Voices of Faith at the Ferguson rally

The Religious News Service posted a video interviewing different clergyfolk at march on Saturday, August 30, in Ferguson, Missouri. The video and full article can be found here.

Though this one did not make as much news as those that occurred over the previous three weeks, it was the largest daytime march to occur since the shooting death of Michael Brown, by the police officer Darren Wilson.

According to the article:

It’s a unique look into what the protests are like on the ground. It was a hot, muggy–and even rainy–day. The protests were organized. Protestors held orange signs distributed by members of the Nation of Islam and followed a route that included the Canfield Green Apartments (to the very place where Michael Brown was shot and killed) and the Ferguson police station.

The hard fought roots of Labor Day

While by now, Labor Day marks the effective end of summer, and the last hurrah of BBQ season, an article in the Huffington Post reminds us today that its roots run far deeper, and sadder than that.

The Labor Day holiday was instituted by Congress in June of 1894, in the midst of the Pullman Railway strike, in order to appease the striking workers. A federal holiday had been a longtime demand of organized labor in the US. The holiday, however, didn't end the strike, and within a month, Grover Cleveland sent federal troops to break the standoff, resulting in dozens of deaths.

In light of this history, it's worth considering today where labor rights in the US stand currently, and it's not all spectacular a picture. Union membership has dropped precipitously in the past few decades. Though, John Nichols of The Nation points out,

There was a time, within the living memory of millions of Americans, when this country championed democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the right to organize in the same breath....For generations, Americans accepted the basic premise that labor rights are human rights. When this country counseled other countries on how to forge civil and democratic societies, Americans explained that the right to organize a trade union—and to have that trade union engage in collective bargaining as an equal partner with corporations and government agencies—had to be protected./blockquote>

So over the last glimpse of summer, over hamburgers and hot dogs, might it be time to renew the idea of labor rights as human rights as well?

Lay employee pension benefits: Does your church offer them?

This Labor Day can you say whether lay employees across your diocese are receiving the pension benefit mandated by General Convention?

As the Church Pension Group reminds us, "Episcopal employers subject to the authority of the Church are required to provide a pension to all lay employees scheduled to work a minimum of 1,000 hours annually. Implementation was to be completed by January 1, 2013." (Link added.)

Earlier this month the Diocese of Virginia issued lay employee benefits statistics based upon reports gathered from churches of the diocese, stating, "The 2014 Lay Compensation Reports summarizing compensation and benefits for lay employees across the diocese are complete. Since 2013, 144 churches have provided updated information on their employees." These statistics can be found here. The diocesan finance office accompanied the report with this reminder

Resolution A138, adopted at General Convention 2009 requires us to provide pension benefits for any lay employee of the Episcopal Church working 1,000 hours or more per year (20 hours per week) and to utilize the Church Pension Group standards as a baseline. GC 2012 allowed an extension for schools until January 1, 2018, using a phase-in model. (links added)

The Diocese of Virginia report is shown below -- omitting the two job categories, day school aide and day school teacher/director.

350 employees work 20 or more hours per week (1000 or hours per year). Of these 75 percent have the pension benefit mandated by A138. For those working 20 to 29 hours per week, 53% have the mandated pension benefit.For those working 30 to 40 hours per week, 89% have the mandated pension benefit. In some job categories the percentages are substantially lower -- see, for example, administrative assistant/secretary. Unknown is whether churches reduced hours of some positions so they fell below 20 hours.

Do you know of other dioceses who have issued such a report on the web (link?)?

Lay Compensation Summary Report
for the Diocese of Virginia 2014, 12 Aug 14
Position Hrs/wk No. Pension Percent with Pension
Accountant/Bookkeeper 20 to 29 11 9 82%
30 to 40 12 11 92%
Admin Asst/Secretary 20 to 29 20 6 30%
30 to 40 45 36 80%
Administrator/Office Mgr 20 to 29 24 10 42%
30 to 40 52 52 100%
Choir/Musician 20 to 29 2 2 100%
30 to 40 0 0
Christian Ed/Youth Ldr 20 to 29 18 11 61%
30 to 40 28 21 75%
Lay Asst/Pastoral Ldr 20 to 29 5 2 40%
30 to 40 2 2 100%
Nursery 20 to 29 1 0 0%
30 to 40 1 1 100%
Organist/Choir Dir 20 to 29 30 19 63%
30 to 40 26 25 96%
Other 20 to 29 1 0 0%
30 to 40 0 0
Outreach/Social Min Dir 20 to 29 7 4 57%
30 to 40 16 15 94%
Sexton 20 to 29 23 12 52%
30 to 40 26 23 88%
TOTAL 20 to 29 142 75 53%
30 to 40 208 186 89%
All 350 261 75%

John Lennon's killer finds Jesus

Mark David Chapman, the man who murdered John Lennon, has turned to Jesus in prison:

Chapman apologized for the pain he caused Lennon, his family and his millions of fans: “I am sorry for being such an idiot and choosing the wrong way for glory. I found my peace in Jesus. I know him. He loves me. He has forgiven me.”

