gerns titled his blog post on the calendar coincidence. However, he told ENS he is “ok with playing with the world’s symbols and turning them on their head” but said his warning is “a call to be intentional and to be aware of that tension.”

He hearkens to Charles Williams, a founding member of the Inklings of the 1930s and ’40s (along with J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, among others). Williams suggested that romantic love could give human beings a glimpse of divine love. Williams, Gerns said, believed that the interaction between people who are in love can lead them into a deeper understand of the interactions that are inherent in the sacramental life. Gerns said that Williams was rebelling against the idea that sensuality was essentially sinful.

Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s falling on the same day “shows that strange relationship where Christians live in God’s time and the world’s time at the same moment,” Gerns said. “The gift of the confluence is that it allows us to have that discussion, but it would be very easy for us to just make it into a gimmick and then cut the conversation short.”

It would be “a missed opportunity” not to acknowledge that the two days coincide this year, the Rev. Adrienne Hymes, chaplain and director at St. Anselm’s Episcopal Chapel Center at the University of South Florida, told the Tampa Bay Times.

“Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are to love God with all of our heart, with all of our soul and with all of our mind. And we are to love our neighbors as ourselves,” said Hymes. “So, Valentine’s Day this year serves as a wonderful bridge between the sacred and the secular.”

The Rev. Justin Lindstrom, dean of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, told his local newspaper that the day could be about paying attention to one’s relationship with God, just as Valentine’s Day calls people to attend to their romantic relationships.

“I personally think the couples should observe the discipline of Ash Wednesday through the fasting and abstinence the church asks, as well as reserve a time for each other and spend a special moment to delight in each other. If it doesn’t seem quite right to be feasting and dancing on Ash Wednesday, then perhaps they might set aside a ‘date night’ and just spend time together, as a couple being a couple,” he said.

“I’m not one to give relationship advice, but it seems to me that being creative with their time might be the greatest invitation to recognize and celebrate the quality of the relationship they already have.”

The Rev. Michael Durning, canon to the ordinary of the Diocese of Southwest Florida, told the Tampa Bay paper that Ash Wednesday should not be regarded as completely solemn. The Episcopal Church’s prayers for Ash Wednesday are, he said, “hopeful in the power that God has come to restore us and reconcile us to one another.” The two days coincide in the God of love, he added.

During said he suspects that a planned Ash Wednesday retreat by a local Episcopal school will no doubt feature heart-shaped candy and Valentine’s Day cards. “I don’t see any harm in that,” he said. “You certainly don’t want to convey the message that Ash Wednesday is about feeling bad. It’s a day of introspection and that ultimate feeling of hope.”

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

Liturgy and music group offers General Convention two ways to approach the prayer book

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 4:24pm

This summer’s meeting of General Convention is being invited to consider how it orders its common prayer and why.

[Episcopal News Service] The prospect of revising the current Book of Common Prayer is filled with risk, complexity and “potentially great promise.”

That is the gentle invitation the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music has put before the Episcopal Church five months before the start of the 79th General Convention.

The church does not revise the prayer book lightly or frequently. The current book dates to 1979, which replaced the 1928 version. The General Convention asked in 1997 that the Standing Liturgical Commission, as it was then known, develop a comprehensive plan for prayer book revision. The group did so, and convention approved it in 2000 but failed to provide adequate funding. However, that effort resulted in the liturgical commission’s developing a series of supplemental liturgies known as “Enriching Our Worship.”

In 2015, General Convention charged the liturgy and music committee with presenting to the upcoming July 5-13 gathering in Austin, Texas, a plan for a comprehensive revision of the Book of Common Prayer. After considering four different approaches, the SCLM is offering a comprehensive plan for revision, as requested, as well as a way for the church to spend time discerning the future shape of its common prayer. The SCLM has included “guiding assumptions,” work plans, suggested processes and tools, hundreds of pages of supplemental material and budgets for each approach.

The approaches are described in a portion of the SCLM’s Blue Book report released to the church Feb. 13. The prayer book subcommittee’s report is here.

