The theology of enough

John Madeley, an economic journalist and former lay member of the General Synod of the Church of England, suggests in the Guardian group blog Comment is Free that the recession is a good time to think theologically about how much is enough:

Time to revisit John Taylor's classic work Enough is Enough, and to look at recession from a wider perspective. In this book Taylor develops the theology of enough. The dream of the Biblical Hebrew people, he points out, is summed up in the word shalom, "something much broader than peace, the harmony of a caring community, informed at every point by its awareness of God".

"At every point" is a key phrase. It speaks of a "wholeness that is complete because every aspect of life is included", says Taylor. Economically and socially, the dream of shalom finds expression in the theology of enough, he adds: "There are many reference in the Old Testament to covetousness and greed ... ordinary covetousness is simply a persistent longing for something that isn't yours."

In the New Testament, a word that is commonly translated as covetousness, pleonexia, means excess or wanting more and more, says Bishop Taylor. Mark's gospel speaks of greed as an evil which makes a person unclean. In Colossians, Paul urges that greed be "put to death". He warns in Ephesians that no greedy person "has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God".

Read it all here.

To add members, reduce pews

The New York Times highlights the struggle of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Westchester County to survive, including a successful effort to make the church more welcoming by removing some pews:

“Fifty years ago, everybody used to go to church,” Mr. de Leeuw, the rector, said, smiling at about 50 people gathered in his 22 remaining pews last Sunday. “The sense of obligation people had is gone, but maybe that’s a good thing. Those of us who gather here are here because we want to be.”

Such dogged optimism helps him and his congregation stay focused on a difficult task: bringing their 80-year-old church back from the brink. Once the spiritual home to more than 1,000 worshipers, St. Bart’s is down to a few dozen members and up to $300,000 in debt.

. . .

By rearranging furniture, wearing name tags and warmly greeting visitors, the members of St. Bart’s are on the right track, said the Rev. Nicholas Lang, the rector at St. Paul’s on the Green in Norwalk, Conn., whose congregation has grown to 450 members from 50 in 15 years.

“The Episcopal Church is facing problems nationally, but changes have to be made on a local level, because that’s where people connect to a church,” he said of his advisory visits last year to St. Bart’s and six similarly struggling churches in Connecticut and New Jersey.

Those sticking it out at St. Bart’s say Mr. de Leeuw’s initiatives have begun to attract some younger families, bringing the weekly Sunday school and nursery program attendance up to a dozen this year. At their annual meeting last week, church members listened attentively to the rector’s requests for creative ideas to raise the church’s profile, ranging from potluck suppers to starting a motorcycle gang.

Read it all here.

Narnia franchise saved

As we previously reported, Disney has decided to abandon filming the Narnia serier after making only two films. Good news this week for fans of the C.S. Lewis series: Fox has taken over the franchise, albeit at a lower budget:

When Disney unceremoniously pulled out of co-financing the Chronicles Of Narnia franchise just before the New Year, shock waves of doubt and remorse echoed through the Vulture comment section. However, thanks to the good graces of the people over at Fox, fans of the dream world of magic can spark up a celebratory jay and hit the Magnolia Bakery tonight, because the franchise is back on! Yes, that's right, Variety is reporting that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader looks to have pulled an Aslan and come back from what appeared at first glance to be certain death. But, as we learned in Pet Sematary, resurrection comes with a price.

While it looks like both the film's principle cast and director will be clearing some time on their calendars this summer to shoot the picture, some sacrifices had to be made on the budget front to make the project viable. According to the Los Angeles Times, Disney spent some $215 million producing Prince Caspian, and another $175 million on marketing it (the film ended up grossing roughly $419 million worldwide). So, in order to lessen the risk on Dawn Treader, Walden Media and Fox have decided to go halfsies on the third film's slated budget of $140 million.

Read it all here.

The Atlantic's Ross Douthat, however, believes that the lower budget could result in a much better film:

That sounds like bad news at first. But artistically speaking, at least, a smaller budget may be exactly what the Narnia movies need. I liked Caspian, in certain respects, but it felt like it was made more in self-conscious imitation of Peter Jackson's appropriately-humongous Lord of the Rings films than in the more intimate spirit of C.S. Lewis's novels.

. . .

Spending $140 million instead of $215 million isn't quite halving the budget, but it's pretty close. With luck, the result will be richer storytelling, instead of just lousier special effects.

Read it all here.

2009 Christianity Today Book Awards

Christianity Today has announced the winners of its 2009 Book Award. Winners include:

Fiction:
Home: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson

Theology/Ethics
People and Place: A Covenant Ecclesiology by Michael S. Horton

Spirituality
Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life by Kathleen Norris

Mission/Global Affairs
Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change by Paul G. Hiebert

Read about all the winners and finalists here. What do you think? Any books that should have been on the list?

Obama's faith background: It's not a flaw, it's a feature

You may have already seen this clip from President Obama's first TV interview as president, the one he did with Al Arabia (based in the United Arab Emirates). In it he highlights that he has Muslims in his family and that he lived for a time in a Muslim country (the largest Muslim country, Indonesia). He points out that the US is a country of many believers -- Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and (as he said in his Inaugural address) non-believers (although skeptics remain). These are not things you can say on the campaign trail, but they may serve him well in healing relations between the US and the Muslim world.

Even if you've seen it, you may want to look again:

Butler Bass takes questions on USA Today's 'faith forum'

Diana Butler Bass is the guest host at the USA Today forum on Faith and Reason today. Your can ask her questions about her research and what she is thinking about now. She says she will haunt the site and answer questions all day. She says her main topics are vital mainline churches and "beyond liberal and conservative" but people can ask about anything they want.

Here is the USA Today write up:

Is mainline Protestant Christianity -- which includes denominations such as the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Episcopal Church -- dying away in America?

Statistically, the mainline has declined by the millions in recent decades. But church historian Diana Butler Bass makes a contrary case: That it is thriving despite the odds. She once told me,

Mainline congregations have a beautiful world where they are enacting service, doing justice, learning to pray and caring for one another. And no one seems to realize they are there.

Do you agree? Ask Bass yourself -- and learn more about the dimensions of faith in practice in the USA now. I've invited Bass to be today's guest host on the Faith & Reason Forum. She's the first of several guest experts who will host the Forum while I’m away this week.

Here's the link.

CA blogging from the primates meeting

The Primates of the Anglican Communion are meeting in Alexandria through February 5th. The Anglican Covenant is their primary agenda item. Please keep them in your prayers.

Colin Coward and Brenda Harrison of Changing Attitude are in Egypt and are blogging as the meeting progresses.

Blessed are the poor in Spirit

Matthew 5:3 says "Blessed are the poor in spirit." For Anne Sutherland Howard this reveals a "third way" to approaching the questions of poverty and wealth, a way that does not make absolute the divide between rich and poor, nor in spiritualizing poverty. Instead, she says we can choose a spirituality of abundance in the face of a culture of scarcity.

Writing in this weeks Alban Institute e-newsletter, Sutherland Howard tells the story of a new parish priest, Christopher Wendell, in a wealthy Boston suburb which by any measure, particularly a global perspective, is "a wealthy congregation in a wealthy community in a wealthy state in a wealthy country."

But instead of haranguing people for their wealth, or denying the reality of even nearby poverty to keep people from feeling uncomfortable, he "sees spiritual poverty as an avenue for the materially rich to recognize their relationship to the materially poor--the third way."

Wendell says that the poor and wealthy interact all the time, the question is how do we Christians respond to the disparity?

For those in the "upper bands" of the spectrum of wealth--that is, anyone with education, work, enough to eat, and a place to sleep--Chris sees three possible choices.

"First," he says, "There is denial. You can deny that the poor exist, you can turn your back. You can reduce yourself to living only within your own economic band; you can keep with 'your kind.' You can say: 'I do the best I can within my band.'

"A second possibility is that you are unable to deny the difference in economic disparity, but you don't know how to engage it. You are aware of inequality, you are aware of suffering, and you experience a sense of responsibility for this system in which you see the suffering of many. You know that you are not 'the many,' but you don’t know how implicated to feel, how responsible for it you are. This whole can of worms can be overwhelming. You can choose whether to enter or not, so you choose not to."

"But there is another possibility, a third way," he says. "You can respond with awareness to the spectrum of suffering--identification with people who are suffering to the point that you can’t choose not to be implicated. This identification is the opposite of guilt or shame. It is rooted in a sense of solidarity with everyone who suffers at the hands of forces they cannot control--in the recognition that we are part of everyone.

"I think Christianity invites us into that third way of being. It's a way of being connected, a way of starting to close the distance in life experience between our own sufferings and the sufferings of the poor. It's acknowledging that suffering is real and I'm part of it: both creating it and experiencing it. I call that third way 'poverty of spirit.' I want to help wealthy persons understand this third way so that they don’t jump back to denial or think that they have a choice about getting involved. I want to help people get from step two to step three, to see that as members of the human family we don’t really have a choice but to acknowledge our connections to each other."

Wendell decribes his calling as an invitation for "people to recognize their spiritual poverty and start telling stories not only about their affluence but also about their need. That's the first step toward justice."

God's love for all, the beloved community, is revealed in the beatitudes, says Chris. "The real purpose of the beatitudes is to reveal the solidarity among all people, despite the vast differences in human circumstances on this planet. The beatitudes aren't just about 'those other people' who are different because they are poor or hungry or persecuted. They are also about how our own lives are made spiritually poor by the suffering of others."

Read the rest here.

Progressive religious groups hope for a new day

The Washington Post says that progressive religious groups are hoping that the new administration in Washington will be more sympathetic to their causes and will act on poverty, the environment and social justice issues.

The faith agenda that dominated the Bush years focused on abortion, stem cell research and same-sex marriage. But there were large portions of the religious community that the former administration would not talk to.

"The last administration showed no interest in talking to a large chunk of the religious community," said Melissa Rogers, director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. "We're already seeing change. . . . This administration, so far as I can see, is not making a similar mistake."

During the transition, the Obama transition team reached out to a wide variety of religious groups looking for advice on a wide variety of issues.

Between the election and the inauguration, Obama's staff held more than 20 meetings with a diverse mix of religious groups that included mainline Protestant organizations such as Lutheran Services in America as well as the Salvation Army, Prison Fellowship and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

Those attending said administration officials were seeking advice on how the new White House can work with faith organizations through Obama's Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The meetings also focused on such issues as the environment, AIDS worldwide, Middle East policy, detainee interrogations, criminal justice reform and the economy.

High-level Obama staff members attended the sessions, which were held at the transition headquarters or by teleconference. They included Melody Barnes, director of the Domestic Policy Council; Heather A. Higginbottom, the council's deputy director; and Michael Strautmanis, Obama's director of intergovernmental relations.

On Thursday, Obama named Joshua DuBois, a 26-year-old Pentecostal pastor who ran religious outreach for the campaign, to head the White House's new office for faith-based programs, a White House aide said. DuBois is close to the president, and faith leaders see his ascent as a sign of the importance of their causes to the new administration.

Writing in America, John J. DiIulio Jr., the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, says the legacy of the Bush administration was very disappointing, including favoritism, lack of accountability and objective measurement.

The whole truth is that America’s “armies of compassion” remain much as Bush described them in his maiden campaign speech in 1999: “outnumbered and outflanked and outgunned,” needing “more support, public and private” and forced to “make bricks without straw.”

The whole truth is that religious nonprofits, large and small, national and local, have been struggling harder than ever to meet human needs begotten by increases in poverty and unemployment. Thanks to well-meaning leaders and staff in my former office, Bush’s faith-based initiative had a little post-2006 surge, but the office’s “mission accomplished” hype unintentionally masked and mocked the unmet needs.

Dilulio says that "to succeed, Obama, a former Catholic Charities community worker in Chicago, must insist that all grantees serve all people in need without regard to religion. He must keep the faith-based effort fact-based, bipartisan and open to corrections. And he must honor all campaign pledges to create or expand programs that benefit low-income children and families."

Read the Washington Post: Progressive Faith Groups Now Trying to Shift Debate

Also read America: 'Faith-Based' Hopes

Dissident priest suspended

A priest who led a group of Central Florida Episcopalians out of the Episcopal Church into an association with the Anglican Province of Kenya a year ago has now been suspended by his bishop because of an inappropriate relationship with a woman in his parish.

According to a report in a local paper:

The Rev. Lorne Coyle, of Christ Church of Vero Beach, was suspended effective 2 p.m. Sunday because his bishop received an out-of-state woman’s allegations that she and Coyle, who is married, had an affair, said the church’s senior warden, Jim Reamy III.

The bishop, from Virginia, met with Coyle last week in Vero Beach to inform him of the accusation. [John Guernsey, a bishop for priests and congregations in the United States that are affiliated with the Anglican Church of Uganda.]

On Sunday, Coyle stood in front of the 400-member congregation and confirmed he had sexual relations with an adult women over a period of years, Reamy said. Coyle left the building before the recessional hymn.

“This is very overwhelming,” Reamy said.

According to another source Guernsey learned of the charges from Bishop Howe of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida.

Read the full article here.

The congregation's website is here and here. More information about Canon Coyle can be found here. Coyle was a Canon at the Cathedral in Orlando when he was still part of the Episcopal Church, and served as a board member of NOEL, a group in the Episcopal Church opposed to abortion.

Read more »

Welfare slow in responding to recession

The New York Times reports that state welfare programs are not keeping up with the increasing demands created by the increasing unemployment and the worst economic downturn in decades. The paper says that "18 states cut their welfare rolls last year, and nationally the number of people receiving cash assistance remained at or near the lowest in more than 40 years."

Meanwhile churches are responding both in terms of direct service and advocating for people in deep poverty.

According to The Times,

Michigan cut its welfare rolls 13 percent, though it was one of two states whose October unemployment rate topped 9 percent. Rhode Island, the other, had the nation’s largest welfare decline, 17 percent.

Of the 12 states where joblessness grew most rapidly, eight reduced or kept constant the number of people receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the main cash welfare program for families with children. Nationally, for the 12 months ending October 2008, the rolls inched up a fraction of 1 percent.

The deepening recession offers a fresh challenge to the program, which was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 amid bitter protest and became one of the most closely watched social experiments in modern memory.

The program, which mostly serves single mothers, ended a 60-year-old entitlement to cash aid, replacing it with time limits and work requirements, and giving states latitude to discourage people from joining the welfare rolls. While it was widely praised in the boom years that followed, skeptics warned it would fail the needy when times turned tough.

An editorial in America advocates a stimulus package that would create both jobs and the protections that poor people need as shields against hunger, homelessness and lack of health care.

The new administration’s projected $825 billion stimulus package should create jobs not only in traditional ways, like infrastructure improvements on roads, bridges and school construction. It should also focus on offsetting the sharp rise in hunger and homelessness among the nation’s rapidly growing number of poor people.

Already, low-income advocates predict that people in deep poverty, that is, those with incomes of less than half the poverty line of $21,200 for a family of four, will increase by between five and six million if unemployment reaches 9 percent. Barbara Sard, a policy analyst at the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, has said that such an increase would put as many as a million families at risk of housing instability and homelessness. Even those not yet in deep poverty could face homelessness because of home foreclosures that have already pushed many into the rental market, which, because of competition for affordable rental housing, has experienced an increased demand that in turn has caused rents to rise.

Read The New York Times: Welfare Aid Isn’t Growing as Economy Drops Off

Read the America editorial Shelter, Food and the Stimulus here.

Nigeria proposes ban on same-sex unions

The Nigerian legislature has before it another bill to prohibit same-sex unions and make a criminal out of anyone who witnesses or formalizes such marriages.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Nigerian Bar Association Human Rights Institute (NBAHRI) and Nigerian human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are deeply concerned by the ‘Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill 2008’, currently before the Nigerian National Assembly. The Bill would introduce criminal penalties for marriage ceremonies between persons of the same sex as well as for persons witnessing or helping to formalize such a marriage. The groups say that this is contrary to the Nigerian Constitution and inconsistent with Nigeria’s obligations under international and regional human rights treaties which the country has ratified. They are urging the National Assembly not to pass the Bill.

Amnesty International UK's LGBT Campaigner, Kim Manning-Cooper said:

'Singling out and depriving one group of people of rights that all are entitled to enjoy according to Nigeria's Constitution is blatant discrimination. And penalising people who witness same sex marriages is also an outrageous breach of basic human rights.

'There is no way such a Bill can be passed without it being in breach of international and regional treaties which Nigeria has ratified. It would also contravene the Nigerian Constitution. We would strongly encourage the National Assembly not to pass the Bill.'

The Bill has a broad definition of same sex marriages and relationships. It is feared that, if passed, it could lead to the arbitrary arrest of people on the basis of rumors about their sexual orientation or behavior.

Kim Manning-Cooper added:

'Without the protection of fundamental freedoms, it is impossible for activists to form organizations and campaign for LGBT rights or even to meet in public. If this Bill is passed, it may be dangerous for them to meet even in private.

'The Nigerian government has a duty to promote and protect the human rights of its population without distinction of any kind, including sexual orientation or gender identity. And as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Nigeria is required to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights of all people regardless of their sexual orientation.

Let's hope it lives up to its obligations by not proceeding any further with this Bill.'

HT to Thinking Anglicans.

Amnesty International: Nigeria: 'Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill' violates Constitution and Nigeria: 'Same gender marriage (Prohibition) Bill' threatens imprisonment of members of the LGBT community

Williams on the dangers of speaking harshly of others

At the conclusion of the first day of the Primates meetings in Alexandria, Archbishop Rowan Williams delivered the sermon at a service celebrating the dedication of St. Mark's pro-Cathedral. Ruth Gledhill has transcribed the sermon which can be heard here. An extract:

Our work may or may not be successful and yet God remains faithful. And so as we turn to one another it also changes how we see each other. The person sitting next to me praying next to me is someone in whom Jesus is praying. I try to listen to the voice of Jesus at prayer in them. I try to see the force and energy of Jesus's life in them.

And when I try to make dismiss them or make little of them when I speak harshly to them or about them I am in danger of destroying that place which is a place where Jesus is.

Many are interpreting these words as intended not just for the congregation of St.Mark's, but for the primates and for the Anglican Communion.

Alexandria, day 2: Aspinall reports on covenant discussion

The primates got down to business on day 2, and there are several reports mostly drawing of the end of day news conference given by the primates' media spokesperson, the Most Rev. Philip Aspinall, Archbishop of Australia.

Matthew Davies (ENS) reports:

Aspinall said there had been a "general warming" to the idea of a covenant, but acknowledged that there was "increasing realism" among the primates about what a covenant can and can't do. "We're probably pulling back from language about sanctions and teeth," he said, noting that there had been lots of discussion about a framework for "koinonia" -- a Greek word that refers to the relationships of communion.

"If there is a failure in communion, then there needs to be more of an investment" in relationships, Aspinall said. "There is a pulling back from stick-over-the-head sanctions and a move towards deeper relationships of what will make a covenant work."

Riazat Butt (The Guardian) writes:
Aspinall, however, indicated that the primates, at least, were softening their position and recognising the disadvantages to a strident covenant.
...
The only sanction that could be applied was not being invited to a meeting, he added.

On Tuesday the primates will receive a report from the group charged with proposing solutions to disagreements over same-sex blessings, cross-border interventions and ordination of homosexuals to the episcopate.

ACNS, and, moreover, has the 50 minute press conference in audio. Aspinall said the provinces were asked how a covenant would be introduced in their province. Using his local context as an example -- he said it was not dissimilar to other provinces -- Aspinall said any covenant would most likely be adopted via a resolution of Australia's General Synod (rather than through the constitution or by canon) "but then it would have no legal force." He said the "pulling back" he was referring to was the sense coming out of Lambeth 2008, but he acknowledged not all primates were prepared to move in that direction.

On sanctions Aspinall also said there was a "workability" issue, that there a report in Church of England that it was "constitutionally impossible to grant authority to an outside body." (Emphasis added.)

The press conference ended with questions about the instruments of communion and the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Aspinall said, the primates were grappling with how to adapt the instruments so they could be responsive in a timely way.

Want more? Thinking Anglicans is maintaining a rather complete and updated summary of reports on the meeting.

Colin Coward of Changing Attitudes is in Alexandria. He senses that the primates, including the African primates, are ready to move on. He writes,

Read more »

A creche full of ethical questions

The single woman who delivered octuplets already had six children under the age of seven. What was her fertility doctor thinking?

USA Today poses some ethical questions.

There are even doubts that she was infertile.

She wants to sell her story and she's got offers.

Comment below, or head over to USA Today's Faith&Reason where Paul Root Wolpe, professor of bioethics and medicine at Emory University, Atlanta, and director of Emory's Center for Ethics is today's guest moderator.

Habitat for Humanity founder dies

CNN:

Millard Fuller, who founded Habitat for Humanity International along with his wife, has died, officials said Tuesday. He was 74.

Fuller died early Tuesday "after a brief illness," said a statement on the Web site of the organization he currently headed, Fuller Center for Housing, in Americus, Georgia.
...
Former President Carter, a key Habitat supporter, fellow Georgian and a close friend, issued a statement Tuesday saying Fuller "was one of the most extraordinary people I have ever known."

"He used his remarkable gifts as an entrepreneur for the benefit of millions of needy people around the world by providing them with decent housing," Carter said.


More on the life and impact of Millard Fuller is here.

US Catholic bishops speak out on anti-Semitism and religious bigotry

Just as Commonweal's David Gibson was observing a "perceived Catholic 'silence' over Benedict XVI’s fiasco with the SSPX was raised earlier, with a focus on the relative absence of strong American voices", the US Catholic House of Bishops has issued a fairly strong statement.

But, first, back to Gibson. In his post today he writes:

[O]verseas, at least, and from the Pope’s native Germany in particular, objections are being raised as the furor grows among both Catholic and Jewish communities.

The latest comes from the Vatican’s chief ecumenist, Cardinal Walter Kasper, a German like Ratzinger, but considered a much more pastoral figure. According to this Reuters write-up, Kasper told Vatican Radio’s German-language program that he was not consulted on the pontiff’s decision to rehabilitate the schismatic Traditionalist bishops–one an overt Holocaust denier, the rest associated with dodgy statements on Jews.

“There wasn’t enough talking with each other in the Vatican and there are no longer checks to see where problems could arise,” said Cardinal Walter Kasper in a blunt interview with Vatican Radio’s German program, broadcast on Monday night……Vatican sources and officials had said privately the decision was taken without wide consultation.
Read it all for more evidence of the "growing furor."

Now back to the US Catholic Bishops. Michael Paulson writes:

In the most pointed statement yet from a high-ranking Catholic official, Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, today is sharply criticizing the Holocaust denial by a traditionalist bishop whose excommunication was lifted last month by Pope Benedict XVI. George, clearly alarmed by the brewing controversy and the damage to Catholic-Jewish relations, called the statements by Bishop Richard Williamson "deeply offensive and utterly false" and called the outrage from Jews and Catholics "understandable.''