The upshot: He plans to spend his days “telling people, ‘Hey, you have another option. You have Christ. … Either crime or Christ, which way do you want to go here?’”

And he predicted correctly during the hearing (“We all know how this will turn out,” he said) that those days would be in prison. The board ruled that Chapman’s release would be incompatible with the welfare of society” and would “deprecate the serious nature of the crime,” according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

For the full story, please visit the Huffington Post Religion section here.

Bishop Scott Benhase: suicide is "selfish"

In his most recent eCrozier reflection published by The Living Church, “Robin Williams, My Friend, and the Selfishness of Suicide”, Bishop Scott Benhase of the Diocese of Georgia offers the following pastoral reflection:

I had a dear friend who committed suicide four years ago. Like Mr. Williams, he was brilliant. His brilliance, however, was in a different vocation. He was a palliative care physician. The irony of his life was that he could relieve everyone’s pain but his own (like Mr. Williams who brought so many people joy without finding joy himself). My friend knew he had many people who loved him dearly. I don’t know what was going through his mind and soul when he chose suicide. Clearly, he was in emotional and spiritual pain. Maybe he thought his suicide was an act of love and kindness to us who loved him? It was not. His act was neither loving nor was it kind. It was selfish. I know that sounds harsh, but I believe it to be true.

What my friend needed and still needs from me isn’t the cheap grace and absolution of the well-intended “well, I guess he’s at peace now.” No, what he still needs from me is my forgiveness for what he did to himself and to those who loved him.

What are your thoughts on this reflection by Bishop Benhase? Is this a compassionate response for those who may suffer from suicidal thoughts, mental illness, and their friends and families who love them? How might you and your community of faith respond in love and competence to anyone-especially those living with mental illness-after a suicide in the community?

Christian leaders call for end to air strikes in Iraq

While some Christian leaders are calling for more airstrikes in Iraq to defeat ISIS, a group of 53 ministers, academics, and religious groups organized by the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns seek a more peaceful solution called "justpeace":

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The Onion's take on the ideal youth space at church

I'm not sure I can recall a piece in the Onion that more closely mirrored reality than this one. (How many aspects of your church's youth room are depicted here?)

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Cracks in the 'stained-glass ceiling'

Women clergy are more likely to lead small congregations than large ones, but Adelle Banks of Religion News Service notes that the "stained glass ceiling" is showing some cracks as women begin to lead large historic congregations. In recent months, the Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner became the first woman solo senior pastor at Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Amy Butler was elected senior pastor of New York City’s Riverside Church and the Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli began leading Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C.

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Giles Fraser: Are humans any safer in the hands of humanists?

The Rev. Giles Fraser takes on humanist Richard Dawkins, a proponent of eugenics in certain situations. Dawkins has written: “If you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability?” Fraser contends that no human is inherently better than another, and that religious believers of the world have a better track record than humanists of valuing the vulnerable among us. He writes in The Guardian:

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ISIS and the crisis of meaning

News of the horrific violence perpetrated by members of the group ISIS, or IS, on Muslims, Christians, and other minorities continues to shock the world, and their deft use of social media propels their message. Now comes news that young people from the US and UK are among their most ardent recruits. How do we make sense of this phenomenon?

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, writing for the Huffington Post, sees this as symptomatic of a deeper crisis...a crisis of meaning.

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Pastoral and practical ministry at the laundromat

Laundry Love is a growing faith-driven movement that helps people change their lives by letting them change into clean clothes. The organization partners with local laundromats and helps those who are homeless or struggling financially by doing their laundry for free.

It is the kind of grass roots outreach that shows that even small changes can have big impacts on the lives of people in need.

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Is it segregation on Sunday or safety?

Tom Ehrich wonders of the most segregated hour in the week might not also be a search for a safe space, where people can just be themselves without reproach, glares or the fear of violence.


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Do miracles happen?

Reform magazine, the journal of the United Reformed Church, asked four people to respond to the question of miracles.

