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Episcopal Church to host vigil in Washington to condemn Trump’s immigration policies separating families

Episcopal News Service - Wed, 06/20/2018 - 6:54pm

Akemi Vargas, 8, cries as she talks about being separated from her father during an immigration family separation protest in front of the Sandra Day O’Connor U.S. District Court building in Phoenix on June 18. Child welfare agencies across America make wrenching decisions every day to separate children from their parents. But those agencies have ways of minimizing the trauma that aren’t being employed by the Trump administration at the Mexican border. Photo: Ross D. Franklin/AP

[Episcopal News Service] The U.S. government is holding the youngest children – babies and toddlers – separated from their families in “tender age” shelters in south Texas. In these shelters, some children are kept in chain-link cages, their screams and cries for their parents a cacophony of terror.

On June 20, under intense political pressure, President Donald J. Trump reversed his stance and signed an order ending family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border. However, the new order will keep families together in federal custody while they await prosecution for illegal border crossings. That might violate court orders baring the government from keeping children in family detention centers for more than 20 days, and saying they must be housed in the least-restrictive setting possible.

The Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy has separated 2,342 children from 2,206 parents at the US-Mexico border between May 5 and June 9, according to a June 19 report in the online news site Vox. That statistic follows an announcement last week by the Department of Homeland Security that that 1,995 children had been separated from their parents from April 19 to May 31. The policy was meant to deter other families – many fleeing violence in Central America – from attempting to request asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

On June 21, the summer solstice, the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations will hold a 12-hour prayer vigil beginning at 9 a.m. until sunset in its chapel on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to call further attention to the Trump administration’s policy. A virtual vigil will be streamed live on Facebook from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time.

“We are holding this vigil to condemn family separation and to pray for all parents and children who are currently being detained. While tomorrow we will be focused on the recent separations of families at the border, we must also remember the millions of families who have been torn apart by violence and persecution in the global refugee crisis,” said Rebecca Linder Blachly, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Office of Government Relations. “We chose to hold this vigil on June 21 – the longest day of the year – because every day that family members are separated is too long. We will join together with interfaith partners to pray together for an end to this crisis, and to ask all governments to develop humane policies towards migrants.

“We continue to encourage Episcopalians and all people of faith to call on the U.S. Congress to end harsh and harmful immigration policies and to pass bipartisan, comprehensive reform that recognizes the dignity of every person.”

To join the Episcopal Public Policy Network, click here.

Trump made curbing immigration a centerpiece of his campaign and his administration. Within days of taking office, Trump signed three executive orders cutting funding to so-called sanctuary cities, calling for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and suspending the entry of immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries.

In defense of his separation policy, in a June 19 speech to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, he said: “When you prosecute the parents for coming in illegally, which should happen, you have to take the children away.”

In anticipation of the executive order, Bishop of New York Andrew M.L. Dietsche issued the following statement:

“I pray that by the time this letter reaches you the hundreds and hundreds of children, including small babies, who have been taken by force from their parents and are currently detained in this country will be returning to their families. People across the political spectrum and faith communities in America are joining in heartbroken and outraged opposition to what may well be the cruelest and least defensible policy decision by an American president and administration in our memory,” he said.

“The recordings and photographs of the children are almost impossible for any caring person to apprehend. I left New York late last week to baptize my youngest grandchild, and as we watched my daughter’s happy, carefree children in their safe home she turned to me and said, ‘I can’t follow this news story. I can’t even open the articles.’ Because it does violence to our eyes and ears, and assault and battery to our hearts. It strikes terror. And it is racist. And it is systematic child abuse.”

The June 21 vigil follows on the annual international observance of World Refugee Day June 20, which is intended to raise awareness to the violence and persecution of refugees worldwide.

Worldwide, an unprecedented 68.5 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes; 24.5 million of them are refugees, half younger than 18. For more than a century, the Episcopal Church has welcomed refugees and has advocated for immigration policies that protect families, offer a path to citizenship and respect the dignity of every human being. Some of this work happens behind the scenes, other times its done in public statements, advocacy and public witness.

On June 19, Washington Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde joined dozens of other female faith leaders outside of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection headquarters to pray together and speak out against the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the borders.

“As women of faith, we speak on behalf of mothers and fathers, men and women. We speak on behalf of all Americans who are horrified at the way that migrant families are being forcibly separated at our borders,” she said. “These adults and children have already been traumatized by life-threatening violence in their own countries, and they have made the dangerous journey to our borders in hope of refuge. Yet then when they arrive to the United States, in our name, they are forced apart–the most devastating trauma imaginable for young children and parents.

“I speak today as a disciple of Jesus Christ, who taught us, by his example, to welcome children when they come to us, to welcome, not detain them. He taught us that however we treat the least among us–those most vulnerable and in need of care–is how we treat Christ himself,” she continued.

“Our nation’s immigration policies have been devastating for children for a very long time. The level of cruelty rises with each new policy, thus far without sufficient outrage among the American people to compel our elected officials to change course.”

Unaccompanied minors and families from Central America began arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in record numbers in 2014. The numbers later dropped off, but there’s a new surge happening now at the Southwest border where Customs and Border Control agents have detained more than 252,000 people – 32,371 unaccompanied minors and 59,113 families – over the last eight months. There are some 11,000 unaccompanied minors in federal custody.

The humanitarian crisis at the Southwest border has drawn international condemnation, bipartisan criticism, outrage from American citizens and religious leaders, particularly following Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ and other members of the Trump administrations’ use of scripture to defend its family separation policy.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry signed onto an interfaith statement calling for an end to the Trump administration’s immigration policies. And the presiding bishop has talked about immigration and Jesus’s call to welcome the stranger in mainstream media, including on MSNBC’s AM Joy and The Last Word and has been interviewed in various newspapers.

Bishops throughout the church have criticized the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

“It’s not being political to say America shouldn’t be in the business of breaking up families, it’s Christian. It’s not being political to say America shouldn’t be putting children in kennel style cages, it’s Christian,” said Atlanta Bishop Robert C. Wright, in a June 19 statement.

“It’s not political to say that causing children’s tears and mothers’ fear is the best use of our nations might, it’s Christian. It’s not being political to remember that both Republican and Democratic Presidents previously chose not to separate families while enforcing immigration policy” he said.

“Not being political to remind the U.S. Attorney General that quoting the Book of Romans is fine but, ‘…as you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.’ is probably a more apt guidance for this situation.”

Rhode Island Bishop Nicholas Knisely issued the following statement on June 19.

“The Trump administration’s new policy of separating children from their asylum-seeking parents is morally wrong, not in keeping with the teachings of Christianity or other world religions, and should stop.

“Jesus, reiterating the witness of Hebrew and Christian scriptures, calls on us to treat others as we would want to be treated. Jesus commands us to love our neighbor. Christians are called, with many others, to welcome the stranger in our midst. Jesus tells us in St. Matthew’s Gospel (18:4-6), that whoever welcomes a child, welcomes him. And whoever causes harm to such a one is in grave moral danger.

I join my voice with other faith and community leaders around this state and this country in calling for the current family separation policy to end immediately and for children to be reunited with their parents as their lawful application for asylum proceeds.”

And from Texas.

“Families are the bedrock of American society, and our government has the discretion to ensure that young children are not separated from their mothers and fathers and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma. Separating babies from their mothers is not only unconscionable, it is immoral,” said Texas Bishop Andrew C. Doyle, in June 14 statement.

“Superior orders will not be an ethical defense for the legacy of pain being inflicted upon these children or the violence to families being woven into the fabric of our future. These actions do irreparable harm, are not proportional to the crime, betray our covenant with God in both the Old and New Testaments, subvert American family values, and are patently inhumane.”

-Lynette Wilson is a reporter and managing editor of the Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at lwilson@episcopalchurch.org. 

Anglicans worldwide work to provide support, care for refugees

Episcopal News Service - Wed, 06/20/2018 - 2:44pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] June 20 is World Refugee Day, when the world is called to remember the millions of individuals fleeing their countries as refugees and the millions more internally displaced people stranded within their country with no home to go to.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby released a statement calling on the church to lift up these millions of people in their prayers, and he reflected on ministry to refugees that he had seen on his travels.

