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MacDonald reflects on 10 years as national indigenous Anglican bishop

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 5:11pm

“More has happened in these 10 years than I ever imagined possible,” says Mark MacDonald about his role as national indigenous Anglican bishop. Photo: Art Babych

[Anglican Journal] Every Sunday for the past decade, Canadian Anglicans have offered prayers for “our national indigenous bishop, Mark MacDonald.”

For some, perhaps, it is a name that conjures little—another in a list of diocesan and national figures who have little directly to do with their home parish. Others may know MacDonald for his involvement in reconciliation and Indigenous activism, or for his sermons on environmental justice, or his columns in the Anglican Journal—or even for his talent on the acoustic guitar at a gospel jamboree.

But MacDonald (and more importantly, the office he holds) is also the most visible example of structural change in a church still struggling to build a more equitable relationship with its First Nations, Inuit and Métis members.

“People recognize…that [MacDonald] has this position, and behind him is this big ministry for indigenous peoples,” says Donna Bomberry, who was co-ordinator for indigenous ministries for the Anglican Church of Canada when MacDonald was first appointed to the role in 2007. “He lends himself well to that, brings respect and dignity to that position for our people.”

On January 4, 2007, MacDonald made history by becoming the first national bishop representing the interests of all indigenous Anglicans across Canada. Photo: General Synod Communications

The position of National Indigenous Anglican Bishop was created a little more than a decade ago, following a proposal at the 2005 Anglican Indigenous Sacred Circle (the national body that meets triennially to manage the affairs of indigenous Anglicans).

Sacred Circle tasked the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) with presenting a “fit and qualified” nominee who was both Indigenous and an Anglican bishop to then-Primate Andrew Hutchison for formal approval. Bomberry recalls that MacDonald, then serving as bishop of Alaska in The Episcopal Church (TEC), was selected because ACIP found his vision for the indigenous Anglican church to be very much in line with their own.

“We wanted to realize our Covenant, our Indigenous self-determining church, and we wanted him to help us in that journey,” she says, adding that she is “ever so pleased” he agreed to take on the role. “He’s the point of the wedge leading the way—which can be a difficult position also.”

Teresa Mandricks, program associate in the secretariat of the national indigenous Anglican bishop, who was also involved in the interview process, noted that his charismatic, easygoing nature and democratic approach to decision-making was an important factor in choosing him.

“He was cool, you know? He just had a charisma…that you know you can just go to him and talk,” she says, remembering the first time she met him, at the 1997 meeting of Sacred Circle.

On January 4, 2007, MacDonald made history by becoming the first national bishop representing the interests of all indigenous Anglicans across Canada.

The making of an indigenous bishop

While he now operates out of a corner office in downtown Toronto, and spends his time criss-crossing Canada and the globe, MacDonald’s early years were spent in the small port city of Duluth, Minnesota, where he was born on January 15, 1954.

MacDonald recalls his family situation as being “troubled,” and his grandfather’s experience as a residential school survivor cast a long shadow of intergenerational trauma over the future bishop’s childhood. But it also prepared him for the kind of ministry he would spend much of his adult life engaging in.

“Those problems [of trauma] aren’t confined to indigenous people,” he says. “There was a lot of alcohol abuse in my family, and that gave me a lot of insight into some of the things that were going on in other people’s situations.”

National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald and his ubiquitous acoustic guitar. Photo: Marites Sison

MacDonald heard a call to the priesthood while still in his teens, a development he sees as being deeply connected to the experiences he had growing up.

“I had a troubled family situation, and a strong feeling that the church could have played a stronger role in my life and others like me,” he recalls. “I had a strong feeling that I wanted to work for the good in people’s lives.”

This was amplified by the number of important clergy mentors he encountered while pursuing a bachelor’s degree at the College of St. Scholastica, a Benedictine university in Duluth. A professor named Caroline Schmidt, MacDonald says, “constantly put theology in the context of the prayer of the church.”

After graduating from St. Scholastica, he studied at Wycliffe College in Toronto, receiving an MDiv in 1978 and beginning his ministry as a priest in the diocese of Minnesota the next year.

Like many young priests, he struggled to discern exactly what he was being called to do. For MacDonald, the answer came while serving as rector at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Portland, Ore. Shortly after he arrived, the parish began to foster an indigenous mission congregation, which MacDonald became priest-in-charge of.

When he left St. Stephen’s in 1989, it was to immerse himself completely in ministry to Indigenous people—specifically, the Navajo of the Episcopal Church’s Navajoland Area Ministry at the juncture between Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah.

It was here, MacDonald says, that his own indigenous Anglican perspective began to take shape, influenced by the perspectives of the elders around him, whose theology was rooted in an understanding of the gospel and the world that he believes is closer to that of the early church than they are to 20th-century Western Christianity.

