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Episcopalians balance fear with preparation in the wake of U.S. mass shootings

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 5:57pm

The Rev. Mike Angell, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in University City, Missouri, speaks at an April 11 ecumenical unity press conference. Photo: Fred Koenig

[Episcopal News Service] As Americans reel from the rising number of mass shootings, the possibility of such violence happening at any gathering anywhere seems more real.

To cope, Episcopalians have relied on  efforts to balance preparing for the worst with their faith. The most recent tragedy — the Valentine’s Day school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people  — mobilized youth nationwide to fight for better gun-violence prevention laws with marches and protests, Episcopal youth included.

“We’re trying very hard not to encourage hysteria, but we want to be prepared,” said the Rev. Kate Atkinson, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which is across the street from the state house in Concord, New Hampshire. “Who knows what the dangerous person will look like? We have to be vigilant but not frightened. I refuse to be frightened. But at the same time, I am responsible for my parish and I don’t want anything to happen to them.”

Numbers vary depending on how a mass shooting is defined. Often the term requires three or more deaths. Regardless, 2017 was called the deadliest year for mass killings in a decade, totaling 208 deaths shortly after the Nov. 5 shooting that killed 26 people at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.

If the Feb. 14 school shooting is any indication, 2018 won’t be much better. Meanwhile, Episcopal leaders are striving to comfort and calm their congregations while also examining ways to prepare for the worst.

Before those 26 people were gunned down in the Texas church, the closest mass church shooting killed nine people on June 17, 2015, at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. Three people died in a May 3, 2012 shooting at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, Maryland. The assumed assailant was a homeless man who used the church’s soup kitchen, who police believe committed suicide by shooting himself afterward.

The church’s warden at the time, Craig Stuart-Paul, later pledged that the parish’s ministry would continue, “and we won’t do it from behind bulletproof glass.”

Many plans, procedures and technologies are already in place, but Episcopalians are being made more aware of them. Vestries are updating their emergency plans. Some priests and bishops are participating in gun violence seminars, workshops and other trainings. Still others are fighting state gun laws.

Include gun violence in emergency plans

The Church Pension Group’s Safety & Insurance Handbook for Churches, available online, addresses what to do in an emergency involving gun violence.

Quick communication and notification is key, the handbook emphasizes. And depending on church needs and budget, leaders can implement or update their regular security measures to incorporate newer technology, such as buzzed-in entry, automated locking, camera systems and key access. A diocese with a large, metropolitan cathedral often has a security guard.

But it’s more than that.

“As recent devastating events in a wide variety of public places have demonstrated, it’s important to have plans in place to mitigate the risk of violence — and to be able to react appropriately and quickly in case something does happen,” the handbook, written in 2015, states. “You should have a violence preparedness plan, just as you have disaster preparedness plans in case of fires, floods, or tornadoes — and run drills, too, just as you would for a fire or tornado.”

In the Diocese of New Hampshire, at least four churches have hosted active shooter drills or seminars. About 120 people attended a drill on how to deal with active shooter situations at Grace Episcopal Church in Manchester on April 8.

The free drills were led by Blue-U Defense, a group of off-duty or retired law enforcement officers with training experience in preparedness for organizations including churches, Bishop Rob Hirschfeld told Episcopal News Service. The events were hosted by Episcopal churches and were open to people from other faith communities as well.

“I’m encouraged by people coming away from this with a sense of reasonableness; they’re less panicked, more empowered, more aware of the space they’re in and the possibilities to frustrate the intent of those who wish to do harm. And that’s good,” said Hirschfeld, a member of Bishops United Against Gun Violence.

“They’re given strategies. We don’t want our people to live in fear. As Marianne Williamson has said, ‘Fear is not a Christian habit of mind,’” he said, quoting the spiritual activist and author.

On April 11, about 45 leaders of area faith communities convened for a Civilian Response to an Active Shooter Event (CRASE) training led by local police at St. Paul’s in Concord. The training was geared toward heightened security, urging faith leaders to be wise about what doors are locked and unlocked, who’s monitoring the building, what’s happening with the children and official response protocol, according to Atkinson, the rector.

The first piece of advice used to be to hide, but now it’s ADD: Avoid, deny and defend, Atkinson said the CRASE experts told them. The first line of action is to try to escape. If that’s not possible, deny access by hiding, barricading and calling 911. If the shooter does reach you, defend yourself however you can, especially as a group.

After that initial seminar, Concord police officers are continuing the training by arranging site visits with each participating religious group to tour the buildings and give tips, Atkinson said. The church safety policy discourages people from bringing in concealed weapons, Atkinson said.

The downtown church serves many visitors in its food pantry, thrift store and clothing bank. Those ministries mean a higher percentage of homeless and mentally ill visitors. But as Atkinson has realized, you never know what the shooter will look like, so you can’t stop doing God’s will.

“A lot of the people we deal with on a daily basis can be frightening, but they’re also frightened, and they need our help,” she told ENS.

At St. Peter’s in Carson City, Nevada, on March 9, representatives from the Carson City Sheriff’s and Fire departments met with parishioners and discussed church safety and active shooter situations, as well as emergency medical situations, fires and earthquakes. The training brought calm assurance to people, Nevada Bishop Dan Edward told ENS.

Donna Bernert, a member of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Eureka, Missouri, organized members of her parish to staff a Lock It for Love booth at the annual Eureka Days celebration on Sept. 8-9. Fifty gun locks were distributed free of charge. The Episcopal Diocese of Missouri has partnered with Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice, a St. Louis advocacy organization, in supporting Lock It for Love. Photo: Episcopal Diocese of Missouri

Part of planning for emergencies involves prevention methods, such as distributing gun locks so the guns don’t get in the wrong hands.

St. James Episcopal Church in Keene, New Hampshire, has a social justice ministry that brokered an arrangement between local law enforcement agencies and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an National Rifle Association-affiliated, Second Amendment advocacy group based in Newtown, Connecticut. Despite what Hirschfeld called the chasm between the church and the NRA, the foundation will make these gun locks available to 15 police stations in the Monadnock region of southwestern New Hampshire, he said. It’s called Project ChildSafe, a free national program.

“It’s a little thread across the chasm,” Hirschfeld said.

Carrying guns inside churches — legally

Parallel to the controversial arm-the-teachers solution in schools, proponents of more freedom to carry firearms inside churches say it will enable parishioners to defend themselves and protect others. Otherwise, church members are sitting ducks, they say. That thinking has influenced lawmakers.