“My heart continues to break for over 68 million men, women and children who have risked their lives to escape conflict, violence and oppression,” he said. “In my prayers I also remember the extraordinary welcome and support for refugees that I have seen during visits to Sudan, Uganda, Jordan and other countries. In your prayers today, please take some time to remember what it means that God came to us in the vulnerability of a child whose life was in danger.”

Read the full article here.

Jerusalem archbishop calls for reconciliation among Anglicans

Episcopal News Service - Wed, 06/20/2018 - 2:35pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani has stressed the need for reconciliation amongst Anglicans. Speaking to delegates at the Global Anglican Future Conference, or GAFCON, being held in the city, Dawani spoke of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem’s work of reconciliation in the Holy Land and emphasized the importance of the Church being one. This message was featured in a homily delivered at an evensong in St George’s Cathedral on June 17 attended by some 200 of the GAFCON participants.

Read the full article here.

Episcopalians, world religious leaders confront climate disruption

Episcopal News Service - Wed, 06/20/2018 - 8:50am

His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew releasing a kestrel. Photo: Robert A. Jonas

[Episcopal News Service] Earlier this month, leaders of the Eastern church and the Western church, representing billions of people worldwide, spoke with one voice about the moral urgency of confronting the climate crisis.

“A civilization is defined and judged by our respect for the dignity of humanity and the integrity of nature,” declared the head of the Orthodox Church, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, in his keynote address for an international symposium held June 5-8 in Greece. “Toward a Green Attica: Preserving the Planet and Protecting Its People” was the ninth international, inter-disciplinary, and inter-religious symposium that the patriarch has convened since 1991 to highlight the spiritual basis of ecological care and to strengthen collaboration across disciplines in the quest to build a just and habitable world.

Two hundred leaders in a variety of fields – science, economics, theology, public policy, journalism, business, human rights and social justice activism – attended the symposium, which gathered initially in Athens and then moved to the islands of Spetses and Hydra.  Participants studied the latest findings of climate science, explored strategic actions toward sustainability and resilience, and renewed their commitment to push for the economic and societal changes that must take place if we are to avert social and ecological chaos and widespread suffering. (For program and participants, visit here.)

The Rt. Rev. Nicholas Holtam, bishop of Salisbury, represented the archbishop of Canterbury and affirmed the commitment of the Anglican Consultative Council to address the climate crisis (e.g. Resolution 16.08: Response to Global Climate Change).  As the Church of England states on its website,  “We believe that responding to climate change is an essential part of our responsibility to safeguard God’s creation.” From Sept. 1 to Oct. 4, Anglicans will unite with Christians around the world to care for God’s creation in a “Season of Creation.” (Excellent materials for “Creation Season” worship, study, and prayer are available from the Anglican Communion Environmental Network and elsewhere here; a guide to celebrating 2018 “Season of Creation” is available here.)

Peter Cardinal Turkson, a Ghanaian cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church who worked closely with Pope Francis in developing the papal encyclical, Laudato Si, represented the pope at the symposium.  Turkson read a statement from Pope Francis that included these lines: “It is not just the homes of vulnerable people around the world that are crumbling, as can be seen in the world’s growing exodus of climate migrants and environmental refugees. As I sought to point out in my Encyclical Laudato Si’, we may well be condemning future generations to a common home left in ruins. Today we must honestly ask ourselves a basic question: ‘What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?’” (The entire statement can be found here.)

One of the most powerful, disturbing and illuminating lectures was given by Jeffrey Sachs, a world-renowned professor of economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Sachs gave a one-hour overview of the history of economics that included a blistering critique of corporate capitalism and its veneration of greed, by which “Nature is utterly sacrificed for profit.”  (A professional videographer recorded the speech, but until that video becomes available, you can watch a basic recording here).

Professor Hans Joachim Schellnuber, director of Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact, gave a hair-raising presentation on the precarious health of “the vital organs of the planet,” such as the Gulf Stream, coral reefs, alpine glaciers, the Amazon rainforest, and West Antarctic Ice Sheet (a recent study shows that Antarctica’s ice loss has tripled in a decade; if that continues, we are in serious trouble).  Citing a 2017 article in the journal Science, “A roadmap for rapid decarbonization,” Schellnuber contended that we could halve carbon emissions every decade – “but we have to want to do it.”

Other speakers likewise underscored the urgent need to galvanize our vision, will, and moral courage as we confront the climate crisis, which poses an existential threat to civilization.

Both Jeffrey Sachs and Cardinal Turkson left the symposium early to make a trip to Rome. Pope Francis had taken the unprecedented step of inviting the world’s top fossil fuel executives – including the chairman of Exxon Mobil, the chief executive of the Italian energy giant Eni, and the chief executive of BP – along with money managers of major financial institutions, to meet with him in a two-day, closed-door conference at the Vatican. Sachs and Turkson joined the meeting to add their perspectives.

“There is no time to lose,” the pope told the participants. He appealed to them “to be the core of a group of leaders who envision the global energy transition in a way that will take into account all the peoples of the earth, as well as future generations and all species and ecosystems.”

Thus, in one extraordinary week, Christian churches, both East and West, called for robust action to address climate disruption.

The Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus, bishop of California and leader of the presiding bishop’s delegation to U.N. Climate Summits, commented: “The moment is dire, and also is our (humanity’s) moment of greatest possibility. St. Irenaeus called a human fully alive the glory of God. Now, 1,300 years later we may understand that for humanity to act as one for the good of the Earth is yet a greater expression of God’s glory.”

Looking back on the symposium, Andrus was thankful for its “great spirit of respect and mutuality. Rather than lobbying to enlist people to each cause, there was a celebration of what each person is doing to heal the Earth, and a seeking to support each person on their path, to make connections. A good example of this to me was the tremendous joy we all felt as the Ecumenical Patriarch released two kestrels that had been nursed back to health by an Athenian woman whose ministry is protecting and healing endangered birds.”

Another Episcopal participant, Sheila Moore Andrus, a biologist and an active climate champion from the Diocese of California, expressed appreciation for the opportunity to meet new climate activists and connect with individuals she has long respected – including the Rev. Fletcher Harper, who, she said, “is currently working on a project similar to one I am working on for the Diocese of California: a web-based tool that can help people decrease their carbon footprint and aggregate those choices by church and diocesan Community.  The conference gave Fletcher, Marc and me a chance to explore ways to promote such a tool among interfaith groups, and all this in settings filled with inspiring talks and sacred indoor/outdoor spaces.”

The Rev. Fletcher Harper, executive director of GreenFaith, concluded: “The fact that it was searingly hot during the symposium made the point about the need for action as powerfully as any of the speakers.  This September, the multi-faith service at Grace Cathedral at the start of the Global Climate Action Summit gives everyone a chance – whether in person or on the live-stream – to commit to living the change in our own diet, transportation and home energy use that’s needed for a non-scorched, sustainable future.”

– The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas serves as Missioner for Creation Care, Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ. She maintains a Website: RevivingCreation.org.

Grant boosts effort to rebuild New Zealand’s Christchurch Cathedral

Episcopal News Service - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 11:00am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Church Property Trustees of the New Zealand Diocese of Christchurch have received a grant equivalent to about $4 million toward the rebuilding of Christchurch Cathedral.

The building was all but destroyed in a devastating earthquake in 2011. In September 2017, the Diocesan Synod voted instead to reinstate the cathedral as part of a funding package with local and national government. The new grant is from the Lottery Significant Project’s Fund.

Read the full article here.

Major grant awarded help more bishops attend Lambeth Conference 2020

Episcopal News Service - Mon, 06/18/2018 - 12:41pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The organizers of the 2020 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops have received a major boost with the announcement that Allchurches Trust – owners of Ecclesiastical Insurance Group – have made a £750,000 grant, worth about $1 million, to help more bishops attend the conference. Every active bishop in the Anglican Communion will be invited to the Lambeth Conference; but the costs of attending can be prohibitive for bishops from developing countries.

Read the full article here.

