Reaching out saves a congregation

Many congregations in the Episcopal Church, in regions that have been hard hit due to changing economic conditions and conflict in the denomination, have been struggling to survive. One congregation in Tennessee has come back from the brink by opening its arms and its doors to some of America's newest arrivals.

According to the article in the Tennessean, All Saints Church in Smryna the turnaround began when Anglicans refugees from Myanmar began to attend the congregation and invited other recent Anglican immigrants to join them:

"'It's a classic example of the Advent story,' Williams said. 'We could not find God, but God found us. In this case, he appeared to us in the form of 70 people who came from Myanmar.'

Eight months ago, the future of All Saints looked grim.

All Saints had been limping along since a 2006 church split, when the rector and most of the congregation left to join the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, one of several conservative rivals to the Episcopal Church.

The remaining 20 or so church members left behind couldn't afford to pay the mortgage on their building."

When the refugees began to attend, at first their needs threatened to overwhelm the congregation. But the members rallied and began to recognize resources (like arable land owned by the congregation) that they hadn't before. By allowing the new members to raise crops on the land, keeping a tithe for themselves and giving the rest away, the larger community rallied to support the efforts of the congregation and now the church is well on its way to be being a stable, active and vibrant part of the community again.

Read the full article here.

World AIDS Day

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Presiding Bishop have released messages about today's observance of World AIDS Day.

In the Presiding Bishop's letter she calls on all Episcopalians to lobby the coming Obama administration to "make the fight against AIDS at home and around the world a priority".

The Archbishop of Canterbury has posted a video statement with additional resources found on these webpages along with specific petitions for our prayers today.

Two sites that are particularly of interest for Episcopalians concerned with responding to the challenge of AIDS and HIV infection are the Episcopal Public Policy pages and the National Episcopal AIDS coalition.

The full text of the Presiding Bishop's letter follows.

Read more »

Comments

A number of folks have been having problems leaving comments on stories over the holiday weekend. The issue seems to be related to a change TypePad has made in the way they have TypeKey (the OpenID server) configured. (We use their OpenID server to authenticate the comments left here on the Cafe.)

The solution seems to be to clear your "typepad" and "typekey" domain cookies if you're having problems. (Look under the privacy settings on Firefox or Internet Explorer or "security" if you're using Safari.) It's fixed the issue for those of us on the Editorial Board and the Newsteam who were having problems.

Sorry for the inconvenience. We're working on raising the money we'll need to make some updates to parts of the blogs, and comments are right near the top of the list.

Cluett to assist in reorganizing dioceses

Rick Cluett, Archdeacon emeritus of the Diocese of Bethlehem, has been asked to serve in a new role at the Church Center.

According to the press release:

"Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has named the Venerable Richard I. Cluett as Pastoral Assistant to Reorganizing Dioceses. In this capacity, Cluett is a member of the staff of Bishop Clay Matthews in the Office of Pastoral Development.

In this new position, Cluett, who hails from the Diocese of Bethlehem, will provide pastoral guidance and assistance to dioceses of the Episcopal Church who are in the process of reorganizing and reconstituting."

Read the full release here.

Hunger increasing

PBS program Religion and Ethics features an interview with President of Bread for the World, the Rev. David Beckham:

KIM LAWTON, guest anchor: As President-elect Barack Obama put his economic team together this week, there were more signs of the magnitude of the financial crisis across the globe. According to a new report from the Christian anti-hunger group, Bread for the World Institute, the number of people who are living in extreme poverty has increased by 100 million in less than two years. And the number of hungry people has increased by more than 75 million. The report said the world is facing a hunger challenge unlike anything seen in the past 50 years. And it called on Congress and the new Administration to revamp U.S. foreign assistance in order to more effectively reduce global poverty and hunger.

Joining [Lawton] is Reverend David Beckmann, president of the Bread for the World.

David, it seems like we hear all the time reports about hunger and how it’s on the rise. What makes this year different?

Reverend DAVID BECKMANN (President, Bread for the World Institute): Well, actually the world’s been making progress against hunger. Over the last several decades, the proportion of the world’s people who are undernourished has been coming down steadily. But the economy that’s been hurting a lot of us is also doing a lot of damage among poor people around the world. So, over the last several years, we’ve seen an increase in world hunger of 75 million people. So, the widow in Mauritania who used to eat two meals of sorghum a day, she’s now eating one meal of sorghum soup.

LAWTON: And even in the U.S., we’re hearing reports that hunger is on the rise here as well?

Rev. BECKMANN: Absolutely. The economy is really tough on poor and hungry people. In on own country, you can go to the nearest food pantry — they’ll tell you. The government’s just coming out with data on hunger in 2007. So we know that last year, the number of hungry children increased by 50 percent. And that’s before the economy got really bad.

LAWTON: You all make the case for more foreign assistance or better foreign aid. Is that a hard sell in a time when people are really concerned about the situation here? You know, is it hard to say, “We need to help people overseas,” when they’re worried about, you know domestic hunger?

Rev. BECKMANN: I’m encouraged. We did a poll of voters on Election Day and 70 percent of American voters said they would like our government to spend more money to deal with the global hunger crisis. I think people know it’s the right thing to do. Certainly when we celebrate Thanksgiving we’re reminded of that. I think we also know it’s not smart to neglect misery in far-off places. And we’ve seen how the whole global economy is interconnected. So it’s good for our economy to pay attention to the global dimensions of development. Bread for the World’s members are churches across the country — are campaigning to make foreign assistance more effective. We think in a time like this we’ve got to make sure that our foreign aid is just as effective as it can be, and that more of the aid is getting to people who are struggling to overcome hunger and poverty.


Watch the interview and read it here.

What is your food pantry experiencing?

Amazing Grace project unites voices

Thousands of voices, including choirs, congregations, chaplains and soldiers, are to be blended together in one giant, online hymn sing to help support the Anglican Church's ministry in Canada's remote north according to Episcopal Life Online.

The Amazing Grace project asked Canadian Anglicans to video themselves singing the iconic 18th-century hymn, and to forward the recordings to the church's national office in Toronto. Here, the anticipated hundreds of renditions will be edited into one video, which will be available online by Christmas.

The initiative was intended as a unity building exercise but also included a fundraising component. Each singer was encouraged to donate 2 Canadian dollars (US$1.61) to support youth ministry and clergy training in Canada's northern territories. The majority of clergy in these areas are non-stipendiary, or unpaid; the money raised will allow clergy to travel from their remote communities to receive training.

Some groups raised more money than expected; at least one parish pledged its entire Sunday offerings to the project. Most of the videos were recorded on November 23, though other groups recorded their versions earlier.

By November 26, more than 200 parishes and church groups had uploaded their videos to the national church website. Brian Bukowski, website manager, said organizers were expecting to receive 500 videos either electronically or by regular mail. There are about 2800 Anglican congregations in Canada.


Read more here.

If the Episcopal Church got adventuresome

The Rev. Geoffrey Hoare, rector of All Saints Church in Atlanta, suggests that the Anglican Communion may be moving beyond an arrangement in which dioceses, or even provinces, are defined by geographical boundaries:

"In such a brave new world I hope the Episcopal Church would move swiftly to begin seeking partners throughout the world in order to sustain the possibility of broad, relational graceful, generous, inviting catholicity. One of the first steps would be a move to begin planting churches in England in which our way of living and proclaiming the gospel would be welcomed by many as a breath of fresh air (while doubtless condemned by others as American arrogance).

My question is how we would do such a thing decently and in order. Would England (or elsewhere) become a missionary district established by General Convention? A Suffragan operation akin to the Bishop for the Armed Forces or Bishop in Europe? An extension of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe (although we would be seeking to introduce English Episcopalianism rather than extending an essentially ex-pat operation)? A somewhat random diocesan mission?

I will be writing to some friends seeking response, thoughts and ideas to this bare bones, but quite serious, proposal, and would appreciate, welcome and encourage vigorous debate and response ...

This proposal may not be entirely practical, but it raises an interesting question: what would happen if the Episcopal Church started to behave toward other provinces the way that the border crossing Primates are behaving toward us?

Financial crisis hits churches

Churches around the country are discussing how the economic news in the US and around the world will affect giving to the local church and in turn the dioceses and national organizations. Although endowments can fill in the gaps in bad years, how will a long term recession affect the ability to carry on ministries. Many turn to the church in hard times for direct assistance, for spiritual and emotional support, increasing demands on leadership. See previous story in The Lead.

The Boston Globe reports:

The next few weeks, between Thanksgiving and New Year's, will be a key indicator of how dramatically the nation's financial crisis will affect religious organizations. Contributions to date have been stable or up for many denominations and congregations, but this period is the high season for American philanthropy, in part because people are motivated by the spirit of Christmas to be charitable, and in part because people are try ing to amass tax deductions as the year closes.

"Seventy percent of our budget comes in December, so we live by faith, or by hope," said the Rev. Jim Antal, president of the Massachusetts conference of the United Church of Christ, which is the state's largest Protestant denomination. Antal has summoned all clergy to a January gathering for a brainstorming session about pastoring congregations during a downturn. "I can't tell you what's going to happen," he said.
....
Multiple congregations and denominations are planning for things to get worse. Jewish synagogues are reviving congregation-based job networks that were last used during the real estate recession of the early 1990s, and the Episcopal Church is setting aside money to help congregations that get into trouble.

Many organizations are also already cutting. The Catholic Diocese of Worcester has imposed new restrictions on building projects. The Unitarian Universalist Association has put off planned maintenance work on its Beacon Hill headquarters. The Archdiocese of Boston has been steadily cutting staff. The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts has cut staff and spending. And religious colleges are cutting too, including, most recently, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, an evangelical institution on the North Shore that announced Monday it was laying off employees and reducing spending.


Read the article here.

First women priests ordained in Antsiranana diocese

ENS:

The Diocese of Antsiranana made history November 30 when it ordained its first three women priests during a joyful ceremony at St. Joseph's Church in Nosy Be, Madagascar.

The Rev. Marie Jeanne Befeno, the Rev. Vitasolo Roline and the Rev. Nivondrazana were ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Roger Chung Jaomalaza of the Diocese of Antsiranana, part of the Anglican Province of the Indian Ocean. Three other priests and eight deacons -- including three women deacons -- were also ordained during the service.

The three new women priests were ordained as deacons in June 2007 at the inauguration of the new Cathedral of St Matthew in Diego Suarez.

Led by Church of England Bishop Graham Cray of Maidstone, a delegation of women priests and other dignitaries from the Diocese of Canterbury attended the November 30 service.

The Diocese of Mauritius became the latest diocese in the Anglican Province of the Indian Ocean to accept women's ordination to the diaconate and the priesthood during its synod in November.

The Anglican Province of the Indian Ocean is led by Archbishop Ian Ernest and includes seven dioceses throughout Madagascar, Mauritius, and Seychelles.

Vatican hedges on sanctity of life

TIME:

[W]ith the Christmas season upon us, there is growing proof that the 82-year-old Pope is also quite willing to play the part of Scrooge to defend his often rigid view of Church doctrine.

Benedict's envoy to the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, has announced that the Vatican will oppose a proposed U.N. declaration calling for an end to discrimination against homosexuals. At first blush, no one should be surprised to find the Catholic Church hierarchy butting heads with gay rights activists. But this particular French-sponsored proposal, which has the backing of all 27 European Union countries, calls for an end to the practice of criminalizing and punishing people for their sexual orientation. Most dramatically, in some countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, homosexuality can be punished by death.

Papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi was forced to clarify that the Vatican continues to condemn the use of the death penalty for any crime, including those associated with homosexuality. Instead, Migliore said the Vatican's opposition to the U.N. proposal was driven by concern that countries that prohibit gay marriage would somehow be targeted. Said Migliore: "Countries that don't recognize the union between people of the same sex as marriage will be punished and pressured."

The U.N. declaration does not in fact mention gay marriage, and most of the nations that support it themselves don't allow people of the same sex to wed.

Archbishop Migliore confirmed on Tuesday that the Vatican had also refused to sign a U.N. document last May in support of the rights of the disabled because it did not include condemnation of abortion, and the rights the fetus with birth defects. Vatican officials nevertheless voiced support for the central principles of the disabled rights document, which Migliore helped craft before the final decision to withhold the Holy See’s signature.

Read it all.

Other reports: Reuters article which includes a good roundup of reactions from newspapers in Europe, from the French UN representative, and from gay activists | Catholic News Agency article headlined "Holy See not in favor of death penalty for gays, Vatican spokesman clarifies."

Meanwhile, in Arizona,

Catholic Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix taped a short message that explained why traditional marriage is a "nonnegotiable issue" for Catholics, an unprecedented move. The diocese believes the tape was played at every mass in its jurisdiction. While this angered some liberal Catholics, Ron Johnson, the executive director of the public policy agency for the three Arizona dioceses, said Bishop Olmsted's message led to a 32-point uptick in support for Prop. 102 among churchgoing Catholics.

Akinola doublespeaks

From the Church of Nigeria (Anglican):

The Primate of Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) Archbishop Peter Akinola, has urged government to fish out the perpetrators of the crisis that trailed Thursday's local government election in Plateau State. Scores of people had been killed since violence erupted in Jos on Friday even before the election results were announced.

Speaking at the Diocese of Abuja Carnival for Christ celebration, he accused government of ``playing the ostrich'', on the recurring sectarian crisis in the country.

``We know these people who are bent on destroying the nation and for goodness sake they should be brought to justice,'' Akinola told journalists in Abuja.

``The problem in my opinion is that our government has never been able to bring to book the perpetrators of this evil. When it happened in Bauchi, we cried aloud, they said they would make arrests, they never did. When it happened in Kano, they never arrested anyone and when it happened in Zaria too, no-one was arrested. Even where they were arrests they were later released.

``So if government has had the courage to bring justice to those who engage in the evil, it would have served as a deterrent to others. I call on this government to stop playing the ostrich and stop being hypocritical,'' he asserted.

Archbishop Akinola said that it was unfortunate that some people were still engaged in killing and aiming at a time when the nation should be counting the gains of democracy.


Archbishop Akinola himself has given provocative and enigmatic responses about what he knows of previous acts of violence by Christian gangs in the region of Yelwa, Jos, and he has not condemned vigilante reprisals.

Read more »

A new "province" not

Contrary to news reports that a new North American province pledging allegiance to the Anglican Communion is being created today, such is not the case. It is not possible to unilaterally declare yourself to be a province of the Anglican Communion. The AP's early report is more on target: a new group is forming its own denomination which it says represents true Anglican beliefs.

If that denomination wishes to call itself a province that's a good example of the exercise of doublethink. You can't name yourself as a province of the Anglican Communion, and it drains the word of meaning for a body to call itself a province. In short, the usage can only be meant to confuse and manipulate.

And, what of the market niche for this new denomination?

James Naughton, canon for communications and advancement in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, and a liberal who frequently blogs on Anglican affairs, said he doubted that a rival Anglican province could grow much larger.

“I think this organization does not have much of a future because there are already a lot of churches in the United States for people who don’t want to worship with gays and lesbians,” he said. “That’s not a market niche that is underserved.”

Funny thing: The Episcopal Church is not a rival in that market.

The New York Times article concludes by noting that despite the things that bring the new body together, there are plenty of internal factions as well.

Ackerman out of retirement

The Rt. Rev. Keith L. Ackerman, who resigned last month as Bishop of Quincy -- in the brief interval between coming back from sabbatical and the diocese's convention -- will serve as assisting bishop in the neighboring Diocese of Springfield. According to The Living Church "the Rt. Rev. Peter H. Beckwith, Bishop of Springfield, said the Presiding Bishop’s office had been notified that the new position would become effective Dec. 1."

At convention the diocese voted to leave The Episcopal Church and align with the Southern Cone. Had Ackerman not resigned he likely would have been inhibited as was Bishop Iker of Fort Worth.

The November 1st press release announcing his retirement stated "The Bishop and his wife Jo conferred with his physicians, many trusted friends, and the Standing Committee before making this decision."

The provisional constitution of the group meeting in Wheaton today names Forward in Faith as a founding member. We recall another post retirement statement for Ackerman: "The Right Reverend Keith Ackerman SSC wishes to make it clear that he will be remaining in office as President of Forward in Faith North America. Indeed, it is his intention during his retirement to devote himself more fully than has been possible hitherto to this ministry."

Al Gore gets Church of England business

Dow Jones reports that Generation Investment Management, a green fund headed by Al Gore, has been allocated £50m by the Church of England Commissioners. Originally to be financed from the sale of equity holdings the Commissioners opted to use cash and treasury bills, presumably due to market conditions.

Writing for the Café

Every now and then we get an email asking how to submit an article to the Café. We've now created an email address for that purpose: thetransom@episcopalcafe.com.

We are looking for topical essays on faith, politics and culture at a length of 700 to 900 words. If you are not writing directly about faith, morality, ethics or spirituality, the article needs to tie in to one of those themes in some way. If you want to get a better idea of the sort of articles we prefer, read ten or a dozen selections from Daily Episcopalian.

A word on formatting: Double space your articles, but beyond that, DO NOT format them in any way. Don't center text. Don't indent new paragraphs (but do put in an extra double space.) All formatting has to be stripped out of an article when we paste it into the blogging software. If a piece is loaded up with formatting, it makes more work for us.

A few other do-s and don'ts:

Do send us the articles in Microsoft Word or in the body of the email.
Do abide by length restrictions.
Do let us know at the top of the email whether the article would need to run by a particular date.
Do send the article well in advance of said date to increase chances of usage.
Do send us contact information including a telephone number. We will need to verify authorship.

Do not send us news items. We are open to essays, but have no interest in promotional material.
Do not send us articles that have appeared elsewhere.
Do not send us poetry unless it is truly outstanding.
Do not expect a reply. (We will try to get back to you, but we can't guarantee it.)
Do not send us outdated material.
Do not send us poetry unless it is truly outstanding. (We said this once, but it can't be overemphasized. We once knew of a Web site that published nothing but poetry submitted by teenage girls. It had precisely as many readers as it had contributors. We suspect this result would be reproduced regardless of the demographic.)

