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Removal of Robert E. Lee from church’s name was just start of healing for Virginia congregation

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 5:52pm

Grace Episcopal Church’s new name is seen in a banner in front of the church in Lexington, Virginia, though a more official sign is still in the process of being replaced. Photo: Doug Cumming

[Episcopal News Service] Grace Episcopal Church in Lexington, Virginia, has begun growing into its new name. Its website homepage is updated.  The stationery is new. And perhaps more consequentially, the annual stewardship appeal has been sent to members under the new church name.

A month ago, the vestry voted to remove Robert E. Lee from the name of the church he once attended, changing it from R.E. Memorial Church back to its previous Grace. That move ended two years of sometimes tense debate over the Confederate general’s legacy, both as a prominent member of the congregation’s past and a symbol of racial hatred in contemporary America.

At least one couple has formally left the congregation in protest of the name change. At the same time, the congregation faces a change in leadership: The Rev. Tom Crittenden announced this month he plans to step down as rector after Nov. 5.

Despite the recent upheaval, some parish leaders who had disagreed over whether to remain as R.E. Lee Memorial now express a mutual desire to move forward together as Grace Episcopal.

“There’s still some hurt feelings, but [the congregation] seems to be pulling together,” senior warden Woody Sadler told Episcopal News Service this week by phone.

Sadler had long opposed the name change and voted against it Sept. 18, partly because the vestry hadn’t polled the full congregation.

The vestry’s 7-5 vote adopted a change recommended in April by a Discovery and Discernment Committee of vestry members and parishioners. A more recent and direct catalyst for the Lexington vestry’s decision was the Aug. 14 violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Hate groups had gathered in Charlottesville to “unite the right” in support of a Lee statue that the city had slated for removal. Clashes with anti-racism counter-protesters left one of the counter-protesters dead.

Doug Cumming, one of the Lexington vestry members who supported removal of Lee from the church’s name, said he thinks resolving that issue last month has put the congregation on the path to spiritual renewal.

“We’re coming back together. We’re now in a period of real healing and reconciliation,” Cumming said in an interview with ENS, and he already senses that people who had shied away from the church during the debate over the name have started returning to Sunday services.

The changes have been difficult, though, for those who felt the congregation’s identity was closely tied to Lee.

“I think it just hurts some people so much to see the name changing and to see things happening so fast,” Cumming said.

As fast as change is coming, it is hardly complete. The website that advertises services at Grace Episcopal Church is still hosted on the domain releechurch.org. A new domain is in the works, Cumming said.

The sign in front of R.E. Lee Memorial Church in Lexington, Virginia. Photo: Doug Cumming

Grace is the name on the outdoor sign listing worship times and on a banner advertising an upcoming bazaar. But the main sign out front has not yet been replaced and still welcomes passersby to “R.E. Lee Memorial Church.” Cumming, as chair of the church’s History Committee, presented the lowest bid on a replacement sign to the vestry at its most recent meeting, Oct. 16. The cost will be $930.

Sadler said he signed off on that expense the following day. The new sign should be installed in a few weeks.

Deeper change in the congregation may take time and require more than a new name and sign. Crittenden is personally well liked, Cumming said, but his resignation reflected the congregation’s desire for new leadership as it looks to the future. Its Discovery and Discernment Committee’s report identified “a loss of confidence in the ability of the current rector to lead the parish forward.”

Diocese of Southwest Virginia Bishop Mark Bourlakas met with the congregation, vestry and Crittenden in the months leading up to Crittenden’s decision to resign, and Bourlakas plans to attend the November vestry meeting to discuss calling an interim rector while Grace recruits someone new to the role permanently.

The Discovery and Discernment Committee also singled out the vestry as part of the leadership “vacuum” in the congregation, including but not limited to its role in the debate over the church’s name. The committee recommended the vestry focus on coordinating its vision, mission and long-range planning and communicate better with parishioners.

The vestry will have several new faces leading those efforts starting in January. The congregation on Oct. 15 elected five new vestry members to the 12-member body, out of 10 people who were interested in serving, an unusually high number, Cumming said. (He was one of the vestry members who chose not to return when their terms expire at the end of this year.)

The new vestry members appear to support the name change, Cumming said, but it is more difficult to gauge the change’s effect on the larger congregation. Cumming sensed increased attendance since the name change, due to the return of families who had stopped attending. Sadler, on the other hand, said he hadn’t noticed Sunday attendance swell in the past month.

The Oct. 15 service was well attended, but it also was unique: The congregation combined its 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. services for a special joint service that will be repeated every three months.

“There’s a lot of reconciliation and healing that has to go on,” said Bourlakas, who had encouraged changing the church name. He told ENS he is pleased by the progress. “People seem to be trying to work together. I know it hasn’t pleased everybody but there seems to be some acceptance and voices for moving forward.”

Cumming, despite voting to remove Lee from the church name, doesn’t think the church is erasing history. His committee is discussing other ways of highlighting Lee’s historic role.

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.

One suggestion received by the History Committee was to rename the parish hall after Lee, but Cumming said the committee also is looking for ways to highlight other historical figures’ ties to the church.

An interpretative historical marker might include info on Lee, but also on Jonathan Daniels, a civil rights worker who was killed in 1965 while saving the life of a black teenage girl. Daniels attended R.E. Lee Memorial Church while a student at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. He was class valedictorian when he graduated in 1961.

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

What would happen if Episcopalians and their church put Jesus at the center – really?

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 5:32pm

Diocese of Honduras Bishop Lloyd Allen presides at Holy Eucharist on Oct. 18 as the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council opens its Oct. 18-21 meeting. The Rev. Geof Smith, the Episcopal Church’s chief operating officer and a deacon, assisted during the service. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Linthicum Heights, Maryland] It would seem obvious that Episcopalians have Jesus at the center of their lives and that the Episcopal Church centers on Jesus. Yet, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry challenged the church’s Executive Council Oct. 18 to deeply reflect on whether the church and its members are truly answering the call of Christ during these times of challenges from outside and inside the church.

Curry’s remarks came during the opening session of council’s Oct. 18-21 meeting. The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies and Executive Council vice chair, joined him in that challenge. Council spent nearly 90 minutes listening to and discussing Curry’s challenge. The members and staff will continue that work Oct. 19, albeit from a different angle, in a session Jennings will lead on council committee reorganization.

Curry acknowledged that recently released data from the 2016 parochial reports from each congregation and diocese show that membership in the Episcopal Church continues to decline. The pace has slowed some, he said, but the trajectory remains downward. There were 6,473 domestic parishes and missions in 2016 compared with 6,510 in 2015. The number of baptized members who were active in 2016 was 1,745,156, compared with 1,779,335 in 2015.

If it doesn’t look like Jesus, it’s not Christianity. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry #episcopal #excoun pic.twitter.com/vWXppeMPaq

— Frank Logue (@franklogue) October 18, 2017

While it may be tempting to despair and search for ways to return to a church that Episcopalians believe existed in the past, Curry said, he believes that if the church concentrates on making and forming disciples who truly live the way of Jesus “we won’t have time to worry about Average Sunday Attendance; that will take care of itself.”

“If we continue to navel gaze, then we won’t survive, and probably shouldn’t,” he said. “If our concern is being the church of the 1950s, maintaining an institutional reality for the sake of the institution, maybe we don’t need to continue.”

But, if Episcopalians are concerned about keeping Jesus at the center of their lives, then “that’s church that has a reason to exist and will have a future.”