Yet the Episcopalians ENS spoke to said trained police often miss their intended targets, so inexperienced civilians will have even less chance of aiming correctly and can make the fatal mistake of shooting an innocent bystander. Plus, when more people are wielding guns, it’s often difficult to tell who the “bad guy” is when law enforcement does arrive to make split-second decisions.

Some Episcopalians, such as those in Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas, are grappling with either existing state laws or proposed amendments that allow firearms in church.

On April 11, Bishop George Wayne Smith of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri and other Episcopal leaders joined Roman Catholic, Jewish, Methodist, Baptist and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America leaders at a press conference decrying the proposed Missouri House Bill 1936 amending a law to expand where concealed weapons are allowed, extending the allowance to churches.

Missouri churches have historically been gun-free zones.

As the law states now, a person must receive special permission from clergy to carry a concealed weapon on church property. The new law would allow someone to carry a concealed weapon inside a church or other religious institution unless a sign banning weapons is prominently displayed. The sign must be at least 11 by 14 inches with writing that is at least 1 inch tall, according to the bill.

The Rev. Mike Angell helped organize the ecumenical press conference.

This proposed gun legislation has galvanized a rare show of unity among faith communities that normally disagree, he said. The various participating faith leaders argue that the proposed state amendment is a radical expansion of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, at the expense of their First Amendment right of religious freedom. Throughout history, religious groups have fought wars over what was displayed inside houses of worship, Angell said. And to have to post government-regulation signs that in order to preserve the sanctuary of these faith centers is “offensive,” he said, and the faith communities were not even consulted during the legislative process.

“We do believe people have a right to responsible gun ownership. Several bishops are gun owners,” Angell told ENS. “But this is a radical redefinition of what the Second Amendment means. It would also allow guns in day care centers, bars and schools. That’s problematic. We don’t operate a bar, but we operate all those others.”

Angell is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in University City, Missouri, which rents out some of its facilities to a children’s music school, AA groups and other community activities. The vestry is examining new emergency plans and active-shooter training possibilities.

“We’re looking at all sorts of ways to update those emergencies procedures. We’ve been asked by some of our tenants, really since the Parkland school shooting and the Texas church shooting,” he said.

As the bishop’s deputy for gun violence prevention, the Rev. Marc Smith uses his 10 years’ experience as the former president of the Missouri Hospital Association to come at the problem from a public health perspective. He’s been working on six initiatives since his appointment almost three years ago.

The Rev. Anne Kelsey and the Rev. Marc Smith, the Missouri bishop’s deputy for gun violence prevention, protest with signs during the St. Louis March for Our Lives on March 24. Photo: the Rev. Paula Hartsfield

While other Episcopal churches and diocese across the United States have undertaken several similar initiatives such as awareness campaigns and gun lock distributions, two of the most cutting-edge initiatives that Smith hasn’t noticed elsewhere involve training clergy and creating a curriculum.

First, a partnership with Washington University School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and the Walker Leadership Institute at Eden Seminary has helped develop and present seminars to equip clergy and laity to care for the victims of gun violence. Smith has conducted seminars regularly with crime victim care organizations, as well as seminars at Eden Theological Seminary and Concordia Seminary.

Second, Smith is creating a six-module curriculum for use by faith communities to explore the many forms of violence in American culture and the church’s responsibility for responding to them: violence in scripture; America as a culture of violence; gun violence; domestic abuse and sexual violence; bullying and suicide; and reconciliation and forgiveness. He’s invited experts in each area to share on instructional videos, and the curriculum will be online.

Smith also wrote a litany for victims of gun violence, available online.

In November of 2012, Bishop Edward J. Konieczny issued a policy for every organization in the Diocese of Oklahoma, in direct contrast to the just-passed Oklahoma Self-Defense Act/Open Carry Law. The law says no person, property owner, tenant, employer or business entity can make a policy prohibiting anyone, except a convicted felon, from carrying a weapon on premises.

That did not stop Konieczny, a former Southern California police officer.

He wrote: “As such, after careful review, the policy of the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma is to prohibit any weapon inside any building owned or occupied by the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, Episcopal churches, Episcopal schools or institutions, and Episcopal camp and conference centers.”

The bishop’s exceptions included government employees acting in their capacity to do so, security officers for special events and organized training or sporting events such as skeet shooting. Any other exception would require prior written approval from the bishop.

Konieczny has his own concealed weapon permit, and told the crowd at the April 2014 Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: an Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence conference hosted in his diocese that he has been called “the gun-toting bishop.”

“By any definition of the word, the frequency of violent acts in our society is of epidemic proportion,” he told the conference members. “I am not willing to accept that we are destined to suffer the tragedies that have plagued our society. Instead, I am convinced that we can change judgmental attitudes, intolerant behaviors and the violence in our society.”

After the Feb. 25, 2016, shootings in Hesston and Newton, Kansas, that killed three people, Episcopal Diocese of Kansas’ then-Bishop Dean Wolfe and Episcopal Diocese of Western Kansas Bishop Michael Milliken issued a pastoral directive banning firearms from Episcopal churches in the state, unless they are carried by designated law enforcement officials in the line of duty.

In a letter sent to all churches, the bishops said the state law amendments reversed long-standing law and practice. The changes allowing anyone to bring guns into a church, they wrote, “unnecessarily endanger the citizens of our state and the members of our parishes.”

Protecting the young

Churches often have day care centers and primary schools on their premises, which call to mind how the response of adults can affect some of the most vulnerable populations.

Nevada Bishop Dan Edward said the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and school shooting in Parkland, Florida, have had more impact on churches in his diocese than an Oct. 1 shooting at a Las Vegas country music concert that killed 58 people. That mass shooting caused an outpouring of compassion, he told ENS, but the Parkland school shooting mobilized youth across his diocese in marches and protests. At the Las Vegas March for Our Lives in March, survivors of the October shooting, as well as gun violence victims in domestic abuse and LGBTQ hate crimes, spoke.

Prevention of gun violence and caring intervention for its victims are key to maintaining a safe, holy sanctuary, Episcopal leaders say. They’re taking action, while keeping in mind their higher calling in the Christian faith. They must stay reasonable, these priests and bishops told ENS.

It’s good to remember that there is an extremely low likelihood of people being killed or injured in mass shootings, and even more so in churches; they’re taking far greater risk getting in their cars and driving on the highway, Edward said.

“That doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen to us, but we live in faith. Our call in facing violence is to respond nonviolently,” Edward said. “The most frequent command Jesus gave us was ‘Do not be afraid.’ Not that we shouldn’t feel fear, but don’t live in fear and let it have you, to control our lives.”