All the information represents what the group explored and synthesized, the Rev. Devon Anderson, SCLM chair, told Episcopal News Service. It is being offered to General Convention as a resource to help guide the conversation on what should be done.

The current edition of the Book of Common Prayer dates to 1979. It is the result of a long process of discernment and congregational use of various proposed liturgies. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg

The first option would move the church immediately into a full-blown prayer book revision process that would be complete in nine years. “As a church, we are engaging energetically in our presiding bishop’s call to assert our place in the Jesus Movement. We are turning outward to our neighborhoods, exploring new modes and ancient ways of being church, and rethinking our structures,” the commission says in its so-called Blue Book report. “This may well be a time when we are primed for change.”

The commission added that it is important that the church be intentional about the direction of the change. Thus, it said, it is offering a second approach.

That option calls on the church to plumb the depths of the current Book of Common Prayer’s theology, as well as its usefulness as a tool for unity in a diverse church, for evangelism and discipleship. “The more we thought about Option One, the more we focused on the essential need for the church to take stock of its devotion and commitment to common prayer, not only to be clear about why we have a Book of Common Prayer in the first place, but to embrace a common life that celebrates our unity in difference,” the report says.

Anderson said that the SCLM “spent a lot of time making sure that Option Two wasn’t just the anti-prayer book revision option.”

Instead, she said, it is meant to seize the attention of General Convention and suggest a way for the church “to have a real discernment about our common prayer” and about where God is calling the church to be now.

“The whole point about everything we put out there [in the report] is to equip General Convention to have a unifying discernment about our common prayer and trying to elevate the debate above asserting our personal piety.”

If convention agrees to the second approach, this would include new BCP translations. The commission says it is “generally recognized” that the current word-for-word Spanish and French translations are inadequate. Moreover, the book needs to be translated into Haitian Creole and many other languages, especially First Nations languages. The present state of BCP translation “belies our oft-stated desire to be fully inclusive” and can be solved by handing the task of translation to the communities most affected and giving them the resources they will need, the report says.

The commission sees this work as part of the reconciliation to which Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has called for in Becoming Beloved Community: The Episcopal Church’s Long-Term Commitment to Racial Healing, Reconciliation, and Justice. “One concrete way to invest ‘in the flourishing of every person’ [as described in that document] is to offer the poetic beauty and depth of the Book of Common Prayer in the languages in which it is prayed,” the commission’s report says.

For generations, Episcopalians have valued their personal copies of the Book of Common Prayer. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg

Finally, the second option would include an expansion of the canonical categories for forms of authorized worship. While there is a provision for liturgies approved for trial use, there is no canonically supported or authorized category for liturgies beyond the Book of Common Prayer. “Yet, over the last two generations General Convention has created a confusing field of ‘supplemental’ liturgies with no canonical home,” the commission says, suggesting that remedying this situation would make for good order in the way the church approves and uses liturgies and would expand the range of liturgies that “could richly inform any future revision.”

“Such an expansion would also be vastly less expensive and more efficient than the wholesale revision of the prayer book, not diverting precious funds from urgently needed mission,” the commission members say.

The commission estimates that beginning comprehensive prayer book revision would cost $1.9 million in the 2019-21 triennium alone, and the entire revision process would cost between $7 and $8 million. The estimate for the second approach is $1.1 million for one triennium only, a price tag that includes the suggested translations project but not a formal prayer book revision process. The budgets in the SCLM’s report details what that money would cover.

Anderson told ENS that the commission felt it owed the church “a very detailed budget analysis to accompany each of the two options.

“To the extent possible we were exhaustive in parsing out every single step and resource at market rate to substantiate the price tags attached to the different approaches.”

Anderson said she is proud of the work the commission accomplished, given its “huge mandate” that included much more than just the issue of prayer book revision. In addition, General Convention sent resolutions to the SCLM asking for a plan for revision of the Hymnal 1982, a complete revision of the Book of Occasional Services, a revision of the church’s calendar of saints, development of new prayers about racial reconciliation and pursuing efforts of the commission’s Congregational Song Task Force. Anderson estimated that convention sent SCLM upwards of $500,000 worth of projects.