The presiding bishop asked the council to consider the story told in Acts 16:6-10, known as the Macedonian Call. Paul, “having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia,” according to the passage, has a vision one night of a man pleading with him to come help him and his friends in Macedonia. Once there, Paul meets and converts Lydia, her household and many others, and plants many churches, on what is now known as his second missionary journey.

Curry insisted that the Episcopal Church might be experiencing its own Macedonian Call. The attendance data he cited is “either a cause for despair or a call to go to Macedonia.” The despair comes from feeling as if the church is blocked from resuscitating “the church we thought we once were.”

“Macedonia” needs Episcopalians, he said, in a time when “there are voices in our culture that masquerade as Christians.” However, those voices “do not even show basic humanitarian concern and care,” much less echoing Jesus’s message of love and forgiveness.

House of Deputies Vice President Byron Rushing makes a point Oct. 18 as council members and others discuss ways to ensure that Jesus is always at the center of their lives and of the church. Council member Russ Randle and Barbara Miles, chairwoman of the Joint Standing Commission on Program, Budget and Finance are among those listening. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

“I really believe that the way of Jesus, the way that is gracious, kind, loving, just, good – that way and that Jesus – is what the world is hungry for and God help us, we’re getting a Macedonian Call.”

When Episcopalians answer that call, they will be a church reoriented around the gospel in the way, as in most congregations, the gospel is processed into the midst of the people and they turn to face the person who proclaims it, the presiding bishop said.

Curry acknowledged that his description of the world in need of authentic Christianity was an echo of what Jennings evoked for the council in her remarks earlier in the session. Jennings reviewed a litany of what she has said is a “difficult season for Christians in the United States who are committed to doing justice, protecting God’s creation and safeguarding the dignity of every human being.”

President House of Deputies of the #episcopal church @gaycjen shares how governance done well supports witness & mission #excoun pic.twitter.com/AYr8HToSaP

— Frank Logue (@franklogue) October 18, 2017

“The situation feels unstable, and to many Americans, it is downright frightening,” Jennings said.

“I am encouraged that many Christians, and many of you here this morning, are mobilizing to resist the onslaught of policies and pronouncements – and tweets – that run counter to our gospel values and our vision of the kingdom of God,” she said. “People of faith have played important roles in opposing several unsuccessful attempts to take health care away from millions of Americans, and we are also committed to defeating the current attempt to deport hundreds of thousands of young ‘dreamers’ who were brought to this country without documentation as children.”

Jennings anchored that advocacy in the public policy actions taken by the General Convention, and she praised the support of the Office of Government Relations in Washington D.C., for helping mobilize the Episcopal Church, especially when legislative remedies are sought.

“We are working hard; the issues come at us fast these days. But we are organized, we are mobilizing more quickly than in the past, and we are resisting for the sake of the most vulnerable people in our communities and our congregations,” she said.

Episcopalians must “counter an impoverished and vindictive interpretation of our faith with what my friend here calls the loving, liberating and life-giving message of the Jesus Movement,” Jennings said, referring to Curry.

Given the gravity of what Jennings described, she admitted that council might think it odd when, on Oct. 19, she leads a session on the group’s committee structure.

“Now, I realize that the kingdom of God is not like a committee meeting, or at least I hope not,” she said. “But the work we do here to fulfill our canonical responsibility – which is to provide board-level oversight and direction to the work of the DFMS as defined by General Convention – makes it possible for the rest of the church do its work. In our tradition, governance does not stand in opposition to mission or even detract from mission. Governance, done efficiently, transparently and collaboratively, makes mission and witness, prophetic witness, possible.”

The rest of the meeting

After the opening plenary on Oct. 18, council spent the rest of the day and the morning of Oct. 19 meeting in its five committees. Later on Oct. 19, council members will get an update on the recent work of Episcopal Relief & Development, and they will have the Jennings-led discussion on possible ways to reorganize their work on council. Committee meetings will also take up most of Oct. 20 and, on Oct. 21, the committees will each report to the full body, proposing resolutions for the full body to consider.

The Oct. 18-21 meeting is taking place at the Maritime Institute Conference Center.

Some council members are tweeting from the meeting using #ExCoun.

The Executive Council carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, according to Canon I.4 (1). The council comprises 38 members – 20 of whom (four bishops, four priests or deacons, and 12 lay people) are elected by General Convention and 18 (one clergy and one lay) by the nine provincial synods for six-year terms – plus the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies. In addition, the vice president of the House of Deputies, secretary, chief operating officer, treasurer and chief financial officer have seats and voice but no vote.

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

U.K. Christians and Jews celebrate 75 years of interfaith relations

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 12:04pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The archbishop of Dublin, Michael Jackson, has used a speech to the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) to talk about how people encounter what he termed “the other.” Respect for the other was needed for people of distinct faiths to engage in encounters with one another, he said. And he argued that today’s mass migrations were once again bringing people together who might not otherwise have met, saying: “Neutral territory and public space have become contested once again in ways that are all too familiar to Jewish people in history and today.”

Read the entire article here.

New primate and leadership team for Church of North India

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 11:59am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The bishop of Jabalpur, Prem Singh, has been elected as the new moderator and Anglican primate of the united Church of North India. The church’s recent synod also elected a new deputy moderator: Bishop Probal Kanto Dutta of the Diocese of Durgapur. A new treasurer, Jayant Agarwal, was also elected. Alwan Masih will continue in his role as general secretary.

Read the entire article here.

The crisis continues for Puerto Rico, and so do efforts toward relief, and then, recovery

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 4:39pm

A message written on top of a building is seen from the air during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria near Humacao, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 11. Photo: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal clergy and congregation members are resuming church services and school classes when they can and how they can, despite the vast devastation in Puerto Rico almost a month after Hurricane Maria swept through Sept. 20.

It was the strongest storm the island has faced since before the Great Depression, a Category 4 hurricane that spewed up to 40 inches of rain in some places in one day, whereas Houston, Texas, saw 32 inches in three days from Hurricane Harvey in late August, according to the Weather Channel and the National Hurricane Center.

Almost a month after Maria, Puerto Ricans are still in crisis mode.

Forty-five deaths have been reported so far related to the storm, and residents in the northern part of the island have no clean water to drink so they are drinking contaminated water in nearby rivers, according to Episcopal Relief & Development. About 90 percent of the island was still without electricity as of Oct. 11, three weeks after Maria hit. In comparison, 22 percent of the homes and businesses on the Virgin Islands are without power from Maria.

“The lives of so many people have been turned upside down,” said Abagail Nelson, Episcopal Relief & Development’s senior vice president of programs in the latest Hurricane Maria report. “This is a humanitarian crisis that will affect many people in the years to come.”

A wooden cross is seen on the door of a home damaged by Hurricane Maria near the municipality of Morovis, outside San Juan, Puerto Rico, Oct. 10. Photo: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

Coordinating donations with local agencies to get basic supplies to those who most need it is a logistics challenge that Episcopal Relief & Development is working on daily, along with many others. Volunteers are organizing shipments of water and food to residents of Maricao, Ponce and other remote areas. The organization is planning on supplying water-purification systems to those isolated communities.

Communication is still dicey and is expected to remain that way for several more months. Satellite phones are helping diocesan members communicate with each other, church partners, emergency services and communities.

Social media has been the most reliable way to communicate. The Episcopal Cathedral School in San Juan closed like most institutions, and parents didn’t have to pay September fees. The K-12 school reopened for classes Oct. 10 and restarted its after-school program Oct. 16. Like most places, the school still has no electrical power, so students are advised to bring, if they can, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, bottled water and insect repellent spray. They are allowed to wear Bermuda-style pants and sleeveless shirts and won’t have any tests for the time being and limited homework.