“Instead, let our faith control our lives.”

— 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

Washington National Cathedral mourns the loss of former first lady Barbara Bush

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 5:45pm

[Washington National Cathedral] The Very Rev. Randolph ‘Randy’ Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral, released the following statement and offered a prayer on the death of First Lady Barbara Bush.

“Washington National Cathedral joins the nation in mourning the loss of former First Lady Barbara Bush, and we extend our heartfelt prayers to President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush and the entire Bush family in their time of sorrow,” said Dean Hollerith.

“As a wife, mother and grandmother, she became in many ways a beloved matriarch to Americans from all walks of life, and she enriched the lives of everyone she touched with compassion, humor and graciousness.

“Through her work on literacy, Mrs. Bush became among the brightest of the ‘thousand points of light,’ serving as an example in her husband’s initiative to extend volunteerism and community engagement. She was a living example of faithfulness, both to her family and to the nation, always facing adversity with grace and courage. Her 73-year marriage to her beloved husband remains a shining example of lifelong love nurtured by selfless devotion and affection.”

Mrs. Bush was a longtime friend of Washington National Cathedral, attending countless services and state occasions, including the 1990 celebration when the final stone was set atop the Cathedral tower. A lifetime Episcopalian, Mrs. Bush exemplified the values of her favorite scripture, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

“I have great respect for people of other faiths who believe in a greater being and live a life that is based on kindness and generosity,” she said in a 2012 interview with Cathedral Age magazine.

“Together with all the saints in glory, we give thanks for the life of Barbara Pierce Bush and pray that the gates of heaven will be opened wide to this kind and generous child of God.”

“Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Barbara. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.Watch the latest video at foxnews.com

New Jersey court rules churches can’t receive county’s historic preservation money

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 5:17pm

Early progress is seen in the slate roof replacement project at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey, in this photo posted to the church’s Facebook page on Oct. 12.

[Episcopal News Service] It was an offer too good for a congregation to refuse.

Need your church tower preserved? Your roof replaced? Your parish house restored? Morris County, New Jersey, was ready to help, with a historic preservation grant program offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in upkeep assistance for a range of properties, including houses of worship.

The problem: Such direct taxpayer assistance to churches violated the state constitution, the New Jersey Supreme Court has concluded, ruling April 18 against a list of defendants that includes 12 churches, three of them Episcopal churches.

The potential financial ramifications for Morris County churches are significant. The Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Morristown, as one prominent example, received a $294,000 grant in 2013 to restore its 1926 parish house and an additional $272,000 in 2015 to restore the church’s slate roof. The court did not require Church of the Redeemer and the other 11 churches named in the lawsuit to repay the $4.6 million they received over four years, but the county is barred from awarding money to churches in the future.

“The historic preservation grant we received saved our bacon,” Donald MacGowan, senior warden at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Mountain Lakes, told Episcopal News Service. The church, one of the defendants in the lawsuit, spent $450,000 on a new slate roof, including $262,000 from the county fund.

“I have absolutely no idea what we would have done without their help.”

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religious Foundation and a Morris County resident sued in 2015, arguing that the grant program was in clear violation of the Religious Aid Clause in the New Jersey Constitution. The county and churches countered that the grants were legal because they advanced the public’s interest in historic preservation and that excluding churches from such a program would violate the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protection of religious freedom.

Taxes, the state Constitution says, can’t be used “for building or repairing any church or churches, place or places of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry.”

Morris County’s Historic Preservation Trust Fund was created after a 2002 voter referendum. Its goal was to support acquisition and preservation of historic sites and facilities, and in nearly 16 years it has awarded millions of dollars to a variety of sites, including numerous churches.

“In Morris County, as in all counties in New Jersey and across the nation, churches and other religious buildings are a vital part of the historic fabric of where we live, interwoven in the history of how our county, state and nation developed,” Morris County Administrator John Bonanni said in a statement released after the state Supreme Court ruling.

“We believe historic churches are a strong component of that overall rich history, and we have considered churches – only those eligible for the State or National Registers of Historic Places – among historic sites that have been eligible for consideration by the county’s historic preservation grant program.”

The Church of the Redeemer received construction grants in 2013 and 2015. A county news release noted the church’s 2013 grant was the fund’s largest of the year. A 2015 news release touted the 1917 church’s Gothic Revival style, its architectural pedigree and its place on state and national historic registers.

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown, another church named in the lawsuit, received a 2012 grant of $428,000 to preserve the interior of its church tower. The state Supreme Court noted the church’s application explicitly connected the project to the congregation’s ability to worship safely in the building.

“These are really hard times for houses of worship. And we really do so much for the community,” the Rev. Janet Broderick, rector of St. Peter’s, told MorristownGreen.com after the state Supreme Court ruling.

St. Peter’s in Mountain Lakes received $13,000 in 2015 for a preservation study, another $13,000 in 2016 for “construction documents” and $262,000 in 2017 for roof replacement. That project is detailed in photos posted on the church’s Facebook page.

“Scaffolding came down today!” a Dec. 2 post announces. “The beauty of our new slate roof in time for the beginning of Advent!”

Whatever the beauty of such projects, the state Supreme Court ruled, 7-0, that the county can’t pay for them.

“The plain language of the Religious Aid Clause bars the use of taxpayer funds to repair and restore churches, and Morris County’s program ran afoul of that longstanding provision,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote in the decision, which reversed a lower court’s decision in favor of the county and churches.

The other question raised by the lawsuit, however, was whether the county program was protected by a 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision siding with a Missouri church, Trinity Lutheran, that had applied for state aid for day care playground improvements but was denied.  The New Jersey court ruled that the Morris County program was different because it offered widespread benefits to churches, including for improvements that directly supported the congregations’ spiritual missions.

“It’s shocking that it took a trip to the New Jersey Supreme Court to enforce such a plain constitutional command,” Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a written statement. “New Jersey taxpayers can breathe a sigh of relief that their constitutional religious liberty rights have been protected.”

Kenneth Wilber, the attorney representing the churches, disagreed with the court’s conclusion, calling the county grants “a neutral public welfare program.”

“The purpose of these grants is not to aid religion but to advance the government’s secular interest in historic preservation,” Wilber told the Daily Record, invoking the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Trinity Lutheran case.  “Denying churches grants because they are churches, without regard to the purpose of the grant, is exactly the kind of categorical exclusion Trinity Lutheran prohibits.”