Despite the scope of that work, SCLM’s initial funding from convention allowed for only two face-to-face meetings in two years, and as many Adobe Connect video conferencing and teleconferences as it needed. Convention did not provide money for work on any of the projects it requested. The Executive Council gave the commission more money at midterm, and the group also found some additional small grants.

The order of the Eucharist liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer has changed over the years. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg

“Liturgy and the act of worship is, at its foundation, relational,” Anderson said. “While Adobe Connect and other online tools can be helpful, they are no replacement for the kind of team- and trust-building that happens in person.

“While these tools are also cost-efficient, when we rely on them too heavily, what we sacrifice is the full inclusion of the church. Both prayer book options would require real relational engagement – visiting and listening where Episcopalians are gathered to pray. Spending time in the ‘natural habitats’ of Episcopalians everywhere, and developing relationships there, would allow either option to benefit from the experience, cultures, knowledge and poetry that live across the church.”

Read more about it

The SCLM plans to post on its blog a series of essays about the various projects it worked on this triennium, and will host online discussions there. The lead-off posts on the prayer book report is here.

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

Pass the syrup — it’s Shrove Tuesday

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 11:38am

Shrove Tuesday is a day of indulging in the rich, fatty foods that were traditionally abstained from during Lent. Making pancakes was a way to use up butter, milk, sugar and eggs before the 40-day fast. Photo: Natalia Van Doninck/Shutterstock

[Anglican Journal] 

What is Shrove Tuesday?

Celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday, Shrove Tuesday (also called “Pancake Tuesday” or “Pancake Day”) is the final day before the 40-day period of Lent begins. This year it falls on Feb. 13.

Its name comes from the Germanic-Old English word “shrive,” meaning absolve, and it is the last day of the liturgical season historically known as Shrovetide. Because it comes directly before Lent, a season of fasting and penitence, this was the day that Christians would go to be “shriven” by their confessor.

Shrove Tuesday also became a day for pre-fasting indulgence. In particular, the need to use up rich ingredients such as butter, milk, sugar and eggs before Lent gave rise to the tradition of eating pancakes on this day.

There are even historical references to a “pancake bell” in English towns being rung around 11 a.m. on this day to signal that it was time to get frying.

For Anglican churches across Canada, Shrove Tuesday means gathering for a pancake supper. Many churches host dinners or luncheons, serving pancakes usually with a range of toppings, fruit and sides like bacon or sausages. Visitors are usually asked to give a small contribution or freewill offering.

Among the creative crepe events this year is a joint Anglican and United Church hosted pancake supper at the Territory of the People’s St. Peter’s Anglican Church, in Williams Lake, B.C. Christ Church, Scarborough, in the Diocese of Toronto, will be holding a pancake and samosa supper, and Christ Church in Stouffville, Ontario, will take a cue from New Orleans with a pancake dinner set to the tunes of live jazz.

In Madeira, Portugal and Hawaii, malasadas
— doughnut-like, sugar-coated confections — are eaten the day before Ash Wednesday. Photo: Bonchan/Shutterstock

Feasts and fests around the world

While in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries, pancakes are traditionally eaten, other countries across the globe celebrate with different dishes.

In Spain, the day is named día de la tortilla, or “omelette day,” and the traditional food is an omelette made with sausage or pork fat. In Madeira, Portugal and Hawaii, malasadas —doughnut-like, sugar-coated confections — are eaten.

In Iceland, people traditionally gorge on salted meat and peas on the day illustratively called Sprengidagur (“Bursting Day”). Green pea soup and a whipped-cream-filled pastry are the orders of the day in Finland and Estonia.

Louisiana famously celebrates Mardi Gras (French for “Fat Tuesday”) on this day, a carnival that includes a giant parade through the city. Other countries, including Brazil, Belgium, the Cayman Islands, France, Russia and Ukraine, hold Mardi Gras celebrations with carnivals and festivals.

