Breaking: Presiding Bishop and +Sisk of NY support Trinity vs. OWS

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Letters from The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori and The Rev. Mark Sisk:


Statements from the Rt. Rev Mark S. Sisk and the Presiding Bishop Concerning

Occupy Wall Street, Trinity Church and Duarte Square

From Bishop Sisk

December 16, 2011

As many of you know, Trinity Wall Street is being challenged to provide a small parcel of parish-owned land, Duarte Square, to the Occupy Wall Street movement for encampment or other undefined use.

Trinity has clearly shown its support for the wider goals of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and has aided protesters directly through pastoral care and extensive use of parish facilities. They have said “yes” to requests for meeting space, bathroom facilities, private conference rooms, housing referrals, and pastoral care, and continue to look for ways to provide direct support to those who identify with the movement in Lower Manhattan. Providing private land without facilities for indeterminate usage, however, poses significant health and safety concerns, and is beyond the scope of Trinity’s mission. To this, the parish has reasonably said, “no.”

In and of itself, a request for use of a parish space by an outside group would not necessitate a bishop’s involvement. But alarmingly, some clergy and protesters have attempted to “take” or “liberate” the space without Trinity’s consent, and have clearly indicated their intent to engage in other attempts to do so in the coming days.

While many tactics of the Occupy movement have proven effective and creative, I feel it necessary now to reiterate our Church-wide commitment to non-violence. The movement should not be used to justify breaking the law, nor is it necessary to break into property for the movement to continue.

Together, let us pray for peaceful articulation, in word and deed, of the issues of justice and fairness that have brought the Occupy movement into the national conversation.

+Mark

The Rt. Rev Mark S. Sisk, Bishop of New York

————————

From the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate

December 16, 2011

Trinity Church, Wall Street, has provided extensive practical and pastoral support to the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Trinity congregation has decided that the property known as Duarte Park is not appropriate for use by the Occupy movement, and that property remains closed. Other facilities of Trinity continue to be open to support the Occupy movement, for which I give great thanks. It is regrettable that Occupy members feel it necessary to provoke potential legal and police action by attempting to trespass on other parish property. Seekers after justice have more often achieved success through non-violent action, rather than acts of force or arms. I would urge all concerned to stand down and seek justice in ways that do not further alienate potential allies.

+Katharine

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church

Category : The Lead

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20 Comments
  1. Well, now we hear from the bishops. I can’t say they make me proud. That Bishop Sisk and Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori encourage non-violence is absolutely right and proper. They ask it of the Occupiers, and now perhaps they might use the moral force of their words to ask the police to use restraint. The great majority of incidents of violence that I’ve heard about and seen on videl were from unnecessary use of force by the police.

    June Butler

  2. tgflux

    “Trinity has clearly shown its support…”

    “Trinity Church, Wall Street, has provided extensive practical and pastoral support…”

    AGAIN, w/ the self-justification! >:-0

    WHERE is the Christ-like “taking the lower seat”? “Going the second mile”? “Offering the other cheek”? “Washing feet”?

    This is NOT good evangelism.

    I wish I could say I was surprised (as well as disappointed), but I can’t…

    Kyrie eleison!

    JC Fisher

  3. Priscilla Cardinale

    And so we know — the official church stance is to stand with the millionaires who run the vestry of Trinity Wall Street. No matter the very name of the movement is “occupy” and the whole point is to be a visible challenge to the status quo. I guess if Jesus had wanted to speak to crowds of people at Duarte he would have been arrested because of health and safety concerns. Sad, sad, sad.

  4. joebrewer

    Kyrie eleison indeed. The two commenters above express my thoughts as well.

    But where on earth did Bishop Katharine get the idea that people would be “armed”? That’s irresponsible rhetoric on her part. The imagery of a violent mob is simply regrettable and unnecessary.

    Any arms will inevitably be carried by the NYPD. As Mimi alluded, I hope Katharine and Mark have called Ray Kelly to urge nonviolence and restraint on NYPD’s part.

  5. Dcn Scott Elliott

    Yeah — this doesn’t make much sense. “Acts of force or arms”? Have I missed something? Has OWS gotten violent? Have there been weapons found among the Occupiers?

    I understand feeling the need to present their bona fides of OWS before belying them with the refusal, so I don’t mind the “self-justification” part.

    But I do mind that all the support is easy or cheap. Hard and costly — even the merest potentiality of real costliness — is avoided. Sisk’s “health and safety concerns” can be eliminated by requesting signed waivers of responsibility every night.