Signficantly, George also asserts that full reconciliation between the Vatican and the four un-excommunicated bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X, including Williamson, will require "their assent to all that the Church professes, including the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.'' That is important because the Second Vatican Council resulted in the church's renunciation of anti-Semitism and led to a historic warming of relations between Catholics and Jews.

Read it all; George's statement is at the end of Paulson's post.

Primates call on Mugabe to resign

During their third day of meetings in Alexandria the primates of the Anglican Communion issued a statement on Zimbabwe. An extract:

There appears to be a total disregard for life, consistently demonstrated by Mr Mugabe through systematic kidnap, torture and the killing of Zimbabwean people. The economy of Zimbabwe has collapsed, as evidenced by the use of foreign currencies in an independent state.

We therefore call upon President Robert Mugabe to respect the outcome of the elections of 2008 and to step down. We call for the implementation of the rule of law and the restoration of democratic processes.

We request that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chair of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa, in consultation with the Church of the Province of Central Africa, commission a Representative to go to Zimbabwe to exercise a ministry of presence and to show solidarity with the Zimbabwean people. We also request the President of the All Africa Conference of Churches and the Chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa to facilitate a meeting with the African Union president and other African political leaders (especially those of SADC) to highlight the plight of the Zimbabwean peoples.

Read the full statement at ACNS.

A response from Anglican Information (via email):

Anglican-Information observes that the clear statement that the Primates do not recognise the status of Bishops Nolbert Kunonga (Harare) and Elson Jakazi (Manicaland) represents a huge step forward and endorses the heroic work led by Bishop Sebastian Bakare on the part of the Province of Central Africa in attempting to reclaim the dioceses of Harare and Manicaland. We have long chronicled the terrible intimidation and violence on the part of Mugabe backed Nolbert Kunonga and pray that this statement may give heart to those who have been at the receiving end of his atrocities.

Anglican Information says it is an encouraging sign that the Primates have been able to tear themselves away from arguments about sexuality, at least for a while, and find a unity of Anglican Communion purpose. It is ironic that it has taken so much suffering to achieve this.

Abuse scandal roils Brooklyn Hasidic Jews

NPR:

The Reichman case is not isolated. Four ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Brooklyn have been sued or arrested for abusing boys in the past three years. That's a tiny fraction of the actual abuse, says Hella Winston, author of
Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels
. She says that in researching her book, she encountered dozens of alleged victims who told her sexual abuse is an open secret in the Hasidic community. But the community is so insulated and the rabbis are so powerful that few dare to come forward.

"If I become known as an informer, then people also won't want to have anything to do with my family," she explains. "They won't want to marry my children, won't want to give me a job. This is the fear."

But more and more accusations against rabbis have begun to circulate....

[Brooklyn District Attorney Charles] Hynes says the Jewish leaders — like Catholic bishops — try to handle these affairs internally, through a rabbinical court. It's a practice that infuriates him.

"You have no business taking these cases to religious tribunals," Hynes says. "They are either civil or criminal in nature. Or both. Your obligation is to bring these allegations to us and let us conduct the investigation."

Read the NPR report and find audio and other links here.

Primates' meeting reports and responses

After issuing their statement on the horror that is occurring in Zimbabwe and calling for the resignation of President Robert Mugabe, the Primates spent time on the Windsor Continuation Group report. The experiences of The Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba and The Rt. Rev. Albert Chama are here.

Read more »

Diocese of Virginia files appeal

The Diocese of Virginia filed formal notice on Feb. 3 of its intent to appeal a Fairfax County Circuit Court decision issued last month which ruled that 11 congregations that disaffiliated from The Episcopal Church were the rightful owners of the local church property under Virginia law, according to The Living Church.

Read more »

Bishop of Jerusalem denied entry to Gaza

The Right Rev’d Suheil S. Dawani, the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem and Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem that includes Gaza, after two hours of waiting was denied entry into the Gaza Strip at the Israeli EREZ security Crossing Point this morning along with Lutheran Bishop Mounib Younan according to a Press Release received today from the Episcopal Diocese in Jerusalem:

Read more »

Pope says holocaust denier must recant

France24 International News reports:

Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson must "unequivocally and
publicly" change his views before he can be admitted to office in the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican said Wednesday.

Read more »

Love strengthens the heart

The Augusta, GA Chronicle reports on a new study that says having a loving relationship improves health and especially the heart:

Read more »

Sudan Archbishop to Primates: do not abandon us

According to Episcopal News Service Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul called on the Anglican Communion "not to abandon the people of Sudan in this time of danger and uncertainty,"

Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul appealed to his fellow primates February 4 saying that the Church in Sudan needs "urgent support for the work of relief, rehabilitation and resettlement."

Read more »

Bennison loses appeal

An Episcopal Church panel announced on Wednesday that it had upheld its decision to defrock a bishop from Pennsylvania for covering up his brother's sexual assaults of a teenage girl in the 1970s.

Read more »

Making money doing good

The Vestergaard-Frandsen Company, in Denmark, has found solving health problems and making products for the world's poorest and most unhealthy places can both save lives and make good business sense. The New York Times reports:

There are plenty of charitable foundations and public agencies devoted to helping the world’s poor, many with instantly recognizable names like Unicef or the Gates Foundation.

Read more »

Bishop John Chane on trusting God and learning to walk again

During his address to the Episcopal Diocese of Washington's annual convention, Bishop John Bryson Chane told the story of his physical and spiritual recovery from the catastrophic injuries he suffered 13 years ago while racing sprint cars.

Primates meeting drawing to a close

The Primates of the Anglican Communion have thus far refrained from committing news at their meeting in Alexandria, Egypt, and that is all to the good. But there is still one day to go.

As we've noted, yesterday's news conference focused primarily on the situation in Sudan. Audio is available online from the Anglican Communion office. Colin Coward and Brenda Harrison have done invaluable work on the Changing Attitude blog, which is also worth a look.

The report the Primates received on enhancing the Communion's relief and development efforts is online. As Archbishop Philip Aspinall of Australia noted, it is "not a proposal to establish a new super agency." The Primates also received a report on global warming that got very short shrift at the press conference.

There are two issues worth clearing up. Archbishop Daniel Deng of Sudan said under questioning at last summer's Lambeth Conference that Bishop Gene Robinson should resign. He was asked at the press conference if he stood behind that call. He said he did. This was reported in the press. What was not reported in the press is that relationships between The Episcopal Church and the Church of Sudan have become more extensive since Lambeth. The Cafe first reported on that here. (And sent the item to a number of British journalists, none of whom have reported on it.)

For a report on the Diocese of Missouri's recent trip to Sudan, led by our friend Lisa Fox, you can visit either of these blogs.

Additional information about the relationship between Sudanese and American churches and diocese is very easily found.

It is irresponsible of reporters to keep quoting Deng's statements while turning a blind eye to his actions.

Secondly, there has been some concern that the Primates are proposing to add to increase the number of Primates included on the Anglican Consultative Council. Rather, what they are proposing is to increase the number of Primates on the Primates Standing Committee. This would, by definition, increase the number of Primates on the awkwardly named Joint Standing Committee of the Primates Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council. But it would not add to the number of primates on the ACC. This may sound rather technical. It is rather technical. But it's worth spelling out at a time when the authority of various "instruments of unity" is up for grabs.

The Primates' Communique from Alexandria

Updated with audio of the concluding press conference.

Cafe editor's note: a little boldfacing on key points. The document makes reference to the Windsor Continuation Group report (It is here, and here as a pdf). Keep in mind that group does not include a single member who favors the ordination of LGBT people.

The Primates have also released statements on the situations in Gaza and Sudan.

Matt Davies of ENS has a bulletin. Thinking Anglicans is maintaining a growing roundup of media reports and blog posts.
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Deeper Communion; Gracious Restraint
A Letter from Alexandria to the Churches of the Anglican Communion

1. At the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, as the Primates and Moderators of the Churches of the Anglican Communion[1], we gathered for prayer and consultation in the ancient city of Alexandria, with the Most Revd Mouneer Anis, President Bishop of the Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East, as our host. We prayed, worshipped God, and studied the Scriptures together, seeking to be faithful to the call of God in Christ, and to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit. There was a common desire to speak honestly about our situation.

2. Since we were meeting in Alexandria, we were conscious of the historical, cultural, ecumenical and inter-faith contexts of our meeting. This was reinforced during our visit to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. We met with the State Governor of Alexandria, General Adel Labib; we were received warmly by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, Patriarch of Alexandria, and Head of the Coptic Orthodox Church. He spoke to us powerfully of the vocation and calling of a bishop to witness to the Gospel of Christ. We were also conscious that we were meeting in a country which is majority Muslim, but in which there is a strong Christian heritage and presence. We were able to celebrate the heritage of faith received from SS Mark, Clement, Anthony, Athanasius, and the desert fathers and mothers. Meeting in Egypt, a country which is the home of Al Azhar Al Sharif, one of the historic intellectual centres of the Muslim world, we were also very conscious of the importance of constructive engagement between Christians and Muslims in many Provinces of the Anglican Communion. We draw attention to the significant recent initiatives[2] undertaken by the Archbishop of Canterbury and by the Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa.

3. In the course of our visit, we valued participating in the life of the local diocese, the dedication of St Mark's Pro-Cathedral in Alexandria, the Installation of the new dean, the Very Revd Samy Fawsy Shehata, and the ongoing life of the Alexandria School of Theology. We commend the witness and work of the Diocese of Egypt. At the Service of Dedication on Sunday, 1st February, the Archbishop of Canterbury preached and reminded us to see Christ in one another, recognising that Christ alone is the foundation of our building and our work, the one who prays in and through us.

4. We were moved while we listened to some of our members speaking first hand of the situation in Zimbabwe, of the oppressive partisanship of the former Bishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga, and of the violence and persecution exercised against the Anglicans of Zimbabwe. We adopted a statement on Zimbabwe which has been released separately. We also heard from the Primate of the Sudan about the violence experienced by the people of Sudan and urgent needs of that nation. We append a statement on Sudan which we have adopted and to which we urgently draw attention. The Primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East also drew our attention to the ongoing crisis in Gaza. We append a statement on this tragic situation.

5. As we met, we shared a common concern for the Anglican Communion and a strong desire to see our Christian World Communion flourish and remain united. At the beginning of the meeting, the Archbishop of Canterbury invited five of us to speak about how the current situation in the Communion affected mission in our own contexts. We were able to talk honestly and openly about our experiences and perceptions. We were reminded powerfully of the sense of alienation and pain felt in many parts of the Communion, as many are tested by difficult theological tensions. Nevertheless, there was a discernable mood of graciousness among us in our engagements: a mood which assisted and sustained our conversation.

6. Successive Lambeth Conferences have urged the primates to assume an enhanced responsibility for the life of the Communion[3], but we are aware that the role of the Primates' Meeting has occasioned some debate. The role of primate arises from the position he or she holds as the senior bishop in each Province. As such we believe that when the Archbishop of Canterbury calls us together "for leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation"[4], it is intended that we act as "the channels through which the voice of the member churches [are] heard, and real interchange of heart [can] take place[5]".

7. We have the responsibility each to speak to the other primates on behalf of the views and understandings held in our own Provinces. We are called to mutual accountability and to bear faithful witness to what is held dear in the life of our Provinces and to the inheritance of faith as our Church has received it. Together we share responsibility with the other Instruments of Communion for discerning what is best for the well-being of our Communion. We are conscious that the attitudes and deliberations of the primates have sometimes inadvertently given rise to disappointment and even disillusion. We acknowledge that we still struggle to get the balance right in our deliberations and ask for the prayers of our people in seeking the assistance of the Holy Spirit to support and direct us in discharging our responsibilities before God.

8. One of the chief matters addressed was the continuing deep differences and disrupted relationships in the Anglican Communion. We acknowledge the difficult nature of these tensions, which evoke deep feelings and responses, but we were grateful that, by God's grace, we were able to discuss and debate these issues in a spirit of open and respectful dialogue. There has been honest exchange and mutual challenge at a new and deeper level.

9. The Archbishop of Canterbury shared with us the Report of the Windsor Continuation Group. We wish to express our thanks to the members of the group and those who supported its work for the careful and patient analysis that they have offered to us. The matters discussed are not solely issues of church politics; we are considering the spiritual health and well-being of our communion. It is therefore a conversation about our own lives and ministry. This issue touches us all, because we are each burdened and diminished by each other's failings and pain.

10. Our honest engagement revealed the complexity of the situation. Matters are not as clear-cut as some portray. The soul of our Communion has been stretched and threatened by the continuation of our damaged and fractured relationships, even though we believe that God continues to call us into a Communion founded not on our will, but on the action of God in Christ Jesus. We have experienced God drawing us more deeply into that honest engagement and listening which both require and engender trust, and which must continue and intensify if we are to move forward under God. We must find a deeper understanding of the basis of the bonds, both divine and human, which sustain ecclesial fellowship.

11. The Windsor Continuation Group Report asks whether the Anglican Communion suffers from an "ecclesial deficit."[6] In other words, do we have the necessary theological, structural and cultural foundations to sustain the life of the Communion? We need "to move to communion with autonomy and accountability"[7]; to develop the capacity to address divisive issues in a timely and effective way, and to learn "the responsibilities and obligations of interdependence"[8]. We affirm the recommendation of the Windsor Continuation Group that work will need to be done to develop the Instruments of Communion and the Anglican Covenant. With the Windsor Continuation Group, we encourage the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Anglican Communion Office to proceed with this work. We affirm the decision to establish the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission for Unity, Faith and Order. We recognise the need for the Primates' Meeting to be engaged at every stage with all these developments.

12. There are continuing deep differences especially over the issues of the election of bishops in same-gender unions, Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions, and on cross-border interventions. The moratoria, requested by the Windsor Report and reaffirmed by the majority of bishops at the Lambeth Conference, were much discussed. If a way forward is to be found and mutual trust to be re-established, it is imperative that further aggravation and acts which cause offence, misunderstanding or hostility cease. While we are aware of the depth of conscientious conviction involved, the position of the Communion defined by the Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10 in its entirety remains, and gracious restraint on all three fronts is urgently needed to open the way for transforming conversation.

13. This conversation will include continuing the Listening Process[9], and the "Bible in the Church" Project. It is urgent that we as primates, with the rest of the Communion, directly study the scriptures and explore the subject of human sexuality together in order to help us find a common understanding.

14. The Windsor Continuation Group Report examines in Section H the question of parallel jurisdictions, particularly as raised by the Common Cause Partnership, a coalition of seven different organisations[10] which have significantly differing relationships with the Anglican Communion. The Report identifies some of the difficulties in recognising the coalition among the Provinces of the Anglican Communion. Significant concerns were raised in the conversation about the possibility of parallel jurisdictions. There is no consensus among us about how this new entity should be regarded, but we are unanimous in supporting the recommendation in paragraph 101 of the Windsor Continuation Group Report[11]. Therefore, we request the Archbishop of Canterbury to initiate a professionally mediated conversation which engages all parties at the earliest opportunity. We commit ourselves to support these processes and to participate as appropriate. We earnestly desire reconciliation with these dear sisters and brothers for whom we understand membership of the Anglican Communion is profoundly important. We recognise that these processes cannot be rushed, but neither should they be postponed.

15. The Archbishop of Canterbury reported to us on the development of a scheme for a Pastoral Council, consistent with the proposal of the Windsor Continuation Group, and the Pastoral Visitors, whom he is appointing as a starting point for this idea, in line with the opinions expressed at the Lambeth Conference. The intention is that the Pastoral Visitors will be commissioned by him to conduct personal and face to face conversations in order to assist in the clearest discernment of the ways forward in any given situation of tension. We affirm the Archbishop of Canterbury in this initiative.

16. We received a report on progress in the development of the Covenant. We believe the securing of the covenant to be a vital element in strengthening the life of the Communion. We welcome the Covenant Design Group's intention to produce a covenant text which has a relational basis and tone. It is about invitation and reconciliation in order to lead to the deepening of our koinonia in Christ, and which entails both freedom and robust accountability. We look forward to the development of a covenant text to be presented at ACC-14 which will commend itself to our Provinces because it speaks of the mutuality that should characterise the life of Christians and of Churches; of a relationship which exercises the self-limitation and gracious restraint born of true affection, and which should be marked by a spirit of humility and integrity.

17. We received a report on the ongoing work of the "Theological Education in the Anglican Communion" Working Group of the Primates (TEAC). We acknowledge the critical importance of this work, and commend to ACC-14 the establishment of TEAC2, focussing on supporting theological educators.

18. We received a presentation on global warming and climate change followed by a discussion. There is a significant and growing body of statistics which demonstrates that this is a real problem, and one in which humanity has a crucial responsibility. The scriptures call humanity to a careful stewardship of creation; we undertake to ensure that issues of climate change and the responsible management of our natural resources are items which are given urgent priority for reflection, study and action in our own Provinces.

19. We received a presentation and analysis of the current global financial situation and explored Christian responses to it. The primates affirmed that the Church's concerns must be broader and deeper than economics and politics. This is a moment "to proclaim the big vision [of love for my neighbour], living it out in practice, and witnessing, where necessary, against injustices which desecrate that vision." This vision of universal neighbourliness "must not end at our geographical borders. The Church of Christ is universal and recognises that love for my neighbour is not limited to the person next door.[12]" In particular, we call on our Churches to do all that they can to ensure commitments by governments to the Millennium Development Goals are not abandoned in the face of the current crisis.

20. We received an extensive briefing on the proposed establishment of an Anglican Relief and Development Alliance. We warmly commend the potential of this initiative to strengthen the co-ordination and effectiveness of this work throughout the world. We further commend the resolve to develop a comprehensive theological vision to undergird this work. We recognise the value and potential of a global network of local agencies.

21. The Archbishop of Canterbury began our time together reflecting on the spiritual health of the Churches of Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea (Revelation Chapter 3). The tone and substance of our conversations, though sometimes hard, have been honest, deep and transforming. Our engagement together in Christ during these days convinces us that God is calling us and our Churches to deeper communion and gracious restraint.

(To see the footnotes, click Read more.)

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A quick look at the report of the Windsor Continuation Group

The report of the Windsor Continuation Group may well be a more important document than the communique released earlier today by the Primates of the Anglican Communion. Click Read more to see some of the highlights, along with a little commentary.

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Sex, anti-Semitism and the Roman Catholic Church

Andrew Sullivan, a Catholic who is worried about the direction his church has taken under Pope Benedict XVI writes:

There is, it seems to me, a connecting thread between all the various depressing bits of Catholic news this past week, beginning with the clueless, insular outreach to reactionary SSPX anti-Semites and culminating in the latest revelations about the serial child rapist protected by John Paul II, Father Maciel. That thread is not sex or anti-Semitism. It is the abuse of absolute clerical power.

This trailer for the film Vows of Silence delves into Maciel's past.

Some of Sullivan's other items about the pope also make worrisome reading. These insightful items from the blog of America magazine, which is published by the Jesuits are also worth a look. (It is worth remembering that the pope had the previous editor of America sacked.)

Reuters Faith World blog has covered the backlash against Benedict, and the reversal it produced, as has The New York Times.

Oklahoma legislators meddle in church property issues

From the Oklahoman comes a story similar to a story we recently reported on in Texas. It seems Republican legislators are eager to let people breaking away from religious denominations take the denomination's property with them, even if the denomination's internal laws prohibit that.

A large group of church leaders is battling proposed legislation targeting church property rights. They say the measure would cost millions of dollars in property loss and litigation costs. Leaders of the Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, United Methodist, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Presbyterian denominations, along with the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, on Wednesday sent a letter of "unequivocal” opposition to the state legislators who authored House Bill 1725 and Senate Bill 816.

State Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, authored SB 816 and state Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa, authored HB 1725.

Stanislawski said his bill is designed to "define property rights in Oklahoma so that if people in Oklahoma, whether in a church or some other nonprofit, sign on a deed for the land, they own the land. If they ever separate from the parent organization, they own the land.”

However, church leaders said the proposed legislation, "although appearing innocent in nature” would effectively void church doctrine in favor of state mandated rules.

One difference is that in Oklahoma, the Episcopal bishop is fighting the legislation, whereas in Texas, the bill was introduced at the request of a priest who is a close ally of the Bishop of Dallas, James Stanton. Stanton's suffragan bishop, Paul Lambert, when given a chance to oppose the bill publicly, did not do so.

Obama speaks of faiths' shared beliefs

President Obama kept the tradition of US Presidents attending and speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast. Obama chose to emphasize the common experiences shared by people of all faiths rather than speak out of his own perspective as a Christian.

From his remarks:

There is no doubt that the very nature of faith means that some of our beliefs will never be the same. We read from different texts. We follow different edicts. We subscribe to different accounts of how we came to be here and where we’re going next – and some subscribe to no faith at all.

But no matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate. There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know.

We know too that whatever our differences, there is one law that binds all great religions together. Jesus told us to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” The Torah commands, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.” In Islam, there is a hadith that reads “None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” And the same is true for Buddhists and Hindus; for followers of Confucius and for humanists. It is, of course, the Golden Rule – the call to love one another; to understand one another; to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth.

Primates urge all in Communion to reconcile

A day after the final Communiqué from the Primates' meeting in Alexandria, and the release of the Windsor Continuation Group's report, there are a number of pieces appearing which try to make sense of the mixed messages being heard.

We've already linked to the Communiqué and the WCG report. Pat Ashworth, in the Church Times, has tried to set them all in context.

The real push out of the meeting (in terms of the internal conflict in the Communion) is a call for professional mediation between groups in the Communion who are acting in ways that are seen to be increasing the level of conflict. While the resolutions of Lambeth in 1998 on human sexual expression are reiterated, there's also a strong call for the Listening Process to be taken seriously.

The statements from the meeting are attempting to be evenhanded. There's stronger language criticizing the actions of the conservative parts than has been the norm previously.

From Ashworth's article:

"Cross-border interventions by the Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone and others have proceeded ‘apparently in contradiction of the 2005 Dromantine Statement’. In Canada, though, the moratorium on the authorisation of same-sex blessings is being observed in the majority of its 29 dioceses.  Breaches of the moratoriums are considered to be  ‘equal threats to our life in Communion’. The way they have been challenged or ignored raises the question ‘how can any decisions or recommendations be given authority or force in the life of the Communion?’

ACNA is named in the report as ‘a serious and unprecedented development in the life of the Communion’.  If it wants to seek formal membership of the Communion, that presents ‘formidable problems’. One observation is: ‘The Windsor report set its face against the concept of parallel jurisdictions; it would be especially tragic if a generous accommodation of the new entity were to be seen as carte blanche for the new province to establish a presence in  localities where no cogent theological basis for differentiation could be advanced.’