Lord Redesdale and British MP Tracey Crouch at the 2012 Parliamentary Pancake Race outside the House of Parliament. Photo: Padmayogini/Shutterstock

Pancake parties

In Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island, an added tradition sees small items baked into the pancakes that are served on Shrove Tuesday. These objects have symbolic value: “a coin means the person finding it will be rich; a pencil stub means he/she will be a teacher; a holy medal means they will join a religious order; a nail that they will be (or marry) a carpenter, and so on,” according to the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage website.

Many towns and villages throughout the United Kingdom celebrate with pancake races, in which runners with frying pans — and often wearing aprons or chefs’ hats — race while tossing and catching a pancake. In London, the Rehab Parliamentary Pancake Race takes place every year, with members of Parliament, Lords and members of the press picking up frying pans and competing to raise money for charity.

— Joelle Kidd joined the Anglican Journal in 2017 as staff writer. She has worked as an editor and writer for the Winnipeg-based Fanfare Magazine Group and as freelance copy editor for Naida Communications.

Archbishop of Cape Town marks anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s first speech as a free man

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 11:21am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The spot at Bishopscourt – the official residence of the archbishops of Cape Town – where Nelson Mandela first addressed the world’s media as a free man, has been marked with a commemorative plaque. Mandela was released from prison after 27 years of captivity Feb. 11, 1990. He spent his first night as a free man as a guest of Archbishop Desmond Tutu at Bishopscourt and gave his first press conference the following day from a terrace in front of the house. On Tuesday, the 28th anniversary of that press conference, the current archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, unveiled the plaque marking this historic spot.

Read the entire article here.

Archbishop condemns child ‘witchcraft’ murders as ‘child abuse in its worst form’

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 11:16am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The primate of the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea, Archbishop Allan Migi, has spoken out against the increasing number of alleged witches and sorcerers being killed. He said that the recent killing of a child suspected of being a witch was “strongly opposed to the way of Christ,” describing it as “child abuse in its worst form.” He said: “We strongly call for such practices to cease.”

Read the entire article here.

Church aids relief effort after 6.4 Magnitude earthquake strikes Taiwan’s Hualien county

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 2:42pm

[Anglican Communion News Service]  Rescue efforts following the magnitude 6.4 earthquake which struck the eastern Taiwanese county of Hualien last week have been called off, with a confirmed death toll of 17. A further 291 have been injured and many hundreds have been evacuated from their homes. Four high-rise buildings have collapsed and there has been “much damage to local infrastructure and buildings,”  Episcopal Church Bishop of Taiwan David Lai has said. St Luke’s Church in Hualien suffered damaged – including the destruction of its glass altar table. The church, like many in Taiwan, is at the base of a high-building with apartments above it. It is not one of those to have suffered structural damage.

Read the entire article here.

Atlanta bishop rallies opposition to death penalty with book of articles by faith, legal leaders

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 10:21am

Diocese of Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright, center, joins an anti-death penalty demonstration in 2014 outside the prison in Jackson, Georgia, where state executions are carried out. Photo: Diocese of Atlanta.

[Episcopal News Service] The death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976. Since then, 1,468 convicts have been executed across the country.

And, according to records kept by the Death Penalty Information Center, more than 80 percent of those executions have been carried out in the South, which Diocese of Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright sees as a “terribly irony” for a region known as the Bible Belt.

“People want the love of Jesus for themselves, in terms of redemption, but they want the Old Testament ‘eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’ for the people who do these terrible murders,” Wright told Episcopal News Service. “Do we serve a God who can have compassion for the victim and the perpetrator?”

For Wright, the answer is an unequivocal “yes,” and he is heartened by the Episcopal Church’s decades of speaking out against the death penalty while also providing pastoral care to victims’ families.

The Supreme Court’s 1976 decision outlined how states can craft constitutional death penalty laws. Thirty-one states have such laws, and eight of those states carried out executions in 2017, including one in Wright’s state of Georgia. In an effort to renew public attention to the issue and encourage greater advocacy toward abolishing the death penalty, Wright has collected five articles by faith and legal leaders in a book to be released Feb. 15 by the Diocese of Atlanta.

