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General Convention adopts new approach to Israel-Palestine issues promoting open debate

Tue, 06/05/2018 - 5:49pm

A Palestinian woman makes her way June 1 through an Israeli checkpoint to attend Friday prayer of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. Photo: Reuters

[Episcopal News Service] A group of bishops and deputies who were asked to find a way to navigate the often-thorny discussions of Episcopal Church policy toward Israel and Palestine has announced its recommendations for fostering open and productive debate on those issues at General Convention this July.

Five bishops and five members of the House of Deputies served on the Israel and Palestine Working Group, which was formed last year by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, House of Deputies president. Curry and Jennings have accepted the working group’s three core recommendations, according to an email to members of the two houses sent May 31 by the Rev. Michael Barlowe, General Convention’s executive officer.

“Members of the working group were not asked to guide General Convention in any particular way on the underlying issues, about which members have various points of view,” Barlowe said. Instead, the 10 members issued the following recommendations to enable “a prayerful, thoughtful and respectful engagement that facilitates genuine discernment”:

  • All members of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies are encouraged to review a resource list assembled by the working group. The list includes suggested reading on issues related to Israeli-Palestinian relations and background about the Episcopal Church’s past engagement on those issues.
  • Each house agrees to take up these issues through a “special order of business,” which will allow hearings and discussions to take place early in General Convention and ensure debate isn’t sidelined by procedural barriers. (See page 204 here for more on the special order of business.)
  • The House of Deputies will be the house of initial action for each resolution pertaining to Israel and Palestine.

“I am so grateful to the task force for their work,” Curry said in an emailed statement. “Their work will make it possible for the convention to have a thoughtful, prayerful discussion and consideration of the humanitarian concerns in Israel Palestine. In so doing may we pray and work for the peace of Jerusalem.”

Jennings alluded to the challenges ahead in a written statement.

“We’ve got some hard conversations about the Holy Land ahead of us at General Convention,” she said. “I’m grateful to the deputies and bishops of the Israel and Palestine Working Group for recommending a structure that will help us have those conversations in ways that are respectful, substantive and representative of the wide range of Episcopalians’ experiences and opinions.”

Beginning the debate in the House of Deputies, which is a larger and more diverse body, will help ensure a broader debate, said the Rev. Brian Grieves, a member of the House of Deputies who served on the Israel and Palestine Working Group. Both houses have an interest in moving this debate forward.

Underlying the working group’s deliberations was the imperative, “how could we have a discussion that is open and respectful and transparent in the process?” Grieves told Episcopal News Service. “Because there have been concerns in the past that is has not been. Things got bottled up in committees.”

General Convention has voted in support of Middle East peace for decades, however, the question of whether to apply more forceful economic pressure on Israel for its occupation of the Palestinian Territories has been a hot-button issue in recent years. In 2012, the bishops joined deputies in approving a resolution in favor of “positive investment” in the region as part of a show of support for peace among Jews, Muslims and Christians in the Holy Land, but the two houses were unable to agree on a second resolution calling for greater engagement in corporate social responsibility through the church’s investment portfolio.

At General Convention in 2015, a resolution calling on the church to divest from companies engaged in certain business with Israel failed in a vote of the House of Bishops, which meant it never made it to the House of Deputies for consideration.

Grieves, who is a member of the Stewardship and Socially Responsible Investing legislative committee in the House of Deputies, said the church already participates in corporate engagement related to Israel and Palestine based on a 2005 report by what was then known as the Executive Council’s Social Responsibility in Investments committee. That report was endorsed by Executive Council, and the results can be seen this year in church-backed shareholder resolutions seeking to influence Motorola and Caterpillar, two companies that have contracts with the Israeli government.

“I think corporate engagement has been very good, but I do think here may be a point where we as a church would end our complicity in continuing to work with these companies,” Grieves said. “I don’t know when that point should be reached. I think we need to do some careful thinking about that, and that’s part of the discussion that’s going to happen at convention.”

Numerous General Convention resolutions are expected on topics related to Israel and Palestine by the time the gathering gets underway on July 5 in Austin, Texas. At least three have been submitted so far, including one proposed by the Diocese of California that reintroduces a push for divestment from “those companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands or whose products or actions support the infrastructure of the occupation.”

Corporate engagement won’t be the only topic related to the Holy Land. Two additional proposed resolutions call for greater attention to the plight of Palestinian children, including those being tried in Israeli military courts.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict should eventually generate a greater diversity of resolutions at this General Convention, said Sarah Lawton, who chairs the Social Justice and International Policy committee for the House of Deputies. That variety is related to the number of big developments in the region in recent years, from the breakdown of the peace process to global outrage at the Trump administration moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In the past, General Convention has sometimes debated single larger resolutions addressing multiple aspects of the conflict together, making it difficult to move forward on individual measures, but Lawton said this time should be different. “It’s not just one big resolution going forward but a number of them,” said Lawton, who also was a member of the Israel and Palestine Working Group.

Bishop Barry Beisner, another member of the working group, has submitted a resolution seeking to reaffirm the church’s stance in support of Jerusalem as an open city, where Christians, Muslims and Jews have free access to the city’s holy sites. He doesn’t expect that resolution to generate much controversy, but “there’s a broad spectrum of opinion on any number of related issues.”

Beisner emphasized the value in the list of resources assembled by the working group, to help General Convention prepare for those discussions. And the bishops aren’t giving up their voice by agreeing to start deliberations in the House of Deputies, he said.

“It will help to expedite the consideration of these resolutions to have them all under that one tent initially,” said Beisner, who serves on the Social Justice and International Policy committee.

With so many issues at stake, Lawton thinks people on all sides of these debates have an interest in avoiding the procedural pratfalls that can lead to inaction.

“We’ve had a hard time with this conversation [about Israel and Palestine]. One of the ways that it was hard was played out in the process,” she said. “These are important issues, and we should be able to speak to them and not feel afraid to say something.”

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

Seminarians, clergy from around world visit Anglican Communion Office in London

Tue, 06/05/2018 - 5:38pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Anglican Communion Office in London on June 5 welcomed 31 Anglican seminarians and recently ordained clergy from across the world to learn more about the Communion and to network with each other. The group represents 18 countries, and a variety of cultures and languages.

Read the full article here.

Two new bishops elected for Scottish Episcopal Church

Tue, 06/05/2018 - 5:35pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Scottish Episcopal Church has elected new bishops to serve two of its seven dioceses. Following the installation of Anne Dyer as Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney earlier this year, the election of the Rev. Ian Paton as bishop of St. Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane, and Dean Andrew Swift as bishop of Brechin amounts to a change of just under 50 percent in the Province’s Episcopal leadership this year.

Read the full article here.

Brtitish bishop elected vice president of European ecumenical group

Tue, 06/05/2018 - 5:33pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Loughborough Bishop Guli Francis-Dehqani has been elected vice president of the Conference of European Churches. The regional ecumenical body is a fellowship of some 116 Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican and Old Catholic Churches from across Europe. Her appointment maintains a Church of England presence at the senior leadership of CEC, following the retirement of Christopher Hill, the former Bishop of Guildford.

Read the full article here.

Haiti elects Port-au-Prince cathedral dean as bishop coadjutor

Mon, 06/04/2018 - 4:25pm

[Episcopal News Service] The Ven. Joseph Kerwin Delicat, dean of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, was elected June 2 as bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of Haiti.

The election took place at the nursing school of the Episcopal University of Haiti in Leogane, Haiti.

Pending the canonically required consent of a majority of the church’s bishops with jurisdiction and its diocesan standing committees, Delicat will succeed Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin, who is retiring after serving as bishop since 1994. The ordination and consecration is set for Jan. 5, 2019.