Third Global Anglican Future Conference underway in Jerusalem

Episcopal News Service - Mon, 06/18/2018 - 12:37pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The third Global Anglican Future Conference, or GAFCON, has begun in Jerusalem. Organizers say 2,000 people are taking part. The ecumenical gathering attracts a large number of Anglicans.

The event includes Bible studies, group work and plenary sessions. The list of speakers includes a number of Anglican primates: Archbishop Laurent Mbanda from Rwanda, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali from Uganda and Archbishop Nicholas Okoh from Nigeria, as well as Bishop Héctor Zavala from the Anglican Church of South America’s Diocese of Chile.

Read the full article here.

Two become one in this Virginia Episcopal mission

Episcopal News Service - Mon, 06/18/2018 - 12:14pm

St. Gabriel’s parishioner and volunteer teacher Luz Margery Quiceno-Spencer leads an Educating with Love class for children, teaching them how to read and write in Spanish, which they speak at home while learning English reading and writing at school. Photo courtesy of St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series profiling the Episcopal Church’s recent work planting new churches and other faith communities. Other stories about recipients of grants from the Episcopal Church’s Genesis Advisory Group on Church Planting can be found here.

[Episcopal News Service] A Puerto Rican corporate entrepreneur-turned-priest wasn’t the obvious answer for a failing church with no permanent home in Leesburg, Virginia, where attendance had dwindled to 20 people.

English is the Rev. Daniel Vélez-Rivera’s second language, and St. Gabriel’s was an Episcopal church where English was the first, and for the most part only, language spoken by its Anglo congregation.

Yet, the congregation’s unlikely choice has been a catalyst for growth and ministry expansion. An expert in start-ups as a lay person and a church-planting priest after being ordained 12 years ago, Vélez-Rivera’s efforts have drawn 98 people to Sunday services since he arrived in 2012. The church has been a flurry of activity — with challenges and rewards — bolstered by its first New Church Start grant of $100,000 awarded during the 2013-2015 budget cycle, followed by a recent $75,000 renewal grant in the current triennium, Vélez-Rivera said.

Today, the priest leads a single congregation with two Sunday services: one in English, the other in Spanish. Membership is about 50-50 of the two populations, he said.

“Serving God’s children is messy. It’s not just liturgy and services. Starting churches the way Peter and Paul did, it’s not easy; it’s not comfortable,” Vélez-Rivera told Episcopal News Service. “It might fail, it might not flourish, but you have to try — like start-ups.”

The Rev. Daniel Vélez-Rivera leads a Eucharist at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church in Leesburg, Virginia, a mission church with one congregation and a service in English and one in Spanish. Photo courtesy of St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church

Leesburg is in Loudoun County, one of the wealthiest, fastest-growing counties in the United States with an annual median income of $125,672, according to a 2016 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s a Washington, D.C., commuter city where the Latino population is burgeoning as a result of that growing economy — filling jobs in construction, landscaping and farming — but they can’t afford living there.

In a county where almost one-quarter of its population is foreign-born, St. Gabriel’s had to look outside of itself to minister to the new people in town. It was the key to survival.

That’s pretty much the point of these grants.

Resolution D005 and Resolution A012, approved by General Convention in July 2015, called for the new and continued funding of church plants and Mission Enterprise Zones.

Mission Enterprise Zones are designated geographic areas, congregations or dioceses with a mission focused on serving under-represented groups, such as young people, poor and less-educated people, people of color, and those who never, or hardly ever, attend church.

In the children’s classes of the Educando con Amor program, part of St. Gabriel’s social justice ministry, young students learn skills to improve their bilingual abilities in speaking, reading and writing to improve their college and career prospects. Photo: Eva Maria Torres Herrera

As a single congregation in which two languages are spoken, St. Gabriel’s is a study in contrasts that complement each other: It is both the planting of a Latino congregation, and the restart of an Anglo congregation founded by the Rev. Jeunee Cunningham in 2002-2003 as a mission plant and daughter church of St. James Episcopal Church in Leesburg. Membership dwindled after Cunningham left.

When Vélez-Rivera arrived to be vicar of St. Gabriel’s in 2012, it was almost like he needed to plant a whole new church with the remaining members.

The priest had some tough lessons ahead, despite his business experience in start-ups. Sunday attendance dropped from 20 to 15 people in those early days. He listened to concerns and logistical issues that people expressed and worked on growing the English-speaking congregation first. Then, Vélez-Rivera spent time getting to know the Latino community better, at grocery stores, soccer games and festivals, in order to make his face familiar and learn about people’s needs.

On his first Spanish-language Easter service, only one person showed up.

“I cried on the way home. It was so hard. They said the place was hard to find. That’s when I stopped, full-stop, to think,” Vélez-Rivera said. He turned to the parent church of St. James and was offered their space on Sunday afternoons.

On Sundays, the English service is at 10 a.m. in a middle school, and the Spanish service is at 3 p.m. at Saint James, followed by a meal and Bible study. Once a month from June to October, members from both services unite for a joint, bilingual service outdoors at Chapel in the Woods. The family of a St. James parishioner honored her will and gifted to St. Gabriel’s almost 12 acres of land, where the chapel is located. The outdoor altar and benches are made from the land’s timber, milled by the family.

Once zoning and other administrative issues are figured out, Vélez-Rivera has plans to build a permanent St. Gabriel’s structure for everyone to meet and worship. And by everyone, he means the community at large. “I’m so psyched,” he said.

It’s an example of how the old guard is welcoming and blending with the new.

“One of the primary learnings from St. Gabriel’s is that kind of work is lonely work for any leader, especially for an outspoken, Puerto Rican, prophetic leader like Daniel,” said the Rev. Tom Brackett, the Episcopal Church’s manager for church planting and mission development. “He has struggled to bring along an aging congregation and engage them in ministry with people unlike themselves, and he has done it beautifully.”

St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church members gather for the 2017 annual parish retreat at Shrine Mont, the Diocese of Virginia’s camp and conference center. Photo courtesy of St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church

Bob and Lisa Cusack have been members of St. Gabriel’s for 14 years, watching membership dwindle and then gradually transform into something new and grow. The older, Anglo members and newer Latino members mingle at special services, such as the Easter service and Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. At the annual St. Gabriel’s retreat at Shrine Mont in the Shenandoah Valley, they unite at meals, bonfires and hikes.

Communication isn’t much of a problem, they say, because there’s always someone around who can help translate if necessary, especially the children. To collaborate better, they recently added two people from the 3 p.m. service to the vestry, said Bob Cusack, also the senior warden. Longtime parishioner and volunteer music director Peter Schweitzer takes a leading role in the music for the English service and participates in the music as a choir member and flautist at the Spanish service.

“When you’re a church that’s lived out of a box for 14 years, you become a very tight-knit community. Everybody contributes,” Bob Cusack told ENS. He and his wife laughed. “And there’s a lot of food, which needs no language. It’s very relaxed. Everybody’s just trying to learn from everybody else. It’s a good learning experience.”

Lisa Cusack, who teaches Sunday school, agreed: “We share our faith, and that’s the most important thing, and that brings us together.”

The goal is to be as welcoming and accessible to all people as possible, Vélez-Rivera said.

At a recent barbecue fundraiser with music and games, tickets were sold on a sliding scale depending how much the person could afford. The same goes for the children’s summer camp fees. When school has an extended break, St. Gabriel’s sends food home for schoolchildren who qualify for the free and reduced lunch programs in collaboration with Backpack Buddies and Loudoun Hunger Relief.

Children are taught to celebrate their cultural heritage, one of the ways that the Rev. Daniel Vélez-Rivera, gathers into the church family parishioners whose first language is Spanish. Photo courtesy of St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church

“We are serving the people that other churches don’t serve: the marginalized, the poor, the Latinos, not the traditional Episcopalians you think of when you think of the Episcopal Church,” Vélez-Rivera said. “My goal is for more churches to be all inclusive. Many churches are more clubby, and I’m not a club person. We’re a church.”

St. Gabriel’s growth in the last few years is not just because of the ability to worship in Spanish, but because parishioners can receive pastoral care and support for issues affecting their everyday lives, said Aisha Huertas, director of mission, outreach and diversity for the Diocese of Virginia.