“A Case for Life: Justice Mercy, and the Death Penalty” includes the story of Wright’s growing advocacy since 2012, when he became bishop of a diocese that includes the prison in Jackson, Georgia, where death row inmates are held and executed. He last visited the inmates Feb. 7 as he does every few months, praying with them and sharing the Eucharist.

He also has joined vigils outside the prison when executions have been carried out.

“Serving as a pastor demands that I resist the temptation to engage in denial and euphemism because issues are hard or that people have differing opinions about a matter,” Wright writes. “That said, we can believe anything we choose to believe about capital punishment but you can’t make Jesus a proponent.”

Bishop Andrew Doyle of the Diocese of Texas also wrote an article for the book, about the murder of an Episcopal priest in his diocese by the priest’s son. Texas has executed 548 people since 1976, five times more than any other state. But the priest’s son was not among them, receiving instead a life sentence with the support of members of the local faith community.

“They chose to bear out a different witness over and against the prevailing world’s values of violence and retributive justice,” Doyle writes.

The other authors are a retired Georgia Supreme Court justice, a human rights lawyer who has argued and won three death penalty cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and Susan Casey, an Episcopalian and attorney who represented a Georgia woman put to death in 2015.

“I’m against capital punishment because of my faith,” Casey, a member of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta, said in an interview with Episcopal News Service. “I don’t believe that any person is beyond redemption. For me, that’s the essence of my faith and my belief.”

Her client, Kelly Gissendaner, was convicted in the murder of her husband. She was having an affair with another man, who received a life sentence for carrying out the murder, but she received the death penalty. Casey said Gissendaner’s faith grew while on death row, and she studied theology while behind bars.

“She came to understand that God’s mercy and forgiveness still were available to her, despite what she had done. Over time, Kelly gained confidence in the strength and magnitude of God’s grace and redemptive power,” Casey says in her article in “A Case for Life.”

Casey represented Gissendaner for 14 years, until her execution on Sept. 30, 2015. Since then, much of Casey’s work as an attorney has focused on what is called restorative justice, which seeks to support the victims of crimes and their families while helping convicts find their way to redemption.

Gissendaner’s children were ages 12, 7 and 5 at the time of their father’s murder. In adulthood, they shunned their mother, but over time Gissendaner was able to reconcile with each of them, to the point that they became advocates for her in trying to stop her execution.

Casey alludes to that process in describing her emotions at witnessing Gissendaner’s final moments alive.

“The children who had chosen love and forgiveness over hatred and anger were made to swallow the bitter, collective pill of vengeance,” Casey writes. “It was tempting to despair about a society that leaves no room for the power of redemption and justice that is restorative, but I tried to resist.”

Strapped to the execution gurney, Gissendaner sang the hymn “Amazing Grace” as the state took her life.

“She came to understand that God’s mercy and forgiveness still were available to her, despite what she had done,” Casey writes. “Over time, Kelly gained confidence in the strength and magnitude of God’s grace and redemptive power.”

The Episcopal Church has stood against the death penalty since 1958, and General Convention has regularly affirmed that opposition since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. A 2015 resolution is titled simply “Abolish the Death Penalty,” and it encourages bishops in states where the death penalty is legal to “develop a witness to eliminate the death penalty.”

The number of executions each year has gradually declined nationwide since 1999, when 98 people were executed. That number fell to 20 in 2016, but it rose to 23 last year, when the national spotlight focused on Arkansas’ rush to execute eight men on death row before its lethal injection drugs expired.

Episcopalians were among those rallying against those executions in Arkansas, including at prayer vigils at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock. In the end, four of the executions were carried out. The other four were stayed.

The death penalty remains in effect in Arkansas, and 32 people were on the state’s death row last year, among 2,817 nationwide, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

“There is no political will to do anything about this,” Wright said, and yet he sees clear biblical and visceral imperatives for Christians.

“We worship a guy every Sunday who was executed by the state in collusion with different religious people, and here that plays out again,” Wright said.

In Matthew 25, Jesus exalts the act of visiting the prisoner alongside feeding the hungry and caring for the sick. And what do inmates look like when they’re strapped to the execution gurney with their arms out? “Like Jesus on the cross,” Wright said, questioning how such a process can be condoned by a civilized nation.