MacGowan acknowledged some residents may not be happy with tax dollars being spent on church buildings like St. Peter’s. “On the other hand, there’s a lot of history in Morris County, and it’s integral to who we are,” he said, and to preserve church buildings that embody that history often requires more money than today’s congregations can afford.

“I feel terrible for the [churches] that will not now be able to do this,” he said.

The county and churches could pursue their legal fight in federal court. For now, congregations like St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Mendham will have to move forward with any construction projects without the help of Morris County.

“The issue for us, being a smaller congregation, is we don’t have a whole lot of money sitting around,” said the Rev. Shawn Carty, part-time rector of St. Mark’s, which was not a defendant in the court case but received a 2016 county grant of $30,000 to conduct a detailed preservation study.

That study did not identify urgent need at St. Mark’s for any preservation projects on the scale of those carried out by the Episcopal churches named in the lawsuit, though Carty said he would have welcomed county assistance for smaller projects, such as repairing his church’s stained-glass windows.

Carty said the preservation study alone was a significant value for the congregation, with an average Sunday attendance of about 40. Such studies are a county requirement before sites can apply for money for construction projects.

“So, we have a nice binder with lots of historic information about our building,” he said. “It’s unlikely that we would have paid for as significant and thorough a preservation study as was required by this.”

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

 

Young Africans urged to take leadership roles in churches

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 11:23am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Young people from across Africa have been urged to take leadership roles in their churches and communities and be active voices in the continent’s development. The call came at last week’s Continental Youth Congress organized by CAPA – the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa.

Read the full article here.

Archbishop of Canterbury convenes high-level Commonwealth freedom-of-religion discussion

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 11:21am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Parliamentarians and senior religious leaders from 11 Commonwealth countries gathered at Lambeth Palace, the London official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, for two-days of discussions on freedom of religion or belief. The event was convened by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in partnership with the Commonwealth Initiative on Freedom of Religion or Belief project director, Baroness Berridge.

Read the full article here.

Episcopal delegation participates in UN conference on indigenous issues

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 6:09pm

[Episcopal News Service] A seven-member delegation of Episcopalians from Native tribes across the U.S. represented Presiding Bishop Michael Curry in New York this week during the opening days of the annual meeting of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

The delegation, included the Rev. Bradley Hauff, Episcopal Church missioner for indigenous ministries, as well as clergy and lay leaders from Alaska, Idaho, South Dakota, Oklahoma and the Navajoland Area Mission.

Wilton Littlechild, Cree Chief from Canada, addresses the audience April 17 at the first informal interactive hearing of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Photo: United Nations

The purpose of the Permanent Forum is to allow indigenous people to provide expert advice to global leaders through the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council, or ECOSOC, and to inform U.N. agencies working on a variety of international issues, from human rights to the environment. As an ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organization, the Episcopal Church has a powerful perspective to present in those discussions, Hauff said.

“I hope it’s an indicator to people that we as a church, those of us who are indigenous and who are not, we want to own up to what has happened historically, and we do want to be instruments of justice and restitution, equity and reconciliation,” Hauff told Episcopal News Service on April 18, the third day of the conference. “We really see that as the church’s role, and we want to be a part of it.”

The church history that Hauff referred to is one of close ties to early American colonialism and the oppression of Native people in North America through much of the last 500 years. Episcopal missionaries ministered to American Indian tribes, but conversion to Christianity typically required leaving Native spirituality behind.

The Episcopal Church has made a deliberate effort in recent decades to atone for its role in past injustices and to welcome Native Episcopalians into fuller participate in the church. General Convention resolutions starting at least as far back as the 1970s sought to support Native American land claims and human rights. A 1997 resolution specifically called on the church to “take such steps as necessary to fully recognize and welcome Native Peoples into congregation life.”

And in 2009, General Convention repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, rooted in a 1493 document that purported to give Christian explorers the right to claim lands they “discovered” and convert the people they encountered. The General Convention resolution described the doctrine as “fundamentally opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ” and pledged to support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was formed by U.N. resolution in 2000 to focus on indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. Its first meeting was held in 2002.

This year, the 17th meeting of the Permanent Forum is being held April 16 to 27 at U.N. headquarters in New York. The theme is “Indigenous people’s collective rights to lands, territories and resources.”

Indigenous people risk falling short of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals “as long as our rights over our lands, territories and resources are not recognized,” Chairwoman Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine of Mali said in her opening remarks April 16. “In the same way, the world risks losing the fight against climate change and the destruction of the environment.

The Doctrine of Discovery was among the topics of discussion in the first days of the session, Hauff said, as were treaty violations, misuse of natural resources and substance abuse. He said he was struck by the similarities between the concerns of indigenous cultures around the world and those in the U.S. and the Episcopal Church.

One member of the Episcopal delegation, Ronald Braman of Idaho, a member of the Eastern Shoshone tribe, sat on a panel discussion on the Doctrine of Discovery, and the Rev. Brandon Mauai, from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, spent part of April 18 attending a presentation about the federal response to Standing Rock’s 2017 standoff in opposition to an oil pipeline across the Missouri River.

Mauai, through “his work with the tribal council there, as well as the church, has a direct link to a number of the issues being discussed here at the forum,” Hauff said.

Although the Episcopal delegation is only participating in the Permanent Forum session through April 19, delegates have plenty of experiences, information and lessons to bring back to their home communities. In one memorable episode, an indigenous woman from Latin America spotted the Rev. Michael Sells, a deacon from Navajoland Area Mission, and her attention appeared to be drawn to his clergy collar.

“She pointed at him and said, ‘colonista,’” Hauff recalled, or “colonialist” – a present-day reminder of the church’s past association with colonial powers.

“We had a conversation about that in our group, what that experience meant,” Hauff said. Sells, who is part Navajo and part Athabaskan, acknowledged it was a powerful, uncomfortable moment, “but it was important for him to experience it, based on our history.”

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

Faith leaders call for urgent climate change action at Commonwealth leaders’ meeting

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 1:55pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has joined more than 170 other leaders from across the Commonwealth urging the 53 member-nation governments to turn “words into action” on climate change. The heads of government are meeting in London this week for their biennial CHOGM summit. The Anglican Communion is playing a significant role in official Commonwealth youth, women, business and citizens forums; and in a parallel program of events. In a letter published in London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, the faith leaders say that “not even the remotest corner of the Commonwealth remains unaffected” by climate change, and that the greatest impact is felt by the group’s poorest people.

Read the entire article here.