Finally, we are open to essays about people's personal experiences of faith, but we offer this bit of advice: writing for publication is not primarily a therapeutic enterprise. It is difficult to turn down articles that are deeply-felt, but either poorly written or narrowly relevant, but as editors, our primary allegiance is to our readers.

Making Middle East peace a presidential priority

From Episcopal News Service:

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has joined 39 other U.S. Christian leaders in calling on President-elect Barack Obama to make lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace a priority during his first year in office. Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), of which the Episcopal Church is a member, is circulating the leaders' December 1 letter which is being sent to Obama's transition team. Signed by leaders from the Catholic, Episcopal, Evangelical, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions, the letter urges Obama's incoming administration to "provide sustained, high-level diplomatic leadership toward the clear goal" of establishing a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. It also points out that delaying the implementation of a peace accord between Palestinians and Israelis places additional burdens on the lives of the Christians remaining in the region. "Without active U.S. engagement, political inertia and perpetuation of the unbearable status quo will make achievement of a two-state solution increasingly difficult," the leaders say. "Moreover, we are concerned about the negative impact a further delay will have on the Christian community in the Holy Land, whose numbers continue to decline."

The full text of the letter is available here. Episcopalians and other Christians nationwide are being encouraged to circulate the letter and add their names to the leaders' call for peace in the Holy Land here.

What does the NYT see that the rest of us don't?

Simon Sarmiento has an excellent set of links to the mainstream media's coverage of Anglican conservative's creation of a new ecclesiastical partnership yesterday in Wheaton, Illinois, as does Neva Rae Fox.

The most notable story is by Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times, and what is notable is not the story--which is well done--but the way it played in the paper. It appears on Page One, above the fold, in a place that indicates it is the SECOND MOST IMPORTANT THING THAT HAPPENED IN THE WORLD yesterday. Is this perhaps a bit of an overreaction?

At the moment, all this group has achieved is to take an unknown number of people who used to be Episcopalians [let's say 65,000 for the purposes of conversation augment them with perhaps another 15,000 who were either a) Canadians or b) never Episcopalians in the first place and declare themselves a new ecclesiastical body of some sort]. Does that justify this kind of coverage?

We asked the same question when the majority of the former members of the Diocese of San Joaquin voted to leave the Church. Did the decision of 15,000 people to leave one religious group and align with another deserve front page coverage?

What, exactly, does The New York Times think is happening here? At best this kind of treatment can be called "predictive." The Times may be certain it is covering the break-up of something big-- it can't seem to decide if it is the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion-- and doesn't want its readers to miss a moment. But what it this turns out to be the high tide of the breakaway movement? What if, when all is said and done, after they have spent millions of dollars and convulsed the Anglican Communion, all the conservatives have accomplished is the creation of a tiny church of some 80,000 people that is recognized by a dozen Anglican primates and is invisible in most of North America? Wouldn't the Times' coverage look a little rash in retrospect? Certainly, but by then, there will be no way of repairing the damage the paper had done to our Church, by falling in love with a narrative that never reached its expected conclusion.

The sense that the Times' editors have swallowed the conservatives argument in the purest possible form is augmented by three factors: a) the length of today's story: you don't give a reporter this kind of space unless you think something truly significant has happened; b) the decision to describe the departure of perhaps six or seven percent of the Episcopal Church's membership as a "split." If you split the bill, you generally split it in half. That is how the word is commonly understood. "Splinter" would have been a more accurate choice of words; and c) the photograph that accompanied the jump of the story on Page A-24 of today's paper. It is a posed studio-style shot of four bishops of the new ecclesial body beaming at the camera. It looks more like the work of a press agent than that of a photo journalist. When this sort of picture appears in daily newspapers, they generally appear with an upbeat profile of the subject in the Style or Living sections, not in the news hole, where the principle of journalistic objectivity typically extends to the camera's eye.

For the sake of comparison, take a look at the blog item that Manya Brachear of the Chicago Tribune wrote yesterday entitled Schism or Stunt? Here is a reporter willing to admit that the narrative line of this story is not nearly so well-established as the Times seems to believe, and that she and her colleagues may be being manipulated by the Anglican conservatives. It is unfortunate that the Tribune is not nearly as influential as the Times.

I spoke twice yesterday with reporters who seldom write about the ongoing saga of the Anglican Communion. I asked them both why they thought this story--which is of no obvious significance at this point--was worth covering. They both told me that personally they weren't sure what to make of recent developments, but that they couldn't ignore it because it was in The New York Times.

Not so fast, episcopal bandits

Updated with Episcopal News Service story.

Do you think that Lambeth Palace has a policy under which it withholds information that would be beneficial to the Episcopal Church until the press is no longer paying attention? The palace was missing in action yesterday when reporters were writing their stories about the gathering of conservative Anglicans in Wheaton yesterday, so papers are full of speculation about whether and when the conservatives' proposed province will be ratified.

Now, one day late, the palace dumps this pail of cold water on the conservatives' plans for Communion-wide recognition:

"There are clear guidelines set out in the Anglican Consultative Council Reports, notably ACC 10 in 1996 (resolution 12), detailing the steps necessary for the amendments of existing provincial constitutions and the creation of new provinces. Once begun, any of these processes will take years to complete. In relation to the recent announcement from the meeting of the Common Cause Partnership in Chicago, the process has not yet begun."

The ACC10 resolution is available here. Read it and recognize how little regard the conservatives have for the rules that the Communion has established to govern itself.

The likelihood of this proposed province will receive any official recognition from the Communion suddenly seems rather dim, primarily because it seems unlikely the conservatives will submit to this process.

Collecting commentaries

Updated with Jeff Sharlet of the Revealer, who writes: Even as these Anglicans create something new -- a church actually founded on its rejection of queers, a movement opposed to the marriage of two men growing out of a denomination built on a divorce -- they declare themselves part of something very, very old, as if Joshua's men blew their horns outside Jericho because they foresaw Bishop Gene Robinson several thousand years down the road.

Among the better commentaries we've read on yesterday's meeting of conservative Anglicans in Wheaton are: Jan Nunley's, Tobias Haller's and Mark Harris's.

Mark notes: Of the groups involved [in the proposed province] several are not ecclesial entities - The Anglican Communion Network, Forward in Faith - North America, the Anglican Network of Canada, and the American Anglican Council. Of the remaining only one is a church not related to one of the rogue Provinces with US or Canadian "convocations."

Expect the British press to start responding to the American media's overreaction to yesterday's modest developments in tomorrow's editions. Ruth Gledhill is first off the mark here. Whether the meeting she discusses is fairly described as an "emergency summit" is open to debate. It has been on the books for awhile, as she acknowledges in the story.

Quincy on the mend

Joe Bjordal of ENS has the story:

Members of the Diocese of Quincy who want to remain loyal to the Episcopal Church will meet on December 13 to take the first formal steps to reorganize and reconstitute the diocese. Attendees plan to organize a steering committee to guide the process and lay the groundwork for a special synod meeting, likely to be held in January, when a standing committee will be elected and preparations to accept a provisional bishop will begin.

"We're really starting from square one," said the Rev. John Throop, who served as a priest in Quincy for 19 years before transferring his canonical residence to the Diocese of Chicago last year. He said that when similar votes to realign took place recently in the dioceses of San Joaquin, Pittsburgh and Fort Worth, there were already groups in place ready to begin the reorganization process, but that was not the case in Quincy.

"At this point we are looking for any Episcopalian in the Diocese of Quincy who wants to remain an Episcopalian and inviting them to the meeting on December 13," said Throop, who lives in Peoria and is actively involved in the reorganizing movement.

To aid in that search an online discussion board and social network have been established. It is described as "a place for those who do not choose to be removed to the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone to meet and talk." Nearly 40 people have joined the network to date.

Why do we call them traditionalists?

The Rev. Dr. Ian T. Douglas, Angus Dun Professor of Mission and World Christianity at Episcopal Divinity School and member of the last Lambeth Conference Design Team:

"This radical innovation in church polity by Bob Duncan and his followers not only contravenes the ancient Christian councils of Nicea (325), Constantinople (381), and Chalcedon (451), but also goes against Lambeth Conference encyclical letters of 1878 and 1888, as well as Lambeth Conference resolutions 1897:24, 1908:22, 1988:72, 1998:V.13, III.2. In addition Paragraph 154 of The Windsor Report clearly states: 'Whilst there are instances in the polity of Anglican churches that more than one jurisdiction exists in one place, this is something to be discouraged rather than propagated. We do not therefore favour the establishment of parallel jurisdictions.' Seems to me that those who claim to be traditionalist have a very selective view of what the traditions of the Church are."

Not really Anglican

Jeffrey Weiss, the award-winning religion writer at The Dallas Morning News, throws the penalty flag on Bob Duncan, Jack Iker and company for their unauthorized use of the words Anglican, province and Episcopal:

Anglican provinces are defined by the Anglican Communion of which they are a part. Until now, a province could no more declare itself to exist than I could declare myself to be a doctor. There are rules, standards, approvals. None of which has this new whatever-it-is gone through.

So what is it? Best I can see, it's a religious organization - a new American denomination - that seeks to be recognized as an Anglican province. News reports about how its leaders plan to seek that recognition are not specific. But until the Archbishop of Canterbury says it is, I can't see calling it "Anglican" without quotes.

The best-ish of all possible worlds

The brilliant Michael Dirda writing in the most recent issue of The Washington Post's book review:

The attempt to justify the ways of God to men -- theodicy, a term coined by Leibniz -- lies at the heart of the matter: "Why is there any evil at all in God's creation?" Essentially, Leibniz's answer is: Consider the whole. Explains Nadler, "It is not that everything will turn out for the best for me or for anyone else in particular. Nor is it necessarily the case that any other possible world would have been worse for me or for anyone else. Rather, Leibniz claims that any other possible world is worse overall than this one, regardless of any single person's fortunes in it." What is good for the whole isn't necessarily good for every one of its individual parts or components. As Nadler emphasizes, summarizing Leibniz, "all things are connected and every single aspect of the world makes a contribution to its being the best world."

That includes what we call evil. However, Leibniz offers no explanation of just how evil assists the overall goodness of things. (Sometimes he even seems to suggest that it serves to bring the good into greater relief.) We cannot penetrate so far into the Creator's mind or plan. Still "it is inconceivable . . . that an infinitely good and perfect God could choose anything less than the best." This conclusion may satisfy a devout Christian philosopher, but it offers scant consolation when we are in pain, or see the wicked succeed and the worthy fail, or when we face death.


Rick Warren: it's okay to assassinate foreign leaders

Can we please stop pretending that Rick Warren is some sort of moderate?

Last night, on Fox News, Sean Hannity insisted that United States needs to "take out" Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Warren said he agreed. Hannity asked, "Am I advocating something dark, evil or something righteous?" Warren responded, "Well, actually, the Bible says that evil cannot be negotiated with. It has to just be stopped.... In fact, that is the legitimate role of government. The Bible says that God puts government on earth to punish evildoers. Not good-doers. Evildoers."

Hat tip:Andrew Sullivan.

We're staying says Quincy's Cathedral

The members of St. Paul's Cathedral, Peoria, Ill., in the schismatic Diocese of Quincy, have spurned their standing committee and Bishop Gregory Venables of the Province of the Southern Cone. By a lopsided margin of 181 to 35, they have elected to remain in the Episcopal Church. Four hundred of the tiny diocese's 1850 members belong to the cathedral parish, and it accounts for 22 percent of Quincy's average Sunday attendance.

Visit the new diocesan Web site.

Addendum: Read the ENS story.

Read more »

A little perspective from RNS and the presiding bishop

The incredible overreaction of The New York Times to the news that five or six percent of the members of a church that accounts for one percent of the U. S. population were leaving to found their own denomination continued to reverberate through the media world yesterday--and reporters continued to accept Bishops Bob Duncan and Martyn Minns extremely dubious claim that they represent 100,000 people, but glimmers of hope emerged for Episcopalians who are tired of the press treating their church like a punching bag.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori sat down with the editors of The Los Angeles Times, and clearly articulated the Episcopal Church's views on the ongoing controversy in the Anglican Communion. Duke Helfand's story is here.

Perhaps more importantly, Daniel Burke of Religion News Service has written the first story that displays any familiarity with the process a proposed province has to go through to gain admittance to the Communion. (Compare it to this morning's Washington Post article which ignored the statement from Lambeth Palace yesterday about this process in favor of a great deal of speculation.) The proposed province faces numerous obstacles, and Burke is the first reporter to take a clear-eyed look at them.

100,000? We think not

There is reason to be skeptical of the claim by the leaders of the proposed Anglican province in North American that they represent 100,000 people. There is reason to be skeptical that they have any real idea of how many people they represent. Here is why:

Five of the nine members of the groups in this new Anglican body make no claim to be churches. Hence, members of the American Anglican Council, Forward in Faith, the Anglican Communion Network, the Anglican Network in Canada and the Anglican Coalition in Canada are not, by their membership in these groups alone, members of the new province because they are still members of the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada. Counting them once is overcounting them.

On the other hand, if a member of one of these five groups is a member of one of the churches within the new gathering, they are, in all likelihood, being counted twice—once as a member of the AAC and one as a member of CANA or its ilk. And just to confuse matters a bit more, it is entirely possible, and perhaps even likely that thousands of people belong to the American Anglican Council, Forward in Faith, the Anglican Communion Network and one of the breakaway churches.

Are these folks being counted once, twice, four times? Anyone who has ever managed a mailing list knows how difficult it is to “de-dupe” that list when names from multiple sources are combined into a single database. It seems extremely unlikely that Bishops Duncan, Minns, et. al., have done this work.

Double and triple-counting is not the only reason to doubt the number that bishops cite. Because no member of the media has challenged the numbers that these folks quote in their press releases, we don’t know whether they are counting every member of the Dioceses of San Joaquin, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh and Quincy, or only those members who are actually supportive of the new province. If it is the former, the total needs to be reduced by a bit more than 20 percent.

An additional problem lies not in the numbers, but in the way they have been used. Most of the reporting on this story suggests that all of these notional 100,000 people left the Episcopal Church due to its theological liberalism. But many of the members of the Anglican Mission in America, which has been in existence for seven years, are former Presbyterians. Many members of the Reformed Episcopal Church (which broke away from the Episcopal Church 129 years ago) were never members of the Episcopal Church in the first place. And the members of the Anglican Network of Canada and the Anglican Coalition of Canada are, uhm, Canadians, and therefore were previously members of the Anglican Church of Canada.

It is journalistically irresponsible to continue to write that the breakaway bishops represent 100,000 people and that these people have left the Episcopal Church when the bishops have provided no evidence that this is the case, and there are so many reasons to doubt the accuracy of their claim.

Breaking news: nothing happened

Updated again: A stray thought regarding the GAFCON statement reproduced below:

There are no names on this document. The GASFCONistas routinely afix names to documents without showing them to the alleged authors. The Primate of Tanzania is the most recent person to complain about this.

So who wrote this? Well, who writes most of the stuff for Akinola or Orombi? Minns of CANA, Anderson of the AAC, and others. So the people asking for recognition may be the ones writing the document that says recognition is on the way. Theological and ecclesiological issues aside, how can the Communion reward such fraudulence? Of course, this is the Anglican Communion which appointed Bernard Malango, Primate of Central Africa, to the panel that produced the Windsor Report, a perch from which this ally of Zimbabwe's dictator Robert Mugabe expounded on the moral evils of the West.

Updated:: The GAFCON primates, all of whom sponsor anti-gay breakway church in the U. S. and Canada (and most of whom benefit finacially from doing so), unsurprisingly believe that it is a good idea to support anti-gay breakaway churches in the U. S. and Canada. They write:

"Primates of the GAFCON Primates' Council meeting in London have issued the following statement about the Province of the Anglican Church in North America:

We welcome the news of the North American Anglican Province in formation. We fully support this development with our prayer and blessing, since it demonstrates the determination of these faithful Christians to remain authentic Anglicans.

North American Anglicans have been tragically divided since 2003 when activities condemned by the clear teaching of Scripture and the vast majority of the Anglican Communion were publicly endorsed. This has left many Anglicans without a proper spiritual home. The steps taken to form the new Province are a necessary initiative. A new Province will draw together in unity many of those who wish to remain faithful to the teaching of God's word, and also create the highest level of fellowship possible with the wider Anglican Communion.

Furthermore, it releases the energy of many Anglican Christians to be involved in mission, free from the difficulties of remaining in fellowship with those who have so clearly disregarded the word of God.

If they had received any encouragement for this venture from Rowan Williams they would have said so. And without his support, this proposed province has no chance for official recognition.

Original item:

Ruth Gledhill reports that five Primates came to talk with the Archbishop of Canterbury about the goings-on in the Anglican Communion and, presumably, the events in Wheaton. She says nothing happened.

The five primates of Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Southern Cone met with the Archbishop of Canterbury in the cathedral. They prayed, started talking at 10am, prayed, had lunch, prayed, carried on talking, prayed again and finished mid-afternoon. Discussions were pretty frank and they went over everything, from Lambeth 1:10, through 2003 to the present day. No-one blinked.

Read it here.

The Ethics of Aid

Krista Trippet speaks with Binyavanga Wainaina to explore the complex ethics of global aid. Wainaina is a young writer from Kenya and "is among a rising generation of African voices who bring a cautionary perspective to the morality and efficacy behind many Western initiatives to abolish poverty and speed development in Africa."

Listen to the interview here".

Read more »

National Cathedral will host Inaugural Prayer Service

President-elect Barack Obama has accepted the Washington National Cathedral's invitation to host a prayer service in honor of his inauguration on Wednesday morning January 21. Details to come.

(And no, I can't help you get tickets.)