Maggi Dawn, associate professor of theology and literature, and dean of Marquand Chapel at the University of Yale, says:

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Polygamy is legal in Utah

A federal judge finalized an earlier order striking part of Utah’s bigamy law on Wednesday. But don't expect households of 'sister wives' to pop up in a neighborhood near you anytime soon.

The suit was brought by the members of a plural marriage featured on a TLC reality series.

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Episcopal Relief: Stopping the spread of Ebola

Episcopal Relief and Development is helping to stop the spread of Ebola in Africa:

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Justice Dept. files suit against town for blocking Islamic center

145px-Allah1_no_honorific.pngThe US Justice Department has filed a suit against the town of St Anthony, Minnesota for violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act passed by Congress in 2000. Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports:

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Napa church severely damaged in quake

Episcopal News Service reports on the earthquake damage to St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Napa.

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Alleged conflict at Duke Divinity School

dukediv.jpegDuke Divinity

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Church's politics in one graph

Linked is the American religio-political landscape in a graph, provided by Religion News Service's Tobin Grant. He writes:

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It’s time to recalibrate expectations for clergy

Faith & Leadership's Call and Response blog looks at the question of expectations for today's clergy where the institutional model is full-time clergy, but the economic realities are part-time, bi-vocational, or unpaid. From Nathan Kirkpatrick's post:

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Is Ferguson an outlier?

Many people have speculated about the climate of Ferguson before the shooting of Michael Brown.

An NPR story by Joseph Shapiro looks at the high court fines and fees:

Supporting clergy in difficult calls

NECA.pngWalking With instead of Walking Away: Fourth essay in the Care for Clergy Series.This is the fourth essay in the Care for Clergy in Difficult Calls writing project. The Rev. Dennis Fotinos writes:

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10 Ways White Christians can respond to Ferguson

Troy Jackson writing at Sojourners gives 10 practical ways White Christians can respond to the events in Ferguson:

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Plunged into chaos

Virginia Theological School seminarian, Broderick Greer, writes about baptism and Ferguson at Huffington Post:

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Bridging culture and faith through art

Caravan is joint project between Egyptian and Western artists that seeks to bridge difference. At the National Cathedral in Washington DC this year's presentation is AMEN: A Prayer for the World. From the press release:

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India has a brilliant alternative to the Ice Bucket Challenge

If you have eyes, and an internet connection, then you've seen a video recording of someone getting ice water dumped over their heads in the past month or so.
This is a challenge dreamed up to raise awareness and money to fight ALS (formerly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease), known as the Ice Bucket Challenge. Basically, once someone calls you out, you then have 24 hours to film yourself having a bucket of ice water dumped over your head, or you must pay $100 to a charity that funds ALS research, then you call out several more people.

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Bishop Tom Shaw releases a new statement

Bishop Tom Shaw, SSJE, has written a letter to the Diocese of Massachusetts, which he serves as bishop.

He writes:

As my date of retirement nears, I want to be in touch with all of you and to thank you for your continued expressions of care and concern. We have known since the beginning, when I was diagnosed with brain cancer in May of last year, that we are dealing with a difficult kind of cancer. We have been hopeful in the therapies we’ve pursued over these months, but we now know that for me there is no cure. At the recommendation of my medical team, I’ve decided now to pursue a course of treatment that will provide a good quality of life, though for how long, we can’t be sure.

He states also that he deeply appreciates the prayers and expressions of love that he receives daily.

The whole statement is available on the diocesan website.

Theology in Ferguson, as Michael Brown is laid to rest

Michael Brown, the unarmed 18 year old boy who was shot by a police officer sixteen days ago, is being laid to rest today, in an overflowing homecoming service. Last week, his stepfather requested that the protests cease for this one day, out of respect for the family, a request that seems to be being heeded by most.

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Black clergy of Ferguson write a protest letter

The Huffington Post reports the National African-American Clergy Network wrote a letter, late last week, decrying the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. Since then, it has grown exponentially, collecting signatures from folks as diverse as the head of the National Council of Churches to the head of the Seventh Day Adventists.

The statement reads, in part:

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Can someone just shoot Jesus already?

Over at Medium, Dexter Thomas offers his Christological reflection on Michael Brown's shooting:

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James Foley and prayer

As we learn more about the life and faith of James Foley following his execution at the hands of ISIS, Alana Massey at Religion Dispatches writes about Foley's prayer life:

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Diocese of West Tenessee clergy participate in ALS ice bucket challenge

As people across the country participate in the ALS "Ice Bucket Challenge", some Episcopalians are getting into the act. At 4:00 p.m. on Friday, August 21st,, the bishop of West Tennessee and a group of clergy from the Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee gathered downtown on the steps of St. Mary’s Cathedral to dump water over their heads in support of the ALS Association’s ice bucket campaign.