“More and more churches should follow the example of congregations like St. Gabriel’s by creating and nurturing congregations that do not ignore the language, cultural diversity and challenges of the communities that surround them, but rather live into God’s call to love our neighbor,” Huertas told ENS. “It is hard to show our neighbors a Jesus kind of love, if we do not meet them where they are.”

Where are they? Crowded in apartment complexes. To solve transportation issues and provide the comfort of home turf, St. Gabriel’s was granted access to one of these apartment building’s community rooms to operate Educando con Amor, or Educating with Love, part of the church’s social justice ministry.

In that program, Eva María Torres Herrera teaches the U.S.-born, English-speaking children of immigrants how to read and write in Spanish so they can become fully bilingual. That way, they’ll be able to get into better colleges and be more marketable for better jobs.

Maria Diaz, a student of St. Gabriel’s Educando con Amor adult ESL program, plays the ball toss game in which the catcher has to say something in English. Photo: Eva Maria Torres Herrera

Sarah Ali Svoboda is the director of Educando con Amor’s adult ESL (English as a Second Language) program, teaching practical life skills literacy in English. She helps each adult with his or her goals, whether it’s tailoring a resume toward management positions, helping someone shop at the grocery store, explaining what to say at a bank, or using role-play to practice sharing symptoms with a doctor and making a medical appointments by phone. One language-learning technique that reduces anxiety is a ball-toss game, in which whoever catches the ball has to say something in English.

“It’s a safe space where no one is going to ask them for papers, and they can learn English without feeling embarrassed,” Svoboda said. “There are no handouts. It’s really about giving them skills so they can help themselves, get jobs and thrive in this country.”

Huertas said she believes that these efforts of radical welcome, justice, and love will prompt growth in the Episcopal Church as a whole.

“The makeup of the United States is changing and we, as a church, must be willing to change in ways that will address the needs of people today,” Huertas said.

“Most importantly, this work is living into God’s dream for human kind, that we will all live together in harmony — even if living in harmony means dealing with the discomfort of doing things unlike ‘we’ve always done them.’”

— Amy Sowder is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn, New York. She can be reached at AmySowder.com.

General Convention continues ‘virtual trend’ of going paperless

Episcopal News Service - Fri, 06/15/2018 - 5:33pm

Diocese of Newark Deputies the Rev. Joseph Harmon and the Rev. John Mennell show off the loaner iPads assigned to all deputies and bishops for the Salt Lake City meeting of General Convention in 2015. They contain a “Virtual Binder,” electronically replacing most of convention’s until then-traditional paper systems. Photo: Nina Nicholson/Diocese of Newark

[Episcopal News Service] It used to be that General Convention conducted all of its legislative business on paper – approximately 1.2 million pieces of paper in 2012. No more.

For the second convention running, when each deputy, alternate deputy and bishop arrives in Austin, Texas, for the 79th General Convention, they will get a loaner iPad to use as their “Virtual Binder.” The iPads being used during the July 5-13 gathering are newer and faster than the ones the General Convention office rented in 2015.

The last time bishops and deputies used actual binders to keep track of General Convention legislative action was in 2012 for the 77th meeting of convention. Photo: Julie Murray/Diocese of Southern Ohio

Replacing each actual binder with the digital system will save the cost of those estimated 2,400 reams of paper, which amounted to about six tons, plus the copying costs. Convention veterans recall an actual binder that they gradually filled with their copies as the gathering progressed, often to the point where some used wheeled bags to transport their binders. “Click time” was set aside in each house for bishops and deputies to update their binders. Tracking the progress of resolutions was impossible for people who did not attend convention. No more.

Moreover, not only have the Virtual Binder’s functions been improved and expanded for greater access across the church, the system has made the Episcopal Church and the General Convention an innovative leader in the business of legislation tracking. There is also the prospect of sharing and licensing the system’s basic architecture to other groups.

The Virtual Binder is an app that runs on the bishops’ and deputies’ iPads, and can be accessed online. Those without a General Convention iPad can access the online version here. That latter version mirrors the app running on the iPads and changes along with it in real time.

No matter how it is accessed, the 2015 edition of the Virtual Binder enables users to track the progress of convention resolutions. It also includes each house’s daily agendas, calendars for each day and journals (a list of messages sent between the houses informing the other of actions taken), committee calendars and reports. It contains tabs for checking on current action and floor amendments in each house.

The virtual binder for the 79th meeting of General Convention features new search possibilities and ways to track legislation in both houses. To switch between houses, or to Spanish, click the gear icon at upper right. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

All in all, “this is exactly what the bishops and deputies are seeing on their iPads,” Twila Rios, manager of digital information systems in the convention office, told Episcopal News Service. “It’s replicated in real time which means there’s nanoseconds difference between what’s out there and what’s in here – something that human beings can’t register.”

“The most important thing is that within the budget constraints, which is what everybody in the church has to operate on, the new features are all in response to the questions and the feedback we received after the last General Convention,” said the Rev. Michael Barlowe, executive officer of the General Convention in an interview with ENS.

The 2018 edition of the binder includes these major changes:

  • An expanded resolutions search function will also give users more information about a resolution’s status. Reports of committee actions on each resolution will be available, as will postings of when a committee or a house is due to consider a resolution. Resolution texts will be updated as committees or houses make changes.
  • It used to be the that only way to know what a legislative committee was doing was to find the large stand in a convention hallway on which each committee’s daily agenda was posted. That stand will still operate in Austin but now such information will be searchable on the Virtual Binder by committee, date and/or resolution number. “We hope that this will make a lot better than it was last time,” Rios said. “It’s also dynamic,” she added, explaining that when a committee chair tells the General Convention Office about a meeting it wants scheduled, one of many volunteers enters the information into the system and it shows up immediately in the Virtual Binder. Those volunteers also will process resolution changes in real time.
  • Communications from one house to the other will also be posted to the Virtual Binder. In addition, text-based documents (as opposed to PDFs) being used during debate or announcements in text form will be available in the binder.
  • The church’s Constitution and Canons are also included in the binder. Bishops and deputies often need to reference those rules and “it’s easier to have it right there” than via a separate book or through internet access, Rios said.

Current versions of every resolutions to be considered by General Convention are available via the virtual binder. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

The Virtual Binder is the public-facing portion of a multilayered system known as the Legislative Processing Online System that the General Convention Office developed with the help of E-accent, a software developer, according to Rios.

“There’s not a lot of legislative software out there. There’s a limited set of vendors and a limited number of customers,” she said, explaining that government entities are the main users.

“When we jumped into it prior to 2015, there wasn’t much out there.”

The General Convention Office took “a high risk that paid off” to make the switch to digital systems in the run-up to the 2015 convention, Barlowe said. “We actually invented this. No one had done anything like this in the legislative world.”

E-accent “took our ideas and created this thing,” he said, calling his staff the architects and the software developer the engineers.

The Virtual Binder and all of the other systems that mesh to make convention run smoothly require a lot of bandwidth and Barlowe said the Episcopal Church’s director of information technology, Darvin Darling, and his staff have helped his office with some “innovative ways that we can do more within the same bandwidth.”

Both at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City where convention met in 2015 and now at the Austin Convention Center, the buildings’ technical-support people, he said, “were fascinated by what we were doing, too.”

“That’s a really tip of the hat to the Episcopal Church and the General Convention Office is that even in a place like Austin which is pretty cutting-edge technologically, techies are interested in what we’re doing,” Barlowe said, referring to Austin’s annual South by Southwest event.

The Virtual Binder app and its connected systems are also what Barlowe described as an exercise in “ethical software.” Its developers don’t exploit their workers and that the General Convention meets or exceed with U.S. and European privacy rules.

“It’s part of our job to think through those things and to act as you’d except a church to operate, not just at the minimal ethical standards, but maximize the way that we treat data and the way we organize things and the way that we operate digitally,” he said.

“The longer term hope” is that the General Convention Office can find ways to share the systems with dioceses and other denominations, Barlowe said. There have already been conversations with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, for instance.

If the church has been an innovator in software, it has also led the market in the type of hardware convention needs. When Rios was looking to rent 1,200 tablets prior to the 2015 convention for the members of both houses plus the other administrative people who would need them, she discovered it was an unusual request. Also unusual was her request that the iPads be “custom imaged” with the General Convention’s apps.