Also on Oct. 16, the school counselor announced that college admission deadlines have been extended for both Puerto Rico and mainland U.S. colleges. “I hope that this serves as a means of reassurance that we will continue to have a successful academic year,” said Karen Santiago Garcia, guidance counselor.

On Oct. 15, the Rt. Rev. Rafael Morales Maldonado, bishop of the Diocese of Puerto Rico, celebrated Holy Eucharist at Misión San Gabriel Arcángel in Humacao on the east side of the island.

Puerto Rico Bishop Rafael Morales Maldonado leads church members in an Oct. 15 celebration of Holy Eucharist at Misión San Gabriel Arcángel in Humacao on the east side of the island. Photo: Bishop Rafael Morales Maldonado via Facebook

“We cry and laugh together. We discovered the strength of the Lord in our new project to lift and build,” Morales said in a Facebook post, as translated by the social media site.

The bishop has been working with Xavier Castellanos, the Episcopal Relief & Development representative who’s onsite to lend his expertise, to mobilize church partners as they continue to assess the needs of different areas of the island, and to especially send help and food to the more remote mountainous regions. The organization sent emergency support in advance of Hurricane Maria in order to help the diocese provide assistance quickly.

Meanwhile, back in the continental United States, people with family and friends in Puerto Rico are still worrying about them.

The Rev. Gladys Rodriguez of Church of the Incarnation in Oviedo, Florida, has been able to speak only briefly a few times with her husband, Victor Rivera Gonzalez, who is in Puerto Rico. They have homes in both places, and before the storm, she’d travel back and forth. Their house in the Guaynabo area of the island is made of cement and held up well, but their roof is damaged. Gonzalez had stocked up on water and was able to share it with neighbors. “He has been eating canned food. He has no electricity. There is no communication with the center of the island,” Rodriguez said in an email.

One of Rodriguez’s church members in Florida lost contact with a relative in Ponce who needed cash, food, water and medicines. Eventually, that relative found someone to drive through the hazardous roads to help her. “Everyone is in desperate need for cash, water, electricity, food and medicines,” Rodriguez said. When air travel becomes easier, probably by the end of October, her husband plans to fly to her in Oviedo.

Lynn Hendricks, president of the National Altar Guild Association based in Birmingham, Alabama, built Eucharist kits for Puerto Rico. One of her fellow church members planned to fly his plane to the island to deliver generators, water and other supplies for the relief effort and offered to take the kits along.

“He said transportation is a problem on the island, and he was being met so wasn’t sure if he would be able to deliver them personally, but he would see the diocese was contacted and told where they could pick them up if he wasn’t able to hand deliver them,” Hendricks said in an email to Episcopal News Service.

Misión San Gabriel Arcángel in Humacao, southeast of San Juan and near the eastern coast, hosted services for Episcopalians on Oct. 15. Photo: the Rt. Rev. Rafael Morales Maldonado via Facebook

The Rt. Rev. Andrew M.L. Dietsche, bishop of New York, held a service for the victims of natural disasters in the Caribbean and Mexico on Oct. 7, at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. The hurricane that ravaged Puerto Rico was, sadly, one the latest in a series of natural disasters that have, in just over a month, visited “unspeakable ruin upon Texas, Florida, the Caribbean (especially the Virgin Islands and Cuba), Mexico, and now Puerto Rico,” Dietsche said in his advance announcement of the service.

“Countless people in our diocese have been personally affected by these storms. Indeed, members of my own staff have lived through harrowing days in the last week waiting for word from missing family members,” he said. “I know that they represent thousands of New Yorkers who have carried the same fears for those they love.”

People can help by donating to Episcopal Relief & Development’s Hurricane Relief Fund, which will help partners reach the vulnerable communities devastated by the recent tropical storms.

— Amy Sowder is a special correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. She is also a journalist and editor based in New York City. Reach her at amysowderepiscopalnews@gmail.com.

Anglicans reflect on summer’s devastating wildfires in British Columbia

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 2:43pm

Fire rages in the distance behind the historic Anglican church of St. John at the Latin Gate, located on the Ashcroft Reserve, during the peak of the British Columbia wildfire season in July. Photo: Anglican Church of Canada

[Anglican Church of Canada] This summer’s wildfire season was the worst-ever recorded in British Columbia’s history. Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from their homes, hundreds of buildings were destroyed, and much of the province’s livestock was put at risk. As of Sept. 28, more than 100 wildfires were still burning across the province.

Much of the devastation impacted Anglicans residing within the Territory of the People. For some, the threat of the encroaching fires forced the evacuation of friends and neighbours, while others were made to flee and leave their own homes. At the height of the evacuations, many Anglican clergy and lay people provided assistance and pastoral care to evacuees.

“One way or another, every single parish in our territory was affected,” said the Very Rev. Ken Gray, currently serving as episcopal commissary during the sabbatical of Bishop Barbara Andrews.

Experience of evacuated parishes

In certain parishes, particularly 100 Mile House, Alexis Creek, and Williams Lake, residents were evacuated as the fire threatened buildings and parishioners’ homes. Meanwhile, major centres such as Kamloops and Prince George took in large numbers of evacuees.

The Revs. Kris and Keith Dobyns—who share positions serving St. Timothy’s Anglican Church in 100 Mile House and St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Williams Lake, as well as St. Luke’s Anglican Church in Alexis Creek—were among those those evacuated in July. Days after the fires began near their home in 100 Mile House, Kris received a warning from fire volunteers going door-to-door that she might have to leave.

“About 45 minutes before the evacuation, all of this black smoke started billowing in … I live downtown, and it looked pretty ominous,” she recalled. “My neighbours were out and they all decided to leave. They had ash falling in their backyards.”

Making the decision to evacuate, Dobyns packed and left a note with her name and phone number on her front door. She stayed with parishioners just outside the evacuation zone on a Sunday night before leaving early Monday morning. After meeting up with Keith, who had been away visiting their grandson in Ontario, they drove to stay with their son and his family in Abbotsford, B.C.

Two weeks later, officials re-opened 100 Mile for residents to return, and the couple returned home. But when fire threatened the surrounding areas of Elephant Hill and Canim Lake, Kris ended up leaving for Abbotsford for a few more days on the advice of Bishop Andrews.

“It was just so smoky and there had been more evacuations on both sides of us,” Dobyns said. “Our bishop was visiting to provide pastoral care and all these other evacuations had happened, and she looked at me and said, ‘You need a break.’”

During that time, members of the Canim Lake Band were themselves evacuated following a lightning strike and ended up in 100 Mile.

Partnering with the Stemete7uw’I Friendship Centre—which is located next to St. Timothy’s—to help care for evacuees, Anglicans joined band members for a potluck attended by Bishop Andrews, during which they brought food and other items such as clothing.

“We have a free store at our church that can be opened at any point,” Dobyns said. “So we opened that up for people who needed clothing or blankets, because they had just had to leave in the middle of the night with no warning.”

Providing care to evacuees

In larger urban centres where many of those evacuated ended up, Anglican clergy were on the frontlines of helping evacuees.

The Rev. Isabel Healy-Morrow, regional dean for Kamloop-South Rivers, spent time at two areas set up by authorities to receive people evacuated from their homes in communities such as 100 Mile House, Clinton, Ashcroft, and Cache Creek. One was the Kamloops Powwow Grounds, where a cluster of tents and travel trailers had sprung up.