The election comes just more than a year after Duracin, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, Bishop Suffragan Ogé Beauvoir and the diocesan Standing Committee entered into a covenant that “seeks to address and resolve many of the issues of conflict that have been burdening the diocese.”




US Supreme Court says baker could refuse to bake cake for same-sex wedding

Mon, 06/04/2018 - 2:33pm

[Episcopal News Service] The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 4 that the state of Colorado violated a baker’s rights when its Civil Rights Commission said that he had to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

Colorado courts had upheld the commission’s finding that baker Jack Phillips’ refusal went against the state’s anti-discrimination laws. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed because of the way the commission reached its conclusion.

“The Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of his case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the 7-2 majority. He said that comments by some of the commissioners were clearly hostile to Phillips and his claims.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented, writing that those comments should not be taken as sufficient evidence that the commission’s ruling was flawed. They noted that the commission’s ruling had been upheld by other “layers of independent decisionmaking.”

The much-watched case drew nearly 100 amicus briefs, including one from Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry and the leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Chicago Theological Seminary.

The leaders said that Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws protect religious liberty by prohibiting discrimination based on religion while also exempting religious institutions from their application, so that houses of worship may exercise religion freely within their walls.

They said such laws promote human dignity, which is a religious value, by ensuring that all individuals have equal access to the commercial marketplace. When Phillips opened his bakery, he entered the public marketplace and made his shop subject to Colorado’s laws governing public accommodations, including the statute forbidding discrimination, they said.

Phillips contended that his First Amendment rights protected him against Colorado’s public accommodations laws.

The court said the ruling was not to be seen as a precedent for future discrimination claims.

“The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts,” Kennedy wrote, “all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

The ruling in the case known as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, No. 16-111 is here.

Diocese of Tasmania’s Synod approves property-sales to fund abuse redress

Mon, 06/04/2018 - 12:53pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Tasmania Diocesan Synod has approved in principle the sale of up to 108 properties to fund redress for victims of abuse in Australia. Under the proposals adopted by the Synod, parishes and communities have until the Autumn make submissions about any properties on the list that should be excluded. The final decision will then be taken by the Diocesan Council in December.

Read the full article here.

Uganda’s president pledges to rebuild Anglican Martyrs shrine in Namugongo

Mon, 06/04/2018 - 12:51pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni, has pledged government funds to help re-build the Anglican Martyrs Shrine at Namugongo. His comments were made as a reported four million pilgrims descended on the area June 3 for Martyrs Day services. Reports indicate that an estimated 700,000 of them were at the service at the Anglican shrine. The museum at the Anglican site re-opened after refurbishment ahead of a visit by Pope Francis in 2015. There are now plans to improve the shrine itself.

Read the full article here.

Brazil’s Anglican Church changes its canons to permit same-sex marriage

Mon, 06/04/2018 - 12:48pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The General Synod of the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil has approved changes to its canons to permit same-sex marriages. Civil same-sex marriages have been legal in Brazil since 2012. In a statement, the province said that the move would not require liturgical changes, because gender neutral language had already been introduced into its service for the solemnization of marriage in the 2015 Book of Common Prayer.

The move was overwhelmingly carried by the Synod members with 57 voting in favor and three against. There were two abstentions.

Read the full article here.

Charlottesville congregation’s food education ministry grows into its social justice mission

Mon, 06/04/2018 - 11:49am

Children help tend to some of the raised beds in the gardens at Trinity Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, Virginia. The food grown in the gardens is used by Bread & Roses in its cooking classes and to support feeding efforts in the community. Photo: Trinity 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] The food ministry at Trinity Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, starts in the church’s garden. Volunteers till the soil. They weed and water the raised beds. They harvest the produce when it’s ready, their work sessions filled with fellowship and concluding in prayer.

The ministry, called Bread & Roses, then brings that fresh produce into the church’s commercially certified kitchen, where it becomes a learning tool in cooking classes that teach lessons in nutrition and healthy cooking techniques.

Maria Niechwiadowicz of Bread & Roses holds a cooking demonstration at Trinity Episcopal Church. Teaching nutritional cooking techniques is a key focus of the ministry’s efforts. Photo: Trinity Episcopal Church

As a bonus, Bread & Roses, led by program coordinator Maria Niechwiadowicz, is now standing on its own financial legs after getting an early boost from Mission Enterprise Zone and United Thank Offering, or UTO, grants from the Episcopal Church, and more recently, it received a Jubilee Grant. Bread & Roses’ sustainability relies partly on opening up the kitchen to low-cost rentals by entrepreneurs with upstart food businesses.

“Our mission is to transform the ways in which we acquire, cook and relate to the food we eat in Charlottesville,” Niechwiadowicz said. And last year, after a white supremacist rally in the city turned violent and deadly, the ministry “became a really positive place of conversation and healing, trying to dissect what’s going on in our city.”

The Unite the Right rally on Aug. 12 drew a mix of neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and other hate groups in defense of Charlottesville’s statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, which had been slated for removal. Violence broke out, one counter-protester was killed and dozens of others were wounded despite the fact that city shut down the rally at the last minute as tensions escalated.

Episcopalians were among the faith-based groups who joined together in nonviolent marches against the hate groups, and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry made a pastoral visit to the city in September.

Bread & Roses wasn’t originally intended to support racial reconciliation. But after the clashes last year drew national attention to Charlottesville, Niechwiadowicz said it became clear that the fight for social justice has many fronts and is strengthened by people of faith.

“One thing that has really stood out to me, particularly in the events of Charlottesville, there’s a lot of work put into advocacy movements, whether that be racial justice or food equity, but it’s all connected,” she said.

That interconnection of social justice issues has guided Bread & Roses from the start. It wasn’t created to be another soup kitchen or food pantry; feeding the hungry isn’t as central to its mission as food education.

“We wanted to do something that would address more systemic issues related to food and food justice,” said the Rev. Cass Bailey, vicar of Trinity Episcopal Church.

A UTO grant of $17,000 in 2014 helped the church to upgrade its kitchen, part of the church’s $115,000 capital campaign. The Mission Enterprise Zone grants helped pay the part-time program coordinator’s salary through 2017. After an initial $20,000 MEZ grant, Bread & Roses applied for and received additional $10,000 grants to maintain momentum as the ministry began to flourish. And this year, the ministry received a $3,000 grant from Jubilee Ministries, which supports anti-poverty initiatives.

Bread & Roses, a ministry of Trinity Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, has partnered with International Rescue Committee to hold cooking demonstrations at a city farmer’s market aimed at promoting nutritional cooking techniques and vegetables grown by refugees living in Charlottesville. Photo: International Rescue Committee

“They started as an experiment. We probably wouldn’t have funded them [again] if they hadn’t taken off in the first triennium with their first round of grants,” the Rev. Thomas Brackett, Episcopal Church manager for church planting and mission development. “But they did take off, and they’re making such a huge impact in their community that we couldn’t not fund them [again].”

He also noted that Niechwiadowicz has successfully carried the program forward after picking up where the program’s previous coordinators left off. As with many of the ministries that receive MEZ grants, the vision transcends the individual.

“They have incredible stories of engaging their community and making a difference in people’s lives,” Brackett said.

And beyond the financial support, ministries like Bread & Roses benefit from mentorship provided by Brackett’s team. After receiving the first MEZ grant, Bailey attended a conference with other church planters and new ministry leaders, where he learned about the wide variety of programs that were funded and also saw plenty of similarities.

“We were all asking similar questions about how to get this idea that we had off the ground and what kind of issues are common among us in doing a startup ministry,” Bailey said. He also participated in monthly phone conferences that allowed the grant recipients to share their experiences and learn from each other.