“The wisdom of Navajo elders gives insight into the gospel stories in a way that is really, really helpful, and very important, I think,” he recalls. “I felt like a was living in the New Testament.”

Five years later, though, a job opened up back in Minnesota, and MacDonald felt it was time to go home. In 1997, he put himself forward as a candidate for seventh bishop of Alaska. He was consecrated September 13 of that year, and would spend the next decade based out of Fairbanks, Alaska.

“As I said at the time, it’s the only place I could imagine wanting to be bishop, and the only place that I can imagine anyone wanting me to be a bishop,” MacDonald recalls with a chuckle.

Toward reconciliation and self-determination

In the months following the 2005 Sacred Circle, MacDonald was approached by ACIP. Would he be willing to consider standing as a candidate for the new position the Anglican Church of Canada had created?

Ruth Kitchekesik (left), deacon of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in Kingfisher Lake, Ontario, and National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald join the 2015 Walk for Reconciliation. Photo: Marites Sison

MacDonald says he knew immediately that, despite the challenges, this was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

“I felt that there would be great difficulties, but there probably wasn’t anything, missiologically speaking, that was more important and more critical in North America,” he says.

Not that this made stepping into the new role easier. Not only was MacDonald faced with the enormous challenge of shaping a completely new episcopate, he also needed to convince his fellow bishops that his work wasn’t a threat to their own.

“Not everyone was happy with the creation of the position,” he recalls.

Navigating his new role was not just about facing the expectations of his Indigenous constituents, it was also about reassuring his fellow bishops that he would respect their own jurisdictions.

He would face this balancing act again and again in the coming years, as he worked to build better ties between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Anglicans.

“He’s the go-between,” says Mandricks, describing MacDonald’s position as a leader who must have a foot in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous worlds.

This position was vital in the years following 2007. Not only was the indigenous Anglican church breaking a new trail toward the creation of a fully self-determined Indigenous Anglican church, Canadian Anglicans as a whole were wrestling with their church’s colonial history, through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The commission held its first national event in Winnipeg in 2010, and would hold six more before it released its final report in June 2015.

While most of his involvement with the TRC was pastoral, MacDonald says he thinks the commission’s work has done much to raise the profile of Indigenous Anglicans’ struggle for self-determination.

“Although we still face a number of the problems and issues that we’ve had all along, we have a very different horizon than we did 10 years ago, and I think that has a lot to do with the TRC.”

When asked about the nature of these ongoing issues, MacDonald says a lot of it comes down to institutional racism that manifests itself as a paternalistic attitude toward Indigenous peoples.

National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald and his wife, Virginia, at the 2009 Sacred Circle. Photo: Marites Sison

“Paternalism is really the source of a lot of the problems that indigenous people have,” he says. “Decisions about them are made far away from them, [and] what most people assume when they see the problems that result from that paternalism is that more paternalism would help.”

In attempting to break this cycle, indigenous Anglicans want greater control over their own affairs, and a greater ability to minister to their own people in their own way. MacDonald is optimistic that it’s just a matter of time, in part because of the way he has seen indigenous leadership develop in the time he has been bishop.

MacDonald speaks with particular pride of the number of indigenous leaders who have taken their places on the national stage—like Lydia Mamakwa, bishop of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, and Adam Halkett, bishop of Missinippi in the diocese of Saskatchewan.

“More has happened in these 10 years than I ever imagined possible,” he says.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of MacDonald’s consecration as bishop, and in 2019 he will have been serving the church as an ordained minister for 40 years. So is the Canadian Anglican church’s first National indigenous bishop thinking about slowing down?

The answer comes quickly. “I’m too busy thinking about what has to happen in the next few months to think beyond that,” he says. “My dreams are not big enough for what God’s plans are.”

Lee church changes name: Confederate general dropped in favor of ‘Grace’

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 4:38pm

The sign in front of R.E. Lee Memorial Church bears the name of the church and, therefore, also the Confederate general who was a parishioner there. Photo: Lee Memorial Church via Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] R.E. Lee Memorial Church in Lexington, Virginia, where Robert E. Lee once served as senior warden will no longer honor the Confederate general in its name.

After two years of tense debate in the congregation, the vestry voted, 7-5, on Sept. 18 to change the church’s name to its previous Grace Episcopal Church. The decision had been backed publicly by Southwestern Virginia Bishop Mark Bourlakas, who spoke to the congregation earlier this month.

“It’s been a costly process both spiritually, financially and emotionally for the congregation, but I’m proud of their work and encouraged by it,” Bourlakas told Episcopal News Service by phone Sept. 19.

The vestry’s past inaction on the name had prompted some to leave the church. Others were steadfast in favor of keeping the name to honor Lee. Episcopalians on both sides of the issue filled the church when Bourlakas spoke there Sept. 7, and they again gave competing views this week before the vestry’s vote.