“I would go down and sit and visit with families, drink coffee with them, play with the children, and give them someone to vent their anxieties to,” Healy-Morrow said. “Those in the ranching industry were consumed with anxiety about their livestock.”

With a background in farming and ranching, Healy-Morrow was able to converse with fleeing ranchers about the evacuation of cattle and other livestock. Many horses were evacuated and taken to the Kamloops Exhibition Grounds and nearby farms.

For the evacuated people themselves, many had left quickly and been compelled to leave behind essentials such as prescriptions and clean clothing. At a second, indoor reception area, the Interior Community Savings Arena, hundreds of cots were set up, while provincial Emergency Social Services provided food, clothing, toiletries, and other benefits.

At the arena, Healy-Morrow encountered a group of First Nations elders from the coastal community of Bella Coola, who were unable to home after a Vancouver conference due to the Hanceville wildfire blocking the road from Williams Lake.

“There was no indication as to when it might be safe to travel,” she recalled. “I was able to provide a pastoral presence, hug people, [and] hand out water and snacks and pamphlets showing the location of St. Paul’s Cathedral, where evacuees were welcome to drop in and rest, pray, or talk.”

Healy-Morrow also visited evacuees who had been admitted to the emergency room at Royal Inland Hospital after experiencing cardiac and breathing issues, due to the cumulative effects of stress and poor air quality resulting from smoke, ash, and particulate matter—a particular health risk for those suffering from conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“They were glad of a smile, a hug, someone to sit by their bed and talk, pray if requested, and bring them coffee and snacks,” she said.

“The pastoral presence of the clergy was appreciated by the evacuees, and it was clear that a smile and a hug went a long way to those who were frantic with anxiety over the possible loss of their homes and assets.”

Though the wildfires have subsided since their summer peak, residents in affected communities now find themselves dealing with the aftermath of the destruction.

ThisI is the first installment of a two-part story detailing the experience and aftermath of the B.C. summer wildfires from an Anglican perspective. Visit the Anglican Church of Canada website later this week for the conclusion.

Communiqué from the Council of the Church in East Asia bishop’s meeting

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 2:33pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] From Oct. 11 to 16, twenty-eight Anglican archbishops and bishops of the Council of the Church in East Asia, including the Obispo Maximo of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, met in Yangon, Myanmar, with the theme “Living and Sharing Jesus-Shaped Life” from Colossians 2:6, hosted by the Rev. Stephen Than Myint Oo, archbishop and primate of the Church of the Province of Myanmar. Joining them were their spouses and clergy who are members of the executive committee of the council. The delegates were from Japan, Myanmar, Korea, Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan and Australia.

Read the entire story here.

Church of England anti-slavery initiative wins government backing

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 2:24pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May has given her backing to the Church of England’s new anti-slavery program. The Clewer Initiative was launched Oct. 17, at Lambeth Palace, the London home and headquarters of the archbishop of Canterbury. “Modern slavery is a barbaric crime which destroys the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our society,” May said. “I value the work that the Clewer Initiative will be doing to enable the Church of England dioceses and wider church networks to develop strategies to tackle modem slavery.”

Read the entire story here.

Former bishop of Chester implicated in abuse allegations

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 2:17pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Cheshire Constabulary – the regional police force with responsibility for the area of the Church of England’s diocese of Chester – has published a report detailing abuse allegations against Bishop Hubert Whitsey, the former bishop of Chester. Bishop Whitsey died in 1987. Today, the police said that if he was still alive, he would have been formally spoken to in relation to 10 of the 13 separate allegations made against him. Police inquiries began after the diocese of Chester passed concerns to the police.

Read the entire article here.

Atlanta bishop joins honor guard for fallen Green Beret

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 11:45am

From right, Episcopal lay Chaplain Barbara Pendergrast, Atlanta Bishop Robert C. Wright and Episcopal Chaplain the Rev. Donna S. Mote join an honor guard Oct. 16 at Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport to greet the remains of Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio. Photo: Diocese of Atlanta

[Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta] Bishop Robert C. Wright on Oct. 16 joined Episcopal chaplains the Rev. Donna S. Mote and Barbara Pendergrast at Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport to welcome the remains of Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio.

Johnson is one of four U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers killed Oct. 4 in Niger when a joint US-Nigerien patrol was attacked.

Wright, who was at the airport on a previously scheduled visit, said he was honored to be part of the ceremony, an ongoing welcome for deceased service members regularly conducted by a volunteer group of Delta Airlines employees accompanied by airport chaplains.

“Even Jesus marveled at the discipline and dedication of those who wear a uniform,” said Wright, who served for five years in the U.S. Navy. “We owe our service men and women much more than occasional moments of silence and our prayers.”

The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta is part of the Interfaith Airport Chaplaincy (IAC) at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) that was founded in 1980 and throughout the intervening years has provided inter-religious emotional and spiritual care to passengers and employees at the world’s busiest airport. In 2016 104 million passengers traveled through ATL, an average of more than 275,000 daily. ATL is also the largest single site of employment in Georgia with over 63,000 employees.

Lay people of the Diocese of Atlanta were among the original chaplains of the IAC. Mote was assigned as Episcopal chaplain to ATL by Wright in November 2013. Since January 2014, Barbara Pendergrast, a board-certified chaplain endorsed by the Episcopal Church, has volunteered with the IAC.

Along with three other IAC chaplains, Mote and Pendergrast, at the invitation of Delta Airlines, accompany military remains as they terminate in or transit through ATL on Delta. On average, Delta handles two service members’ remains daily in Atlanta. The chaplains bear witness to the dignified transfer of the remains and accompany the official military escorts throughout their time at ATL.

The Delta Honor Guard renders honors to the fallen who pass through ATL under the direction of Coordinator Brian J. McConnell Sr. a 35-year veteran of Delta who has overseen the Honor Guard for 12 years and handled the remains of some 6,000 US military personnel. The Delta Honor Guard members are volunteers from work areas across the company; most of them are veterans, have a child or sibling currently serving, or both.

— Don Plummer is media and community relations director for the Diocese of Atlanta and attends St. Teresa’s Episcopal Church in Acworth, Georgia.

Seminary of the Southwest helps smooth the path to becoming a military chaplain

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 4:44pm

The Rev. Nathan Ferrel, a chaplain in the U.S. Navy, was commissioned April 23, 2017. Photo: Office of the Bishop for Armed Forces and Federal Ministries

[Episcopal News Service] Joshua Woods first felt the calling while he ministered to hospice patients in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.

Many patients were military veterans and spouses. As he counseled them, Woods, a lay chaplain, heard what an impact military chaplains made in their lives.

That’s when Woods, now 34, knew he wanted to become a military chaplain. Such a chaplain is a clergy member who provides spiritual leadership, counseling and religious services for an institution other than a parish, such as a prison, university, hospital or branch of the armed forces.

But the process to become a military chaplain specifically is tough. Woods knew of no seminary with a military chaplaincy concentration, and there are so many requirements from both the church and military that it can be a tedious and frustrating path to navigate.

“One of the reasons it was a long and winding road for me was because I was doing it without guidance,” Woods said, although he did have help from the Rev. Dave Scheider, a now-retired U.S. Army chaplain of 25 years and a faculty member of Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas.

Woods is a senior at that Episcopal seminary now, but those coming after him should have it easier. On Sept. 12, Seminary of the Southwest announced the launch of a military chaplaincy concentration for its master of divinity degree. It’s the first of its kind among Episcopal seminaries.