The concept of “justice” may be “the most tragic lie in all of this,” Wright said. “Vengeance and justice are two different ideas. There’s no justice in this.”

“A Case for Life” is available from The Cathedral of St. Philip Bookstore online at cathedralbookstore.org or by phone at 800-643-7150. A panel discussion and book signing will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 15 at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church in Atlanta. Participants will include some of the collection’s authors, as well as Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking.”

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

How the new tax laws could affect Episcopal charitable giving

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 5:32pm

Donations come in all forms, starting with what church members place in the offering plate during services. Photo: Getty Images

[Episcopal News Service] “Oh, you can deduct it.”

That saying has reverberated across clothing donation boxes at the Salvation Army to the checks we write to our favorite social causes for the last century. While we give because God calls us to, it doesn’t hurt when there are tax benefits as well.

Charitable giving has long been something we can itemize as a deduction on our annual personal income taxes, a civic duty established in 1913.

The principle may no longer hold true — for all but the wealthiest of Americans, at least.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by Congress in December nearly doubles the standard deduction to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples when they file their 2018 taxes. That could simplify the filing process and benefit many low- and middle-income families, but it will complicate the giving strategies for filers who typically deduct their charitable donations.

Episcopalians involved in fundraising and nonprofit organizations have mixed opinions about what the fallout will be, if any.

Tara Holley

“We fundraisers are very concerned about the new tax laws, as every indication is that nonprofit organizations will be more dependent on the wealthy than ever before,” said Tara Holley, director of development for the Episcopal Church. “We are counting on and dependent on an enlightened 10 percent, as they hold 76 percent of the wealth in our nation.”

But there are always ways to navigate tax laws, and giving habits aren’t cut and dry.

Rick Felton is not so worried. He’s the executive director of the Episcopal Network of Stewardship, a network of leaders, churches and dioceses devoted to building healthier giving cultures for greater ministry impact.

“Being able to deduct is just a little gravy on top of giving to something you support. There’s just a little less gravy now. I don’t think giving will be affected by the tax law,” Felton said.

Rick Felton

The standard deduction, the amount taxpayers can subtract from their taxable income instead of listing or itemizing deductions on their tax returns, was created to simplify taxes.

About 30 percent of American households itemize their deductions, according to the Tax Foundation. Higher-income taxpayers are much more likely to itemize: Almost 80 percent of those earning more than $100,000 a year choose to itemize their deductions. That percentage rises to 94 for taxpayers with an annual income over $200,000.

Will the law help or hurt Episcopal Church ministries?

Jim Murphy, director of endowment management, planned giving and donor solutions at the Episcopal Church Foundation, doesn’t think parishes or Episcopal charities will be affected much either way.

Murphy expects most lower- and middle-income people to continue to give at their near-previous levels because tax deductibility is a minor issue for most who give to religious institutions and causes. “Some higher-income people may actually give more over time as more income may be available for giving and not paid in taxes,” Murphy said.

Jim Loduha, senior director of development and giving at All Saints Church in Pasadena, California, disagrees. “Charitable giving is going to go down. The question is how much,” Loduha said.

Despite altruism being a hallmark of the religious-giving culture, the predicted 25-percent drop in itemizing taxpayers could mean charitable giving will decline by nearly $13 billion annually, as millions of taxpayers will see no tax benefit for their generous contributions in 2018, he wrote in a Dec. 19 letter to the congregation. Loduha cited research published in May 2017 by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

“Beyond the financial impact that will have on organizations, an estimated 250,000 nonprofit jobs may be at risk, which drastically reduces the capacity those organizations have to carry out their mission to their communities,” he told Episcopal News Service. “All Saints Church is not immune from this, and pledgers at every level will be impacted.”

Giving based on income bracket

Loduha agreed with Murphy that major donors will probably still itemize their gifts, and they’ll save more money on their taxes, so there’s an opportunity to increase their giving.

The real challenge is for the mid-range gifts of $1,000 to $10,000, Loduha said. Most donors in that range did have the incentive, in part, of a tax benefit before the new tax law. And now they won’t, he said.