Instead, the group believes difference should be accommodated within the official structure. In seeking an undertaking from the Common Cause Partnership (the coalition of Episcopalians and breakaway Anglican Churches that set up ACNA) not to proselytise, the report makes clear: ‘WCG believes that the advent of schemes such as the Communion Partners Fellowship and the Episcopal Visitors scheme instituted by the Presiding Bishop in the United States should be sufficient to provide for the care of those alienated within the Episcopal Church from recent developments.’"

The last bit about the Pastoral Visitors being sufficient response for the disaffected within the Episcopal Church is surely going to be a challenging statement to those who have already declared to be woefully insufficient.

Read the full article here.

Conservatives playing possum?

The behavior of conservative primates and advocacy groups at the recently-concluded Primates Meeting in Alexandria, Egypt and the comments of Bishop Gregory Venables in this interview with George Conger suggest a change in the strategy of the anti-gay faction in the Anglican Communion.

As always, with Venables, it is necessary to sift through the many unsupported assertions he presents as facts, but in this instance, that is worth the effort. To wit:

“Something like the freshness of the Holy Spirit” descended upon the meeting, Bishop Venables explained. There was “something different here, something special,” he said. “Without a doubt there was a lot of anger and tension,” he added, but the “orthodox had a calmness and peace” that Bishop Venables attributed to divine intervention.

If the Holy Spirit descended, she showed up well before the meeting. Conservatives coordinate their strategy for these meetings. In this instance, they decided to change their approach, abandoning the pressure tactics, and ostentatious rudeness of past meetings in favor of a gentler approach.

All the usual suspects stayed away. No Martyn Minns, no Bob Duncan, only the recently hired- CANA missioner Julian Dobbs was on hand to advise Archbishop Peter Akinola, and he kept a low profile. For the first time in three meetings, conservative prelates apparently participated in worship with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Some also posed for a group picture with her. There were no rumors of plans to shun Bishop Jefferts Schori, and by all accounts, the Primates who stayed away from Lambeth participated fully in this meeting.

Why? Perhaps conservatives have decided that their confrontational approach wasn't working. But my guess is that they are playing possum and hoping that the General Convention of the Episcopal Church will take some action that can be portrayed as a rejection of the moratoria urged upon us by the Primates and the Lambeth Conference. Then, rather than playing the angry partisans--a performance that may be reaping diminishing returns--they can feign disappointment, express their sad solidarity with the Archbishop of Canterbury (whom they had previously pilloried) and call for discipline of TEC and recognition of the breakaway.

Some conservative tactics haven't changed. It seems that they must reflexively claim victory after every meeting. In this case, those claims are even less compelling than usual. Compare the post-meeting statements of Venables, Minns and others to the lede of yesterday's story by the disinterested Daniel Burke of Relilgion News Service:

Leaders of the Anglican Communion said Thursday (Feb. 5) that they, not dissident conservatives, will decide what role a newly formed traditionalist North American church will have in their worldwide fellowship.

Concluding their weeklong meeting in Alexandria, Egypt, the Anglican leaders also said a new North American church should not "seek to recruit or expand their membership" by attempting to convert others.

Conservatives angered by the liberal drift of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and the Anglican Church of Canada set up a rival church in December. The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), led by Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, aims to be recognized as the official Anglican franchise in North America.

But the 30-odd Anglican primates, or archbishops, meeting this week (Feb. 1-5) essentially put a damper on those plans. While acknowledging that "there is no consensus among us how this new (church) is to be regarded," the primates unanimously agreed that "it is not for individual groups to claim the terms on which they will relate to the communion."

This triumphalist tic aside, the conservative strategy seems well-chosen, even if Venables' portrayal of a new spirit is transparently insincere. The Episcopal Church is going to have to make a decision this summer on whether to remove impediments to the consecration of gay bishops put in place at our last General Convention. If we move forward, we play into their hands. If we don't move forward... we do their bidding.

The Chicago Consultation and Integrity have a few thoughts on how the Episcopal Church should respond. Here is an excerpt from the Chicago statement (emphasis mine):

“Christ calls us to practice both compassion and justice. We reject the false choice suggested by the Primates communiqué that God asks Episcopalians to deny either faithful mission with the worldwide Anglican Communion or full inclusion of our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered sisters and brothers,” said the Rev. Ruth Meyers, who is professor of liturgics at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.

Faith-based initiatives get revamped

Yesterday President Obama took action to reorganize the White House Office for Faith-Based Initiatives by changing the name, the way the office is structured and the way it will function. The office will no longer just deal with faith-based groups. Now neighborhood organizations and non-profits will have equal access to the funds.

From the White House press release:

"‘Over the past few days and weeks, there has been much talk about what our government’s role should be during this period of economic emergency. That is as it should be – because there is much that government can and must do to help people in need,’ said President Obama. ‘But no matter how much money we invest or how sensibly we design our policies, the change that Americans are looking for will not come from government alone. There is a force for good greater than government. It is an expression of faith, this yearning to give back, this hungering for a purpose larger than our own, that reveals itself not simply in places of worship, but in senior centers and shelters, schools and hospitals, and any place an American decides.’

The White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will be a resource for nonprofits and community organizations, both secular and faith based, looking for ways to make a bigger impact in their communities, learn their obligations under the law, cut through red tape, and make the most of what the federal government has to offer."

Read the full article here.

You can find the full list of the appointees to the reconstituted organization at the link above.

One of the big changes that Obama has made is that there will be careful scrutiny now to make sure that government funding is used only for programs that provide service. Using the money in a way that could be seen as having an evangelistic focus is strictly forbidden.

Bishop Robinson testifies in New Hampshire

There are a number of initiatives being considered in New Hampshire at the moment that all relate to the question of state sanctioned same-sex partnerships or marriages. Bishop Gene Robinson gave testimony along with many other citizen as the state legislature starts to work through the various bills and initiatives.

From his testimony:

"[H]as your marriage to your opposite sex partner been undermined, in any way, by my professed love for and commitment to my partner? [R]egardless, there are many who still seek to reign in, if not repeal what's been done."

Watch the full testimony here.

Fort Worth to elect provisional bishop Saturday

The people of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth will meet tomorrow to continue the process of reorganizing the diocesan structure after their bishop and a large part of the diocese decided to leave the Episcopal Church late last year. The Presiding Bishop will be attending the meeting.

Chief among the tasks of the Special Meeting will be the election of a provisional bishop to help guide the remaining Episcopalians through the process. There is one candidate for the position, Bishop Ted Gulik, the former Bishop of Kentucky.

Thinking Anglicans has an excellent round up of articles that provide background to what is expected to happen at the meeting. You can find the resources here.

Bishop Duncan reacts to the Alexandria meeting

Bishop Robert Duncan, the leader of the group who are organizing themselves into the Anglican Church of North America has issued a response to the communiqué from the primates' meeting this week.

According to Peter Frank:

[Bishop Duncan] is "certainly open to mediated conversations" called for by the primates of the Anglican Communion, but added that his organization "will need to see what exactly is being proposed and what ground rules can be agreed on before committing further.

The Rev. Peter Frank said he was authorized to speak on behalf of Robert Duncan, the deposed bishop of Pittsburgh who led the majority of that diocese's members and leadership out of the Episcopal Church. Duncan is one of a number of individuals and groups who have responded to the primates' communiqué and an accompanying report from the Windsor Continuation Group issued February 5.

The Episcopal News Service has the story here along with some of the reactions of other leaders of groups associated with Anglican provinces active within North America.

Leap of faith by Mormon filmmaker

"Who could have foreseen what would happen between the Mormon filmmaker and the lesbian priest? Not Douglas Hunter, even after he took a leap of faith and trained his camera on the Rev. Susan Russell. And maybe not even Russell, who had undergone a remarkable transformation from onetime suburban soccer mom to priest and outspoken champion of gay rights." Duke Helfand of the LA Times tells their story today:

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Anderson calls for full discussion of B033

Episcopal Life reports on resolutions coming to General Convention 2009 from the dioceses of The Episcopal Church. A majority of them have to do with blessing of same sex couples and with B033, the controversial resolution from GC 2006 about consenting to the election of bishop "whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."

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G-dcast

G-dcast is an experiment to increase Jewish Biblical literacy. Watch this one about the Exodus. Links to other stories here. Some of the re-telling of these stories is difficult for me to accept but then the next video will have more of the story from an entirely different point of view. Just like reading the Bible! Think Midrash. I love the stories - even a hip hop Jacob. Look for it.

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Bishop of Maine speaks out against hate

The Rt. Rev. Stephen Lane of the Diocese of Maine writes an oped in the Portland Press Herald. Maine has had a series of racist and anti-Jewish acts recently. He states the Episcopal Church of Maine will stand against hate.

We live in an environment of increasing uncertainty and fear for the future. At times like these, it is not uncommon that our hearts turn in fear towards those who are different from us. That fear sometimes translates into violence, which in turn creates more fear.

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More on John Updike

M. Cooper Harriss, a junior fellow in the Martin Marty Center and a Ph.D. candidate in Religion and Literature at the University of Chicago Divinity School, reminds us that John Updike was one of the faithful in the most recent Sightings, and notes how this influenced his writing:

Beyond such purely intellectual theological debts, however, Updike was a churchman-no doubt an anomaly among his contemporary literary peers. David Lodge suggested that "If there was ever such a species as the Protestant novelist...Mr. Updike may be its last surviving example." His preachers, as literary characters, certainly reflect the diversity and complexity of late-twentieth-century mainstream American Protestantism while continuing an American literary tradition of problematic preachers, a lineage extending at least from Nathaniel Hawthorne's Arthur Dimmesdale to Sinclair Lewis's Elmer Gantry to James Baldwin's John Grimes, to highlight but a few examples. Consider the dueling conceptions of ecclesiology and clerical authority represented in the Lutheran Fritz Kruppenbrach (a Barthian in no uncertain terms who appears in Rabbit, Run) and his foil, the young, personable, and disconcertingly pastoral Jack Eccles (who turns up throughout the Rabbit Tetralogy). Consider Updike's conflicted lothario Tom Marshfield (whose own relationship to a certain "Ms. Prynne" invokes Dimmesdale and The Scarlet Letter) in A Month of Sundays (1975), or the Presbyterian preacher Clarence Wilmot from In the Beauty of the Lillies (1996), who undergoes a crisis of faith and yet continues to peddle both "the word" and "cosmology" as an encyclopedia salesman. Updike's preachers are ordained to God's service, yet continually compelled by the messy, and corporeal, limitations that confront humankind. For an author whose sexually charged narrative communicates a coherent and strident theological vision, one can't help but find some kindred sympathy between Updike as a wordsmith and his own ministers of "the Word."


An offhanded comment of Updike's, from a 2006 interview in Chicago with WTTW television's John Callaway (re-aired this past week), speaks volumes for the broader contours of Updike's theological vision. After sharing a joke with his subject about the pitfalls of growing old, Callaway interjects a leading question: "Are you a man of faith?" Updike recounts his lifetime tour of Protestantism-his Lutheran upbringing in Pennsylvania, his marriage to the daughter of a Unitarian minister and their move to New England Congregationalism, and his final move to the Episcopal Church, where he claims to feel very much at home. Following a couple of other observations about the value of faith and a community with whom to share it, Updike, in an unacknowledged nod to Pascal's wager in the Pensées, claims that there's something to be said for belonging to a group whose members are willing to stake it all on the same "bet." Through Updike's theological imagination perhaps we sight our own valediction. Within routine acts, allegiances, and even (or especially) alienations, all tended by external circumstance and the hardness of the human heart, humankind engages in what Pascal called (in a phrase that Updike fittingly employed in the epigraph for Rabbit, Run [1960]): "the motions of grace." By this grace does the ordinary become extraordinary. Updike, whose fiction so capably narrated these motions, lent resonance and specificity to such grace in an age characterized by tremendous ambivalence and ambiguity. Long may he run.

Read it all here.

Fort Worth open for business; celebrates, introduces transparency

As the Episcopal News Service reports, the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is back to business:

About 400 delegates and overflow visitors who filled the 116-year-old Trinity Church and its parish hall on Fort Worth's south side for a February 7 special organizing convention celebrated being "called to life" anew and getting back to the business of being the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. About 19 clergy and 62 lay delegates representing 31 congregations unanimously elected the Rt. Rev. Edwin "Ted" Gulick, bishop of Kentucky, as provisional bishop by a voice vote in clergy and lay orders.

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John Milton's quiet 400th birthday

The New York Review of Books features a discussion of the very quiet celebration of poet John Milton's 400th birthday this past December that notes that Milton's republican politics may account for the lack of interest in Milton:

Celebrations of the four hundredth anniversary of the birth of John Milton in December 1608 have been modest and largely academic. He was born, and for the most part lived, in the City of London, now the financial district. Nationalistic sentiment in those days was such that the idea of a great national poet was welcomed, and Milton had high hopes of filling that role; but although his gifts were acknowledged there were aspects of his career, especially his politics, that were far from pleasing to all parties. In the eighteenth century, however, his poetry was highly valued for its own sake, and there was a revival of interest in his politics. Wordsworth celebrated Milton's republicanism as well as his poems.

In 1922 the American Milton scholar R.D. Havens could claim, a little extravagantly, that from Pope's day to Wordsworth's "Milton occupied a place...in the thought and life of Englishmen of all classes, which no poet has held since, and none is likely to hold again." Havens had hardly spoken before powerful modernist rebels declared their opposition. Milton fell short of pleasing the royalist T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound judged him to be quite a small poet, about the size of Drummond of Hawthornden. In 1933 he was dismissed in the famous opening sentence of an essay by the influential critic F.R. Leavis: "Milton's dislodgement, in the past decade, after his two centuries of predominance, was effected with remarkably little fuss."

Leavis added that Eliot's remarks on the subject had made it "unnecessary to elaborate a case," and doubted if any defense was possible. Plausible defenses soon appeared, but they were mostly the work of English and American academics, and probably did not interest Englishmen, or indeed Americans, "of all classes"—though Americans are sometimes thought to have a special claim on Milton because of his influence on the language of Franklin, Jefferson, and John Adams, and because he remained faithful to the idea of republicanism.

Read it all here.

Bus slogan contest

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The atheist bus advertisements are causing quite a stir, and have even resulted in Christian bus advertisements in response. The Faith and Theology blogger Ben Myers has decided that it is time to have a contest for the best slogan in response to the atheist advertisements:

Over in the UK, the atheist bus campaign has been attracting a lot of media interest. Some Christian groups have chimed in with their own (predictably humourless) rival ads, and there have been various theological responses as well.

So anyway, I reckon it’s time to settle this dispute once and for all – and what better way to resolve age-old metaphysical questions than with a caption contest? I’ll send a free book to the person who invents the best bus sign. (You get bonus points if your sign persuades someone to change their deepest beliefs.)

So be sure to head the Ben's blog to enter theological the contest (but be sure to let us know your idea here as well.

Responding to Jerry Coyne on faith and science

Two weeks ago, we noted the New Republic book review by Dr. Jerry Coyne that argued that faith and science are incompatible. Since then, several writers have challenged Coyne's argument.

Jim Manzi, in particular, has some interesting thoughts:

Finally we come to a part of Coyne’s argument (quoted by Andrew Sullivan in his blog) that asserts that “real” religious belief, if not certain academic contortions, is contradicted by science:

Unfortunately, some theologians with a deistic bent seem to think that they speak for all the faithful. These were the critics who denounced Dawkins and his colleagues for not grappling with every subtle theological argument for the existence of God, for not steeping themselves in the complex history of theology. Dawkins in particular was attacked for writing The God Delusion as a “middlebrow” book. But that misses the point. He did indeed produce a middlebrow book, but precisely because he was discussing religion as it is lived and practiced by real people. The reason that many liberal theologians see religion and evolution as harmonious is that they espouse a theology not only alien but unrecognizable as religion to most Americans.

That is, if we strip away all of the falsifiable statements that are made in practice by religions, we are left with something vanishingly close to materialism anyway. But consider, to use Coyne’s own logic of falsification, an obvious counter-example. By about the year 400, Augustine described a view of Creation in which “seeds of potentiality” were established by God, which then unfolded through time in an incomprehensibly complicated set of processes. By the 13th century, Aquinas — working with the thought of Aristotle and Augustine — identified God with ultimate causes, while accepting naturalistic interpretations of secondary causes. Today, the formal position of the Catholic church, incorporating this long train of thought, is that there is no conflict between evolution through natural selection and Catholic theology. So, in this example, we’re describing an orientation supported by those esoteric theologians Augustine and Aquinas, and promulgated today by that so-liberal-he’s-practically-an-atheist Pope Benedict in that weirdo minority Roman Catholic sect. You know, “unrecognizable as religion to most Americans.”

Read it all here. See also posts by Alan Jacobs and Ross Douthat.

TEC and CANA go to court in Colorado Springs

The Gazette from Colorado Springs brings us a preview of the six-week trial that begins tomorrow to determine ownership of Grace Church and St. Stephen's, an architectural landmark in that town. The clergy and most of the laity voted to leave the Episcopal Church and join Archbishop Peter Akinola's Anglican Church of Nigeria. They also decided to take the property with them, which the canons of the Episcopal Church do not permit.

The rector of the breakaway congregation, the Rev. Donald Armstrong, former executive director of the Anglican Communion Institute, is under investigation by local authorities for financial improprieties.

Update:ENS has a solid backgrounder. The Gazette reports on the first day.

Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori preaches on Day One

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was the featured homilist on the Day One radio broadcast yesterday. Read her sermon, and see if you don't hear echoes of Bill Carroll's recent essayon the Daily Episcopalian blog.

Bakare being pushed out in Harare?

Anglican Information reports:

The synod of the Diocese of Harare, Zimbabwe has petitioned that Bishop Sebastian Bakare be allowed to stay in his caretaker role for a further year. This is to continue his courageous work in standing up to self-proclaimed ‘Archbishop’ Nolbert Kunonga and his Mugabe-backed violent regime.

However, the Provincial Synod has vetoed the request and insisted on new elections for a bishop for Harare in June this year. This veto has emerged under the oversight of acting Dean of the Province, Albert Chama of Northern Zambia.

There is a history stretching back to the now retired former Archbishop Bernard Malango (who was very close to Nolbert Kunonga) of pressure on Bakare due to complicated internal differences associated with the struggles in the wider Anglican Communion. In short it looks like Sebastian Bakare is being pushed out.

Given the nature of the nominating process in Harare there is a now distinct danger that Nolbert Kunonga could promote a candidate of his choice. His own election (overseen by Bernard Malango) was shrouded in mystery and intrigue.

Thanks to the Provincial Synod decision, Nolbert Kunonga may yet achieve his avowed ambition to oust his old enemy Sebastian Bakare and replace him with a ‘more suitable’ candidate.

Such a tangled web of interconnected ecclesiastical and political machination is unfortunately characteristic of the Central African Province still under the oversight of Bishop Albert Chama. Interpersonal episcopal power struggles, that are a mystery to outside observers, continue to defy logic in this troubled Province.

ANGLICAN-INFORMATION reports that in Upper Shire Diocese in Malawi, petitions (including one signed by 24 parishioners from his own church) have been lodged against thirty-year-old Brighton Malasa for ‘drunkenness, embezzlement and adultery’. At the end of last year Malasa was the surprise choice of the Provincial bishops as new bishop of Upper Shire, despite stiff resistance from priests and people and the fact that he is exceptionally young and inexperienced.

The recent Anglican Primates Statement covered by us and many other webcasts, which was critical of Kunonga and the Mugabe regime, is already looking a little jaded and pointless.

Find previous Cafe coverage here, here and here.

The man who might be Virginia's next attorney general

The news that Virginia's chief deputy attorney general William C. Mims may succeed his boss Bob McDonnell, who has stepped down to pursue the Republican nomination for governor, brought to mind this previous post about Mims, who seemed, at one point, more than willing to use the machinery of the state to advance the agenda of his church.

Mims was a member of one of the breakaway Episcopal Churches when he introduced a bill in the Virginia legislature that would have made it easier for such churches to maintain their property when they left the church.

In an editorial, The Washington Post suggested that Mims' intervention was exactly the sort of thing that the separation of church and state was meant to prevent:

You might expect that in its short legislative session the Virginia General Assembly would have more important business than intervening in internal arguments within the Episcopal Church over gay rights. But a bill pending in the state Senate would make it far easier for Episcopal congregations upset at the church's consecration of a gay bishop in New Hampshire to bolt from the national church yet keep their buildings and property. The bill, championed by Sen. William C. Mims (R-Loudoun), responds to a real problem: Mr. Mims argues persuasively that Virginia law on the subject is archaic. But his bill would make matters worse, not better. It should be voted down.

While some Episcopal congregations are angry about the church's toleration of gay clergy, they have not, by and large, left the church. One reason may be that their property is, while purchased with local money, held in trust for the national church. So if they leave, they leave their church behind physically as well as spiritually. Mr. Mims's bill would change that. It would give a congregation's property to the local congregation when it secedes from a church unless the property is specifically deeded to the national church or -- under an amendment he is proposing -- unless a trust agreement explicitly designates the national church as having its use. The bill is not explicitly directed at the Episcopalians, but it seems to respond directly to their current fight. And its result would be that conservative Virginia congregations could leave the Episcopal Church without becoming homeless.

For more information, see this item from Daily Episcopalian Classic and this round-up from Thinking Anglicans.

Bonnie Anderson on the Primates and the Windsor Continuation Group

Bonnie Anderson, President of the Episcopal Church's House of Deputies, has released the following statement on the communiqué from the recently-completed Primates Meeting and on the report of the Windsor Continuation Group:


The two principal documents released by the Primates at their recent meeting in Alexandria, Egypt, namely The Primates Communiqué and the Report of the Windsor Continuation Group are a study in contrast.

In their communiqué, the Primates, who once issued deadlines, made veiled threats and attempted unwelcome incursions into the affairs of the Anglican Consultative Council and member Churches, have adopted both a new tone and a broader set of theological concerns. In both the Communiqué and in their meeting processes, the Primates seem to be yearning for a deeper sense of communion in God’s mission through prayer, conversation, shared vulnerability and mutual understanding. They state that “we are each burdened and diminished by each other’s failings and pain.” (Paragraph 9). However, this statement stops short of recognizing the pain and division caused by several of the Primates themselves—an ironic development considering the group’s call for “accountability”—but it nonetheless recognizes that our current difficulties are not the fault of a single party.

The Primates renewed focus on mission is an encouraging development. They have offered welcome leadership in their statements on Zimbabwe, Sudan and Gaza, and continue to explore how the Communion can respond to the challenges of global warming and the global financial crisis. Efforts to coordinate and enhance Anglican relief and development work are particularly promising, as they suggest a willingness to be in partnership to heal the world, even though there are theological differences in the broken body of Christ.