The seminary didn’t create this concentration from scratch, said Eric Scott, the seminary’s communications and marketing director. For 15 years, Seminary of the Southwest has been the only Episcopal seminary that offers an accredited master’s degree in health for students to become licensed professional counselors, Scott said. It’s a clinical degree, completely separate from the religious world.

Retired Rear Admiral Don Muchow (left) and two military recruiters dine together during the Sept. 12 event announcing the new military chaplaincy concentration at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas. Photo: Seminary of the Southwest

“Because of these counseling classes, and because a large part of what a military chaplain does in practice is the mental health counseling, the pastoral side, we’re able to offers some of those topic-specific elective classes, such as these counseling classes, for dealing with PTSD, addiction and recovery — all the things we know soldiers are dealing with,” Scott said.

Seminarians on the military chaplaincy track will take the same required courses as their master of divinity peers, while using their elective courses for the concentration.

It also helps that the seminary is fewer than 100 miles from three of the country’s largest military bases, where seminarians can do their required field work at nearby parishes that support the military and their families: the U.S. Army’s Fort Hood in Killeen and the U.S. Air Force’s Lackland and Randolph bases.

The Rt. Rev. Carl Wright, bishop suffragan for the armed forces and federal ministries, visited the Austin campus when the program was officially launched. He provides ecclesiastical supervision for 130 Episcopal military chaplains on the federal payroll and would love to double that number if he had enough priests trained and called to the ministry. He sees the growth in specialized ministries as a trend in the Episcopal Church.

“The M.Div. military track is groundbreaking, and it’s the wave of the future in our church, because we’ve always known that everybody does not feel called specifically to parish ministry,” Wright said, recalling his visit. He applauds Seminary of the Southwest, “not only for acknowledging other calls but also for creating a way for us to pursue them.”

The Rev. Hope Benko, director of enrollment, and the Rt. Rev. Carl Wright, bishop suffragan for the armed forces and federal ministries, attended the Sept. 12 announcement event at Seminary of the Southwest. Photo: Seminary of the Southwest

These seminarians receive training in suicide prevention, marriage and relationship counseling and ministering to soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction issues and more kinds of crisis. The degree also entails field work in Veterans Affairs hospitals and other medical facilities.

There’s a shortage of Episcopalian chaplains in the military, where spiritual guidance and counseling is needed for those who don’t fall in line with more conservative beliefs, Scheider said. He oversees three of the seminary’s graduate programs designed for laity and clergy in counseling, chaplaincy and spiritual formation. Scheider will mentor the military chaplaincy students.

“The ability to minister to everybody in the units who fall all across the political and theological spectrum is so challenging. That’s really hard to do, and that’s what we want them to be formed to do,” Scheider said.

He wants chaplains to enter the military equipped to master the political culture and pressures, such as being able to counsel the young service people, often minorities, who join in the lower ranks to get out of poverty. Chaplains also must gain the respect of higher-ranking officers, who tend to be more conservative, Sheider said.

There’s an increase of sexual minorities in the military, but a decrease in chaplains from denominations that are more accepting of their beliefs and lifestyles, he said. Throughout the week when chaplains are not leading services, they counsel people going through serious issues, and even though they’re not officially mental health counselors, they might be the most available members in the unit.

The Rev. Dave Scheider, the Rt. Rev. Carl Wright and the Rev. David Peters, an alumnus of Seminary of the Southwest and U.S. Army chaplain, attended the Sept. 12 announcement event at the seminary. Photo: Seminary of the Southwest

“All they have to do is go up to a chaplain and say, ‘Hey do you have a minute,’” Scheider said, and the service member can expect complete confidentiality, even if there’s suicidal intent. Chaplains are considered clergy, not medical professionals, and therefore are not subject to the same exceptions to the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) rules, as well as state exceptions, that require or permit disclosure of patients’ serious and imminent thoughts of harming themselves. These rules, requirements and exceptions, along with the liability involved, can be tricky, but the goal is to keep the person seeking help safe, and to build enough trust to do that.

“Chaplains are extremely safe for service members to just lay open their heart and not experience any consequences,” Sheider said.

In his last decade of active military service, Scheider specialized on helping couples who’d had affairs, a portion of whom marry young to get out of the barracks and receive benefits. He earned extra counseling degrees and a marriage and family therapy license to better do that.

“All couples need to have that level of support and not be discriminated against, and we’re one of the few denominations that encourage our chaplains to provide that kind of support to same-sex couples,” he said.

Above all, Sheider and Woods agree that a military chaplain needs to be a priest first and a military service member second. That’s why a firm grounding in the seminary is so important.

Until now, there has been no one specific route within an Episcopal seminary for students who want training to become military chaplains rather than serve a parish. The Episcopal Church does have a program for seminarians to become “chaplain candidates.” They enter the reserves for training during their summers between their junior and senior seminary years. Those chaplain candidates continue training and drilling as reservists until they finish their mandatory parish experience time (up to two years), according to the Rev. Leslie Nuñez Steffensen, canon to the bishop of armed forces and federal ministries.

Interested seminarians or clergy must enter the U.S. military’s chaplain-recruitment process and, at a certain point, receive their denomination’s so-called ecclesiastical endorsement.

The Rev. Todd Delaney is a chaplain in the U.S. military, performing services no matter where he’s stationed. Photo: Office of the bishop for armed forces and federal ministries

Some people were in the military first, and then left to get ordained and their chaplaincy training at a seminary. Others were priests first, and then entered the military. The U.S. Army, for instance, outlines three of the main hurdles: receive ecclesiastical endorsement, earn a baccalaureate degree, and be a full-time graduate student at seminary or theological school.

For Woods, he first had to discover that he wanted to be an Episcopalian. He had previously worked as a lay chaplain and an assistant pastor of a non-denominational church. Before that, he graduated from Vanderbilt University’s seminary with a master’s degree in theological studies, and was following the teaching of his childhood church, Assemblies of God. But as Woods grew older, he found that denomination limiting, and he loves the openness to questioning and inclusiveness of the Episcopal Church.

He was convinced when he saw an almost equal number of Republican and Democrat political bumper stickers during the Obama-Romney presidential election in the parking lot of his first visit to an Episcopal church, St. Simon’s on the Sound in Fort Walton Beach.

Chaplains must be comfortable with diversity and multiculturalism to do well in the military, Scheider said. That same kind of welcoming, accepting spirit is what drew Woods to the Episcopal Church in the first place, and why the military needs more Episcopalian chaplains with a firm grounding in both worlds, he and Woods say.

“In the military, you’ll be a priest or a pastor to some, but you’ll be a chaplain to all,” Woods said. “Everyone that I care for will not be Episcopalian. I’ll need a whole different toolbox to care for all the other people with different types of beliefs.”

— 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. David Paulsen, an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service, contributed to this report. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

 

Archbishop of Canterbury boosts links to the Commonwealth of Nations

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 2:11pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has appointed a special representative to the Commonwealth – an association of 52 independent nations, most of which used to be part of the British empire. The Rev. Flora Winfield, the Anglican Communion’s former representative to the United Nations in Geneva, will take up the new role ahead of the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in April 2018.

Read the entire article here.

Asian Christians celebrate diamond jubilee of first regional ecumenical group

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 2:03pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] More than 6,000 people attended the diamond jubilee ceremony of the world’s oldest regional ecumenical organization, the Christian Conference of Asia, yesterday (Sunday). The event, at the Franc Auditorium of the Baptist Church in Yangon, Myanmar, took place during the CCA’s Asian mission conference. The CCA brings together a large number of churches in the Asian and Oceania area, including many Anglican provinces. Its mission conference concludes Oct. 17.