Michigan Lutheran and Episcopal Bishops issue statement

The Michigan Liberal reports that the Bishops of the Episcopal dioceses and the ELCA Synods of Michigan have together issued a statement about the crisis in the automobile industry.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Michigan is suffering from the impact of the deepening economic crisis. Our churches are places of solace and assistance for people affected by this situation, and we see so many in need. Already reeling under the strain of 9.3 percent unemployment rate--the nation's highest--the uncertainty of the future of the Detroit Big Three is devastating for our state.

As Christians we are often referred to as communities of hope. It is with that hope, grounded in our faith, that we see this crisis as an opportunity to move forward. We support the strengthening of our economy and the auto industry for the short and long term and ensuring justice for workers who have for so long been the cornerstone of our nation's economic engine.

According to a recent study by the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Michigan, it is not just the auto workers who would be impacted by a contraction of the Detroit Big Three. As many as 790,000 workers in the manufacturing supply chain across the country could lose their jobs. These losses would only further amplify the economic crisis both here in the United States and around the world affecting workers in every sector of the economy.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

Now is not the time for our country to continue walking on the other side of the road, ignoring the plight of our economically battered-workers. This is the time to reach out as the Good Samaritan did to care for another even at our own expense.

When Congress considers its options for action, we hope that they focus on ensuring a path that benefits the most workers possible and securing both the short and long term success of the auto industry by not using funds already dedicated to helping the industry retool for better environmental efficiency.

There are hard decisions to be made, but we hope that any assistance given to the automakers will attempt to balance the immediate needs of workers with the long term viability of our economy by concentrating on long term stability through restructuring and on the strength of the company as a whole.

While our nation's decision makers labor to chart the right course for the economy, our churches continue to do what we are called to do always - minister to those in need and pray for both those in need and those making the hard decisions about our nation's future. We commend your prayers and action in this matter.

Faithfully,

Bishop Robert Gepert, Diocese of Western MI

Bishop Wendell N. Gibbs, Jr., Diocese of MI

Bishop Todd Ousley, Diocese of Eastern MI

Ms Linda Piper, Chair, Standing Committee, Diocese of Northern MI

Bishop Kenneth Olsen, Southeast MI Synod

Bishop John Schleicher, North/West Lower MI Synod

Bishop Thomas Skrenes, Northern Great Lakes Synod

Read it here.

PB "accepts" Bishop Iker's renunciation of orders

From episcope:

On November 20, 2008, the Title IV Review Committee certified to me pursuant to the canons that the Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker, Bishop of Fort Worth, had abandoned the Communion of the Episcopal Church, having purported to separate his Diocese from the Church. With the consent of the three senior bishops, I then inhibited Bishop Iker from exercising his pastoral ministry. In response to this action, on November 24, 2008, Bishop Iker issued a public statement in which he made clear that he had chosen to leave the Episcopal Church and that he no longer wished to carry out the responsibilities of ordained ministry in the Church. Accordingly, I have, with the consent of my Council of Advice, chosen this day to accept Bishop Iker's voluntary renunciation of his Orders in the Episcopal Church and have removed and released him from our ordained ministry.

Her letter concluded: Accepting Bishop Iker's voluntary renunciation now rather than waiting for the March meeting of the House will do much to alleviate the difficult circumstances facing the Episcopalians in Fort Worth, who are functioning in a Diocese devoid of any formal leadership. Second, renunciation is a more hospitable avenue of departure from the Church, and therefore increases the hope for reconciliation with Bishop Iker and his followers at some point.

The full story makes clear that Iker does not think he has renounced his orders, but that the Presiding Bishop, her Council of Advice (which includes the extremely conservative Bruce MacPherson) and the nine-member Title IV review committee (chaired by Dorsey Henderson, nobody's liberal) think his public statements constitute renunciation.

An interesting side note: the Episcopal witnesses on the one-page notification that the Presiding Bishop released are Bishops George Packard and Lloyd Allen, both of whom, I believe, voted against deposing Bishop Bob Duncan.

Same-sex blessings authorized in Diocese of Los Angeles

Susan Russell, at her blog, An Inch at a Time, reports from the 113th Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles:

Bishop Bruno has authorized the distribution of a Service for the Sacramental Blessing of a Life-Long Covenant. Approved for use in the Diocese of Los Angeles, this service may be used to bless the covenant of a man and woman, two women or two men.

The liturgy was accompanied by a document entitled:

Policy Regarding the Sacramental Blessing of Life-long Covenants in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles

Here are a few key paragraphs:

In response to our theological understanding, it is the policy of the Diocese of Los Angeles that any priest canonically resident or licensed to function may officiate at the sacramental blessing of the life-long covenant of persons of the same sex following the provisions of this policy despite the civil law of our state at this time. While the state will not allow us to officially marry same-sex couples, we believe the same blessing ceremony afforded to men and women should be afforded to same-sex couples.

Parochial clergy shall provide education, information, pastoral care and discussion within their congregations before solemnizing marriages of same-sex couples especially if such marriages would be the occasion for confusion, misunderstanding or any other spiritual crisis for members of the congregation. Educational materials have been developed by the Bishop’s Task Force on Marriage for use in congregations.

At the same time, congregations are encouraged to move forward in prophetic witness and in justice towards same-sex couples who have been denied both the church’s blessing and the state’s benefits of marriage for so long.


More information to follow on the Diocesan website here.

Integrity, USA [is] "'greatly encouraged that the Diocese of Los Angeles has taken such strong steps forward on the full inclusion of the LGBT faithful in the Body of Christ,' said the Reverend Susan Russell, president of Integrity and a member of the Task force on Marriage Equality convened by Bishop Bruno to craft the policy and draft the liturgy."

Full statement below

Read more »

Reactions to the departure of the Duncanites

Daniel Burke of Religion News Service has compiled a round-up of various reactions to the departure of Bishop Robert Duncan and others to for.a new anti-gay Christian denomination in North America.

And Laurie Goodstein's article in The New York Times begins as follows:

Conservative Anglicans in the United States and Canada said Friday that they intended to proceed immediately with plans to create their own branch of the Anglican Communion, separate from the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, despite warnings from the archbishop of Canterbury that winning official recognition could take years.

She includes this nifty display of petulance by Duncan's spokesman the Rev. Peter Frank: “This is not being put on hold while we wait for a committee in England to tell us which form to fill out."

Newsweek poll finds "surge" in support for gay marriage

Newsweek:

[T]he latest NEWSWEEK Poll finds growing public support for gay marriage and civil unions—and strong backing for the granting of certain rights associated with marriage, to same-sex couples.

Americans continue to find civil unions for gays and lesbians more palatable than full-fledged marriage. Fifty-five percent of respondents favored legally sanctioned unions or partnerships, while only 39 percent supported marriage rights. Both figures are notably higher than in 2004, when 40 percent backed the former and 33 percent approved of the latter. When it comes to according legal rights in specific areas to gays, the public is even more supportive. Seventy-four percent back inheritance rights for gay domestic partners (compared to 60 percent in 2004), 73 percent approve of extending health insurance and other employee benefits to them (compared to 60 percent in 2004), 67 percent favor granting them Social Security benefits (compared to 55 percent in 2004) and 86 percent support hospital visitation rights (a question that wasn't asked four years ago). In other areas, too, respondents appeared increasingly tolerant. Fifty-three percent favor gay adoption rights (8 points more than in 2004), and 66 percent believe gays should be able to serve openly in the military (6 points more than in 2004).

Bishop Jenkins to retire

From ENS

Bishop Charles E. Jenkins III of Louisiana, saying he has struggled with the emotional trauma caused by the Hurricane Katrina disaster of 2005, has announced his retirement, effective December 31, 2009.

In a letter to the diocese, Jenkins, 57, wrote, "This move is based on issues of health and a concern for the mission strategy of the diocese."

...

Jenkins wrote, "My struggle with health issues since Katrina has not been a secret. My PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder] was exaggerated by the experience of the mandatory evacuation in Hurricane Gustav. The symptoms that accompany the PTSD now seem deeper and more frequent. After talking with various health professionals, it seems best for me that I take a significant rest, which means an absence from the stress and strains of the episcopate. I considered and explored the possibility of a medical leave and even a sabbatical. I could not bring myself to do this for there is no assurance that I would be back to lead the diocese. I am not willing to ask this diocese to take such a risk."

On taking Scripture seriously

The Anglican Scotist is among those sick of listening to conservatives blather that the Episcopal Church does not take Scripture seriously. Some of us think that the breakaway congregations have latched on to this issue to persuade themselves that their desire to leave the Episcopal Church is driven by something greater than their distaste for homosexuals--so much more enobling to believe one is driven by principle rather than prejudice.

The Scotist doesn't weigh in on that particular issue. Rather, he writes:

The Episcopal Church has left little question as to where it stands on the issue of Biblical authority; volumes from the most recent two Church's Teaching Series from the '70s and late '90s have been devoted to the issue, and there are several other monographs with similar degrees of authority. Moreover, it seems to me equally clear that the actions of GC2003 are rooted in the approach to Scripture outlined in these publications.

Thus, I propose looking into these volumes to see what the Episcopal Church actually says about Scripture and Biblical authority; alas, I am unwilling merely to take our conservative brothers and sisters at their word on this one.

A million-dollar inauguration suite for the least of us

It didn't take long for hotel rooms near Capitol Hill to get snapped up for the inauguration, even expensive suites. But one whopper of a package, the million-dollar "Build Your Own Ball" suite and services, was picked up by a business owner in Fairfax, Va. He's also booked $600,000 worth of additional services--all to allow scores of disadvantaged people to experience the inauguration.

Earl W. Stafford, 60, of Fairfax County, the founder of a Centreville technology company who grew up as one of 12 children of a Baptist minister, said he will provide his guests lodging, food and special access, as well as beauticians, gowns and tuxedos, if necessary.

...

"We wanted to . . . bless those who otherwise wouldn't have an opportunity to be a part of the great celebration, the inauguration and the festivities," he said in an interview yesterday. "Our objective is to bring in a cross-section of society -- those who are distressed, those who are terminally ill, those who are socially and economically disadvantaged, those veterans who are wounded and served our country."

Stafford said the idea was inspired by his deep religious faith and the good fortune that has come his way. The inauguration is an opportunity to remember the less fortunate and remind the country of its traditions of benevolence, he said.

Read it all here.

The Christmas Story in 30 seconds

Can you tell the Christmas story for radio or video in under 30 seconds? That's was the challenge the Church Advertising Network gave churches, youth groups and individuals in advance of Advent and Christmas. The winning radio was set to a YouTube video below.

Listen to the runner ups here.

The Church Advertising Network also this downloadable poster of the nativity in a bus sheter.

bus_shelter_nativity.jpg

Learn more here.

Akinola interview centers on homosexuality

The Sunday Tribune (Nigeria) interviewed Archbishop Peter Akinola "on how pro-homosexual Europeans are buying over weak churches in Africa to keep quiet, GAFCON and how God rescued one of his bishops from a lion." An excerpt:

Q: But there is this fear that richer churches from Europe and America will like to use money to buy poorer churches in Africa to back out of GAFCON?

AKINOLA: (Cuts in) They are already doing that. In America and England, they are using money to buy silence. They are using money to buy compromise. They have always done it and they are still doing it and they will not stop doing it.

Read it all.

Iker says he has not renounced his orders

Bishop Jack Iker of Forth Worth says that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is wrong. He has not renounced his orders, and therefore should not have been removed as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. He writes:

The Presiding Bishop is misleading the Church and misrepresenting the facts in her recent allegation that I have renounced the ordained ministry of The Episcopal Church.

According to Canon III.12.7, any Bishop desiring to renounce his orders "shall declare, in writing, to the Presiding Bishop a renunciation of the ordained Ministry of this Church, and a desire to be removed therefrom…" and that the PB shall then "record the declaration and request so made."

I have not written to the Presiding Bishop making any such declaration or request. I hope the House of Bishops will hold her accountable for her continued abuse of the canons.

It appears to be true, that Iker did not write to the PB, however he did write to the diocese, and here is what he said:

Katharine Jefferts Schori has no authority over me or my ministry as a Bishop in the Church of God. She never has, and she never will.

Since November 15, 2008, both the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and I as the Diocesan Bishop have been members of the Anglican Province of the Southern
Cone. As a result, canonical declarations of the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church pertaining to us are irrelevant and of no consequence.

Like the deposition of Bishops Schofield and Duncan, the removal of Bishop Iker from his office occurred after it was infinitely clear that he no longer considered himself a member of the Episcopal Church but wanted to continue asserting authority within the Church to make it more difficult to reconstitute the diocese he had departed.

These bishops and many of their priests cast their depositions as the ecclesial equivalent of a deportation. But the Church is simply taking away the passports of those who have made it known that they are no longer our citizens. Their invocation of the canons is especially ironic as they claim now to be members of a province that is canonically forbidden from operating outside of designated countries in South America.

God Bless Newsweek

Newsweek has just published a cover story by religion editor Lisa Miller outlining the religious case for gay marriage.

The magazine's treatment of the issue begins with an Editor's Letter from Jon Meacham who, in previous writings, has described himself as a centerist Episcopalian. Meacham has written a book on the faith of the Founding Fathers and recently published a well-received biography of Andrew Jackson. He writes:

On the campus of Wheaton College in Illinois last Wednesday, in another of the seemingly endless announcements of splintering and schism in the Episcopal Church, the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan and other leaders of the conservative forces of reaction to the ecclesiastical and cultural acceptance of homosexuality declared that their opposition to the ordination and the marriage of gays was irrevocably rooted in the Bible—which they regard as the "final authority and unchangeable standard for Christian faith and life."

No matter what one thinks about gay rights—for, against or somewhere in between —this conservative resort to biblical authority is the worst kind of fundamentalism. Given the history of the making of the Scriptures and the millennia of critical attention scholars and others have given to the stories and injunctions that come to us in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament, to argue that something is so because it is in the Bible is more than intellectually bankrupt—it is unserious, and unworthy of the great Judeo-Christian tradition.

(Emphasis mine.)

Millers' story begins:

Let's try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife Sarah was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women (two sisters and their servants)? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel—all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better. Jesus himself was single and preached an indifference to earthly attachments—especially family. The apostle Paul (also single) regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. "It is better to marry than to burn with passion," says the apostle, in one of the most lukewarm endorsements of a treasured institution ever uttered. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple—who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love—turn to the Bible as a how-to script?

Of course not, yet the religious opponents of gay marriage would have it be so.

Some other choice bits:


[W]hile the Bible and Jesus say many important things about love and family, neither explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one woman. And second, as the examples above illustrate, no sensible modern person wants marriage—theirs or anyone else's —to look in its particulars anything like what the Bible describes.

If the bible doesn't give abundant examples of traditional marriage, then what are the gay-marriage opponents really exercised about? Well, homosexuality, of course—specifically sex between men. Sex between women has never, even in biblical times, raised as much ire. In its entry on "Homosexual Practices," the Anchor Bible Dictionary notes that nowhere in the Bible do its authors refer to sex between women, "possibly because it did not result in true physical 'union' (by male entry)."
Religious objections to gay marriage are rooted not in the Bible at all, then, but in custom and tradition (and, to talk turkey for a minute, a personal discomfort with gay sex that transcends theological argument).
(emphasis mine)
The Bible endorses slavery, a practice that Americans now universally consider shameful and barbaric. It recommends the death penalty for adulterers (and in Leviticus, for men who have sex with men, for that matter). It provides conceptual shelter for anti-Semites. A mature view of scriptural authority requires us, as we have in the past, to move beyond literalism. The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it's impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours.
if we are all God's children, made in his likeness and image, then to deny access to any sacrament based on sexuality is exactly the same thing as denying it based on skin color—and no serious (or even semiserious) person would argue that. People get married "for their mutual joy," explains the Rev. Chloe Breyer, executive director of the Interfaith Center in New York, quoting the Episcopal marriage ceremony. That's what religious people do: care for each other in spite of difficulty, she adds. In marriage, couples grow closer to God: "Being with one another in community is how you love God. That's what marriage is about."

To read Bishop John Bryson Chane's defense of gay marriage, published in June, visit the Guardian's Web site.

And click on comments to read Deirdre Good's excellent contribution.

The changing nature of ritual

Alina Tugend has a must-read essay in yesterday's New York Times that discusses the importance of ritual in our lives and the difficulty of balancing tradition with consumerism. She begins by noting the changing nature of even our most cherished traditions:

But while most of us think of rituals as time-honored, they are constantly changing.

Professor Pleck, author of “Celebrating the Family: Ethnicity, Consumer Culture and Family Rituals,” (Harvard University Press, 2000), noted that even a tradition that seems as standardized as a Thanksgiving dinner really isn’t.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, celebrations often consisted primarily of shooting off guns and athletic competitions. I don’t know about your family, but our Thanksgiving tradition does not involve firearms.

In the 1700s, “there may or may not have been an important family feast,” Professor Pleck said. “Until the 19th century, it certainly did not have the element of homecoming that we have now” — that is, of families coming together for a holiday meal.

In fact, in the 19th-century South, she said, Thanksgiving became associated with New England and abolitionism, and many Southerners chose not to celebrate it.

. . .

And while many of us bemoan the loss of the old-fashioned Christmas, that may be more myth than reality. Until the 1820s, said Stephen Nissenbaum, professor emeritus of history at the University of Massachusetts, Christmas “took the form of relations between classes rather than between generations.” The rich, he said, “were obliged to give to the poor rather than take from them. It involved the entire community rather than an insular family.”

. . .

But after one particularly raucous Christmas season street parade in 1827 — which helped lead to the creation of a professionalized New York City police force — and with the increased geographical divide between rich and poor, Christmas became a much more family-oriented affair behind closed doors, said Professor Nissenbaum. He is the author of “The Battle for Christmas” (Knopf, 1996).

Read it all here.