In stark contrast to the increasingly relational tone reflected in the Primates Communiqué, the Windsor Continuation Group has taken a step backward, issuing a report that yearns for greater ecclesial centralization achieved by concentrating power in the hands of bishops and archbishops, further marginalizing the laity and diminishing the influence of member churches in the common life of our Communion. The authors of the report—two retired primates, a primate, two bishops and a retired Cathedral dean—believe an “ecclesial deficit” exists within Anglicanism and propose to remedy it by strengthening three of the four “Instruments of Communion”, namely the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference and the Primates Meeting. The instrument they have overlooked is the Anglican Consultative Council; the only instrument that includes lay people, priests and deacons and that has a constitution that codifies its membership, procedures and authority. The ACC’s meetings have proven much less susceptible to outside manipulation than those of the Primates Meetings, as the machinations at Dromantine and Dar es Salaam made painfully clear.


Yet the Windsor Continuation Group argues that the Communion must receive statements from the Primates: “with a readiness to undertake reflection and accommodation,” while questioning whether the Anglican Consultative Council can “adequately” exercise the purely consultative function it currently serves. This illustrates a triumph of ecclesial ideology over common sense.

As we move into a greater sense of mutuality and interdependence in the Anglican Communion through renewed relationship in service to God’s mission in the whole world, it is imperative that we hear the voices of lay Anglicans from around the Communion. We cannot determine where God is leading the Church unless we are aware of how the Holy Spirit is at work at every level of ministry in every province of our Communion. Proposals to centralize authority in the hands of primates and bishops are potentially impoverishing to our faith. Instead, let us together as all the baptized people of God, rededicate ourselves to extending the saving and life-giving message of Jesus and not look for easy answers in quick ecclesial fixes. Let us be encouraged by the Primates’ renewed energy in God’s mission and not allow ourselves to be bogged down in the proposals of the Windsor Continuation Group. As we all serve God’s mission, we trust that the Holy Spirit will recreate and renew the whole of the Anglican Communion.

Peace,

Bonnie Anderson, D.D.
President, The House of Deputies


Amnesty in the hereafter

The New York Times reports:

In recent months, dioceses around the world have been offering Catholics a spiritual benefit that fell out of favor decades ago — the indulgence, a sort of amnesty from punishment in the afterlife — and reminding them of the church’s clout in mitigating the wages of sin.

The fact that many Catholics under 50 have never sought one, and never heard of indulgences except in high school European history (where Martin Luther denounces the selling of them in 1517 and ignites the Protestant Reformation) simply makes their reintroduction more urgent among church leaders bent on restoring fading traditions of penance in what they see as a self-satisfied world.

“Why are we bringing it back?” asked Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Brooklyn, who has embraced the move. “Because there is sin in the world.”


How we spend our time

Episcopalians sometimes complain that all anybody ever learns about our Church is that it is conflicted over the issue of homosexuality. It is almost impossible, this line of argument goes, to get the mainstream media interested in other facets of our life. But every once in a while, a hometown newspaper simply shows up and offers some fairly straightforward coverage of Episcopalians being Episcopalian, and it is a welcome relief. In that spirit, we point you toward the Hattiesburg American's coverage of the Diocese of Mississippi's annual council, which was, reportedly, "grand."

Is Anglicanism too incoherent to fracture?

The Anglican world turns its attention from the primates meeting to the Church of England General Synod. The navel gazing continues. Andrew Brown and Giles Fraser think that's not Christian.

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ABC addresses General Synod

The Communion we have: it is indeed a very imperfect thing at the moment. It is still true that not every Primate feels able to communicate at the Lord's Table alongside every other, and this is indeed a tragedy. Yet last week, all the Primates who had attended GAFCON were present, every one of them took part in daily prayer and Bible study alongside the Primates of North America and every one of them spoke in discussion. In a way that I have come to recognise as very typical of these meetings, when talk of replacing Communion with federation of some kind was heard, nearly everyone reacted by saying that this was not something they could think about choosing. We may have imperfect communion, but we unmistakably want to find a way of holding on to what we have and 'intensifying' it – to use the language I used last summer about the proposed Anglican Covenant.

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1967: Virginia allows women to serve on vestries

The Diocese of Virginia has a reputation for seeking a middle way. But if in the 60s "the diocese could be labeled centrist on issues of race, it was decidedly conservative on women's participation within the church" until late in the decade. The quote comes from The Episcopal Church in Virginia by Edward Bond and Joan Gunderson, commissioned by the diocese and published in 2007. They go on to say, "bishops and male leaders consistently feared that admitting women to [positions of leadership] would result in a withdrawal of men and a takeover by women."

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Grace upon Grace in the city

A small parish of just 80 members in the city center of Allentown, Pennsylvania, has just completed a major renovation of its liturgical space. Grace has created ''a beautiful, practical and liturgically useful'' space that has deepened their worship and expanded the capacity of the parish to minister in their neighborhood.

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The Morning Call says that during the project every time a need has presented itself, help arrived, often from unexpected places:

It's tempting to imagine providence at work in the renovation of Grace Episcopal Church, an Allentown landmark where congregants with an evergreen passion for the Gospel had grown ever less enamored of the vinyl floor, immovable pews and faded 1960s decor.

Even the rector, Father Patrick Malloy, described the look of the place as ''basement rumpus-roomy,'' but transformation -- new floors, new seats, a coat of paint -- seemed out of reach.

The 19th century church at Fifth and Linden has only 80 members and not much money. And virtually all its resources, financial and human, are funneled into its fundamental mission of outreach to the city's dispossessed.

But a few strokes of good fortune and an outpouring of volunteerism let the people of Grace reshape the church for far less than anyone dared to hope. And that has given a renewed sense of energy and purpose to parishioners, who consider the little church an essential part of downtown's past, present and future.

When other mainline churches left downtown, Grace Church chose to stay in the city even as the numbers dropped from a couple of hundred to about eighty. Their reach into the neighborhood is far beyond their size: their mission includes a Montessori school, a food pantry and neighborhood outreach. The parish frequently partners with the Baum School of Art across the street.

''They're incredibly important,'' said Mayor Ed Pawlowski, who frequently champions the value of faith communities to cities. ''They do some amazing work in the community with their after-school program, their homeless initiatives, their food program.… They're a stabilizing force in the community.''

What started out as disaster--a leaky roof which caused the church to flood after heavy rains--turned into an ongoing blessing.

In July, heavy rains broke through and flooded the liturgical space, damaging the floor.

Renovation turned from wish to necessity, but where to find the money?

That's where providence seemed to enter the story. At a summertime memorial service, Brian Brinker of Coplay, grandson-in-law of a longtime member, saw the flood damage and offered to donate $26,000 in terrazzo flooring material if the church would pay for labor.

The labor turned out to be covered by the insurance settlement from the flood damage, with $6,000 left over. That money paid for a new lectionary (a book of readings) and projector, plus paint and other supplies.

People often comment to Father Malloy that they admire the work that the parish is doing in downtown Allentown, but they don't join in because would not feel safe going to their neighborhood. Father Patrick says that after a recent break-in, "the police came and said, not that you have to expect such things in this neighborhood, but that these things never happen in this neighborhood. Robberies and burglaries are the plague of the wealthy neighborhoods in the western part of the city." The perception of the neighborhood as dangerous is one of the obstacles the parish continually works to overcome.

The renovation to the worship space included removing the pews, ripping up and installing a new terrazzo floor, creating an open space where people gather facing each other for the liturgy of the word and then move as a group to be around the altar for the Eucharist. The remarkable thing is that every time help was needed to move forward with the project, it arrived usually from unexpected places. Between these unexpected gifts and the volunteer labor of parishioners and others, Grace Church was transformed. Most important of all is that, through this project, the intimate relationship between the neighborhood and the parish has been renewed right along with the worship space.

Read the Morning Call article and the accompanying video about the project here.

See a slide show showing the progress of the work here.

Presbyterians will study same-sex unions

RNS:

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has tapped a 13-member committee to investigate the place same-sex unions should have in Christianity and wider society and issue a report in 2010.

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This day in Anglican history

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[Photo credit: The Rev. Ann Fontaine]

In September 1988, Barbara Harris was elected suffragan bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts. On February 11, 1989, she was consecrated a bishop, the first woman to be ordained to the episcopate in the worldwide Anglican Communion. (Source; also)

February 11, 2009, the Church of England General Synod debates debating legislation to make it legal -- remember this is the established church -- to ordain women to the episcopate. To follow developments monitor Thinking Anglicans. TA already has three items: here, here, and here.

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Apostrophe's banished

Barbara Wallraff who writes the blog In a Word for The Atlantic draws attention to the AP's report, Its a catastrophe for the apostrophe. Birmingham, England has banished the use of apostrophes in road signs even when they are grammatically correct.

Read all of Wallraf's post here, and her followup here.

Meet me in the middle

In the weekly missive from The Alban Institue, Wesley J. Wildman and Stephen Chapin Garner write:

There are plenty of Christians who feel theologically and spiritually displaced. They feel lost in the middle between the noisy extremes of religion and politics and long to feel at home right where they are. They sense that it is possible to ignore the oversimplifications of left and right and, instead, move deeper into their faith. But they are not quite sure how to do that. They know the path they seek has something to do with love because they understand the power of love to unite people of different kinds, to overcome alienation, and to bring about transforming forgiveness. If only they could understand their situation clearly, perhaps they could plot the path ahead.

Numerous conversations and interviews lead us to conclude that there are at least four distinct reasons why discerning moderate Christians make the decision to transcend the liberal versus evangelical conflict and commit themselves to church unity in the face of theological and political diversity. Each is a tangle of negative and positive motivations.

Is it possible that the authors simply don't want to acknowledge that a choice has to be made about whether to include LGBT Christians fully in the life of the Church, and that it is very difficult to argue anything other than Yes, or No? One can choose not to participate in this debate, but it is difficult to understand how one would "transcend" it, as the authors advocate. But this criticism comes from one who is suspicious of those who deride left and right, and who believes that the argument for the superiority of the middle often reflects its own sort of moral vanity. In addition, there is a certain reflexiveness about this sort of argument, as though the soundest thing one can do in a debate about whether the value of two squared is 4 or 5,000 is to insist that we should all agree on 2,502.

Killings motivated by women's issues and gay marriage

RNS:

A man who was angry over a Unitarian church's liberal stances on women's issues and gay marriage pleaded guilty Monday (Feb. 9) to a church shooting that killed two people and wounded six others last July.

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Rowan Williams profiled in The Atlantic

Paul Elie profiles Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, for The Atlantic:

And yet the people around me weren’t denouncing him as the oppressor; they spoke as if he, not their friend Gene, was the one engaged in an unending struggle against impossible odds.

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FundamentaList broadens scope, but charter still relevant

Back on January 21st Sarah Posner of the FundamentaList wrote,

Editors' note: This week, The FundamentaList will begin featuring news not just from the religious right but from the religious center and left as well. The controversy over President Barack Obama's selection of Rick Warren to lead the inaugural prayer brought into sharp relief the fact that under an Obama administration, a broader array of religious voices will be clambering for visibility and political influence. The FundamentaList will be your essential guide to the unfolding struggle for dominance and, as always, your eyes and ears for the religious right's activities in Washington and beyond.
Apparently, the change in administration suggested a weekly column devoted to coverage of the Religious Right would be too narrow in scope.

Today Posner writes: Obama's New Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships: Bad Constitutional Law, Bad Policy, Bad Precedent.

Read it all.

Religious broadcasters feel the heat from new media

Just as booksellers, newspapers, the film and music industries are feeling the heat from ipods, video streaming and e-books, Christian broadcasters are finding their audiences going to new media sources for their inspiration. And Christian broadcasters are not getting the steady stream of donations that they used to get when Christian radio and TV was the only show in town. One thing you don't get from a downloaded video sermon is a pitch for donations.

The Religious News Service says:

The industry shows signs of contraction at a time when its future is fraught with uncertainty. And it’s not just the economic downturn that is causing turmoil: last year, a study found that the percentage of megachurches with a radio ministry dropped from 44 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2008. Likewise, the percentage with television ministries dropped from 38 percent to 23 percent.

For programs that are still on the air, the challenge is attracting younger audiences who will give as consistently as their parents and grandparents. Cracking that puzzle will require experimentation, but few feel they can take significant risks in today’s climate marked by razor-thin margins.

“The industry is at a crossroads,” says Paul Creasman, associate professor of communications at Southern Wesleyan University in Central, S.C., and a former Christian radio personality and producer. “The audience is dwindling, and they have to figure out what to do. But the Web is not the answer because older audiences don’t use the Internet… and younger audiences will go to the Web for content, but they’ll probably be less likely to donate.”

Moving content online may be broadcasting’s future, but it’s a nerve-wracking endeavor that doesn’t necessarily pay the bills of the present.

“Everyone (in religious broadcasting) is doing it,” Parshalls said. “And everyone is asking each other: `Are you making money at it? Because we’re not.“‘

Read it here.

Do evolution and faith have to fight?

Today is the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and 2009 is 150th anniversary of the publication of his Origin of the Species. The debate between evolution and religious faith appears to be as American as apple pie.

Religion Dispatches has three interesting articles reflecting on the religious consequences of evolution, focusing on the ongoing debate often framed as a fight between science and religion.

Lauri Lebo takes a look at American attitudes toward Darwin while attending a British conference on science and the public interest:

I am standing at a podium in England, invited to speak by of the British Council, because I am American. To be even more specific, because I resided at Ground Zero of my country’s cultural battle over science and religion, in an event that took place four years ago in Dover, Pa. when the local school board tried to force religion into science class.

I have been aware of this British fascination with us ever since the BBC came to my town in the fall of 2004, right after the Dover Area School Board inserted the phrase intelligent design for the first time in the US into a public school biology curriculum....I remember the BBC crew looked at me much the same way that these people are looking at me now. Trying to determine on which side of the cultural divide I stand. The British don’t understand, I’ve been told, why Americans are so divided.

They find this issue fascinating. And they watch me curiously. In a way, I suspect, they find our fundamentalism kind of cute. Just like the meerkats.

I know they’re thinking: What is it with you Americans? Why are you so hung up on this religion vs. science thing?

It can be said that Darwin and the theory of evolution begat American Christian fundamentalism. Lebo points out that through much of the 19th century, Biblical literalism was on the decline. Science was accepted, even in the churches, and the idea that the earth is very old was widely accepted. "A typical interpretation of the Genesis account," she says, "viewed the six days not as literal 24-hour periods, but as separate, lengthy spans of time."

This is an interpretation that probably feels familiar to many Episcopalians. The rector of St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in northwest Atlanta, The Rev. Patricia Templeton, says in today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution that "the problem begins with those questions, the pairing of religion and science as polar opposites."

Although I believe that the Bible contains the words of the living God, I also think that looking to the Bible for modern scientific knowledge requires denying the use of one of God’s greatest gifts, our minds.

“I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also,” the apostle Paul says. “I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also.”

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” Jesus says. “This is the greatest and first commandment.”

A faith that requires you to close your mind in order to believe is not much of a faith at all.

The Bible was never meant to be a science textbook.

Instead, it tells the story of the relationship between God and human beings, between the Creator and creation.

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General Synod discusses recession

The General Synod of the Church of England discussed the financial crisis and recession this afternoon.

They voted to accept the report that may be found here. Written by Andreas Whittam Smith. Whittam Smth is the First Church Estates Commissioner, essentially in charge of watching over the financial holdings of the Church of England. Here is an excerpt of his explanation of where the global financial crisis came from:

The idea got about that, paradoxically, risk was nothing to worry about. It could be split up, passed on, sold off. Rather than being placed at the centre of financial transactions, where it ought to be, risk was banished to the sidelines. It was a detail that could easily be handled. At the same time, banks became careless about the standing of the counterparties to whom they were handing off risk. The USA’s biggest insurance company, AIG, had to be bailed out by American taxpayers after it had defaulted on $14 billion worth of credit default swaps it had made to investment banks, insurance companies and scores of financial entities.

Consider then where we had got to by 2003. The excess savings of vigorous Asian economies, oil producers and other developing countries that had flowed into Western banks had pushed interest rates to very low levels. Globalisation had removed bargaining power from workers in the West with the result that inflation was only a percentage point or two per annum. In real terms interest rates were more or less zero. For banks, in other words, money was free. Furthermore now that loans could be securitised and removed from banks’ books so that they no longer needed the backing of their capital, lending activity had begun to appear costless. In addition, lending had acquired the extra virtue of appearing riskless because credit insurance would ensure that others would bear the cost of defaults. The upshot was clear. When money is free, and lending is costless and riskless, the rational lender will keep on lending until there is no one left to lend to.

To reach this Eldorado, the means were at hand. Automated credit scoring speeded up the processing of applications for loans. Trimming back on documentation brought more borrowers into the fold. A proliferation of products offering credit on easy terms was devised. Moreover it didn’t seem to matter if such hastily written business wasn’t always of a high quality. After all the loans were to be packaged up and sold on. In other words, the banks originating the loans would have no stake in the borrower’s continued solvency. At the same time, pay levels in the financial services industry were topped up with bonus schemes that gave very high rewards to those managers who could ‘shift product’. New borrowing was piled on old borrowing, risk on risk.

The Archbishop of York introduced the debate. Reuters reports that Sentamu, suggested everybody was to blame.

“We have all worshipped at the temple of money,” he said. “We have been guilty of idolatry: the worship of God falsely conceived - which is deadlier than either heresy or sin, for it is the prolific source of each. It is this idolatrous love of money, pursuing profit without regard for ethic, risk or consequence, which has led us from orientation to dis-orientation.”

Building on Walter Bruggermann's notion that there psalms of orientation, dis-orientation and re-orientation, Archbishop Sentamu suggested that the church serves best by articulating a vision or re-orientation:

Of course this is not just economics. We need a deeper vision. A political vision alone won't do it. It is not about what governments can do for us but what we can all do.

It is here that the Church of England and all religious communities will make a special contribution. We start with a great advantage - a moral framework and a big vision. We must act prophetically, proclaiming the big vision, living it out in practice and decrying any injustices which desecrate it.

The Christlike vision we hold to will have a threefold base: respect for the person, care for one another, and selfless service. Speaking prophetically is not just about condemning failures, it is about helping everyone to accept common goals which uplift the heart. Moving together in the same direction and thereby enriching and supporting each other as fully as we can. Pilgrims together on the Way.

These common goals and this shared vision must not end at our national borders. Love for my neighbour is not limited to the person next door.

We must ensure that the Millennium Development Goals are not abandoned in the current crisis.

England, you think you've got problems? It's time to get real.

We live in a world where:

·

a child dies every three seconds due to extreme poverty, almost 10 million children a year.

· One person dies from HIV/Aids every 11 seconds.

· Approximately 1 in 7 children in the world – 270 million children – have no access to healthcare.

· Every single day unsafe water coupled with a lack of basic sanitation kills 5,000 children.

· Poor Governance, in countries such as Zimbabwe, has led to malnutrition, a crumbling health system and the outbreak of avoidable diseases, like cholera, claiming thousands of lives in Zimbabwe.

Read Thinking Anglicans coverage here.

General Convention legislative committee chairs announced

Legislative chairpersons for this summer's 76th General Convention in Anaheim have been announced.

According to the Bishop and Deputy Handbook:

Legislative committees are appointed. The President of the House of Deputies appoints the deputies. The Presiding Bishop appoints the bishops. A Chair, Vice Chair and Secretary are designated for each committee by the Presiding Officers.

In the House of Deputies the appointment process begins when each diocese notifies the General Convention Office of the election of its deputies and alternates. Data sheets containing committee preferences are collected from each deputy and are used in the appointment process.

The list of committee chairs is as follows:

Legislative Committees

01 Dispatch of Business: The Rev. James Simons, The Rt. Rev. Wayne Wright
02 Certification of Minutes: Ms. Linda Freeman, The Rt. Rev. Don Johnson
03 Rules of Order: The Rev. Brian Prior, The Rt. Rev. Kenneth Price
04 Constitution: Mr. William Cathcart, The Rt. Rev. Neff Powell
05 Canons: Mr. Tom Little, The Rt. Rev. Catherine Waynick
06 Structure: Mr. David Pitts, The Rt. Rev. James Curry
07 Consecration of Bishops: Ms. Lynn Schmissrauter, The Rt. Rev. Neil Alexander
08 World Mission: The Rev. Gay Jennings, The Rt. Rev. Geralyn Wolf
09 National and International Concerns: Deputy TBD, The Rt. Rev. John Chane
10 Social and Urban Affairs: Ms. Diane Pollard, The Rt. Rev. Bavi Rivera
11 Church in Small Communities: The Rev. Ivette Linares, The Rt. Rev. Thomas Ely
12 Evangelism: The Rev. David Ota, The Rt. Rev. David Jones
13 Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music: The Very Rev. Sam Candler, The Rt. Rev. G. Wayne Smith
14 Ministry: The Rev. Silvestre Romero, The Rt. Rev. Barry Howe
15 Education: Mr. Scott Evenbeck, The Rt. Rev. John Rabb
16 Church Pension Group: Ms. Katherine Weathersbury McCormick, The Rt. Rev. Gayle Harris
17 Stewardship and Development: Ms. Pat Abrams, The Rt. Rev. Bud Shand
18 Ecumenical Relations: Ms. Cecily Sawyer Harmon, The Rt. Rev. Edwin Gulick
19 Communications: The Rev. Peter Strimer, The Rt. Rev. Kirk Smith
22 Committees and Commissions: Deputy TBD, Bishop TBD
23 Credentials: The Rev. Elizabeth Tattersall
25 Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F): Ms. Pan Adams

The Covenant creeps along

The Church of England spent some time debating a technical motion moving forward the process towards some kind of Anglican Covenant. We waited and listened for news reports or live blogs. The news is that not much happened and the process proceeds. There were some kernels that indicates that the Covenant idea is moving along at its own pace, with a life of its own.

The resolution actually changes nothing. It was what is called a "take note" resolution. It appears that everyone took note. During the audio of the debate, it also appears that all the same people said all the expected things, and then it was passed.

Dave Walker had this to say:

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Ruth Gledhill notes in the body of her live blog that

Earlier, the Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali introduced the covenant. 'The main purpose of the covenant is inclusion rather than exclusion. We cannot forget, nevertheless, that these questions have arisen for us because of the need for adequate discipline in the Communion on matters which affect everyone. Nor, of course, can we forget that discipline is for the purpose of reconciliation and restoration. In the meantime, such discipline will undoubtedly have what have been called "relational consequences". This is a matter of deep sorrow and of repentance for all of us and should lead us to be committed to continue the search for that unity in truth which General Synod has asked for in its previous resolutions on the subject.'