“We were a new thing to the vendors,” she said.

In fact, the vendor, Meeting Tomorrow, now uses the idea of “custom imaged” iPads as part of its sales pitch. And E-accent, which will have staffers at General Convention, uses its work for the Episcopal Church to showcase its business.

The systems, Rios said, are constantly being refined and update. “It’s a work in progress,” she said.

The aim of that work is “trying to improve the ways that we can provide the information, make it more searchable,” she said. “There’s limitations and I’m always trying to find ways around the limitations and help to make this better, so people can find the information that they need.”

The General Convention mobile app runs on EventMobi. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Some limitations are financial, and some are technological, she and Barlowe said. For instance, some people asked for the ability for individual bishops and deputies to message each other from their iPads. Adding the infrastructure to meet that request “it was beyond our financial capacity,” he said.

Another digital way to follow convention

A free General Convention app is available for anyone using a smartphone or tablet running Android 4.4 or IOS 8.0 or later. The app contains General Convention schedules, maps, vendor information, daily orders of worship services and other useful materials. (Complete orders of service for convention’s daily Eucharists are also included on both the iPads, thus eliminating the need to print hundreds of worship booklets daily.)

Download the app here or from the App Store or Google Play, and then enter the code 79GC when prompted. The app can also be used on a computer. That link is here.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter.

Bishop appoints new missioner for returning congregations

Episcopal News Service - Fri, 06/15/2018 - 12:20pm

The Rev. Willis Coyne

[The Episcopal Church in South Carolina] Bishop Skip Adams has appointed the Rev. William Coyne as the new missioner for returning congregations for The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, a new diocesan staff position created to assist parishes and missions that are returning to The Episcopal Church.

“This new ministry is a way for our diocese to manifest good care of God’s people, live out our Diocesan Vision,and always seek the goals of reconciliation and unity in Christ during this important time of transition,” Adams said.

As missioner, Coyne will report directly to the bishop, while developing teams and support systems around the diocese for the successful return of churches to The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, which is the diocese of the Episcopal Church in eastern South Carolina.

“Bill Coyne brings great gifts to this position, both in his education and abilities and in his many years of experience at the parish and diocesan levels,” the bishop said. “His passion for congregational vitality and service to God’s people will be a great blessing to everyone who will be working with him in the months ahead.”

“What does a 21st-century mission-focused congregation look like in the Episcopal Church in South Carolina?” Coyne said. “That is my priority question as we begin this transition time together.”

Read ‘A Word from the New Missioner’ here

At least 28 parishes in the region are returning to The Episcopal Church in South Carolina under a South Carolina Supreme Court ruling in August 2017 in a lawsuit filed by a breakaway group. Prior to 2012, all the parishes were operating as Episcopal churches in the then-unified Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.

The transition moved into a new phase on June 11, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the decision. The 1st Circuit Court of Common Pleas is now responsible for implementing the final ruling, a process which may take several months.

Coyne will be the chief diocesan contact person for every returning parish and mission, meeting with their leaders and identifying what is needed for an orderly return to The Episcopal Church in South Carolina. He also will help them with assessing their clergy and staff needs, determining their financial position, and setting up their governance and bylaws in accordance with church law.

One initial goal is for every congregation to be able to continue to worship on Sunday mornings without interruption through the transition period.

Coyne has served in The Episcopal Church in South Carolina since August 2015, when he was called as interim rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Charleston. He led that parish for two years through their successful call of a new rector last summer. In August 2017 he was named priest-in-charge of The East Cooper Episcopal Church, and will continue in that role alongside his new responsibilities.

Before coming to Charleston, he served for 15 years as archdeacon of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, where he was responsible for congregational development for 65 congregations. After retiring from that ministry in 2013, Coyne served in two interim positions in Western Massachusetts before he and his wife Janet moved to Charleston. The Coynes have three grown children and five grandchildren.

Fr. Coyne can be reached at wcoyne@episcopalchurchsc.org or 843-614-0679.

La Iglesia y líderes interreligiosos le piden al gobierno de EE.UU. que le ponga fin a su política migratoria que divide familias

Episcopal News Service - Fri, 06/15/2018 - 9:57am

People hold signs to protest against U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order to detain children crossing the southern U.S. border and separating families outside of City Hall in Los Angeles, California, U.S. June 7, 2018. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon – RC111056BF20

[Episcopal News Service] A mediados de mayo, un hondureño que cruzó la frontera de México con Estados Unidos en el sureste de Texas con su esposa y su hijo de 3 años se suicidó en un centro de detención, donde luego de solicitar asilo, los agentes fronterizos le dijeron que lo separarían de su familia.

Las separaciones de familia no sólo están ocurriendo en la frontera, las redadas están teniendo lugar en todo el país. A principios de junino, en Seattle, Washington, 206 inmigrantes indocumentados arrestados en la frontera y retenidos por el Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas de EE.UU.—174 de ellos mujeres, y al menos la mitad de ellas madres— fueron trasladados a un centro de detención cerca del aeropuerto. En algún momento de este traslado, a las madres las separaron de sus hijos. A algunas no les dieron la oportunidad de despedirse y podían oír a sus hijos gritar en un cuarto cercano; algunas no saben el paradero de sus hijos. La mayoría, aunque no todas, de las mujeres huían de las bandas y la violencia doméstica en El Salvador, Guatemala y Honduras, tres de los países más violentos del mundo.

Menores solos y familias provenientes de América Central comenzaron a llegar a la frontera México-americana en cifras récord en 2014. Estas cifras disminuyeron posteriormente, pero hay un nuevo auge ahora en la frontera sudoccidental donde los agentes de Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas han detenido a más de 252.000 personas  —32.371 menores no acompañados y 59.371 familias— en los últimos ocho meses. Hay unos 11.000 menores no acompañados en detención federal.

El 11 de junio, Jeff Sessions, el secretario de Justicia de EE.UU., esclareció la política migratoria del gobierno de Trump al decir  que las violencias de las bandas armada y la violencia doméstica no eran fundamentos para la obtención de asilo, revocando así un precedente establecido en 2016 por la Junta Federal de Apelaciones de Inmigración del Departamento de Justicia.

A principios de abril, Sessions anunció que cualquiera que fuera detenido cruzando la frontera o intentando cruzarla ilegalmente estaría sujeto a un proceso penal. Luego, el 7 de mayo, durante un discurso en San Diego, Sessions aclaró la política de cero tolerancia, afirmando que incluye la separación de niños y padres.

“Los inmigrantes deben presentar una solicitud legal antes de entrar en nuestro país”, dijo Sessions. “Los ciudadanos de otros países no pueden violar nuestras leyes o reescribirlas por nosotros. Las personas de todo el mundo no tienen ningún derecho a exigir ingreso [en nuestro país] en violación de nuestra soberanía”.

Para llevar a cabo el cumplimiento de las nuevas normas, Sessions envío a 35 fiscales al Suroeste y trasladó 18 jueces de inmigración a la frontera.

El 6 de junio, un juez federal en San Diego rehusó desestimar una demanda presentada por la Unión Americana de Libertades Civiles que se oponía a la política migratoria del gobierno de Trump diciendo que la separación de las familias violaba la cláusula del debido proceso de la Constitución. Sin embargo, el juez sí desestimó otra demanda que argüía que la práctica viola las leyes de asilo.

Entrar o intentar entrar en Estados Unidos ilegalmente y solicitar asilo no es la misma cosa.

Conforme al derecho internacional, las personas que huyen de la violencia y la persecución tienen el derecho de solicitar asilo. La Iglesia Episcopal tiene una política de larga data que afirma el derecho universal de solicitar asilo; reconoce la necesidad de proteger a las personas vulnerables.

La semana pasada, el obispo primado Michael Curry firmó una declaración ecuménica e interreligiosa que expresaba preocupación por una reciente política del gobierno de EE.UU. “que exigía una aplicación más estricta de las leyes federales de inmigración”. Una política, dicen los firmantes, que probablemente dará lugar a un aumento en las separaciones de familias.