Culture wars and healthcare workers

Dahlia Lithwick notes that the rights of health care workers is the new battleground in the abortion debate, but argues that the trend is really about empowering only one side of the debate:

What does it tell us about the state of the abortion wars today that battles once waged over the dignity and autonomy of pregnant women have morphed into disputes over the dignity and autonomy of their health care providers instead? Two of the most pitched battles over reproductive rights in America right now turn on whether health workers can be forced to provide medical services or information to which they ethically or professionally object. But as we learn from these fights, our solicitude for the beliefs of medical workers is selective: Abortion opponents will soon enjoy broader legal protections than ever. Those willing to provide abortions, on the other hand, seem to enjoy far fewer. And women seeking reproductive services? They will continue to be caught in the tangle between the two.

Read more »

ONE Sabbath

The ONE Campaign, which is focused on combating global poverty, is organizing ONE Sabbath, which, together with "companion programs ONE Seva and ONE Sadaqa will rally believers of all faiths, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others, to learn and take action on behalf of people living in extreme poverty and dying from preventable diseases." More information can be found here.

ONE Sabbath commissioned a n new Barna survey that reports that more than half of all clergy surveyed believe that their congregations need to be doing poor to help the poor:

Read more »

In case you missed these reports

If you were away this weekend, you may have missed some big stories on the Cafe. Here is a round up.

Newsweek makes the religious case for gay marriage.

The Diocese of Los Angeles met in convention and approved rites for same-sex blessings.

The Episcopal Church took Bishop Jack Iker at his word and acted on his open renunciation of his ministry in the Episcopal Church, but Iker claims he has never left even though he says the Episcopal Church has no authority over him.

Shock: evangelical leader is honest about evangelical voting trends

Affinity-group politics took second place to competence for Chief Lobbyist and Vice President for Governmental Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) Richard Cizik when he walked into the voting booth this year. What he has to say shows the shift in thinking (and possible split) among politically active evangelicals.

Evidently he is not alone. In an interview with Terry Gross on WHYY/NPR's Fresh Air, he cites the following trends:

32% of younger evangelicals voted for Obama

4 in 10 evangelicals know a gay person in their family, workplace or circle of friends who is out.

52% of younger evangelicals favor some form of civil unions or same-sex marriage or both.

Two-thirds of younger evangelicals would vote for a candidate even if they disagreed with the candidate on pro-life and gay marriage issues.

Younger evangelicals, Cizak says, are overwhelmingly pro-life but have a more pluralistic view than their older white counterparts.

LifeSite, a pro-life web-site, says under the headline "Shock: Evangelical Leader Believes in Gay Civil Unions, Says OK to Vote for Obama":

Read more »

Presiding Bishop's Christmas message

Christmas Message 2008

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:5).

The world settles into winter, at least in the northern hemisphere, and life to many seems increasingly bleak. Foreclosures, layoffs, government bailouts and financial failures, continuing war on two fronts, terrorist attacks, murders of some identified only by their faith - this world is in abundant need of light. We know light that is not overcome by darkness, for God has come among us in human flesh. Born in poverty to a homeless couple, to a people long under occupation, Jesus is human and divine evidence that God is with us in the midst of the world's darkness. Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, Divine Counselor is come among us to re-mind, re-member, and re-create. A new mind and heart is birthed in us as we turn to follow Jesus on the way. The body of God's creation is re-membered and put back together in ways intended from the beginning. And a new creation becomes reality through Jesus' healing work. Christians tell the story again each Christmastide, and the telling and remembering invites us once again into being made whole. Our task in every year is to hear the story with new ears, and seeing light in the darkness of this season's woes, then to tell it abroad with gladsome hearts to those who wait in darkness. Where will you share the joyous tale of light in the darkness?


The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop
The Episcopal Church

Thanks to EpiScope.

Networking leads to prayer

The Washington Post reports on a prayer breakfast that attracted business leaders, investors, lawyers, headhunters and other professionals. But this was not your parent's prayer breakfast.

Driving nearly 800 local professionals to wake up early was the High Tech Prayer Breakfast, an annual event that brings together a wide range of local business players -- from investors and lawyers to executives and headhunters. Now in its seventh year, the breakfast attracts regular churchgoers as well as those who prefer a synagogue, a mosque or no church at all.

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Greg Maddux retires

Greg Maddux has just announced his retirement. He is perhaps the greatest non-juicing pitcher of his era: 355 victories, 4 Cy Youngs and 18 Gold Gloves, a sure first ballot Hall of Famer. We in the Church of Baseball are grateful and wish him well.

The New York Times writes:

Here is all you need to know about the esteem in which Greg Maddux is held in major league baseball: he is announcing his retirement right now in a conference room at the Bellagio, and Ned Colletti, the general manager of the Dodgers, is standing behind the rows of reporters, taking a photo with his cellphone.

“I’m just here, really, to say thank you – thank you to everybody in baseball,” Maddux said, after an introduction from his agent, Scott Boras. “I appreciate everything the game has given me. It’s going to be hard to walk away, obviously, but it’s time. I still think I can play this game, but not as well as I would like to. So it’s time to say goodbye.”

Maddux retires with more victories than any living pitcher; he has 355 wins or one more than Roger Clemens. In his final season, with the Padres and the Dodgers, Maddux won his 18th Gold Glove award and led the National League in fewest walks per nine innings for the ninth time.

In all, he captured four Cy Young awards, helped the Braves to the 1995 World Series title and broke Cy Young’s record for consecutive seasons of 15 or more victories, with 17. His career E.R.A. was 3.16, and his achievements are chronicled well here, by Joe Posnanski.

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Sentamu calls for ouster of Mugabe

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, says that President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe should be removed from power and stand trial for crimes against humanity.

The BBC says that Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga agrees.

His comments are some of the strongest by an African leader against Mr Mugabe, says the BBC's Karen Allen in Nairobi.

"It's time for African governments... to push him out of power," Mr Odinga said after talks with Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Sentamu writes:

When Jesus Christ wanted people to know what he was doing, he chose a passage from the Old Testament to describe his mission. It was a passage from the prophet Isaiah, written to encourage a disillusioned and demoralised people. It looked forward to a new day when there would be justice for people being treated unjustly and in poverty and release for the oppressed. It promised new life for the present and hope for the future.

President Robert Mugabe was right when he said only God could remove him. That's exactly what happens. No tyrant lives for ever. No cruel regime lasts. God acts. And he is acting. An international chorus is at last being raised to bring an end to Mugabe's brutal regime.

As cholera devastates a Zimbabwe already on its knees, our Prime Minister, our Foreign Secretary and the US Secretary of State have all called for an end to the regime of Mugabe. Now these voices must unite for a further call to bring an end to the charade of power-sharing that has enabled Mugabe to remain in office, assisted by his ruthless politburo.

Mugabe and his corrupt regime must go. Lord Acton said: 'Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.' How can anyone share power in a thoroughly corrupt regime?

The Guardian reports:

The Archbishop's attack came as Gordon Brown also stepped up the rhetoric yesterday, calling the Zimbabwean government a 'blood-stained regime' and urging the international community to tell Mugabe 'enough is enough'. The Prime Minister said food shortages and the cholera epidemic had become an 'international rather than a national emergency' that demanded a co-ordinated response.

'We must stand together to defend human rights and democracy, to say firmly to Mugabe that enough is enough,' he said. 'The whole world is angry because they see avoidable deaths - of children, mothers, and families affected by a disease that could have been avoided. This is a humanitarian catastrophe. This is a breakdown in civil society.' Brown said he hoped the UN Security Council would meet 'urgently'. But Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg went further, saying the UN should now declare the use of military force was justified: 'The world has sat idly by while Mugabe has brutalised his own people for too long. Economic recession in the West has led the world to avert its gaze from the suffering in Zimbabwe. Further international inaction would be inexcusable.'

South African Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu said on Dutch TV that Mugabe must stand down or be removed 'by force'. But while Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has said it was time for African governments to 'take decisive action to push him out of power', there has been little sign that Zimbabwe's neighbours were prepared to move against him. The growing international fury came as cholera ravaged the people - 575 have died and 13,000 are infected - and the economy is worse than anything the world has seen.

Read the ABY's essay here.

Child bishop to take over diocese

A nine-year-old girl from Hampshire has taken on the role of a bishop for the month of December according to the BBC News.

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Bishop Chane responds to proposed "new province"

Update: The Telegraph covers the letter focusing on Chane's statements about the leadership of Rowan Williams.
_________________

Bishop John Bryson Chane of the Diocese of Washington has written an open letter to the clergy and congregations of the diocese regarding the attempt to form a non-geographical province in North America.

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Food banks empty

A report on an empty Food Bank Jackson Hole, Wyoming, tells a story that is being repeated all over the US. Although Wyoming often runs counter to the country's economy due to its mineral, gas and oil industry, even there food banks are experiencing unprecedented demands. This one has a happy ending according to volunteers at St. John's Episcopal Church but as our financial woes continue around the world we may hear it repeated in every community.

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Pat Boone equates Anti-Prop 8 prostestors with jihadists

The Human Rights Campaign has posted the rants of Pat Boone that equate anti-Proposition 8 protesters with the terrorists of Mumbai in India. This is the sort of terrifying rhetoric that gives permission to those who would attack gay, lesbian and transgender persons. All of us need to speak out against such hatred.

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Episcopal Church responds to piracy

Episcopal Life Online reports on efforts by the Seaman's Church Institute to assist seafarers and merchant mariners affected by Somali pirates.

The Episcopal Church-related Seamen's Church Institute (SCI) has become involved in efforts to block the operations of Somali pirates.

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President Bush and his relationship with God

The Houston Chronicle reports on an interview of President Bush by Cynthia McFadden on ABC's Nightline:

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TIME: Top 10 religion stories of 2008

4. The Canterbury non-Tale. ... the Lambeth Conference's planners turned the gathering into a non-binding conversation-only affair, many conservatives boycotted it, and the Communion staggered on ...
Read all ten.

FundamentaList: Split - big deal?

The Times played the formal split -- in the making for five years -- as a mortal challenge to the mainline denomination, which represents about 2.2 million American Episcopalians. But Jim Naughton, the canon for communications and advancement of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, a critic of the breakaway faction, called the Times' coverage a "massive overreaction." Only about 5 percent of Episcopalians, he said, are represented in the anti-gay breakaway group.

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Jon Stewart and Mike Huckabee debate marriage

Huckabee was on The Daily Show last night with his new book, "Do the Right Thing." Stewart asked why extending the benefits of marriage to all people wasn't doing the right thing. Watch it all (7 minutes). One choice quote from Stewart: "Religion is far more of a choice than homosexuality, and the protections that we have for religion -- we protect religion. And talk about a lifestyle choice, that is absolutely a choice. Gay people do not choose to be gay. At what age did you choose to NOT be gay?"

In related news, New Jersey's "Civil Union Review Commission concluded that the state's two-year-old civil union law doesn't do enough to give gay couples the same protections as heterosexual married couples." (link)

Newsweek on "religious reaction" to cover story

Newsweek's Readback blog reports on "religious reaction" to its cover story on the biblical case for gay marriage. As you see, Readback's post captures the negative reaction from the religious right and overlooks our decidedly positive religious reaction (God Bless Newsweek).

Oh, and for the record, let's not forget that Get Religion -- quoted in the post -- is funded by Howard Ahmanson, who thinks it's ok to stone homosexuals.

An economist's diary

The Economist:

At our orientation session, we introduced ourselves and explained why we volunteered for this particular project. I went first. I said I volunteered because I thought that learning about how these women respond to their extreme financial constraints would be interesting.

Everyone else said they thought their experiences would be helpful (most were lawyers or in human resources). I realised I was the only one who did not say I was there to help homeless women. I wondered if that made me a bad person. But (and I may be rationalising here) I found something presumptuous about the idea I could swoop in from my comfortable life and sort out these women’s financial woes. I might know about economics and finance, but I know nothing of what it’s like to be a homeless single mother.

Read it all. See also the related blog post.

Carol service aimed at Israeli policy

The Times:

Coming hard on the heels of the first trip to Auschwitz by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams — who was accompanied by the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks — the fall-out from the event is already damaging interfaith relations and now threatens to spill over into a diplomatic row.

At the event, organised by anti-Israel campaigners, including one liberal Jewish group, and with carols rewritten by an unnamed Jewish parody writer, the carol Once in Royal David's City was altered to say "Once in royal David’s city stood a big apartheid wall. . ."

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Getting behind the Bokamoso Youth program

For the last five years, the Diocese of Washington has offered an online Advent calendar, and each year we've offered visitors the opportunity to mark the season by making a financial contribution to a worthy cause. This year we are asking you to support a ministry that is especially close to our hearts, the Bokamoso Youth program. Each day, in addition to a daily meditation and a link to the Daily Office, the calendar features a videotaped interview with one of the scores of South African young people whose lives have been changed, even saved, by Bokamoso, or with one of their grateful parents.

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English press reads Bishop Chane's letter to DC diocese

One of the peculiarities of life in the Anglican Communion is that the statements of American bishops often receive greater attention from London newspapers than from the bishop's hometown press. Jonathan Wynne-Jones of The Telegraph and Andrew Brown of The Guardian have both devoted space to Bishop John Bryson Chane's recent letter to the Diocese of Washington regarding the attempt to form a non-geographical province in North America.

Diana Butler Bass nails it

Diana Butler Bass (by way of Terry Martin):

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Credit where it is due

Mona Charen may be beating the drum a little too hard, but the rhythm is right:

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Pittsburgh gets back on its feet

The Honest to God Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will be reorganizing itself at a special convention this weekend. Read the diocesan news release by clicking "Read more" and don't miss Mark Harris' thoughts.

Note this passage in the press release:

At least 27 congregations will take part in the convention. That number is substantially higher than the 18 parishes that said they would remain in The Episcopal Church when a majority of diocesan leaders and clergy opted to leave the church in early October 2008.

This higher participation represents 40% of both the number of parishes and total membership -- as measured by the benchmark Average Sunday Attendance -- in the Pittsburgh Diocese prior to October.

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The vicar returns

The blogger formerly known as the Salty Vicar and Padre Mambo has returned to the fray and now lives at The Divine Latitude whence comes this essay on what Barack Obama's victory can teach the mainline churches:

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NAE official resigns over remarks

Richard Cizik, the Vice-President for Governmental Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, has been forced to resign as a result of his comments that he is "shifting" his views on same-sex marriage.

According to an article on Christianity Today:

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The cynical use of 'Freedom of Religion'

Kate Childs Graham of Religion Dispatches marked the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with an essay about how arguments ostensibly rooted in religious freedom are being used to foster oppression. She writes:

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More on the proposed province

During the week more information has emerged about the plans of the proposed new Anglican Province for North America being urged by those who disagree with the direction of the existing Anglican provinces on that continent. The Archbishop of Canterbury has told the leadership of GAFCON that he will neither support or block its formation. Also there are now some independent numbers about the size of the potential province.

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Canterbury Cathedral crumbling

Canterbury Cathedral, the mother church of the Anglican Communion has a suffered so much neglect over the years that without significant repairs, it's in danger of being forced to close large sections of the Cathedral for safety reasons.

An article on the situation reports that an effort is now underway to finish raising the nearly 50 million pounds (roughly 75 million dollars) that will be needed to repair the present damage.

From Ekklesia comes a quote from by "Save Canterbury Cathedral Appeal" p.r. manager Shelley Nye:

"As from now, we're widening the appeal to include big business throughout the United Kingdom, tourist boards and private companies and we will soon be making an appeal to English Heritage for funds allocated to it by the National Lottery."

The Cathedral Appeal website, www.savecanterburycathedral.com, has a great deal more information about what needs to be done and the appeal itself.

Cardinal Avery Dulles died today

According to news reports;

"Cardinal Avery Dulles, a scion of diplomats and Presbyterians who converted to Roman Catholicism, rose to pre-eminence in Catholic theology and became the only American theologian ever appointed to the College of Cardinals, died today died Friday morning at Fordham University in the Bronx. He was 90. His death, at the Jesuit infirmary at the university, was confirmed by the New York Province of the Society of Jesus in Manhattan.'

Cardinal Dulles was a leading figure in the Catholic Church in America often serving as an ambassador between liberal elements of the American church and the Vatican.

New congregation reaches at risk youth

A new congregation in the Diocese of Arizona is focusing on reaching out to young people who are headed to prison, in significant danger of doing so, or who have just been released. The Congregation of St. Jude's is attempting to create a community of support gathered around Christ's altar that will give these young people the power they need to turn their lives around.

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Reviewing Rowan

A. N. Wilson has reviewed the new biography of Dr. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, for The Times of London. He likes both, the bio and the bishop.

Whole lotta liturgy goin' on...

It is a creative time in churches around the Anglican Communion. From Bethlehem, PA to Seattle, WA to Coventry UK, a variety of liturgical experiences are being offered. Some come from emergent churches others from churches looking to expand the message of the Gospel to various groups. U2 Eucharists and Beatles Masses have been around for awhile but here are some new ideas:

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Self-mortification for your environmental guilt trip

The New York Times Magazine is filled with ideas from 2008. One is a device for doing carbon penance:

Annina Rüst, a Swiss-born artist-inventor, wanted to help relieve these anxieties by giving people a tangible reminder of their own energy use, as well as an outlet for the feelings of complicity, shame and powerlessness that surround the question of global warming.

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Long distance Christmas

Bishop George Packard, the Episcopal Bishop in charge of Chaplaincies, points us to a new resource offered by Episcopal Church to families celebrating Christmas while separated by deployment.

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Pittsburgh calls assisting bishop

Lay delegates from 27 congregations and 42 clergy gathered Saturday to reorganize the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The Rt. Rev. Robert Hodges Johnson, the retired Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina, has accepted the diocese's call to serve as Assisting Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh:

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Evolution at Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral hosted this very interesting discussion about faith, creationism, and evolution featuring Kevin Padian, UC Berkeley professor and curator of the Museum of Paleontology. The video above provides some highlights, but you can get the full program here. Hat tip to Dr. James McGrath.