In his introduction the Bishop of Rochester said that the only way an Anglican Covenant could work and to be constitutional would be to treat it as if it were equivalent to an ecumenical partnerships between the Church of England and other churches.

"It should be said straightaway that such a covenant would be freely entered into and would not supersede the authority of General Synod or of the Crown in Parliament. It would be comparable to agreements about communion with other churches and indeed to some forms of ecumenical commitment to which the Church of England has entered."

Of note to American Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans was that Nazir-Ali in his summary responses to the debate spoke about his view of inadequacy of the Anglican Consultative Council and his personal approval of ACNA.

He said that the ACC is not a very helpful instrument of unity because he says that it is not a proportionally representational body and it cannot not be a truly synodical body because Bishops (Primates) don't have a unilateral voice on faith and morals.

As for ACNA, Nazir-Ali said that he believes ACNA must "somehow be recognized as Anglicans in good standing whatever structure that may be." He did not specify anything more about his vision for a structure nor did he address the question as to why a parallel structure would be good for North America but bad for England, or anywhere else in the Anglican Communion.

Judging from the audio of the debate, his views are not universally held and were not tested by vote because the nature and content of the motion did not touch on these issues.

Pray for Zimbabwe

The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion Canon Kenneth Kearon writes: ‘I want to bring to your attention the request of the Primates and Moderators of the Anglican Communion, at their recent meeting in Alexandria, Egypt, that Anglican Churches world-wide observe 25th February, Ash Wednesday, as a day of prayer and solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe.

‘The primates and Moderators also requested that parishes throughout the Anglican Communion give aid to enable food and other material aid for Zimbabwe for distribution through the dioceses of the Church of the Province of Central Africa.’

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Southern Africa and the Rt. Rev. Albert Chama, dean of the Anglican Province of Central Africa, had addressed the primates about Zimbabwe and in a press briefing the following day they spoke to the media.

Archbishop Makgoba. "We explained the urgency of the situation - the total collapse of the economy and socio-political infrastructure - and appealed to the primates to assist in whatever humanitarian needs they could provide to Zimbabwe."

Read the rest here.

Church of England called to convert non-Christians in England.

The Church of England Synod voted on Wednesday to urge its members to reach out to their non-Christian neighbors in an effort to share the gospel of salvation offered uniquely in Christ Jesus. The vote represents a break from the previous stance of focusing on what was common and shared between people of different faiths in the community.

From the article on the Times website:

"The Church’s General Synod, meeting in London, overwhelmingly backed a motion to force its bishops to report on their ‘understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in Britain’s multifaith society’ and offer guidance in sharing ‘the gospel of salvation’ with people of other faiths and none.

[...]The Rev Nezlin Sterling, who represents the black-led churches and is a minister in the New Testament Assembly, said that the marginalisation of Christianity was proceeding at a rapid rate, with further examples reported every day.

She said that the churches were so anxious to be politically correct that they were in danger of forgetting their mission. ‘We have positioned ourselves like the disciples did immediately after the death of Christ, behind closed doors, paralysed with fear of the world.’

Evangelisation should be a priority, she said. ‘Every person in my mind is a potential convert.’"

Read the full article here.

The true leader of Iran uses his religious authority to steer a nation's course

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is not a very familiar name to most Americans. But it is well known to Iranians. Khamenei, the successor to Ayatollah Khomeini is the real power in Iran, merging both religious authority with secular authority by virtue of his role within an explicitly theocratic state.

NPR has a long article today about how Khamenei's thinking is shaping the present course of the Iranian state. It summarizes his early influences, his rise to power, how he chooses to use his authority. A particularly interesting bit of the article talks about Khamenei's unwillingness to allow western thinking and paradigms to be used to undergird programs in Iran. Instead he insists on using purely Islamic based ideas.

There's a vignette included in the article that gives a sense of Khamenei's thinking by describing a surprise meeting between him and Bishop John Chane (the Episcopal Bishop of Washington):

"Last year, Chane was attending a conference on religion and politics in Tehran. 'Out of the blue, somebody came over and said, 'You're going to meet the supreme leader. Be out in the hallway in 10 minutes,'' he recalls.

Chane and a handful of other Westerners went to meet the leader in a room across town.

'It had a beautiful Iranian woven Oriental rug. There were chairs along the wall. ... And he speaks very softly, so it's not a matter of sitting around the table, you know, hammering out stuff. It was a very quiet conversation,' Chane says.

In that quiet voice, Khamenei spoke of his country's historic involvement with the West.

'He said it had been hurtful,' Chane says. 'It had inhibited its ability to become an independent nation. ... It was unwelcomed.'"

Read the full article here.

There's an interesting related article on the San Francisco Chronicle website that describes how muslim investors have managed to avoid ruin in the financial markets these past few months by their adherence to Islamic investment principles rather than those of western financial institutions.

The PB reflects on the relationship between religion and science

The world is marking the two hundredth anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. Anniversaries are often an opportunity to take stock of where one is and how one arrived there, and this anniversary is not an exception. There's been a number of pieces published online all week discussing how Darwin's work that laid the basis of the modern theory of Evolution has caused a rethinking of the role of God within the natural order.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, a research oceanographer by training, is particularly well suited to speaking to this taking stock. There's a long article on the Religious News Service's site that is based on an extensive conversation with her on this topic.

She speaks of how she struggled to make her faith fit with her scientific training and interesting how her scientific training has informed her theological reasoning:

"‘How to make sense of the wonders of creation and the scientific descriptions of how they came to be,’ Jefferts Schori recalled in an interview in her office here, ‘I hadn’t had any conscious assistance in how to deal with that as a child.’

[...]Her election was a seminal moment for the worldwide Anglican Communion, in which the vast majority of countries do not have women bishops. Yet Jefferts Schori said her scientific training, not her gender, is more unique and pertinent to her current job.

‘It’s been a long time since somebody trained in the way I have been has held an office in the church like this,’ she said. ‘My way of looking at the world is shaped by my training as a scientist—to look carefully, and collect data and make hypotheses.’"

Read the full article here.

Episcopal Church joins Pittsburgh lawsuit

The Episcopal Church has asked to be made party to the lawsuit between Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh and the part of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh that has followed Bishop Duncan in the Anglican Church of North America.

Lionel Deimel, an Episcopalian in Pittsburgh, has a post up with the details of the development:

"An objection that the defendants have raised more than once in the lawsuit filed by Calvary Church against now-deposed bishop Robert Duncan and other (now former) leaders of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is that Calvary had no right to sue without The Episcopal Church’s being a party to the suit. Well, Archbishop-in-Waiting Duncan seems about to get his wish. Papers were filed today in the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas on behalf of Bishop John C. Buchanan, Retired Bishop of West Missouri and parliamentarian of the House of Bishops. In a ‘petition to intervene,’ Buchanan, representing The Episcopal Church, asks the court to become a plaintiff in the case."

Read Lionel's full post here.

If you would like to see how our church is explaining its governance to the secular courts, have a look at this cogent filing. Update: Lionel has added analysis of the denomination's complaint-in-intervention

Chicago Consultation: full Inclusion and Anglican Communion

The Chicago Consultation, a group of Anglicans committed to the full inclusion of GLBT Christians in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, has released a statement following its meeting this week. The statement calls for the Episcopal Church to continue its commitment to the Anglican Communion and calls for the Episcopal Church to commit to a process the would ultimately lead to liturgies to be used for blessing same-sex unions. Additionally the Consultation calls for the removal of any restrictions that would keep gay and lesbian clergy in committed relationships from serving as bishops.

The full release can be found following:

Read more »

Fred Barnes' unique brand of journalism

Fred Barnes, member of The Falls Church, Nigerian, board member of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, and perpetrator of smears against Bishop Gene Robinson continues to practice his unique brand of journalism. Check out Talking Points Memo:

Paging Obama's new environmental team: Fred Barnes has some crucial new information about global warming -- it's not man-made apparently!

Problem is, Barnes won't tell us how he knows that -- but maybe he'll tell you. ....

We hadn't heard anything lately about the case for man-made global warming falling apart. In fact, just the opposite. So we called Barnes and asked him what he was referring to.

At first, he cited the fact that it's been cold lately.

Saint Valentine's Day

At Religion Dispatches, Louis A. Reprecht asks, "How have we gone from a beheaded priest to a giddy worldwide day of romantic love? In a word: the widespread conviction that love is a dizzying sacrifice."

Alison Des Forges, rest in peace

Writing at The Revealer, Jeff Sharlet says:

Among the dead of Continental Flight 3407 was a 66-year-old historian and activist named Alison Des Forges. In a short essay about the Rwandan genocide for The Revealer in 2004, I referred to Des Forges' 1999 book on the subject, Leave None to Tell the Story, as "a painful masterwork." That did not do the book justice. It is a modern scripture, a designation it deserves not just for its exposure of the fact that the genocide had roots in bad biblical scholarship, a misreading of Genesis applied to ethnicity in Rwanda. I first encountered Des Forges and her work while researching a story about debates between scholars of the genocide for The Chronicle of Higher Education. I wrote then that:

Ms. Des Forges, also an activist for Human Rights Watch, is the main author (with eight other researchers) of the most comprehensive study of the killing: Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda (Human Rights Watch, 1999). At nearly 800 pages, it is less a narrative or an analysis than a horrifying collage; with the instincts of a novelist and the precision of an architect, Ms. Des Forges collected and compiled eyewitness testimonies, diplomatic dispatches, minutes of local meetings, datebooks of murderers, radio show transcripts, inventories of weapons. On one page she reproduces a receipt for 25,662 kilograms of machetes to be delivered to one of the genocide's conspirators nearly half a year before the killing began.

Charles Darwin on faith

Charles Darwin was born on the same day as Abraham Lincoln, and thus we celebrate the 200th anniversary of both great men this week. Scientific American this week published a fictional interview of Darwin that first appeared in the German publication Spektrum. The questions in this fictitious interview were posed by Christoph Marty. The answers are original quotes from Charles Darwin from a variety of sources, and some of the answers deal with Darwin's faith:

Did you have doubts about the content of truth in the Holy Scriptures even while you were on the Beagle? On board the Beagle I was completely orthodox, and I recall how several officers laughed at heartily when I quoted the Bible as an irrefutable source on some point of morality. But during the period from 1836 to 1839, I had slowly come to understand that the Old Testament, with its evidently wrong history of the world, its Tower of Babel, its rainbow as a sign, and tendency of ascribing to God the sentiments of a revengeful tyrant, were no more worthy of credence than the holy scriptures of the Hindus or the beliefs of a savage. Despite all my powers of deluding myself, it became more and more difficult to find proof enough to satisfy me.

And that is how faithlessness stalked me and took hold over me slowly, till I became totally disbelieving.

So you are an atheist?
I think it would be more and more appropriate to call me an agnostic, in general and as age advances.

Do you see your lack of faith as a loss, then?
Disbelief crept in on me so slowly that I did not feel any discomfort, and since then, never have a doubted for even a single second the correctness of my conclusions. And I cannot really understand, either, how anyone might want to believe that Christianity were true, because if it were, then, in the plain terms of the text, it is said that people who do not believe would be punished for eternity, and that would include my father, my brother and almost all my best friends. And that is a terrible doctrine!

Read it all here.

A Catholic scientist reconciles faith and science

Dr Isis, a physiologist at a major research university, blogs under that assumed name at Science Blogs, where Christian believers are usually treat with ridicule. In a post this week, however, Dr Isis "came out" as a Catholic and tries to explain how she sees no conflict between her faith and her work as a scientist:

But, it was Ewan's comment that most intrigued me -- the question of whether it is possible to adhere to an organized religion and still value analytical science. In addition, how does one discuss the intersection of the two without being offensive. The answer is, I plain ole don't know because I have never seen science and faith as being exclusive. There is a big difference between Catholicism and evangelical Christianity, especially when it comes to things like evolution. As a scientist I conduct research the same way everyone else does (or, so I assume), guided by the scientific method. I attempt to interpret my data using my current knowledge of physiology, and I don't think I have ever turned to I Thessalonians for information on endothelial-mediated vasodilation. Besides, everyone knows that all of the hot cardiovascular stuff is in I Corinthians.

I simply don't see my science guided by my faith, except in as much as my life is guided by my faith. I believe it is terrible hubris to say that there must be a God because there are things that I cannot understand or that appear mystical. On the other hand, I think it is an equal display of hubris to contend that, because I can take a physiological phenomenon and apply a mathematical construct to it, there must be no God. And thusly, I am perfectly content to spend my days trying to uncover physiological mysteries while being simultaneously content spending Sundays pondering that I may never fully understand the miracle of transsubstantiation.

She does note, however, that her religious beliefs do affect how she does here work:

But, this doesn't mean that my science is not affected daily by my Catholicism. Most specifically, my faith influences how we conduct experiments with human research volunteers. I believe very strongly in the dignity of the human person (for an interesting read, see Paul VI's Dignitatis Humanae and the new instructions on Dignitas Personae. I think my fair atheist friends will be especially interested in Dignitatis Humanae.) and I try to conduct my work in a way that respects the personhood of those we collect data from. This is not to say that I believe that one must be Catholic in order to respect individual autonomy and conduct ethical research. I don't believe that being an atheist provides carte blanche to behave like an ass. However, it would be dishonest for me to claim that my personal motivations do not stem directly from religious principle.

Read it all here. Be sure to read the comments!

Only 4 in 10 believe in evolution

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This week the Gallup Poll released a survey showing that only one in four Americans believe in evolution, and that the percentage drops dramatically for those who attend church weekly:

On the eve of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, a new Gallup Poll shows that only 39% of Americans say they "believe in the theory of evolution," while a quarter say they do not believe in the theory, and another 36% don't have an opinion either way. These attitudes are strongly related to education and, to an even greater degree, religiosity.

. . .

Darwin's theory has been at the forefront of religious debate since he published On the Origin of Species 150 years ago. Even to this day, highly religious individuals claim that the theory of evolution contradicts the story of creation as outlined in the book of Genesis in the Bible.

Thus, it comes as no surprise to find that there is a strong relationship between church attendance and belief in evolution in the current data. Those who attend church most often are the least likely to say they believe in evolution.

Previous Gallup research shows that the rate of church attendance is fairly constant across educational groups, suggesting that this relationship is not owing to an underlying educational difference but instead reflects a direct influence of religious beliefs on belief in evolution.

Read it all here.

New polling on importance of religion by nation

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The Gallup poll this week surveyed the importance of religion across the world. The survey finds that, as a nation, the United States is below the medium for religious belief, but that some states (like Alabama) rival nationals like Iran:

Are Americans among the most religious people in the world? The answer depends on which "world" you're talking about. If you're referring to the entire planet, the answer is plainly "no." In 2006, 2007, and 2008, Gallup asked representative samples in 143 countries and territories whether religion was an important part of their daily lives. The accompanying map shows religiosity by country, ranging from the least religious to the most religious on a relative basis. Across all populations, the median proportion of residents who said religion is important in their daily lives is 82%. Americans fall well below this midpoint, at 65%.

. . .

Social scientists have noted that one thing that makes Americans distinctive is our high level of religiosity relative to other rich-world populations. Among 27 countries commonly seen as part of the developed world, the median proportion of those who say religion is important in their daily lives is just 38%. From this perspective, the fact two-thirds of Americans respond this way makes us look extremely devout.

What's more, as Gallup's Frank Newport recently pointed out, there is wide regional variation in religiosity across the 50 American states. The proportion of those who say religion is important in their daily lives is highest in Mississippi, at 85% -- a figure that is slightly higher than the worldwide median (among all countries, rich and poor). Two others, Alabama (82%) and South Carolina (80%) are on par with the worldwide median.

The entire survey is fascinating. Read it all here.

Becoming church in a new era

In this week's article Alban Institute discusses the dynamics of becoming church when demographics change or when the local church has become stagnant and static. Narrative Leadership is a new tool in assisting needed change. This summer at General Convention a similar process will be undertaken:

How do congregations make the shift from nostalgia to a new story like neighborhood? What kind of leadership is needed--by pastors and lay leaders--to move beyond the stuck places of "we’ve always done it this way" to a new way of listening for "where are we being led?" Gifted pastors, rabbis, and lay leaders who lead well in times of transition are able to guide their congregations in shaping a new kind of story based in part on reframing the strengths and obstacles of their past. Great public leaders have been marked by such "narrative leadership," from Lincoln to FDR to Reagan and, as many hope, to Obama.

Alban recommends some of the lessons learned by Interim Ministers in their work with churches in transition. Narrative Leadership draws out stories of faith to help with the tasks of coming to terms with history, cultivating new leaders, reconnecting with the denomination, and discovering a new or renewed identity.

Read it here.

The real world of Slumdog Millionaire

With the new film Slumdog Millionaire currently grabbing headlines and awards, there is growing awareness of these slums of India. The Rev. Canon Pat Atkinson's dedication to helping some of the very poorest people in the world has led to her being called Norfolk's Mother Teresa. reports on the work of Church of England Deacon Atkinson.

...young beggar's life was transformed too - from a shack built on untreated sewage in the city of Mellawassal, he went on to take a university degree in botany, supported by the trust. And there have been many more like him since.

“I have watched a generation of children grow up but another generation has come on behind them, so it is impossible to ignore them,” she says.

“Some of our older children are now coming back as volunteers, and we have so much support from people in Norfolk. We are worried now because of the economic downturn which is certainly hitting all charitable giving, but in many ways we are not worried because people have shown us such loyalty and love."


Read about the work here.

100,000 gathered in Brazil to save the world

Religion Dispatches reports:

Liberation theology is alive and well in Belem, Brazil. Where? Did you say Davos, Switzerland, where 2,500 economic movers and shakers recently concluded their annual meeting of World Economic Forum at a cost of a quarter million dollars apiece? (Pricey vacation in these troubled times.) No, I said Belem, Brazil, where the World Social Forum, the antidote to Davos, gathered over 100,000 social activists and academics for 1,500 workshops and presentations in late January.

Get out your map: Belem is in the north of Brazil, in the state of Para, part of the Amazon region which takes up space four times the size of Germany, with Greece tossed in for good measure. More than two thousand indigenous people came for the Forum, some travelling a week on the Amazon.

Apparently, CNN does not do mosquito nets or endangered rainforests, preferring the picturesque ski runs of Davos for winter holidays. So, news on this remarkable gathering was scarce.


Read it all here

More on The World Forum on Theology and LIberation.

Comments from the Anglican Church in Brazil on the Forum here. The Secretary General of the Province of Brazil asks why there is no presence from the Anglican Communion and writes:

Some people asks about why our church is institutionally involved and so continuously with this movement, which still arouses suspicion in the mass media. Here, some arguments to justify the relevance of such commitment.

1. It is a movement that appears to be the opposite side to the World Economic Forum, who includes the most powerful people in the world and that over time has maintained a model socially unjust and responsible for exclusions of billions of people around the world.

2. It is a movement that has no religious characterization and / or ideological control of their actions.

3. It is a movement of convergence around the deep wish for another world possible.


Read it all here.

Chaplains create sustainable Christian house

The Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows and the Rev. Gail Riina were discussing their ideas for different types of living communities, both religious and environmentally friendly, when they realized the two could go hand in hand.
The Syracuse Daily Orange carries the story.

This fall, the house will be home to four SU students, who will focus on living eco-friendly lives, while sharing their faith with housemates...

While in the house, residents will engage in several environmental and religious activities, including growing and harvesting their own individual plots of land, buying produce from local farmers markets, participating in group prayer sessions and committing to community service projects, Baskerville-Burrows said.

"It's not easy to make commitments to sustainability," Riina said, "So we need a community."

The four-bedroom house, owned by Grace Episcopal Church for more than 50 years, was vacated after Baskerville-Burrows, the Episcopal chaplain at SU and Grace Episcopal Church, moved to another part of Syracuse. The church was seeking another ministry-oriented purpose for the house when Baskerville-Burrows and Riina held their lunch meeting.


Read more here.

Note to Cafe´readers:

Our fearless editor in chief Jim Naughton says, "I got my first paying newspaper job there (work study on the copy desk) and was editor in chief my soph/jr year."

Thanks Syracuse Daily Orange!

Thomas Jefferson and miracles

AARP Magazine tells the story of the Jefferson Bible and explores people's ideas about miracles. Today is Presidents Day, a holiday to honor Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays. Here is the story of another president, one who shocked the faith world of his day:

What [Smithsonian] holds is Thomas Jefferson’s 1820 Bible, though a closer look reveals this to be no ordinary Bible. The author of the Declaration of Independence had used a razor to meticulously excise favored passages from a pair of King James Bibles and pasted them onto blank, bound pages. Left behind: every miracle, every hint of the divinity of Jesus. So Jefferson’s New Testament has no loaves and fishes, no walking on water, no water into wine, no Resurrection. Jefferson dismissed such passages as superstition. What he wanted was something more straightforward, as reflected in the title he gave the work: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.

“This project was purely of the Enlightenment: rewrite the Bible,” says Rubenstein, head of the museum’s division of politics and reform. Jefferson’s experiment ran squarely against the grain of American culture, adds Barbara Clark Smith, a Smithsonian expert in 18th-century America. “He was attacked,” she says. “People wrote he was an infidel.”

To this day, there are those who stand aghast at Jefferson’s chutzpah, and that raises a fair question: Does faith exist without miracles? Are there miracles at all, and if not, just how do we explain those events that inevitably become defined as such?


Read it all here.

God answers our prayers for unity

Neither proponents nor opponents of women in the episcopate will go away, says Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, so we had better agree to disagree. Or at least learn how to coexist. Canon Rosalind Brown suggests that the Bishop is the focus of unity for the church when she or he models reconciliation.

Avril Ormsby, reporting for Reuters, says that the ABC spoke about how the sides of issue will have to live together within the Church of England as women bishops become a reality.

The archbishop said traditionalists and liberals shared a belief in the scripture, whatever the diversity of interpretation, and should "recognise that the other person or community or tradition is not simply going to go away"

"They are not just going to be defeated and silenced," he added. "Some of course may in one sense 'go away' to another Christian communion; but even then they will still be there as fellow-Christians, fellow missioners and fellow disciples, and the debate will not be over just because one local jurisdiction has made a decision.

"But many do not want to go away in that sense at all. They want to be part of the same family still. And this means that some dreams of purity and clarity are not going to be realised."

The archbishop offered hope of accommodation by saying both groups had "to some extent turned their backs on the fantasy of a Church that is 'pure' in their own terms, in favour of a Church that is honest about its diversity -- even when that diversity seems at first embarrassing and unwelcome".

The Rev. Canon Rosalind Brown, Residentiary Canon at Durham Cathedral, offered a vision of what this might look like in her July 2008 sermon "Angels in Confined Spaces."