    And Jefferts Schiori’s not-so-veiled threat to call in the cops to forcibly remove “trespassers” is simply beneath her.

  6. seantmcconnell

    I agree with Joe and I’m trying to figure out why the PB chose her language. Could someone please help me understand why she refers to “acts of force or arms?” Has OWS called on people to act violently? If not, is she attempting to throw gasoline on the fire with the NYPD? I don’t get it.

  7. Brook Packard

    The irony that the church traditionally chants the O Wisdom Antiphon on December 17th is not lost on many.

    Trinity’s handling of this over the past 3 weeks has been a stunning exercise in assumption and rigidity. It has given OWS things OWS neither asked for or really needed. Having had the privilege of getting to know a core group of this “leaderless yet leaderful” (Cornel West) movement I can tell you they are not in need of pastoral care. OWS’s structure is more like church than any parish I know.

    The one thing this movement needs desperately is a home. And Trinity -with holdings of over 10 billion dollars-can provide that easily.

    OWS has requested repeatedly for meetings with Trinity. Had the leadership stepped forward and negotiated OWS- a movement essential to the discussion of income inequality and a true democracy-could be supported in valid way rather than the cosmetic PR-oriented ways Trinity has concocted.

    The irresponsibility of the misleading comments of Katharine Jefferts Schori and Mark Sisk indicate how out of touch The Episcopal Church has become and why it has lost one-third of its membership in a decade. Reading the bishops statements one hears the sound of a few more nails in TEC’s coffin. It is limited for Jefferts-Schori and Sisk to parrot Trinity’s talking points without looking at the plans or reading Occupy Theory. The past 3 weeks could have been an enormous opportunity for the dying TEC and Trinity to embrace the wind of passion and commitment OWS has brought with them.

    My husband, Bishop George Packard will join the occupation of what is a “dead zone” in lower Manhattan. Of that I am enormously proud in the best sense of the word. OWS has plans to make this space a garden, to use it as a home for discussion of the occupy principles, and for actions that include occupying foreclosed homes for homeless families. The institutional church will be left behind. Although cynically, I suspect there will be some sort of OWS Lenten study published next year.

    I pray that Trinity has a change of heart and opens the gates tomorrow. If not, I pray the NYPD will not be overly zealous with their clubs, sprays, and zip cuffs.

    As for the bishops’ comments…well, with 20,000 of us leaving TEC each year, is anyone really listening?

  8. Dave Paisley

    Finally some common sense.

    Does the fact that the pretty far liberal +KJS feel that the OWS leeches are asking for too much really not sway any of you “OWS above all” drones into questioning just how abusive OWS has become?

    Rather than attack Wall Street, or take on some entity actually related to the financial institutions they choose to attack a much softer target, indeed one that has fed them. Why not go occupy a target that actually means something to them?

    OWS does not represent the 99%. if anything they represent their own little fraction of 1%, off in a completely different universe to most of us.

  9. garydasein

    Whatever one may think of the advisability of Trinity Wall Street offering Duarte Square to the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the Presiding Bishop and the current Bishop of New York appear condescending. The offer of pastoral care sounds really stupid. Maybe Jefferts Schori and Sisk have been listening too much to their attorneys, whose job is to point out everything that might go wrong. They need a better public relations statement, something positive to offer. Offering spiritual platitudes to the media will not do. This message will please neither liberals nor conservatives.

    It reminds me of the way the denomination itself has done little for LGBT equality. Sisk, for example, will not allow his priests to bless civil marriages of same-sex couples, while most bishops in the New York region have given their permission.

    New York and Trinity can and ought to do better.

    They need to take risks, albeit not foolhardy ones. The default mode of churches seems to be to protect themselves.

    Gary Paul Gilbert

  10. Jim Hammond

    Brook Packard writes:

    “OWS has plans … to use [this space] … for actions that include occupying foreclosed homes for homeless families.”

    I cannot believe that Brook Packard or any other rational Christian would overtly sanction theft. “Occupying” foreclosed homes is theft, and as well, an act of violence. Such notions are among the reasons why I cannot support the movement.

    If the owners of the foreclosed homes wish to make them available for the homeless, well and good. That’s an idea I can commend. That the owners of such homes should find them “occupied” against their will is an intolerable action for any Christian to contemplate.

    Jim Hammond

  11. joebrewer

    Jim, you are aware of who owns foreclosed homes, correct?

  12. Bishop Katharine’s letter in particular veers on the point where the language of lawyers and pastors steering sharply away from the pastoral in her far too brief letter. That she hints without any evidence to back her that OWS protesters have taken up arms is even more distressing.