“We just could not have done it without the support of the MEZ grant,” he said.

Niechwiadowicz has been coordinator since 2016, and this year, her salary is funded directly through the ministry $43,000 budget. About a third of its income comes from kitchen rentals, another third from local grants and the rest from Trinity.

Bailey said the congregation measures the success of Bread & Roses by how many programs it provides, and by that measure it is going strong. The original mission hasn’t changed, but it has evolved in how it partners and collaborates with organizations in the community to expand those programs.

Niechwiadowicz works about 20 hours a week as program coordinator – she also is Trinity’s part-time administrator – and teaches some of the cooking classes held in the Bread and Roses kitchen through a partnership with Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital.

Every other month, the hospital refers some of its patients to Niechwiadowicz, usually because they are trying to lose weight or lower their blood pressure. During those months, Niechwiadowicz teaches one morning class and one evening class one day a week for three weeks with an emphasis on quick, healthy meals. Class sizes range from two to a dozen students.

Other classes that Bread and Roses hosts are more spontaneous, Niechwiadowicz said, such as the classes in Afghan cooking that are being led by an Afghan refugee who lives in Charlottesville.

Maria Miseik, left, a Burmese refugee living in Charlottesville, works with Bread & Roses program coordinator Maria Niechwiadowicz on a cooking demonstration last year at the Charlottesville farmer’s market. Photo: International Rescue Committe

Bread and Roses has other partnerships with community organizations to offer additional classes, and the church has committed to giving half of the food grown in its garden to a free market set up at a public housing complex in the city.

Such partnerships “bolster the relationship building that happens through sharing food together. That’s one of the things that Bread & Roses has been really great at,” said Brooke Ray, senior manager of the food and agriculture programs at the Charlottesville branch of International Rescue Committee, or IRC.

IRC is the federally contracted agency that oversees resettlement of refugees in the Charlottesville area, and much of its work with Bread & Roses has focused on educating newly arrived refugees about healthy options in the American food system. The refugees also can grow vegetables native to their homelands at the urban farm and community gardens run by IRC, and that has provided additional opportunities for educational partnerships.

Last year, Niechwiadowicz started organizing cooking demonstrations once a month at a city farmers market featuring some of the produce harvested by IRC’s clients. The refugee gardeners were invited to help lead the demonstrations, which were a big hit among the farmer’s market customers, Ray said.

“It was so well received, people loved it,” she said. “We sold out of the highlighted vegetable every time we went.”

Trinity is doubling its own garden space this year. Volunteers from the congregation and the community tend to the garden beds weekly from May to October, giving them a hands-on role in the success of Bread & Roses. It also has played a role in other ministries at the church, such as the Christian formation program, which incorporates spring garden planting into its curriculum for the younger members of the congregation.

Bread & Roses “is an outreach program, but it’s connecting the members of Trinity Church to the broader community and vice versa,” Niechwiadowicz said.

The church underscored that connection in February by hosting a conference, “Faith-Rooted,” where participants discussed theology of food equity and the social justice work of faith communities.

For Niechwiadowicz, living a life of Christ means reaching out to people on the margins of society and listening to their needs, and she thinks such spirituality deepens the work of ministries like Bread & Roses.

“We need to continue to recognize that our passion for food equity comes directly out of our faith,” she said. “There’s just more weight to it because of our spirituality.”

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


Presiding Bishop Michael Curry delivers video message on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ finale

Mon, 06/04/2018 - 11:13am

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, after appearing on nearly every major TV news and talk show to discuss his royal wedding sermon, was invited to share his message of Christian love in a new genre this week: variety talent show.

No, Curry won’t be competing on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” (as far as we know), but he appeared June 3 on the finale of “Britain’s Got Talent” to offer a message of encouragement to the contestants and their fans.

The show asked Curry on May 31 if he was interested in the appearance, and he agreed and recorded a video for the show that night.

Curry was the surprise star May 19 when he preached on the power of love at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The royal couple appeared in the audience on the “Britain’s Got Talent” finale as host Declan Donnelly introduced Curry as “someone you two know very well.”

“Hello ‘Britain’s Got Talent,'” Curry said in his 25-second video message. “It’s a joy to bring you these greetings. To all of the contestants, to the judges, to the audience and to all who make this possible, thank you. Thank you for what you’re doing. Thank you to the contestants who offer yourselves and share your talents and your gifts with the rest of us. You actually bring some joy and happiness. So thank you. God bless you, God keep you and may God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.”

Donnelly couldn’t help getting in a wisecrack alluding to the length of Curry’s 14-minute royal wedding sermon.

“That’s quite a short one by his standards, wasn’t it. I was getting settled in for the night.”

After royal wedding media blitz, Presiding Bishop spurs Episcopalians to spread message of Jesus’ love

Fri, 06/01/2018 - 4:03pm

May 21 was a busy day for Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. He appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “The View” and NBC’s “Today” to talk about the royal wedding.

[Episcopal News Service] May was quite a month to be an Episcopalian.

For the week leading up to the royal wedding, people across the world wanted to know everything about Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, including why the leader of the Episcopal Church would be preaching in the presence of the queen of England. Then on May 19, nearly 30 million TV viewers in the United States alone watched Curry’s sermon on the power of God’s love at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. For a week afterward, Curry was interviewed or profiled by seemingly every major media outlet, from the BBC to ABC’s “The View” to the celebrity gossip site TMZ.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preaches during the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19. Photo: Reuters

Episcopalians, who have long known of Curry’s talent as a preacher, responded with a mix of joy at “one of us” receiving such attention and hope that Curry’s rising profile would boost the church’s profile – and maybe even help fill the pews.

“I think you can’t discount just the kind of euphoric pride that Episcopalians felt,” said Melodie Woerman, communications director for the Diocese of Kansas. After the royal wedding, posts about Curry on her diocese’s social media accounts generated a level of intense interest “like I had never seen before,” she said.

Curry did his part to seize this opportunity for evangelism, deliberately turning the conversations in interviews back to Jesus’ message of love’s power to change the world. And days after the royal wedding, in a bit of scheduling serendipity, he joined other ecumenical Christian leaders for a “Reclaiming Jesus” church service, procession and candlelight vigil in Washington, D.C. Though planned long before Curry was asked to preach at Windsor Castle, those events, held on May 24, drew additional news coverage due to his sudden star power.

Of course, news cycles don’t last forever. If Curry was granted his Warholian 15 minutes of international fame, he succeeded in extending it by several days. But he, the church and Episcopalians now are faced with the question, what’s next?

“Part of evangelism is helping the church to be more visible, just as a practical matter, and the other part of it is the church having a message that is worthy of the hearing,” Curry told Episcopal News Service in a phone interview May 31, recapping the whirlwind of his past few weeks. “And this has nothing to do with Michael Curry. Jesus figured this out. Jesus was right. This way of love is the only way of life. That’s it.”

Curry was a viral internet phenomenon once before. His 2012 sermon at General Convention generated plenty of attention within and outside the church and led to his book, “Crazy Christians,” though he has no immediate plans to write a new book now that he is known as the royal wedding preacher.

He is more likely to pen opinion pieces on Christian themes for news outlets, “if it helps the cause of spreading the message,” he said, though the most certain next act for the presiding bishop is simply more of the same. In addition to preparing for the 79th General Convention this July in Austin, Texas, Curry will do what he always does: spend most weeks traveling to various dioceses, meeting with Episcopalians and preaching.

He is scheduled to appear at the Diocese of Albany’s annual convention June 8 to 10 in Albany, New York, and will follow that trip by spending four days in the Diocese of Olympia, with several public events in and around Seattle, Washington, starting June 14. Discussion of the royal wedding will be unavoidable but far from the only topic.