Funerals held as 157 victims of the genocide in Rwanda buried in Ruhanga memorial

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 12:43pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The recently discovered bodies of 157 victims of the Rwandan Genocide have been laid to rest in a former Anglican Church, alongside the bodies of 36,700 victims already buried there. On April 15, 1994, more than 25,000 people seeking refuge and sanctuary at the Ruhanga Episcopal Anglican Church were slaughtered. The church is now a memorial for the victims. The scenes at Ruhanga were repeated at other churches across Rwanda. While several of them have been turned into memorials, Ruhanga is the only Anglican church that has become a memorial site.

Read the entire article here.

Beloved Episcopal priest, 87, mourned as New York police seek his attackers in home invasion

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 11:17am

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians in the Diocese of Long Island are mourning a beloved priest, the Rev. Paul Wancura, who died this week at age 87 from injuries suffered during a home invasion last month at his home.

No suspects have yet been identified in the attack on Long Island’s East End, and a $10,000 reward has been offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

“The sad news of the death of Canon Wancura has touched everyone in our diocese,” Bishop Lawrence Provenzano said late April 17 in a message to the diocese. “Those who knew him well are suffering the loss of a devoted priest and friend who was quick to provide support and prayerful insight to all who sought his counsel. Those who did not know him personally are struck nonetheless by the reported cruelty and violence during a home invasion that resulted in the death of this beloved priest.”

A fellow priest found Wancura on March 19 tied up between a bed and a wall in the elder priest’s Shelter Island home. He had failed to show up as expected at a Sunday service March 18 at Episcopal Church of the Messiah in Central Islip, and church leaders asked the Rev. Charles McCarron, rector of Shelter Island’s St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, to check on him.

The initial police investigation indicated the attacker or attackers may have specifically targeted Wancura, who had been tied up for at least two days when McCarron found him, according to the Shelter Island Reporter.

Wancura was flown to Stony Brook University Hospital in critical condition. His injuries from being tied up led to amputation of a hand. This month, a “slight improvement” in his condition was reported, but he died April 16.

Caroline Church of Brookhaven, where Wancura served as rector for 26 years, said in a Facebook post that his funeral was scheduled for April 24 at the church in Setauket, New York.

“I feel like I lost a beloved uncle,” McCarron, rector at St. Mary’s, told Newsday, saying the cause of death was sepsis.

Wancura, a native of Queens, New York, felt a calling to the priesthood while serving in the Army in Europe during the Korean War, according to Newsday. He was reported to have earned a Master of Divinity degree from General Theological Seminary in New York.

Provenzano’s message noted that Wancura had served the diocese as priest for more than 50 years. His ordained ministry began at Church of the Ascension in Brooklyn, New York, and he was archdeacon of Suffolk County from 1966 to 1974, assisting parishes and missions and providing administrative oversight on behalf of the bishop’s office.

This portrait of the Rev. Paul Wancura is included in a timeline of rectors maintained online by Caroline Church of Brookhaven, where Wancura served from 1974 until his retirement in 2000.

In 1974, Wancura became rector of Caroline Church of Brookhaven on the north shore of central Long Island.

He retired in 2000 but continued to assist churches in the area as needed, and at the time of his death he was the second oldest priest still serving on Long Island, including as a supply priest at Church of the Messiah, Provenzano said.

“Paul was an old-fashioned priest with the sensibility and spirit of a very forward-looking man,” Provenzano said. “He was spry and witty – the kind of person who would engage everyone in conversation and be interested in knowing about everything happening around him. … Not only could he tell a story well, he was always interested in hearing the story of the people he met. His intellect and good humor were a delight to encounter.”

Wancura’s wife died shortly after he retired, and they had no children, friend Kevin Lockerbie told Newsday.

“He was so human,” Lockerbie said. “He understood people’s trials. … He was very connected to the common man because he had been one.”

McCarron remembered Wancura as a dedicated priest, a sharp dresser and a reserved man with a deadpan sense of humor.

“He would make a comment, pause and give you a look,” McCarron told the Shelther Island Reporter. “There was a twinkle in his eye.”

The attack on Wancura is now being investigated as a homicide by Shelter Island and Suffolk County police. A second burglary was reported near Wancura’s house on April 4, and police are trying to determine if the two crimes are connected.

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

Fueron anunciados los miembros del Equipo de Planificación del Evento de Jóvenes Episcopales 2019 (EJE19)

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 6:34am

Ya fueron anunciados los 14 miembros del Equipo de Planificación del Evento de Jóvenes Episcopales 2019 (EJE19).

Tentativamente, EJE está programado para ser celebrado durante el mes de julio de 2019. El lugar aún no ha sido confirmado.

EJE19 está siendo planificado conforme a la resolución #1982-D079 de la Convención General de la Iglesia Episcopal que convoca a un evento internacional para los jóvenes de tal manera “que la energía de la juventud de la Iglesia Episcopal pueda continuar siendo utilizada de manera activa en el ministerio como miembros del Cuerpo de Cristo”.

“El Evento de Jóvenes Episcopales se da en respuesta al crecimiento de los ministerios de Jóvenes y Jóvenes Adultos de la Iglesia Episcopal a lo largo de la IX Provincia”, dijo Bronwyn Clark Skov, directora de Ministerios de Formación, Jóvenes y Jóvenes Adultos. “EJE19 es un evento contextualizado, planificado e implementado por y para los episcopales que viven en y alrededor de la IX Provincia”.

“Evento de Jóvenes Episcopales (EJE), es un gran logro y va a unificar el Ministerio de Jóvenes en nuestra Iglesia,” dijo Coromoto Jiménez de Salazar, Representante Laico IX Provincia, Consejo Ejecutivo. “Le va a dar oportunidades iguales de participación a aquellos  jóvenes que viven en zonas urbanas, zonas rurales y zonas indígenas de nuestros países, y quienes poseen dones y talentos maravillosos.”