Violence last month during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, has amplified the national debate over Confederate symbols in public places, including at Episcopal institutions. For many of those institutions, the debate began two years ago after the massacre at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, by a gunman with Confederate sympathies.

“It’s been a very divisive issue for two years,” the Rev. Tom Crittenden, the Lexington church’s rector, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “But Charlottesville seems to have moved us to this point. Not that we have a different view of Lee historically in our church, but we have appreciation for our need to move on.”

Hate groups chose Charlottesville because of that city’s decision to remove a statue of Lee. Clashes with anti-racism counter-protesters ended in numerous injuries and the death of one counter-protester.

Washington National Cathedral in the nation’s capital responded by removing stained-glass windows depicting Lee and a fellow Confederate general, Stonewall Jackson. Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, Ohio, launched a study of its own memorials to Confederate figures after the dean called for their removal.

Defenders of such memorials have warned against hiding history, and some say Confederate generals displayed heroic qualities despite fighting on the side of the slave-holding South. Those arguments have been countered by critics who rebuke efforts to portray the Confederate cause as noble.

The congregation in Lexington faced the additional challenge of confronting the legacy of a Confederate figure closely tied to its own identity.

While serving in Lexington as president of Washington College, later renamed Washington and Lee University, the former Confederate general spent the last five years of his life, until his death in 1870, helping the struggling congregation survive. There is no record, however, of why the congregation chose to rename the church for Lee in 1903.

Members of Lee Memorial Church spent several months in 2015 discussing the church name in light of the Charleston shooting. After surveying the congregation and hearing a range of opinions for and against, the vestry narrowly voted that November to keep the name unchanged.

Then in 2016, the church hired an outside consultant and formed the Discovery and Discernment Committee of vestry members and parishioners to more carefully pursue reconciliation among the congregation and decide what actions to take.

The committee and consultant issued a 15-page report in April 2017 that summarized the various perspectives on the church’s name and recommended “that the name of the church be officially restored to its former name of Grace Episcopal Church.” The vestry met the same month to review the report and accepted all the recommendations, except the one urging a name change.

“It is extremely difficult to get people to change their position and their understanding of facts when it’s so bound up with identity,” vestry member Doug Cumming, who favored the name change, told ENS. “But it was time.”

The discussion reignited after the violence in Charlottesville renewed questions about whether it was appropriate to name a church after a Confederate general. With members of the vestry still resisting a change, Bourlakas took a more active role in the conversations, visiting the church in late August and coordinating a three-city lecture series on racial reconciliation that kicked off in Lexington on Sept. 13.

The bishop, in recommending a name change, tried to focus the congregation on its Christian mission, which he said should not be hindered by distractions like disagreements over a name or Confederate statues.

“There’s still an amount of healing that will have to take place,” Bourlakas said. “In the long run, I think the church will be stronger and will be a strong gospel witness in Lexington.”

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

Celebrations of Tonga’s first bishop symbolize ‘a bird that has begun to fly’

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 2:08pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Pacific island nation of Tonga has its first official bishop. But ‘Afa Vaka, who was consecrated and installed on Sept. 17, is actually the third bishop to serve the 169 islands – or the 36 inhabited islands – that make up Tonga.

The first Anglican missionary to Tonga was Bishop Alfred Willis, who arrived in 1902.  And in the mid-1960s, Bishop Fine Halapua, the father of Archbishop Winston Halapua, lived in Tonga as he served as a suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Polynesia. But now, after a gap of 50 years, Tonga has its third bishop – this time the first bishop of the newly constituted episcopal unit of Tonga.

Full article.

‘Don’t forget us’: Orphaned girl’s plea leads to film and book of poems

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 2:05pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] A book of poems written by the girls of an Episcopal orphanage in Honduras has been published. The release of the anthology, “Counting Time Like People Count Stars,” coincides with the screening of a film about the girls and the poetry project at major film festivals. The film, produced by Hollywood actor James Franco, was originally called “Las Chavas” – home girls – but had been retitled “Voices Beyond The Wall” by the time it premiered at the Miami International Film Festival earlier this year.

Full article.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canadian partnership strengthens lay training in Cyprus and the Gulf

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

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

Read the entire article.

Australian Anglicans ‘sorry’ for complicity in domestic violence

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

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

Read the entire article.

Archbishop Justin Welby joins new UN advisory board on mediation

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

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

Read the entire article.

Episcopalians find and give grace in the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full article.

Cincinnati cathedral drafts plan to study removing memorials to Confederate figures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darvin Darling named Episcopal Church Director of Information Technology

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

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

Darvin Darling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Religious leaders file Supreme Court brief against Trump travel ban

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irma’s destruction forces postponement of Georgia revival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern California Bishop Barry L. Beisner announces retirement plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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