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Sanctuary movement of the '80s springs to new life in Arizona

From the Arizona Republic:

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Book explores U.S. chaplain's ministry to Nazi criminals

From Religion News Service:

He was a minister to monsters.

That’s what Tim Townsend writes of Henry Gerecke, the unassuming Lutheran pastor from Missouri who shepherded six of the most notorious Nazis to the gallows in “Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis.”

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Giles Fraser: How to rid the world of religious violence

Giles Fraser notes in the Guardian that "the history of religious belief is a history of horrendous violence: intolerance of others, burnings and lynchings, religious wars in which millions have died, torture, persecution." He writes:

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The ministry of embattled Christians in North Korea

Doug Wallach, a student at Princeton University, writes at the Huffington Post about the plight and ministry of Christians in North Korea, who make up a tiny but determined portion of the country's population:

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Living in another's skin and our own

Ericka Hines has some excellent insights about biases and privileges, with suggestions about how we can learn to recognize and combat them. Tobias Haller reflects on what his experience of privilege teaches him.

She notes (shared with permission from Facebook):

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Food pantry feeds the soul and the body in Ferguson

The Rev. Steve Lawler says this the food pantry at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church was already important to the community before the August 9 shooting death of Michael Brown but the violence that followed caused the pantry to shut down just when local residents needed them the most. But now the pantry in serving more people than ever.

Huffington Post:

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Faith, teens and digital media

Art Bamford of Fuller Youth Institute talks to danah boyd, author of the book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. boyd is a Principal Researcher at Microsoft, a Professor at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

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Vicky Beeching comes out

Vicki Beeching is a rising star in the evangelical pop-music world. Her music is played in churches and on Christian radio all over the US and UK and she has told the world that she is gay and that God loves her just as she is.

Beeching is an Anglican. She is a regular commentator on the BBC and Sky News, is an Oxford-trained theologian, a PhD candidate, and has been influential in the Anglican Church’s debates on gender. She personally told Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby that she was gay.

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Top five reasons why seminaries matter

Seminary education has entered a period of great change and uncertainty across the historic mainline denominations. Religious leaders are asking whether there are too many seminaries, whether they cost too much and whether seminaries are educating students to lead a church that is also in a period of change and uncertainty. There is even discussion, in some quarters, about a University of Phoenix, higher education for profit approach to theological education.

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The faith of a murdered war photographer

(Photo: Marquette University alumni magazine)

Daniel Burke of CNN has written a moving story of the faith of James Foley, the war photographer who was beheaded earlier this week by ISIS, the extremist movement that has made significant territorial gains recently in Iraq and Syria. It begins:

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Episcopal response to killing and unrest in Ferguson continues to unfold

Dean Gary Hall of Washington National Cathedral and young adults associated with the Union of Black Episcopalians are among Episcopalians responding to the killing of Mike Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by police officer Darren Wilson and the subsequent unrest it has triggered in Ferguson, Missouri.

Writing for On Faith, Hall says:

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Tutu calls for boycott of Israel

In an article for Haaretz, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has called for an international boycott of the nation of Israel.

Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa writes:

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"Religious leaders in Ferguson are giving us hope"

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Executive Religion Editor of The Huffington Post, published an article called "How These Righteous Religious Leaders in Ferguson Are Giving Us Hope". An excerpt:

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UPDATED: Bishop of Virginia issues statement on marriage equality

Barring a last minute stay from the Supreme Court, marriage equality will be the law in Virginia tomorrow, Thursday August 21. [UPDATE: The Supreme Court has issued a stay.] The bishop of the Diocese of Virginia this afternoon issued this statement and guidance:

August 20, 2014

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Who's being helped by the ALS challenge?

Newsplex.com's Stephon Dingle tells an ALS story in light of the Ice Bucket Challenge:

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Gaza's only Christian hospital struggles

Sam Hailes writes in Lapido Media on Al-Ahli, Gaza’s only Christian hospital. An excerpt:

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12 Ways to be a White Ally to Black People

Wondering what you as a white person can do to change the racism in the U.S."
The Root names 12 ways to be a white ally:

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Trayvon Martin's mother writes to Michael Brown's family, NCC adds support

Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin has written to the family of Michael Brown

I hate that you and your family must join this exclusive yet growing group of parents and relatives who have lost loved ones to senseless gun violence. Of particular concern is that so many of these gun violence cases involve children far too young.

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