The Rev. Shay Craig, the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago’s associate for resource development, doesn’t think it matters.

“I’m a single mother, and my taxes are going up. That won’t change what I give to my church. It’s still my discipline. It will mean reorganizing things, sure,” Craig said.

Gifts from high net-worth folks are almost always combined with some tax plan anyway, said Jim Simon, who sits on the boards of several nonprofit organizations and is chairman of the stewardship and finance committee at his parish, Church of Our Savior in Akron, Ohio. He also will chair the House of Deputies Legislative Committee on Constitution and Canons at General Convention.

“That’s a fact of life when you’re dealing with high net-worth individuals. There’s generally some review of tax considerations for giving. That existed before this tax law. That’s going to exist after this tax law,” Simon said. “I don’t think this is going to affect what’s put in the plates on Sundays.”

Besides doing the fundraising for the Chicago diocesan episcopacy and offices, Craig also teaches congregations about stewardships, planned and annual giving, as well as capital campaigns.

She’s heard the concerns of parishioners, but isn’t worried about a significant drop in giving overall. “Changes in the tax code don’t change the gift itself, just the timing,” Craig said.

The December rush

Some organizations saw a giving uptick in December, more so than the usual end-of-year boon.

Loduha saw a 40 percent increase in year-end giving at his Pasadena church, in part because some people wanted to maximize their 2017 tax benefit ahead of the coming changes. Loduha suggested in his letter to the Pasadena parish that those who typically itemize deductions “accelerate” their contributions by 2017’s end to get a larger income tax deduction. Some people pre-paid a part, or all, of their 2018 donation to get the maximum tax benefit over the two years.

There are so many more ways to give than writing a check. Photo: Getty Images

Murphy noticed an uptick at the end of 2017 too. It came in a spike at year’s end for gifts of cash and securities to create life-income gifts like charitable gift annuities, as well as gifts to endowment accounts which the foundation manages for parishes, dioceses and other Episcopal entities across the country. More people, Murphy included, also created donor-advised funds.

In Chicago, Craig noticed a 2 or 3 percent uptick in year-end giving in the diocese, while Jim Simon did not see accelerated giving at the end of 2017 at his Ohio church, or pre-paying 2018 pledges in order to accomplish tax savings.

Why people give

Most people donate to their parishes or Episcopal-related charities without motivations of tax benefit, Simon said.

“They do so because of their passion or their parish’s mission. Do they take advantage of the tax benefits? Absolutely,” Simon said. “But I do not believe people will give less because they may not save money in tax. That does not mean they may not make a gift in a slightly different way.”

Religious organizations have long received the largest share of American charitable giving. They received 32 percent of all charitable donations in 2016, according to the most recent estimates from Giving USA 2017.

“I maintain that people give to churches for a different reason, and that reason is more tax-code proof than others,” Craig said.

People respond where there’s a need and a connection, Felton said. Church leaders and fundraisers should appeal to their congregation and donors to think less about the tax benefits and more about the mission when deciding how to give.

“Of all nonprofit institutions, the church needs to be the one talking about the spirituality of giving, to lift up generosity as a response to God’s impact in our lives,” Felton said. “It’s a divine calling, not about dialing for dollars. Really, it’s not about meeting the church budget; it’s about giving generously as God as has been generous with us.”


For church leaders in charge of fundraising, focus on the mission, said Murphy.

“People love their own parish and want to support it along with other charities, but those who demonstrate accountability and transparency to their constituents, in addition to showing the impact of their mission to make their community and world a better place, will gather more gifts,” he said.

The new tax law actually enhanced the tax deduction for some donors in some specific ways, Murphy said.

  • The Pease Amendment, which previously reduced the benefits of itemizing charitable gifts for high-income individuals, was repealed.
  • The annual Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) limitation of 50 percent was raised to 60 percent for gifts of cash.
  • Qualified charitable distributionsfrom Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA) were not impacted by the tax changes and remain a great way for those older than 70 ½ to make gifts directly to charities from their IRAs while not increasing their taxable income.
  • Donor-advised fund, such as the Episcopal Church Foundation’s fund, is a good vehicle to help those who wish to “bunch” their donations while still continuing to support all of their favorite Episcopal Church charities in the future.