Still more on the Obama family church search

PBS's religion newsweekly, "Religion and Ethics", featured yet one more story about which Washington, D.C. church might fit the Obama family. Among the churches featured (of course) is St. John's in Lafayette Park:

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The Vatican issues bioethics document

This week, the Vatican issued a far-reaching document on bioethics that took issue with many common fertility treatments. The Scientific American offered this coverage:

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Bad times draw crowds

The New York Times reports this morning a fact that churches across the country already know: bad times draw crowds into church--especially evangelical churches:

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Bishop faces rebellion over refusal to ordain women

A Bishop in the Church of England is facing a rebellion because of his refusal both to ordain women and appoint a suffragan bishop who will.

The Telegraph reports:

On one side of the row is the Rt Rev John Hind, the Bishop of Chichester, who has a black belt in judo and a staunch opponent of the ordination of women.

In the opposing corner is a growing group of clergy and worshippers in his diocese, who are dismayed by the bishop's intransigence.

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The need for the celebrant to celebrate

There is an old joke that describes the Pope's dismay when, upon arriving in heaven, he discovers that the defining word for ordained life is spelled "c-e-l-e-b-r-a-t-e."

He is not alone.

Parish ministry can begin to feel like a grind to the priest or pastor who, as soon as one good sermon, liturgy, or class is done, must move on the next without even a break.

Rochelle Melander and Harold Eppley write for the Alban Institute that spiritual leaders rarely take time to savor their accomplishments. "Making time in your schedule to express gratitude for the blessings you have experienced and to celebrate your accomplishments," they say, "can bring joy and a renewed sense of purpose to your ministry."

They have a few ideas on how to do this:

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Pittsburgh and Quincy reorganize

Lionel Deimel shares a personal account of the special convention in Pittsburgh last weekend and The Diocese of Quincy has formed a steering committee to plan for their future and are planning a special synod (convention) for February.

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Amazing grace all over the place

What started as an orientation exercise for a national communications committee has turned into an unprecedented display of unity and generosity by thousands of members of the Anglican Church of Canada in congregations right across the country.

More than 500 of about 2,000 congregations that make up the Anglican Church of Canada responded to a request to come together in song on Sunday, Nov. 23, by singing the hymn Amazing Grace. As requested, participants videotaped themselves singing the beloved hymn and then deluged the church's General Synod offices in Toronto with the videos.

Here is a compilation:

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GPS finds fugitive figurines

Not long ago, someone took the baby Jesus from a public nativity display and replaced him with a pumpkin. NPR says that "a fair number of purloined baby Jesuses and misappropriated menorahs make it onto police blotters every year." Instead of tying the Christ child's wrist to a manger with a bicycle chain, churches and synagogues are using GPS chips to track down stolen religious ornaments.

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The invention of Christmas

"Age-old" Christmas traditions that we take for granted grew out the invention of rapid and reliable transportation, improvements in printing and postal technologies, mass marketing, the rise of the middle class. It also had the help of some inventive writers like Charles Dickens, Washington Irving and Clement Clarke Moore.

Diedre Goode, professor of New Testament at General Theological Seminary writes:

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Christmas message from the ABC

Human beings, left to themselves, have imagined God in all sorts of shapes; but – although there were one or two instances, in Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt, of gods being pictured as boys – it took Christianity to introduce the world to the idea of God in the form of a baby: in the form of complete dependence and fragility, without power or control. If you stop to think about it, it is still shocking. And it is also deeply challenging.

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PB to address National Press Club today

The Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, will address the National Press Club today at noon on Religion in the Public Square.

Minnesota Public Radio reports:

Bishop Jefferts Schori will give a speech entitled "Religion in the Public Square."

Two years ago, she was elected the church's 26th Presiding Bishop and Primate, becoming the first woman to hold the office.

Bishop Jefferts Schori serves as chief pastor to the Episcopal Church's 2.4 million members, spread across 16 countries and 110 dioceses


Listen here.

Video here.

Here is the text of the Presiding Bishop's address.

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Bishop Ely interviewed on Vermont Public Radio

Bishop of Vermont, The Rt. Rev. Tom Ely, was on Vermont Public Radio, Monday, December 15, where he spoke about current events in the Anglican Communion, various initiatives of the diocese of Vermont such as the Millennium Development Goals, support for the church and people in El Salvador and the Sudan, and environmental activism. The interview was introduced:

The split within the Episcopal Church in America intensified recently when conservative congregations took the unprecedented step of splitting away to form their own province. The division stems largely from a decision five years ago to ordain a gay bishop in New Hampshire.

Listen here.

Hope for the first 100 days

The PBS program Religion and Ethics Weekly is asking a range of religious leaders what they most hope for in the first 100 days of the Obama administration. Two Washington, DC ministers, Rev. Stephen Gentle, senior pastor of National City Christian Church, and Rev. Luis Leon, rector of of St. John’s Episcopal Church speak of their hopes.

Watch here.

Top religion stories

A survey of more than 100 religion journalists has named President-elect Barack Obama Newsmaker of the Year for consciously seeking the support of the faith community on his way to winning election as president.

The Religion Newswriters Association chose the controversy surrounding the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as the No. 1 story, with Democratic outreach to faith communities and GOP vice presidential running mate Sarah Palin’s selection as the second and third top stories, respectively.

The poll was conducted among active members of the Religion Newswriters Association, ... RNA members are journalists who report on religion in non-religious media outlets. About 38 percent of the nearly 300 active members voted.

Read more here. Below are the Top Ten stories:

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New Director of Communications for Church Center

Episcopal Life Online announces that Anne Rudig, an Episcopalian from the Diocese of Southern Ohio, will become the director of the Episcopal Church's Office of Communication in January.

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The Bible and gay marriage

Monday, December 15, Talk of the Nation on NPR carried a program: What's the Word? The Bible on Gay Marriage:

Religious leaders often cite scripture as the basis for their opposition to gay marriage. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and host of the Albert Mohler Program, believes a strict reading of the text forbids gay marriage. But Lisa Miller, religion editor at Newsweek, contends the Bible's models of marriage are flawed, and its lessons about love actually argue for gay marriage.

Listen here.

Report on the Newsweek story from The Lead here.

Newsweek today followed up its original story with a debate between "Bill Wylie-Kellerman, a United Methodist serving as pastor at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Detroit, [and] Dr. Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention."

Cizik backers speak out

Dan Giloff of US News and World Report interviews David Gushee about the kind of person progressive evangelicals would like to see replace Richard Cizik as chief lobbyist of the National Association of Evangelicals. An extract:

How much pressure is there on the National Association of Evangelicals from the Christian right to replace Cizik with someone more ideologically aligned with its agenda?

I'm sure those pressures are there. I think Leith [NAE President Leith Anderson] and the executive committee are going to take their time and let the furor over this die down. I personally think they need to find somebody who can promote all seven of the policy commitments in the NAE's Health of Our Nation statement. There's one on sanctity of life and one on climate change and one on poverty. There are always pressures from the right that the two fundamental issues of our time should be abortion and homosexuality. I think there will be pressure to hire somebody to make those the top priority.

I can tell you from some feedback that if the NAE makes the mistake of rolling back to the classic Christian right agenda, they would lose support of a lot of people who are currently happy to be working with them.

See also Christianity Today: What Cizik's Resignation Means for Creation Care

Views on the splinter

On Faith asks "Should conservative Episcopalians who disagree with U.S. church leaders about homosexuality, women's ordination, biblical literalism and other issues leave and form a separate denomination?" Panel responses so far (added as they appear):

Randall Balmer - Conservatives Leaving or Left Behind?

Samuel T. Lloyd III - Division Weakens the Body of Christ

John Shelby Spong - Splinter Episcopalians: Giving Gravitas to Trivia

Willis Elliott - Freedom In, With, and From the Bible

Richard Mouw -

Honor Moore - Walking the Episcopal Tightrope
Episcopal Church Needs Evangelicals

Martyn Minns - A New Start for the Anglican Church in North America

Brad Hirschfield - Defining Loyalty and Betrayal in the Episcopal Church

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite - Episcopal Conservatives, Check Civil War History

John Mark Reynolds - Anglicans and Their Unwelcome House Guests

Chuck Colson - No Choice But To Separate from Apostasy

William Tully - Episcopalians Falling Out of Love

Obama reaches across the aisle

Marc Ambinder:

Here's a bit of a surprise: Dr. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church will give the formal invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration. The good pro-life theologian first met Obama in 2006 at a Saddleback AIDS forum in California. Obama used the occasion to press the evangelical pastors present to embrace "realism" when they considered the issue; preach abstience, yes, but preaching against contraception can kill. (Here's some of what Obama said that day: "I know that there are those who, out of sincere religious conviction, oppose such measures. And with these folks, I must respectfully but unequivocally disagree. I do not accept the notion that those who make mistakes in their lives should be given an effective death sentence.")

When I interviewed Obama last year, he told me that the moment was integral to his decision to run for president; when was the last time, he had asked himself, when a Democrat had had such dialog with pastors about AIDS?

Who's not happy? The American Spectator and the Washington Blade.

Obama is likely to undo Bush-era abortion rules.

Added: Furor Over Rick Warren, Obama’s choice of evangelical leader sparks outrage, A Defense of Rick Warren, Could Rick Warren fill Graham's role as counselor to the president?, It's like the Lieberman thing, but even bigger!

Sarah Posner sensed the announcement in the air (see points 1 and 3). But on the announcement she finds herself "speechless."

Can you say "team of rivals?"

Williams: a disestablished church has a "certain integrity"

Update: The interview is here (in print and audio). More links added below.
________________

Rowan Williams, is interviewed in the Christmas Edition of the New Statesman. The Times reports on some of the Archbishop's remarks. An extract:

"I spent ten years working in a disestablished Church and I can see that it's by no means the end of the world if the establishment disappears. The strength of it is that the last vestiges of state sanction disappeared, so when you took a vote at the Welsh Synod, it didn't have to be nodded through by parliament afterwards. There is a certain integrity to that."
...
But Dr Williams said he did not think it should be on the agenda at the present time.

He said: "At the same time, my unease about going for straight disestablishment is to do with the fact that it's a very shaky time for the public presence of faith in society. I think the motives that would now drive disestablishment from the state side would be mostly to do with . . . trying to push religion into the private sphere, and that's the point where I think I'd be bloody-minded and say, 'Well, not on that basis.'"

It has been noted that as an established church, the Church of England could note sign on to an Anglican Covenant.

The Guardian also has a story.

Ruth Gledhill has more at her blog -- Williams was also asked about Sharia.

Thursday morning: Thinking Anglicans has a complete roundup, including several making the point that Williams "used to be more forthrightly anti-establishment." Another significant point is that no government is likely to take on disestablishment simply because it would be a diversion from more important issues. Again, that raises the question of how the Church of England could accede to an Anglican Covenant.

"We were chased by all the religious people"

NPR:

Every year, nearly four dozen Saudi women get together for a reunion. Eighteen years ago, on Nov. 6, 1990, they staged a public protest against their country's ban on women driving. For half an hour, they drove their cars in a convoy around the capital city of Riyadh until they were stopped by police.

The women paid heavily for their actions — all the drivers, and their husbands, were barred from foreign travel for a year. Those women who had government jobs were fired. And from hundreds of mosque pulpits, they were denounced by name as immoral women out to destroy Saudi society.
...
"It was so scary at that time, because we were chased by all the religious people," al Bakr says. "But then we decided that this is a very historical moment, so as many of us, we should get together and have a picture and just keep it. And we did, actually. We gathered in one of our friend's house and we took a historical picture, and I'm sure this picture is going to be in some museums somehow."
...
Yet opposition to women driving seems to be fraying. A Gallup poll last year found that 55 percent of Saudi men now want to let women drive. A handful of women caught driving this year were only briefly detained, according to press reports, and a university student was called a heroine after she drove her badly burned father to the hospital.

"I think now people are at ease talking about it," al Mana says. "It's not like it was 18 years ago — it was taboo."

Religious people using the state to deny some people a license based on who they are. It's not news, but it is reality, in more than one place.

"The greatest thing that has happened in my life"

As Christmas draws near, please consider making a gift to support the Bokamoso Youth program in Winterveld, South Africa. The videos below attest to the powerful effect the program is having in the lives of South Africa's young people.

Christina Motseta

Kenneth Daniel Mphuthi

For more information, visit the Bokamoso Web site. For additional videos, visit the Diocese of Washington's online Advent calendar.

Opposing the death penalty in Maryland

The Rev. John L. Rabb, Suffragan Bishop of Maryland and the Rev. James J. Shand, Bishop of Easton wrote an op-ed for The Baltimore Sun opposing the re-institution of the death penalty in Maryland:

As Christians, church leaders and bishops in the Episcopal Church, we urge the General Assembly to act to abolish the death penalty ("Report fuels death debate," Dec. 13).

As Christians, we are guided by the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Here he specifically rejects retribution by stating that even the teaching in the Old Testament of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" is to be rejected in favor of the teaching that calls for reconciliation (Matthew, 6:38).

Responding to killing with more killing will not make society less violent. Retaliating for death with death is not simply punishment but a further justification of violence as a way of life. We simply cannot kill our way out of the violence.

The uneven application of the death penalty also points to its fundamental unfairness. And the reality is that, as a result of prosecutorial discretion, the death penalty is most often used against people of color and poorer people.

Tutu visits new DC diocesan school

Archbishop Desmond Tutu visited the Bishop John Walker School for Boys in southeast Washington, D. C. last week. The Nobel-prize winner described himself as an "ambassador" for the school, which is operated by the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. Founded in September, the school offers a free education to boys in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the District. The Washington Informer has the story.

The pick of Rick

There is a whole lot more coverage today of President-elect Barack Obama's decision to invite Rick Warren to offer the invocation at his inauguration. Some pundits suggest that Warren's selection is politically astute. Pastor Dan at Street Prophets is having none of it.

The Café has expressed its own doubts about Warren who has linked arms with the most outspoken homophobes in the Anglican Communion in their campaign against the Episcopal Church.

Bishop Chane expresses concern over Warren selection

From Bishop John Bryson Chane:

I am profoundly disappointed by President-elect Barack Obama’s decision to invite Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church to offer the invocation at his inauguration. The president-elect has bestowed a great honor on a man whose recent comments suggest he is both homophobic, xenophobic, and willing to use the machinery of the state to enforce his prejudices—even going so far as to support the assassination of foreign leaders.

In his home state of California, Mr. Warren’s campaigned aggressively to deny gay and lesbian couples equal rights under the law, relying on arguments that are both morally offensive and theologically crude. Christian leaders differ passionately with one another over the morality of same-sex relationships, but only the most extreme liken the loving, lifelong partnerships of their fellow citizens to incest and pedophilia, as Mr. Warren has done. The president-elect’s willingness to associate himself with a man who espouses these views as a means of reaching out to religious conservatives suggests a willingness to use the aspirations of gay and lesbian Americans as bargaining chips, and I find this deeply troubling.

Mr. Warren has been rightly praised for his efforts to deepen the engagement of evangelical Christians with impoverished Africans. He has been justifiably lauded for putting the AIDS epidemic and global warming on the political agenda of the Christian right. Yet extravagant compassion toward some of God’s people does not justify the repression of others. Jesus came to save all of humankind, and as Archbishop Desmond Tutu has pointed out, “All means all.” But rather than embrace the wisdom of Archbishop Tutu, Mr. Warren has allied himself with men such as Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda who seek to “purify” the Anglican Communion, of which my Church is a member, by driving out gay and lesbian Christians and their supporters.

In choosing Mr. Warren, the president-elect has sent a distressing message internationally as well. In a recent television interview, Mr. Warren voiced his support for the assassination of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. These bizarre and regrettable remarks come at a time when much of the Muslim world already fears a Christian crusade against Islamic countries. Imagine our justifiable outrage if an Iranian cleric who advocated the assassination of President Bush had been selected to offer prayers when Ahmadinejad was sworn in.

I have worked with former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami to improve the relationship between our two countries as hawkish members of the Bush administration pushed for another war. He has spoken at the National Cathedral, which will host the president-elect’s inaugural prayer service, and I have visited with him several times in Iran and elsewhere. Iranian clerics are intensely interested in the religious attitudes of America’s leaders. In choosing Mr. Warren to offer the invocation at his inauguration, the president-elect has sent the chilling, and, I feel certain, unintended message that he is comfortable with Christians who can justify lethal violence against Muslims.

I understand that in selecting Mr. Warren, Mr. Obama is signaling a willingness to work with both sides in our country’s culture wars. I appreciate that there is political advantage in elevating the relatively moderate Mr. Warren above some of his brethren on the Religious Right. But in honoring Mr. Warren, the president-elect confers legitimacy on attitudes that are deeply contrary to the all-inclusive love of God. He is courting the powerful at the expense of the marginalized, and in doing so, he stands the Gospel on its head.

The Right Reverend John Bryson Chane
Eighth Bishop of Washington

Vatican declines to move on Anglicans

The Vatican has decided that there is more to be lost than to be gained by moving now to create a safe-haven within the Catholic Church for Anglo-Catholics who feel they can no longer remain part of the Anglican Communion but who wish to remain within distinctive forms of Anglican worship and theology.

George Conger, reporting on an article signaling this decision writes:

"In an October article entitled Catholic Anglican Relations after the Lambeth Conference (La Relazione tra Cattolici e Anglicani dopo la Conferenza di Lambeth) the semi-official Jesuit bi-weekly stated the ‘corporate unity’ under discussion between the Vatican and traditionalist Anglicans ‘will not be a form of uniatism as this is unsuitable for uniting two realities which are too similar from a cultural point of view as indeed are Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholics.’