“En verdad aprecié que el obispo Curry firmara la declaración… lamentando la separación de las familias a partir de criterios religiosos” dijo la veterana activista de inmigración Sarah Lawton, que preside el Comité de Justicia Social y Política Internacional de la Convención General y es diputada laica por la Diócesis de California. “Aprecio que él reconozca que nosotros, como cristianos, como episcopales, respetamos a la familia como uno de los pilares fundamentales de la sociedad y lo reconocemos en nuestros propios sacramentos”.

Que Estados Unidos implante una política punitiva de separación de familias en la frontera —tomando a los niños y no diciéndoles a sus padres, en algunos casos, adonde van, no permitiéndoles que se despidan— para desalentar a los que solicitan asilo es [algo] inimaginable, afirmó ella, en una llamada telefónica con Episcopal News Service.

“Es tan cruel, realmente depravado. No necesitan hacer eso… Conforme al derecho internacional, ellos tienen el derecho de hacer una solicitud de asilo”, dijo Lawton. “Deberíamos estar todos al teléfono —o en las calles— llamando a nuestros legisladores. La política de EE.UU. ha estado en crisis durante mucho tiempo; eso se ha intensificado bajo Trump y se ha tornado más racista. La Administración busca presas fáciles, familias que están inscritas [en los sistemas de rastreo del gobierno] Es un terror que desciende sobre las familias. Como Iglesia, es nuestro deber proteger la dignidad de todo ser humano”.

Las historias de padres y madres separados de sus hijos en la frontera son sumamente perturbadoras, dijo —en un correo electrónico a ENS— Lacy Broemel, analista de la política migratoria y de refugiados de la Iglesia Episcopal que opera desde la Oficina de Relaciones Gubernamentales [de la Iglesia] en Washington, D.C.

“La Oficina de Relaciones Gubernamentales insta a los episcopales a que se dirijan a sus representantes del Congreso y les pidan que el gobierno ponga fin a esta política lesiva de separar familias en la frontera. Nuestra oficina comparte la declaración del Obispo Primado con miembros del Congreso y se reúne con ellos para hacerles presente la profunda preocupación de la Iglesia Episcopal respecto a esta práctica y aboga mediante el proceso de partidas [presupuestarias] a que se opongan a la asignación de fondos adicionales a los centros de detención”, afirmó ella.

“Además, seguimos abogando por cambios en mayor escala en nuestras políticas migratorias, tales como la ciudadanía para los “soñadores”[Dreamers] y otras personas indocumentadas en EE.UU., la puesta en práctica de políticas humanas y razonables en nuestra frontera, y abordar la violencia y la pobreza de estas familias que huyen de sus países de origen”, dijo Broemel.

En su 79ª. Convención General en julio en Austin, Texas, la Iglesia Episcopal contemplará una legislación que refuerce sus posiciones sobre los refugiados, inmigración y migración, incluida la Resolución D009, que examina los principios cristianos para responder a la migración humana (la Convención General de 2015 aprobó varias resoluciones que fortalecían su posición sobre la migración y los refugiados).

La Convención se ocupará no sólo de responder a la crisis migratoria actual, sino que también adoptará una estrategia de respuesta a largo plazo en Estados Unidos, así como en lugares tales como la República Dominicana, donde los migrantes haitianos con frecuencia son víctimas de abuso, y en zonas donde el cambio climático amenaza con desplazar a comunidades enteras.

“La Iglesia Episcopal tiene un largo y bien documentado historial de batallar a favor de una reforma migratoria global así como de [brindarles] ayuda humanitaria a los refugiados”, dijo la Rvdma. Anne Hodges-Copple, obispa sufragánea de la Diócesis de Carolina del Norte. “El interés y la energía para esta labor no hace más que crecer mientras nuestras comunidades locales están siendo continuamente bendecidas con nuevos vecinos de otros países. Los relatos de familia rotas y sufriendo debido al inoperante sistema migratorio actual son las historias de familias que conocemos del trabajo, la escuela y la iglesia.

“Cinco resoluciones sobre la reforma migratoria se han presentado hasta ahora ante el Comité de Justicia Social y Política de EE.UU.. Esperamos más presentaciones que aborden la política del Departamento de Justicia de separar a los hijos de sus padres. Esta es una significativa desviación de décadas de anteriores gobiernos demócratas y republicanos que desafía cualquier definición usualmente aceptada de valores de la familia”, afirmó ella. “Un gran don de la Convención General es nuestro proceso de resoluciones como un modo de escuchar, hablar y aprender de una variedad de voces y de discernir devotamente una posición y un llamado a la acción bíblica y teológicamente fundamentados”.

A principios de este mes, Rebecca Linder Blachly, directora de la Oficina de Relaciones Gubernamentales, firmó una declaración interreligiosa que lamentaba la separación de las familias e instaba a los líderes nacionales a proteger la unidad familiar.

Las iglesias y las comunidades religiosas tienen un derecho constitucional a presentarle peticiones al gobierno.  La cláusula del establecimiento de la Primera Enmienda no les prohíbe a las iglesias reunirse con funcionarios electos ni informarles o abogar cerca de ellos con el objetivo de crear leyes en consonancia con los valores de las iglesias. A través de la historia de EE.UU., las comunidades religiosas se han comprometido políticamente con problemas de su tiempo: desde la abolición hasta la reforma migratoria pasando por los derechos civiles.

La Oficina de Relaciones Gubernamentales – ubicada en el barrio Capitol Hill [donde se encuentra el Congreso]— lleva a cabo la agenda de la Iglesia basada en valores no partidaristas. Cada tres años, la Convención General de la Iglesia se reúne para conducir los asuntos relacionados con la Iglesia y debatir y aprobar una legislación que abarca desde revisiones del Libro de Oración Común hasta resoluciones en apoyo de una reforma de la justicia penal y migratoria. Los episcopales pueden unirse a la Red Episcopal de Política Pública para llegar a participar de esta labor.

Para escribirle a sus funcionarios electos y pedirles que defiendan el acceso al asilo, haga clic aquí.

En mayo, la Oficina de Relaciones Gubernamentales presentó un seminario en la red [webinar] sobre políticas migratorias y defensa social titulado “Amando a tu prójimo: acciones consecuentes sobre la inmigración”. Haga clic aquí para verlo.

— Lynette Wilson es reportera y jefa de redacción de Episcopal News Service. Puede dirigirse a ella en lwilson@episcopalchurch.org. Traducción de Vicente Echerri.

Cape Town Archbishop welcomes easing of restrictions on sexual violence prosecutions

Episcopal News Service - Thu, 06/14/2018 - 1:43pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The archbishop of Cape Town has welcomed a decision by South Africa’s Constitutional Court which will make it easier for victims of sexual violence to seek justice. A statute of limitation in South Africa prevented prosecutions for sexual offences other than rape, if the alleged offence occurred more than 20 years earlier. The Constitutional Court struck down that law, saying it was inconsistent with the country’s constitution.

Read the entire article here.

Extending the Table pursues Christian ministries as means to build relationships in community

Episcopal News Service - Thu, 06/14/2018 - 1:22pm

The Rev. Jane Johnson, left, and Bobbie Joy Amann, the lead missioner of Beloved Community’s Mission Action Team, enjoy a conversation with Jeffrey, a regular at the Saturday breakfasts. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series profiling the Episcopal Church’s recent work planting new churches and other faith communities. Other stories about recipients of grants from the Episcopal Church’s Genesis Advisory Group on Church Planting can be found here.

[Episcopal News Service] The door of the downtown storefront in this central Wisconsin college town opened into a spacious retreat, a warm gathering place with couches, chairs and tables and one that, every Saturday, offers a modest breakfast.

On this Saturday, a man in a red hooded sweatshirt was the first through the front door promptly at 9 a.m. He made his way first to the coffee, only later wandering over to the Episcopalian and Lutheran volunteers who were serving ham, cheesy potatoes, banana bread and other homemade items.

Another man in stocking hat and coat plopped down on a chair looking weary. “More sick than hungry,” the man said. The Rev. Jane Johnson pulled up her own chair close to sit and talk with him as the rest of the room began to fill with conversation over food.