“The world just recently discovered Presiding Bishop Curry and his amazing ability to make the Gospel come alive. The House of Bishops and many in the Episcopal Church and beyond have known this for a long time,” Olympia Bishop Greg Rickel said in a written statement about the presiding bishop’s upcoming visit. “It will be a priceless gift to have him with us for these four days in June. I hope everyone will find a time to intersect with him at the public venues and hear his message and vision for the Jesus Movement.”

Curry is scheduled to preach June 14 at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle and again on June 17 at St. Luke’s-San Lucas Episcopal church in Vancouver, Washington. Attendance, always high during Curry’s pastoral visits, may grow even bigger with even non-Episcopalians interested in hearing him, though the diocese has not altered his schedule at all to take advantage, said Josh Hornbeck, the diocese’s communications director.

“While we’re acknowledging the interest that the royal wedding has generated in Presiding Bishop Curry, we also want to make sure that this isn’t our primary focus,” Hornbeck said in an email. “For the four public events we’re holding, we want to make sure our focus is on the things that the presiding bishop is most concerned with – being the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement and the recent Reclaiming Jesus campaign.”

The bigger question for dioceses, congregations and parishioners may be whether the attention Curry has brought to the Episcopal Church and to the Reclaiming Jesus initiative will flow down to them in ways that serve the long-term mission of the church and the work of its members. Even if it does, some say there still is plenty of work to be done.

Two days after the royal wedding, Jim Naughton of Canticle Communications who regularly works with Episcopal clients posed this question to the private Facebook group for Episcopal Communicators: “So what do folks here think are our opportunities in the wake of the royal wedding?”

That elicited nearly 100 comments and replies, ranging from suggestions for Curry’s next steps to ways individual congregations can follow his lead, such as by expressing his message locally with an authentic voice.

Katie Sherrod, communications director for the Diocese of Fort Worth and a member of the Episcopal Communicators group, told Episcopal News Service that the royal wedding generated thousands of page views on the diocese’s website, and the diocese has continued to promote Curry’s sermon, as well as the Reclaiming Jesus procession.

Curry already was a familiar figure in the Diocese of Fort Worth, especially after his pastoral visit in April 2017, but Sherrod said his greater popularity since the royal wedding is a practical advantage for Texas Episcopalians’ evangelism. When telling their neighbors or strangers about the Episcopal Church, they can say, “Remember that guy who preached at the royal wedding? That’s us.”

It may be too much to expect one sermon – even that sermon – will suddenly compel people to seek out their local Episcopal congregations and fill Sunday services across the land, but Episcopalians have the ability to seize Curry’s message in similar ways, said Woerman of the Diocese of Kansas, who also serves as president of Episcopal Communicators.

“American culture seems to be in a lot of strife right now, and just to have a straightforward, powerful message of love … I think that is a message that a lot of people in our society long to hear,” she said.

But Curry can’t do all the heavy lifting. That was the point made by the Rev. Michael Michie, Episcopal Church staff officer for church planting infrastructure, in a recent blog post titled “Once We are Done High-Fiving, What are We Going to Do?”

“The sermon is a call for us to go to the people, not for the people to come to us,” Michie wrote. “That God gave our good bishop this incredible platform is not a license for us to remain in our pews, necks craned wistfully at the front door. What if we took the incredible words he shared to heart and allowed it to birth new ministries?”

The Rev. Scott Gunn, executive director of the Episcopal evangelism resource ministry Forward Movement, puts it another way.

“Churches often think that they’re going to advertise their way into church growth or that the presiding bishop will do our work for us,” Gunn told ENS. “But the reality is people hear about Jesus because one person invites another person.”

Gunn admits to being swept up in royal wedding fever on May 19, waking up early to watch the hats and hoopla while wearing his own favorite hat, a Cincinnati Reds baseball cap. It didn’t take long after Curry’s sermon to realize the reaction would be huge.

Gunn, who writes faith-themed opinion pieces occasionally for FoxNews.com, got a call that afternoon from Lynne Jordal Martin, the opinion editor for the cable channel’s website and a Forward Movement board member. She asked if he could write a column on short deadline and gave him the headline in advance: “If you liked the Royal Wedding sermon on Saturday, go to church on Sunday.”

"Don’t let this moment pass you by. Don’t let love be reduced to a fleeting feeling. Let love sweep into your life and change you. Come to church. Meet people who, like Bishop Curry, are serious about love" #royalwedding https://t.co/QmAComIq2U

— Scott Gunn ن (@scottagunn) May 19, 2018

He gladly wrote the column. Unfortunately, however, not all churches are equipped to take advantage of a royal wedding moment, Gunn told ENS.

“Sadly, too many of our churches are just not welcoming,” he said. “We think we are, but we’re nice to people who are already in the club. We’re not hospitable to strangers who come through our doors, and we’re terrible at inviting people to come through our doors.”

That said, he is hopeful that Curry’s royal wedding sermon and his subsequent media blitz will encourage and embolden congregations to improve their own efforts at evangelism. Gunn thought that, even while participating in a lighthearted TV segment, such as on NBC’s “Today” when Al Roker, a fellow Episcopalian, asked Curry to help deliver the weather forecast, the presiding bishop struck the right tone.

The Most Rev. Michael Curry helped @alroker deliver the MOST fantastic forecast pic.twitter.com/eKGO10QWvO

— TODAY (@TODAYshow) May 22, 2018

“Bishop Curry is such a burst of joy that of course he’s going to enjoy this, but my sense is he’s not enjoying it for the boost to his ego. … He’s doing it to promote a message of God’s love,” Gunn said. “We don’t have Hollywood celebrities sitting in our congregations, but I think that message works.”

Curry downplayed his own newfound celebrity in speaking with ENS. “I’m not an actor. I’m not a celebrity. I’m not a movie star. There’s nothing about me that’s really interesting, not more than anybody else,” he said.

Even so, the Rev. Frank Logue, canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Georgia, knew Curry’s royal wedding sermon would be well received, and he set aside time that day to edit video clips of the sermon for the diocese to post on social media.

Since then, Logue has followed Curry’s media appearances and noted how the presiding bishop never loses his focus. Even when TMZ asked Curry about the site’s earlier interview with rap star Kanye West, Curry responded in a way that amplified his point about Christian love.

Royal Wedding's Bishop Curry Says 'Love is the Way' Theory Really Works https://t.co/SyD7BWfhM6

— TMZ (@TMZ) May 22, 2018

“That is brilliant,” Logue said. “They may have interviewed him as a celebrity, but he gave it as a preacher.”

Logue, who also serves on the church’s Executive Council, echoed Gunn and Michie in stressing that individual congregations and Episcopalians still need to do the hard work of making connections in their own communities. But it also is remarkable seeing the effect of Curry’s sermon in daily life.

“What I noticed right away in the days following, walking around in a clerical collar in Georgia, people kept bringing that sermon up to me. ‘Did you happen to see the royal wedding?’” he recalled. These often were strangers who didn’t even know at first that Logue was of the same denomination as the preacher who had so impressed them.

“A challenge is, he’s taken on the role of chief evangelism officer of the Episcopal Church,” Logue said. “But if this is going to be a movement, we need bishops to be chief evangelism officers of their dioceses, priests to be chief evangelism officers of their congregations and parishioners to be chief evangelism officers of their families and their workplaces.”

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

Uganda holds ceremonies at Namugongo to honor its martyrs

Fri, 06/01/2018 - 1:26pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Thousands of Christians from Uganda and neighbouring countries are arriving in Namugongo for special services to commemorate the Ugandan Martyrs. On June 13, 886, the Kabaka – or King – of Buganda, Mwanga II, killed 32 young Anglicans and Roman Catholic men – who worked as his pages – by burning them alive at Namugongo. They were among 23 Anglicans and 22 Roman Catholics who were put to death by the king for killed by for refusing to recant their faith between 1885 and 1887.