I was among women in the Church of England invited to a conference with women bishops from around the world just after the Synod vote earlier this month. It was a strange experience to worship together knowing, in the light of the vote, that the first female bishop in the Church of England was almost certainly among us.

There was a steady yet hopeful mood, rather than jubilation, as we focused on "Transfiguring Episcopé", what the episcopate might be in the future as God transforms the church. The atmosphere was totally different to that in the media in the days after the vote - still looking for stories of division, the media focussed almost exclusively on what could go wrong: schism, years of wrangling, feelings of anger and anguish, etc. etc. At the conference, the emphasis was so very different: yes, we recognised there could be a demanding road ahead particularly for our brothers and sisters in the church for whom this is an unwelcome decision, but there was hope of a way of release for everyone, not just those who look forward to women in the episcopate.

It was as I imagine it was when the angel shone light in Peter's cell, the ground had shifted and hope was tangible. And the reason for this transformation lay in part with the stories of good practice which the female bishops told us, the ways that they have found to work with parishes and individuals who cannot accept women in the episcopate but nevertheless have come to respect their bishop and the careful provision she has made for them.

There are stories of reconciliation and mutual respect that need to be heard in this country before we succumb to the usual despair that the vote inevitably means disaster and departures. So we heard the story of one Forward in Faith parish for which the bishop has provided a male bishop acceptable to the parish to fulfil some of her episcopal ministry among them but which, when there was a major pastoral crisis in the parish, turned to her for episcopal ministry rather than to him. Why? Because the gospel of reconciliation has been worked at and lived out by both bishop and parish and they trust one another.

A bishop is a focus of unity for the church; we tend to assume that means we all like our bishop and agree with him or her and if we don't then he or she isn't a focus of unity, but what the experience of female bishops working with these parishes tells us is that to be a focus of unity for the church is to model reconciliation so that peoples who might normally be divided, even estranged, can recognise their unity through and with him or her.

There were so many similar stories from around the world that we were left wondering how the Church of England could have set up working parties to produce various reports on women in the episcopate, including the Manchester report which was debated at Synod, without consulting a single female bishop about her ministry. If we listen to their experience we can have sure hope that God answers prayer for unity. If we say that the consecration of women to the episcopate means inevitable split, we have not allowed for angels in confined spaces.

Hearing the voices of healthcare chaplains

Dr. Wendy Cadge, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, spent some time with hospital chaplains doing their ministry. She found that hospital chaplains are involved in almost everything that happens at a hospital. Chaplains are present for births and deaths and listen to patients and their families in times of crisis and decision. Chaplains take part in committees which can range in scope from ethics committees, to hospice teams, to employee wellness committees. Chaplains train nurses and medical students. But for all their good work, Cadge says that they have little voice when it comes to public conversations about religion and medicine in this country.

She writes in Religious Dispatches:

I interviewed chaplains across the country who, in addition to caring for patients and families around end of life issues, respond to all trauma pages, preside at bedside weddings and baptisms, sit on ethics committees, work with organ donations, and help to train medical and nursing students.

Despite this work, healthcare chaplains have not made consistent contributions to broader public conversations about religion, spirituality, health and medicine in the contemporary United States. This results, in part, from their small numbers. Researchers estimate that there are 10,000 healthcare chaplains across the country. Colleagues and I found that between 1980 and 2003, 54% to 64% of hospitals had chaplaincy services, with no systematic trend over the period. In 1993 and 2003, smaller hospitals and those in rural areas were less likely to have chaplaincy services while church operated hospitals were much more likely to have chaplains. Little is known about how many chaplains these hospitals had, from what spiritual and religious backgrounds, and with what responsibilities.

Read more »

Stories of rebuilding New Orleans

Readers Digest tells the stories of the people who are still, four years after Katrina, rebuilding New Orleans.

Included is the story of the Bishop of Louisiana, The Rt. Rev. Charles Jenkins.

Watching TV coverage of the scene inside the Convention Center, he saw a black woman holding a sign: "I am an American too." He went onto the patio alone as helicopters streamed across the sky. "I was near despair, thinking I did not have what it takes to respond to the human need in my city," he says. "I began crying."

Then he told himself, My job is to make the comfortable aware of the powerless. Jenkins started working the phones with national church leaders, seeking money for the worst -- hit areas.

Six weeks later, he returned to his dry house on St. Charles Avenue. Driving through ruined neighborhoods, he saw that the city's health care system had collapsed and people needed shelter. He raised the salaries needed for a pediatrician and a nurse at a walk-in clinic, guided the church in distributing food and clothing, and launched an emergency program to build houses for low-income residents. He has led the effort to build and sell 13 homes; 17 more are under construction.

In April, with the city poised for a crackdown on the homeless population, which doubled after Katrina, Jenkins raised his voice with black community activists to oppose an ordinance that would have mandated arresting anyone who refused to go to a shelter. The council backed down. "We have a moral obligation," he insists, "to individuals who have fallen through the cracks."

Read the rest here.

A newer, greener convent

The Community of the Holy Spirit has designed a newer, smaller convent that will be both simpler to maintain and significantly reduce their carbon footprint. This comes after a decade of increasing environmental awareness to their ministries of teaching and spiritual direction.

The New York Times writes:

In setting out to construct an environmentally advanced building to replace the trio of connected brownstones that they now call home, the Episcopal sisters of the Community of the Holy Spirit were taking a giant step in their decade-long journey to weave ecological concerns into their daily ministry. While they have long tried to reduce their carbon footprint at 113th Street, the new convent, for which construction will begin in March, will help them be green from the ground up....

The site of the new building, on Convent Avenue at 150th Street, is currently an empty lot. But if all goes as planned, then by the spring of 2010, the eight nuns of the Community of the Holy Spirit, most of whom are in their 50s and 60s, will be living in a home that reflects the environmental ethos that has become a central tenet of their lives....

About 10 years ago, the sisters began to discuss a mission to care for the environment. They may embrace environmental concerns more tightly than do many other religious orders, but it is their religion, they say, that was their bridge to a green life.

Read the whole story here.

A church full of clowns

If you are coulrophobic, you may want to pass on the following story, otherwise read on and learn about the the Clowns International Annual Service that took place at Holy Trinity Church in Hackney, in Greater London, England.

Given the widely touted decline of Christianity in Britain and the desperation of many of its churches to get bums on pews, any church that has people huffing and puffing in indignation about queue-jumpers is doing well.

The secret to this success? Clowns, a whole troop of them. The service that I was fighting so desperately to get into was the Clowns International Annual Service. It has been held on the first Sunday in February every year since 1946 to honour Joseph Grimaldi, the father of modern clowning, and to celebrate and encourage those generous souls who juggle and giggle, tumble and trip, wobble on unicycles and generally offer themselves up for our entertainment.

The service was led by the Reverend Roly Bain, an incongruous blend of cleric and clown. His dog collar was pretty standard for an Anglican priest but the long checkered robes and rouged cheeks with crosses in the middle distinguished him from the average vicar.

Read the rest here.

ABC hires a Secretary for Anglican Communion Affairs

Lambeth Palace announces the appointment of The Rev. Joanna Udal to serve as the Secretary for Anglican Communion Affairs.

From the press release:

Since 2001, Canon Joanna has been serving in the Sudan as Assistant to the Archbishop of the Sudan, an appointment made jointly through the Church Mission Society and Lambeth Palace. In this work she has travelled widely in Sudan and internationally, supporting the Archbishop in his public ministry.

Read more »

Anti-retroviral medication withdrawn in the Free State

ACNS:

The Synod of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, meeting at Modderpoort in the Free State from 16 to 20 February 2009, have been shocked at the news that the Provincial Department of Health in the Free State has withdrawn anti-retroviral medication from HIV positive patients because of shortage of funds.
Read it all.

Read more »

Fight against poverty unites some on Christian left and right

Christian Science Monitor:

On Tuesday, a new bipartisan group called the Poverty Forum released a series of specific proposals aimed at reducing domestic poverty and keeping Americans hit by the economic crisis from joining the ranks of the poor. The group of 18 leaders – headed by the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, and Michael Gerson, President Bush's former speechwriter and policy adviser – has worked since November to develop concrete antipoverty policies they hope will gain widespread support.

Read more »

Men and women sin in different ways

BBC:

A Catholic survey found that the most common sin for women was pride, while for men, the urge for food was only surpassed by the urge for sex.

The report was based on a study of confessions carried out by Fr Roberto Busa, a 95-year-old Jesuit scholar. The Pope's personal theologian backed up the report in the Vatican newspaper.

Read more »

UK civil partnerships highly stable

Roger Bamber, a partner and joint head of the national family law team at Mills & Reeve LLP, explains why it is a happy third anniversary for civil partnerships in the UK:

Since the first civil partnerships were registered on December 21, 2005, there have been 26,787 registered in the UK. What is remarkable is the relatively low number that have since been dissolved. ... [T]he number of dissolutions in 2007 (effectively the first year in which they could take place) amounts to just 42. When comparing those figures with the most recent analysis of divorces, there were considerably more new marriages breaking up after a year. In 2005 there were 273,069 marriages in England and Wales. Of those marriages, 3,190 have been dissolved within one year — 1.17 per cent of marriages have failed during this period compared with 0.15 per cent of civil partnerships.

Read more »

The end of alone

Neil Swidely in The Boston Globe Magazine:

"We've gone from an American ethic that championed the lone guy on a horseback to an ethic of managing multiple data streams," says Dalton Conley, a sociology professor at New York University and author of the new book Elsewhere, U.S.A.: How We Got From the Company Man, Family Dinners, and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, BlackBerry Moms, and Economic Anxiety. "It's very hard for people to unplug and be alone -- and be with the one data stream of their mind."

What's fueling this? Conley says it's anxiety borne out of a deep-seated fear that we're being left out of something, somewhere, and that we may lose out on advancement in our work, social, or family lives if we truly check out. "The anxiety of being alone drives this behavior to constantly respond and Twitter and text, but the very act of doing it creates the anxiety."

This is particularly true among young people, mainly because they don't know life when it wasn't like this.

Brian McLaren on The Episcopal Moment

Today on the Daily Episcopalian blog, we are featuring the full-length video of The Episcopal Moment, Brian McLaren's keynote presentation on faith-sharing and evangelism to the annual convention of the Diocese of Washington. If you have any interest in helping our Church find a way forward in its effort to improve its evangelism, please make the time to watch.

Legal affairs round-up

Incremental developments in the legal action in Virginia and Colorado, where the Episcopal Church is attempting to reclaim its property from people who think they are entitled to parting gifts when they leave a church.

From the Fairfax Times:

A two-year-old church property dispute between Episcopalians and Anglicans appears to be on its way to the Virginia Supreme Court.

On Feb. 3, The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia together filed an appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court hoping to overturn a Dec. 19 decision by Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows in favor of the Anglican District of Virginia, known as ADV.

From the Colorado Springs Gazette:

Grace senior warden Jon Wroblewski and Grace rector Donald Armstrong are expected to testify on Thursday about breaking ties with the Episcopal Church to align with the Anglican Communion province in Nigeria, and how this act suggests that the parish is its own corporation. The trial begins at 8:30 a.m. at Fourth Judicial Court, Judge Larry Schwartz's courtroom.

Meanwhile, Lionel Deimel has the latest from Pittsburgh. The diocese has recently written to its clergy and lay leaders:

Please remind your parishioners that we are stewards not owners of assets entrusted to our responsibility and that, at least for assets of the Diocese, a stipulation was signed three years ago defining clearly the outcome of any dispute. We are hopeful that a determination will be reached quickly so that the mission and ministry of our Diocese may be freed from further distraction.

And, finally, there is this from Milwaukee.


Lutherans to test the local option on gay clergy?

From the Associated Press:

The nation's largest Lutheran denomination will consider allowing individual congregations to choose whether to allow gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as clergy, an attempt to avoid the sort of infighting that has threatened to tear other churches apart.

A task force of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recommended that course Thursday in a long-awaited report on ministry standards. The panel, however, said the church needs to clarify a number of questions before overhauling its gay clergy policy.

The report, issued at the same time as a broader church social statement on human sexuality, seeks balance on an issue dividing many Protestant churches. Both documents will be considered in August in Minneapolis at the biannual convention of the 4.7-million member denomination.

"At this point, there is no consensus in the church," said the Rev. Peter Strommen of Prior Lake, Minn., chairman of the 15-member task force on sexuality. "The question ends up being, 'How are we going to live together in that absence of consensus?'


Addendum. See, also, the Grand Forks Herald.

A prayer for rich and poor in the current globlal crisis

By Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane

Dear God,

The crises that have overtaken the world in the recent past and which continue to rain havoc upon your people reveal how much lies in the realm of what we don’t know. Suddenly, it has dawned upon us that so much is hidden from the human mind. But we know that what is hidden from us is not hidden from you. We know also that you reveal secrets to those who seek you and acknowledge their limitations in always finding the correct solutions.

And so we pray that you raise leaders that are prepared to right the many wrongs that have beset us for so long, so that good may prevail over evil; equity over selfishness; integrity over hypocrisy; and fair play over greed and recklessness.

As the crises intensify, those who have will be tempted to hold on to what they have, become less generous and ignore even more the realities of the weak and vulnerable. So we pray that you do not lead them into that temptation but deliver them from their selfish tendencies and endow them with changed attitudes and new lenses through which to view the world. This way they may come to the realization that they are only stewards of the resources you have given to us. Unless they put these resources to the service of others, their accumulated value becomes corrupted, rusts and fades, ultimately losing much, if not all, their luster and market value at the stock exchange, in a twinkling of an eye. Dear God, we have seen it all happen before our very eyes.

We also pray that while the so-called ‘perfect storm’ rages on, the spirit of Ubuntu will prevail. You have taught us that true religion is to care for the widows and the orphans and all who are weak, vulnerable and in distress; who eke out a precarious living and barely survive. Through these crises you have focused attention on their plight by, in a strange way, threatening the complacency of those who have lived in comfort and by and large ignored the plight of the man, woman and child “who has fallen by the wayside”. As in the story of the ‘Good Samaritan’, they have passed by on the other side when children slept hungry, fed from rubbish heaps or died of malaria. Occasionally they have thrown a few alms in the form of aid, but without thinking deeply about the consequences of their actions or inactions. Often, they have hardly bothered to know how much of what they have given reaches the intended beneficiaries, which in the donor world, has become “holy ground”.

The gap between what is promised and what is given and that between inputs and outcomes, like the gap between the rich and the poor, is always widening. This is against your laws of love, kindness, justice and equity and our African spirit of Ubuntu.

Through these crises the plight of the over 1 billion people who live in exclusion, poverty and hunger and whose dignity is on the rocks has become a near-reality for those who live and pass on “the other side” in relative comfort and luxury. We pray, not that you take away this comfort completely, but that the lessons of the global meltdown may lead to a return to solidarity and the spirit of sharing for both the local and global community.

So we pray. Amen

Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane is the President and Founder of the African Monitor and former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town.

Phelps banned from Britain

Members of Fred Phelps' church, Westboro Baptist Church, were barred from traveling to Great Britain yesterday effectively blocking their plans to protest at British school production of the Laramie Project.

Phelps' followers are well known to many Episcopalians as they have protested and taunted parishioners at many Episcopal churches here in the United States over the last decade or so. They've become a staple at General Conventions as well. They are well known for protesting at the funerals of service men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The British Government blocked the entry of members of the group citing concerns, among others, about possible violence their activities might induce.

Mrs Phelps was upset.

"She called the British government 'filthy' for thinking they had the power 'to keep the word of God from coming into her borders'.

The UK Border Agency said it opposed 'extremism in all its forms'.

A spokesman added: 'Both these individuals have engaged in unacceptable behaviour by inciting hatred against a number of communities."

Read the full article here.

Ekklesia has more:

The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Evangelical Alliance UK, Faithworks, the Methodist Church of Great Britain, the United Reformed Church and Bible Society-funded thintank Theos said: “We are dismayed that members of Westboro Baptist Church (based in Kansas, USA and not associated with the Baptist Union of Great Britain) might picket the performance of The Laramie Project in Basingstoke on Friday ... “We do not share [Westboro's] hatred of lesbian and gay people. We believe that God loves all, irrespective of sexual orientation, and we unreservedly stand against their message of hate toward those communities."

Anglicans in the Americas looking to cooperate in mission work

Representatives of the Anglican Communion churches in the Americas will be gathering next week to share with each other what they are doing in mission in this hemisphere and to see how they might most effectively cooperate with each other.

The eight provinces working in concert with the Anglican Communion Office of Mission and Evangelism will gather for a five day meeting in San José, Costa Rica.

The full release follows:

Read more »

Rowan Williams at General Convention?

We have heard from a pair of well-placed and unrelated sources that Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, may be coming to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Anaheim in July. These reports are still unconfirmed, but details from the two sources are similar. They suggest the ABC would arrive on the first or second day of the convention, possibly participate in some sort of forum about the world economic situation, offer a meditation at the daily Eucharist on the third day of convention and then depart. A number of other Primates are invited as well. We will keep you posted.

Susan Russell weighs in.

Churches start giving financial advice

With the downturn in the economy people are struggling to learn how to manage their finances in a new and difficult setting. A somewhat surprising turn of events has significant numbers turning to their local churches to find support and advice.

CNN is reporting:

"Programs that teach debt elimination, financial literacy and money management are gaining popularity among the faithful who are seeking some stability in the midst of uncertain times.

[...]Khalfani-Cox, who provides [such a] program free for churches, said she is hearing from places of worship, both big and small, nationwide who want to offer resources to their members.

'In faith-based communities, if you ask pastors across the country, many will tell you that attendance is up; however donations are down,' said Khalfani-Cox, who is known as the Money Coach. 'People are turning to the church for help, whether it's help making their mortgage payment, putting in a prayer request, assistance in finding a job or just getting practical, day-to-day strategies for managing debt.'"

Read the full article here.

Is your local congregation using these sorts of programs to help folks who are suddenly struggling? (Ours is one of a number here in Phoenix so doing.) How has the response effectiveness been so far for you?

Congressmen meet with Jerusalem bishop

Bishop Suheil S. Dawani, the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, met with members of Congress earlier this week. The members are traveling in Israel and will be visiting Gaza next. One of the members is the only Muslim serving in the Congress at the moment.

According to a story on Episcopal Life:

During the 70 minute meeting, Dawani briefed the two men on the work and mission of the diocese and its involvement in ecumenical and interfaith endeavors in the five countries served by the Diocese of Jerusalem since the inception of an Anglican presence in Jerusalem in 1841.

What's Jesus got to do with it?

From Politico:

After watching liberal allies of President Barack Obama flood the airwaves in support of the stimulus bill, a conservative third-party group is countering with a provocative new commercial using Jesus Christ to emphasize the scale of the $787 billion package.

The American Issues Project, which briefly aired a TV spot in last year's presidential race, will go up on Friday with a TV spot that marks the dollars spent with the passage of time.

“Suppose you spent $1 million every single day starting from the day Jesus was born — and kept spending through today,” says the announcer as an image of the three wise men flashes on the screen. “A million dollars a day for more than 2,000 years. You would still have spent less money than Congress just did.”

The Washington Monthly is amused.

HIV positive Ugandan priest wins Niwano Peace Prize

Episcopal Life reports on an HIV positive Ugandan priest who has won the 2009 Niwano Peace Prize for breaking the silence in faith communities on HIV/AIDS.

The Rev. Canon Gideon Byamugisha, a Ugandan Anglican priest who became the first known African cleric to declare publicly he was HIV-positive, breaking stigma-induced silence that often hampers combating the illness, has been awarded the Niwano Peace Prize.

Read more »

Is church membership an outdated concept?

At Theolog, the blog of the Christian Century, Amy Frykholm asks whether we need a more rigorous concept to church membership, or a more flexible one:

A pastor of a large and dynamic congregation recently told me that church membership was for his congregation a "largely outdated concept." The church, he suggested, had become a more fluid place, where lifelong commitment to a specific body of believers was not central. He was convinced that the church could be a loving, vibrant, whole community without an emphasis on membership.

I wasn't shocked to hear this. It took me more than eight years in my small Episcopal church, during which I became a lay leader and my son was baptized, to become an official member. It was the first time I had formally joined any religious body, so I am familiar with a degree of discomfort around the question of membership.

Edwin Chr. Van Driel, writing in Theology Today, advocates for a more rigorous understanding of church membership, something more on the order of divine covenant than free choice (article not available online; but the current Century Marks includes a short summary). Disgruntled members who want to transfer their membership, for example, might be told, "We cannot do this... We are fully committed to working on this, however difficult and painful it might be for all of us." How likely is that to take place in your church?

Faith in the voting booth: looking back at November

Over at Spiritual Politics, Mark Silk is still poring over the data on how religious voters cast their ballots in the presidential election.

In Slicing the evangelicals he writes:

The point, obviously, is that young evangelicals are the future of the voting bloc, and if they hew to their 2008 preferences, the solid 3-1 GOP majorities that evangelicals have turned in for the past few elections is in jeopardy.

In Traditionalist Catholics Heart Obama he argues as follows:

If I'm right and Traditionalist Catholics have more of a problem voting for a pro-choice Catholic than a pro-choice non-Catholic, that's both good and bad news for conservative Catholic hierarchs and intellectuals. On the one hand, it suggests that the message that Catholic politicians should be pro-life (delivered delicately if unmistakably by the pope to Speaker Pelosi yesterday) has definitely gotten through to the old-time faithful. On the other, it indicates that such Catholics understand this to be less a natural law injunction incumbent on all members of society than a religious obligation for their own kind. That a staunch pro-choicer like Obama can garner two out of every five Traditionalist White Catholic votes helps makes sense of the high pro-life anxiety that seems to have taken hold in so many episcopal breasts.

New survey of teens: clergy not role models

A new survey conducted by Junior Achievement and Deloitte showed that teens only rarely see clergy as role models:

Out of 100 American teens, only three are likely to say they see members of the clergy as role models, according to a survey on teens and ethical decision making.

Scarcely any teens (those under age 18) view their pastors, priests, rabbis or imams as role models. Instead, many reported seeing their parents as role models (54 percent), the survey conducted by Junior Achievement and Deloitte showed.

Friends (13 percent), teachers or coaches (6 percent), and siblings (5 percent) also beat out clergies as role model figures.

Just slightly more than one in ten (11 percent) say they don’t have any role models.

But the poll’s major finding is that although the overwhelming majority of teens (80 percent) believe they are ethically prepared to make moral business decisions, nearly 40 percent believe they need to “break the rules” in order to succeed.

Read it all here.