El siguiente grupo de jóvenes servirá en el Equipo de Planificación de EJE19, el cual se reunirá a lo largo de los próximos 17 meses para planificar EJE19. Ellos son:

  • Erika Alejandra García Gordón, Diócesis de Ecuador Central
  • Diana Marcela Abuchar Sierra, Diócesis de Colombia
  • Ana Victoria Lantigua Zaya, Diócesis de la República Dominicana
  • Dannes Alexis Olvera Díaz, Diócesis de Ecuador Litoral
  • Byron Fabricio Fernández, Diócesis de Honduras
  • Kenianne Joan Rivera, Diócesis de Puerto Rico

Los siguientes jóvenes servirán en el Equipo de Eventos de EJE19, el cual proveerá liderazgo local y apoyo durante el evento:

  • Andrea C. Salazar, Diócesis de Venezuela
  • Wilfreddy Alexander Carmona, Diócesis de la República Dominicana
  • Santiago Felipe Hincapié Guzmán, Diócesis de Colombia
  • Sofía Norellisa Calidonio Cerna, Diócesis de Honduras

Los siguientes mentores adultos servirán en el Equipo de Planificación de EJE19:

  • Luis Brenes Vargas, Diócesis de Honduras
  • Jairo Chirán, Diócesis de Ecuador Litoral
  • Hilbeth Daniela Salazar, Diócesis de Venezuela
  • Patricia Martín, Diócesis de la República Dominicana
  • Wendy Barrett Buchanan, Diócesis de Ecuador Central
  • Bryan Alexis Vélez, Diócesis de Puerto Rico
  • Israel Portilla Gómez, Diócesis de Colombia
  • Ángel Dávila, Diócesis de Puerto Rico
  •   Francisco Morales, Coordinador IX Provincia

Los siguientes mentores adultos servirán en el Equipo de Eventos de EJE19:

  • Kara de Mejía, Diócesis de Honduras
  • Pastor Elías García Cárdenas, Diócesis de Colombia
  • Luis Alberto García Correa, Diócesis de la República Dominicana
  • Juan Carlos Quiñonez Mera, Diócesis de Ecuador Central
  • Gina Angula Zamora, Diócesis de Ecuador Litoral

Financiamiento parcial para el Equipo de EJE19 es proveído por el Fondo Constable. El evento está siendo planificado en conjunto con la Oficina de Ministerios Jóvenes, Oficina del Ministerio de Jóvenes Adultos y Universitarios, Oficina de Relaciones Globales, Oficina de Ministerios Latinos, La Diócesis Episcopal de Panamá y las siete diócesis de la IX Provincia.

Para más información favor comunicarse con Skov en bskov@episcopalchurch.org.

Planning team members announced for 2019 Evento de Jóvenes Episcopales (EJE19)

The 14 members of the Planning Team for the 2019 Evento de Jóvenes Episcopales (EJE19) have been announced.

Tentatively, EJE19 is slated for July 2019 and will include young people ages 16-26. The location has not yet been confirmed.

EJE19 is being planned in accordance with General Convention Resolution #1982-D079, the Episcopal Church convenes an international youth event so “that the energy of the youth of the Episcopal Church can continue to be utilized in active ministry as members of the Body of Christ.”

“Evento de Jóvenes Episcopales is a response to the growing youth and young adult ministries of the Episcopal Church throughout Province IX,” noted Bronwyn Clark Skov, Episcopal Church Director for Formation, Youth and Young Adult Ministries. “EJE19 is a contextualized event, planned and implemented by and for Episcopalians living and worshipping in and around Province IX.”

“EJE represents a great achievement that will unify youth ministry in our church,” said Coromoto Jiménez de Salazar, Lay Representative IX Province, Executive Council. “It will give equal opportunities for participation to those young people who live in urban areas, rural areas and indigenous areas of our countries, who possess wonderful gifts and talents.”

The following young people will be serving on the EJE19 Planning Team, which will be meeting throughout the next 17 months to plan EJE19:

  • Erika Alejandra García Gordón, Diocese of Central Ecuador
  • Diana Marcela Abuchar Sierra, Diocese of Colombia
  • Ana Victoria Lantigua Zaya, Diocese of Dominican Republic
  • Dannes Alexis Olvera Díaz, Diocese of Ecuador Litoral
  • Byron Fabricio Fernández, Diocese of Honduras
  • Kenianne Joan Rivera, Diocese of Puerto Rico

The following young people will be serving on the EJE19 Event Team, which will provide on-site leadership and support during the event:

  • Andrea C. Salazar, Diocese of Venezuela
  • Wilfreddy Alexander Carmona, Diocese of Dominican Republic
  • Santiago Felipe Hincapié Guzmán, Diocese of Colombia
  • Sofía Norellisa Calidonio Cerna, Diocese of Honduras

The following adult mentors will be serving on the EJE19 Planning Team:

  • Luis Brenes Vargas, Diocese of Honduras
  • Jairo Chirán, Diocese of Ecuador Litoral
  • Hilbeth Daniela Salazar, Diocese of Venezuela
  • Patricia Martin, Diocese of Dominical Republic
  • Wendy Barrett Buchanan, Diocese of Central Ecuador
  • Bryan Alexis Vélez, Diocese of Puerto Rico
  • Israel Portilla Gómez, Diocese of Colombia
  • Angel Dávila, Diocese of Puerto Rico
  • Francisco Morales, Province IX Coordinator

The following adult mentors will be serving on the EJE19 Event Team:

  • Kara de Mejía, Diocese of Honduras
  • Pastor Elías García Cárdenas, Diocese of Colombia
  • Luis Alberto García Correa, Diocese of Dominican Republic
  • Juan Carlos Quiñonez Mera, Diocese of Central Ecuador
  • Gina Angula Zamora, Diocese of Ecuador Litoral

Financial support for the EJE19 Planning Team is provided by the Constable Fund. The event is a partnership of the Office of Youth Ministries, Office of Young Adult and Campus Ministries, Office of Global Relations, Office of Latino Ministries, the Episcopal Diocese of Panama and the seven dioceses of Province IX.

For more information contact Skov at bskov@episcopalchurch.org.

World Council of Churches reiterates calls for immediate ceasefire in Syria

Tue, 04/17/2018 - 1:23pm

[World Council of Churches] The World Council of Churches, or WCC, has urged the international community to find a way to break the cycle of violence in Syria. A WCC statement issued April 16 came two days after the U.S., France and the U.K. carried out missile strikes following a suspected Syrian government chemical weapons attack.

“A just and sustainable peace for all Syrians can only be brought about through a political solution,” the WCC statement says.

Read the full statement here.

Archbishop of Kenya urges electoral reform and new commissioners

Tue, 04/17/2018 - 1:20pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Primate of the Anglican Church of Kenya, Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit, has called for the speedy appointment of new electoral commissioners and electoral reforms in the country. He made his remarks as three members of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission stepped down.

Read the full article here.