Read the entire article here.

Editor’s note: The martyrs of Uganda are commemorated in the Episcopal calendar of the church year on June 3.

8,000 gather to mark two decades of Hong Kong’s Anglican province

Thu, 05/31/2018 - 3:23pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui, the Anglican Church in Hong Kong, have got underway with a gathering of 8,000 people at AsiaWorld-Expo. The large gathering of teachers, social-workers, priests and parishioners was a celebration of the evangelism, education, social service ministries of the Church.

Read the full article here.

Joint Anglican-Roman Catholic delegation celebrates Malawi ecumenical scholarship

Thu, 05/31/2018 - 3:22pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] A joint Anglican-Roman Catholic delegation visited southern Malawi last week to celebrate the success of an ecumenical scholarship program started last year by the Anglican Diocese of Upper Shire and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Mangochi. The St. Timothy Scholarship Program was launched in September 2017 as a direct response to the Common Declaration of Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at San Gregorio al Celio in Rome in October 2016.

Read the full article here.

Diocese of Tasmania to sell churches to fund redress to victims of abuse

Thu, 05/31/2018 - 3:19pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Bishop of Tasmania has published a list of 78 parish properties that could be sold to fund redress to victims of abuse. The majority of the properties in the provisional list are churches, but it also includes rectories, rental properties and vacant land. The proposals will be debated by the diocesan Synod meeting in Launceston on June 2.

Read the full article here.

Ministry with Confederate roots helps African-American children become better readers, citizens

Thu, 05/31/2018 - 2:54pm

The core work of Appleton Episcopal Ministries’ Freedom School is to help struggling first-through-third-graders improve their reading. A 2015 Annie E. Casey Foundation study found that 60 percent of Georgia’s fourth-graders were not proficient readers. Photo: Appleton Episcopal Ministries

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] Julie Groce works for a ministry of the Diocese of Atlanta that began as an orphanage for the daughters of Confederate soldiers, and she is old enough to remember the days of separate drinking fountains for whites and blacks.

It thus makes sense to her that Appleton Episcopal Ministries, which she says has been evolving since soon after it began in 1870, has begun a Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School. Fifty African-American first-, second- and third-graders from the Macon, Georgia, area attended the school’s inaugural 2017 session.

The summer school, an intensive six-week summer reading and enrichment program for children living in poverty who need to improve their reading skills, “kind of turns all that Confederate stuff on its ear,” Groce told Episcopal News Service.

Sister Elenor, left, and Sister Sophie, right, stand at the entrance to Appleton’s Beckwith Chapel in 1915. Appleton Episcopal Ministries, a ministry of the Diocese of Atlanta, began as an orphanage for the daughters of Confederate soldiers. Photo: Appleton Episcopal Ministries

One of the earliest orders of deaconesses in the Episcopal Church, the Order of St. Katharine, formed at the Appleton Church Home, as the orphanage was first known.

Groce believes that the deaconesses “would be so proud that this is what we’re doing and this is who we are serving, because we are still serving children in need and God doesn’t care what those children look like.”

The Rev. John Thompson-Quartey, the diocese’s canon for ministry, said that Appleton’s founders are “spinning in their graves, for good reasons.” The organization has not lost its vision of “being a refuge or a safe haven for poor children. The focus is always on children.”

The Freedom School will have its second session this summer from June 14 to July 25. This year’s students will read culturally appropriate books that explore history, civic engagement and social justice. They will also have art, science, dance, music and swimming classes, as well as field trips. College and graduate interns, enrichment teachers and nearly 100 volunteers make the school work.

Across the country in 2017, Freedom Schools served more than 12,225 children at 173 program sites in 89 cities and 27 states including Washington, D.C., according to the Children’s Defense Fund website.

Appleton received a $20,000 Episcopal Church Mission Enterprise Zone grant for the school. It also gets money from the Diocesan Ministry Innovations Fund and the USDA Summer Feeding Program, a grant from Appleton itself and donations from individuals, churches and clergy groups. Classes are held in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and the St. Francis Art Center, both in Macon.

There’s more going on at the school than simply helping struggling students read better. It’s about starting to connect people in an area that has had troubled race relations for decades.

“The primary inspiration for Freedom School was that it was automatically going to be a prospect of racial reconciliation,” Groce said, adding that organizers thought uniting the churches and the neighborhood around helping poor and struggling students might be a place to start mending that part of Georgia. There is still the aftermath of slavery and all of its modern-day heritage to confront, and there is still economic and de-facto segregation in Macon, she said.

“It allows us the ability to have some reconciliation begin in a gentle manner, and then as you interface with parents we take it to another level,” she said. “And then the community takes it to another level, and it’s not perfect but is sure is a start.”

If the Freedom School is providing connections in the community, then the people who form Appleton Episcopal Ministries are all finding wider connections. “Now we are part of this big thing” Groce said, referring to the churchwide support represented in the grant, as well as the network of mission developers that Appleton joined when it received its Mission Enterprise Zone grant. “It is very inspirational to all of us and it reminds us daily, weekly, monthly of our Episcopal heritage, our commitment to love and to do social justice and just to do God’s work in the world.”

Some students in Appleton Episcopal Ministries’ 2017 session of its Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School learn to play chess. Photo: Appleton Episcopal Ministries

Appleton Episcopal Ministries operates out of the Appleton Church Home’s original 1870 building. The building is now also the parish hall for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, in the diocese’s Macon Convocation. There are 10 congregations in the convocation, most of them small in membership and scattered across the mainly rural southern end of the diocese.

An endowment helps defray some of Appleton’s expenses. Since 2014, each congregation has had a seat on Appleton’s board. They pay an annual percentage of their income to support Appleton, and all the congregations in the diocese are required by canon to contribute each year. Some of those contributions are given back in the form of program grants.

The aim is for the programs supported by the grants to eventually not need Appleton’s help. “We act as a multiplier,” Groce said, partnering with other denominations and organizations to help children in need.

“My job is to serve those parishes and the Appleton board by going to those parishes and saying, if money were no object, what would you like to do in community ministry?” she said. “I have a super cool job.” She then helps those congregations find the resources to do that work.

The idea for a Freedom School came after Groce and others in the diocese saw the success of such a summer program run by the diocese’s Emmaus House in Atlanta. Groce knew that the project would need outside help.

“It costs a lot of money, and there are lots of moving parts and it is not for the faint-hearted,” she said. “What made Freedom School different for us was that, unlike targeted parish programming, this was a program we did as Appleton overall, all of us as partners.”

It was the prospect of that new partnership, and all the ways Appleton was already working towards partnerships, that caught the attention of the Episcopal Church’s Genesis Advisory Group on Church Planting, the Rev. Thomas Brackett, Episcopal Church manager for church planting and mission development, told ENS.

“They are curating community connections and creating partnerships that most Episcopal churches don’t even have the vision to create, much less sustain,” Brackett said. “They’re not giving money away as a one-off because somebody demonstrates need. They are strategically giving away money to partners who share their vision for creating community.”

A student at Appleton Episcopal Ministries’ 2017 session of Freedom School paints a sea turtle. Enrichment activities reinforce the school’s efforts to help students become better readers and explore history, civic engagement and social justice. Freedom School scholars are encouraged to make a difference in their families, their community and the world. Photo: Appleton Episcopal Ministries

Brackett said the Genesis Group was intrigued by Appleton’s pledge that “the leadership there is fully supported by the diocese in the work of bringing area congregations together to consolidate their energies in engaging people who, historically, would never come to the Episcopal Church.”