    If the problem is with “undetermined” uses of space, Bishops Mark and Katharine could solve it quite easily, I think, by asking OWS what are the purposes for which they need church properties and then seeing whether there are church properties in Lower Manhattan, if not at TWS itself, to suit each purpose.

    The bishops bear responsibility to exercise good stewardship of properties held in trust for TEC, and OWS’s requests must be considered in that light as well as in the light of what just causes they advocate. But the letters cited in this post show no eagerness to support just causes by considering alternative solutions — only a very defensive “no” to a movement our culture is increasingly recognizing as important.

    Dylan Breuer

  13. John B. Chilton

    It’s always worth trying to put yourself in the position of the other party. I suggest there are at least some parallels to be drawn with a situation many churches face – how to be charitable without being used. Right or wrong, do those of us criticizing Trinity Wall Street open our doors and our bathrooms to street people on Sundays during services? Or do we instead seek solutions where we do address the needs of the homeless, but on our own terms? What if the homeless wanted to set up a camp on our church grounds? Would we stand for it? If not, how is the OWS movement different, and how does it not break a precedent of not favoring one group over another?

  14. Right or wrong, do those of us criticizing Trinity Wall Street open our doors and our bathrooms to street people on Sundays during services?

    The doors are open at my church and parish hall during services. How do you go about barring the doors to street people at your church, John?

    June Butler

  15. Kathryn Jensen

    John, you make some excellent points. June, I’m really torn on this one, not too mention woefully ignorant as to what exactly is going on “on the ground” here. I love the idea of radical hospitality and throwing all caution to the wind, and I do admire those who live it. But it’s tough, sometimes.

    Our parish made valiant efforts to keep our doors open as much as possible, but cuts in staffing, the theft of altar candles (yes, yes Jean Valjean, maybe), burglaries during the week, and thefts during Sunday services have all made it difficult to be fully open at all times, literally and perhaps otherwise. One wants to not only allow street people in at any time, for warmth, aid, comfort, or company, but anyone with a downtown urban parish has to make some hard choices at times. For example, what does one do about an individual who looks for opportunities to enter the building when it is nearly deserted or so busy no one will notice, who not only tries to pan handle in the hallways (after having received what aid the rector has to give), but steals from purses during Sunday services? Call the police? social worker? Just keep trying to talk to the guy or just listen? Let it go because he needs the money (maybe), or keep him out because he is locally known as a notorious con artist?

    There are no simple or universal answers to these kinds of questions, especially when dealing with street people with a wide range of mental health, physical health, and addiction issues. Different questions are raised with the OWS movement, but it may be that TWS, as an urban parish, especially one with more wealth probably than any other, has learned over time to be cautious and perhaps even suspicious of those who can and will take advantage of them.

    OTOH, I think there definitely a need to ask the tough questions, of TWS, as well as ourselves, and not simply fall back on the, well, this is the way things really work, this is the way it’s gotta be, sorry folks.

    I have to admit, as a Boomer, who nevertheless was born a little too late to be part of the hey day of the protest movements of the 1960’s, the idea of wild and radical causes appeals to me, just as they did as a child and a teen, watching things like the Civil Rights protests and the 1968 Democratic Convention on t.v., when as much as I wanted to be in the thick of things (but minded my parents and stayed home), it was, after all, other heads who were being bashed by police, and others’ family members who were the police on the front lines.

    Yet, with all due humility as a bystander, I still have to wonder when what appears to the world as foolishness is required. Trite as it may sound at times, WWJD?

    Jim Hammond, I understand full well your concern about unthinking lawlessness [something my Jim found appalling, as well, having been at UW-Madison during the height of the Vietnam protests]. But there is more to it than “simple theft” – or at least potentially so much more. I honestly don’t know what properties are being discussed, what the OWS folks know about them, and the circumstances of the foreclosures. But it may be a lot more complicated than just the Big Bad Banks and mortgage companies as owners. I see tips of the mortgage crisis iceberg regularly in my work, seeing how in some circumstances, banks can easily foreclose and purchase property at foreclosure “sales” with no money ever put forward (using what is known as a “full credit bid,” leaving the mortgage debtors still owing money), how the banks can lure people into extreme indebtedness; and even when debtors have simply fallen on hard times, due to unemployment and/or health expenses, some banks and mortgage companies have abused and manipulated the foreclosure process.