Bishop Victoria Matthews bows out with attack on cathedral preservation campaign

Mon, 04/16/2018 - 1:48pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The outgoing bishop of Christchurch, Victoria Matthews, has said goodbye to her diocese with an attack on civic authorities over their handling of the future of Christchurch Cathedral. The cathedral was all-but destroyed in a 2011 earthquake. The diocese’s property trust wanted to replace the building with a modern purpose-built construction; but faced a series of unsuccessful legal challenges from campaigners who wanted the old building reinstated. Last year, after a lengthy consultation and a promise of funds from campaigners and local and national government, the diocesan synod voted to go ahead with re-instatement rather than replacement.

Read the entire article here.

Archbishop of Canterbury urges Commonwealth to put words into action

Mon, 04/16/2018 - 1:43pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has said that the Commonwealth of Nations will last and be a blessing to the world – if it continues to put its word into action. His comments came in a sermon during a special evensong service at Westminster Abbey April 15, in advance of this week’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London and Windsor. He told the congregation, which included government leaders, diplomats, officials and an ecumenical group of church leaders, the Bible, “in the clearest terms,” sets out the way people are to behave: “It is to raise up the poor, to bring freedom to the captives, to lighten the load of the suffering,” he said.

Read the entire article here.

Episcopal Church joins call for end to Gaza violence and measures to protect Palestinians

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 5:19pm

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who visited Gaza City days before protests began along the fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel, has added the Episcopal Church’s name to a joint statement protesting Israel’s deadly response to the violence.

The 15 denominations and Christian agencies say that they “cannot be silent” as Gazans have been killed or injured during the first two weeks of protests that are expected to occur until May 15. That is the day when Palestinians mark the “Nakba,” which is Arabic for “catastrophe,” and commemorates the estimated 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced off their land during the war that followed Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence from the British mandate of Palestine. That day is expected to be particularly fraught this year because it falls near the day when President Donald Trump plans to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a controversial shift in U.S. policy.

Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition into crowds of Palestinian protesters, killing 15 and injuring some 1,000 others during the first day of protests March 30, which was the eve of Passover. Some of those injured later died. Close to 30,000 Palestinians had gathered near the fence for what organizers call the “March of Return.”

A Palestinian hurls stones at Israeli troops during clashes, during a tent city protest along the Israel border with Gaza, demanding the right to return to their homeland, the southern Gaza Strip March 30. Photo: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

While the majority of protestors were said to have not engaged in violence, some reportedly used slingshots to shoot stones at Israeli soldiers, lobbed Molotov cocktails over the fence line and sent burning tires rolling to the fence. Israeli Defense Force spokesman Brig-Gen. Ronen Manelis said March 30 that Palestinians were attempting to cross or harm the fence and “IDF troops returned precise fire.” He added that live ammunition was used only against those attempting to harm the fence. The IDF has said Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, is exploiting the demonstrations as a cover to carry out terrorist attacks.

Violence broke out again a week later on April 6. Seven Palestinians were killed and about 1,400 injured, including nearly 400 with gunshot wounds, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said it  found that, in all, 26 people died, including three children, and 445 children were among the injured. OCHA said no Israeli casualties have been reported.

The churches and agencies said in their April 12 statement that they “support the Palestinian people as they courageously stand up for their rights.”

“We have worked in our own context in the cause of justice, peace, and equality, and continue to do so even as we recognize we have too often fallen short in these efforts. We reject the use of violence by individuals, groups or states,” they said. “In the wake of demonstrations that have resulted in tragedy and death, and anticipating the continuation of Palestinian protests over the coming weeks, we cannot be silent.”

The statement outlines a series of steps the groups would like to see taken:

  • An end to the use of deadly force by the Israeli military, and support for the call by B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, to Israeli soldiers to refuse orders to shoot.
  • An investigation into the deaths and injuries suffered resulting from the use of force.
  • A censure by the United States, and particularly Trump and members of Congress, of “the violent and indiscriminate actions of the State of Israel” and holding Israel “appropriately accountable, ensuring that U.S. aid isn’t used in ways that contravene established U.S. and international laws.”
  • U.S. support for the rights of refugees, including Palestinian refugees, based on international law and conventions.
  • A decision by the United States to resume its full funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which supports schools, hospitals and other essential services for Palestinian refugees. The U.S. recently announced that it would provide $60 million to UNRWA with no assurance of further funding for 2018, an 83 percent funding cut over the 2017 contribution of $365 million.
  • A call for the international community, including the U.S. government, to insist on an end to the blockade of Gaza, “which has resulted in uninhabitable conditions for the people there, including poverty and lack of sufficient access to clean water, food, medicine and medical supplies, electricity, fuel, and construction equipment.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, left, and Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani walk March 26 through the barren area between an Israel checkpoint and Gaza City. They were going to visit the Anglican Al Ahli Arab Hospital. Their journey took place five days before violence broke out along the fence that separates Israel and the Gaza Strip. Photo: Sharon Jones

The statement said the Palestinians’ efforts to call the world’s attention to their struggle to  “recover, their rights—rights as refugees, to demonstrate, and to live in dignity” were met with “an immediate and tragic rejection of those rights.” The denominations and agencies declare themselves as “people of hope” who in the Easter season believe that those rights will ultimately prevail.

“In this time, we pray fervently, speak clearly, and act diligently in support of peace, justice, and equality,” they conclude.

The signers include the Alliance of Baptists, American Friends Service Committee, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Mennonite Central Committee U.S., National Council of Churches, Pax Christi International, Pax Christi USA, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society and the United Church of Christ.

After the first violence on March 30 and the day before the second round, Churches for Middle East Peace, or CMEP, a coalition of 27 U.S. denominations and organizations of which the Episcopal Church is a member, said, “we fully affirm the right of the Palestinian people to engage in nonviolent resistance.”

The organization said, “resorting to live fire against unarmed demonstrators is a negligent and inexcusable response that failed to distinguish between those who came to protest peacefully and those with more malicious intentions.”

In a related move earlier this week, Curry signed onto a CMEP letter to Trump calling on the administration to “protect the vulnerable Christian communities in the Holy Land” and oppose official Israeli efforts that it said would financially harm churches.

The letter refers to Jerusalem Municipality’s plan to collect taxes on all church property not used exclusively as houses of worship. Including back taxes, the churches were told to pay approximately $186 million, according to the letter. The Israeli Knesset is also considering legislation that would permit Israel to retroactively expropriate land sold by the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches since 2010.

The Times of Israel recently reported that the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem has been hit with a bill of the equivalent of nearly $2 million. Curry learned during his Holy Week trip to the Holy Land that Muslim religious groups would owe $120 million. Even though the controversial plan was put on hold early in March, the diocese’s accounts are still frozen.