A history of the Virgin Mary

The Economist this week reviewed an interesting new book about the history of the veneration of the Virgin Mary by historian Miri Rubin:

As Ms Rubin, a professor at London University, successfully shows, it is very nearly true to say that the story of Mary’s cult simply is the history of Christianity, and hence absolutely central to the narrative of European and Christian civilisation. By studying the different ways in which Mary was described, hymned and painted in medieval Italy, one can also describe Europe’s beginnings as a great political and commercial enterprise. Her absence was a defining feature of the colder, more rational world that emerged in the Protestant north. And in the colonial era, above all in Latin America, she metamorphosed seamlessly from conquerors’ champion to helper of the oppressed—long before any of the founders of modern literary theory had come up with fancy ideas about shifting metaphors and “floating signifiers”.

. . .

For all the differences between the first Christian millennium and the second, a common theme in discourse about Mary was polemic against the Jews, who especially in Byzantium were often regarded as the “other” in relation to which Christianity must define itself. In some contexts, the word “Jew” seems to have been used almost as a generic term for one who failed to give due honour to Jesus Christ and his mother. And as Ms Rubin notes, the early Christian era also saw plenty of Jewish counter-polemic, mocking the story of Mary’s virginity and suggesting that she was an adulteress.

Read it all here.

The theology of Slumdog Millionaire

Paul Courtright, a professor of religious studies at Emory University, who specializes in Hinduism, offers an interesting perspective on Slum Millionaire, one of the nominees for best picture:

Religion—explicit religion, that is—has only a cameo with Jamal, Salim, and Latika’s Muslim identities being only incidental to the story. Only once, late in the film, do we see Salim in prayer asking divine forgiveness for a sin he is about to commit; earlier, when a gang of Hindu thugs overrun a group of women washing clothes, a young boy appears dressed as the Hindu god Rama.

There does seem to be a theology to the film, however. Embedded in the opening question, as noted above regarding the Slumdog’s success, is the question: “How did he do it?“ Throughout the movie we are left wondering whether Jamal is a cheat—the police assume that initially; lucky—seems plausible; a genius, probably not; or whether “it is written.“

As we work our way to the fade-to-white-light finish and the final answer, we become less and less persuaded that randomness, cheating, or even his personal brilliance drives Jamal's story. Dev Patel plays Jamal as a fairly modest, ordinary guy: street-smart and resilient, but not a genius.

Despite the presence of primarily Muslims main characters, there doesn't appear to be a particularly Islamic vision of divine mercy and inscrutability amidst the squalor, terror, and glitz of Jamal's life in global Mumbai. Rather, the film evokes the Hindu idea of divine play (lila); Hindu literature is filled with stories of the devotee who triumphs over adversity through unwavering devotion to his or her deity, while the notion of one's life being written or in the hands of destiny is a broadly shared Indian cultural perspective.

Read it all here.

Religion Dispatches also has interesting reviews of nominees Milk and The Wrestler.

An end to the culture wars?

In today's New York Times, William Saletan examines whether common ground is really possible on the culture war issues like abortion and same sex marriage, and offers possible common ground based on personal responsibility:

Start with abortion. Pro-lifers tend to show up after a woman is pregnant, imagining that laws and preaching will make her bear a child she doesn’t want. They’re mistaken. Worse, they’re too late. To prevent abortions, we have to prevent unintended pregnancies.

How? The conservative answer is abstinence. That’s a worthy aspiration. But as a stand-alone national policy for avoiding pregnancies, it’s foolish. Mating is the engine of history. It has overpowered every stricture put in its way.

. . .

Mr. Obama, like many other pro-choicers, doesn’t like to preach on these issues. He talks about family planning purely in terms of access and affordability. Overseas, that’s a huge challenge. But in this country, the principal cause of abortions isn’t that we can’t get birth control. It’s that we don’t use it.

. . .

This isn’t a shortage of pills or condoms. It’s a shortage of cultural and personal responsibility. It’s a failure to teach, understand, admit or care that unprotected sex can lead to the creation — and the subsequent killing, through abortion — of a developing human being.

Our challenge is to put these two issues together. For liberals, that means taking abortion seriously as an argument for contraception. We should make the abortion rate an index of national health, like poverty or infant mortality. The president should report progress, or lack thereof, in the State of the Union. Reproductive-health counselors must speak bluntly to women who are having unprotected sex. And as Mr. Obama observed last year, men must learn that “responsibility does not end at conception.”

Conservatives, in turn, need to face the corollary truth: A culture of life requires an ethic of contraception. Birth control isn’t a sin or an offense against life, as so many girls and Catholic couples have been taught. It’s a loving, conscientious way to prevent the conception of a child you can’t bear to raise and don’t want to abort. It’s an act of responsibility and respect for life.

Read it all here (including his approach to ending the culture wars on the issue of same sex marriage). And let us know what you think.

A Reconciliation on Gay Marriage?

Apparently, today is "end the culture wars" day at the New York Times. In addition to the William Saletan essay we posted about earlier this afternoon, the Times also features an interesting op-ed by David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values (who opposes same sex marriage) and Jonathan Rauch is a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution (who favors same sex marriage). The op-ed purports to offer a compromise to settle the issue:

In politics, as in marriage, moments come along when sensitive compromise can avert a major conflict down the road. The two of us believe that the issue of same-sex marriage has reached such a point now.

We take very different positions on gay marriage. We have had heated debates on the subject. Nonetheless, we agree that the time is ripe for a deal that could give each side what it most needs in the short run, while moving the debate onto a healthier, calmer track in the years ahead.

It would work like this: Congress would bestow the status of federal civil unions on same-sex marriages and civil unions granted at the state level, thereby conferring upon them most or all of the federal benefits and rights of marriage. But there would be a condition: Washington would recognize only those unions licensed in states with robust religious-conscience exceptions, which provide that religious organizations need not recognize same-sex unions against their will. The federal government would also enact religious-conscience protections of its own. All of these changes would be enacted in the same bill.

. . .

Linking federal civil unions to guarantees of religious freedom seems a natural way to give the two sides something they would greatly value while heading off a long-term, take-no-prisoners conflict. That should appeal to cooler heads on both sides, and it also ought to appeal to President Obama, who opposes same-sex marriage but has endorsed federal civil unions. A successful template already exists: laws that protect religious conscience in matters pertaining to abortion. These statutes allow Catholic hospitals to refuse to provide abortions, for example. If religious exemptions can be made to work for as vexed a moral issue as abortion, same-sex marriage should be manageable, once reasonable people of good will put their heads together.

In all sharp moral disagreements, maximalism is the constant temptation. People dig in, positions harden and we tend to convince ourselves that our opponents are not only wrong-headed but also malicious and acting in bad faith. In such conflicts, it can seem not only difficult, but also wrong, to compromise on a core belief.

But clinging to extremes can also be quite dangerous. In the case of gay marriage, a scorched-earth debate, pitting what some regard as nonnegotiable religious freedom against what others regard as a nonnegotiable human right, would do great harm to our civil society. When a reasonable accommodation on a tough issue seems possible, both sides should have the courage to explore it.

Read it all here. Again, please let us know what you think. Is this an encouraging step toward reconciliation of this issue, or an ill-advised compromise?

Renewed religious violence in Northern Nigeria

Violence has broken out again in Northern Nigeria where Muslims are the majority, but there is a significant Christian minority including the Anglican Church of Nigeria.

Voice of America reports:

Residents say Muslim youths attacked Christians and burned churches in reprisals over the burning of two mosques overnight in the city. Muslims blamed the fires on Christians.

According to the Sun News:

No fewer than four persons were reportedly killed and property worth millions of naira destroyed following religious violence that broke out in the Morocco area of Bauchi metropolis in the early hours of Saturday.
...
Thousands of displaced persons have taken refuge in the Shadawanka barracks and other areas still considered safe. Governor Isa Yuguda, in a statewide broadcast, expressed shock over the incident, describing it as most unfortunate.
...
Reacting to the crisis, chairman of the state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Bishop Musa Tula, called on Christians in the state to remain calm and continue to pray to God to avert future occurrence. Tula, who is bishop of the Anglican Communion, Bauchi Diocese, consoled all those who might have lost one thing or the other, saying that they should leave everything to God and go about their normal and legitimate duties as government had assured that it would do everything possible to protect lives and properties of the people of the state.

Speaking on behalf of the Muslim Ummah, the Chief Imam of the ATBU Juma’at Mosque, Idris Aliyu Ibrahim Pantami, warned Muslims against rumour mongering, which he said always escalates such crisis. Patami reminded Muslims that the Islamic religion does not preach violence but tolerance and harmonious living with both Muslims and non-Muslims.

We look forward to as unambiguous statement from the Anglican Church of Nigeria that Christianity does not preach violence. Archbishop Peter Akinola, it's 358 days and counting since we asked for an explanation. Do you repudiate violence? Can you say you do not encourage it?

Addendum. The Three-legged Stool has a fresh post on Akinola that's worthy of a read.

Palestinian Christians protest Israeli TV sketch

Christians and Muslim Palestinian-Israelis protested a satiric sketch on Israel television which insulted both religions.

A satiric sketch on Channel 10 television prompted dozens of Christians in the Galilee to demonstrate against the channel this weekend, while the heads of local Christian churches published a denunciation of their own.

In their denunciation, the clergymen accused the skit of fomenting interreligious hatred. The skit, which aired on Lior Shlein's nightly program, was called "Like a Virgin," after the Madonna song.

Juan Cole wrote on the blog "Informed Comment: Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion" wrote:

So what did we learn here? A Jewish-Israeli attack on the holy figures of Christianity provoked outrage among Muslims as well as Christians, and was denounced by Palestinian-Israelis (20% of the population) as racist and as anti-Semitic.

One background for this Palestinian-Israeli response is that the crucified Christ is often taken by Palestinian Christians as a symbol of their displacement and expropriation at the hands of Israelis. So the attack on that symbol ('died young of being obese') by a representative of the Jewish majority was doubly painful, since it repeated on a symbolic level the Israeli denial of the 1948 Catastrophe and even of the existence of the Palestinians.

Read more here and here.

Being a tribal church

Over on the blog RevGalBlogPals, Carol Howard Merritt posts about her book Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation. She writes:

My day job is working as a pastor at Western Presbyterian Church. And, like most of you, I also write and blog in my spare time. I wrote Tribal Church because I was tired of hearing about how the only way to reach out to a new generation of young adults (adults under the age of forty) was to get out the praise choruses, ditch the pews, and ignite a worship war in your congregation. It seemed like the only way that it was possible to minister to them was to throw out all of our traditions, and plant a booming, Gen-X church, with lots of imagery flashing on a powerpoint screen.

But that was not what was happening in the congregations that I served for the last ten years. When I talked to young parents, they said they liked being at the church because it gave their kids a chance to be around old people. And people told me over and over again that they appreciated the traditions and the liturgy. They enjoyed being a part of a community that was not about a charismatic pastor, but it was more like they were stepping into a stream, a deep current of faith and doubt that had been flowing before them, and would be flowing after them. They longed for sacred traditions like contemplative prayer.

Their words echoed my own experience. As a woman, growing up in the midst of various churches—conservative Southern Baptist congregations and mega-churches—I longed for the beauty, art, liturgy, and social justice traditions that mainline congregations had to offer.

ABC to attend first 2 days of General Convention

Confirming The Lead's story of February 20, Episcopal News Service reports that the Archbishop of Canterbury will attend the first two days of General Convention in July 2009.

Global concerns and Anglican Communion issues will be a major focus of the Episcopal Church's 76th General Convention when it meets July 8-17 in Anaheim, California.

The church's main legislative gathering, which meets every three years, also will welcome many international guests from various Anglican Communion provinces. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams will attend General Convention for the first time July 8-9. He will participate in Bible study and be a keynote speaker at a global economic forum on the evening of July 8.


Read more here.

Gays? I don't see any gay people here.

The Changing Attitude blog reports that the Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs reported to the UN periodic review of human rights in Geneva on February 9, 2009 that they know of no gays or lesbians in Nigeria, let alone LGBT groups, and therefore see no reason to protect their rights. Davis Mac-Iyalla and other leaders of Changing Attitude Nigeria described the statement as a lie.

The Minister, Ojo Madueke, said:

As we have indicated in our National Report, we have no record of any group of Nigerians, who have come together under the umbrella of “Lesbian, Gay and Transgender” group, let alone to start talking of their rights.

During our National Consultative Forum, we went out of our way to look for the Gay, Lesbian and Transgender group, but we could not come across Nigerians with such sexuality....

If they are an amorphous group, then the question of violence against them does not arise, let alone negotiating special rights for them.

Read more »

The optimal level of conflict

David R. Brubaker writes in this weeks Alban Institute e-newsletter that conflict is normal in every organization. Some disagreement and conflict provides energy and generates ideas but it is like Goldilock's porridge: organizations thrive when conflict is not too hot and not too cold but just right.

First, leaders need to move toward conflict, not away from it. Leaders who learn to move toward conflict discover that they have opportunities to resolve issues when those issues are small, rather than attempting to fight fires when they are nearly out of control.

Second, the identified issue is almost never the real issue. The allegation from the Greek-speaking minority that their "widows were being overlooked" in the daily food distribution was indeed a compelling one, but it likely was a proxy for a deeper feeling of powerlessness and alienation among the Hellenist members of the early church. All the significant leadership positions (apostles) were held by the Aramaic-speaking majority, and the minority did not know how to exercise their voice other than through "murmuring."

Third, involve the "complainers" in solving their identified problems. Note that the apostles did not agree to take care of the problem that had been identified. Rather, they recruited members of the murmuring minority to address the problem. This outcome actually created a new role in the church--that of deacon.

Read it all here, especially Brubakers study of the Book of Acts which may make for a useful Bible study with congregational leadership.

NCC Yearbook reports decline in RC & Southern Baptist membership

The National Council of Churches Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches reported a decline in Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist membership for first time in recent experience. The Episcopal Church declined less than United Church of Christ but slightly more than the Evangelical Lutherans.

The 77th annual edition of the Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, long a highly regarded chronicler of growth and financial trends of religious institutions, records a slight but startling decline in membership of the nation's largest Christian communions.

Membership in the Roman Catholic Church declined 0.59 percent and the Southern Baptist Convention declined 0.24 percent, according to the 2009 edition of the Yearbook, edited by the National Council of Churches and published by Abingdon.

The figures indicate that the Catholic church lost 398,000 members since the appearance of the 2008 Yearbook. Southern Baptists lost nearly 40,000 members.

Both membership figures were compiled by the churches in 2007 and reported to the Yearbook in 2008. The 2009 Yearbook also includes an essay by the editor, the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, on the various ways churches count their members.

Neither figure is earth-shattering given the size of the churches. Roman Catholics comprise the nation's largest church with a membership of 67,117,016, and Southern Baptists rank second in the nation at 16,266,920.

But this year's reported decline raises eyebrows because Catholic and Southern Baptist membership has grown dependably over the years. Now they join virtually every mainline church in reporting a membership decline....

...There are no clear-cut theological or sociological reasons for church growth or decline, says Editor Lindner. "Many churches are feeling the impact of the lifestyles of younger generations of church-goers -- the 'Gen X'ers' or "Millenials' in their 20s and 30s who attend and support local congregations but resist joining them."

Read the rest here.

All Saints worshippers are a 'happy bunch'

A new church in Moline, Illinois formed out of the split in the Diocese of Quincy has held its worship in its new home and is getting ready for a visit in April by the Presiding Bishop. The members describe themselves as a "happy bunch" and who are getting more people in church than they expected.

Quad Cities Online reports:

Episcopal priest Canon Laurence Larson reminded parishioner Linwood Goldstone ''of a child with his first toy'' during the early days of the new All Saints Episcopal Church in Moline.

He has plenty to be excited about, Mr. Goldstone said.

Better-sized crowds than expected have attended the new church's first two worship services, and he knows that quite a special guest will visit the church for Palm Sunday services April 5.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church, said she will lead the church's 9 a.m. worship service April 5, a day after she presides over the first synod meeting of a reconstituted Quincy Episcopal Diocese in Peoria....

The creation of the new All Saints Episcopal Church, though, has left him feeling more invigorated now than he has felt for years. So does the creation of a new diocese, which likely will adopt a new name, he said.

The early favorite is Diocese of Central Illinois, chosen to avoid confusion between the Quincy Diocese of the Anglican Communion -- the new group belonging to the Southern Cone -- and to end any confusion about a Quincy Diocese being headquartered in Peoria.

Read the rest here.

More ways to see McLaren

Folks who had trouble viewing our Brian McLaren video might want to try one of the new formats now available.

WWJT?

If Jesus had Twitter, what would Jesus tweet? The Church of England's Love Life Love Lent outreach via social networking sites Twitter and Facebook may have the answer.

The Church of England will be using Twitter and a new Facebook application to encourage people to help each other make the most out of Lent. The idea is to reach into the real world and create a viral network of people who will observe Lent with simple acts of generosity, thoughtfulness and devotion in the season leading up to Holy Week and Easter.

According to a Church of England news release:

The new online tools will help users share daily suggestions and encouragement for small actions they can take to do something positive for their friends, neighbours or wider local community, as part of the popular Love Life Live Lent campaign that has captured the imagination of more than a quarter of million people over the past two years. In 2007, more than 130,000 people joined in with Love Life Live Lent, many of whom opted to receive the daily suggested acts of service by text message. Last year, the suggested actions were available through social networking sites including Facebook and MySpace.

The Love Life Live Lent web site says:

Love Life Live Lent is a new way of marking Lent. Instead of giving up chocolate or going on a detox, it encourages people to undertake a simple act of generosity each day. The actions are small and fun to do, but make a real difference in homes, families and communities.

Love Life Live Lent began in Birmingham in 2006 and since then over 250,000 people nationwide have participated.

Looking at the Love Life Live Lent site on Facebook, it appears that the attempt is to focus people on practical, everyday kindnesses as well as accessible forms of outreach and giving. The power of Love Life Live Lent may lie in engaging people who may never set foot in a church in Lenten observance through social networking. The effort recognizes that many people want to deepen their faith but may find it difficult to begin in the traditional parish church.

At the same time, the social network may provide an entree into the Christian life which could lead individuals into Christian community.

George Pitcher favors a more direct approach. He writes for the Telegraph and wonders what might happen if we could communicate the Gospel story in 140 characters or less. He writes:

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent this week and the Church of England is getting down with the kids by deploying its Live Life Love Lent campaign through social-networking sites Twitter and Facebook. You can "follow" the tweets here....

With 140-character tweets, Pitcher imagines someone guiding the content. He suggests it might like this:

Have decided to go to Jerusalem - it's just something I must do.... arrived on the back of a mule - lots of hossanahs and palm leaves, but a week's a long time in Roman politics... Lost it a bit with the money-changers at the Temple, but they're going to have to listen now... It's all turned very dodgy - going to have Passover supper with the gang and don't know when we might break bread again... Going to hand over to young John now, as I think I'm about to get nicked... Hi John here - shouldn't be a problem, they always let a prisoner go at Passover...

But Love Life Live Lent is not without guidance. One can download PDFs that describe the background and theology of Lent and how it has been observed in various cultures and at different times.

As the project is now designed, it appears to trust that the network will develop their own content with minimal direction and fewer theological hints as to what loving life and living Lent might look like. This the power of the interactive web. The risk is that one can never know where it might lead.

This is a different approach than the one Pitcher advocates which is to use the tools of the internet to deliver specific content, which appears to be a more directed-marketing approach.

Which is better? What might help people observe a holy Lent in new ways? A directed campaign with specific content? Or is better to let the participants flesh out their own content?

Here is the Church of England description of Love Life Live Lent.
Here is the link to Twitter.
If you are on Facebook, here is the link to the FB app.

Read the rest here.

Ash Wednesday prayers for Zimbabwe

UPDATED 2/25 see read more

The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion Canon Kenneth Kearon writes:

I want to bring to your attention the request of the Primates and Moderators of the Anglican Communion, at their recent meeting in Alexandria, Egypt, that Anglican Churches world-wide observe 25th February, Ash Wednesday, as a day of prayer and solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe.

The primates and Moderators also requested that parishes throughout the Anglican Communion give aid to enable food and other material aid for Zimbabwe for distribution through the dioceses of the Church of the Province of Central Africa.

Financial aid should be channelled through your own church’s relief and development agency

Read more at the Anglican Communion News Service.

Episcopal Relief and Development is one way to act on our prayers:

Episcopal Relief & Development has partnered with the Anglican Diocese of Masvingo where communities are struggling to cope with hyper-inflation and food shortages. A priority has been supporting the sick and caring for young orphans. With Episcopal Relief & Development's support, parish volunteers have been trained in home-based care and supplied with kits to families affected by HIV. Poultry projects are bringing a necessary source of both food and income.

Episcopal Relief & Development is fighting disease in Zimbabwe through the malaria prevention program, NetsforLife®. Partnering with the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa, this program protects the most vulnerable - primarily pregnant women and young children - from contracting malaria. In 2009 NetsforLife® plans to educate communities in prevention and treatment methods and distribute 49,500 long-lasting insecticide-treated nets to people in Zimbabwe.


Read more here

Donate here

Prayer resources below:

Read more »

Presiding Bishop on different understandings

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori reflects on the variety of understandings she encounters around the world. The Bible, the Prayer Book, gender and sexuality all are seen through lenses of culture:

The primates' meeting has come and gone, and I'm sure there will have been abundant commentary by the time this is published. I'd like to reflect on some of the deeper issues behind our conversations about sexuality, particularly the influence of our understanding of gender.

On gender roles she notes:
As I traveled from the airport to the hotel where we met, I noticed that almost every woman on the street past childhood was veiled, with at least her hair covered with a scarf, and in a not-small number of cases, covered head to toe in a long, flowing garment. I even observed a couple of women whose coverings were so thorough that I couldn't even see a slit for their eyes -- the fabric must have been thin enough for them to see through, but not for others to see in. The hotel had only a handful of female employees, mostly professional women who worked behind the desk. Only a couple of them wore no scarf.

The striking thing was that the meeting room where the primates' deliberations took place, the hotel's largest and principal conference room, was bedecked with several large paintings of half-naked women. It was a space that, in normal circumstances, apparently was used only by men. I found it striking that public expectations of women are modest dress and covering, yet there is evidently a rather different attitude toward men's entertainment.


During her visit to the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth she experienced more thought provoking encounters:
I had one other pertinent encounter in Fort Worth, Texas, after the primates' meeting. I was greeting a long line of people at the end of the day of the reorganizing convention for the diocese. I spoke with a man in a wheelchair who appeared to have had a stroke.

The next person in line began by telling me that the guy in the wheelchair was a retired obstetrician/gynecologist and that "he's the most interesting gay man I know, and I'm proud to call him a friend." Rather an unusual conversation starter. And then he went on to say, "All of this is really about male supremacy, isn't it?" His words, not mine, but worth consideration.


Read it all at Episcopal Life Online.