“As human beings, Christians and Episcopalians, we encourage everyone to give at any level, as it is giving itself that enriches our lives and makes us whole,” said Holley, the Episcopal Church’s director of development. “Giving of goods, money, service, affection an open heart … these are all ways to give and serve others.

“At the same time, we hope that those with the greatest capacity to make financial commitment to those in need will increase their giving as this climate has a serious impact on those with the greatest needs.”

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— 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



Retired Bishop Robert Ihloff called as bishop associate for Diocese of Virginia

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 2:45pm

[Diocese of Virginia] The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston is pleased to announce his appointment of the Rt. Rev. Robert Ihloff as bishop associate in the Diocese of Virginia. Bishop Ihloff served as the bishop of the Diocese of Maryland from 1995 until his retirement in 2007. He will provide key support to the Diocese of Virginia during the transition between Bishop Ted Gulick’s retirement at the end of 2017 and the election of a second bishop suffragan later this year. Read full bio.

“I have long admired Bishop Ihloff’s work in the Diocese of Maryland and in the broader Church,” said Bishop Johnston, “and I know how valuable his skills and gifts will be to our diocese during this time of transition. Bob is both a strong leader and a model of humility. Also, he is a compelling combination of optimism and straight-talk, in which each of those qualities is strengthened by the other one. He is eager to get started, and I am eager to welcome him.”

Like Bishop Gulick, Bishop Ihloff (pronounced Ee-loff) will work out of the diocesan office in Northern Virginia. He will make Sunday visitations and provide support to clergy and congregations across the diocese.

“Because my favorite ministries are preaching, teaching and working with parishes on issues of mission and congregational development, and because I find it humbling and exciting to work with clergy on discerning their roles in ministry, I am excited about assisting as a bishop in Virginia,” said Bishop Ihloff. “Virginia is a very healthy diocese with fine leadership.  Over my years in neighboring Maryland, I have come to appreciate the ways in which the Diocese of Virginia models mission and ministry, and I feel privileged to share a small role in that ministry as your bishop associate.”

Bishop Ihloff’s first day on the job is March 11. Please join Bishop Shannon in welcoming him to the Diocese of Virginia.

Justin Welby calls for greater Anglican Communion say in selection of successor

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 1:40pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The primates of the Anglican Communion should have a greater say in the appointments of future archbishops of Canterbury, the current archbishop, Justin Welby, said Feb. 8. Welby made his comments during a debate at the Church of England’s General Synod on the working of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) – the body that recommends appointments to diocesan bishoprics. Appointments of bishops in the Church of England are made by the Queen, as Supreme Governor of the Church, who acts on the advice of the CNC.

Read the entire article here.

Church of England debates ‘reconciliation of presbyteral ministries’ with Methodist Church

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 1:37pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Proposals to “enable an interchange of presbyteral ministries” between the Church of England and the Methodist Church in Britain will be debated by the C of E’s General Synod Feb. 9. The synod is being asked to endorse further work on the proposals, which failed to reach unanimous support when they were debated by the House of Bishops. The Methodist Church grew as a separate denomination following splits from the Church of England in the late 18th century. There have been numerous proposals for closer communion between the two churches, but the sticking point continues to be the issue of ordination and the historic episcopate.

Read the entire article here.

Editor’s note: Over the next two years, the governing bodies of the Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church are due to consider a proposal for full communion between the two denominations.

Anglican leaders echo Pope Francis’ call for day of prayer and fasting for peace

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 1:31pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Senior Anglican leaders have endorsed Pope Francis’ call for an ecumenical day of prayer and fasting for peace, with a particular focus on the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. Pope Francis made his call on Feb. 4 in his traditional Angelus address to crowds in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican. It has now been endorsed by the acting primate of the Anglican Church of South Sudan, the secretary general of the Anglican Communion, and the deputy director of the Anglican Centre in Rome.

Read the entire article here.