They are engaging those people, not to invite them to come to church, but to minister with them in their communities, he explained. It is not that they aren’t welcome to come to church. Instead, Appleton hopes that “as they develop these ministries, they’ll spin off new worshipping communities as well, each with their own unique character,” Brackett said.

Appleton’s grant application not only outlined what it hoped to accomplish, but also spelled out strategies for success.

“We could tell from the very beginning that these people were going to make it with or without funding,” Brackett said. “They were basically inviting us as partners to come learn from what they’re doing.”

Atlanta Bishop Rob Wright gave Appleton a glowing recommendation, Brackett said, and told the Genesis Group that the diocese was lucky to have the Episcopalians in the Macon Convocation as part of the diocese. Many of them were not born into the Episcopal Church, but they chose to become Episcopalians. Plus, Brackett said, “they’re dealing with people that we don’t normally have come through our doors, African-American, Latino folks, and they’re doing ministry as shaped by community leaders.”

Groce said Freedom School’s first year taught lessons to everyone who helped run the program. It “sensitized all of us to the absolute fragility of the lives of so many children that we had never reached,” she said.

Moreover, while the session hosted just 50 children, Groce said the influence is rippling far beyond them. “We impacted three elementary school outside the traditional Episcopal circle and those are seeds that are now planted that continue to grow beyond our tiny little field.”

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

Mission developers spread the gospel and Episcopal Church’s reach into their neighborhoods

Thu, 05/31/2018 - 2:50pm

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

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 current versions of new church starts in the Episcopal Church don’t all look like the ones that were formed during the last big push Episcopalians made 60 years ago.

To begin with, not all the nascent faith communities that have been fostered with money from the churchwide budget are yet what could be called “church.”

Plus, the strategies aimed at helping these new efforts succeed are broader and deeper. Based on long-term companionship and support from across the church, help comes not only in the form of money but also through assistance in discerning a call to such work, assessing the gifts and skills needed and available, coaching, and forming communities of like-minded evangelists for prayerful and practical support.

Beginning today, the Episcopal News Service will bring you the stories of six of these new and continuing ministries. They are Appleton Episcopal Ministries in Macon, Georgia (Diocese of Atlanta); Bread & Roses, in Charlottesville, Virginia (Diocese of Virginia); The Divine Office in Santa Monica, California (Diocese of Los Angeles); Extending the Table in Stevens Point, Wisconsin (Diocese of Fond du Lac); St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church in Leesburg, Virginia (Diocese of Virginia), and Warriors of the Dream in Harlem (Diocese of New York).

The stories are set amid meals and ministry with Lutherans in Wisconsin, a co-working space near the beach in California, a drum circle in Harlem, a Freedom School in Georgia, a Hispanic congregation planted in the midst of an aging Anglo church outside Washington, D.C., and raised beds and cooking classes in Virginia.

The communities that began in the last five years with the help of more than $8.5 million from the churchwide budget and staff, and supporters around the church, “remind [us] that our best life is still ahead of us,” the Rev. Jane Gerdsen, chair of the church’s Genesis Advisory Group on Church Planting, told ENS.

“And although the church has done amazing things throughout history, we still have a story to tell, and that God is out ahead of us and that God is growing new communities and churches and growing people – disciples – that will speak to future generations and will reach out to build relationships with emerging cultures,” said Gerdsen, who is missioner for fresh expressions and praxis communities in the Diocese of Southern Ohio.

Julie Groce, whose Appleton Episcopal Ministries in the Diocese of Atlanta received a Mission Enterprise Zone Grant, agreed. The $20,000 grant is important to the organization, but the connection to and support of the winder church shows that each community is “part of a much a bigger picture and God is working through all us.”

Spreading the gospel in traditional and new ways

Traditionally, churches planted new congregations where they saw or anticipated growth, in cities, towns and even rural area, as suburbs pushed farther out from city limits. Even if they began in a house and then moved to a place in the community, like a small retail mall, eventually the congregations built a building and settled in. The 1950s and 1960s were the heyday for this sort of ministry in the Episcopal Church, as well as in many other denominations.

Those sorts of churches still get planted and they flourish. For example, in Arizona, Church of the Nativity began in 2006 in members homes, moved to an elementary school on a growing edge of Scottsdale and spent five years in an office building before moving into a new church building at the end of 2012. The Diocese of Northern California’s Faith Episcopal Church began in 1991 in a priest’s home near Cameron Park, California. After 11 years in a storefront, the congregation bought 10 acres of land and moved into a new building in 2011. Grace Church in Yukon, Oklahoma, was planted in the building of an older congregation that had closed.

In recent years, planting churches has been less geographically oriented and more focused on the work of evangelism, racial reconciliation, food justice and creation care. This generation of church plants and so-called Mission Enterprise Zones involves faith communities based on farms and in coffee shops, in social-service agencies and in co-working spaces.

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.

Regardless of their designation, relationships are being formed through these communities with people who might not otherwise come in contact with a Christian community. Many of those people are younger than most Episcopalians. They are different in terms of their ethnicities and socioeconomic status. The work of racial reconciliation permeates many of the new communities.

Those who form and nurture these communities are also learning lessons they want to share with the rest of the church.

The Rev. Tom Brackett

“I personally think that it is a sign of great hope that in five years, roughly, we have launched the equivalent of a new diocese spread out all over our church,” the Rev. Thomas Brackett, Episcopal Church manager for church planting and mission development, told ENS.

These pioneers’ experiences do not always follow a linear path upward based on traditional measures of success. Church planting is a risky business, financially, emotionally and spiritually. Each community began with someone having a vision and the ability to elicit the trust of others to join the journey toward realization. It was rooted in prayer and nurtured in love and patience. It is work not for a Lone Ranger, but for a dedicated team that has discerned its gifts and figured out how to use them to serve where God is calling them.

The Rev. Susan Brown Snook, who planted Church of the Nativity in Scottsdale and now works as canon for church growth and development in the Diocese of Oklahoma, likes to say church plants and other kinds of new mission initiatives “are the R&D department of our church.” Their experiments hold lessons for the rest of the Episcopal Church, she told ENS

“The Christian faith has never been about being safe and comfortable; it has always called us into new frontiers,” said Snook, who just completed a six-year term on the church’s Executive Council, where she was a tireless advocate for continued funding of such projects.

The story of spreading the gospel and building the church that began in the Acts of the Apostles, Snook said, and “it never ended; we are still doing that work.”

“We can see that same Holy Spirit working in our churches,” she said. “The Holy Spirit sent the disciples out of Jerusalem and sent them into the rest of the world. For us, the rest of the world is right outside of our doors. We are called to go there and speak to the people who are there.”

Snook wants to debunk the myth that only clergy people answer the call and dream dreams of new communities. “It’s also about the lay people who gather around them because truly planting a church is a project of a community,” she said. “It’s not about one leader doing remarkable things, it’s about a leader who can gather a community and then the community does remarkable things. And it changes their own community and their neighborhoods and their families.”

The work is not meant to form new communities to compete with existing congregations. “This is about reaching the people who are in our communities who don’t know about Jesus or who have been excluded by other churches or who need a community of faith to support them in their lives and are not being reached,” she said.

Money and support for the mission

Funding this sort of growth has been a two-triennia process. General Convention allotted $1.8 million in the 2013-2015 churchwide budget for matching grants to help dioceses establish Mission Enterprise Zones and support new church starts. Matching grants were available for up to $20,000 for a Mission Enterprise Zone and up to $100,000 for new church starts.

That money helped start 13 church plants and 25 Mission Enterprise Zones. The latter were defined as a geographic area, a group of congregations or as an entire diocese committed to mission and evangelism that engages under-represented groups. The zones would be granted greater freedom as authorized by the diocesan leadership regarding the designation of “congregation” status, traditional formation for and use of ordained leadership and the use of authorized texts for principle worship gatherings.