Out of the ashes, ministry

As a fast moving fire ravaged the neighborhood, Grace Episcopal Church, Allentown, jumped in to help the displaced families by offering shelter and assistance. The DioBeth newSpin, the Diocese of Bethlehem newsletter reports the day by day response of Grace Church:

[Saturday, Feb. 21] As a neighborhood fire displaced 45 people (32 adults and 13 children) in Allentown, near Grace Episcopal Church, the church became a temporary home for those without family nearby. Grace parishioners, in cooperation with the Red Cross, served lunch and dinner yesterday, breakfast this morning and set up cots in the nave of the church for overnight shelter.
6a00d8343d656053ef0111688f1166970c-800wi.jpg
[Sunday, Feb. 22] On Sunday morning at Eucharist, parishioners, Red Cross volunteers and a few people displaced by the fire entered into conversation during the time when a sermon would ordinarily be delivered. They spoke about how quickly their church was transformed into a shelter, including daytime hospitality, the preparation of meals and cots in the nave.

More here.

The story of the fire is here in the Leigh High Valley Morning Call.

Read more »

Gay bloggers increase political influence

Pam's House Blend and other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender voices have gained influence in the public sphere through blogging and the internet. The Washington Post reports on this phenomenon:

Only the blogosphere, perhaps, has room for Pam Spaulding -- a black lesbian who lives in North Carolina, the only state in the South that has not banned same-sex marriage.

"California, Arizona and Florida all passed marriage amendments in November," says Spaulding, 44, an IT manager by day and a round-the-clock blogger. "All eyes are on North Carolina now." A few days ago, after reports that groups such as NC4Marriage and Christian Action League are organizing a rally in Raleigh to support "traditional marriage," Spaulding wrote on her blog, Pam's House Blend: "As predicted, the professional anti-gay forces plan to descend on NC." What she doesn't write is that, so long as she's blogging, what happens in North Carolina won't stay in the Tar Heel State.

Pam's House Blend is an influential voice in the gay political blogosphere, must-reads that include the Bilerico Project, Towleroad and AMERICAblog, each attracting a few hundred to a few thousand hits a day. Just as the liberal Net-roots and the conservative "rightroots" movements have affected traditional party structures, the still relatively small gay political presence online is rebooting the gay rights movement in a decentralized, spontaneous, bottom-up way. It's spreading news via blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Online, a story about two 16-year-old girls in a Lutheran private school in California being expelled for "conducting themselves in a manner consistent with being lesbians" -- as the school's lawyer describes it -- goes viral. And hits nerves.

Episcopal Cafe´experienced the power of LGBT bloggers when The Bilerico Project linked a Daily Episcopalian story and our reader stats when through the ceiling.

C. Robin Janning named ECVA editor in chief

Episcopal Church and Visual Arts announces that C. Robin Janning will be Editor in Chief for the ECVA blog Image & Spirit. Image & Spirit is an inspired assemblage of images and words, aiming to carry the breath of Spirit far and wide. Contributors are artists and writers, priests and poets, and all who live in range of those intersections of art and faith.

From the ECVA website:

The mission of The Episcopal Church and Visual Arts (ECVA) is to encourage artists, individuals, congregations, and scholars to engage the visual arts in the spiritual life of the church. ECVA values the significance of visual imagery in spiritual formation and the development of faith, and creates programs to support those who are engaged in using the visual arts in spiritual life.

The Episcopal Church and Visual Arts (ECVA) strives to encourage

... visual artists in our church to use their creative gifts for the glory of God.

... individuals to explore the opportunities visual arts offer in their spiritual journeys.

... parishes and cathedrals to incorporate visual arts in their total programs.

... conversations and research in issues related to the visual arts, theology and culture.


More on ECVA here.

Experience Image and Spirit here.

Image and Spirit is ECVA's blog. ECVA's President and CEO Mel Ahlborn is the Editor of the Art Blog at Episcopal Cafe. ECVA artists are major contributors to the Art Blog.

Looking for "burning bush" moments in Lent

Looking for "burning bush" moments in daily life is an idea for the Lenten spiritual practice of Cathleen Falsani, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times. Her priest sparked this idea in a sermon on Lent.

"How can you mark this time before Easter as a special time of year, a time to examine your life and what controls it," Mother Katie asked. "What will help you proclaim to others that you have . . . are listening to the world around you?"

She also talked about the fleeting, glorious moments the Celts called "thin moments," in which the veil between this world and the spirit world seems almost transparent. These are the times when God reaches God's hands into the world and tries to get our attention.

"We are called to listen," Mother Katie said, "to look at the world as it is, not just as we would have it to be."

An example of her discovery:

As soon as I decided to add flaming-bush-spotting as my Lenten spiritual practice, I spotted one. In an ad in the church bulletin for a book club, I noticed the name Dianne Hunter. My husband and I are relatively new to this parish. We know a few people, but there are many we have yet to meet. While I didn't have a face for it, this name was familiar.

Dianne Hunter is public relations director for Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago. More important, she is the woman who came forward in November 2007, when I first wrote about Vasco Sylvester, the little boy from Malawi who needs life-saving heart surgery, to offer her help. In short order, she organized doctors from three Chicago hospitals to donate their time and expertise to treat Vasco for free.

Cathleen Falsani keeps the blog The Dude Abides and author of several books, including Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace.

Ethical lending helps some of those facing foreclosure

ABC News:

At the last minute, Moore found Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago and counselor Sandra Wells. "She told me 'I want to keep my house,'" Wells said, sitting in the home she helped save, "and that's all I needed to hear."

Read more »

IamEpiscopalian.org

As Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten season,
IamEpiscopalian.org shares faith stories, personal thoughts

[February 25, 2009] – Sisters laughingly talk about growing up, growing away and growing back to The Episcopal Church. A prison chaplain calls The Episcopal Church a thinking church. One person shares that he joined The Episcopal Church decades ago because the girls were cute.

These are just a few of the 30+ Episcopalians who share their faith stories of celebration at IamEpiscopalian.org, debuting today, February 25, Ash Wednesday at noon Eastern time (11 am Central, 10 am Mountain, 9 am Pacific, 8 am Alaskan, 7 am Hawaiian).

Visitors to the IamEpiscopalian.org site are immediately greeted with a welcoming video, enhanced with music by Daron Murphy, a well-known composer.

Developed by the communication office of The Episcopal Church, IamEpiscopalian.org provides a place for people – some famous and some not-so-famous – to share the stories of what excites them about being an Episcopalian.

“With this site we will begin to tell our story as each person relates his or her personal, emotional connection to our Church,” explains Anne Rudig, director of communication. “Ash Wednesday was chosen for the launch of IamEpiscopalian.org since it is a time for many people to examine their spiritual life and perhaps connect or reconnect with a church. IamEpiscopalian.org shows how others have made those connections.”

As the web site states, “The Episcopal Church is a big, colorful, vibrant church. We hope you will see that in the wide spectrum of its members represented here on this site. In our Church you may touch ancient traditions and experience intelligent inquiry.”

The video vignettes, 30 – 60 seconds each, reflect that “big, colorful vibrant” church by focusing on the joys, gifts, and the challenges facing The Episcopal Church. As noted on the web site, “Our controversies and conversations have been public. Our governance is transparent. You are free to see our imperfections, as well as share our joy in that which unites us – our openness, honesty, and faith.”

IamEpiscopalian.org will continue to grow throughout Lent as videos are invited for anyone to express the richness of The Episcopal Church in their own personal way.

# # # #

IMPORTANT NOTE: IamEPISCOPALIAN.ORG WILL GO LIVE AT NOON EASTERN, 11 AM CENTRAL, 10 AM MOUNTAIN, 9 AM PACIFIC, 8 AM ALASKAN, 7 AM HAWAIIAN

Watch one below:

Read more »

Cyberpilgrimage for Lent

Christian Aid is taking people on a virtual pilgrimage through the Holy Land. From the blog

During Lent 2009, in the run up to Easter, this blog will take you on a virtual journey through the Holy Land.

We will meet people who live in the region today - hearing how the region’s troubles touch their lives, but also hearing stories of hope and peace.

But this isn’t about simply watching a story being told. We want you to take part.

This journey is also about challenging ourselves to think, to reflect, to pray, and to take action.

Just as Jesus took 40 days to prepare for his ministry, we’ll be using this time to consider the practical challenges of faith in a world of poverty and violence.


Join the journey here. It begins on the Mount of Temptation.

See video trailer below



California breakaway churches lose in court again

The California Supreme Court has denied a re-hearing in the Episcopal Church Cases, concerning the three parishes in the Diocese of Los Angeles who tried to leave the Episcopal Church and take the church's property with them. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Trial Court. Supreme Court action is here. Scroll down to the bottom of the screen.

The case isn't over yet but this looks very much like the end of the line, in a legal sense, for the three churches.

H/T to comments at the Friends of Jake blog.

Giving when it hurts

Keith Goetzman of the Utne Reader writes:

As the recession rolls on, the people who run the nation’s social service nonprofits expect people’s needs for food, shelter, and other types of assistance to rise dramatically, just as donations from businesses and individuals are falling: In December, a survey of nonprofit professionals reported the gloomiest fund-raising outlook in a decade. At the same time, cash-strapped government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels are further cutting back on social spending and allocating less money to nonprofits that citizens have come to depend on for a wide variety of services. Making matters worse, a number of these same nonprofits—as well as an array of municipalities, school boards, and public works agencies—got caught off guard by poorly structured investment portfolios and scandals, like the Bernard Madoff affair, and have seen their risky Wall Street investments all but vanish.

To consider how we might remedy this state of affairs, it’s worth asking how we got here. In a way, it’s quite simple: We’ve outsourced compassion. Over the past few decades, the United States has deliberately and steadily shifted the burden of meeting social needs from the government onto a loosely organized, haphazardly regulated patchwork of nonprofits. Many groups have overlapping or competing missions, many are closely aligned with business interests through their funding or their boards, and many rely heavily on foundation funding, which ties them even more closely to Wall Street’s fortunes.

Is this really the best way to do things? Several critics have recently been asking this and other hard questions about what some have dubbed “the nonprofit industrial complex”—the $300 billion-a-year sector of the economy that encompasses everything from art museums to private colleges to local food shelves. Reform-minded critics come from both right and left, with proposed remedies that range from mildly corrective steps to a fundamental makeover of the system.

Read the article to see some of the alternatives being discussed.

Taking on the death penalty in Maryland

Bishop Eugene T. Sutton of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland is leading the campaign to repeal the death penalty in Maryland. First, he and Bishop John Bryson Chane of Washington co-authored an op-ed article for The Washington Post. Now, Sutton can be heard on WTOP radio, and he is quoted in today's stories in the Post and the Baltimore Sun.

Governor Martin O'Malley supports the bill repealing the death penalty, but Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr. opposes it, and its chances of passing seem slim.

An afternoon blessing

Props to Sam Hodges of the Dallas Morning News, who offered this yesterday as the afternoon blessing at the paper's religion blog:

May you remember, in writing for publication about Episcopalians, not to use "Episcopalian" as an adjective. (The adjective is "Episcopal.")

We commend it to headline writers everywhere.

Happy anniversary, Bishop Harris

Bishop Barbara C. Harris, who recently celebrated the 20th anniversay of her consecration as the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion rates a passing mention and a nifty photo in this television review from The New York Times. Writer Ginia Bellafante points out that Bishop Harris' great-grandmother "was a slave who wound up in a confrontation with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant."

That the bishop had fiery ancestors will surprise no one who knows her.

The bishop also sat for an interview with Tracy J. Sukraw of the Diocese of Massachusetts. Of the troubles currently roiling the Communion she said:


I think the whole Windsor process is an overreaction, which leads me to talk about the covenant, which I don't believe we need. I think our baptismal covenant is sufficient. We certainly do not need a juridical covenant; but rather, if we must have one, then it ought to be more relational in nature than designed to punish. I think that the pastoral council that is being suggested is an added layer of ecclesiastical bureaucracy that we do not need. We need to simply trust each other that we are acting in the best interests of our respective provinces. Interventions and crossing provincial boundaries need to stop. That is not a solution to controversies within a province.

The controversies of the day are not anything new. Controversy has always been present in the life of the church from her earliest, earliest days. There is an introductory comment on Paul's letter to the Colossians in which it says: the unity, stability and survival of the church was threatened by doctrinal diversity. This is nothing new. I think of the centuries that it took to reach agreement on the doctrine of the Trinity. Some folk want us to settle complex issues without even delving into them in any meaningful depth. And I think that schism is real, because we have competing claims of orthodoxy and other claims that are cause for hostility and division. A covenant or a Windsor Report [is] not going to quell controversy.

Connecticut reaches out to Kenya

Terri Miles of the Amity (CT) Observer writes:

The dedication, support and money from a local church has made the dreams of young children halfway across the world come true. The Rev. Evalyn Wakhusama of Kenya delivered that message during a Jan. 28 visit to the Christ Episcopal Church in Bethany.

The Nambale Magnet School in Kenya opened its doors to the first two classes of 30 kindergartners and first-graders Jan. 12. Wakhusama presented a PowerPoint to parishioners to show them what their generosity achieved.

“The Nambale Magnet School is a beacon of hope and a symbol of development in Western Kenya, an extremely impoverished region,” Wakhusama said.

She showed photographs of colorful classrooms, the dining facility, dormitories, the school’s exterior, and the students wearing their new school uniforms. It contrasted sharply with pictures she showed of overcrowded public schools in the area where as many as 100 children share a classroom.

“We have reasons to be grateful and joyful in our hearts,” Wakhusama said.

A Lenten e-fast

Terri Jo Rayn in the Waco Tribune:

They say the first step toward recovery is admitting there’s a problem.

And Greg Garrett, Episcopal lay preacher and Baylor University professor, admits he has an addiction that threatens his walk with his God: Facebook.

The ubiquitous five-year-old social networking site, with an estimated 175 million users, “is the biggest distraction to my observance of a holy Lent,” he said. “It’s turned into an excuse to do anything other than what I ought to be doing.”

So as of 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, he’s reclaiming his low-tech spiritual life by going on an “e-fast” for the 40-day penitential season of Lent.

One can acknowledge that Professor Garrett has made a wise personal choice, while still wondering whether the numerous people who loudly proclaim that they are going off-line for Lent aren't blaming technology for personal failings. No?

New Church plant honors the Blessed Mother

This news arrived by email from the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem:

In a joyous and festive afternoon on February 12th in the heart of Jordan‟s throbbing City of Irbid, the Right Rev‟d Dr. Suheil S. Dawani, Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem and Bishop of the Diocese of Jerusalem, laid the cornerstone for the (Episcopal) Church of St. Mary- the - Virgin.

Irbid, a relatively small town in 1948, had its first constituted congregation of Anglicans in 1952, and as the town grew into Jordan‟s third largest city, so did the small congregation known as the Anglican Community in Irbid.

You can find the full press release, and pictures, in a pdf document here.

Church shopping is nothing new

The Obama's search for a new church home for their family has opened up a conversation in some quarters about the American phenomenon of "church shopping". Every pastor and priest says they deplore it, but most of them do what they feel they need to do in response to it. It's been a part of the American religious experience for generations.

Andrew Santella looks at why we do what we do:

Part of the discomfort with church shopping has to do with the way growing churches attempt to attract spiritual shoppers. That simple marquee in front of a church with the cheerfully homely motto ("Prevent truth decay: Brush up on your Bible") doesn't suffice to recruit worshippers. Web sites stream audio and video of sermons and music to let prospective members shop from home, and consultants help congregations market themselves to the "unchurched" and the merely unsatisfied by deploying focus groups, surveys, product giveaways (free church-branded Frisbees, anyone?), and other tactics borrowed from the commercial realm. The Wall Street Journal reported recently on churches employing mystery worshippers, "a new breed of church consultant," who covertly attend services and evaluate them (Were the bathrooms clean? Was the vibe friendly?) as if they were first-timers looking for a new church.

Marrying the sacred to the secular inevitably provokes criticism. In First Things, Anthony Sacramone called church shopping "potentially spiritually corrupting" and warned against the "ecclesiological chaos" of the religious marketplace. The practice is particularly troublesome for the more established churches that find themselves in competition with growth-minded, nondenominational congregations. Pope Benedict XVI, speaking at a World Youth Day Mass in 2005, noted "a new explosion of religion" but warned that "if it's pushed too far, religion becomes almost a consumer product. People choose what they like and some are even able to make a profit from it." His concern is understandable: About 10 percent of American adults describe themselves as ex-Catholics—a figure that, if ex-Catholicism were its own religion, would make it one of the nation's largest religious groups—and they are a huge target market for growing churches.

Church shopping, marketing, and the not-so-sanctified practices that go with them make easy targets for criticism. But competition among churches for worshippers has always been fierce in the United States, to the benefit of American religion and individual churchgoers. The prohibition against establishing an official state religion helped give us the shoppers' paradise that is our religious marketplace. Disestablishment (Massachusetts was the last state to cut ties to its official church, in 1833) meant that preachers had to learn to get along without support from the state. It made the ability to recruit and keep a flock—and get them to give generously—crucial to a church's survival. In 1992, Roger Finke and Rodney Stark argued in The Churching of America, 1776-1990 that this produced a ministry modeled on capitalism, with pastors acting as the church's sales force.

Obama budget cuts some tax breaks for non-profit giving

From Howard Friedman at "Religion Clause"

President Obama yesterday released his budget proposals in a 140-page document titled A New Era of Responsibility: Renewing America's Promise. One provision is controversial among non-profit groups, including a number of religious organizations. For families with incomes over $250,000, itemized tax deductions (including charitable deductions) would be at only a 28% tax rate instead of 35%. The additional revenues generated would help expand health insurance coverage. Today's New York Times says that "wealthy donors and the nonprofit groups they support were in an uproar" over the proposal. However it goes on to report that surveys indicate few wealthy donors are likely to reduce their giving as a result of the change and many high-income donors are already capped at 28% because of the alternative minimum tax. A statement opposing Obama's plan issued by United Jewish Communities however argues that "any reduction in the tax benefits available for charitable giving will have a significant negative impact on giving."

Church lobbyists represent diverse views

It's pretty commonly known that voices from the Religious Right have a strong lobbying presence in Washington DC and in many state capitals. But there's a small, growing group of voices from the Mainline denominations and the liberal churches too.

An article in the Arkansas Times reports on the phenomenon;

Most of the faith-based lobbyists working the Arkansas legislature are from the political Right, but the Left is not bereft of Christian soldiers. Rev. Steve Copley, a Methodist minister and political activist, is among the most prominent. He's worked with labor groups, among others, and chaired the Arkansas Interfaith Committee For Worker Justice, a coalition that succeeded in raising the minimum wage. He now chairs the Arkansas Friendship Coalition, which hopes to prevent passage of legislation detrimental to immigrants. The Coalition fears discrimination against newcomers and believes that immigration policy should be set at the national level, not by the separate states.

Religious Right lobbyists don't deal much with questions about separation of church and state. Most of them don't believe in the concept, and if someone suggests that preachers stay out of politics, they're apt to note the political involvement of black preachers like Martin Luther King Jr.

As a liberal, Copley sometimes has to confront the church-state question, though it's not something he agonizes over.

“My understanding of church and state is that the state is not to establish a state religion,” Copley said. “The Constitution didn't exclude people with religion from speaking in the public square. All voices should be heard in the public square, including the religious voice. We all make decisions on what's right or wrong based on our values. My values include religion.”

Latino churches organize

Pastors of Latino congregations are talking about how they can most effectively advocate for comprehensive immigration reform now that a new administration is in power in Washington.

The issue is personal and common for them:

Eric Tabora burst into tears as he remembered his wife being hauled away by federal immigration officials.

The 33-year-old independent contractor said his wife was arrested when they returned to their home in Powder Springs Wednesday morning after driving their 11- and 7-year-old sons, both U.S. citizens, to school.

Now it could be months or years before the boys see their mother again. She is being deported to Honduras for overstaying her visa.

“If she leaves, what are we going to do?” Tabora said, hunching over as he cried.

Pastors in the Latino community say stories of families torn apart by deportation are all too familiar among members of their church congregations. The Rev. Miguel Rivera of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy & Christian Leaders estimates 38 percent of those church members are undocumented.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has more of this story here.

Lenten series from the SSJE

The Society of St. John the Evangelist, based in Cambridge MA, are sharing their Lenten program not only with those able to visit the Monastery this year, but with anyone who wishes to participate online.

From their website:

We invite you to join us, either in person or virtually, for our Lenten preaching series, Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Living. Each Tuesday in March, the 5.15 Eucharist at the Monastery Chapel will feature a sermon reflecting on a specific practice from the SSJE Rule of Life. After the service there will be a soup supper and further conversation with the evening's preacher.

March 3 - Br. Kevin Hackett, on Silence
March 10 - Br. Bruce Neal, on The Grace of Friendship
March 17 - Br. Robert L'Esperance, on Engaging Poverty
March 24 - Br. David Vryhof, on Prayer and Life
March 31 - Br. Geoffrey Tristram, on The Challenges of Community Life

If you cannot join us in person, check back here for a weekly update, featuring an audio recording of the sermon and suggestions for further reading.

The case against thrift

Judith Levine writes in Salon:

Mildred in Minneapolis calls in to offer pointers on buying food in dented cans, along with homeopathic cures for botulism. Betsy in Boston says she boils and reuses her dental floss. Norbert, outside Nome, Alaska, reaches the radio station by solar-powered Web phone to boast that he’s been boiling his floss since 1977. Tran, a Buddhist in Aspen, Colo., warns of the dangers of attachment.

And then the host, who today is focusing on personal economies during the recession, turns to me: "Isn't this all a blessing in disguise, Judith? Haven't we lost our way, and aren't we now discovering new, and better, values?" I'm getting such questions regularly these days; my 2006 book, "Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping," has unexpectedly made me an oracle.

Well, yes, sort of, I stammer. But, uh, actually, no. On one hand, who can argue that the grow-grow-growth consumer economy is outgrowing the limits not just of our bank accounts but also our finite Earth? Part of me is ecstatic to wave goodbye to the $20 martini and the 20,000-square-foot house.

And then there is the other hand.....

Saturday collection 02/28/09

Here is a collection of some of the good things that Episcopalians and their congregations that have made the news in their communities this past week.

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Are Christian persecuted in the UK?

The Guardian posed this question to four writers this past week. The question mirrors similar concerns in the United States where Christians often find negotiating a secular, pluralist society jarring.

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Congregation aging? Attendance shrinking? Try a relocation bonus!

The Associated Press reports that Temple Emanu-El, the only synagogue in Dothan, Alabama, has found a way to reverse their shrinking attendance and aging membership trends: offer "Jewish families as much as $50,000 to relocate and get involved" in the congregation.

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