‘The Holy See, while sympathetic to the demands of these Anglo-Catholics’ for corporate reunion, ‘is moving with discretion and prudence.’ Opposition to the ordination of women to the ordained ministry and to gay bishops and blessings ‘is not enough,’ the newspaper said. Anglo-Catholics should be motived not by a rejection of Anglicanism but by the ‘desire to join fully the Catholic Church,’ Fr. Paul Gamberini SJ wrote."

The immediate effect of this decision would be to deny the request by the bishops of the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) to be granted full communion with Rome.

The reasoning behind the decision is the comment by Pope Benedict that he preferred "schisms and new breaks can be avoided, and that a responsible solution will be found" to the situation in Anglicanism today.

Read Conger's full article here.

TEC "Report on Mission and Resources" now online

The Report of Mission and Resources 2008, the annual report of the work accomplished through the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society budget in 2008, has been released on the web at: www.episcopalchurch.org/missionreport08.

This annual report, as required by General Convention, is being offered online and will include multimedia and downloadable resources.

Multimedia elements include a message from the Presiding Bishop and a selection of stories, “Mission Doorways,” that illustrate the myriad of ways in which resources are used to engage in God’s mission in the world.

Diocese of Virginia will appeal

Updated

The Diocese of Virginia has responded today to a ruling in a Virginia court that the 19th century Virginia statute governing the distribution of property in the event of a denominational split applies in the case of the CANA churches of northern Virginia.

The ruling, if upheld on appeal, would allow the congregations breaking away from the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church to retain their buildings. One associated endowment would not be retained by the separating congregations.

The Diocese is appealing the decision on the grounds that it violates the constitutional separation between Church and State given that the government is being asked to rule that a denominational split has taken place when a denomination states that not to be the case.

From the diocese's statement:

In order to pursue those issues and restore constitutional protections for hierarchical churches in Virginia, the Diocese also announced today that Professor A.E. Dick Howard has joined the diocesan legal team to assist in its appeal of this case to the Supreme Court of Virginia. Professor Howard is a professor of law at the University of Virginia School of Law and is a renowned constitutional scholar. He served as the executive director of the Commission on Constitutional Revision, which revised the constitution of Virginia. Professor Howard has also served as counsel to the General Assembly of Virginia.
...
Bishop Lee further stated, “We call on the CANA congregation occupying The Falls Church property to drop their claim on the endowment fund, and thus allow The Falls Church Episcopal to use the endowment for desperately needed outreach in the Falls Church area, in line with the original purpose of the fund.”

“We are grateful to have someone of Professor Howard’s stature and talent on our team,” said the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop coadjutor of Virginia. “There may be no other legal expert in Virginia who is as knowledgeable of the state constitution. We are preparing our appeal now and are confident in our position that this law cannot stand constitutional scrutiny. Together, we will explore every option to ensure that faithful Episcopalians in Virginia are guaranteed the right to worship as they please, without interference from the state.&rdquo

In its statement The Episcopal Church says,

We are not surprised -- or discouraged -- by the adverse aspects of today's decision. As we have stated previously, we shall now seek review of this case by the Supreme Court of Virginia and are optimistic that that court will reverse the trial court's interpretation and application of the Virginia statute and reaffirm Virginia's historic commitment to religious freedom. In the meantime, the decisions in this case have no relevance for the property litigation brought by dioceses with the support of The Episcopal Church before courts in other states, which, we are pleased to say, have consistently ruled in favor of our positions.

The statements from Anglican District of Virginia and CANA are here and here.

News reports. AP: Conservatives win court case in Va. church dispute | ENS: Court ruling clears way for property-litigation appeal |

Vatican backs decriminalization of homosexual activity

From the Associated Press:

The Vatican Friday urged governments around the world to decriminalize homosexuality but said a proposed U.N. resolution on the issue went too far.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said the Holy See's delegation explained the position at the United Nations late on Thursday, criticizing the wording of a European-backed text that champions decriminalization of homosexuality.

"The Holy See continues to advocate that every sign of unjust discrimination toward homosexual persons should be avoided and urges States to do away with criminal penalties against them," read the delegation's remarks, released by the Vatican on its website (www.vatican.va) Friday.

"At the same time, the Holy See notes that the wording of this declaration goes well beyond the above mentioned and shared intent."

Meanwhile, AP reports that the United States has also refused to sign the UN document:

Alone among major Western nations, the United States refused to sign a declaration presented Thursday at the United Nations calling for worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality.

In all, 66 of the U.N.'s 192 member countries signed the nonbinding declaration - which backers called a historic step to push the General Assembly to deal more forthrightly with any-gay discrimination. More than 70 U.N. members outlaw homosexuality, and in several of them homosexual acts can be punished by execution.


Tis the season to go hungry

According to Second Harvest, one of America's largest hunger relief organizations, more than a third of low income households are eating less or skipping meals because they have no money to buy food.

"We've never seen anything like this,' says Vicki Escarra, the group's president. 'We're seeing more people come (to food banks) who've never come before.'

The group surveyed 450 low-income households. The findings are part of a growing body of research that suggest hunger is worsening in the USA:

The number of people receiving food stamps jumped from 26.9 million in September 2007 to a record 31.6 million in September 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture."

Read the full article in USA Today here.

Falls Church (Episcopal) priest writes his flock

From the Rev. Michael Pipkin, priest-in-charge of The Falls Church, Episcopal:

Read more »

Yet more reaction to Warren's pick

Updated - Integrity statement added at end

President-elect Obama's choice of Rick Warren to offer a prayer as part of his inauguration ceremonies has provoked strong negative reaction since its announcement earlier this week. Today brings more reactions of anger both on the political left and on the political right.

Daniel Eisenberg, writing a blog on Time Magazine's website points that the choice of Warren is really, at its heart, pretty boring.

Read more »

Sally Quinn interviews Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori

The Washington Post is featuring highlights from an interview with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. The full interview will presumably run soon.

Gene Robinson on Rick Warren pick: a slap in the face

Updated with the Rev. Susan Russell's Open Letter to Barack Obama:

Rick Warren is a not only a vocal opponent of LGBT equality who does not believe in evolution, he has compared abortion to the Holocaust and backed the assassination of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His views are far outside the religious mainstream and his credentials are steeped in an “Old Time Religion” of narrow exclusionism that ill prepares us for the challenges of the 21st century.


From The New York Times:

V. Gene Robinson, the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, whose consecration caused a painful divide in his church because he is openly gay, said that when he heard about the selection of Mr. Warren, “it was like a slap in the face.”

Bishop Robinson had been an early public endorser of Mr. Obama’s candidacy, and said he had helped serve as a liaison between the campaign and the gay community. He said he had called officials who work for Mr. Obama to share his dismay, and been told that Mr. Obama was trying to reach out to conservatives and give everybody a seat at the table.

“I’m all for Rick Warren being at the table,” Bishop Robinson said, “but we’re not talking about a discussion, we’re talking about putting someone up front and center at what will be the most watched inauguration in history, and asking his blessing on the nation. And the God that he’s praying to is not the God that I know.”

Robinson joins Bishop John Chane of Washington among Episcopal Church leaders who have criticized President-elect Brack Obama's choice. Warren is an ally of high profile African archbishops who are trying to break up the Episcopal Church and claim its property. An Episcopal church, Washington National Cathedral, is hosting Obama's inaugural prayer service.

Faith on Capitol Hill

From the Pew Forum:

Members of Congress are often accused of being out of touch with average citizens, but an examination of the religious affiliations of U.S. senators and representatives shows that, on one very basic level, Congress looks much like the rest of the country. Although a majority of the members of the new, 111th Congress, which will be sworn in on Jan. 6, are Protestants, Congress - like the nation as a whole - is much more religiously diverse than it was 50 years ago. Indeed, a comparison of the religious affiliations of the new Congress with religious demographic information from the Pew Forum's recent U.S. Religious Landscape Survey of over 35,000 American adults finds that some smaller religious groups, notably Catholics, Jews and Mormons, are better represented in Congress than they are in the population as a whole. However, certain other smaller religious groups, including Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus, still are somewhat underrepresented in Congress relative to their share of the U.S. population.

Of note: [W]hile only 1.5% of American adults identify themselves as Episcopalians, 7.1% of Congress claims this affiliation.

How I found my church

Tucked into Sara Mosle's commentary for Slate on the Rick Warren imbroglio is a description of her ingenious method of finding a congenial congregation in unfamiliar surroundings.

Holy chaos and hearty response

Allow us to recommend the lively, insightful conversation sparked by Holy Chaos, or : What Episcopalians can learn from Baptists, Emily M. D. Scott's essay on liturgy on the Daily Episcopalian blog.

Leaps of faith

Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker writes:

"There are certain jobs where almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they’ll do once they’re hired. So how do we know whom to choose in cases like that?"

The article focuses on quarterbacks and teachers, but what of priests? How can you tell ahead of time whether a candidate will succeed?

Christmas, 1963

By Joseph Enzweiler

Because we wanted much that year

and had little. Because the winter phone

for days stayed silent that would call

our father back to work, and he

kept silent too with our mother,

fearfully proud before us.

(Read the rest --and listen, too!--at The Writer's Almanac.)

Americans believe in multiple paths to salvation

A Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that a majority of American Christians believe that some non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life:

Even among evangelicals, a branch of Protestant Christianity identified with the idea that an individual must be "born again" into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in order to be saved, nearly as many Christians said many religions can lead to eternal life (47 percent) as those who believe theirs is the one true faith (49 percent).

The survey, released Dec. 18, followed up an earlier poll that found that seven Americans in 10 believe many religions can lead to salvation while less than one quarter say their faith is the only one that is true. Critics of that study questioned those findings, suggesting that for many Christians, "other religion" might have meant a different Christian denomination instead of a non-Christian faith.

The new study asks those who say many religions can lead to eternal life questions about specific faiths. Sixty-nine percent said Judaism can lead to eternal life, compared to 52 percent for Islam, 53 percent for Hinduism, 42 percent for atheists and 56 percent for people with no religious faith.

"Responses to these questions show that most American Christians are not thinking only of other Christian denominations when they say many religions provide a path to eternal life," the study found. "To the contrary, among those who say many religions provide a path to eternal life, strong majorities believe that both Christian and non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life."

Read it all here. The survey itself can be found here.

Fox on the Warren pick

The Rev. Susan Russell will be among those on Fox News this morning discussing Barack Obama's decision to have Rick Warren offer the invocation at his inauguration. The discussion begins at 11:35 EST.

Remembering the real St. Nick

Kim Lawton of Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly is reporting that many churches are trying to keep a focus on the real St. Nicholas, a focus that Canon Jim Rosenthal helped to start:

'Tis the season of Christmas and Santa Claus, it seems, is everywhere. Children anxiously await his gift-bearing arrival, but some Christians are worried that most of those children — and their parents — don't know who "jolly old Saint Nicholas" really was.

"St. Nicholas was a real person. Not a fairy, not someone who's flying through the sky with reindeer, but an actual person who lived and worked and died and had a full life," said Canon Jim Rosenthal. "He had a Christian life because he was actually a bishop, a pastor."

Rosenthal, director of communications for the worldwide Anglican Communion office, is founder of the St. Nicholas Society UK/USA, an international movement urging churches to reclaim St. Nicholas.

Every year, Rosenthal dresses up like St. Nicholas, complete with a bishop's staff, called a crozier, and hat, called a miter. He visits churches to help spread the St. Nicholas message.

. . .

More and more churches in the United States and the United Kingdom are finding ways to keep the St. Nicholas story alive. In Chicago, for example, St. James Cathedral recently hosted a special St. Nicholas exhibit.

"The stories of St. Nicholas are wonderful stories of a bishop who cared about his people, who cared very much about the poor," said the Rev. Joy E. Rogers, provost of the cathedral.

. . .

Church leaders emphasize that Nicholas' generosity was motivated by his Christian faith, that he was following Jesus' command to love others, to help those who are suffering and to do one's good deeds in secret.

"The problem with Santa Claus as it stands now is that it's a substitute for Christmas — Santa Claus instead of the crèche, instead of the manger, instead of the nativity scene," said Rosenthal. "This man we would find kneeling at the nativity scene saying, 'This is what I'm here to celebrate as well."'

Read it all here.

A video of the program, as well as the dull transcript, can be found here.

Beyond Tolerance

Gustav Niebuhr, a former a religion reporter for The New York Times and now an associate professor of religion and the media at Syracuse University, has written a new book that explores how interfaith understanding can move beyond mere tolerance. The New York Times reviewed the book this week:

Religious tolerance is a necessary but overrated virtue. Its practice comes easiest to the religiously indifferent and to the condescending: “You know this is a Protestant country,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt reminded two non-Protestant members of his administration, “and the Catholics and the Jews are here on sufferance.”

What lies beyond tolerance? Respect and recognition — not just for individuals but also, as Gustav Niebuhr argues, for the faiths to which they are committed. Formerly a religion reporter for The New York Times and now an associate professor of religion and the media at Syracuse University, Niebuhr here gathers tales of interfaith dialogue and good will; he estimates they are representative of the practices of thousands of American believers. He claims these efforts are “largely untold.” If that is so, it’s only because such dialogues are no longer news. American Protestants, Catholics and Jews have been talking interfaithfully for more than 50 years.

What’s different, what gives Niebuhr’s book, “Beyond Tolerance,” its few bursts of energy, is the addition of Muslims to the conversation. Indeed, my guess is his search for interfaith understanding could not have found a publisher before 9/11. Since then, inviting Muslims to talk has become an act of mutual protection as much as one of respect for all parties to the conversation.

. . .

My main quarrel is with Niebuhr’s emphasis on proc­ess over substance. The point of interfaith dialogue is to learn something. As any veteran of these conversations can attest, you never really understand your own religion until you develop a deep and sympathetic understanding of at least one other. But Niebuhr hardly ever tells us what insights participants have gained from listening to one another, not even how their attitudes might have changed as a result.

We don’t hear about these things, the reader has to assume, because Niebuhr does not consider them important. “The world’s major religions,” he writes, “are essentially neutral systems in the way they affect human temperaments.” To the contrary: religion, for those who take it seriously, has enormous power to shape not only who we are and how we relate to others but also which virtues we privilege, which course of action in any situation we find right and worthy. Compassion, to cite one common inter­faith topic, has a very different meaning for Buddhists than it does for Christians. Were differences like this not important, the interfaithful would have nothing much to discuss, nothing to learn from one another.

Read it all here.

Richard Coles on Advent

Richard Coles, curate at St Paul's, Knightsbridge, comments on how Advent is getting lost in our culture:

Christianity often produces in its adherents a feeling of exile. We are called to live in the world while not being of the world, or not quite, and for most of the year the sense of being out of step with others is acute. The feeling grows - having stood for centuries at the centre of communities, today we can feel as quaint as wool shops.

. . .

I suspect even the jolliest vicar at Christmas feels like an accountant at the end of the tax year. This is not simply fatigue, but frustration with the gap between what we think we are doing and what those unwonted full houses think they are doing. The last verse of O Come All Ye Faithful, which begins: "Yea Lord we greet thee, born this happy morning", is meant to be sung on the morning of Christmas Day. This year, I sang it at tea time on Thanksgiving Day, which is not only premature, but completely out of synch with the mood of the season, not Christmas, but Advent.

Advent is traditionally a period of self-examination, reflection and repentance and even in our present economic circumstances, when many have had self-examination, reflection and repentance thrust upon them, that character of feast following fast is lost in the hysterical merriment which now seems to start just after Wimbledon. Advent's mood persists in carols that are nevertheless belted out with cheerful gusto, telling of berries red as blood and the bleak midwinter and Herod the king in his raging; cognitive dissonance, surely?

I hope so. How can Christianity be anything other than an experience of cognitive dissonance, construing meaning from the seeming randomness of existence, insisting we can only live fully when we renounce any hope of fulfilment, and focusing our attention, year after year, on a newborn child, helpless in a manger, in whom the power which lit the stars and formed us out of dust is fully present, a child born to die so we may live.

Read it all here.

The messy work of renewal

From The Alban Institute:


If you've ever remodeled a house while attempting to live in it, you have a sense of the chaos and complexity of congregational renewal. It will take far longer, cost you more, and prove messier than you ever imagined at the start. People who have worked with both church starts and church renewal will tell you that starting a church is easy compared to renewing one. The difficulty lies in the work itself. Pogo's line holds true here: "We have met the enemy and he is us."

The church seeking renewal must look beyond simply improving its programs and its building, though both may ultimately be changed. Pastors and laity leading renewal in their declining congregations are asking people to make fundamental shifts in their perspectives, their attitudes, and their behaviors. The work demands a great deal from a people and a pastor.


Continue reading "The Messy Work of Renewal" by Daniel P. Smith and Mary K. Sellon

The unprincipled God

For Christmas, the Archbishop of Canterbury remembers Karl Barth who preached in 1931 about the action of God which is not based on principles but on unconditional love.

Williams writes:

Christmas is supremely the story of a God who is not interested in telling us about principles. First comes the action – God beginning to live a human life. Then comes the appeal: do you love and trust what you see in this human life, the life of Jesus? Then the implication: everyone is capable of saying yes to this appeal, so no one is dispensable. You don't and can't know where the boundary will lie between people who belong and people who don't belong.

The 20th century built up quite a list of casualties around "principles" in Barth's sense. Various philosophies solemnly assured us that the human cost is really worth it, because history will vindicate the sufferings and sacrifices of the present. Keep your nerve, don't be distracted by the human face of suffering, because it will be all right in the end; we know it will because the principles are clear.

Fortunately the Western world has not for a long time seen the real horrors that this entails in terms of brutality and devastation. Yet we are not completely immune from appealing to "principles" in order to help us avoid some of the harsher consequences of our policies and preferences. They may in themselves be good and positive principles, not like the destructive ideologies of the past century. But we're bound to be uncomfortably aware at the moment that what looked like a principled defence of some of our economic assumptions (this is what real wealth creation means and there is no other coherent way of defending it) seems more ragged and vulnerable than it once did.