Read the entire story here.

Churches urged to set aside day for beach clean-up

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 2:00pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Anglicans and other Christians throughout the world are being encouraged to take part in a coordinated beach clean-up project in September 2018. The third Saturday in September is recognized by the conservation community as International Coastal Clean-up Day. The Environmental Network of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa is joining forces with the Christian environment network, A Rocha International, and other partners to encourage Christians around the world to take part in next year’s Coastal Clean-up Day, on Sept. 15, 2018.

Read the entire article here.

God’s church for God’s world: 2020 Lambeth Conference takes shape

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 1:57pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The group tasked with designing the next Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops has been meeting this week to continue their preparations. The Lambeth Conference is one of the Anglican Communion’s four instruments of unity, and brings together bishops from across the world, usually once every 10 years. This week, the Lambeth 2020 Design Group has been at the Anglican Communion Office in London to further explore the details of the next Lambeth Conference, which will take place in Canterbury, England in 2020.

Read the entire article here.

Bishop Nigel Stock named as chaplain to the 2020 Lambeth Conference

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 1:54pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The former bishop at Lambeth, Nigel Stock, has joined the Lambeth 2020 Design Group as chaplain to the Lambeth Conference, the gathering of Anglican bishops which will take place in Canterbury, England in 2020. The Chaplain to the Lambeth Conference is a crucial role, organizing worship representative of the diversity of the Anglican Communion as well as providing prayerful support for the bishops as they meet.

Read the entire article here.

Fires ‘still just raging’ through Northern California

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 5:55pm

Huge swaths of Santa Rosa and other Northern California towns have been devastated by fast-moving wildfires. Photo: California Highway Patrol Golden Gate Division

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians in Northern California continue to monitor the growing wildfires in their neighborhoods while finding ways to help their communities deal with the ongoing and expanding disaster.

The Rev. Jim Richardson, priest-in-charge at Church of the Incarnation in hard-hit Santa Rosa, told Episcopal News Service on the afternoon of Oct. 12 that he knows of parishioners, including those with health care experience, who are volunteering at Red Cross shelters. Other Episcopalians, he said, are donating their services elsewhere and offering material help.

The Rev. Daniel Green, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Petaluma and dean of the Petaluma deanery, was working a phone bank, Richardson said, set up to connect evacuees with services.

Some evacuees had been sleeping at Incarnation since the fires broke out, but the city issued a voluntary evacuation order the night of Oct. 11. Richardson said the fires had gotten “way too close so we got everybody out, made sure they had places to go and left.”

Earlier in the day, seminarians from Church Divinity School of the Pacific, the Episcopal Church-affiliated seminary in Berkeley, about 55 miles south, delivered bedding to the church. They had planned to spend the night, but Richardson sent them back to the East Bay school.

Richardson headed to his sister’s house in Petaluma for the night. He came back to Incarnation the next morning but was planning to leave again that evening.

The parish sent out an e-blast the morning of Oct. 12 saying the church was open but urging recipients to stay where they were, assuming they were safe there. Richardson has a growing list of where his parishioners have evacuated to, most going to live with family and friends elsewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area or elsewhere in the state.

The fires that began sweeping through Northern California the night of Oct. 8 have grown, and Richardson said there is some concern that they will merge. “They’re getting more serious over in Napa and Sonoma” to the south and east of Santa Rosa, he said.

The death toll stood at 29 the afternoon of Oct. 12.

The fires are fast-moving, forcing some people to make hasty retreats. Communications have been spotty at times due to cell tower damage and major power outages. Thus, reports of the number of missing, while large, cannot be translated into numbers of death, officials have said.

“The fires are ongoing and assessments are limited due to safety concerns,” Katie Mears, director of Episcopal Relief & Development’s U.S. Disaster Program, said in an Oct. 11 update. “We will be working with church partners to reach the most vulnerable in the days ahead.”

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, reported at noon MDT Oct. 12 that California had 10 large fires or complexes of fires. Approximately 6,500 firefighters continue to battle the blazes burning over 162,448 acres. None of those fires are contained. A “contained” fire means that firefighters have established a perimeter and enclosed the fire within it. The center’s definitions of “contained,” “controlled” and “out” are here.

The center said Oct. 11 on Facebook that it had mobilized more than 75 crews, 50 engines and a handful of air tankers to the California fire suppression efforts. That effort comes in addition to local and state resources. Air tankers drop either water or what is known as “slurry,” a fire retardant made up of chemicals, wetting agents and thickeners, and are colored with dye, usually red, that mark where “slurry bombers” have laid them down. Slurry can also act as fertilizers to help the regrowth of plants after the fire.

#PocketFire [update] north of Geyserville (Sonoma County) is now 8,130 acres. https://t.co/kzAp8Yp6Hj pic.twitter.com/0mdOMtNlmH

— CAL FIRE (@CAL_FIRE) October 12, 2017

Meanwhile, the fires are reportedly moving closer to St. Patrick Episcopal Church in Kenwood. Richardson said that a person had a “visual” sighting of the church on Oct. 11, but its status is unknown. The Rev. Karen King, the church’s interim priest, fled the area in the evacuation.

Trinity Episcopal Church in Sonoma said on its Facebook page early afternoon Oct. 12 that it believes all its parishioners are safe and sound, many having evacuated and are with family and friends throughout the Bay Area. The parish had to cancel a memorial service planned for Oct. 14.

“We are planning on Sunday services as long as those of us evacuated are allowed to return to Sonoma,” the post said. “At this point, an almost hourly decision.”

The Bishop’s Ranch in Healdsburg, a Diocese of California conference and retreat center north and slightly west of Santa Rosa, said that so far, the ranch has been safe and out of the way of the fires. “However, many of the Ranch staff, family and neighbors have been evacuated and in some cases, have lost homes,” Executive Director Sean Swift said. Some staff families and neighbors have taken shelter at the ranch.

Swift said the ranch has had to cancel planned gatherings for the week and coming weekend. “This will have a financial impact on the Ranch staff, at a time when money is really needed,” Swift said. “It of course will have a financial impact on the Ranch as well.”

Over on the other side of Sonoma County, just off the Bohemian Highway outside of Camp Meeker, California, St. Dorothy’s Rest Camp & Retreat Center had said earlier in the week its rustic, mostly wood buildings were safe but that staff members expected to lose power at any minute. The Diocese of California facility was sheltering some people. ENS calls to the camp Oct. 12 went unanswered.

Richardson said Northern California Bishop Barry Beisner has been calling area clergy daily. The diocese is posting updates here.

The Rev. Josephine “Phina” Borgeson, who lives outside of the evacuation zones in Santa Rosa, said Oct. 11 that she had not yet had to leave. She lost power for a day and a half but it was restored on the evening of Oct. 10. “Businesses nearby are open, and local businesses have been generous and neighborly,” she reported on Facebook. “And I’m very thankful for wonderful public officials, for those who are working to fight fires, to keep the peace, and to see that those who have been displaced get the help they need.”

During the afternoon of Oct. 12, Borgeson told ENS via Facebook Messenger that there was blue sky, a hopeful sign, in her neighborhood southwest and west Santa. However, she said, “the death toll will rise, I am afraid.”

Borgeson, who is a deacon, said she had been talking with fellow members of the Sonoma County Food System Alliance about how the fires are and will continue to stress the emergency food supply network. She said there was a local benefit set for that evening to help farmers who have losses.