Only five of those 38 new ministries are no longer in operation today. The 87 percent success rate compares to the 68 percent of new churches found in a survey of 40 denominations to be still going in their fourth year.

The work within the Episcopal Church got a large boost in 2015. The budget originally proposed to General Convention in by its Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F) contained $3 million for starting new congregations. During the budget debate in the House of Deputies, the Rev. Frank Logue, a Georgia deputy and then a PB&F member, proposed adding $2.8 million more for evangelism. He argued that the convention ought to give newly elected Presiding Bishop Michael Curry the support he would need as the church’s “chief evangelism officer,” a title Curry had said he would claim.

Convention agreed, taking money from short-term reserves, a somewhat risky move that most said was worth it for the commitment it made. “To say, yes, we’re in favor of evangelism but we’re not going to fund it, would make us look pretty foolish,” said Arizona Bishop Kirk Smith at the time, adding, “the mission of the church is not to balance the budget.”

The Genesis Group recently reported it received over 120 grant applications and recommended funding for 66 new ministries, with $3.4 million allocated for funding new church plants and mission enterprise zones.

The money granted in the 2013-2015triennium and the budget increase for the current triennium represent both a major change in the church and a return to an older tradition that got lost along the way. That movement “actually says a lot about people’s commitment to doing this work and for that I am grateful,” Brackett said.

Changes in attitude, changes in strategy

“A goodly portion” of the money in the current triennium that was allocated for new church starts instead has been used for helping establish what Brackett called the “infrastructure” around new church starts. Enter the Rev. Mike Michie, who joined Brackett as the staff officer for church planting infrastructure. Brackett has thus been able to concentrate more of his time with congregations that are looking to redevelop their mission and ministry.

Part of that work represents a change from what was a more flexible and more experimental approach to how grant applications were reviewed and approved during the 2013-2015 triennium. Recipients must certify that they “have every intention of becoming a Word and sacrament community at some point,” Brackett said. For instance, their ministry plans need to have “90-day micro-strategies,” and recipients’ coaches push them to stay true to their plans.

“We had a strong sense after the last General Convention, where we received funding at the last second because of the graciousness of convention, that we need to be really good stewards of the money given to us to manage,” he said. The convention called for the formation of new worshipping communities, and the Genesis Group “felt that it was important for us to stay close to that mandate.”

Some of the allotted money was used for those new layers of support for people working in what Snook said was once a “lonely and misunderstood occupation” – that of being an Episcopal evangelist who plants churches. They recruited coaches and consultants and trained them to work with people who are starting new communities, people Brackett calls “mission developers.”

“We’ve now taken this to the next level,” Brackett said of the work he and Michie have been able to do.

Julie Groce of Appleton Episcopal Ministries in the Diocese of Atlanta is a recipient of that new level of support, as well as a grant to pay for new ministry in the Macon area, and it moved her to tears when she talked about it with ENS.

“As exciting as the money is,” she began and then stopped to compose herself, “the idea of the reinforcement of the entire church is so inspiring.”

Groce also has been inspired by the stories other mission developers told of their joys and their struggles during a meeting organized by Brackett and Michie. They were stories from “people in completely different parts of the country who were looking at doing ministry in a different way,” she said.

It was freeing, she said through her tears, to hear that those differences were honored and accepted. “There is no perfect way; there is no cookie cutter, there is no handbook that says this is how we’re going to do God’s work.”

That gathering made the church’s idea of being the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement “incredibly real on a whole different level.”

Part of the work, especially in this triennium, has centered on developing methods for helping potential mission developers discern their gifts while understanding what talents they might need to find in their communities to help them. Brackett added that it is also about discerning one’s goals and reasons for wanting to do the work. Such conversation involves understanding how well a person knows that community and how strong their relationships are outside of the world of the church, he said.

He sees this part of the work as “helping the leader discern how they’ve fallen in love or if they’ve fallen in love with their community.”

“Because when people come to be with you on a Sunday morning, or any other event, they need to sense that the reason you care is not for the benefit of the church, but for the benefit of all of the people that God loves.”

Episcopal evangelism is not about growing the church and reversing numerical decline, Brackett said. It is done “because we have gotten a glimpse of how much God loves us and therefore the rest of the world, and we want to live in that loving relationship with the world in an organized way of gathering people around grace.”

Under the watchful eyes of previous bishops of Pennsylvania, a group of “pioneers in ministry” sat in a circle at Christ Church, Philadelphia in June 2015, and talked about their experiences in the Episcopal Church’s Mission Enterprise Zones and New Church Starts project. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

What comes next?

Brackett and his colleagues have plans for widening and reinforcing the work of mission developers. They want to continue the idea that the churchwide budget has matching money to partner with local Episcopalians who feel called to start new faith communities. Not all dioceses and congregations have that kind of money available, but they have buildings and other assets. Many of them come to the churchwide staff and the gatherings that they host to gain from the wisdom that has spread across the church.

Brackett recently proposed to Executive Council that the church foster what he predicts will be three-quarters of new ministry opportunities that can come by redeveloping existing congregations, especially in the area of starting “new culture congregations.” Those existing congregations, perhaps working in clusters, would spend 18 to 24 months learning about the changes in their communities, gain expertise from current mission developers on how they could minister amid that changed neighborhood. Then, they could sponsor a new ministry with people who do not normally come to their church. Money to pay for the venture would come from three sources: the churchwide budget, the diocese and the local congregation, he said.

That program is in part dependent on the budget process and on the other ways in which General Convention this July chooses to continue the work of church planting.

Initiatives for new church starts and Mission Enterprise Zones face a somewhat rocky road, as the Executive Council tried late 2017 and early this year to craft a draft budget to send to the PB&F committee. Earlier iterations included drastic cuts. The final draft budget increases the money allocated for evangelism over that earlier version because, in the words of House of Deputies President the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, council heard a “clarion call” from the church to do so.

The Genesis Group has proposed that the 2019-2021 budget include $6.8 million for such work.

“God’s out ahead us. God’s doing something and knows what is needed. We need follow in the footsteps of the Holy Spirit and say, where are we going next, God? Who do we need to reach?” Gerdsen said. “That’s my dream for the church, is to not just be satisfied with where we are, but always looking to where God’s calling us to go next.”

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

Episcopalians again help flood-ravaged Maryland town recover

Tue, 05/29/2018 - 3:38pm

Volunteers at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, Maryland, help unload donated water as part of the church’s effort to help its neighbors in the aftermath of May 29’s devastating flash flood. Photo: St. Peter’s Episcopal Church via Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians in Ellicott City, Maryland, were cleaning up their homes and businesses on May 29 while helping their neighbors do the same and offering them shelter after torrential rain two days before sent a destructive flash flood through the town’s downtown.

“The sun rose on a terrible scene in Old Ellicott City and our surrounding community,” the Rev. Anjel Scarborough, rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, wrote to the parish on Trinity Sunday, the morning after the storm.

“As we walked through the West End, we saw nothing but mud and water being pumped out of basements. Rows of homes with their basements completely gutted and foundations washed away – no longer habitable by any means.

“St. Peter’s responded by showing up for our neighbors. Thanks to generous donations from the wider community, hot food, bottled water, hot coffee, sandwiches, phone chargers, and even a grill for cooking hamburgers and hot dogs arrived! Sara Beth [Dukes, a church neighbor] arrived to offer trauma release acupuncture for those who wanted it. We listened, we offered shoulders to cry on, and we distributed tools and equipment to help our neighbors.”