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

Seminary of the Southwest cites church’s racial reconciliation efforts in announcing black scholars partnership

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 5:01pm

[Episcopal News Service] The Seminary of the Southwest is working with the Black Religious Scholars Group on a five-year partnership that will bring black scholars to the Episcopal seminary as visiting professors to improve racial diversity on the faculty and strengthen clergy formation on racial reconciliation issues.

The partnership creates the Crump Visiting Professor and Black Religious Scholars Group Scholar-in-Residence, with the Rev. Melanie Jones selected as the first visiting scholar. Jones, a Baptist minister, will teach at the Austin, Texas, seminary for a year starting this fall.

“This is a kind of direct initiative in order to not only bring black voices into this space but also to enable these voices to shape the curriculum and also to shape the theological development,” Jones said in an interview with Episcopal News Service.

The Rev. Melanie Jones. Photo: Seminary of the Southwest

Jones grew up in the Chicago area and now serves as associate minister of the South Suburban Missionary Baptist Church in Harvey, Illinois. She studied economics and political science at Howard University, earning a bachelor’s degree, because she initially wanted to become a lawyer, but she grew to believe she could do more for social justice by focusing on spiritual development and community involvement.

While earning a Master of Divinity degree at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, Jones worked with faith-based programs there aimed at helping prison inmates successfully re-enter society, and she began teaching at the nearby American Baptist College, which has a history of engagement on social justice issues.

The Episcopal Church’s emphasis on racial reconciliation is one of the reasons Jones is looking forward to teaching at Seminary of the Southwest.

“If we’re calling for an inclusive world, if we’re calling for black lives to matter, if we’re calling for there to be valuing of bodies, human beings, then we ought to have a multitude of voices at the table, in the room, at the lectern,” Jones said, “and not only for moments, but for significant ways of shaping the development and the formation of its students and leaders.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has made racial reconciliation one of his top priorities, most notably through the “Becoming Beloved Community” initiative. As he was elected in 2015, General Convention supported his call to that ministry. Convention has passed more than 30 resolutions on the subject since 1952, and some dioceses have taken up their own efforts to confront hard truths about their complicity with slavery, segregation and lynchings.

Seminary of the Southwest, in announcing the partnership with Black Religious Scholars Group, cited an increased sense of urgency in the wake of recent episodes of racial hostility around the country.

“This past year has shown how important the work of racial justice and reconciliation is in the United States,” the Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, dean and president of Seminary of the Southwest, said in a news release. “Seminary of the Southwest believes that this work must include our own community of learning.

“It is our sincere hope that this partnership and what we learn from it will be a model for other seminaries to collaborate with aligned organizations to foster racial and ethnic diversity in their institutions, the church, and the world.”

Jones and subsequent visiting scholars will teach two courses each academic year at Seminary of the Southwest, one core course in the seminary’s curriculum and a second course that each visiting scholar will develop. The visiting scholars also will have opportunities to preach during worship services at the seminary and help shape and contribute to other aspects of campus life.

This also is a new venture for Black Religious Scholars Group, which in the past has connected its scholars with congregations in the black church tradition for symposiums that offer a mix of academic and spiritual enrichment. Stacey Floyd-Thomas, the organization’s executive director and co-founder, said he hopes the partnership with Seminary of the Southwest “serves as a hopeful beacon of great promise and wonderful possibility to other likeminded institutions.”

“The Black Religious Scholars Group acknowledges this partnership as an exemplary way in which theological education and the church can live into the promises of our ideals during an era that may otherwise suggest that all hope is lost in a church and society in deep crisis,” Floyd-Thomas said in the seminary’s news release. “The work that we are embarking upon is built on a steadfast belief that our shared Christian witness is far stronger than persistent economic insecurity, rising cultural intolerance, growing political divisions, and increased anti-immigrant attitudes.”

Seminary of the Southwest has one black professor on its faculty, Awa Jangha, though most of its 18 full-time faculty members are white.

The visiting professor program “will increase the diversity of our faculty and enrich the conversation around theology, race, and the church,” Kittredge said in an emailed statement to ENS. “The partnership will be a learning opportunity for the members of our ongoing community, faculty and students alike, and for the visiting professor.”

She added that the seminary looks forward to welcoming Jones in the fall.

“Living fully into the promise of diversity is an opportunity not only for Seminary of the Southwest but for the Episcopal Church as a whole,” Kittredge said. “We hope that what we learn will be of benefit to the wider community of the academy and the church.”

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

Archbishop of Kenya speaks out against politician’s polygamy suggestion

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 3:16pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The primate of the Anglican Church of Kenya, Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit, has said the church would resist moves to promote polygamy in the country. The subject hit the headlines in Kenya after Kiambu Woman Representative Gathoni Wamuchomba called for men to marry several women to ensure children in single-parent families had a father-figure. “We give birth to these children, and we do not want to own up to them,” she is reported as saying. “If you are a man from the Kikuyu community, and you can sustain five wives, have them; and if you are a man and you are in a position to bring up [many children], do it.”

Read the entire article here.

Young English adults still value church weddings, survey shows

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 3:11pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Research conducted for the Church of England suggests that almost three-quarters of unmarried adults younger than 35 still dream of getting married. The figure is taken from a survey conducted by 9Dot-Research for the Church of England’s Life Events team. It would appear to contradict statistics for the actual number of weddings, which show a continuing decline in both absolute numbers and in the rate: figures for opposite-sex marriage in 2015 show that there were 21.7 marriages per 1,000 unmarried men and 19.8 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women – the lowest rate on record.

Read the entire article here.

Bishop welcomes New Zealand government announcement on offshore oil drilling

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 3:08pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, has announced a ban on new permits for offshore oil and gas exploration. In a move that has been welcomed by the bishop of Wellington, Justin Duckworth, Ardern said that existing exploration and mining rights would be protected but that the new restriction was part of a “just transition to a clean energy future.” She said that the coalition parties were “striking the right balance for New Zealand – we’re protecting existing industry, and protecting future generations from climate change.”

Read the entire article here.

Nigerian university investigating ‘sex for pass’ claims against Anglican professor

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 11:32am

[Anglican Communion News Service] A university in Nigeria on April 11 set up an investigation into claims that an Anglican priest who works as a university professor demanded sex from a female student in order to guarantee she passes the course. Nigerian media has named the man as a priest in the Anglican Diocese of Ife.

Read the full article here.

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