The Northern California fires have destroyed expensive homes and more modest ones alike. Photo: California Highway Patrol Golden Gate Division

Richardson said the area that so much of the national media is calling the “Wine Country,” seemingly implying it is filled only with wealthy growers and drinkers, is far more economically diverse.

“This is far more than the wine country,” he said.

Santa Rosa is 40 percent Latino, according to Richardson.

“This is a working town. This is an agricultural center, but it is also an industrial center in the North Bay,” he said. “And agriculture here is far more diverse that just wine. The dairy industry is huge and incredible. There’s a lot of farm workers who live here.”

It is true that some major wineries have been destroyed but, Richardson said, “this fire is not respecting class. It’s just burning people out, regardless of their economic condition.” Some Incarnation parishioners live in expensive developments and some in trailer parks, and some in homes than rank in between. And some of the parishioners have lost homes.

Richardson said he has spent part of his time since the fires began fending off donations of material because he is not sure what he can do with them right now. “We don’t need right now but we might need them later,” is what he has been telling people.

“People have been very generous from all over the country and all over the world” and the parish has started a fund for financial donations to put to good use when the fires are out.

“When the fires are out and the smoke clears and there’s disaster somewhere else and people forget about the last place, that’s when the needs really start to grow,” he said. “This community is just devastated – devastated – it’s never going to be the same again. There’s entire neighborhoods that are just gone.”

But the feeling of community has remained, he said. Richardson was at a hospital with a parishioner and told the emergency room nurse that the person was an evacuee. The nurse told him “we are all evacuees,” noting that six nurses and two doctors had all lost their home but were there caring for people.

“There’s a knitting together of the community in a way that is pretty incredible to see,” Richardson said.

Previous ENS coverage of the fires is here.

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

Political unrest in Haiti delays grand opening celebration at rebuilt Episcopal school

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 5:45pm

St. Vincent’s Center for Handicapped Children in Haiti welcomes students on the first day of school, Sept. 11. Photo: St. Vincent’s, via Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] The threat of violent political protests in Haiti has forced Episcopal leaders to postpone the grand opening celebration at a rebuilt school that had been scheduled for Oct. 16.

The Oct. 12 letter from St. Vincent’s School administrators did not identify a specific threat to the school but spoke of general concern for security at the grand opening celebration, especially given that some of recent violence has affected foreign visitors.

Rebuilding the St. Vincent’s School for Handicapped Children in Port-au-Prince, destroyed by the 2010 earthquake that struck the Caribbean island nation, has long been a priority of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti. As of earlier this year, the school’s board had acquired a new property in Santo, renovated an existing house and planned other buildings on the site.

Students first began attending the new school on Sept. 11, and the grand opening on Oct. 16 was planned as a two-hour ceremony celebrating the new facility, with a tour to follow.

But in an email Oct. 12, Board Chairman William Craddock and Development Coordinator Jennifer Wickham said the country’s recent political unrest was “a volatile situation worthy of our attention,” and they tentatively moved the grand opening celebrations to Dec. 3, to coincide with International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

“We are grateful for all those who support Saint Vincent with gifts and prayers, and we are especially thankful to those of you who made travel plans to be with us during these gatherings,” Craddock and Wickham said. “We regret the many inconveniences caused by this decision, but we are in agreement that the safety of our students, families and guests must be of paramount importance.”

Since 2016, the rebuilding of St. Vincent’s has received the support of the Haiti Partnership Committee, established by a memo of understanding between the Episcopal Church and Diocese of Haiti. The school is one of three priorities of the committee, the other two projects being the Holy Trinity Cathedral Complex and St. Barnabas Agricultural College.

Two years earlier, the St. Vincent’s got a substantial financial boost from the gift of a New York Episcopalian, Mary White. Although the amount of her gift was not made public, it was celebrated in 2014 as an expression of confidence in the church’s work in Haiti helping children with disabilities.

The magnitude-7 earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, killed more than 300,000 people dead, left as many wounded and displaced more than 1.5 million. It also destroyed 80 percent of the Diocese of Haiti’s infrastructure in Port-au-Prince.

Governments and international relief agencies responded by committing billions of dollars in aid to Haiti, long considered the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

As the country recovered over the following years, signs of the earthquake’s toll have remained. Holy Trinity Cathedral, for example, was destroyed in the earthquake and has yet to be rebuilt. A temporary structure is in place while the Haiti Partnership Committee moves toward eventual construction.

Haiti also was hit hard in 2016 by Hurricane Matthew, which left 546 dead and an estimated $2.8 billion in damage in the country. This year, the series of severe hurricanes that barreled through the Caribbean disrupted farm operations in Haiti, but the island was spared a direct hit from the storms.

Political protests, meanwhile, have been escalating recently over tax hikes. Demonstrators damaged buildings and set cars on fire in a September protest that took aim at the administration of Haitian President Jovenel Moise, according to Reuters.

In addition to delaying the grand opening event until December, church leaders postponed a partnership engagement meeting and a meeting of the board of directors.

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

Tax exemption for clergy housing allowance ruled unconstitutional – again

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 2:05pm

[Episcopal News Service] A federal district judge in Wisconsin has once again ruled that the Internal Revenue Service’s clergy parsonage exemption is unconstitutional, a decision that ultimately could have profound financial effects on many Episcopal clergy members and congregations.

Judge Barbara Crabb, sitting in Madison in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, said recently that “the plain language of the statute, its legislative history and its operation in practice all demonstrate a preference for ministers over secular employees.”

She rejected the defendants’ claim that the exemption was an effort by Congress to treat ministers fairly and avoid religious entanglement, and was part of a larger effort by Congress to help employees with special housing needs.

“A desire to alleviate financial hardship on taxpayers is a legitimate purpose, but it is not a secular purpose when Congress eliminates the burden for a group made up of solely religious employees but maintains it for nearly everyone else,” Crabb wrote.

“A reasonable observer,” she said, “would view the statute as an endorsement of religion.”

The judge gave all parties until Oct. 30 to suggest what remedies would be appropriate, based on her ruling.

Freedom from Religion Foundation leaders Annie Laurie Gaylor, Anne Nicol Gaylor and Dan Barker have claimed for years that the IRS “parsonage exemption” violates the U.S. Constitution by providing preferential tax benefits to those whom the agency defines as “ministers of the gospel.” (Anne Nichol Gaylor has since died and been replaced in the suit by the personal representative of her estate, Ian Gaylor.)

The plaintiffs say that although the foundation gives them a housing allowance, IRS rules deny their attempts to claim the related expenses under the parsonage exemption because they were not deemed “ministers of the gospel.” Annie Laurie Gaylor is a lay person, as was Anne Nicol Gaylor. Barker, the foundation’s public relations director, is an ordained minister who the foundation says “gradually outgrew his religious beliefs.”

The case, originally titled Freedom from Religion Foundation v. Geithner and Shulman, was filed in September 2011. The original suit named then-U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and IRS head Douglas Shulman as defendants. The current filing replaced them with their successors, Steve Mnuchin and John Koskinen.

There are also intervenor-defendants: the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and a minister of one of its churches, the Chicago Embassy Church and its pastor, and Holy Cross Anglican Church in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and its rector, the Rev. Patrick Malone.

The court’s decision, which will be litigated for several years and no doubt reach the U.S. Supreme Court, does not apply to clergy who live in church-owned housing, such as rectories. Those clerics can continue to exclude the fair rental value of that home from their income for tax purposes under Section 107(1) of the federal tax code.