This weekly community meal for people who are chronically homeless or living on the economic margins is one component of a ministry known as Extending the Table, which has received key support from a $20,000 Mission Enterprise Zone grant from the Episcopal Church. Meals are central to the ministry but only as a means to the underlying goal of building new relationships.

“It’s living out your faith,” Valerie Le Grande, one of the church volunteers, said during Episcopal News Service’s visit to the breakfast. “Because I think we are called to help the poor and the underprivileged.”

“And those who just need a friend,” fellow volunteer Diane Rice said as she prepared to serve food to about a dozen or more people.

Valerie Le Grande serves food to some of the visitors to the weekly community meal organized by Intercession Episcopal Church and Redeemer Lutheran Church, which worship together as Beloved Community in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

The ministry is ecumenical because the congregation itself is ecumenical. Johnson is rector of Intercession Episcopal Church and pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church through a partnership they call Beloved Community, involving a shared worship space in Stevens Point, a small city of about 27,000 people. They also collaborate on the Mission Action Team spearheading Extending the Table, which is taking church into the community in innovative ways.

“The challenge that we decided we have is, we don’t know how to build connections with people who are not like us,” Johnson said.

The four groups that Extending the Table aims to connect with are people living on the economic margins, the transgender community, college students and young people.

“This is a good example of the sorts of new ministries that we’re looking to start across the Episcopal Church,” said the Rev. Michael Michie, staff officer for church planting infrastructure. “For a lot of people, crossing the threshold of an established church can be hugely intimidating. … So, having a creative, highly relational ministry that really seeks to bring these people in and connect with us, it’s just the kind of thing that we’re so excited about.”

Even before those efforts received the backing of an Episcopal Church grant, Intercession had reached out to the transgender community through a support group called Just As I Am, led by Intercession member Bobbie Joy Amann.

Amann, who now serves as the lead missioner of the Mission Action Team, is transgender and knew some of the therapists in Stevens Point who work with the transgender community, so she began spreading the word about creating a church-based group offering support and socializing.

The LGBTQ community “in the past has been very, very suspicious of Christianity, at least the way it has been misrepresented,” Amann said, so it was important to first build trust and not go in with a religious agenda.

The church began hosting the meetings about two years ago, sometimes drawing 15 to 20 people. Amann thinks the participants were impressed by congregation members’ willingness to listen with acceptance and offer silent witnesses to their experiences.

Members of the Just As I Am group still meet socially around town and remain connected to the church, though the regular church meetings have since ended.

Extending the Table also has organized monthly community dinners at the church for the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center at the University of Stevens Point, which helps the church build relationships with both the LGBTQ community and college students. The most recent dinner was May 10 and featured pizza and conversation and “just being present to them in a way they’re probably not used to having Christians be with them,” Amann said.

That is the approach the Mission Action Team is taking with all the communities that are part of Extending the Table.

“It’s putting wings to our gospel and being the hands and arms and feet of Christ,” Amann said.

The weekly meal for people who are chronically homeless or living on the economic margins is one component of a ministry known as Extending the Table, which has received key support from a $20,000 Mission Enterprise Zone grant from the Episcopal Church. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

The efforts underway at Intercession coincide with an openness to ministry experimentation and reflection encouraged by Diocese of Fond du Lac Bishop Matthew Gunter, who created the diocesan Commission on Congregational Vitality about three years ago.

The commission, of which Johnson is a member, is working with all congregations in the diocese to assess their strengths and challenges to develop plans for making them more visible in the community. And those plans are not intended to simply get more people into the church on Sunday.

“We’ve been encouraging congregations to think hard about what they can do in their own context,” Gunter told ENS.

Extending the Table has been a leading example. “The way they did that fit very much into the mindset of what can we do to engage mission differently,” he said.

One catalyst for the Extending the Table was the deliberations over Intercession’s building. It was in serious need of repair, and although fixing the building to remain in the congregation’s historic location would have been feasible, the congregation began discerning whether that was really how God was calling them to use their time and money.

Cathy Cowling, another member of the Commission on Congregational Vitality, was asked to help facilitate those discussions, and she told ENS that Intercession didn’t make the decision to move lightly.

“Is the church the building, or is the church the people gathered there and doing ministry? And they said the church is more than the building,” Cowling said.

Intersession already had a growing relationship with Redeemer Lutheran Church, an Evangelical Lutheran Church of America congregation. Johnson had been leading a regular Wednesday night meal and Christian education session involving members of the two congregations. With Intercession assessing its location options and with Redeemer searching for a new pastor, the two churches reached an agreement to share Johnson as rector-pastor and to allow Intercession to move into and share Redeemer’s church building starting last August.

“A lot of folks get fixated on the fact we left our building,” Johnson said, but a church is more than the building. “Do we save the building? Or do we save the church? And we just decided that if our focus continued to be on do we save the building, we’re not going to be able to move into this way of mission that God is calling us to.”

The Saturday breakfasts grew out of an earlier ministry to homeless people staying in a winter warming center housed in Intercession’s parish hall and run by an organization called Evergreen Community Initiatives. That warming center, with a capacity of a dozen people, opened in November 2016.

The church started offering meals to the warming center residents some Saturdays, and when the warming center closed for the season in April 2017, Intercession decided to continue the meals every Saturday morning at a centrally located park in Stevens Point.

The Extending the Table breakfasts are held every Saturday morning at Franciscans Downtown in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Then last fall, the breakfasts moved to its current location in Franciscan Downtown, a kind of day center for the homeless and economically disadvantaged run by a Franciscan order.

“How is Mother Jane?” a man named Jeffrey said to Johnson shortly after arriving at breakfast. Jeffrey is a Saturday morning regular and a former resident of the warming center at Intercession.

“I’m well, thank you,” Johnson said.

Most of the people who come are chronically homeless or people dependent on government assistance to get by. Jeffrey, who declined to provide his last name to a reporter, is 67 and gets by on Social Security checks and selling items at flea markets in the summer months, when he lives out of his car. He and the others who gather here Saturday mornings can take advantage of well-established feeding services provided by other organizations in Stevens Point. The goal of Extending the Table was not to replicate those organizations’ work.

“The whole point isn’t really to serve food,” Johnson told ENS. “The whole point is to build relationships and community.” It’s about “just rethinking what it means to be the body of Christ, and that we need to be in ministry with one another.”

The Mission Action Team follows an open-ended but deliberate cycle: Listen, discern, experiment, reflect, repeat. It’s a template that can be followed by congregations across the church.

“What we’re learning, we’re intent on sharing that with the larger church,” said Michie, the staff officer for church planting infrastructure. Congregations like the one in Stevens Point are “kind of pioneering the way for what the Episcopal Church will look like in the next generation.”

Church members Diane and Harry Rice greet and offer food to guests at the community meal. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

God’s presence is felt every Saturday at Franciscans Downtown, where on this morning the meal was followed by a memorial service for John Jankowski, a beloved regular who died the month before.

“The best way to describe John was, we all have our own idiosyncrasies, tendencies and peculiarities, and his peculiarities were peculiar,” Jeffrey said.

As for Jeffrey, he said he once taught math and economics to high school students. Now he likes to spend his summers in Wisconsin’s Northwoods, or wherever else life takes him. He said he has no family, though it was clear he had made connections among the people at the breakfast.

“You do have family,” Johnson told him. “I’m your family.”

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

Mississippi tolls bells in Medgar Evers’ memory

Episcopal News Service - Wed, 06/13/2018 - 12:19pm

[Diocese of Mississippi] Church bells tolled across Mississippi from Episcopal bell towers in memory of civil rights activist Medgar Evers on June 12.

The Diocese of Mississippi and the Racial Reconciliation Task Force responded to a request by the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute that Evers be memorialized by the bell tolling across Mississippi. Churches were asked to toll the bell 55 times, one toll for each year that has passed since Evers was shot and killed getting out of his car at his Jackson home.

The Rev. Anne Harris, rector of St. Paul’s, Columbus, Mississippi, takes her turn at tolling the church bell in memory of Medgar Evers. Photo: Chuck Yarborough

Evers died June 12, 1963, when he was assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith, a white supremacist and Klansman, who was tried three times before conviction in 1994. Beckwith died in prison in 2001.