    This suggests to me that it is at least conceivable that civil disobedience involving taking over abandoned and foreclosed properties and housing the homeless, while technically legal trespass and perhaps other torts or crimes, might well be an important and especially apt way of OWS responding to what the banks and other large financial interests have done to this country (and the world at large). Without knowing all the facts, it is difficult to formulate an opinion for or against such action. But non-violent protest very often involves breaking laws, so I don’t see how or why it should be dismissed out of hand, as long as one considers what John has talked about — what if it were our property? Should or could we give it up? Should others confront us and challenge our fortresses of self-preservation? Tough times call for tough questions. I can only pray that our religious and civil leaders continue to struggle to find the best answers they can and that peace will reign.

  16. Priscilla Cardinale

    Kathryn, that is a nicely worded and thoughtful take on this situation. Being a radical at heart I wonder myself what would happen if, instead of investing in expensive altar wares and furnishings, our churches were refuges that provided a safe place to sleep, take a shower, do a load of laundry, or talk to someone with a sympathetic ear? Imagine worshipping God in thought and deed every moment of the day instead of at carefully planned times at the convenience of the worshippers! I know this is heresy to many but it is what I seek.

    Who is really served by having silver and gold accoutrements? Does God need such frippery to be glorified or would God be glorified as well or better by outreach and care to the least of these?

    Martyrologies are full of stories of saints who seemed to get this. Whatever their human faults many have indeed cast their lot with the dregs of humanity and the poor who are with us always precisely because they believed that’s what God wants.

    In my former hometown there was a lovely elderly RC priest who ran the “big” downtown parish. He opened the doors to the church and allowed the homeless to sleep in the sanctuary at night, use the restrooms and his laundry facilities in the rectory, he provided clothing and food and was tireless in seeking medical care, legal counsel, and any other kind of help needed with no strings attached. I was in awe of him and felt the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven so strongly in and around that church that it drew me like a magnet.

    After he retired the new monsignor locked the doors, “cleaned up” the church, installed fancy brass chandeliers, purchased new silver altar service pieces, and generally went the opposite way of his predecessor. The well-to-do members of the parish were ecstatic that the “embarrassment” of the former priest’s do-gooding was past and soon to be forgotten. Services there now are indeed formal, clean, and only the right kind of people who do the right kind of things dare to worship there. The Kingdom of Heaven? Hard to find there now in my opinion.

    I have taken quite literally Jesus’s words to the rich young man — I have spent my life in service to the poor through education and I give more of my income to them than I keep. I have no home that I own, no retirement savings, no good insurance, and at 50 I worry a bit about what will happen to me. But I trust God will provide and I’m not at all offended by the idea of being discomfited or challenged by the OWS protesters. I see Jesus in there midst every time I go.

    Thank you for your important thoughts on this issue.

  17. Deeply disappointing. Trinity’s response is couched in the language of a landlord rather than our Lord; and the bishops’ censorious and vaguely threatening comments (alienating potential supporters, forsooth) are both un-Christian and intellectually shallow. For example, ‘violence’ and ‘lawbreaking’ are not the same thing. Rosa Parks violated the law when she refused to move to the back of the bus. When the law has become an instrument of domination and exploitation — as it most certainly has in our society — breaking it is a duty. We pray every Sunday to a man who was executed for breaking the law.

  18. Brook Packard

    There is a deeper story here. A story about the death and possible resurrection of a denomination.

    Last Sunday, the OWS Hunger Strikers attended Trinity Wall Street in an attempt at reconciliation through the Eucharist and to propose a conversation between Trinity’s staff and an OWS Working Action Group. The occupation of the vacant lot adjacent to Duarte Square was up for negotiation. Trinity had neither eyes to see nor ears to hear.

    This Sunday morning, those young, vibrant, deep-thinking, and committed young people will be attending Judson Memorial Church. May God bless Judson and other churches who are willing to follow The Holy Spirit and open their ears to Her call.

  19. Hi. It appears Jefferts Schori’s statement has been taken down. Can anyone confirm that for me? If not, I sure would like to go to the source. (Sisk’s is still up on the dioceseny.org site.)

    I am equally disheartened and wish to write a letter, but perhaps she is reconsidering.

    Thank you.

  20. Jane Ellen

    I read these letters and hear echoes of the past… Specifically, I am reminded of the letter to Martin Luther King (signed by, among others, the Bishop Coajutor of Alabama) encouraging him to cease and desist, that caused him to write “A letter from a Birmingham Jail.” The communication from Trinity and now Bishops Sisk and Jefferts Schori sound sadly reminiscent. http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=533

    Jane Schmoetzer

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