In fact, at about 9:15 p.m. on May 27, just hours after the flood, St. Peter’s let it be known via Facebook that its doors were open to anyone needing shelter. The church, which sits above the downtown, has since been open from morning until evening with hot food, toiletries (including diapers and feminine hygiene products), bottled water, work gloves, heavy-duty contractor bags, cleaning supplies, shovels and wheelbarrows, according to its Facebook page. Some of the supplies were donated by a local hardware store.

St. Peter’s is using its Facebook page to post recovery information. For instance, it shared details about a company offering to help business owners recover data from sodden computer hard drives.

“Once again, our St. Peter’s family is called upon to show the boundless, unquenchable love of Christ to our community in a time of need,” Scarborough wrote.

The other Episcopal church in town, St. John’s, took on a “quite a bit of water,” according to its Facebook page, but a group of parishioners helped prevent extensive damage. Residents of the west end of Ellicott City’s Main Street need industrial fans, water pumps, shovels and wheelbarrows, a Facebook post said. People who can offer those supplies are being directed to St. Peter’s.

Diocese of Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton went to Ellicott City on Memorial Day to offer his encouragement and to assess the needs.

Locations around Ellicott City and Catonsville received between 5.36 inches and 10.38 inches of rain on Sunday, said Kyle Pallozzi, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Baltimore-Washington forecast office. The heavy rain sent the Hudson and Tiber tributaries over their banks, with the water coursing down Main Street. Muddy water tore through downtown for two hours in the late afternoon. It pushed cars into store windows, forced restaurant customers to seek safety in the second storeys of some buildings and sending others fleeing for higher ground.

Eddison Hermond

One person, Eddison Hermond, 39, apparently died trying to rescue a person caught in the flood. The off-duty National Guardsman came out of a restaurant to help pet food store owner Kate Bowman who had escaped with her cat from the window of her shop and was in water above her waist. She told police that Hermond was swept away by the water. His body was found May 29 in Patapsco River downstream from Ellicott City.

The Diocese of Maryland shared on its Facebook page this post from a local businessperson showing downtown Ellicott City during the flooding.

The flood came just weeks after local officials reported that the former mill town was on its way to being fully recovered from similar destruction in July 2016. About two weeks ago, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that the state and Howard County had been awarded more than $1 million by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for projects aimed at reducing the flood risk in the areas surrounding Main Street.

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

Refugee cultures to take center stage in festival at National Cathedral led by grassroots group

Tue, 05/29/2018 - 2:14pm

[Episcopal News Service] An upcoming outdoor festival on the grounds of Washington National Cathedral will celebrate refugees and their contributions to American culture, cuisine and communities.

The One Journey Festival, to be held June 2, is the most prominent product yet of an initiative that has grown out of the work of a small group of Episcopalians at a congregation in Virginia who were concerned about the increasingly negative depictions of the refugees coming to this country.

“We want people to know that refugees are simply people who were born in the wrong time of history and the wrong place of history, through no fault of their own,” said Wendy Chan, one of the founders of One Journey. Refugees have something to contribute to American society, she said, and “we should welcome them as our global brothers and sisters.”

Chan, a member of St. George’s Episcopal Church of Arlington, Virginia, was a teenager when she and her family came to the United States to escape political turmoil in her native China. Fellow parishioner Norma Kacen is the granddaughter of Italian immigrants who often faced prejudice as they struggled to assimilate.

Washington National Cathedral will host the One Journey Festival on June 2. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Chan and Kacen were the driving force behind Northern Virginia Friends of Refugees, a ministry of St. George’s that has grown into a national interfaith network of 650 members and has received support from more than 130 faith communities, organizations, agencies and businesses that want to stand with refugees. Together, they are inviting the public to join them in a daylong festival in Washington, D.C.

From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 2, One Journey will feature food, fashion, music, art and dance provided by refugees and immigrants, including chef José Andrés and actor Ger Duany. Attendees will be able to connect with refugees oversees through an audio-video “portal.” Children can learn about refugee cultures in the “Next Gen” tent, while a “Take Action” booth will provide ways for adults to add their voices in support of refugees.

“It’s so important for members of our communities, members of our faith communities [to be] standing up and speaking with a loud voice that we are a welcoming people,” said Allison Duvall, manager for church relations and engagement with Episcopal Migration Ministries, which is a sponsor of the One Journey Festival.

Episcopal Migration Ministries is one of nine independent agencies with federal contracts to resettle refugees on behalf of the State Department. The resettlement program aims to assist vulnerable populations around the world, especially those fleeing war and violence.

More than 65 million people worldwide have been forced to flee their homes, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, and the United States traditionally has been the most welcoming nation in the world for refugees. That welcome has diminished, however, since President Donald Trump vowed in 2017 to reduce refugee resettlement totals and block entrance from certain countries altogether.

While President Barack Obama increased refugee resettlement to 85,000 in 2016, the number has plummeted since then, with the United States on track to resettle only 20,000 refugees this year.

“This is a challenging moment for the people who do this kind of work and the people we serve,” Duvall said. Her agency, which just two years ago was working with 30 affiliate agencies in the boundaries of 26 Episcopal dioceses, is now down to just 14 affiliates in 12 dioceses.

“The scale of need and the diminished response is kind of out of balance, and that’s another reason why these festivals and celebrations of what refugees bring to our community are so important,” she said. “They make us stronger. They make us better.”

The plight of Syrian refugees fleeing to Greece to escape their war-torn homeland is what first caught the attention of Chan and Kacen, particularly the image circulated worldwide of a 3-year-old Syrian boy lying dead on a beach in 2015 after the boat carrying his fleeing family sank.

The image “absolutely shocked us,” Kacen said. “That was, I want to say, the breaking point. It was, have we come to this?”

In April 2016, the Diocese of Virginia invited Duvall to lead a workshop about refugee resettlement efforts and how to support them. Chan and Kacen attended, and the experience further inspired them to form Northern Virginia Friends of Refugees.

One of the group’s first efforts was to organize a three-session educational forum about refugees in summer 2016. It was held at St. George’s, and people of all faiths were invited. Nearly 200 people attended, which signaled to the organizers that the issue was resonating.

The Rev. Nadeem Khokhar, associate pastor of Floris United Methodist Church and a native of Pakistan, speaks March 18, 2017, at the “Raise Your Voice” event hosted by St. George’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, Virginia. Photo: St. George’s

As their efforts gained momentum, they felt a greater sense of urgency amid the growing anti-immigrant rhetoric from Trump and his supporters. A “Raise Your Voice” workshop was held in March 2017 to promote political advocacy in support of refugees, and the Friends of Refugees group also worked to arrange job mentoring for refugees, enrichment activities for their children and welcoming atmospheres at local medical facilities.

The One Journey Festival builds on that work while seeking to reach a broader audience. It started as a simple idea — a day for showcasing refugees — and it has grown into something much bigger, thanks partly to Washington National Cathedral’s willingness to host the event.

“Our Gospel calling is clear: Jesus said when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger or clothe the naked, we are doing it for God,” cathedral spokesman Kevin Eckstrom said in an email. “Refugees and migrants are the ‘least of these’ in our time, and the Cathedral is thrilled to try and help tell the real stories of real people. Whatever the White House says, these people are not ‘animals.’ Each migrant and refugee is a beloved child of God, and they need our help.”

About 30 people have been working on the festival over the past nine months. Chan and Kacen hope the idea can be replicated in other parts of the country by dioceses and congregations interested in showing their support for refugees.

Kacen said the ultimate goal is to present “an alternate vision of refugees,” a positive vision that focuses on the refugees’ own stories.

“The media dialogue about people who come to these shores has been so negative,” she said, but their lives exemplify extraordinary resilience. “They are by and large good people trying to do what any of us would do.”

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