The employers of most but not all clerics who do not live in church-owned housing designate a portion of a cleric’s salary as a housing allowance. However, if such clerics plan to seek the IRS-allowed parsonage exemption, they must have their employers officially declare (by way of a resolution passed by the organization’s governing body) a specific amount of money that the cleric intends to claim on his or her taxes in the following year.

If the cleric can later document the amount of eligible expenses, he or she may deduct them from their taxable income. Those expenses include things such as furnishings, maintenance and repair, and certain supplies. For instance, if the enabling resolution sets the amount at $10,000 but the cleric can only document $9,000 in allowed expenses, then only the smaller amount can be deducted. If the cleric had $11,000 in allowed expenses, only $10,000 can be deducted. There is no tax penalty for overestimating the parsonage allowance.

Retired and disabled clergy can continue to claim the annual exemption and, in fact, all retirement benefits from the Church Pension Fund come to recipients with the IRS-required housing allowance designation.

More information about how parsonage allowances work is available in the current Church Pension Group tax guide on pages 12-16.

The federal government appealed Crabb’s original 2013 ruling, and the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit vacated her judgment on the grounds that plaintiffs did not have standing to sue because they had not “personally claimed and been denied the exemption.” In her latest ruling, Crabb said the IRS, the foundation and its representatives all agreed that this had since happened and seemed likely to happen again.

“The practical effect of any ruling will be delayed until the appeals are exhausted, which could take several years,” the Church Alliance – a coalition of 38 church benefit programs that serve mainline Protestant denominations, two branches of Judaism and Catholic dioceses, schools and institutions said in a statement on its website. The group filed an amicus curiae brief when the federal government appealed Crabb’s first ruling

“As the litigation proceeds, the Church Alliance will assess the viability of legislative options to remedy, if possible, or mitigate the impacts on clergy retirement and welfare benefits of such a ruling,” the group said.

Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation has estimated that the exclusions allowed to ministers for housing costs amounts to $3.8 billion between 2013 and 2017.

Although CPG has also predicted that the lawsuit will be litigated for years, it warned in its latest tax guide that “ministers and churches should be aware that the housing allowance remains under attack, and one day may be invalidated.”

If that happens, CPG said two things must be done immediately. Because ministers covered by the disputed tax code section “will experience an immediate increase in income taxes,” they would need to increase their quarterly estimated tax payments to avoid an underpayment penalty. Most clerics make such quarterly payments because the IRS treats them as self-employed. CPG also noted that “many churches will want to increase ministers’ compensation to offset the financial impact.” Such an increase could be phased in over a period of years to minimize the impact on the church, CPG suggested.

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

LA diocese, congregation still at odds over disputed St. James property

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 2:03pm

[Episcopal News Service] The dispute over the St. James the Great property on Lido Island in Newport Beach, California, that is at the heart of disciplinary proceedings against Diocese of Los Angeles Bishop J. Jon Bruno has taken several recent turns.

Late on Oct. 10, Los Angeles Bishop Coadjutor John Taylor and the Rev. Anne Nyback told the diocese that an anticipated sale of the property had fallen through.

“This event, we believe, gives our diocesan community a renewed opportunity for careful discernment about our mission and ministry in south Orange County,” the two wrote.

They pledged to “do all we can pastorally, logistically, and financially to assist the St. James congregation should it wish to regain mission status in the diocese.” However, that effort will not include an immediate return of the congregation’s pastor, the Rev. Cindy Evans Voorhees, to lead worship in the church she designed.

“After a suitable period of discernment and planning, we will reopen the church as a bishop’s chapel, with supply, or guest, clergy invited to conduct Sunday services,” Taylor and Nyback wrote. “It will be open to all in the community who wish to attend and glorify and serve our God in Christ.”

In a statement released the next day, members of St. James said they were “disappointed but not surprised” by the announcement. They said that “this is not what reconciliation looks like.”

“The congregation, still meeting in exile in the Civic Center community room, would like to return to its church,” they wrote, adding that the congregation had recently offered to match the potential buyer’s offer and to pay any reasonable costs associated with breaking the deal.

“Bishop Taylor claimed that he could not even discuss that offer because of the pending developer agreement,” they wrote. “Now there is no such agreement; but instead of talking with the congregation the bishop has put out a press release.”

Bruno was involved in an earlier and ultimately unsuccessful 2015 attempt to sell the church property to a condominium developer for $15 million in cash. That effort prompted the members of St. James to bring misconduct allegations against Bruno, alleging he violated church law.

An Episcopal Church disciplinary hearing panel conducted three days of testimony on those allegations in March. Bruno again attempted to sell the property as the panel considered how to rule on the case.

That attempt earned Bruno two ministerial restrictions from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, the latter of which removed St. James from Bruno’s authority and put the congregation under Taylor’s control. The previous restriction was designed to prevent Bruno trying to sell the property. It was this second sale attempt by Bruno that Taylor on Oct. 10 said had fallen through.

The hearing panel found Bruno guilty of the St. James complainants’ allegations that Bruno violated church canons because he:

  • failed to get the consent of the diocesan standing committee before entering into a contract to sell the property;
  • misrepresented his intention for the property to the members, the clergy and the local community at large;
  • misrepresented that St. James the Great was not a sustainable congregation;
  • misrepresented that Voorhees, then St. James’ vicar, had resigned;
  • misrepresented to some St. James members that he would lease the property back to them for a number of months and that the diocese would financially aid the church; and
  • engaged in conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy by “misleading and deceiving” the clergy and people of St. James, as well as the local community, about his plans for the property and for taking possession of the property and locking out the congregation.

In an Aug. 2 final order the panel said Bruno should be suspended from ordained ministry for three years because of misconduct. The hearing panel also strongly recommended that the diocese “as a matter of justice” immediately suspend its efforts to sell the property, that it restore the congregation and vicar to the church building, and that it reassign St. James the Great appropriate mission status.

The five-person panel said that it is convinced the diocese, particularly its Standing Committee and Taylor, must consciously choose to take part in a process of self-examination and truth-telling around these unfortunate and tragic events.

Taylor issued a statement after the hearing panel’s order saying that “Bishop Bruno’s 40 years of ordained ministry and 15 years as sixth bishop of Los Angeles are not summed up by this order or the events that precipitated it.”

The bishop coadjutor called him “a courageous, visionary leader” and said he looked forward to “continuing to learn from him and consult with him about the life of the diocesan community he has served and loves so well.”

Taylor said he and the Standing Committee “will do everything we can to promote a just solution that takes into account the interests of all in our community (including the faithful members of the Newport Beach church) and gives us the opportunity to move forward together. In a dispute such as this one, truth-telling, open communication, and reconciliation can be difficult for everyone involved.”

Taylor later told the diocese that the contract to sell the property that Bruno struck is legally binding on the diocese, and thus the diocese could not back out of the deal.

Meanwhile, Bruno has appealed the hearing panel’s ruling. His appeal will be heard by the church’s Court of Review for Bishops.

The Disciplinary Board for Bishops recently issued a one-page order saying that as of Jan. 1, 2018, and while his appeal is ongoing, Bruno must “refrain from the exercise of the gifts of ministry conferred by ordination and shall not exercise any authority over the real or personal property or temporal affairs of the Church.”

Those restrictions do not supersede the ones Curry had previously placed on Bruno. The three-year suspension recommended by the hearing panel would take Bruno beyond his mandatory retirement date in November 2018, when he turns 72.

However, the diocese recently announced that Bruno plans to retire on Nov. 30. The diocese has begun a series of gala farewell parties (http://www.brunofarewell.org/) for him.

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

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