The unprincipled question won't be silenced: what about the particular human costs? What about the unique concerns and crises of the pensioner whose savings have disappeared, the Woolworths employee, the hopeful young executive, let alone the helpless producer of goods in some Third-World environment where prices are determined thousands of miles away?

People react impatiently to this, asking why religious believers should be taken seriously when they talk about economics. Fair enough. But the whole point is that the believer doesn't want to talk about economics, only to ask an "unprincipled" question – to make sure that principles don't simply block out actual human faces and stories. How we make it all work is vastly complicated – no one is pretending it isn't. But without these anxieties about the specific costs, we've lost the essential moral compass.

So Christmas doesn't offer an alternative set of economic theories or even a social programme. It's a story – the record of an event that began to change the entire framework in which we think about human life, so that the unique value of every life came to be affirmed and assumed.

Whether we realise it or not, the reason we are shocked by the mass killings under Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot, by the indifference of a Mugabe to raging poverty and epidemic, is because this story has made a difference to how our civilisation thinks about universal human dignity.

The God of the Christmas story (and the rest of the Gospels) doesn't relate to us on the basis of any theory. but on the basis of unconditional love and welcome. That act of free love towards the entire human race changed things – even for those who didn't and don't share all the beliefs and doctrines of Christianity. And for those who do share those convictions, loving God and one another is a defiance of all programmes and principles designed to preserve only the wellbeing of people like us.

Read it all.


Bringing comfort at Christmas

Episcopal Churches bring comfort to the grieving and the homeless over Christmas.

Thanks to EpiScope:

In Michigan:

As the lights dimmed inside a Madison Heights church, the worshippers strolled toward the front to light candles that floated on water.

One couple from Warren was mourning the recent death of their 43-year-old son. A Sterling Heights woman fretted about food costs and her husband's job at General Motors Corp. And a Hazel Park parishioner thought of her husband's demise earlier this year.

"Lord ... we struggle with the challenges of this holiday season," service leader Barb Marshall told the modest crowd Thursday evening at St. Patrick's Episcopal Church. "Feelings of loneliness, weariness, economic distress and insecurity are surrounding us."

Called a Blue Christmas, the somber ceremony was a first for St. Patrick's and part of a small yet growing trend, with similar services held in several other metro Detroit churches. It's one of the many ways local churches are approaching the holiday season at a time of economic anxiety for the region.

In Wilkes-Barre, PA:

On any given day there may be close to 100 homeless people in Luzerne County, according to advocates for those with no place to call their own. Of that number, 75 may be housed in shelters but the remainder refuse help, said Bill Jones from the Wilkes-Barre Volunteers of America.

To reach out to them, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Procathedral and the Luzerne County Homeless Coalition in Wilkes-Barre conducted the third annual “Homeless Persons’ Memorial” service on Sunday, the day of the winter solstice.

It was part of the National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day commemorated in 90 communities across North America, according to organizers.

The reason some homeless don’t want help is because they don’t “trust” the agencies trying to help them, Jones said. “They don’t want to be part of the system,” he said.

Charitable organizations along with county government agencies try to assist the homeless, he said.

Homelessness is not necessarily an economic issue, said Jim Davis, community volunteer. Often the homeless are mentally ill, suffer from substance addictions or are victims of abuse, he added.

Mary Zack, administrative director of Ruth’s Place House of Hope and event organizer, said that last year 10 homeless people died “entirely preventable” deaths. Last year was a “bad year,” she said.

Since the coalition started counting three years ago the total number of homeless deaths locally adds up to 47.

The local homeless die from illness, exposure or violence and because of a lack of health care, housing and physical safety, Zack said. These are basic “rights,” she added.

In Cheyenne, Wyoming:

St. Mark's Episcopal Church held a 'Blue Christmas Service' today as a way to acknowledge those who are in pain, and to provide them assurance that they are not alone. For most of the people who attended, it wasn't as much about their religious beliefs as it was about finding others to confide in their sadness.

"When you hear and read the words that we read during the service, I think it's just being around other people that may be experiencing the same thing," Rev. Rick Veit said. "I think makes it easier or helpful to deal with."

See video

In Mount Jackson, Virginia:

Not everyone will feel like decking the halls this Christmas.

And St. Andrew's Episcopal Church is saying that's OK, offering a service geared especially toward those for whom Christmas is a sad time.

"The constant refrain of the happiness of the Christmas Season, about getting together with family and friends reminds many people of what they have lost or have never had," says a news release from Carolyn Chilton, program director for the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. "The anguish of broken relationships, the insecurity of unemployment, the weariness of ill health, the pain of isolation, the gut wrenching loss of a child, the loneliness of no longer having a beloved spouse to share each day, the loss of parents and friends — all these can contribute to a feeling of being alone, of 'feeling blue' in the midst of the society around us which seems bent on 'being happy' and 'celebrating.'"
...
People turn to the church "for solace all the time," said the Rev. Alexander MacPhail, rector of St. Andrew's and Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Woodstock.

"I think the church is uniquely suited to be a place where people can sort of tell their story and feel comfortable, and the church can sort of help people through the processes of grief," he said.

MacPhail says he goes "through a little bit of a slump" during the holidays, "and a lot of folks do, especially those who during the holidays remember loved ones who have died, and are not able to sort of enter the spirit of the season in the way that it's expected."


Read the rest here.

B16: Save the rainforests, stop gay marriage

Pope Benedict XVI used an annual end of the year address to say that the protection of the environment is directly linked to defending “traditional” marriage against gay rights, especially gay marriage.

A Reuters headline says "Pope likens "saving" gays to saving the rainforest" but what he is really saying that if you want to save the rainforests, stop acid rain and clear cutting, and if you want to save humanity, stop gay rights.

James Allen at National Catholic Reporter summarizes:

“Because faith in the Creator is an essential part of the Christian creed, the church cannot and must not limit itself to transmitting only the message of salvation to its faithful,” Benedict said. “It has a responsibility for creation, and must express this responsibility in public.”

At the same time, Benedict clearly distinguished the church’s approach from secular environmental movements – insisting that concern for tropical rain forests and the church’s traditional pro-life commitments, including sexual morality, are indissolubly linked.

“[The church] must defend not only the earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to all,” he said. “It must also defend the human person against its own destruction. What’s needed is something like a ‘human ecology,’ understood in the right sense. It’s not simply an outdated metaphysics if the church speaks of the nature of the human person as man and woman, and asks that this order of creation be respected.”

“Here it’s a question of faith in creation, in listening to the language of creation, disregard of which would mean self-destruction of the human person and hence destruction of the very work of God,” the pope said. “That which is often expressed and understood by the term ‘gender’ in the end amounts to the self-emancipation of the human person from creation and from the Creator. Human beings want to do everything by themselves, and to control exclusively everything that regards them. But in this way, the human person lives against the truth, against the Creator Spirit.”

“Yes, the tropical forests merit our protection, but the human being as a creature merits no less protection – a creature in which a message is written which does not imply a contradiction of our liberty, but the condition for it,” the pope said.

On that basis, Benedict offered a defense of traditional marriage and Catholic sexual morality.

“Great Scholastic theologians defined marriage, meaning the lifetime bond between a man and a woman, as a sacrament of creation, which the Creator instituted and which Christ – without changing the message of creation – then welcomed into the story of his covenant with humanity,” the pope said. “This witness in favor of the Creator Spirit, present in the nature of this bond and in a special way in the nature of the human person, is also part of the proclamation which the church must offer. Starting from this perspective, it’s important to re-read the encyclical Humanae Vitae : the intention of Pope Paul VI was to defend love against treating sexuality as a kind of consumption, the future against the exclusive demands of the present, and the nature of the human being against manipulation.”

The Australian reports that the Vatican's view is connected to their opposition to "gender theory:"

Gender theory, which originated in the United States, explores sexual orientation, the roles assigned by society to individuals according to their gender and how people perceive their biological identity.

The Catholic Church has repeatedly spoken out against gender theory, which gay and transgender advocacy groups promote as a key to understanding and tolerance.

"If tropical forests deserve our protection, humankind ... deserves it no less,'' the 81-year-old pontiff said, calling for "an ecology of the human being''.

It is not "outmoded metaphysics'' to urge respect for the "nature of the human being as man and woman'', he told scores of prelates gathered in the Vatican's sumptuous Clementine Hall.

David Gibson at dotCommonweal says:

The Vatican (among others) is a great champion of human rights, and rights like religious freedom, the right to life, etc. But it often seems that when it comes to rights they don’t like, natural law is suddenly invoked. What is the relationship between these two? Are human rights “limited” to those that conform to faith’s view of natural law? Or is natural law like a natural revelation, a natural theology understandable (supposedly) to all that is the true human rights “charter”?


Presiding Bishop visits military personnel

epiScope reports:

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is in the middle of a Pastoral visit to some American troops and Episcopal chaplains in the Washington DC area.

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Christmas in Zimbabwe

Life in Zimbabwe will hold very little for Christmas this year according to IRINnews reporting for the UN Office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs:

"This year's Christmas will be recorded as the worst in living memory for Zimbabweans; it will be the worst ever since independence [from Britain in 1980]" said Bulawayo resident Buhlebenkosi Sibanda, 46.

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Lighting candles for Hanukkah

Leaders of different faiths, including The Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church, from throughout Los Angeles talk about what they wish for as they light the Hanukkah candles:

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Presiding Bishop interviewed by KNPR

The Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, is home in Nevada for Christmas visiting family. She sat down for an hour-long interview with KNPR. Listen here.

Warren clarifies

A roundup of stories and posts on the fallout from Obama's choice of Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation:

Rick Warren's latest: Clarification?

One day you have soon-to-give-the-inaugural-invocation pastor Rick Warren, clear as a bell, telling Beliefnet founder editor Steve Waldman that gay marriage is morally the same as incest.

Now, after Warren gets excoriated from all sides for his views, voila, he's back with a video of his own. In it, Warren blames the media (honestly, doesn't that ever get old?) for falsely presenting him, saying that he just doesn't want gay people to use the word "marriage." Warren says he loves everyone "regardless of the choices they make."

Waldman on Rick Warren's New Clarification Video
In his December 22 video Warren had an opportunity to do something quite straightforward and healing: clarify, take responsibility and, ideally, apologize. He did clarify but did not, in my view, take responsibility. He could have simply said, "it came out in a way I didn't mean and I apologize for those who I hurt because of that." It wouldn't have required him to back off his position on gay marriage one iota. Instead, he blamed the media and misremembered or mischaracterized what he'd said.

On the other hand, what's most important is that he did make it clear that he doesn't believe gay relationships are the moral equivalent of incest etc. That idea should now be put to rest.

Rick Warren loves gays, and more
A Saddleback spokesman, Larry Ross, tells me [Michael Paulson of the Boston Globe] that a controversial Q&A on the church's web site, which suggested that gays were welcome to worship but not as members at Saddleback "has not been permanently removed as alleged in some media reports, but rather is being repurposed for clarity.''
As for Obama, in what may or may not be a reaction to the Warren controversy U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the only openly lesbian member of Congress, has been named an honorary co-chairwoman of President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration. Read the story here.

Economists ponder Christmas gift-giving

A roundup of economists blogging on Christmas gift-giving:

Are men or women more tolerant of inappropriate gifts?

Christmas Signaling - What do our gifts say?

Weak Social Theories - Modeling gift giving without giving too much away

The Point of Tipping? - How to tip the newspaper deliverer

Markets in everything: Boxing Day edition - How to allocate seats for the holiday family dinner

Non-Sequitur of the Day - Should the government use gift cards to stimulate the economy?

Our Daily Bleg: What Do You Get an Economist?

Advice for the Generous - Greg Mankiw receives advice on worthy charities

The Potlatch Scandal: Busted for Generosity (see, also, the critical comments)

PB concludes 3-day visit to military chaplaincies

ELO:

Jefferts Schori arrived at Bolling Air Force Base on December 20, and spent the following day there, preaching at the 8:15 a.m. service and learning about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the Rev. Michael McEwen, an Episcopal Army chaplain.

Touring the Walter Reed Army Medical Center on December 22, the Presiding Bishop spoke with soldiers who had lost limbs in service and met with the families of those suffering from traumatic brain injuries.

"It's been very, very good," Jefferts Schori said as she traversed the Pentagon's corridors with the Rt. Rev. George Packard, the Episcopal Church's bishop suffragan for chaplaincies; the Rev. Gerry Blackburn, director for federal chaplaincies; and members of the Pentagon's Episcopal community. "We had long discussions with the chaplains about the work they do."

But this day she was quiet, thoughtful.

Putting on sunglasses and turning up her collar, she stepped outside into the bright, cold morning to visit the memorial to the victims of the September 11 attack on the Pentagon.

Read it all here. Episcope has more pictures.

Earlier Cafe post here.

Bishop Bakare's pastoral Christmas message to Zimbabwean Anglicans

HARARE DIOCESE, Zimbabwe a Christmas message from Bishop Sebastian Bakare.

Church of the Province of Central Africa
The Diocese of Harare

The Standing Committee, Diocesan Trustees
Diocesan Secretary, Education Secretary, Senate

From: The Rt Revd Sebastian Bakare, Bishop of Harare

Pastoral Letter
Christmas 2008: Message of Hope and God's Assurance

My dear sisters and brothers

It is not so easy to write an intelligent pastoral letter to you at this time when we are faced with so many problems in our church and in our nation. We have a litany of challenges that are so destructive and devastating: Cholera, hunger, HIV/AIDs, lack of health care, homelessness, unemployment, poverty, corruption, kidnappings, callousness, harassment, you name it that is a tall order indeed. All these challenges rob us of an opportunity to have a meaningful and
purposeful life. As I write, some families are nursing their relatives who are suffering from the effects of Cholera expecting them to die any time, others stay indoors unable to come out from their houses because of the unbearable stench of sewage flowing in front of their doorsteps, while still others are burying their dead. We hear of a horrific case where one family lost 5 children in 36 hours.

Indeed this will be a Christmas with a difference never before experienced by our people. This is a very sad state of affairs indeed. Faced with such an ugly and horrendous situation, we hear the faithful in our congregations reciting the words of Ps.10 vv. 1-7:

"Why stand so far off, O Lord? Why hide yourself in time of trouble? The wicked in their pride persecute the poor; let them be caught in the schemes they have devised. The wicked boast of their heart's
desire; the covetous curse and revile the Lord. The wicked in their arrogance say, 'God will not avenge it'; in all their scheming God counts for nothing. They are stubborn in all their ways, for your judgements are far above out of their sight; they scoff at all their adversaries. They say in their heart, 'I shall not be shaken; no harm shall ever happen to me.' Their mouth is full of cursing, deceit and fraud; under their tongue lie mischief and wrong."

The mood of this psalm is one of a high level of desperation and hopelessness, of being powerless and feeling dejected. Such feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness and dejection can indeed challenge our faith in God. But they can also lead us to deeper understanding of the
helplessness, powerlessness, dejection and pain that Jesus had to bear on our behalf. In the middle of suffering, pain and destruction we are reminded of a God who suffers with his people saying to Moses:

"And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt I will be with you" (Ex 3 vv.9ff)

In Isaiah we hear the same words of comfort and assurance given to a people who were at a crossroad as far as their identity and nationhood were concerned: "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God" (Isa 40
v.1).
It has become a common expression in Zimbabwe to hear people say: God has abandoned us. The devil is in charge. He uses instruments which disregard human rights. Disrespect of the law by those who are supposed to enforce it is rampant. But the Lord does not fail his chosen
"Arise, o Lord God, and lift up your hand; forget not the poor. Why should the wicked be scornful of God? Why should they say in their hearts, 'You will not avenge it'? Surely, you behold trouble and misery; you see it and take it into your own hand. The helpless commit themselves to you, for you are the helper of the orphans. Break the power of the wicked and malicious. Search out their wickedness until you find none. The Lord shall reign for ever and ever; the nations shall perish from his land. Lord, you hear the desire of the people.
You will incline your ear to the fullness of their heart to give justice to the orphans and oppressed, so that people are no longer driven in terror from the land." (Ps10 vv12-19)

Although Christmas festivities will be a non-event for many Zimbabweans, Christians in our various congregations will celebrate it with a different perspective, considering the challenges we Anglicans in this diocese are facing. We may find ourselves very close to the events surrounding the birth of Jesus where we hear the innkeeper say: There is no room for you in this inn, and Jesus was therefore born in a place where animals were normally kept not unlike many of you celebrating the nativity of Christ in an awkward place otherwise used by vendors. But it is through this Christ-child born in a manger that our hope for a redeemer was fulfilled. There in the manger and beyond we see the Prince of Peace bringing about justice and peace to an unjust world.

Therefore in spite of all the hardships we are going through, I invite you to join the rest of the household of God throughout the world to celebrate the birth of our Saviour, the King of Peace with joy and hope.

A very Blessed Christmas to you all!

Your Bishop

+Sebastian Harare

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ABC's Christmas sermon - salvation begins close to home

Two Christmas messages, one from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the other from The Most Rev'd Martín Barahona, Bishop of the Episcopal Anglican Church of El Salvador and Primate of the Anglican Church of the Region of Central America:

Lambeth Palace has issued this press release:

In his Christmas sermon at Canterbury Cathedral, the Archbishop of Canterbury says that one of the lessons of the coming of Christ is that people shouldn't waste time waiting for larger-than-life heroes to bring comprehensive and total solutions to the ills of the world. Christ came in an unexpected way and did not meet the expectations that he would usher in a golden age.

"The gospel tells us something hard to hear - that there is not going to be a single charismatic leader or a dedicated political campaign or a war to end all wars that will bring the golden age; it tells us that history will end when God decides, not when we think we have sorted all our problems out; that we cannot turn the kingdoms of this world into the kingdom of God and his anointed; that we cannot reverse what has happened and restore a golden age."