Anita Parrott George, the chair of the Racial Reconciliation Task Force in the Diocese of Mississippi, and a member of the Episcopal Church Executive Council, said that those gathered at a recent conference the Gray Center in Mississippi came out of the event with a call to remember Medgar Evers on the day of his death by the bell tolling.

George helped assemble the late-May conference in Canton, which was called “55 Years Later: Becoming the Beloved Community.” The event is one of several sponsored by the task force.  This year the conference featured six speakers from across the nation including two presenters from the Episcopal Church Center, Heidi Kim and Chuck Wynder.  Both Kim and Wynder work in racial reconciliation and as social justice officers for the Episcopal Church.

“The task force believes that the first step in becoming the beloved community is to know its history and the stories of its people,” said George prior to the conference.

The Rt. Rev. Brian R. Seage, bishop of Mississippi attended the two-day conference.  As he remembered the slaying of Medgar Evers, the bishop said, “The Episcopal Church in Mississippi strives to live into the baptismal covenant by continuing the important work of racial reconciliation.  Our task force for racial reconciliation is blessed with strong leadership and devoted membership. The mission of the task force follows the baptismal promise ‘to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.’”

-The Rev. Scott Lenoir is the editor of The Mississippi Episcopalian.

Church leaders endorse Season of Creation in rare ecumenical joint letter

Episcopal News Service - Wed, 06/13/2018 - 10:45am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has joined leaders of other Christian churches in a joint letter encouraging participation in the Season of Creation. The annual celebration of prayer and action to protect the environment emerged from a proclamation by the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I in 1989. He called on Orthodox Christians to observe Sept. 1 each year as a day of prayer for creation. Many churches across the world from different traditions began celebrating a Season of Creation between that date and 4 October 4 – the feast of St Francis of Assisi.

Read the entire article here.

Congregations’ pet ministries offer support to pet owners and their four-legged companions

Episcopal News Service - Wed, 06/13/2018 - 10:40am

The Perfect Paws Pet Ministry at All Saints Episcopal Church in Danvers, Massachusetts, hosted a meeting of the West Highland White Terrier Club in September.

[Episcopal News Service] Lord God made them all, the creatures of the world great and small, and God’s smaller creatures are getting a helping hand from the numerous Episcopal congregations around the country with pet outreach in their lineup of parish ministries.

In Roswell, New Mexico, there’s the Four Paws Pet Pantry, a ministry of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. In Danvers, Massachusetts, All Saints Episcopal Church calls its ministry Perfect Paws, with services ranging from pet food drives to a therapy dog program in local schools. And St. Paul’s Church By-the-Lake in Chicago, Illinois, has a monthly food pantry called AniMeals that doubles as a basic pet clinic, with local veterinarians donating their time.

Pets are the focus, but such outreach would more precisely be described as serving the needs of human members of the congregations’ communities who struggle financially with taking care of their pets. AniMeals, for example, was created about 20 years ago out of concern for older and low-income residents forced to decide between self-care and pet care.

“Instead of buying food for themselves, they were buying food for their animals and depriving themselves of that nutrition,” said the Rev. John Heschle, the longtime rector of St. Paul’s. The AniMeals “pet food café” now draws 15 to 25 pet owners every third Saturday of the month.

One of the simplest pet ministries can be found in Episcopal churches across the country: Annual services offering pet blessings have become commonplace and typically are held in early October around the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals. Such services were relatively new in metro Chicago in the late 1990s when St. Paul’s held its first pet blessing service, which soon grew into the AniMeals ministry.

Some churches, though, take pet outreach a step further. The Episcopal Church Asset Map, though not a comprehensive listing, shows at least a dozen congregations that offer some form of concerted pet ministry, from the pet supplies collections led by St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Waterford, Michigan,  to the fundraisers that St. Jude’s Episcopal Church in Niceville, Florida, holds to support a local no-kill shelter.

Cat and dog food repackaged in gallon plastic bags is stacked for distribution at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Roswell, New Mexico, for the church’s Four Paws Pet Pantry.

Several churches run their own pet food pantries – think of it like a church food pantry, but for pets – such as St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and St. Andrew’s in New Mexico.

“There’s a whole lot of us there that are big pet lovers, and we saw the need in Roswell,” said Enid Smith, who helps organize the Four Paws Pet Pantry at St. Andrews. “People were having to decide if they could keep a pet or not.”

The pet food pantry was created about two years ago and now serves 70 to 80 pet owners on the third Wednesday each month. The congregation has rallied behind the new ministry, and some local school groups have volunteered to help as service projects.

“I just feel like it’s both community and church,” Smith said. “We’re really helping a lot of people in the community.

St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church in Alden, New York, created its Pet Food Cupboard about four years ago and runs it out of the church basement. The congregation, directly east of Buffalo, chose the name “cupboard” to clearly differentiate it from its food pantry, said James Wojcik, who organizes the Pet Food Cupboard with his wife, Christine.

“We were volunteering for the food pantry here at the church, and every so often a veterinarian or some people who were donating things would donate some pet food,” James Wojcik, 78, told Episcopal News Service. They began offering the pet food on pantry days, “and pretty soon people started asking for it.”

Now the pet ministry has grown to serve 70 people or more on the second Saturday of each month. Wojcik estimates they give out up to 300 pounds of cat food and 200 pounds of dog food a month. They also sometimes distribute cat litter. They don’t have any income or residency requirements for recipients, and no one is denied the pet supplies.

Their typical clients “just desperately need help feeding the animals,” he said.

Clients of AniMeals in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood can get more than just food and supplies. Its volunteer veterinarians also will spay or neuter pets as needed and even offer microchipping, in case the pets get lost.

St. Paul’s requires pet owners who visit AniMeals to meet income requirements showing financial need, though clients don’t need to be a church member or Episcopalian. Some choose to come back to attend attending church services, but it’s not expected.

“That’s not our primary reason for doing this,” Heschle said. “It really was to meet sort of a need that we saw in the neighborhood.”

These ministries often are driven by the congregation members’ love of animals. What else but love would compel a ministry like Perfect Paws in Danvers, Massachusetts, to host a presentation on dog body language for owners of white terriers on the church green?

Heschle’s congregation goes as far as to set out food and water in dishes between the rectory and church building, for any feral cats roaming the neighborhood. Those cats are then trapped so they can be spayed and neutered.

Wojcik and his wife have two dogs of their own, a hound and a boxer, both shelter dogs.

“We always have been pet lovers,” he said, though he sees a greater purpose in the Pet Food Cupboard at St. Aidan’s. “It’s like the letter of James: Faith without good works is kind of hollow.”

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

Gayle Fisher-Stewart appointed chaplain for Takoma Park Police Department

Episcopal News Service - Wed, 06/13/2018 - 10:07am

[Takoma Park Police Department] Takoma Park, Maryland, Police Chief Antonio DeVaul announces that the Rev. Gayle Fisher-Stewart has been appointed police chaplain for the Takoma Park Police Department.

“It is an honor to have the Rev. Dr. Fisher-Stewart as our official department chaplain. Her compassion and expertise will be an asset to our agency and the City of Takoma Park,” said DeVaul.

Fisher-Stewart currently serves as the assistant pastor at Calvary Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. A native Washingtonian, prior to accepting the call to ordained ministry, she retired from the Metropolitan Police Department as a captain and then taught at the university level. Her area of special interest is the history of policing as it intersects with race in America. She is the founder of the Center for the Study of Faith in Justice at Calvary which conducts research and creates a safe space for the discussion of issues that vex both society and the church and is the president for the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians.

Fisher-Stewart is a graduate of the University of Maryland University College (BS), the University of Maryland (MS, Ph.D), American University (MS), the University of the District of Columbia (MA) and Wesley Theological Seminary (MTS). She was the 2015 recipient of the Director’s Award, Episcopal Evangelism Society and, in 2017, she was awarded an honorary doctorate of divinity from Colgate University.

Fisher-Stewart is the mother of a son, David, who is her heart.

“As a long-time resident of Takoma Park, I am honored to be working with my police department and I thank Chief DeVaul for the opportunity to serve,” said Fisher-Stewart.


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