This, he says, should prompt us to think hard about the meaning of salvation and our response to it:

" what can be done to show his glory? So often the answer to this lies in the small and local gestures, the unique difference made in some particular corner of the world, the way in which we witness to the fact that history not only goes on but is also capable of being shifted towards compassion and hope."

Dr Williams praises two small-scale projects he's encountered over the last year, one in the Holy Land brings together families of the victims of violence:

"..a network of people from both communities in the Holy Land who have lost children or relatives in the continuing conflict; people who expose themselves to the risk of meeting the family of someone who killed their son or daughter, the risk of being asked to sympathise with someone whose son or daughter was killed by activists promoting what you regard as a just cause. The Parents Circle and Families Forum organised by this network are labouring to bring hope into a situation of terrible struggle simply by making the issues 'flesh', making them about individuals with faces and stories."

And also a project in Zimbabwe bringing hope and building confidence in small communities in the middle of destitution:

"last week I spoke with someone helping to run a small community theatre project in Bulawayo, supported by local churches, working to deepen the confidence and the hope of those living in the middle of some of the worst destitution even Zimbabwe can show. Signs of salvation; not a magical restoration of the golden age, but the stubborn insistence that there is another order, another reality, at work in the midst of moral and political chaos"

Nearer home, Dr Williams says that the coming of Christ at Christmas should prompt people to become aware of the difference they can make in the middle of economic recession:

"To follow him is to take the risks of working at these small and stubborn outposts of newness, taking our responsibility and authority. In the months ahead it will mean in our own country asking repeatedly what is asked of us locally to care for those who bear the heaviest burdens in the wake of our economic crisis without waiting for the magical solution, let alone the return of the good times."

The Most Rev'd Martín Barahona, Bishop of the Episcopal Anglican Church of El Salvador and Primate of the Anglican Church of the Region of Central America writes:

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The windows are open...

...on the Diocese of Washington's online Advent calendar. Pay a visit, and consider a year-end gift to the Bokamoso Youth program.

Merry Christmas from all of us at Episcopal Café

image001.jpg

And thanks to the Rev. Peter Pearson for this Christmas icon. Peter is priest in charge at Saint Philip’s Church in New Hope, Pa. He is a former Benedictine monk, an icon painter (and our editor in chief's former roommate when they worked at Camp Saint Andrew in Tunkhannock, Pa.)

A Christmas pageant in Poolesville

Jacqueline Salmon on the front page of The Washington Post:

Mary and Joseph were heading for the stage, along with a beatific baby Jesus. Crowding in were shepherds, their flocks, wise men, a gaggle of giggling angels -- and a traffic report.

"Oh, dear, we're just getting word that a cart has overturned at Main Street and Palestine Avenue," said Mikala, a "traffic reporter" played on stage at St. Peter's Episcopal Church's Christmas pageant by 9-year-old Brooke Hamm. "So beware of a backup in that area."

It was a Christmas pageant with a modern twist -- a morning talk show with anchors who interview the angel Gabriel and the donkey that carried Mary to Bethlehem. The wise men give weather reports, and commercial breaks offer a Donkey Wash and a Find It Fast navigating halter for camels.

Archbishop Williams' Christmas sermon

In his Christmas sermon at Canterbury Cathedral, the Archbishop of Canterbury says that one of the lessons of the coming of Christ is that people shouldn't waste time waiting for larger-than-life heroes to bring comprehensive and total solutions to the ills of the world.

One last Christmas column

Jim Rosenthal, who leaves his job as director of communications for the Anglican Communion has written one last Christmas column. It begins:

It was Christmas Eve and they kept coming, a steady flow, mostly young and obviously many were from far away places. There was no room for me, well, not in the inn, but rather, no room in the Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster, known lovingly as Westminster Abbey. They were standing everywhere. It was a stupendous vision of humanity -incarnation!

Communion bread: the business side

Ever wonder where the communion wafer most Episcopalians consume every weekend comes from? Turns out that most of them are made by a family business in Rhode Island.

The New York Times had an article about Cavanagh featured on Christmas Day. It's still fresh enough to read on the second day of Christmas:

"The family-owned company makes about 80 percent of the communion bread used by the Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran and Southern Baptist churches in the United States. It has a similar market share in Australia, Canada and Britain, and is now looking to expand to West Africa.

‘We feel as though we’re a bakery, and all we’re making is bread,’ said Andy Cavanagh, the company’s general manager, and part of the fourth generation of Cavanaghs to work here. ‘It’s not that we don’t have respect for what happens to it, but that transformation is out of our hands and takes place in a church. The best thing we can do is make sure the bread is perfect in every way possible.’

Some customers say the Cavanaghs have such a big market share because their product is about as close to perfect as earthly possible. ‘It doesn’t crumb, and I don’t like fragments of our Lord scattering all over the floor,’ said the Rev. Bob Dietel, an Episcopal priest."

Read the full article here.

How much business sense a charity have?

Are expectations that a charity should act prudently and in accordance with business best practices hindering its ability to do perform its mission? Nicholas Kristoff's Christmas Day column thinks that question through.

Kristoff focuses on a book by Dan Pallotta that according to Kristoff "seethes with indignation at public expectations that charities be prudent, nonprofit and saintly".

I confess to ambivalence. I deeply admire the other kind of aid workers, those whose passion for their work is evident by the fact that they’ve gone broke doing it. I’m filled with awe when I go to a place like Darfur and see unpaid or underpaid aid workers in groups like Doctors Without Borders, risking their lives to patch up the victims of genocide.

I also worry that if aid groups paid executives as lavishly as Citigroup, they would be managed as badly as Citigroup.

Yet there’s a broad recognition in much of the aid community that a major rethink is necessary, that groups would be more effective if they borrowed more tools from the business world, and that there is too much “gotcha” scrutiny on overhead rather than on what they actually accomplish. It’s notable that leaders of Oxfam and Save the Children have publicly endorsed the book, and it’s certainly becoming more socially acceptable to note that businesses can also play a powerful role in fighting poverty.

“Howard Schultz has done more for coffee-growing regions of Africa than anybody I can think of,” Michael Fairbanks, a development expert, said of the chief executive of Starbucks. By helping countries improve their coffee-growing practices and brand their coffees, Starbucks has probably helped impoverished African coffee farmers more than any aid group has.

The Queen's Christmas message unusually somber and gets some competition

The annual message, available on YouTube for those of us in the former colonies, reflects the popular sentiment in Britain this year that 2009 is going be a bit challenging.

The Times writes:

The Queen today voiced her concerns about the effects of the economic downturn saying that whilst Christmas is a time for celebration, “this year it is a more sombre occasion for many.”

In her annual Christmas Day address, the Queen urged victims of the credit crunch not to “lie down and accept defeat”, but to draw strength from loved ones.

The truly newsworthy bit though is that Queen's message was given some competition in Britain by the airing of a Christmas message to the West by the President Amadinejad of Iran.

According to a story in the LA Times:

In a recorded message to air Christmas Day on Britain's Channel 4, Ahmadinejad praises Christianity but goes on to say that if Jesus returned to Earth, "he would fight against the tyrannical policies of prevailing global economic and political systems."

Ahmadinejad didn't say specifically what he meant, but presumably he was referring to the policies of the United States and West European countries, which have imposed economic sanctions on Iran to try to force it to shut down its nuclear enrichment program.

The Iranian president was invited to speak to the British public as part of the channel's annual "Alternative Christmas Message," following an address to the nation by Queen Elizabeth II. Previous alternative Christmas guests have included the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the cast of the animated series "The Simpsons." There appeared to be little public reaction in Britain on Wednesday to the fact that Ahmadinejad would give this year's address.

Greatest gift for Iraqi Christians

The Los Angeles Times reports that Iraqi Christians are returning to Iraq after fleeing over the past few years when the US invasion made life for Christians very dangerous:
"

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Ten minutes with Gene Robinson

Religion News Service has an interview with The Right Rev. Gene Robinson in their 10 MInutes With... series:

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Small voice, big audience

The sixth-rated radio station in the Washington D. C. market is a tiny shop run by the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Is there a lesson in this for the Episcopal Church? Heck, is there a lesson in this for Episcopal Cafe? Read about WGTS in The Washington Post:

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Colorado church loses rector as trial nears

From The Gazette of Colorado Springs:

If ever a church needed a strong leader, it was Grace & St. Stephen's Episcopal Church.

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Finding volunteers via Craigslist

Craigslist became a source of volunteers this Christmas according to The Washington Post:

In Craigslist's random ocean of housing swaps, motorcycles for sale and vegan discussion forums, a tiny tide began a few days ago with these words: "Want to volunteer with me on Christmas in D.C.?"

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More on the Pew Survey and Salvation

Last week we reported on the new Pew Survey, which reported that a majority of American Christians believe that adherents of other faiths will be saved. As might be expected, this survey has caused quite a bit of discussion, including an op-ed in yesterday's New York Times by Charles Blow:

In June, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a controversial survey in which 70 percent of Americans said that they believed religions other than theirs could lead to eternal life.

This threw evangelicals into a tizzy. . . .

The evangelicals complained that people must not have understood the question. The respondents couldn’t actually believe what they were saying, could they?

So in August, Pew asked the question again. (They released the results last week.) Sixty-five percent of respondents said — again — that other religions could lead to eternal life. But this time, to clear up any confusion, Pew asked them to specify which religions. The respondents essentially said all of them.

And they didn’t stop there. Nearly half also thought that atheists could go to heaven — dragged there kicking and screaming, no doubt — and most thought that people with no religious faith also could go.

What on earth does this mean?

One very plausible explanation is that Americans just want good things to come to good people, regardless of their faith. As Alan Segal, a professor of religion at Barnard College told me: “We are a multicultural society, and people expect this American life to continue the same way in heaven.” He explained that in our society, we meet so many good people of different faiths that it’s hard for us to imagine God letting them go to hell. In fact, in the most recent survey, Pew asked people what they thought determined whether a person would achieve eternal life. Nearly as many Christians said you could achieve eternal life by just being a good person as said that you had to believe in Jesus.

Read it all here.

Albert Mohler is not happy:

This survey cannot easily be dismissed. The specificity of the responses and the quality of the research sample indicate that we face a serious decline in confidence in the Gospel. When 34% of white evangelicals reject the truth that Jesus is the only Savior, we are witnessing a virtual collapse of evangelical theology.

There is also additional cause for concern. As Cathy Lynn Grossman reports, "Pew's new survey also found that many Christians (29%) say they are saved by their good actions; 30% say salvation is through belief in Jesus, God or a higher power alone, which is the core teaching of evangelical Protestantism; and 10% say salvation is found through a combination of behavior and belief, a view closer to Catholic teachings."


Read it all here.

Are Christians Stingy?

Slate offered a provocative essay on whether American Christians give too little to charity. The answer appears to depend on what benchmark is used. Christians are generous compared to nonbelievers, but perhaps stingy compared to what our affluence can afford and what our churches tell us to contribute:


The run-up to Christmas, with its street-corner Salvation Army kettles and church food drives, would seem a lousy time to find out that Christian charity in America is not what it's supposed to be. But in the recently released Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don't Give Away More Money, sociologists Christian Smith, Michael O. Emerson, and Patricia Snell argue that too many American Christians—"the most affluent single group of Christians in two thousand years of church history"—are guilty of Scrooge-like stinginess. At least one in five American Christians, they write, gives no money at all to charities. In some churches, the miserliness rate is even higher. More than 28 percent of Catholics, for example, don't donate to charity. Bah, humbug, indeed.

. . .

But are Christians really so stingy? Looked at comparatively, Christians could be commended for their relative generosity instead of rebuked as misers. Their charitable giving stacks up pretty well against that of nonbelievers, who appear to be even tighter with their charitable dollars. More than half of nonreligious Americans contributed no money or property to charity, according to Passing the Plate, and the percentage of income donated to charity by the average nonbeliever was less than 1 percent, compared with nearly 3 percent for American Christians. And some categories of Christians distinguished themselves as givers. The average evangelical Protestant, for example, gave a sturdy 8.2 percent of annual income, according to surveys cited in the book.

. . .

Despite all the exhortations, though, it seems that relatively few Christians—even those who give regularly—have followed church teachings on exactly how much to give. Most American Christians belong to churches that promote tithing—giving 10 percent of income to the church. Tithing's roots extend back to the Old Testament commandment to give one-tenth of agricultural produce as a sacred offering. Though it's often associated with conservative and evangelical Protestant churches, tithing is also taught, for example, in the more liberal Episcopal Church, which teaches members "to practice tithing as a minimum standard of giving." Yet fewer than one in 10 Christians gives as much as a tithe of their income. The 2.9 percent of income given by the average Christian may seem reasonably generous, but it falls significantly short of what many Christian churches desire.

If tithing is so widely taught, why is it so seldom practiced?

Read it all here.

Why we believe

Why do we adhere to our faith, and not another? Or indeed, why do we have any faith at all? Anthony Gottlieb , a former executive editor of the Economist suggests that even in the 21st Century we tend to inherit our faith from our parents.

If a Martian were to look at a map of the Earth’s religions, what he might find most surprising is the fact that such a map can be drawn at all. How strange--he might say to himself--that so many of the world’s Hindus are to be found in one place, namely India. And how odd that Muslims are so very numerous in the Middle East. With the disconcerting curiosity that is so typical of Martians, he might wonder what explains this geographical clustering. Do people move countries in order to be close to others of the same faith? Or do people simply tend to adopt the religion they grew up with?

The answer, of course, is the latter--on the whole. There are exceptions: Jews moving to Israel, for example, and there are many other cases of religious migration. Still, the huddling of the faithful is mainly explained by the fact that religion runs in families. If you have a religion, it is probably the same one as your parents. Earlier this year a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that nearly three-quarters of American adults professed the religion in which they were raised. But instead of finding this glass to be three-quarters full, newspapers preferred to notice that it was one-quarter empty. It was the minority of Americans who either switched religions, or abandoned religion altogether, who were highlighted in reports of the survey (“Poll Finds a Fluid Religious Life in US”, ran a headline in the New York Times). Plainly it does not count as news that religion remains largely a family affair. Yet it should do, because of its largely unnoticed consequences. Some religious groups are dramatically outbreeding others, in ways that have an impact on America, Europe and elsewhere.

Read it all here.

Purity pledges ineffective

A new study released today shows teens who make purity pledges are 10% more likely to engage in unprotected sex. The Washington Post reports:

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Presiding Bishop on Gaza attacks

A statement on the attacks in Gaza from the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church:

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RC priest shortage

The New York Times reports on the shortage of priests in the Roman Catholic Church in the US and efforts to recruit clergy from overseas. The story relates the challenges and benefits of international clergy:

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Jewish volunteers serve on Christmas Day

For 15 years members of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation have served food at Our Daily Bread feeding program on Christmas Day so Christians can celebrate their holy day reports the Baltimore Sun:

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CofE proposes compromise on women bishops

The Synod of the Church of England clearly voted to move forward with the ordination of women to the episcopate using a so-called "Code of Practice" to care for the clergy and congregations opposed to women in orders and specifically turning aside parallel oversight schemes. The draft legislation to enable women to become bishops includes "complementary" male bishops and the possibility of "judicial review" for parishes unhappy that they might not be able to avoid the presence of a woman bishop.

The Legislative Drafting Group released it's report this week saying:

“We have published our further report at the earliest opportunity to give everyone the chance to study it before debate. We finished our discussions only just before Christmas,” said the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester.

“The General Synod mandated us to draft a Measure including special arrangements, within existing structures, for those unable to receive the ministry of women bishops and to do that in a national code of practice. We believe we have achieved that by providing for male complementary bishops, as we suggested in our earlier report, and now hand our work to the Synod to discuss the drafts in detail.”

According to the Independent, the Drafting Group is proposing a mechanism by which parishes or clergy could "opt-out," as the paper calls it, from the ministry of a woman bishop.

Under the church's proposals, parishes could bypass women bishops and women priests by taking their leadership from specially consecrated male "complementary" bishops.

Parents could elect to have their children confirmed and baptised by male clergy while congregations could seek to have sacraments and other divine service removed from the responsibility of a female bishop.

The ungainly get-out clause, drawn up in response to the Synod's historic vote in July in favour of consecrating women bishops, is set to provoke dee-per divisions within the church

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Time for a change

The Anglican Communion Office website has been very slow to update their directories of diocese to reflect actual leadership of the actual dioceses of Pittsburgh, Fort Worth and Quincy.

Lionel Deimel wants the ACO to change that now.

I was distressed that, even after Bishop Duncan was deposed, the convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh voted to “realign,” and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori acknowledged new leadership in the continuing diocese of The Episcopal Church, the official Anglican Communion Web site’s page about the Diocese of Pittsburgh did not change. I wrote to the Anglican Communion Office about the page, and I was reassured that The Episcopal Church had requested changes as well. When I checked today, however, more than three months after Bob Duncan was deposed and two-and-a-half months after Duncan’s supporters voted to leave The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion page on the Diocese of Pittsburgh is unchanged.

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UK theologians engage government's role in economic recovery

BBC:

On Sunday five bishops questioned the morality of policies and whether people should be urged to spend more. One said Labour was "beguiled by money".

But the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales disagreed and said he was unhappy with the "blame game".

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Religion for those who are truly sorry and humbly repent

John Tierney:

“We simply asked if there was good evidence that people who are more religious have more self-control,” [said] Dr. [Michael] McCullough. “For a long time it wasn’t cool for social scientists to study religion, but some researchers were quietly chugging along for decades. When you add it all up, it turns out there are remarkably consistent findings that religiosity correlates with higher self-control.”

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Resolutions, anyone?

Step right up and make your New Year's resolutions public on this open thread.

Happy New Year!

newyear.jpgA peaceful and blessed New Year wish from all of us here at the Episcopal Cafe to all of you. Thank you for reading here in 2008. May God be with you in the new year, and bless you on this Feast of the Holy Name.

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